Inspired by the relatively unknown All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, A League of Their Own tells a funny and often moving fictionalised story of the creation of the league during the Second World War and the women of one particular team .
As World War II rages on overseas, there is a threat to the Baseball League which may have to close. Candy magnate and Chicago Cubs owner Walter Harvey has the idea to create a baseball league for women in the hopes of attracting money. Dottie Hinson is an attractive girl talented at baseball from Oregon who is spotted by scout Ernie Capadino. Dottie’s sister Kit also plays, but feels like the lesser sibling because she isn’t as talented. Dottie agrees to go only if Kit comes, which she eventually does. Soon the sisters are trying out for a team and are eventually accepted into the Rockford Peaches. Also occupying the team is Mae Mordabito, a former taxi dancer and her loud friend Doris Murphy, as well as many other talented girls. The person appointed coach is Jimmy Dugan, a once great player himself who has since become an embittered alcoholic. At first the Peaches struggle for success, but little by little, they begin to rise up in the ranks because of their team spirit and attitude. They manage to overcome the idea that women can’t play baseball by showing of their skill. The success of Dottie as the leader of the team begins to take its toll on Kit, who feels pushed back in favour of her sister. The girls must also deal with the knowledge of their spouses fighting in the war and if they receive a dreaded telegram informing of death. Funny, charming and surprisingly moving, A League of Their Own depicts with respectful historical detail the long neglected beginnings of the Women’s Baseball League.
Penny Marshall’s crafts this entertaining story with down to earth characters and a sense of nostalgia for the era. She also manages to infuse an emotional streak to the story, best embodied by the wedge driven between Dottie and Kit as the cracks begin to form in their close bond. The baseball scenes are entertaining and thrilling to watch as they are crafted with such authentic detail and loving care. The various cutting between matches and spinning headlines make for nostalgic and surprising viewing as the film progresses. The musical score adds to the sense of camaraderie that builds within the Peaches as they edge closer to the world title. Costume design and make-up should be rightfully praised for its authenticity to the War era styles. The script for the most part creates both humour and pathos in depicted the journey of the women. Only in the last two-thirds does sentimentality creep in but for the main duration the overriding nostalgia keeps this a moving and funny movie. The ending of the movie is a really moving one that is well executed.
Heading the ladies of the cast is Geena Davis. She is on fine form as the beautiful and strong Dottie who takes on the role of leader. Yet Tom Hanks steals the show with his hysterical performance as Jimmy, the washed up star managing the Peaches. He gets all the best lines including the now famous “There’s no crying in baseball” which really adds to the humour. As soon as he enters the picture, Tom Hanks commands attention with his excellent comic timing. Lori Petty movingly portrays the wounded Kit, who feels inadequate next to her talented older sister. Out of the other girls of the team, Madonna and Rosie O’Donnell stand out. They make a comic double act that is really engaging. Madonna isn’t known to be the best actress, but she plays the role of the team flirt Mae with charm and humour to burn. She also contributes the moving ballad “This Used to be my Playground” which can be heard near the end of the movie. Rosie O’Donnell as her best friend Doris greatly adds to the humour that both bring. In a small but memorable role, Jon Lovitz is crusty and wise cracking as Ernie, the baseball scout.
It may lapse into sentimentality from time to time, but despite this Penny Marshall directs this heartfelt story of some groundbreaking women.
I remember seeing the advertisements for Black Snake Moan when it was released and thinking that it just looked like a sleazy attempt at revamping the exploitation movie. But when I finally got around to watching it, boy was I surprised. It actually is a film, which does take some influences from 70′s exploitation cinema, but emerges as a study of sex, lacerated souls and redemption. It may be outrageous and questionable, but Craig Brewer keeps you interested by crafting this tale of forgiveness with the blues serving as a soulful backdrop.
