Friday, 28 December 2012

JACK REACHER


The internet. For some it has broadened their horizons and opened up new worlds and new possibilities. For movie makers, it seems to have opened up more efficient ways of piracy and placed upon them the "power of the angry geek." Films have found themselves under attack even before the cameras have started to roll.

The first big screen outing of author Lee Childs' best selling anti-hero came under such fire when Cruise was announced as playing the part of drifting investigator Jack Reacher. His height, his looks, his frame - all were dragged into the mud-slinging arena. It was Interview With The Vampire all over again.

They were wrong then, and they're wrong now.

In the hands of first time big screen director McQuarrie, who is best known for his penmanship rather than his camerawork (writer of Valkyrie, The Usual Suspects, The Tourist and here on Jack Reacher) we clearly get to see that he  knows how to set up good characters with great introductions. After an unusually nail-biting opening sequence where a sniper opens fire on seemingly random members of the public  (unusual because not only are men targeted, but women and girls carrying children...yes, you read that right, children!) he smoothly moves onto the task of introducing our anti-hero. Not unlike the intro to Indiana Jones, the beginning shots of Cruise's Reacher  doesn't show his face, just his back of head and side shots. The only thing we get to see is the reactions by every female that interacts with him - something fun that runs throughout the entire film with women trying to contain their desire for him. This clearly is a man with presence despite not being 6"5" as described in the books.

The tone is then further set with a "you can see it coming but it's funny nonetheless" sequence where Oyelowo's cop and Jenkins DA brood over how impossible it is to find a man like Reacher let alone ask him for help after reviewing his file only to have him....well, you can guess the rest. These kind of smile-inducing moments are scattered throughout the films 130 minute running time but none are more so delightful than Reacher blending into his surroundings to avoid capture from Oyelowo's men after a slightly overlong but enjoyable car chase through the city.

The saving grace and the Achilles Heel for the film though lies squarely with its villains. Courtney is a believable match for Cruise in the shooting and hand-to-hand combat sequences (so maybe there IS hope for A Good Day To Die Hard after all then as he plays McClane's son in the fifth outing) but it is the big boss - an underused and very sketchily written Herzog - that feels flat. With a "hinted at" and hastily drawn out back story, Herzog's big bad boss no more elicits fear from the audience than what Reacher feels when he goes up against 5 paid thugs in a bar. There's no need to even break a sweat.

So, with 17 books out in the public domain concerning Jack Reacher, no doubt the studio is hoping that this could be their next new franchise. Of course, only time will tell whether Jack's reach can extend to a sequel but with Cruise seemingly making films left, right and centre and with an already block busting franchise up his sleeve (Mission: Impossible), a return to Reacher could be a hard thing to come by unless of course the ticket stubs go extra crazy for it.

Fun, witty and enjoyable to watch - both the film and it's female lead, Pike - it's worth a trip to check it out but do yourself a favour.... let the whole height thing go if you've read the book and just sit back and take it all in. You'll be pleasantly surprised!.

UK release date: 21.12.12
Certificate: 12A




Tuesday, 18 December 2012

THE YEAR AHEAD - 2013


For some out there, it's going to be an unlucky year. With 13 in its name/number, next year all of Hollywood and its worldwide cohorts, are hoping that there will be NO unluckiness with what they've chosen to release and ultimately entice your time and money away from you, the audience.


The film studios are already gearing up to release their big guns from next month onwards to dominate not only the lucrative Summer season but also the awards season with their releases slated from October, so, how about a flash forward for you to plan ahead each month and either book the baby-sitter, cancel the stag/hen do, re-arrange that reunion, record that football match rather than watch it live or.... insert the relevant scenario that matches your busy life here!

The following will pick each of the coming months and highlight some of the movies that hope to score big-time with your attention and your pocket money... so the list is there, all you have to do is choose what out of them gets your vote for your popcorn-consuming calender...



