Contagion - the bug should have won

I caught the fever for this film, went to see it and... it passed in one boring dose of cinema tedium. Call the doctor, I'm in a sweat - not from thrills and tension, but from boredom. Yawn.

Oh dear. Look at this cast. It should have been brilliant. Sadly, the Torygraph summed it up when it said, this is a viral apocalypse where you wish the bug had won.

Steven Soderbergh's Contagion starts on Day 2 with Gwyneth Paltrow looking peeky. She soon deteriorates and pops it in a foaming fit. Herein starts the 'action' as the big government agencies try to trace the origins of this touch-transferring super disease.

Soderbergh, under a pseudonym, is both director and director of photography. His choices mean you're well aware of what people are touching (close ups of hands which have been coughed all over, touching the hand rails on buses, credit cards, drinking glasses, napkins, the faces of children and loved ones....) yes, we get. We touch stuff a lot, and then our faces. Good job Kate Winslet is here to make that implicit knowledge explicit. But she doesn't last and unfortunately the best actress in this star-studded cast is lost too.

Throughout the whole film I had that expectation that something was going to happen. any.minute.now. Soderbergh's clever enough to add in little snippets of thrills so you sit back comfortably back in your seat, and think, 'right, here we go'. For example - the neighbour gets shot during scenes of looting reminiscent of 28 Days later or The Road - and we think the film's going to take off. But no, it then cuts to three days later in a lab with a person in a bio chemical suit looking intently at the bug through a telescope. For ages. For no reason.

This is a slow burn rather than a hot fever of a film. There's many stories. Too many stories. There's too many interwoven tales and none with a satisfying ending or explanation of why they were there in the first place.

The big reveal at the end is a 'blink and you miss it' moment unfortunately. It would have explained Jude Law's character motivations and how that related to the wardrobe choice in his teeth.

A miserable 1 out of 5. Just watch the trailer it's more exciting. Sadly.

Midnight in Paris

I was keen to see this, so much so, that I turned up the cinema wearing a jumper with the word Paris knitted right into it. Clearly, I had left the house that morning with a huge subconscious desire to part with my cash for this cinematic treat.

If you liked Vicky Cristina Barcelona, then you'll enjoy Woody Allen's latest offering. His sparkling wit is littered throughout and he's done away with the narrator, replacing instead with the ramblings of lead man Gil (Owen Wilson).

The plot is very simple, nothing complicated here, but don't let that fool you. Also, don't be put off by the snobbish critics who've been making out you need an English Lit degree to get all the 'in jokes'. You don't. It's obvious who people are, mainly because Gil incredulously keeps repeating their name. We get it. You're Ernest Hemmingway, you're Gertrude Stein, you're Picasso. A flashing red arrow above their head would have been less subtle, so fear not. Also, I have an English Literature degree (which specialised in American Literature) and I haven't read any Hemmingway, but it didn't make the film any less enjoyable.

And it was enjoyable. It's always nice to be reminded that American's aren't idiots, and this time Woody Allen has chosen to help us see that it's not just sophisticated New Yorkers who can turn a good phrase, appreciate a good book, or appreciate good art. Leading the LA blondes in this movie is Rachel McAdams as Gil's fiancée Inez. She's clever, appreciates intelligence (a little too much), but she's just not quite sophisticated enough. She's a patriot. Gil's a francophile

As the struggling, romantic, bohemian that Gil fancies himself to be, it's a little difficult to marry up why on earth he ever got involved with the forceful, opinionated Inez. Oh, she's beautiful. That's probably why. But for her, I'm not sure I bought the idea that she liked him for his Hollywood potential, not his artistic ambition.

That's neither here nor there. Every scene in this film is beautiful. It's dramatic irony at it's best. Gil is in love with the idea of Paris, and we as the audience, are presented with exactly that. Even the establishing shot sequence at the start of the film is filled with frame after frame of rain-drenched-starlit-cafe-covered Paris we all want to see. It's deliberate that you never see the graffiti in Montmartre, the litter in the streets, or the many, many, less than '5 star' hotels which cover the city. This is Woody Allen's version of Paris, which mirrors (almost frame for frame) his version of New York in 'Manhattan'. Perhaps an indication of his auterial style.

Loved it, will definitely buy it as the script is so rich, I've definitely missed many jokes - 5 out of 5.

Jane Eyre

This week has been pretty fascinating, as I started a PGCE and one of the perks was a day at The Broadway Cinema in Nottingham learning to analyse film. Well, I wish had undertaken that training before I watched the latest adaptation of Charlotte Bronte's masterpiece, Jane Eyre.

What do I mean? We studied the importance of various techniques used in cinema to 'construct' the film. For example, the 'establishing' shot - usually a sweeping wide angled image which immediately lets the audience know where we are. Which then continues with use of sound, use of 'gaze' and close ups. So putting my new found skills to use, here's my 'reading' of Jane Eyre.

Unusually, Jane Eyre, starts with and establishing shot of the adult Jane, silhouetted in a dark door way, breathing in panic, before she bursts out into the rough gardens of Thornfield Hall and legs it for freedom across the moody moors. We can't place her location, or at what point in the drama this is. Then suddenly she flees (wide angled shot) and cuts a harrowing figure on the close ups of her 'plain' face as she struggles against the elements before collapsing at the doorway of St John, and his sister's, home.

I liked Cary Fukunaga's adaptation - it's dark, moody, not at all glamorous (like I suspect a Merchant Ivory production would make it) and, for as far as it's possible, he has tried to pick a 'small, plain' Jane from Hollywood in the form of Mia Wasiskowska. Okay, she's hardly plain, but she's not Anne Hathaway. She has something ethereal and non-standard about her. She's interesting to look at, and that's a good thing, as there's not a lot of dialogue or emotional register for a great deal of the film. Again. That's a good thing. Jane isn't hysterical. We need to see a resilient and defensive heart, relent and melt for a temporary high when she finally does succumb to Rochester's wild charms.

Michael Fassbender is an excellent Rochester, but he's far too easy on the eye. In my reading of the book, he was much more cantankerous, unpredictable, moody and offensive - but I guess, without casting someone so odious it's unbelievable, it's a difficult role to cast. As the audience, you do want them to get together, so he needs to be alluring.

Use of 'gaze' is very interesting - almost voyeuristic - as we stare intimately at Jane, or at what Jane is looking at. Her restrained face gives emotion away only in the close ups and the subtle variations in her eyes, or the very corner of her mouth. It's a very interesting technique for a big epic film, to focus on being so intimate.

Also of note was Jamie Bell, who's St John is equally awkward and subordinate as Jane is to Rochester. So you can tell from watching one what the other must feel. We know he loves her (even if you've not read the book) because he's mirroring her restrained, awkward behaviour we've witnessed with Rochester. Bell is proving to be a mighty screen presence - understated and memorable.

My only criticism would be the 'non-digetic sound' (eg the soundtrack) was over bearing in parts. Also, where was the happy ending. It was a interesting and pleasing directorial choice to snip away the 'baby and sight returning' bit, but if it's in the book, there's going to be a significant part of the audience waiting for it to appear in what was, on the whole, a faithful adaptation.

Talking of which, there's no spoilers here. If a book's been in print since 1850 then that story can be considered common knowledge. It reminds me when I went to see Baz Lurhman's Romeo & Juliet and I overheard one girl weeping hysterically, that "no one told me they both die." Honestly.

Anyway, I've waffled on. In summary, Jane Eyre is epic and understated, submersion and intimate, and one which I will happily watch again. And for a costume drama, it lends itself well to the big screen. Don't miss it in the cinema.

5 out of 5 - moody goodness.

What's Your Number? - Preview Screening

I'm not sure if it's accurate to say, I was 'lucky' enough to get tickets to a pre-screening of the latest rom-com offering from Hollywood - but I'm a student again and the tickets were free, so who am I to complain.

I've got mixed feelings about this one. The opening joke was not just the same, but identical to Bridesmaids, and I kind of feel that Kirsten Wiig did it better than Anna Faris. So that immediately put me on the back foot. But there is good stuff here, with jokes based on (gasp) women and sex. It's about how many conquests you've had ladies. And shock horror, we're in for some gender stereotyping.

Party girl Ally played (albeit well) by Anna Farris is up to a "staggering" 19 and Marie-Claire in it's infinite judging glare has branded anyone racking up more than 20 notches on the bed post a ... well, insert your favrouite derrogatory insult here. Oh, but, not if you're a guy. No that's fine. In fact, it's hillarious. Which is why neighbour Colin] played by XMen's Chris Evans is allowed to casually rack up so many notches his bed has fallen apart. *sigh*  Don't worry, I've climbed down from my feminist high horse now, we can crack on with what happens.