Living in Tennessee, Lazarus is a former blues guitarist who plows the land on his surrounding farm. He is consumed by anger since his wife left him for his brother, and as a result his faith in religion has waned. This changes when he comes across Rae, a girl suffering from nymphomania and a victim of childhood abuse, who he finds beaten and left for dead in the middle of the road. As he nurses her back to health, he sees Rae as someone who he can help with her personal demons. He finds an interesting way of doing this which includes chaining her to his radiator to cure her of her wanton ways . Although Rae and Lazarus are initially at each others throats, a genuine friendship develops between them as they open up about the pain that is plaguing them. Lazarus can’t accept that his wife has left him for his brother, whereas Rae is struggling with her condition and unable to cope with the fact that her boyfriend Ronnie has left for the army. In a way both characters nurse the other through the deep-seated anguish and head towards the road of redemption. Some great dialogue from Craig Brewer and all out amazing performances from Samuel L. Jackson and Christina Ricci give Black Snake Moan a reflective and redemptive quality backed up by the blues on the soundtrack.
Craig Brewer as writer and director takes this seemingly outrageous premise and transforms it into something quite moving indeed. We see the gradual unfolding friendship that develops between the angry Lazarus and loose living Rae and the effect each has on the other in their emotional journey. If you’ve only seen the advertising campaign for Black Snake Moan don’t let that put you off, in my view it detracts from the power of the film and if you do see it, it is something quite different from what the marketing made out. The carefully chosen blues soundtrack makes for a great listen and gives us an insight into the damaged minds of the two principal characters. Amy Vincent’s amazing cinematography of faded browns and golden hues compliments the sweltering Southern Gothic references made throughout Black Snake Moan. There is the grainy quality of exploitation cinema apparent in some areas of the film but I wouldn’t quite class Black Snake Moan as an all out exploitation flick. I would say it’s a drama, with Southern Gothic references that concentrates on the characters as they mend their broken souls through confession and music. For the most part, Black Snake Moan succeeds in telling this unflinching story and only sometimes lapses into full on melodrama and ludicrous moments. Thankfully, Craig Brewer keeps these moments few and far between and raises the outrageous appearance of the story into this redemptive drama.
The two principal performers in Black Snake Moan, Samuel L. Jackson and Christina Ricci give it their all as these damaged characters. Samuel L. Jackson effectively portrays the anger boiling inside Lazarus, but also the caring side that wants to help Rae in her struggles. Jackson contributes fierce rage, comfort and a bad ass attitude into an excellent performance. Christina Ricci oozes rawness and unrestrained pain as Rae; the town nymphomaniac who is spiralling into self-destruction. Ricci may show her body in this movie, but she does some of her most naked acting with her clothes on. She has an emotional honesty that she imbues Rae with and genuinely makes the audience understand why this girl acts the way she does and the traumatic reasons that led to it. Although his character is underwritten, Justin Timberlake is effective enough as the nervous soldier boyfriend of Rae, whose departure began her slow descent into wanton ways.
It may be outrageous and questionable to say the least, but Black Snake Moan effectively overcomes the exploitation tag to give us a redemptive story of two connecting souls who are given emotional weight by Samuel L. Jackson and Christina Ricci.
Adapted from the acclaimed novel by Kazuo Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go is a haunting evocation on the subject of mortality. Capturing the mournful undercurrents of the story and featuring three impressive central performances, Mark Romanek directs this poignant story of the human soul.
To the outside world, Hailsham looks like any other boarding school. Yet it is far from it. In the opening frames of the movie, the audience sees things that seem somewhat different to the expectations of an English boarding school. The students scan their wrists on sensors around the school and take unnamed tablets every morning. For Kathy, Tommy and Ruth, this is the way they have been brought up, yet there is the lingering feeling that something isn’t quite right about the schools ethos. Narrated by Kathy, we witness the three central characters growing up in this peculiar environment in which they are forbidden to pass the boundary separating the school from the outside world. This isolating existence adds to the enigmas surrounding the trio. When they learn their destiny from their new teacher Miss Lucy, which I won’t divulge for fear of spoiling it, it changes everything about them. Years later, the characters are grown up and have left Hailsham for somewhere else. Yet there is still the searching for answers regarding their fate that plagues quiet Kathy, awkward Tommy and jealous Ruth. Kathy is in love with Tommy but as she doesn’t want to upset the balance of friendship stays quiet as he courts Ruth. The jealousy and tenuous link at many times almost breaks as they navigate their way through realisation, grief and love. For the trio, a normal life is not an option and various questions are posed throughout Never Let Me Go surrounding the human soul and the nature of existence. Poignant, poetic and profound, Never Let Me Go asks many questions of us an audience and all we can do is witness the sadness, emotions and strange beauty of the film that will haunt almost anyone who sees it.