JANUARY

LES MISERABLES

There's not much to say about this one... the trailer for it had been hitting screens since early November and the word on the inside track is that Oscar nods will abound for it. The trailer shows that the impressively well-known cast will soon be well-known for not just their acting ability but for their singing prowess as well. Wolverine VS Gladiator in a singing match?.... Bring it on!




FEBRUARY

BEAUTIFUL CREATURES

Or, as some would call it, the next Twilight... With alot of teen literature being viewed as hot cinematic properties of late since the Twilight's and The Hunger Games scored big at the box office, it's no surprise that this ever-popular series of books has made it to be the big screen. Whether it can be big enough for any sequels however will remain to be seen...




MARCH

CLOUD ATLAS

Despite Bryan Singer's fab-looking Jack The Giant Slayer being released this month, I've gone for the simply put "totally bonkers looking and sounding" Cloud Atlas. With a time-spanning premise that seems reminiscent of the poorly-received The Fountain, it's gotta be worth a look...




APRIL / MAY

IRON MAN 3

Marvel's plan to rule the universe along with their partner Disney continues after the over-whelming success of Avengers Assemble last year. This month sees the charming rogue that is Downey Jr's Tony Stark have to deal with his problems without the aid of any of The Avengers. Brave move but everything they've done has been brave... and mostly its paid off!




MAY

STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS

The first J.J. Abrams Star Trek was one of my favourite films of that year. Having seen the 8 minute trailer of the sequel in IMAX format, I think it's safe to say that this will easily become one of my favourites of this year!




JUNE

MAN OF STEEL

So far, the reaction to Zack Snyder's take on Superman has been...confused. The trailers for it have been more like that of an independent movie than a superhero flick. With The Dark Knight trilogies Christopher Nolan as producer, can the story of Superman cope with being made more "realistic / gritty"? Time will tell.




SUMMER TBC

EPIC

With a seemless blend of great visuals and a haunting song in the trailer, EPIC is looking just that - epic! Look for the original trailer which is light on plot but heavy on wonder and excitement.




JULY

PACIFIC RIM

After the endless delay in getting The Hobbit before the rolling cameras, Del Torro left Jackson to it so that he could deliver to us the tale of robots VS monsters! Hopefully this will bring to the screen the carnage that the Transformers sequels failed to do.




AUGUST

THE LONE RANGER


So it would seem that Depp and Verbinski haven't got each other out of their systems yet despite their Pirates Of The Caribbean run together! Welcome to The Lone Ranger, Tonto and Silver up in a tree! What do you expect?!? 




DECEMBER

THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG

It's like 2001 all over again! Remember when Christmas meant a new trip to Middle Earth? Well, The Hobbit's sequel hits cinemas with the third and final instalment due May 2014. Start ticking the calendar now.... (There's no trailer for part two yet so in the meantime, enjoy reliving the An Unexpected Journey again.)





So, for the time being, just know that for each film I've listed above, it will be up against at least another ten minimum in that particular month. There's a host of other note-worthy flicks but rest assured, when I can they will be here for you to peruse.

What are you looking forward to then? And did you know any of them?

PITCH PERFECT


So, 3 years ago, a TV programme somehow managed to become a small phenomenon despite itself and everyone saying how "they didn't watch it!" A show that was basically a musical every week with a bunch of kids singing existing songs to explain their feelings? Go to the theatre if you want that then nerds!

But it continued to air and sold records aplenty. Now, we have what on the outside appears to be a "made-for-the-big-screen" version of Glee! replete with the battle for Regionals and a bucket full of attitude to match too.

As a fan of Glee! myself, I can none-the-less see how people could not cope with it and naturally want to avoid any cinematic version of it like the plague or worse - the "wannabe's" on X-Factor. For those of you who fall into that category - stop right now, thank you very much!