Predicitability factor is sky high on this film, you know exactly what is going to happen (and who the heroine will end up with) within the opening seconds of the film. And the plot mooches on at a predicatable pace too. Not that, that is awful - that's kind of why people like romcoms. BUT, there are some moments of comedy gold here (using the good doctor Kermode's code that more than 6 laughs, then it's a comedy). There's a great gay-joke and a bit with a puppet which might just haunt me. More than a snigger, a genuine LOL.

BUT, the problem is Anna Faris, (and I'm not talking about her botched surgery), it's her character. There was an interesting article on the New Yorker (see http://www.newyorker.com/humor/2011/10/03/111003sh_shouts_kaling?currentPage=all) which talks about the role of women in comedies. And I see Anna's character falling squarely into the 'Klutz' model. She's gorgeous. Killer figure. Nice face. Who wants to see that. OF course the guy will fall in love with her - the audience is not blind. So what's stopping her from finding perfect love? THE number. That haunting figure of 19 which is going to 'ruin' her for marriage. Yawn.

To mirror Mindy's sentiment "I regard romantic comedies as a subgenre of sci-fi, in which the world operates according to different rules than my regular human world. For me, there is no difference between Ripley from “Alien” and any Katherine Heigl character. They are equally implausible. They’re all participating in a similar level of fakey razzle-dazzle, and I enjoy every second of it."

And that's the problem, I felt like Faris and [name] probably sat in seperate trailors bitching about each other when they weren't on screen. Maybe even eating oderous garlic bread moments before the big kiss scene. For a rom com, the casting has to be key.

Still. If you're out on a girls night, this is not a bad choice. It's not as good as Bridesmaids - but it does follow that theme of trying to present women in a 'new' 1990s style ladette light. I guess the US didn't benefit from 'girl power' in the way brit pop did (the Word, Zoe Ball getting fired from Radio 1 for being hammered in Ibiza) so maybe it's a super risky concept?

Overal 3.5 out of 5 - nothing you don't expect, but some funny moments.

50/50 - trailer

500 Days of Summer was brilliant. This looks like it could be even better.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt is back in this similar-style drama-comedy. This time the tone is more bro-romance, than romance. Marmite actor, Seth Rogen, looks hillarious as the best bud who helps Gordon-Levitt through the tough times (cancer diagnosis and treatment) but with what looks like a bit more added heart than we're used to seeing.

Chuck in Bryce Dallas Howard and Angelica Houston and you can see this movie has attracted a stellar cast. I just hope Houston will provide some of the quirky goodness she's given to Wes Anderson. Can't wait.

Trailer here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mMaJET7mD0M

Shakespeare - We've all been played

To watch or not to watch (sorry I couldn't resist).

Fresh from the 'must see' lists being generated after the Toronto Film Festival is 'Anonymous' - a consipiracy theory epic about the bard. Did he write those immortal lines? Dum dum dum....

The trailer suggests the cinematography will match the slighty absurd plot - exciting, artistic and dynamic, if not a bit unrealistic (I suspect the over use of CGI). Still, looks like it will be entertaining film fodder nonetheless.

Stars mother and daughter Vanessa Redgrave and Jolie Richardson as Queen Lizzie 1 (young and old), Rhys Ifan as the Earl of Oxford (who was the real writer) and Rafe Spaul as Shakespeare.

Check out the trailer here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2PaliLAQT8k

Of Gods and Men

After enjoying ‘Let the Right One In’ so much, I decided I don’t watch enough foreign language films. So to amend this, I added the widely praised and Cannes Grand Prix winner, ‘Of Gods and Men’ directed by Xavier Beauvois.


Naively I hadn’t appreciated this was a true story so it was a sad shock to discover that during the 1996 Algerian Civil War, nine Trappist monks from a monastery in Tibhirine were captured and killed by terrorists.

The monks live peacefully with the local Muslim community, following a routine of prayer, study, gardening and medical assistance. This idyllic life comes under threat from Islamic fundamentalists who abruptly and swiftly begin genocide of local western residents.

Christian, the Abbot, declines the protection of the corrupt civil authority and soon the monks are divided on their future. They wrestle with their human desire to flee Algeria, and their godly duty to stay.

The monks (and audience) experience intense agonies of doubt, where their instinctive fear of death tests their faith to the limit. To signify this ‘full circle’ conclusion, the film is top and tailed with long cinematic scenes showing their silent, reflective struggle. At the start they dutifully garden, cook and study in their mountain-perched monastery while at the end, they trudge along a snowy path towards their fate.

The film is littered with these spacious silences which patch together like a quilt. They’re linked, but not necessarily directly one after the other. There’s a scene half way through the film, after the monks’ first express their desire to flee, where Christian writes a letter. It seems like another innocent day to day task, but at the end of the film, in those grim final moments, a voice over reads from this note, clearly Christian’s final testament.

It shows Christian knew before the others their fate was martyrdom. He is the father figure whose authority they resist (objecting to his refusal for government protection) and who’s love they seek - consoling, teaching and leading throughout the conflict.

The heart of the film is summed up in one spine-tingling ‘last supper’ scene. The monks eat and listen to an old recording of Tchaikovsky's Grand Theme from Swan Lake. The camera does nothing more than pan from face to face around the dinner but their changing reactions – fear, joy, peaceful acceptance - says more than any amount of dialogue could. Their ‘Greek chorus’ style psalms have been replaced, perhaps signifying their eventual acceptance of God’s will.

I’d recommend this film regardless of your religious conviction; it’s a fascinating depiction of the power of faith and the frailty of human emotion, perfect for a lazy Sunday afternoon (after all, it is the Lord’s day).

Jane Eyre, One Day - femine heroes

Just as I finish reading Wide Sargasso Sea, Jean Rhys’ prequel to Bronte’s masterpiece, I see a trailer for Cary Fukunaga’s new film adaptation staring Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender.

There is something strangely timeless about a plain Jane catching a big (rich) fish - just see the hype over One Day, released this week starring Anne Hathaway. Of course Hathaway is no plain Jane and neither is Wasikowska. However, the latter does have something less ‘Hollywood’ and polished about her.

I recently read an interview with Wasikowska, which stated, quite plainly, that she was the highest grossing actress in Hollywood last year?!

Exactly.

I had only seen her in Burton’s Alice and Wonderland and Lisa Cholodenko’s The Kids Are Alright. I had no idea she’s been silently racking up a long line of excellent character roles in the previous 12 months. Not bad for someone who’s only 21.

She’s an interesting character also, which is maybe why I’m more interested in this adaptation than any other. In the interview, she revealed that at 14 an injury ended her ambitions to be a professional dancer. Undeterred she decided on acting as a future option, from her own initiative she contacted various agencies in Sydney, pestering until one took her on. It wasn’t until she was 18 that she got her break outside Australia and the rest is history. She doesn’t do LA. She still sleeps on the sofa when she’s back at her parents’ house. What an intriguing character.

Much like Miss Eyre.

Bronte was revolutionary at the time to write about a thinking, moral, individualistic woman who, through her own hard graft, evolves from humble orphan to become a compassionate, mature lady. She’s not a gold digger, but she does end up filthy rich. Something I think Bronte grants the character as a kind of divine blessing – in a ‘good things happen to good people’ way.

I’m yet to see One Day but I have read a fair bit about it. Hathaway said the reason it works out between her character Em, and love interest Dexter, is because of the perfect timing. If they had met one day too soon, she wouldn’t have known her own self-worth and Dexter would have walked all over her. It’s an interesting concept, which makes you reflect on your own relationships and their timing.

Mr Rochester in the closing scenes in Wide Sargasso Sea, and the start of Jane Eyre, would have munched up and spat out Jane with little bother. It’s only once Jane listens to her own instinct, follows her own strict moral code and walks out on him that she understands self-empowerment.

Why it annoys me, is because her ultimate goal, even though she’s achieved so much, is to get a ring on her finger, (something Mad Men quite frequently comments on through the character of Peggy).

Jane is an interesting character, constantly balancing earthly happiness with moral duty, and I think Wasikowska is an sympathetic choice to play her - having been so fiercely determined and independent from a young age – all things combined, this looks promising as a period drama.

The Hole

Oh dear. I'm such a scaredy cat. I blame Mark Kermode for this one.

The good doctor thought this was great, so it ended up on our Love Film list. It arrived last night and I hate to admit this (because I appreciate it was ridiculous) but I didn't like it. I hid behind a cushion. It's a kind of a 'my first comedy horror' from Gremlins director Joe Dante aimed at teenagers. Thing is: I'm not a teenager and I don't like horror. And that's no laughing matter.

The premise is some kids move into a new neighbourhood and discover a whacking great big hole under their house. Good job the previous tennant moved out without so much of a post it note explaining it's a kind of gate way to hell and they best not remove the flimsy padlocks he's attached. But they do, and yes, all hell breaks loose - sort of.

Hell broke loose in the form of a terrible, slightly stunted script which trys to pack in slick one liners from the three lead characters. It just doesn't sound like normal converstaion. Even from grunting teenagers. Also, there's some awful plot decisions - huge story gaps which require a leap of faith from the audience as big as getting on board with the concept of the film in the first place.