Alex Garland’s screenplay sensitively depicts the realisation of events and the effect it has on the close friendship shared between these characters with no knowledge of the outside world. By parts science fiction and drama with a romance at the heart, Never Let Me Go manages to balance these with stunning and powerful results. Mark Romanek’s subtle direction frames the story in melancholy and evocative colours which allows the story to reveal certain surprising points with a quiet unpredictability and intelligence. Rachel Portman contributes a stunning score of love, anguish and closeness that really lends the film a massive emotional impact as these characters decipher their shocking destiny and are faced with difficult decisions.
What really gives Never Let Me Go an emotional heart is the three central performances of Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield and Keira Knightley. Carey Mulligan is the most effective in her portrayal of Kathy, who narrates the story. Some may say the role seems passive, when actually it is filled with quiet, determined emotion and a certain weariness that Mulligan excellent embodies with deep pathos and skill. It is a role filled with passion, intelligence and power that Carey Mulligan delivers with deep emotional weight. Andrew Garfield contributes a wide-eyed naive quality to Tommy as he journeys through a discovery for the truth whilst dealing with his feelings for both Kathy and Ruth. Garfield is very subtle but hugely impressive in this role, and when he releases his emotion later on in the film it is such a harrowing moment. Rounding out the troika is Keira Knightley’s performance as Ruth, whose jealousy burns as she sees how Kathy clearly adores her boyfriend. But Knightley intelligently doesn’t make Ruth a one-dimensional character, she shows us the caring side that want to hold on to her friends and the aggressive side that surfaces when provoked. All of the actors portraying the characters as children are exceptional as they have an uncanny resemblance to their older characters and possess deep emotions for people so young. Sally Hawkins has a brief but highly emotional role as the teacher who informs the students of their destiny and Charlotte Rampling is suitably imperious and enigmatic as the headmistress of Hailsham.
Crafted with poignancy and full of deep, far-reaching themes, Never Let Me Go is a haunting film that will live long in the memory.
The Fog is John Carpenter’s ghostly horror from the 80′s that focuses on a California fishing town celebrating its centenary, only for horror to engulf the festivities . Boasting suspense, a menacing score and chills, it is most certain to keep you scared throughout.
The Californian town of Antonio Bay is just about to celebrate its centenary. Just before the clock strikes twelve, Mr. Machen, a salty old fisherman is telling a chilling story to young children around a campfire. It details the deaths of many men on a ship named the Elizabeth Dane, that was shipwrecked after seeing the light from a fire all those years ago as the fog rolled in. He tells the children that one day the ghosts of the men who died will rise from their watery grave and seek revenge. Strange phenomena start around the town with car alarms sounding for no reason and phones ringing with no reply. It is around this time that Father Malone, the local priest discovers an old journal in the walls of the church. To his horror he discovers how his grandfather was one of six conspirators who helped lure the ship to the rocks, as the people on board where lepers whose rich leader Blake wanted to establish a colony on Antonio Bay. Meanwhile various residents of the town become frightened by the glowing fog that keeps appearing from midnight to one. The residents consist of Stevie Wayne, the husky voiced, lighthouse bound DJ; town resident Nick Castle; runaway hitchhiker Elizabeth Solley and the organiser of the celebrations Kathy Williams. As events begin to take a sinister turn from jubilant celebration, the residents come to realise that the fog brings with it the spirits of the men who died and are now wanting justice for what happened to them by killing those in their path. Ghostly terror, suspenseful atmosphere and a competent cast make The Fog a creepy tale of nocturnal haunting.
John Carpenter creates a chilling atmosphere from the get go, with the prologue featuring Mr. Machen telling the ghost story around the fire as the children listen intently. It is a genuinely creepy and chilling scene that sets up the ghostly events that will soon follow. The setting makes for eerie viewing, especially the scenes of Stevie Wayne in the lighthouse as the day fades into night and the titular fog rolls in. As with most of his films, Carpenter creates a sonic embodiment of horror and bone chilling menace. From the sound of the fog horns droning to the pulsing electronic score, The Fog is fascinating and spine tingling to listen to. Some of the effects may be dated and some scenes may drag for longer than they need to, but these are minor flaws in this ghostly horror story.
