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Filmstalker's films for March 2011

Diary.jpgSo we arrive at March, has it come around that quickly? Apparently so, and this month there are a number of good films on offer for UK audiences, there are also a couple of re-releases and a few that have my interest but not sure if they'll get my patronage.

Whatever I decide, I think these are the films you should look to this month, films that will offer you something more than the average film, with a diverse range from action to horror to intelligent documentary.

Here's the Filmstalker recommended March line-up.

I know on the surface it sounds a lot like Liam Neeson's last action outing Taken (Filmstalker review), but there's plenty different when you hear what's on offer. He plays a man who awakes from a coma that was caused by an accident, problem is when he returns to the real world he discovers his life is being lived by someone else and no one believes him, not even his wife, so he sets out to prove himself sane and true and get his life back.

Now that does sound like more than Taken, and to be perfectly fair that was an enjoyable action film that offered more than the average action film. Here we're being promised more from the story from the get go and with Diane Kruger, January Jones, Aiden Quinn and Frank Langella also on board surely you're starting to believe there's something more to it as well?

The Adjustment Bureau
I loathe the advertisements for this film, pitching it as a Bourne meets something else, instantly the idea that this could be a Bourne film is going to turn a lot of people off, or at least put them in a frame of mind for a film that may not deliver that. This is an adaptation of a Philip K. Dick novel about a man who discovers that there are people who are hidden from view and control us, ensuring we adhere to a pre-determined fate and if we stray from that we're corrected.

It's a great concept and it's also an interesting looking film with Matt Damon, Emily Blunt, John Slattery, Anthony Mackie and Terence Stamp starring. Of course the trailer does feature a lot of running around and being chased, and that's perhaps where the Bourne comparisons come in, but please don't go in expecting that, just in case the writer/director George Nolfi is going to offer us more, and I think he is.

I'm perhaps not as excited as most about Rango and the way it was filmed, after all these days with CG and animation there's little that genuinely amazes us on screen, and having watched the trailer I really couldn't pick out anything that makes me marvel at the fact it's all taken from motion capture. For me the interesting facts are Gore Verbinski is directing and the varied and talented case from Johnny Depp to Ray Winstone, from Isla Fisher to Bill Nighy, from Alfred Molina to Timothy Olyphant, you're getting the idea. A strong cast, a fun idea that makes me think of staple Western stories of a man falling into the role of Sheriff of a troubled town in the Wild West, basically Blazzing Saddles with animals, and from the looks of it not just for the kids.

The Tempest
Julie Taymor's adaptation of The Tempest hadn't really excited me that much until I saw the trailer and then it had me. It does look fantastic, and even more so seeing the fantastic cast in action. I feel like I'm cheating on Kenneth Branagh a little, but I'm willing to. The Shakespearean play is adapted for film with names such as Helen Mirren, David Strathairn, Tom Conti, Alan Cumming, Chris Cooper, Djimon Hounsou, Ben Whishaw, Alfred Molina, and more. It looks like it could be visually exciting as well as bringing one of the classic Shakespearean plays to life on the big screen and to a whole new audience.

Another big cast line up for Ironclad, the story of what followed the signing of the Magna Carta in 1215, the document that would uphold the rights of free men across the land, where the King turned on his word and raised an army of mercenaries to destroy the Barons of England who had rebelled against him forcing him to sign. On his march across country Rochester Castle is in his path and it's defended by a group of Knights Templar who pledge to defend it. Paul Giamatti plays the King against a cast of Brian Cox, Jason Flemyng, Derek Jacobi, James Purefoy, Mackenzie Crook, Charles Dance, and more, and it was filmed in Wales.

The African Queen
The classic 1951 John Huston film gets a re-release, and we once again get to see Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn on the big screen. She plays a very straight missionary who is being smuggled out of Africa on a boat called The African Queen captained by the heavy drinking captain played superbly by Bogart. However she has different plans, she wants to avenge the death of her brother and do something for the war effort, attack a German warship. They are great together, and watching their exchanges and the relationship grow makes for a fantastic film.

Paranormal Activity 2: Tokyo Night
Here's a film I'm really not recommending, not at all. I think Paranormal Activity (Filmstalker review) was poor enough and full of stock moments and sequences stretched beyond belief that tore you out of the cinematic world and back into your chair - ridiculous, not scary and just plain bad. I wasn't interested in seeing the second, but here's a twist in the tale, a Japanese team decided that they would make their own sequel, where an exchange student returns to Japan taking the spirit with her. Could it be better than the Western fare? I don't think so, but there's a chance, and even if not it's going to make for an interesting comparison.