So why did it scare me?

There's a freaky horrible clown.

Oh, it's nasty. Like that early 90s horror Childs Play but more menacing. It winks. Pure evil.

And then there's the nerve shattering high strings throughout the whole audio soundtrack. It's relentless. Like the foghorn in Shutter Island, it's permanently unsettling. Even in the day-time, sun-shining, pool swimming moments. "Agh, shut it off", I heard myself silently scream.

This teen-horror flick then descends into an odd commentary on domestic violence. It's like that scene in Hitchcock's Spellbound which Salvador Dali directed. It's super surreal, it's a brave artistic decision, but unlike Hitchcock, I didn't feel under a spell. Rather, I felt the director, Joe Dante, had watched a Tim Burton film the night before and thought he'd have a go. Just plain odd.

Verdict - 1 out of 5 - mainly for the comedy clown fight at the end.

Let The Right One In

I wasn’t keen to watch this, but was convinced by some good reviews and a persistent fiancé.

I’m not a vampire/ horror/ gore film fan – I’m pretty squeamish with a hugely active imagination. I think my ability to suspend belief means that those visceral images don’t seem absurd to me, so they stick in my head for months afterwards preventing me from sleeping soundly!

Saying that, Let the Right One In (the original, not the pointless American remake) was not the blood-bath I feared. It was really a film about disconnected youth, a coming of age genre which happened to feature some pretty dark characters.

The little girl vampire, ‘Eli’ is secondary to the lonely characters which dwell in a rather mournful housing estate, home to hero, and local boy, ‘Oscar’.

Her, and her father’s, arrival don’t bring the community any moral message eg, they don’t gel this disjointed neighbourhood together, and neither do they rip it apart. You get the sense that the lonely occupants will continue their sad lives in exactly the same way after the vampires leave. After all, the ‘murders’ hardly stir the other characters into action or feeling - even the ones directly affected.

The ‘father’ figure is almost laughable. I felt like he was a bit dim, because he fails to execute the two men he identifies as ‘food’, barely speaks and offers himself as a wilful sacrifice hours later. It’s not even clear if he’s a vampire, or a pervert who looks after ‘Eli’?

The film is beautiful. Very architectural in cinematography. Clean lines, wide angle shots. Colours have been washed away to a wintry palette of grey, blue and white – with just the odd highlight of contrasting orange or yellow coming from the boy Oscar.

The director, Tomas Alfredson, uses a lot of close ups of peoples’ hands or ears, or back of head – rather than their face. This ‘first person’ technique,  makes the film feel very intimate, but also frustrates the narrative, as you feel you want to look around you and you can’t – you’re blinkered at the will of the director.

Other than some moments a conservative American audience wouldn’t stomach (the child nudity for example) I can’t understand why there was a need to remake this. Yes, it’s in Swedish, but it’s a nice, discombobulating language to listen to which adds to the disjointed feeling of the film. Also, the dialogue is not dominant, it’s very much the ‘atmosphere’ of the film which makes the lasting impression – what you see, not what you hear.

The best of example is the very original ending, with ‘Oscar’ hiding from the horrors above him in the pool. I HATE gore, but in this moment, I found myself inwardly cheering for Eli that she had come to save the day.

4 out of 5 – very surprised by this original, strangely uplifting film.

Super 8


I loved this ripping-rollercoaster of a film. Brilliant. And better than I expected, which says a lot as it's not unreasoable to expect a lot from a JJ Abrahams and Spielberg production.

This is not a not a 'nostalgic triumph' as some reviewers have said. It’s a triumph. But it’s realistic, not nostalgic.

I’ll tell you why.

For ages Hollywood has created this delusionary world of childhood which is one extreme or the other. My secondary education was nothing like High School Musical. But my summer holidays were like Super 8 (except minus the alien and whole-scale destruction of my home town – which wouldn't have been a bad planning choice)

What I mean is, I’m sick of seeing perfect kids on screen, speaking in snappy one-liners, going home to their parents who are only 10 years older than them.

So the casting of Super 8 is genius. They’re real, rounded and believable characters, who speak like kids, act like kids (the scene in the diner has dialogue even Oscar winners couldn’t keep pace with).

I could relate to this version of childhood. I remember having a tiny, messy bedroom full of homemade toys and artwork; cycling everywhere; hanging out with best friends playing mindless games in the park with the other neighbourhood kids. There were fat kids, and kids with giant dental braces and kids who liked to blow stuff up, because that’s what kids are like. Even the 'it' kids were low-key social heros - popular because they had their own climbing frame, not because they looked like models.

It made me feel really grateful that I stubbornly didn’t want to ‘grow up’ and how lucky I was to have the freedom to disappear every day during the summer holidays without having to call home on my iphone every 10 minutes to reassure parents who read that a paedo was on the loose from a Daily Mail twitter. Well, at least this is what I assume modern parenting is like (I read it on the Daily Mail). The parents in this film aren’t around (literally for ‘Joe’ and ‘Alice’) but life is not dysfunctional.

So many films present an aspiration to kids to act older than they are. What a shame. Kids need to be free-range, to see that mucking about on meagre pocket money with DIY projects can be so much more fun than anything you can buy.

Maybe this ‘nostalgic’ snapshot (helped by the deliberately celluloid, 70s sepia-colour filter throughout) will reawaken a backlash against mindless consumerism. I overheard a commentator on radio 4 observe that children’s TV shows in the 80s showed you how to make your own entertainment out of egg cartons, loo rolls and a bit of imagination. By contrast, modern day MTV is full of a world of unachievable glitz. No wonder people think this is nostalgic. People have forgotten how to make your own fun – and I’m not talking about anything romantic.

But that leads me onto another good point. How sweet, honest and heart-felt the ‘romance’ between Joe and Alice is. How easy could it have been to end up with big kiss like the usually Hollywood tosh (usually accompanied by starlight, all the bullies from high school watching, and an epic soundtrack, maybe even flying involved – see Twilight for reference). No. This is so sweet. They hold hands and you know everything will be okay.

Final points:

• Another film which manages to successfully mix CGI with real world sets (see Inception).

• This film is mirrored by the ‘play within a play’ (not that Abrahams is Shakespeare) which ‘Charlie’ makes (wait for the end credits) - it has every genre neatly covered (crime, spy, action, war, buddy, coming of age, romance, family drama and not forgetting the big one, sci-fi) spliced with great dialogue, inspired special effects, and moments of genuine pathos and triumph. Well, maybe that’s a bit rich. It’s 3 minutes long, but I still enjoyed it.

• As with any sci-fi monster/ alien films, I always think it is better if you don’t actually see the big scary beast. I think my imagination is better than any graphic animator’s. I was hoping, like the first two-thirds of the film, this might have remained as sneaky scary snippets. But no, he’s got to look it in the eye at the end so we realise ‘who’s the real monster’ and thus learn the lesson. Sigh. Still it wasn’t as bad as the pixelated mess they created for Cloverfield.

• I thought I heard composer Michael Giacchino mix in a few ‘Jon Williams’ ET-style musical moments.

5 out of 5 – simply super.

Cemetery Junction


This coming of age, directorial debut for Gervais and Merchant, was roundly ‘okay’. Basically, if only Gervais could have kept his ego in check and realise that by adding himself, Karl Pilkington and Stephen Merchant he ruined what was a heart-felt, interesting movie.

I’m not against feel-good, sentimentalised drama, if done well it can be very enjoyable, and this, I think falls in that category. The three lead males, Freddy, Bruce, Snork (Christian Cooke, Tom Hughes and Jack Doolan) were well cast, supported by a great script which allowed them to create rounded and believable characters. Special note to ‘funny’ guy Jack Doolan who manages to dance a difficult jog between comedy and tragedy with his character Snork – moving away from the slapstick temptation I’m sure would have been an easy route, based on the script.

Supported by screen powerhouse Ralph Fiennes and Emily Watson (who manage to keep their screen presence subtle and poignant) – especially the moment Mrs Kendrick talks about the last time she was thanked for a cup of tea.

But this family contrasted wildly to ‘Freddy’s - with Ricky-I-can-only-be-Brent Gervais as a buffoonish patriarch – so much so these scenes seemed crudely spliced in from a sitcom, entirely separate from the rest of the drama.

Watching the extras afterwards there was one scene which shouldn’t have been deleted as it gave so much more insight into Bruce. Desperate to get Freddy out for a drink, he takes the task of selling life insurance policies from him, and swiftly despatches five leads at a nearby funeral. It’s at that point you really understand the potential he has, which makes it all the sadder that he’s wasting it in Cemetery Junction.

If it didn’t have the odd cameos from Gervais and co, this would have been very good; sadly they add a jarring oddity to an otherwise heartfelt, nostalgic drama. Stick to the script writing.

3 out of 5 – mainly for the many genius one-liners (‘stop buying music made by puffs and get some Elton John’).