The characters are played with ease by the cast. Adrienne Barbeau makes for a sexy yet warm scream queen who must do battle with the fog whilst in the lighthouse. Jamie Lee Curtis and Tom Atkins are good as the hitchhiker and her new boyfriend. Jamie’s real life mother Janet Leigh is uptight and stoic as the town organiser who comes to see that the town is built on lies rather than goodness. Interestingly, they don’t share the screen until late into the movie. Hal Holbrook is effective in the small but pivotal role of Father Malone, the first person to uncover the unholy deed responsible for this terrifying haunting. The cameo of John Houseman as he tells the chilling origins of the town is supremely crafted and bound to linger in the mind.
For spine chilling and ghostly horror, The Fog is the go to movie.
Based on the acclaimed play, Carnage is a darkly funny examination of a meeting between two middle class couples to smooth over a skirmish between their sons that turns into something quite different. As directed under Roman Polanski’s acute eye for body language and the power of words, Carnage is sharp, funny and dramatic viewing.
Penelope and Michael Longstreet invite Nancy and Alan Cowen over to their high-rise New York condo to discuss an altercation between their children. The Cowen’s son struck the Longstreet’s boy with a stick after an altercation, which resulted in a couple of broken teeth and a swollen face. Initially the meeting between the couples is cordial, but it soon begins to take on another form. As the couples begin to take sides on the issue of their kids, verbal assaults are thrown about and the mask of civility melts away into an extended slanging match on the differing viewpoints of class, ideals and morals emerges from this supposedly diplomatic situation. In the end, the meeting is nothing to do with the two boys, but the regression of their parents into anarchy at being in such a claustrophobic setting. Prepare for acerbic one liners, verbal jousting and fine performances from the four members of the cast in Polanski’s comedic chamber drama of niceties being dispensed with and the true self burrowing its way to the top in an argument.
The first thing to notice in Polanski’s movie is the limited but highly effective setting of the Longstreet’s condo. Polanski examines the humorous side to these middle class character’s insular surrounding with a certain amount of tension, which he is more than adept because of his work in Repulsion and Rosemary’s Baby. The condo seems to take on a life of its own and becomes almost prison like as we watch the Cowen’s attempt to leave but being halted at every opportunity. Polanski who also co-wrote the screenplay succeeds in bringing the acerbic wit to the screen with comedic and equally dramatic moments popularising this supposedly civil meeting between mature adults that descends into shouting and screaming. Roman Polanski manages to direct at a steady pace as the mask of diplomacy begins to slip and it really is amazing how he keeps us interested with such a short running time.
The biggest asset belonging to Carnage is the four main actors involved who all put in excellent work. Jodie Foster flat-out nails the role of Penelope Longstreet, a prissy woman obsessed with manners whilst being something of a snob. Her highly strung tendencies as a character really add to the comedic side of the film. Kate Winslet lets loose with her role as Nancy, the demure trophy wife whose escalating frustrations combined with too much booze lead her to extreme situations. Christoph Waltz gets some of the best lines as the ruthlessly suave and chauvinistic Alan, a lawyer constantly attached to his phone more than his wife’s pleas to leave. It is Alan who is the only character to see the absurdity of the meeting and the fact that no resolution will come of it. John C. Reilly adds humour but an underlying rage as Michael, who at first tries to calm the situation but later becomes a key instigator in stoking the flames of the already heated situations.
Making effective use of the limited setting, waspish dialogue and four great performances, Polanski’s Carnage in short is a barbed, dramatic and darkly funny account of civilised people descending into chaos.
Quentin Tarantino’s side to the Grindhouse project he worked on with Robert Rodriguez comes in the shape of Death Proof. An homage to splatter movies, muscle cars and the sleazy exploitation movies he watched as a kid, Death Proof isn’t his best movie. But one can’t deny the adrenaline and style of the film that keeps it watchable.
The plot centres around the character of Stuntman Mike, a psychopathic stunt driver who picks up women in his death proof car and murders them in what he covers up as accidents. The film concerns his encounters with two groups of attractive females and the consequences. In the first segment, three female friends, Arlene, Shanna and resident DJ Jungle Julia are driving through Texas looking for a good time. Unbeknownst to them, the predatory Mike has been stalking them. They end up in the same bar together where Arlene performs a seductive lap dance for him for a bet made with her friends. After an intoxicated woman named Pam asks for a ride home, Mike offers her his services in his souped up automobile. Lets just say that things end up quite nasty and blood soaked. A number of months later in Tennessee another group of girls all involved some way with the film industry are travelling. The group consists of make-up artist Abernathy, stunt girls Kim and Zoë and aspiring actress Lee. Stuntman Mike begins to stalk the group but this time the girls are more aware of him. And boy do they fight back with a vengeance. Buckle up and get ready for high-octane shocks from Quentin Tarantino as he paints his homage to 70′s movies with visual flair.