Every now and then, audiences are treated too, so long as they let themselves be, a film that breaks out of its pigeon-holing and not only appeals to, but can win over all demographics other than what its storyline and its trailer suggests. Films such as Clueless, Mean Girls and 10 Things I Hate About You were looked at as just "teen/coming of age" flicks but they had a maturity and cleverness about them that made them hugely successful and popular to anyone who saw them, no matter what their age was.

Pitch Perfect is able to put itself into that category. Yes, it is slightly predictable. Yes, it has at certain points more cheese than Cathedral City's warehouse. But then, so were all the other genre-breaking flicks previously mentioned that pulled in punters other than their target teen audience. Here, as in with the others, it's all about the dialogue and the cast that delivers them. With a great cast and cracking dialogue, cliches become relevant plot points rather than eye-roll inducing set pieces.

And the cast here is perfectly pitched (pun intended.) Kendrick shows that her Up In The Air performance wasn't just a fluke or great because she had Clooney to bounce off of. Here she plays the "leave me alone but at the same time acknowledge me" new girl to the campus that issues out rape whistles (but asks that you only use them if it's really happening!) with charm for you to instantly like her. That role could be grating or downright annoying but Kendrick avoids such reactions. Her fellow musicians who "make music, with their mouths" are all the stereotypes you would expect to be present and correct - the slut, the quiet one, the rich bitch and since the successful arrival of The Hangover's out-spoken Alan, the mouthy fat one.

Wilson who plays Fat Amy, gets the main slice of the laugh-out-loud comedy hits from the ensemble - vertical running, drive-by Burrito'd, bikini carwash demonstration - whilst the others have to be content with either reacting, singing and the occasional sight jokes - secret lesbian looks, The Goonies-style vomiting - whilst the boys get their own slice of male humour - the Star Wars dorm room gag is sheer genius.

The consistently best side characters however are the commentators during the various regional and national competitions. Think of Dodgeball's Jason Bateman, then take his essence and place it into Elizabeth Banks and John Michael Higgins and sit back and watch the sexist, ageist and racist comments just fly by! If you don't long for another competition just to hear the thinly veiled sarcasm and the politically incorrect comments from the two then it's time to put the microphone away and just walk away.

Of course, in the end, despite all the shenanigans, love interests and rivalries, Pitch Perfect is about music and to a degree, choreography and these are both delivered incredibly well. All songs are either toe-tappers, hum-alongers or, with the case of  No Diggity, just plain old sit -up-in-your-seat classics!

More than just another teen flick, this is a cleverly written, well performed delight that allows you to admit you do like some form of musicals. Go see, go sing, go enjoy!

UK release date: 21.12.12
Certificate: 12A




Sunday, 16 December 2012

LIFE OF PI


Unfilmable. There are many books that are held dear to those who have read them and consider their favourite tomes as impossible works of art that would be unable to be committed to celluloid.  For anyone who has read it,Yann Martel's The Life Of Pi is one such book.

Then again, Ang Lee is not the kind of individual to be put off by such trivialities! The Taiwanese directer who has delivered outstanding works in both his native tongue - Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon - and in the West - Brokeback Mountain - has yet again turned his attention to literature. His Sense & Sensibility showed an understanding of remaining true to the source whilst making his own mark on the work and here, with some of the most beautiful 3D imagery committed to celluloid since Scorsese's Hugo, he has truly made this a sight to behold and cherish.

Even with the story of how someones faith in God is tested and eventually rewarded against all the odds, Magee's adapted screenplay and Lee's camerawork combine beautifully together to let you explore the possibility of "faith rewarded" and God on your own terms - it doesn't cram it down your throat forcing you to believe... you can read into it what you will and, like the reminiscing Pi says, "you can chose to believe or not."