Continuity geekery – many of the houses in 1973 Reading apparently had double glazing. Owch.

SALT

Oh dear. I wanted to avoid the obvious Tomb Raider versus Bourne, but alas, that's exactly what this is. But not as good. At all.

SALT is like some retro love letter to late 80s actions films. Russia are the enemy, the cold war is still a red hot issue, and the lead character's a one-dimensional muscle fest...except this time, with a low cut vest and a 34DD chest.

If this had been made in the late 80s it would have been revolutionary - a female bond-style action hero would have been something a bit different. Luckily Demi Moore came along 5 years later with GI Jane to show everyone why that idea is a bit pants. Unfortunately, and I'm all for bigging up the ladies, Angelina is no different.

What would have made this interesting is to see how a leading lady would go about being the big bad Bond - surely with all those men in power an attractive spy would have no problem getting to the heart of an organisation and bringing it down using nothing more than a seductive wink and a bit of subtle feminine charm? No, apparently not. Ms Salt is just like Arnie, she likes to talk a little and tote guns a lot to get the job done. Sigh. It was an interesting idea which was shot in the face by director Philip Noyce.

The poster states clearly, 'who is Salt' like it's some deep mystery. Well, I'll be frank, I'm not the brightest crayon in the box when it comes to spotting plot twists but even I had managed to work this one out about half way through.

Big boo. However, one mildly interesting thing was the documentary on the Blu-ray which showed how they managed to successfully digitally recreate quite a lot of the action sequences and the 'elevator' scene (Mission Impossible 1 style). I had no idea I was watching a computer game, so I guess that's one progressive element to the movie.

Over all 2 out 5 - watch out for Angelina's unique running style.

Alice in wonderland - Disney (1951)

"Twas brillig, and the slithey toathes, did gire and gymble in the wabe..."

The sound of Sterling Holloway's voice singing this iconic poem as the Cheshire Cat is as nostalgic to me as warm rice pudding on a cold winters night. So, what better way to relieve the tension of work than through the mad language of Louis Carol and the vibrant colours and songs of Walt Disney.

This is by far the best adaptation of the book I’ve ever seen (sorry Tim Burton, but yours was not up to par), and is all the better for avoiding the grotesque Duchess and the pig story which haunted me from the radio edit.

As my favourite Disney - yes, I know there are many excellent others - this is particularly special to me, and so it seems, to Walt Disney himself.

Disney had tried to make this movie since 1923, when he made a live-action-animation hybrid film called the Alice Comedies (a technique which is both terrifying and impressive - it preceded Who Framed Roger Rabit by about 60 years) which proves Walt was somewhat obsessed with this story.

In the 1930s silent film legend Mary Pickford heard a rumour Disney were going to animate this treasured tales and put herself forward to play the lead character. All through 1937,1938 and 1939 Walt was working on the final look of the film story boarding with British artist David Hall. Hall's illustrations were brilliant, surreal, whimsical and macabre all at once, which frankly sums up Louis Carol’s original book.

After the war, Aldous Huxley wrote a screen play and Ginger Rogers recorded an album of songs, showing just how much this novel struck a chord with society at the time. However, it wasn’t until Mary Blair came along that the film took off.

Mary's tour of South America during the late 1940s was the catalyst to get the project moving again. Bold, bright and surreal the art of colonial areas influenced the final style and look of Alice. It was a change of pace for Mary who went on to design the look and feel of Cinderella and Peter Pan. But this distorted perspective and jolly colours have remained dominate in Disney's output even in recent times with Up and MONSTERS Inc.

But the most exciting part of the production story is about the Mad Hatter's tea party.

During the animation process, it’s not uncommon for the studio to film sections with actors to inspire the artists. The famous ‘tea party’ scene featured celebrated 'vaudeville' actor Ed Wynn as the Hatter. His talent for improv was so good, that from that scene they directly used his audio track, never needing to recorded his voice again. Moreover, his impulsive, spontaneous live performance was duplicated scene for scene by the animator’s pencils.

After watching this I thought of how much influence its had on cinema since. Forgive me if this is tenuous, but even with David Lynch. In particular, the moment Alice starts to explain what her mad world is, there’s a flickering moment in the river when we’re transported to Wonderland, yet it looks exactly like the real world. If anyone’s seen Mulholland Drive, then you might know what I mean. There's a seamless switch between real/ unreal which is not dissimilar to Alice...

Bridesmaids

So after much anticipation I finally got to watch SNL stalwart, Kristen Wiig's new film, Bridesmaids. Now, the risk with any film which manages to secure that much column space before it's release date, is that I feel I've already seen it before I get through the screen door. Sadly, this film fell into that category.

Now, I agree with all the reviewers and commentators (there was a LOT of talk about how women can be funny and how gender is not comedy specific). Yeah. Absolutely right. There were definitely jokes in there only the women in the audience would have appreciated (the 'adult sleepovers', the married 'hands off but get in' approach to romance) and some that I'm pretty sure only appealed to male sensibilities (the now notorious dress shopping scene).

Okay, I didn't wet myself, (mainly because I don't love gross out comedies), but I most definitely did LOL. The scenes at the engagement party were good ("you don't have a husband") as was the first class performance by sleaze ball John Hamm ("you're no longer my number three!").

However, having just been a bridesmaid, and judging this solely on the film poster, I thought there'd be a lot more about the whole wedding build up between the women and the absurd rituals of pre-marriage in America (rehearsal dinners anyone? it's not hard to eat a meal correctly). The bitchy cat fighting, dress shopping, present buying and getting in front of the camera hoo-har was saved for the two rival BFFs which was a shame, as the other female characters were pretty dyanmic.

I did like the nice twist on the 'traditional' romcom format, with the three female central characters fulfilling the role of love triangle. Namely, the old couple have been together for years, one finds a new interest and changes personality, they break up, but the damsel in distress is saved by the original and best.

But, that meant the sub-plot with the Irish copper from the IT crowd didn't necessarily seem that neccessary. I did like that he was a really 'normal' guy. If Jake Gyllenhaal turned up that would have taken the biscuit (not that I would have blamed Kirstin Wiig adding him to the script).

Over all a pretty good romcom, enjoyable and filled with sniggers if not belly laughs.
3.5 out of 5

Life In A Day

After hearing a clip on BBC Radio 4’s Front Row, I started a spot of digging to find out about this award winning, user-generated-content documentary. Social network powerhouse YouTube started the whole thing…

I’m excited.

Life In A Day was a global experiment produced by Ridley Scott and directed by Kevin Macdonald to create a user-generated feature film shot in a single day. On July 24 2010, volunteers across the globe were given 24 hours to capture a glimpse of their life on camera. The most compelling and distinctive footage was chosen for the feature film.

The reason this film has excited me so much? It’s taken a medium which has been usurped by every corporate marketing firm out there, and reclaimed it for its intended purpose. To connect people.

Unfortunately, it’s not showing in Nottingham, so this is based on finding some interesting clips which in sparked some interesting ideas.

The final scene shows a woman sat in her car with one minute to go before the 25 July turns up. In the darkness she talks about what a tedious day she’s had, how’s she’s tried and failed to find something unique which she could appreciate. In the background is a HUGE thunderstorm. It’s not deliberately ironic.

It made me think; are there things we see everyday which, although humdrum to us, could ignite the greatest passion in others? I’m guessing the lady in the scene sees storms that size every week in the mid-west states of America, but for me, in humble old Blighty, it was pretty awesome.

Kevin MacDonald said (on a interview with BBC 4 Film Programme) that this film is intended to be uplifting; a message about enjoying life while it lasts. There’s a good Christian discipline to thank God for everything he has given you by grace - but when you’ve had a hard day at work, your car’s broken down and you’ve just been dumped it can be hard to find things to be thankful for. Yet, somehow, there always is, even if it’s just in the nature around us.

When the world and his dog has access to a HD camera, editing software and the internet how can you claim ‘authorship’ with a film like this?

This is a battle I’ve had in my professional life for years now. My answer: just because you’re literate doesn’t mean you can write. And it’s the same for this documentary. Only the very best clips were selected through an enormous editing process (a great skill in itself) and even then, they need the master eye of a director to craft them into a beautiful story, to give it a unique voice, set an emotional tone.

Having been so involved with the process, fingers crossed YouTube will hold a screening…

Bad Teacher


The Times 2 on Tuesday 14 June had a really interesting piece about women in film and a fascinating analysis called The Bechdel Test.

A movie passes if:

1. It has at least two women in it with names
2. Who to talk to each other
3. About something besides a man

Sadly, my weekend film trips were less than high-brow and first up was Bad Teacher, featuring Cameron Diaz. Based, not just on this litmus test, it failed.

Firstly, I’m not sure who this film is aimed at?

The car-wash and cosmetic surgery scenes are clearly there for the boys (I don’t ever need to see 34DD’s 6ft high on screen again) but they weren’t supposed to be funny. At least I don’t think so.