As it mentioned earlier in this review, Death Proof isn’t the best work done by Tarantino. The tone is sometimes uneven and the story lags at various times, but having said that there is still much to praise within this film. The use of distortion to the film to give it that old, worn-out effect works wonders with this type of thriller. Tarantino directs some adrenaline pumping chase sequences that really are thrilling to watch as the second group of girls attempt to play psychopathic Mike at his own twisted game. The stunt work by professional Zoë Bell is hugely impressive throughout her duration on-screen. As is often the case with movies by Quentin Tarantino, the soundtrack is cool and full of grooves from just about every genre going.
Kurt Russell is frighteningly sadistic and strangely charming as Stuntman Mike, really delivering a memorable performance of psychosis and horror. The others who impress out of the cast are Rosario Dawson, Tracie Thoms and Zoë Bell. They deliver some kick ass attitude and sass that is more than a match for Stuntman Mike’s plans. Rose McGowan has a small but memorable cameo as the rather unfortunate Pam, who accepts the ride with Mike, little realising what he has planned for her. Vanessa Ferlito impresses the most out of the first bunch of girls, with her raunchy dance moves certainly sending temperatures soaring.
So all in all, Death Proof isn’t the greatest by Tarantino. But it manages to deliver enough thrills, action and kick ass babes to keep you entertained.
Robert Rodriguez’s homage to cheap horror movies of the 70′s comes in the form of Planet Terror, which was released as part of Grindhouse, a collaboration between Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino. If it’s substance you’re looking for, turn away now. But if it’s zombie horror, a killer soundtrack and action gore galore, Planet Terror is certainly worth sticking around for.
Cherry Darling is a go-go dancer, sick and tired of her job as she dreams of being a comedienne. She quits her job and finds herself one night in the local diner, where she encounters the enigmatic El Wray. He used to be her lover, but their relationship has cooled. Meanwhile in the rural Texas town, a toxin has been released into the air from a military base nearby. At first nothing happens, but then many of the residents begin developing various side effects and subsequently morph into ravenous zombies. The zombies begin to attack the living causing chaos and a fight for survival. Joining forces with El Wray, the local diner owner, the sheriff, a chemical engineer and a doctor, Cherry leads the fight against the infected, even after she has a leg eaten and replaced with a machine gun. Prepare for kick ass action, copious amounts of blood and grainy visuals as Planet Terror emerges as over the top action in the style of B-movies.
From the opening frames, you know what you’re going to get from Rodriguez. He nails the grainy abrasions that popularised the films of his childhood and adds them to this film in homages which come off rather well, especially in the opening scenes of Cherry’s sexy dance. He even throws in a missing reel with apologies and some sleazy trailers for good measure. The soundtrack is killer, from the grungy guitars to the smoking saxophone, it makes for a rocking listen. Rodriguez directs some pretty great scenes of action as the survivors fight back against the encroaching zombie threat. Gore hounds will lap up the various scenes of zombie hunger and believe me there is a lot of bloodshed in Planet Terror. Where Planet Terror falters is the pacing and some of the humour that doesn’t come off to good. Yet, many watching will barely notice these flaws because of the visuals and kick ass action/horror.
Rose McGowan makes for a fierce, sexy heroine as Cherry Darling and delivers an impressive performance of sassy, kick ass attitude and some great comic timing. Freddy Rodriguez makes for an enigmatic presence as the bad boy, gunslinger El Wray. For the rest of the cast, including Josh Brolin, Jeff Fahey and Marley Shelton, they really have fun with their roles in this action/zombie horror. The real star of the show is Rodriguez himself, firmly creating a tongue in cheek horror homage that is for the most part entertaining.
Short on substance but high on octane and visual techniques, whilst also boasting some great action, Planet Terror won’t be to everyone’s taste. But its a good way to spend a couple of hours without having to think a lot.