Saturday, 31 December 2011


"The inevitable US remake..." a phrase that, over the years, has grown in notoriety and struck fear in the hearts of the off-the-beaten-track-popcorn-punters the world over. The likes of Nikita, Ring and The Grudge have all suffered at the hand of mainstream Americanisation and now the latest arrives!

This time however, there appears to be a light at the end of the normal car-wrecked tunnel - a well-known franchise that has appeared on the radar in both book and film form to many plus the fact that a director of note is behind the remake/re-imagining. These factors alone put the tale of the meeting of a disgraced journalist and a ward-of-state girl head and shoulders above other US remakes.

And Fincher's interpretation remains there, but doesn't go any higher. Rightly or wrongly, there is an anticipation for something visually and mentally outstanding from the man who delivered Se7en and Fight Club. Indeed, the opening title sequence smacks of Fight Club with disturbing visuals and a tune that assaults the eardrums but that is where the early Fincher stops. Everything else afterwards settles down into a solid, well presented experience but those who respect and adore his work may feel a tad disappointed that the flair is not there from him.

Wisely kept in the country of origin and not transported to New York state or New England, the cast all step up to the plate regarding performances and accents - except one. Craig, as the lead, strangely seems to have no accent of note whilst the rest (US, UK and Euro) of the cast all bring the Swede tweed to the fore. This doesn't detract from his delivery or the overall enjoyment but during interactions with others it does feel slightly odd.

The story is really about the two leads and, arguably the main one is that of the girl whose been fighting everyone, and everything, since 12 years old. Comparisons shouldn't be made but will be inevitable, especially since the gap between the original film and this is short and the first Lisbeth - Rapace - will be regarded as the ultimate interpretation. Mara, unrecognisable here, makes her own stamp on the photographic-memory hacker enough to not bring visions of Rapace to mind with flashes of humour and immature and misplaced feelings of love towards Craig's journalistic investigator. The somewhat graphic rape scene pain at the beginning pales into comparison with the heartbreak pain in her eyes in the final two minutes of the film for the heroine who dared to open up.

Apart from the change regarding the "whodunit/did it happen" aspect of the film, Fincher remains in the same lane as the original to the point where you may hear if you listen closely enough a voice saying "why bother?" However, his deft handling and editing of the sequence where in separate locations and following different clues both the leads make the break through in the case is an example of how multiple story strands should be handled.

A great introduction for those new to the Millennium series and not the travesty that those who love it thought it would be, this is another interesting addition to the cv of a director who continues to surprise with his choices and delivery.

UK release date: 26.12.11
Certificate: 18

Monday, 26 December 2011


And so the tradition of each Mission Impossible being helmed by a different director to stamp their own personality on the franchise continues, this time with an intriguing addition...

Brad Bird, who has been mainly progressed in the realms of CGI - The Incredibles, Ratatouille - seems to have made a determined effort to keep away from the use of computerised imagery to deliver his first live action film. That, plus the fact that his star, Tom Cruise, has wanted to keep it as real as possible for his audiences (every film boasting that he does his own stunts) have culminated in what could have been a realistic, but boring "adventure" for the viewer.

But then this is Mission: Impossible terrority and boring is not something that can be chosen to be accepted or not - bigger, louder, ballsier are what is called for, and what is served up in spades. Lessons have been learnt from the previous three outings and thankfully a fair chunk of them have been applied here. The "lone agent" flaw of the first and the "excessive double-cross twists" of the second were shed for the third (and still the best) mission and here, although not behind the actual camera, the presence of its director, J.J. Abrams, can still be felt.

Bird and Cruise move more to the team-play element which allows Pegg to step up to centre stage as secondary character to Cruise, bringing the main bulk of comedy to the proceedings. He's not able to shine as he has in his own set of films but despite a decidedly American blockbuster script and a leaning towards thrill-a-minute antics, there are still smiles and giggles frequently to behold. The addition of new hero/kid on the block Renner does feel like the unsubtle beginning of the torch passing from older Cruise to him to keep the franchise afloat in years to come, but it doesn't detract from the immense fun that the film is.

As you would expect, there are set pieces designed to make your jaw drop, and if viewed in the imax format, these should succeed. The crown rests squarely with the climbing antics in Dubai on the 130th floor (hence heavily used in the marketing campaign for the film) but Ghost Protocol is not just a one trick pony. The automated car park finale nods to another of Cruise's tech-centric movies - Minority Report - and the beginning prison break sequence has a corridor scene that can be seen as the first attempt to Americanise OldBoy before Will Smith tries it later on.

Good, solid entertainment, the only thing lacking here, which alot of Bond films have suffered from, is a down-and-out, right bad ass baddie. Having a older, academic guy go toe-to-toe with Ethan Hunt feels like too much suspension of disbelief and he's never given enough motive or dialogue for you to want to boo his appearances or cheer his inevitable failure. Apart from that, this is one mission you should chose to accept.

UK release date: 26.12.11
Certificate: 12A

Friday, 16 December 2011


2009 saw what would split purists and and new-found fans down the middle - Guy Ritchie's version of the greatest detective ever, Sherlock Holmes. His version of the super sleuth was more villain-killer than deer-stalker.