So what’s in it for the girls? Slapstick petty revenge (poison ivy apples) and one-liners which couldn’t cut butter. Not brilliant. Justin Timberlake (who has proved to have comic appeal on SNL in the states) and Lucy Punch do a good job at being the bumbling side-kicks to Cameron’s straight ‘guy’, but nothing was LOL.

Maybe, I’ve missed the point and Jake Kasdan (director) is taking a very post-feminist view where there is no male/ female audience in comedy anymore and that humour is really something about recognition regardless of your sex. Something which many stand-up comedians have said before. If you identify with the situation, you laugh.

So, that’s the problem.

Diaz does a good job as Elizabeth but I didn’t identify with her because she was such a flimsy, 1 dimensional character. Why’s she so money hungry? How on earth did she end up as a teacher? How did she almost marry a billionaire?! Some kind of autobiographical-montage would have been welcome.

But no. It’s got to be wide open and vague.

Rumour is this script did the rounds in Hollywood before Diaz agreed. Studio’s, I suspect, like to keep scripts like this as vague as possible so they can create a cheap romcom by numbers – any available leading lady could fit the bill (Anniston, Moore, Heigl, Roberts) and that’s why it can’t be specific.

Hollywood finally woke up to the idea of female directors (there were three on the panel at Canne this year) so maybe they should wake up to the idea of female comedy writers. Tina Fey has shown through SNL and five brilliant seasons of 30 Rock that women writers are hilarious and snapping at her heels is fellow SNL stalwart Kirsten Wiig with hotly anticipated ‘Bridesmaid’s’. Rumour is she wrote it in six days (having previously not written anything longer than an SNL skit before) and it’s already grossed millions at the box office. Can’t wait.

La Vie En Rose


Oh, oui, je suis un Francophile – don’t get excited, that’s about the limit of my French, but after watching La Vie en Rose last night (£3 in Tesco) I found myself adopting a convincing accent, but lacking a convincing vocab. C’est la vie.

A quick look online and I see the title translates to A Life in Pink – which is strange, as it wasn’t my impression of the film. In honesty, this film was a life in grey – lived to the full but not clearly defined.

I know nothing of Edith Piaf, except the infamous closing scene song, so I was excited to learn something new. And I did to a degree: her transient childhood, her misspent youth, her shady associates and the love of her life. However, the end credits left me with many questions – exactly how old was Edith when she died (she looked 100 when everyone else hadn’t aged)? Who was her husband? How long was she in America? What drugs was she on?

For a biographical film La Vie En Rose skirted around the detail, (which is why it’s not a documentary obviously), but I found it frustrating. Personally, I find it hard to engage with a character when at the end of almost every scene you’re sat there thinking why did that just happen (cloudy introduction of hardcore barbiturates and vague mentions of liver conditions)?

Maybe the French know all this about her and as a silly Englishwoman I shouldn’t be so stew-peed. I should be more French, accept the whole picture, and not drill down for detail. So I did. I loved the scenes in Montmartre. The struggling artists, the endless champagne, raw talent, beautiful Parisians, the twisted cobbled streets…the tragedy waiting to happen. I felt the urge to light up a Gauloises and sing La Marseillaise. It was like watching the Moulin Rouge but without the circus filter.

Again, and this is getting picky as it’s about a singer, the music did start to grate on me after two hours. She was a wonderful singer, that much is obvious, but even the diva can’t have loved the sound of her own voice as much as the film producers. To hear her contemporaries would have made the contrast of her own talent more pronounced and given the audience’s ears a break.

Marion Cotillard undoubtly deserved her Oscar – convincingly swinging from fresh-faced teenage rebel to bitchy old biddy.

Overall I think 4 out of 5 – it’s sparked a curiosity in me to find out more about her, but if I hear "Non, je ne regrette rien" again, it will be too soon.

Senner


I think documentaries are my new favourite thing to watch, this weekend I had a choice of two - Herzog's 'Cave of Forgotten Dreams' and 'Senner', an autobiographical feature about the F1 legend.

I picked the latter and was glad I did, because I enjoyed every moment. It felt as compelling and tense and emotional as the best drama I've seen, but so much more because it was about real people. The 'characters' (and there are plenty of them in this ego-fuelled sport) were fascinating.

All the drivers names were so familiar to me, and like this documentary, it was nice to reminisce about a snap shot in my life. F1 in the early 90s was a regular fixture on weekend TV in my house - the zoom and whizz from the cars was a pleasing audio trip down memory lane.

This film started a nice train of thought about the idea of celebrity. I knew who Senner was, but I couldn't tell you one thing about his private life. Thankfully, neither did this documentary. The focus was entirely about Senner's relationship with the sport, his passion for driving and his disinterest in all the peripheral technology and fame.

F1, I think is unique, it's vague. Who you support - the team or the driver? In the case of Ayrton - people loved him, what he represented, what he was - raw talent of mythical proportions - not politics, money and machines. Something so special when contrasted against who's in the game today (the preceding advert was for Tag Heuer sponsored by Louis Hamilton - arguably more famous for his girlfriend and sponsorship deals than what he can do on the track).

Senner's relationship with one-time team mate, Alain Prost, was something like an old-school arch nemesis. The 'I hate you but respect you' type. I think the comedic element came out to me as I'd watched Talladega Nights that morning and their public spats with the media reminded me of Ricky Bobby and Jean Girard. But it was fascinating. Clearly Max Clifford wasn't around to curb their PR, and it was refreshing to see their rivalry splashed out in snappy sound bites and bitchy one liners. Prost, most famously said “Ayrton's got a problem, he thinks because he believes in God, he's immortal”, after one chicane incident which saw the Frenchman exit the race early.

The audience already knows the tragic ending, so the comments about eternal life and Senner's open and profound faith in God, added an interesting dynamic to the feature.

Tragedy is the obvious point behind Asif Kapadia's documentary. Senner had a legendary status built up from an impressive talent, great looks and honest heart who was cut down at the height of his career. It was the death on an innocent. It was man's tampering with the machines which ended his life, not the human talent. Poignantly Senner ends with Ayrton lamenting his origins in the sport and the purity and thrill found in go-kart racing.

5 out 5 - loved every heart-stopping-driver-side-camera moment of it.

X Men First Class

On release this Wednesday is X-Men First Class. I’ve enjoyed about half of this endless franchise, the good (XMen - the original and best) the bad (Wolverine), and the downright ugly - (X-Men Last Stand – who thought Vinnie Jones would be a good idea?!) So I’ve eyed this prequel’s pre-release build up with more than a healthy amount of cynicism.

This week the BBC Radio 4 Film podcast had an interview with script writer Jane Goldman about the difficulties in making characters with super human powers, well, human. How can you challenge Magneto if he can escape from anything, how can you trick Xavier if he can read anyone’s mind?

Here’s the lightbulb moment. If you’re going to pursue a sequel/ prequel, and want to keep bums on seats at the cinema, you’ve got to find something different – people (I know I am) are getting tired of the same old special effects wow-a-thon. That’s why you need a talented writer, not some hack who’s there to make sure dialogue doesn’t get in the way of action, all out maddening action.

The two most interesting (and human) characters, Xavier and Magneto, have the most dynamic and, dare I say, human relationship. Xavier believes humanity and mutants can coexist, but Magneto believes in war and dominance. The exploration of this alone would make an amazing movie – the idea of what is a ‘hero’ made for great entertainment, and intelligent film making, in Christopher Nolan’s Batman films. Proof.

I’m not saying we need to get all super serious, these films are ultimately based on comics, which were originally for kids. But, with great budgets comes great responsibility. To keep people coming back for more, you’ve got to give them something new.

Sadly, I don’t think XMen First Class is going to cut it – I hear Magneto single handily starts the Bay of Pigs. I’m looking forward to seeing that turn up in some kid’s GCSE course work. Sigh.

BFI top 100 missed


In my weekly frenzy of booking brand new releases to my Love Film account I was struck by how many classic films I've never seen, but always intended to.

So, I was pleased to see the BFI have done half the job for me by supplying their top 100 movies, here's the one's I've missed (which look good):

1. The Third Man - As a fan of Graham Greene books, I'm annoyed I've never got round to watching this classic noir mystery.

2. Lawrence of Arabia - history epic when Peter O'Toole was hot (literally).

3. The 39 Steps - Hitchcock thriller which has escaped me - I need to watch it it's on at the theatre all the time!

4. Kes - I think I've seen half of this, but as the catalyst for so wasted-youth drama since (This iS England, NEDS) I think I'll like it, in a depressing kind of way.

5. The Lady Killers - Shocking. I've never seen an Ealing comedy.

6. Chariots of Fire - Normally sporting genre films don't get me that excited (I blame Rocky) but this is obviously about so much more - plus it's set in the 1920s so the track fashion is awesome.