The first third of the book dealt with Pi's multiple-conversion to every religion he came across whilst growing up in "one of the most beautiful places on Earth - India." Wisely, Magee's screenplay covers the religious aspect of the story humorously yet respectfully ("I want to be baptised" at the dinner table) in the first 20 minutes through the aid of flashbacks, and then delves head into the real reason why the audience, and Rafe Spall's inquisitive writer are there in the first place - the story of his younger self stranded in a lifeboat with a 3 year old Bengal tiger in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. You may not believe in God by the end of Pi's tale but you will want to have shared his experience, however fraught with danger it is.

Without giving away too much, Pi (delightfully played with initial wide-eyed earnest and then forced maturity through unfolding events by Surja Sharma) and Richard Parker (the Bengal tiger named that through a clerical error) are not alone on the lifeboat and the harsh realities of the circle of life are played out in the small floating arena against various backdrops - a raging storm and then the calmest, most astounding sea you could ever hope to see. It is these striking images that make their mark upon the viewer - an endless reflection of sky and sea with a bland white boat floating between the reflective  two holding the the beauty and majesty that is the tiger with his orange and black colouring sitting so out-of-place in these surroundings.

Before going any further, this is the time to emphasise exactly how stunning this film is. Normally, a lengthy description on the effects would lean towards the fact that the story, its depiction or the acting is below par as it seems all efforts were placed into the special effects alone. Here, simply put, is a truly beautiful film that could not have been made probably even a few years ago. Even for this trained eye, spotting the difference between the real tiger and the "had to have been used" CGI tiger is virtually impossible. This effect has the affect of not only drawing you in, but helps you to fall in love with a creature that you should fear and not care for. It is that good! The balance of power that continually shifts between Richard Parker and Pi both in and out of the lifeboat helps you to root for both at separate moments whilst still not wanting the other to suffer too much. Not many films can boast manipulating your allegiances and love between an animal and a human - and no, not even Turner & Hooch can pull off what Lee achieves here.

One way that the audience is so easily pulled along by its heart strings is through the films abundance of humour. Forget the absurdity of the premise of a boy and a tiger fighting for dominance on a lifeboat - the marking of the territory by urine is both clever and hysterical but shows the valuable lesson of never going up against a tiger in a pissing contest - it's the learning curve that Pi has to go through in order to survive that conjours up smiles and laughs. His diary of how to train a tiger at sea is delightful - "point 5. Ignore all the other points," after Richard Parker nearly has a meal made entirely out of Pi.

The use of flashback allows you to catch your breath and take on board not only the enormity of the situation and the various solutions that both work and don't - taking all the supplies of the lifeboat for safekeeping and storing them on the makeshift raft away from Richard Parker seems like a good idea at the time until the dazzling display of the luminous whale - but also the visual creativity and beauty that seeps from pretty much every frame of film.

A genuinely feel-good film, The Life Of Pi is one of the most beautiful 2 hours you could ever hope to spend in the cinema - both visually and spiritually. And if you don't want to go stroke a tiger afterwards or discover an island of meerkats that don't utter the phrase "simples" then there is no hope for you. Believe.

UK release date: 20.12.12
Certificate:PG




THE HOBBIT - AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY





It's taken so long - even longer than Frodo's journey to Mount Doom it seems. But finally after what seemed like insurmountable odds, the first instalment of The Hobbit has arrived. Peter Jackson, the director, co-writer and all-round orchestrator of things that are cinematic Tolkien, once again took up the directoral reins after chosen director Del Torro was forced to bail after all the complications involving legal rights and the fall of MGM kept pushing back the shoots starting date. The Hobbit was facing a fate not unlike the one that befell Bond's Skyfall. That however, benefited from the delay with more time to prep the adventure.

Fate though, it seems, has given Jackson the chance to finish what he started back in 2001 with The Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring. So, the question here is: has he pulled another success out of the bag or has his obvious love for Tolkien blinded him to the level of over-indulgence? Well my precious...

Sequels. Prequels. Audiences want more of the same but something different as well - all at the same time. Jackson's first of the now scheduled three forays into the story of Bilbo Baggins' adventure away from The Shire amazingly manages to pull off both of these polar opposites.