For those who visit the cinema a lot, this sequel may come as a breath of fresh air. There is no "all the rage" 3D. Nor is there any travelling down the road of "darker, grittier" as so many other follow-ups have done of late to try and please and keep their audiences. This is a true definition of it ain't broke, don't fix it.

Despite new writers, new locations and new villains, A Game Of Shadows feels, looks and rolls along just like its predecessor. All the touches that stood out back then have just been emphasised more, and it's this familiarity that definitely builds content. Ritchie has great fun in depicting Holmes' keen intellect once again with the Matrix-like ability to see things before they happen, in this case, just before one of the various fight sequences. All is mapped out in his mind and then come to fruition, except for scenario which brings a new slant to the definition of cock fighting.

The other, and much more welcome return, is the sheer grin-inducing bromance between Downey Jr's Holmes and Law's Watson. The banter is bigger, sharper, quicker and at times ruder between them - "you've been enjoying Mary's muffins." This keeps them squarely at the top of the pile of recent cinema buddy teamings and conjours up memories of the early Riggs and Murtaugh exchanges of Lethal Weapon. The repercussions of the stag night on Watson's wedding day are a delight to behold as you see Holmes still struggle to let his relationship/partnership with him move inevitably on.

The plot, as before, will become second fiddle to the set pieces, the banter and the action and you will find yourself feeling that you're just hanging on in there and being led through the locations of London, Paris, Germany and Switzerland, but it's done in such a way that you don't feel disgruntled or cheated. Instead, like Watson partly, you're along for the ride and you just have to sit back and follow Holmes's lead. If there is a disappointment, it's the fact that Dragon Tattoo's Rapace is never given anything much to allow her to shine like McAdams did in the first outing. Neither love interest or plot-essential, she is even upstaged by a lesser character - Stephen Fry's brother of Holmes is ridiculously posh and quirky and far more memorable.

Great fun and exciting to boot, this is a sequel that, unlike most, is worth seeing. It's elementary.

UK release date: 16.12.11
Certificate: 12A

Saturday, 3 December 2011


Every time you think that's there's a taboo subject that shouldn't be addressed, Hollywood, even if it's years much later, brings it to the fore with a movie. So, after Philadelphia confronted the topic of aids we finally have a film that carries on after where Terms Of Endearment started and brings the "big C" to the center stage once again...

Except this time round, the delivery is squarely aimed at the funny bone rather than the malignant bone as a theme and an anchor for the viewer. This means that ideally the experience should be a pleasant one but therein lies the rub - just when you think it's ok to laugh or smile at the situation or the interpretation of the events that are unfolding, that's when 50/50 hits you squarely in the gut with a sobering side.

Gordon-Levitt, if he's not careful, could end up being type cast as the go-to-guy for all off-kilter version of mainstream movies. His turn in (500) Days Of Summer helped it become one of the best romantic stories of the now and past generations and now he's put himself up for the role of a young, non-carefree individual who is struck down with a rare case of cancer without taking any obvious hang-ups such as smoking or drinking. This makes the degree of unfairness that more harder to swallow for those around him - especially his over-protective mother (Huston on fine form), his quickly over-whelmed girlfriend (Dallas Howard) and his best friend (Rogen doing what he does best.)

The rarer side of cancer in the story is what seems to allow the writer to take liberties with the audiences emotions and go for broke during the first half of the movies running time with the more up-beat reactions to the cancer news. The bulk of this relies on the bro-mance between Levitt and Rogen as the stoner best friend tries to dis-credit the cheating girlfriend and tries to use his friends cancer as a pulling tool with the ladies. Writer Will Reiser drew on his real-life fight with cancer for the screenplay and essentially Rogen is playing himself as he was Reiser's best friend during it making the reactions and friendship all that more poignant.

The second half where the illness takes hold and the operation that could go either way is offered (hence the 50/50 title) still raises smiles but this is where the reality sinks in. It is kept in check with the "see it a mile away" burgeoning romance between patient and newbie therapist (the delightful Kendrick on equal Up In The Air top form.)

An awkward subject matter handled deftly and surprisingly well where laughter and tears go hand-in-hand, this shows that, like (500) Days Of Summer, any story can be told, no matter how old (love) or sad (death) with a freshness that can make it worthwhile and memorable for the viewer.

UK release date: 25.11.12
Certificate: 15


There are two major shocks to get over before and during viewing one of this years planned biggest family films - it's directed by the man who gave the world Taxi Driver, Goodfellas and Raging Bull - and that he's filmed it in 3D (his first foray into the medium). Not too mention the likes of Cameron and Spielberg are stunned by his use of it is no mean feat!

Scorsese is a director with a true passion for cinema which can be seen in all his previous works. This love is poured into every frame of his 2 hour interpretation of the little-known children's book that tells the tale of an orphan who struggles to stay out of the clutches of a train station guard whilst trying to finish his late fathers last project. A short and simple story that in the hands of any other director would be full no doubt with product placement, tunes from the latest tween band and chases that would translate well into some form of console game.