7. Gandhi - Richard Attenborough's award winner about the life and times of this exceptional figure, with the state of the world, I'm hoping his passive politics will be rousing rather than disheartening.

8. The Ipcress File - I love spy movies and this is the daddy of them all!

9. The Remains of the Day - Merchant Ivory, Emma Thomas and Anthony Hopkins. YOu know it's good. The struggle between love and duty will make Downton Abbey look like Eastenders.

10. Goodbye Mr Chips - As a future trainee teacher, this is a tale of dedication to education.

11. A Clockwork Orange - I really Kubrick films but this one has escaped me beacuse I'm a pansy when it comes to on-screen violence. In light of what's followed since, maybe the controversy around this flick will seem a bit more tame.

12. Nil By Mouth - Gary Oldman's directoral debut about a working class family's struggles. Gritty and (hopefully not) realistic is how Cannes described it. Just hope I can see past the 522 F words.

13. The Killing Fields - Harrowing true story about New York journalist trapped and escaping the Khmer Rouge uprising. There's something so much more compelling about a story you know was lived for real, and this is an area of history I'm a bit wholly on, being to young at the time to understand.

Father's Day films


After reading Peter Bradshaw's top 10 Father's Day films on the Guardian this morning it got me thinking about my (decidely less high-brow) choices. See http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/filmblog/2011/jun/08/best-films-fathers-day

Sadly mine only make sense if you're my Dad, as there's little content about parental relationships. But here goes, my top 5:

1. The Young Frankenstein: Gene Wilder, Mel Brooks - you can't go wrong. This was one of the first films my Dad taped (yes VHS!) off the telly when we got our video player at Christmas - probably circa 1992. I was too young to get all the jokes, but I loved it and I think that's testament to Gene Wilder's mad performance. I can still sing all the words to his version of 'Putting on the Ritz'.

2. Some Like It Hot: another one of my Dad's favourites and my introduction to another great comedy. Jack Lemon is the real star in this madcap movie - 'Zowie!'

3. Star Wars (IV): Dad's attempts to get my brothers and me to each veg was to make a sausage stew with beans, sweetcorn, peppers and tonnes of onions and call it Star Wars Stew. We feined disregard, but secretly hoped Hans Solo had created this secret yummy-chowder.

4. Carry on up the Khyber: My Father is a pretty serious chap for the most part, but he loves the cheeky innendo and slapstick of the Carry On films. So much so, he insisted the head table (film theme) at my brother's wedding would carry this title. I'm not a big fan, but everytime they're on telly at Christmas I always think of my father chuckling away and cracking nuts (because it's Christmas, that's not a double entendre).

5. Back to the Future: 'Woah, heavy' (McFly) 'Is there a problem with gravity in the future?' (Doc) - Geoff, never one to miss a good pun/ bad use of language still finds this hillarious. Bless.

27 Dresses

Before the Ugly Truth there was 27 Dresses. This time Abby, sorry, I mean Jane, is on the hunt for love after surviving a movie-montage of Manhattan weddings.

Luckily, Jane knows she’s as much of a cliché as the film. So with a nice nod and wink from the script writer, Heigl get’s to poke fun at her own performance, (which for all intends and purposes is the same as ‘Abby’), cringing away at Jane’s unlucky antics. She’s Bridget Jones, but with better clothes and more attractive friends.

By contrast to Butler, James Marsden (Kevin) is a convincing leading man: a cynical journalist with a secret penchant for crying at weddings. Just like Goldilocks’ porridge he’s just right. He’s not a pathetic sop whose ex broke his heart, and he’s not some sleazy wise guy over compensating.
We’re back to a predictable formula, but this time, that final kiss is lusty and convincing. Hooray. They smooch, the audience cheer.

Of course, Jane would be the biggest bunny boiler in real life – that sad wardrobe full of dresses, the subscriptions to bridal magazines and infatuation with her boss would see Kevin run for the hills rather than jovially stick-around for a date. But that’s beside the point. Rom-com fans are happy to suspend belief, so long as they live happily ever after.

3 out of 5 – good performance, better sports training montage.

The Ugly Truth

From the opening scene, you know exactly what is going to happen, so in that sense, it’s very obviously, and satisfyingly, predictable. What I didn’t expect was the casual and constant innuendo, ‘lad’ language and vibrators. Not your usual fair for a chick-flick. It was like hearing your granny swear. Kind of funny, slightly shocking and definitely wrong.

Katherine Heigl plays Abby Richter, an uptight television producer in Sacramento who, we’re led to believe, falls (against her better judgment of course) for Mike Chadway (Gerard Butler), a jock TV personality who’s thrust upon her to boost ratings. They’re supposed to hate each other. Luckily Mike puts this aside, and decides to become her dating coach – to prove his point, that men just want a Kim Wilde look-a-like with a filthy mouth.

Abby goes for it, and wow, look what happens she ends up with Mike, realising it’s best to be an uptight control freak – but now with hair extensions and a wonderbra. Good compromise.

I’m not sure about this one; I kind of liked it because I was in the mood for frippery and entertainment, and I appreciated that it was trying to be different by adding in the ‘adult’ language, but the screwball situations didn’t quite raise the LOL’s they’re supposed to (fellating a hotdog; the orgasmic dinner; falling out of tree face first into your neighbours crotch).

Ultimately, I didn’t really like the overt sexist – and I’m not burning bras here – Mike’s advice would have made Don Draper blush. (Something Heigle complained about after it was released apparently). Also, I couldn’t stand Abby, for someone so determined and ambitious, she pretty quickly gives up all self-respect to follow Mike’s advice. Plus, she’s simply annoying. Not only do her and Mike lack chemistry, I kind of found myself hoping Mike would end up with one of the jello-twins instead.

2.5 of 5 – sassy, but not sexy. Those ‘Hollywood kisses’ weren’t believable for me.

Chick-flick-rom-com-a-thon

Bit of a Katherine Heigl chick-flick double whammy this weekend. On Sunday I was trussed up as a bridesmaid so what better excuse than to get together with the bride on the night before and watch a good old fashioned chick flick – but the first one, was definitely not that old fashioned.

Legion

Oh my goodness. What can I say.

Paul Bettany’s pained expression throughout the film mirrored that of mine.

As a fallen angel he inexplicably lands in LA, with just enough time to slice off his wings, kill a cop and steal a car, before heading out to help the yokels at a depressing truck stop in Nevada desert. He’ll help them fight off ‘throngs’ of avengers while Mr & Mrs yokel sneak off with the second coming. Problem is, he’s only got about two guns, the wrath of heaven turns out to be possessed old ladies, ice-cream van drivers and bored extras. It’s okay, because just when the action looks like it’s getting slow, the arch-angel Gabriel turns up all bad-ass with a button-action mace and bullet proof wings.

I’ll start with the pity I felt for the excited actors interviewed during filming for the DVD extras. Apparently, before the edit, this film was going to be inspiring, with great characterisation, something that really pushes the envelope in this genre. My response; what flipping genre?!

Legion can’t decide if it’s a comedy, action, horror, drama or even sci-fi. It might have worked if it just stuck to one, but instead it awkwardly limps from one genre to another, doing a half-arsed, pitiable job. It was like an injured dog: someone put it out of its misery.

I’m wholly confident that if God wanted to destroy mankind, he’d know a bunch of zombie angel-human hybrids would be the most efficient way. Send another flood and have done with it.

0.5 out of 5 – for Denis Quaid - who worked out what a joke this film was going to be and acted accordingly.

Blue Valentine


I opted for doomed young love (Blue Valentine) rather than cute one-liners last night (Morning Glory) and I think I'm glad I did. I'm not sure. The pre-Oscars hype suggested I'd be all over this but this tale left me feeling a bit hmmm, thoughtful. Like many good films, I'm not sure I liked it.

The premise is that we watch in real time the demise of Dean (Ryan Gosling) and Cindy's (Michelle Williams) young marriage while experiencing flashbacks to happier times when their love first blossomed.

Director Derek Cianfrance’s chose to shoot the real-time scenes with this dull, blue filter which has the effect of washing out the colour, making their world seems as drab and lifeless as their love for each other. Or as one critic said, "as if the celluloid itself has been quietly weeping".

We contrast this with the more vibrant, crisp, clearer flashbacks from happier times before. Of note, are the end credits which have a wonderful firework metaphor - colours of light burst out and reveal happy photos of Dean & Cindy which instantly fade away with the phosphorescent light.

My problem with the film is that Cianfrance took 12 years to make this and, I think, still didn't quite get it right. The contrast should have been more pronounced. Flashbacks, like all memories need to have a slight nostalgic, dream-like, fading and rose-tinted feel - they should be more intense in colour, vague in detail.

Every failed relationship has a longing for the past - a longing where our memories conveniently wipe out the annoying habits, the irritating sayings, the boring hum-drum days and replace it all with perfection, witty conversations and endless excitement.