The "more of the same" aspect sees a remarkably similar structuring to Fellowship Of The Ring. We are given all the required back story via a prologue monologue - this time it's Ian Holms' older Bilbo rather than eternally beautiful Cate Blanchett's Galadriel imparting the relevant history. Nearly three hours later we then have the hero shot as the gallant band observe their destination from quite afar - both times a mountain in the distance with the distinct message to both them and the audience that there is still yet a long way to go... two films worth to be precise. Then, finally, a quick shot of an eye that will definitely cause the band of heroes much trouble when it sees them, despite their belief that "the worst is behind them."

Inbetween these two momentous bookends, there is much to see, and marvel at, along with breath-holding and laughter. Infact, there is quite alot of laughter to be had. The story of The Hobbit was one aimed more at the younger reader whilst the lengthy gap between that and it's sequel-of-sorts - The Lord Of The Rings - helped to create an overall more maturer and darker tone within its pages. These have been accurately reflected here with Jackson's body of work concerning Tolkien's works.. His Hobbit is an altogether more upbeat and jolly affair. Most of this comes from the larger-in-numbers  main cast and all their interactions with one another - after all, as Gandalf says, "they're quite a merry gathering." It's this lightness that gives those seasoned viewers the something "different" to make the time, effort and money that they have spent to view The Hobbit all the more worthwhile.

With this lighter, more smile-inducing tone, there are still sequences that feel like a distinct parallel to its "60 years" later continuation. Fellowship.. had the chase and escape through the mines of Moria whilst here there is a just as frantic run through the hordes of goblins deep underground in Goblin Town. The younger, more agile Gandalf has a more "hands on" approach here than he did in The Lord Of The Rings trilogy, with some nifty moves involving his wizards staff which could easily place him in a Star Wars prequel if they gave him a lightsaber to wield instead.

This, however is not Gandalf's tale - it belongs squarely with Bilbo and thusly with Freeman who was always first choice for the role. Some, and only a few, may find it hard to reconcile with Tim from The Office as the main man/hobbit in a full-on fantasy epic that cost and will make back millions of dollars, but the simple truth of the matter is that just as Gandalf did, Jackson and Del Torro chose wisely. Freeman's "down to (Middle) earthiness"- pun intended - and his slight self-depreciating manner make him to easy to connect with and then of course, root and care for. When he finally gets the chance to step up to the plate and prove to the doubting leader of the Dwarves that he does belong amongst them of their dangerous quest, you'd be forgiven for wanting to punch the air with delight and whoop for joy.

If Freeman carries the weight of the film upon his shoulders, it is Jackson's regular cohort Serkis, that helps deliver the films best sequence - the most satisfying, funny and creepy one possibly of all of the Middle Earth's stories so far. The battle of riddles between Serkis' Gollum and Freeman's Bilbo deep in the mountain is in turns laugh-out-loud funny then disturbingly chilling as Gollum decides that he's had enough of games and wants feeding as "we'ves never tried hobbits'."

There has been talk and backlash that the film suffers from excessive filling ever since the announcement that the two films would become three and that there is unnecessary information put in just to help them make us see a trilogy rather than a duo. Nonsense. All information here helps to bridge the gap that would make the linking of these films with the existing ones that much more fluid and understandable. Even if you disagree, here the time and the journey simply flies by leaving you once again on that in equal parts great but annoying cliffhanger.

Mr Baggins, we look forward to the rest of your journey, there and back again.


UK release date: 14.12.12
Certificate: 12A




Friday, 23 November 2012

SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK

There are those that can be cursed with being remembered for the one mistake that you've made rather than the ones you didn't. Director David O'Russell was destined to be one of those - the director that was punched in the face by his own star for being overly "mean" to another one of the cast/crew (Clooney on the set of Three Kings).

With his previous effort receiving Oscar recognition, it looks like with The Fighter that O'Russell could now leave that incident behind. So, it's with some irony that his latest effort sees a man struggle to show that an incident in his past is just that and needs to be classed as such and everyone should just move on...