Battle: Los Angeles
There's a little controversy about this film with two of the special effects team having headed off during production to make Skyline, but let's not dwell on that, after all why should we, it wasn't really that strong a film. Battle: Los Angeles though promises more than that and follows a Marine platoon in Los Angeles trying to fend off a small part of the worldwide invasion force of aliens, and it's a battle that they look like they are losing far too quickly. The effects look great and there's an interesting cast list with names such as Aaron Eckhart, Bridget Moynahan, Michael Peña and Michelle Rodriguez. It certainly looks good from the trailers, but then so did Skyline. Will it turn out to be more than that film? I'm hoping so.

The Resident
I don't know what to make of The Resident. The blurb makes me think of films we've seen before, Pacific Heights being one, but then we have the man who directed the opening act of the 2007 Eurovision Song Contest before this film...okay, I'm having a little jest at his expense, but that is genuinely listed as the directorial job before this one. However we're talking about Hilary Swank, who hasn't been choosing her films well of late, Jeffrey Dean Morgan and the legendary Christopher Lee. I wonder if they are all doing this for the money or if it's going to be more than the average horror and more than the plot we're all now expecting?

Oh, you're not sure what it's about yet? Well Swank plays a doctor who moves into her new Brooklyn apartment but starts to get the bizarre feeling that she isn't alone and that the landlord is a little odd. I can see the story mapped out in front of me, but I'm hoping with this cast that I'm wrong.

Fair Game
Fair Game is a film that I had high hopes for when I first read about it, it's the true story of CIA operative Valerie Plume whose husband wrote an article criticising the Bush administration for the Iraqi invasion and then she finds her true identity leaked in the press, allegedly from a source in the government who were trying to discredit her husband. Both their lives were hit hard and the entire story is pretty scary because it's so real.

Sounds great so far, then add in Naomi Watts and Sean Penn playing the husband and wife and Doug Liman directing and...wait, Doug Liman directing? The Bourne Identity and Mr & Mrs Smith? Nothing against his directing, I like his films, but this true story which should be about conversations, relationships, corridors of power and courts? I wonder if Liman is going to stay true to that or if he can't resist the idea of a CIA agent and chase sequences?

The Company Men
I feel I keep repeating myself when I'm talking about these films with a number of strong actors in them, but here we are again with Ben Affleck, Tommy Lee Jones, Chris Cooper, Maria Bello and Craig T. Nelson (and Sasha Spielberg, yes, she's his daughter!). It's another strong line-up of actors, and actresses, and there's the fact that Affleck is in front of the camera again without being behind it.

The film follows three men who are struggling to survive a corporate downsize exercise at their firm and looks at the effect it has on them, their relationships, their families and the community around them. The trailers look great so far and tease an intelligent film with some very real performances.

Idris Elba, William Hope, Clarke Peters and Eamonn Walker are just a few of the names in this small and taught thriller that centres on a black ops agent who returns home after a failed mission in Eastern Europe and hides up in a Brooklyn hotel room trying to unravel what happened while he slowly begins to become unhinged and look for some form of retribution and revenge.

Shot in twenty-two days in a Glasgow flat the final edit was completed just two days before the première, now that's cutting things tight. However what really draws me is Elba and Walker, they are both great actors who are slowly growing in stature, Elba more so, and I really want to see their performances laid bare in this film.

Les Diaboliques
Another re-release in the form of the 1955 classic thriller from director Henri-Georges Clouzot and adapted from the Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac written novel entitled Celle qui n'était plus. The film follows the wife of a cruel headmaster who conspires with his mistress to kill him, but after the murder is committed the body disappears and then strange things start happening to them. Just the short description is enough to start putting you on edge, and the suspenseful thriller, which could also be termed a horror, is a welcome return to the cinema screen and is worth heading to the cinema for.

Neil Burger is a strong director and he has Bradley Cooper, Robert De Niro and Abbie Cornish to direct in front of the camera for this very intriguing idea of a film. A struggling writer, and I mean really struggling, is given a pill that carries the promise that it will open up his mind and allow him to do things he never dreamed possible. He takes it, and his brain and his life go into overdrive. He gets his hands on more and his dreams are coming true around him, he remembers everything, makes connections everywhere, learns and uses everything to his advantage and becomes the perfect man with everything at his fingertips. His success attracts attention, and pretty soon he's a hunted man. Will it pay off though or just become another action thriller?