Dean lives for his 'honeymoon' world. His job at the removal company means he knows the drag of carrying baggage - he's only interested in the purity of love - it's uplifting, light and freeing feeling. So once reality kicks in he struggles to accept Cindy as the girl she really is. One who had huge potential which was taken away in an instant, literally - sperm travels fast. He longs for the pedestal moments, where he visualised perfection, true love at first sight, all the things (he admits) are down to watching too many Hollywood movies. Cindy on the other hand is frustrated with life - she envies Dean's freedom and despises that he is uninterested in it.

While Dean is stuck in the past, Cindy by contrast is routed in the depressing present. Something she's aware of, and seemingly, Dean is not - as shown by his misguided attempt to rekindle their spark with a disastrous night in the (ironically named) Future Room.

The biggest question though is what went wrong? Cianfrance is successful in showing that falling out of love can be as mysterious as falling in love. The ending is suitably vague. Cindy screams for a divorce while Dean throws his wedding ring away, but his immediate regret and her help to locate this symbol suggest they might just be in the eye of the storm. Who knows. It's refreshing to see some genuine, well acted, carefully written drama on the big screen. Hurrah.

I think I'll give it 4 out of 5, even if just for Williams excellent performance (she can REALLY play hurt, defiance and grief well).

LA Noir


Hollywood’s competition has clearly arrived. As many movie fans can vouch, where on earth has the big budget drama gone? Summer’s around the corner and you know that will mean weeks of cheap CGI animations (Hop), then there’ll be the usual dirge of all-action blockbusters with Marvel comics leading the bill no doubt (Green Lantern, boo)then there'll be the sequels to terrible franchises (Pirates anyone?).

So who’s kicking Hollywood in the butt to give them a wake up call? Well, TV has been doing it for a while – especially in the States. Mad Men, Lost, Six Feet Under, The Pacific, Band of Brothers, ER – and many, many more have been taking drama out of the big screen and wrapping it up neatly in a DVD box set for years. I don’t think this is likely to end, and well, it hasn’t seemed to scare the movie moguls state side to up their game yet.

Well, exactly. It’s the gaming industry who’s going to cause those fat and lazy producers state-side to sit up and listen. LA Noir is the latest offering from Rock Star Games, and as someone who is definitely not into gaming (other than vintage Mario Kart), it’s been a personal surprise to see how keen I am to have a go.

Facial recognition technology (used with reasonable success in Tron to make Jeff Bridges 20 years younger) has allowed Rock Star Games to accurately reflect the faces of the actors in the game. The lead character, played by Aaron Staton (Mad Men’s Ken Cosgrove) not only talks like him, he literally talks like him too – using the same facial expressions. Impressive.

But what is this? We’re watching drama, acted out by legitimate A-listers, but it’s a game using plot, story line and a sophisticated script to take the gamer through a series of mentally challenging tasks. This is no Grand Theft Auto blood-bath, it’s intelligent drama – that you get to control. Kind of makes all those additional features on Blu-Ray look like Disney Singalong for the level of involvement you gain.

I can’t see this ever replacing cinema (TV never did and I doubt 3D TV will either) and it can’t replicate the social side of the big screen, but it’s certainly an emerging new genre for engaging entertainment. It won't be long before we start seeing more of the big screen stars immortalised in digital drama.

Canne round up


Here's a good little summary from the BBC:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-13500584

Upcoming films I'm getting excited about:

1. We need to talk about Kevin - the only British contender, and should be pretty disturbing, for one it's got Tilda Swinton in it and she's pretty mad.

2. The Way - Emilio Estevez directs his dad Michael Sheen in this pilgrimage tale which questions relationships, spirituality and community. Interesting context in light of older brother Charlie's tabloid antics. In a Radio 4 Film Programme interview Emilio said he felt his film was similar to the Wizard of Oz - in terms of it's a personal journey of discovery - to know you already have the qualities you seek (courage, heart etc)

3. The Tree of Life - Palme D'Or winner, and full of Brad Pitt, can't go wrong.

4. The Red Dog - Louis DeBerniere's book which he's actually approved of in film form (unlike Captain Corelli's Mandolin) - it's ultimately a children's tale based on a true story about a red dog in the Australian outback who was notorious for catching lifts with trucks, buses and trains.

5. Snow White and the Huntsman - there's something going on in the woods with a series of Grim's Brothers tales being made into movies. This looks more promising than the soppy 'twilight' style Red Riding Hood.

6. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows 2 - the final showdown!

7. The Hobbit - Martin 'Bilboa' Freeman let slip at the BAFTAs that fellow Sherlock star Benedict Cumberbatch might be starring - but in what role? I guess I've only got a year to wait - 2012 release date

8. The Dark Knight Rises - Chris Nolan's back to direct the third in the Christian Bale Batman flicks - this time Brit Tom Hardy (Bronson, Inception) is the muscular baddy, Blane and released pics look terrifying!

That's all for now, 8 a nice round number.

I'm sure there

Thor


As a fan of the Noggin the Nog books, and someone who, because of this, ended up taking modules in Old Norse and Classics at University, I was pretty keen already - but throw Kenneth Branagh in as a director and I was sold. Popcorn in hand, I eagerly awaited some old-school action - deity style.

So this is the beef. The warrior Thor (Hemsworth) is cast out of the fantastic realm of Asgard by his father Odin (Hopkins) for his arrogance and sent to Earth to live among humans. Falling in love with scientist Jane Foster (Portman) teaches Thor much-needed lessons, and his new-found strength comes into play as a villain from his homeland sends dark forces toward Earth.

Well. Hmm. What can I say. A film which takes part in two realms has the effect of leaving the audience stuck in limbo. Just as you're getting into the CGI world of Asgard, the fantastic, soaring buildings, the impossibly beautiful people, the sheer volumne of gold - we're jarringly back in dull Arizona with Natalie Portman's dull dialogue. Put those warriors of old in the modern world and suddently, they both look silly (though Branagh's tongue in cheek enough to mention that as two coppers refer to them as Xena Warrior and Jackie Chan).

Things I liked: the Mario Kart style rainbow road which is gateway to the other nine realms. The smashing of coffee and demanding of more by Thor. The Metz style 'judder man' of the Frost Giants. Anthony Hopkins (always good) and the fact is was relatively short.

To be fair, I didn't really dislike anything, it's more that such a simple story and plot I could see lends itself well to comics, (and Noggin the Nog books) so no doubt it's been a challenge for Marvel Films to turn it into something which could match the other giants in their film library.

I'm more confused by Branagh's involvement - and surely continued involvement as the sequel was just a little bit too obvious.

Okay. I've found a dislike. Films which assume a. there needs to be a sequel, b. that you will watch it, c. and that you'll pay to watch it. Just don't do it, unless you're Harry Potter, then fair enough, you've got a good excuse. I kind of felt like they did a poor job with this film, because they knew there'd be another one - why not made the best film you can and assume NO sequel, then if it's successful celebrate with a better one. Franchising is the enemy of good cinema.

Overall 2.5 out of 5 - it was pretty entertaining, but I'll never watch it again

The Town



Apparently, after some dubious lifestyle choices (namely JLo) Ben Affleck kind of lost his cool in Hollywood. Not satisfied with the unchallenging film roles he was being offered he decided to 'Good Will Hunting' himself... again.

And I would say The Town is equally innovative, suprising and poignant. I was more suprised that someone has the capacity to do this twice in a career. Afflect wrote, directed and stars in this gritty heist/ human drama set in Charlestown, Boston. This little suburb, we are told, is home to 90% of bank robbers in the state. This particular crime is treated like an art, a skill, passed down through the generations, with each subsequent delinquent getting more sophisticated in how they obtain the money.

The opening scene show's how the 'trade' is done, with Affleck's character 'Doug MacRay' adding a human touch to scenes of brutal violence, as he tries to calm manager Claire Keesey (played by the brilliant Rebecca Hall) as she unlocks the vault. The event is almost as slick and professional as FBI Agent Frawley (played by John 'don draper' Hamm) bemoans, until Keesey spots the distincitve tatoo of MacRay's bff 'Coughlin' and there starts the drama as MacRay's character pursues her to check she won't squeal.

Of course, without giving much away, it's his involvement with Keesey which leads him to question the choices he's made in life. He starts to hope for a new life, an escape from all those around him. That's why this film isn't what I expected, it's not an all guns blazing cops and robbers action-fest (like Bad Boys), neither is it a smooth, stylist heist (like Oceans's 11). It's most definitely a film about human drama, the life we're born into, the dreams we dare to have. MacRay's sudden and unexpeted involvement with Keesey, show's him how the violence, deceit and petty criminality which is so ordinary to him, is so destructive to others.

Keesey is refreshingly a normal girl. MacRay is not her knight in shining armour, though she does question her motives for getting involved with this 'blue colour' bad boy immediately after her kidnapping. Neither does she run off to mummy in the suburbs - rather she stubbornly goes about her day to day life and tries to put the past behind her. We see her working in the community garden, volunteering at the ice-rink kids club - maintaining her independance and not letting the dark sides of society get her down. She's a realist, not an optimist. She accepts people are flawed, people make violent choices because of where they've come from.