Mental health issues. Its portrayal can be sketchy at best upon both the small and big screen. Classics such as One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest tackle it head on very successfully. Others touch on it but wrap it up in a storyline that is easier to swallow such as As Good As It Gets. Others try for all out comedy and run the risk of belittling not only the character but their illness at the same time - What About Bob? Silver Linings Playbook sees itself fall between the first two categories, and it owes this creative success and high praise from the performances of Cooper and Lawrence. Yes, they may have some solid writing to base their performances on, but in the end, if their characters don't hook you somehow then they've lost.

Cooper, yes he from The Hangover and The A-Team, right from the get-go, as he sits in his shrink's office desperately trying to reason with himself and the doctor about his actions, is a man who asks for and needs your attention and your empathy. As the movie unfolds you become privy to the "incident" that caused his stint in the hospital and it is this somewhat shockingly graphic reveal that shows just how strong your connection with Cooper's bi-polar teacher is as, rather than wanting to cut the ties with him, you would rather just want to ride it through to the end with him no matter what. He deserves his "silver lining" and you want him to have it. The books he reads to try to connect with his estranged wife that have no "happy endings" should not be for him.

Of course though, his "happy ending" should not be with his wife but with Lawrence's equally mis-understood and singled out individual that offers Cooper's still love-struck husband a way back into his wife's life. Here, the young woman that blew away the small-but-lucky audience that saw her debut in Winter's Bone and showed that a strong female lead CAN bring in both male and female crowds with her The Hunger Games, shows that these previous performances were not flukes. Lawrence as the recently widowed young woman who reaches out for comfort and solace in sex also has an uncomfortable scene not unlike Cooper's where her disorder causes trouble for him but her face brilliantly shows her struggles with what she's done and what she should do, without her uttering a word. It's this kind of thing that smooths over the obvious age gap between them and has you instead just concentrate on their words and actions rather than their years.

What it manages to do is make you accept the characters because of their flaws and their incidents but not only accept them, but embrace them too. Through such moments as exactly who started the hand-holding - both believe it to be the other - and the who-is-stalking-who through jogging around the neighbourhood, both Cooper's bi-polar Pat and Lawrence's clinically depressed Tiffany create a couple that most average rom-con's would die for - a believable, grounded and "fingers crossed they make it" duo.

Like the best rom-com's (don't be confused though, this is more than a rom-com) it's not just the central characters that help events unfold or win you over. Here, some recognisable individuals step up to the spotlight and, for some of them, banish their recent "phone it in" performances - yes Mr DeNiro, you! The supporting cast help to make it feel like that you're watching friends and family trying to deal with the problems that mental health issues can cause rather than some extras wandering into the camera shot. And for those who still have hearing problems from The Fifth Element and the Rush Hour films, Tucker will be a complete surprise not unlike Cooper.

Silver Linings Playbook does concern itself with a sport - here its American Football - but just like Field Of Dreams, the sport is not important. It's something that the father (DeNiro) and the son (Cooper) can try to bridge the ever-widening gap between themselves but doesn't need you to understand the in's-and-out's of to get it all. Then throw in a dance competition that refuses to go all Hollywood and cheesy and you have a film that never dumbs down itself to bring itself into your good books - and for that it should be seen. Wonderful.

UK release date: 23.11.12
Certificate: 15





Friday, 9 November 2012

ARGO

Think back if you will, or indeed, if you can. The name Ben Affleck. Causes you to smirk? Or think "that Matt Damon did alright for himself, wonder what happened to his mate?" Who would have thought that Affleck would not only come so far, but be so good?

For indeed he has. And is. Smirking is no longer an option.

With a steady slew on films on his CV that have both won critical and financial success, Affleck is a name that evokes a feeling not too dissimilar from Eastwood's when attached to a new release with his eye behind the camera and his face infront of it. One of anticipation and expectation - afterall, The Town and Gone, Baby Gone were fantastic pieces of work so can he replicate it again?