Here though, within the first ten minutes you have two long (but not Goodfellas long) tracking shots that wondrously introduce the city of Paris in 1931 and the makeshift home of Hugo in amongst the pipes and clockwork mechanisms of the train station where he lives/hides. There are two stances regarding the use of 3D in modern cinema - the in-your-face tactics of the likes of the Final Destination franchise, and the subtle depth-of-field immersion from such films as Avatar. There is now a third - an effect where even though you accept the scenes shown in the third dimension as something to add to the story rather than drive or smother it, it never, and I mean never, ceases to stop making you catch your breath and continuously mouth the word "beautiful"at every well-crafted shot. For the first time in the recent rebirth of the format, Scorsese's Hugo shows how 3D should be used. It's quite simply put, that great. If you don't find yourself grinning at the imagery every now and then, please take off your 3D glasses and leave the cinema.

Now that doesn't mean that it is without its flaws. You see, this still a film from a man who normally deals with Cert 15 and above movies. This is not going to be an easy film for younger audiences to sit through. There's fun, and funny stuff for them but inbetween its long running time - 126 minutes is very long when compared to normal 90 minute family faire - its the gracefully camera moves tied in with the love-song to the birth of cinema itself that may cause severe fidgeting. This is a film that will find itself woven into the hearts and minds of those who can connect with their inner child or who can and want to educate the young of something other than music videos and games consoles. The first people who screamed over 100 years ago at the sight of a train pulling into a station upon a cinema screen are the target audience here it seems - trying to recreate the wonder of an art-form that has the power to bewitch its participants.

If this sounds all too heavy, then fear not - unrecognisable Baron Cohen and his made for 3D dog are great as Hugo's foil (their bath sequence is a genuine laugh-out-loud moment) with him delivering "mouth open" jokes that only the adults will truly understand whilst the secondary characters bring an Amelie-esque element to the proceedings with their stories playing out under the watchful eye of the little hero - De La Tour and Griffiths' slow-burning romance is surprisingly touching and funny.

Simply, this is THE most beautiful film of the year and the best use of 3D to date making it a movie to see in the cinema with people who still want to or who can believe in the power of wonder and imagination.

UK release date: 02.12.12
Certificate: U

Friday, 2 December 2011

THE THING (2011)

There are films that will always be with you which help you remember your growing up and how you began to define yourself; for some they had The Omen, some had The Excorist, some The Shining and others had The Thing. Now, 29 years after John Carpenter's original remake of the b-movie, his 1982 classic gets the prequel treatment.

Before this goes any further, you should know that the 1982 movie is in my Top Ten Of All Time so this rarely-wanted and much-anticipated prequel has a lot to live up to. And for a brief fantastic part of it, this modern "where it all began" origins story pulls it off to the same degree that Carpenter created with his claustrophobic tale of invasion of the smallest scale ever.

Straight out of the gate, you feel on familiar terrority with the much-plundered Spielberg 101 tale-telling-technique since his Jaws and Jurassic Park master classes - scary intro, followed by character introductions leading into build up to big crescendo finale. Now, if you have the skill to bring those characters into your audiences immediate memory enough for them to care about and root for, then this technique is a no-brainer, as when they begin to fall into immanent danger they want them to see it through to the end credits. First-time big screen director Heijningen Jr. unfortunately does not posses this particular skill and neither does the writer Heisserer (Final Destination 5, the recent remake of Nightmare On Elm Street... need we say anymore?). For each clever nod to the original produced, they fall foul of several predictable modern horror cliches that dissipate any pent-up suspense they may have conjured up.

Alot of this is the over-reliance of CGI to help push the story forward and create the scares. Although the original had great state-of-the-art-effects for the time, the small cast, the paranoia, the accusations, the human errors and the single claustrophobic location, all created to make an absorbing "who's next?" movie that on first viewing had you guessing right up to the "you've got to be f*cking kidding me!" ending. Here, it's pretty obvious who's been exposed to the thing so the emphasis switches onto the how rather than the who for the seasoned viewer.

It's strange then that the makers have addressed details that have been poured over to such an extent that fans will tick off their mental check list - axe in wall, block of ice extracted - that they have then had such a blatant disregard for THE major questions raised by the 1982 version - the huskie escape, the body with the razor cuts to the wrists and throat, the thing's intent or story - to the point where any geek points gained are nullified. Back to Spielberg, his Close Encounters.. Special Edition showed the inside of the alien craft to which he and audiences alike hung their head in despair afterwards and here the makers make the same mistake - along with taking the small scale environment which evokes paranoia and expanding it in the hope of increasing the thrills. This does not work sadly.

As said at the beginning, there is a 15 minute segment that literally sits along with the original for sheer nail-biting suspense that sees a fantastic twist on the originals "blood test" sequence, but that's not enough to make this a classic unfortunately - just another average-to-good night out at the flicks. For those of you who don't know the original, that just may be enough. For the rest of us, a wasted opportunity will sit in the back of the throat.

UK release date: 02.12.12
Certificate: 15