A quick protip for anyone that’s attempting to reduce their calorie intake to something approaching socially acceptable levels – do not go anywhere near a 24 hour Tesco (other supermarkets are available) at eleven o’clockish at night.

This magical hour, give or take, marks the time where pastries are reduced in price for clearance, and if you’re a typical skinflint like me you might find it very hard to walk past a selection of delicious chocolate filled doughnuts costing a mere seven pence without throwing a few in your basket, and subsequently down your gullet.

Movie Roundup

Preparations continue apace for the podcast recording. Well, they continue. Just about. The following round-ups will form the bulk of the show notes for one of tonight’s podcasts.

The Kids Are All Right is about as left-wing a film as you can envisage, outside of a Michael Moore documentary or France. Loving couple Julianne Moore and Annette Bening‘s life balance is upset when their surrogate children Mia Wasikowska and Josh Hutcherson (playing a character named Laser. Seriously) become old enough to find out the identity of their biological father. Tracking down Mark Ruffalo, a seemingly successful restauranteur who shirks from personal commitment, the father/child relationships develop enough for both mothers to realise that he’ll have to play a part in their lives. Too big a part, it turns out, as Ruffalo’s Paul embarks on an affair with Moore’s Jules, putting strains on an already strained relationship between Jules and Bening’s Nic. It might not sound as much from the above, but this is a comedy as much as it is a drama, the elements balancing nicely along with a great ensemble performance from the cast, as perhaps you would expect given the players involved. Amusing situations and believable characters make this well worthy of the awards buzz it’s gathering.

Due Date takes the formula established by director Todd Phillips‘ prior work The Hangover and Old School and turning all of the dials up, difficult as that might be to believe, we follow Robert Downey Jr.‘s Peter attempting to get back home to his wife, immanently due to drop a sprog. Complications in this trip arise from interactions with Zach Galifianakis‘ bafflingly idiotic aspiring actor Ethan Tremblay, an altercation seeing them booted from the plane and, lacking any other means of making the cross-country trip, hiring a car together. Shenanigans ensue. While Due Date is certainly funny enough to be worth a view, particularly when you’ve got such charismatic leads as Downey Jr. and Galifianakis, it’s really a far as you can push the ‘stupid character doing the stupidest thing possible, continuously’ formula, as this film already takes several steps into self-parody territory. This might be a warning sign for the upcoming Hangover Part Two, but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.

The Harry Potter franchise tumbles on conclusionward in The Deathly Hallows, Part One, seeing Hazza, Hermione and Ron on run from the now fully ascendant Voldemort and his brigade of stormtroopers, attempting to track down and destroy the parts of Voldermort’s soul secreted away in horcruxes. The usual gang return, including director David Yates, whose last two outings I’ve not been so keen on. This, however, is the easily the best of the Potter films so far, helped in no small part by the now not-so-young leads having matured enough to actually be pretty decent actors. With plenty on drama and, for once, some actual emotion, the only negative thing I’ve got to say about it is that it ends halfway through the story. I’m genuinely looking forward to the next one.

Meanwhile the floundering Narnia franchise stumbles on with The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, with Prince Caspian pulling Lucy and Edmund back for another adventure, this time also pulling their obnoxious cousin Eustace (played by Son of Rambow’s Will Poulter) along for the ride. This time they must face off against an evil mist that’s been bothering the populace. With such a poorly defined, faceless villain it’s little wonder that it’s a byproduct of again shoehorning in Tilda Swinton‘s White Witch, who is nothing like as compelling a character as the producers appear to think she is. It’s another of the post-production converts to the 3D cause, with much the same lack of impact that implies, although to be fair there’s nothing terrible on display. While it’s a solidly enough produced outing and far more competent and less rough around the edges than Prince Caspian was, it’s also less interesting film.