I could relate to Keesey, though I'd be much more chicken than she is (I would probably at least find a house mate after surving an abduction) but she also serves a good contrast to the other woman in the film played by Gossip Girl Blake Lively.

Lively's character Krista Coughlin, is the tragic character in this drama. Vulnerable with no self-worth, she throws herself at any man who seems kind to her. She's in love with MacRay (who might be the father of her child) but living up to the 'tough girl' attitude of the town, she hasn't revealed her feelings, or the paternity, to him. In contrast to Keesey who is managing just fine, Keesey so desperately needs rescuing. She begs MacCray to start his new life with her - she longs for the escape as much as he does - and cries out claiming 'I'll be any girl you want me to be' - it's literally the saddest scene in a movie I've seen in ages. You know she won't leave, you know no-one will ever respect her, you know the life which waits for her is one without love. She's played her last card and had it thrown back in her face.

After watching this Affleck has proved that Good Will Hunting and Gone Baby Gone were not flukes, but that he's got real eye for making compelling drama. At least, I hope Hollywood see that, because I'd like to see more.

4 out of 5 - mainly because I was so suprised it wasn't a generic heist movie

Crazy Heart




Everyone’s gone country. From Gwyneth Paltrow promoting new flick Country Strong on Glee with Dixie Chix covers, to fashion on the high-street. Everyone’s in love with the deep south. So it’s high time I publish my thoughts on Crazy Heart – and maybe dig out my cowboy boots.

Scott Cooper’s music-drama features Jeff Bridges as down-and-out country music star ‘Bad Blake’ who tries to turn his life around after meeting journalist Jean Craddock, played by Maggie Gyllenhaal.

This tragic film is one of uncomfortable voyeurism. We’re introduced to Bad Blake as he orders a drink before his low budget gig, in a tacky bowling alley in the arse end of nowhere-ville. The admiration he receives from everyone ensures we understand he’s fallen from grace, and his smooth talking in the liquor store ensures we know how.


Cooper takes a realistic and inglorious approach to portraying alcoholism – there’s no witty one-liners, no ‘loveable rogue’ when Bad Blake’s been at the sauce. Rather, intimate camera close-ups and unflattering angles help form a sense of confusion and disgust - which accurately reflects Blake’s current state of mind.

The tipsy car-crash, violent sickness and barely intelligible gigs mould an atmosphere of foreboding, which culminates in the shopping mall scene when Jean’s son Buddy goes AWOL. The audience is routing for Blake, but you know it’s all about to go horribly wrong. That scene was more uncomfortable to watch than the drunken bender which followed.

But why? Because, it was a knife-edge moment. If Blake could only keep himself together, then a lifetime of happiness could await him with the lovely Jean and Buddy. But he can’t. And we know he can’t. Addiction is horrible thing – it’ll lead you to water, but leave you twice as thirsty afterwards.

Like all artists, Blake’s talent is open to abuse and waste. While lamenting the loss of Jean he writes some of the best music of his career, and it doesn’t go unnoticed. Former protégée Tommy Sweet (Colin Farrell) is hoping to advance his already successful career by buying the rights, but he offers no solace or help. Neither does his long-standing agent, who’s only priority is Tommy and getting Blake to sell up on song rights.


Sweet’s character is an obvious indictment of the manufactured ‘country’ stars in America. Big on style, small on god-given talent. Blake represents the old, soulful core of country, while Sweet is the clear, commercial future. And we see which one wins, when Blake ultimately sells him his best song, to then donate the money to Buddy. One final act of redemption on his (hopefully) final road to sobriety.

Any Kurk Cobain/ James Dean/ Marilyn fan can appreciate how tragic it is to see talent, more so, a life, wasted – and it doesn’t matter if it’s a music idol, or your next door neighbour.

Coen brother’s favourite, T-Bone Burnett, stamps out another impressive audio footprint with a heart-felt, reflective and entertaining soundtrack (some performed by Bridges and Farrell). Aside from the drama, the music really allows Bridges to dazzle us with this Oscar winning performance – his natural charisma shines out when he sings – especially title track, ‘The Weary Kind’, which stands out for its haunting, choked melancholy.

True Grit



Tron seems to have kick-started a Jeff Bridges revival in my house this week. So, first on the list was True Grit, the Coen brothers remake of the 1969 John Wayne classic.

Not dissimilar to Crazy Heart, Jeff Bridges adopts an almost unintelligible accent to play US Marshall Reuben J ‘Rooster’ Cogburn. The audience is introduced to this one-eyed renegade, during a trial where his testimony has an almost Dickensien disregard for the law – pointing out the obvious failings of the legal profession with off-hand, changeable comments.

His slouched, easy stance is kept in shadow by the bright window light behind him – the effect is to produce a distinctive sillouette of this ‘shady character’. To be expected, the humour in the script is typical Coen, and the quick banter between Rooster and the lawyer was reminiscent of the rhetoric between Clooney and the law in ‘Oh Brother Where Art Thou’.

Clearly, the way characters use language is something the Coen’s have added to their auteur specifications. And interestingly, it’s Hailee Steinfeld’s performance as Mattie Ross which leaves the strongest impression. In the original Charles Portis novel, 14 year-old Mattie dominates as the first-person narrator. In the film, Mattie’s vocabulary reflects that of the written word, she doesn’t abbreviate, she doesn’t use slang, or mish-mash a sentence. Every word uttered is as considered and precise as her appearance. The obvious contrast in dialogue between Mattie and Rooster, apart from being comic, is a metaphor for their moral stance in life. Retribution versus revenge.

Critically, this film was considered a risk for the Coen’s. John Wayne’s legend as the ultimate American (western) hero speaks strongly to the national identity – mess with it at your peril. Personally, I’m not a fan of Westerns, I can’t think of one (other than No Country for Old Men) which I’ve paid to go and see, so the very fact that the Coen’s can guarantee an audience in any genre must be a sign this film has wide appeal.

I enjoyed it. The cinematography is wild and epic – the final chase scene a refreshing variation on the traditional western shoot out – (horse chases across open plains seems to remind me of LOTR) which makes the more intimate moments more intense (Mattie down the snake pit felt very claustrophobic).

A film with this many ‘characters’ runs the risk of alienating an audience – it could become too difficult to find any of them believable – but luckily we don’t in True Grit. Matt Damon, delivers a hugely understated and excellent performance as the Texan Ranger LaBoeuf.

Over all 3.8 of out 5 (so pedantic I know)

Tron Legacy



Well, I’ve really not been on for a long time. No excuse, just a few lifestyle changes and laziness. Whoops.

So I’ve missed reporting on my favourite views since, well, goodness me about two years. Many things have happened all of them good – Inception, Shutter Island, and it’s not just the Leonardo DiCaprio films I liked last year, up there was Toy Story 3, The Hurt Locker, A Single Man, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and many more I can’t even remember. That’s how good they were.

Summer is almost here which inevitably means a tedious season of blockbusters and kids flicks, so it’s back to Love Film to catch up on some goodies I’ve missed. The first of which is ... Tron: Legacy.

Aside from the jarringly bright and optimistic Disney logo on the film poster, this film is a true dystopian epic. Not as good as Blade Runner, as it’s nowhere near as clever, but up there with other sci-fi adventures like the Matrix.

The best bit, clearly, is the Dude and, as he describes it, the ‘bo-digital jazz’ of a soundtrack – Daft Punk of course. The other thing, is the pure beautiful design of the ‘Grid’ – something which director Joseph Kosinski was clearly keen to promote as something not of the ‘future’ but just the best of current aesthetics.

There’s nothing really ‘futuristic’ as such about the cars, venues, homes, clothes of the Programmes and Users in the Grid – much of it feels like you’ve seen it before, just maybe in an art gallery, or architects webpages. Kevin Flynn’s Japanese inspired minimalist house is an enviable bachelor pad, and the villain ‘Clu’ lives in what could arguably be a top airline’s first class lounge – just with a couple of ominous bikers strutting about in leathers.

Costumes have a clear nod to the previous film, but just like the graphics and even the atmosphere (it rains in the Grid) there’s a sense, that just like in the real-world, live has moved on, progressed and got harder, better, faster, stronger (bad in joke for DP fans). But I couldn’t get past the wetsuit look of them (but maybe that’s because I’ve just back from a week of surfing).

Overall the story is somewhat weak and predicable, but that’s not what makes this film enjoyable – it’s the style and the immersion into a different world. There’s some excellent character performances (Michael Sheen has a real injection of energy half way through) and some fairly terrible (Garrat Headland – Sam Flynn).

I think it’s clear this, like so many of Bridges films, will be a bit of cult hit and a marmite classic, some will cherish and others won’t.

3.5 out of 5