The Eagle
I was gutted when I found out I couldn't get to see The Eagle at a recent festival, the tickets were going to other more important people and I missed out. However that means I'll get to see it with you all on opening weekend, and it looks like it could be a cracker, unless that is it descends into action adventure territory.

The film is about a Roman soldier desperate to find out what happened to a legion of soldiers that were all lost across the border in Scotland to the brutal warriors there. He's not only going over to find out what happened to the infamous Ninth Legion and his father, but also to honour his memory and recover the lost legion's golden emblem, The Eagle of the Ninth, something that his father's memory has been shamed for.

Kevin Macdonald is directing, and I do so hope that he's living up to State of Play, Faster
Dwayne Johnson's career has followed that of some of the other big action stars where he's leapt into kid's films, and some very poor ones at that, with not a lot of success. This marks his return to the action genre where frankly he should never have left. Faster is right into the heart of action territory and it looks like it promises a tough and uncompromising part for Johnson in the style of many of the most famous hard men roles of the past.

Faster sees a convict coming out of prison after being double crossed during a heist years ago, a double cross where his brother was murdered in front of his eyes. As soon as he comes out of prison he heads after the people who killed his brother and double crossed them, and he's going to kill them all no matter what.

A good cast with Johnson, Tom Berenger, Billy Bob Thornton, Michael Irby, Carla Gugino, Xander Berkeley, Maggie Grace, and the gorgeous Moon Bloodgood. Good cast for director George Tillman Jr., and the trailer looks as uncompromising as the plot sounds.

Caves of Forgotten Dreams
I heard some great things about this film from the Glasgow Film Festival showing, the Werner Herzog documentary in 3D that visits the famous Chauvet caves of Southern France where the oldest known art made by humans exists. The film really is in two parts I'm told, the first is where they scramble around the caves grabbing shots against time, and here the 3D wasn't so great, but the second part sees them return again for a longer, more considered examination of the pictures and this is where everything comes to life apparently, including the 3D.

I'm not sold on Herzog, but I'm told that this documentary is something special and well worth a visit, so I'm dropping it on here without wholly believing in it, but I'm fired up about seeing it.

Playing Burton
I know nothing about this film, but I was named after Richard Burton playing Richard III on stage, something my mother saw while she was pregnant with me and was convinced enough to call me Richard. Regardless of that I've admired the actor immensely throughout his career and I love his performances, so a film that says it charts his rise from South Wales, through the theatre and to the Hollywood icon he became, his love affair with Elizabeth Taylor and his troubled later years sounds fantastic.

It's the adaptation of a stage play about the man, what looks like it could be a one man stage play, but that's all I know. Still, I'm in.

So that marks the recommendations for March from Filmstalker. Do you agree? Tell us what you see and what you think.



Rango isn't motion capture. Well, only in as much as there were cameras capturing the actor's motion. There wasn't any tracking software or ping pong ball suits. Just an alternative to having actors standing in a booth by themselves talking to audio files of their pre-recorded co-stars. It's also the first time ILM have made a feature animation.

Well that's still motion capture, especially to the audience, it doesn't really matter what the technicalities are, people acted it out, cameras captured it, CG replaced them and there's the end film looking like any other CG replaced actor film.

Well by that token all CG films are motion capture, whether it's Dreamwork's animators filming Gerard Butler's face while he records dialogue, or Pixar watching Attenborough's Blue Planet to get the swimming motions right.

As if by magic

Q: I assume you filmed all that for reference but you didn’t do any motion or performance capture, right?

Verbinski: Yeah, but the audio was really the important thing. We shot on some video cameras and we had some references so from time to time, we might show the animators, “Look what Johnny is doing with his face here, look what happened here.” There were some useful moments, but for something that’s traditionally key frame animated, we jokingly called that process, “The 20-Day Audio Record Emotion Capture” because we were just trying to have fun with the idea that this is definitely not a motion capture picture.

Slash Film Interview

Absolutely agree with your previous comment. They capture the motion of the actor and transform it into CG, unless they are building CG straight, they are capturing the actor's performance and transferring it to animation.

As I said though, it doesn't matter to the audience, and in fact I should have gone further, they don't care about what degree of motion capture is or isn't carried out, that's for those who like the behind the scenes aspects, the majority of the audience just care about the finished product on screen.


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