Angelina Jolie appears to have a weakness for ridiculously stupid films of late, with her latest, The Tourist, proving to be just as idiotic as Salt turned out to be. Well, almost. Followed by Interpol, who are hoping she will lead them to wanted fraudster, Jolie’s Elise latches on to hapless tourist Frank (Johnny Depp) to create a false trail around Venice. This unexpected association winds up with Frank on the run from the police and the mobsters looking for their money back. I’ll leave the excruciatingly signposted and unbelievable twists and turns of the narrative politely to one side for the moment. That, of course, is unbelievable in the ‘not even remotely credible’ sense of the word. I wouldn’t want to be misconstrued as claiming this was in any way good. I like pretty much all of the actors in here, but aside from a neat supporting bit-part for Timothy Dalton everyone under-delivers. With at best workman-like performances, an idiotic premise and ham-fisted execution, this is one to avoid.

There’s things to appreciate in The American, for sure. George Clooney‘s Jack is an assassin undertaking one of those ‘one last job’ dealies. Contracted to build a unique gun for a third party, the usual isolation of his position seems to be too much for Jack as he embarks on friendships around the remote Italian town. Director Anton Corbijn brings the same sense of style that served Control so well, but there’s really nothing to support it in this film. I don’t mind the occasional minimalist narrative, but there’s nothing in the characterisations to fall back on leaving this a pretty, but pretty empty experience.

I also watched Enter The Void recently, but I’m too angry about that to coherently comment on that further than to say it’s two hours and forty minutes I shall never get back and regret completely.

Winter’s Bone

I’m in the process of preparing for tomorrow’s podcast recordings for theOneliner.  While I can probably improvise something for the catch-up reviews of films appearing over the past few weeks that we’ve yet to cover, I’d hoped to do a little more for our review of 2010. Specifically, watch a few of the better regarded or at least interesting films from the past year, including Enter the Void and Un Prophete. Might not get to them, but I did at least get round to watching Winter’s Bone.

Set in the wilds of Missouri, seventeen year old Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence) soldiers her way stoically through a life that she’s firmly grasped the shitty end of. With her mother permanently zoned out on medication, she has to look after her younger brother and sister on a budget of nothing, bar occasional acts of kindness from her neighbours. Her father has, until very recently, been locked up awaiting trial for cooking up methamphetamines.

This less than ideal situation becomes more challenging when a bondsman shows up to tell Ree that her father appears to be jumping bail, which is unfortunate given that the family home and acres of timberland form part of the guarantee. If Daddy Dolly doesn’t show for his day in court, the family is going to be turfed out onto the street. Well, given the area we’re talking about, the dirt track.

While Ree doesn’t really give a damn about her absentee father, she’s left with no option but to track him down and find out either where he is, or what’s happened to him. In a part of the world where people keep themselves to themselves, do not appreciate others asking awkward questions, respect their own unique codes of honour over the rule of law and own a wide variety of firearms, this is a risky business.

Coming into conflict with various local strongmen of the drugs trade, most of whom she’s related to in one way or another, Ree’s dogged pursuit of answers makes for compulsive, if often uncomfortable viewing. There’s a tremendous atmosphere built of an underlying menace, with a tangible risk of something unpleasant happening at any moment. Indeed, the whole film feels one leather apron away from a chainsaw massacre.

Characterisation is always going to be tough in a story where no-one’s given to talking a great deal, which is perhaps why it’s so remarkable that young Jennifer Lawrence gives such a strong, complete sense of a strong-willed, independent young woman without having to resort to stereotypes or inspirational montages. She’s just there, taking care of business in a very matter of fact and realistic way, or at least as realistic as someone with no first hand knowledge of the situation (hello, me) can judge.

For what is nominally a thriller, there’s not an awful lot going on in Winter’s Bone, but the minimalism works to its advantage. The conflict points that do occur are given all the much more heft and weight given the anticipation that’s gone before them. It doesn’t make for comfortable or cheery watching, but it’s certainly powerful and absorbing.

While I can’t immediately justify my thinking behind this, it feels very similar in tone to No Country For Old Men. This is a far better film in my humble estimation, although I’m not part of the ra-ra brigade for that particular Coens outing. I am, however, getting sidetracked from the point of this piece, which is to say that while I don’t have quite the distance from viewing to properly judge it, Winter’s Bone definitely deserves at the very least a place in the discussion when we’re rounding out the best films of 2010 lists.