Simply put, yes he can. However, this is not the Affleck that we've been introduced to. There is no working class, family feuding drama from the streets of either his hometown of Boston or similar. Here he has truly spread his wings with the true story of the attempt to rescue six escaped American diplomats after the fall of their Embassy before the Iranians realise that they're missing. So, "how do we like them apples?" Alot.

Right from the outset, the attention to detail, or as the main American characters are trying to do here, the attention to deception, is outstanding. For a start there's the old style Warners' logo present from the very beginning. Then the filmstock used looks like it was filmed in the 70's to the point where the distinction between original footage and new is indistinguishable. At the beginning of the film, this confusion only helps to add to the tension felt by the viewer as the Embassy staff try to remain calm and follow protocol until the point where the front doors and windows are stormed by the worked-up crowd outside. And that's even before you've gotten to the beards and the flares!

Like the beards and the flares, there's two very distinct groups here throughout Argo - the Americans securely based in their sunny climate where all is suited-and-booted (albeit with back-stabbing, own-ass-saving motives) and of course the out-of-towners where the sun doesn't necessarily shine on TV and where the background of gunfire, hostile shouts and lack of sunshine is a constant reminder and threat throughout.

With careful plotting, depiction and narrative, Affleck and co place the story into three very different and recognisable categories - the suits in the American Government (CIA, The Whitehouse etc with this years unstoppable Cranston), the Hollywood Hacks (the sublime Arkin and Goodman) and the pawns in the bigger picture in Iran (the six fugitives and their helpers including the incredulous McNairy as the "you've gotta be joking?!?!" fugitive) - each with their own tone of lighting, mood and pace. It's not until all the three start to meld together in the final 25 minutes that everything becomes blurred to the point of nail-biting, armrest-grabbing anticipation.  It's been that well thought out.

Now, the issue with all "Based On A True Story" movies is that pretty much all of them are on the edge of far-too-good-to-be-true and leave you feeling that alot must have been embellished along the way to make it into a two hour-plus film. There is only one point throughout it;s entirety when Argo feels like the screenplay writers have stepped outside the boundaries of realism to help make an entertaining movie and even then it comes across as the Grandad to the finale of Die Hard 2.

A truly gripping piece of film-making, Affleck has proven that his last two previous efforts were not flukes and that he can now stretch himself away from Boston-based family dramas and is indeed truly a force not only to be reckoned with but one to be taken note of in the future. His handling on a subject that Spielberg would have considered is a testament not only to his guts but to his glory too.

Essential and downright enthralling viewing.


UK release date: 07.11.12
Certificate: 15




Sunday, 30 September 2012

KILLING THEM SOFTLY


The genre of small, or independent, film seems to have never had it so good. Over the recent years, big stars and recognised directors have dabbled in the field. Some even alternate between the big studio pictures and the small indy flicks - Clooney and Soderburgh are prime examples. There is, to use Yoda's words, another - Pitt.

A champion of the non-multiplex mainstream machine, Pitt has frequently crossed over and in doing so, has delivered some of his most respected work. The last venture between him and director Dominik gave us the visually beautiful and character driven The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford. Five years later and the two have collaborated again for another tale of those that operate outside of the law.

Sadly though, this is no The Assassination Of Jesse James. This latest offering would seem to be much more influenced by a different kind of "bad guy flick" altogether. Killing Them Softly is the (or at least wants to be) the younger cousin to Reservoir Dogs.

Tarrintino's debut immediately showed his love for dialogue - a mixture of the irrelevant and instantly quotable classic. His characters would endless talk about nothing and "shoot the shit" about things that had nothing to do with the plot itself. Here, Dominik - both director and screenwriter - seems to have followed suit as rambling conversations about kind-hearted prostitutes and the like litter the short-in-reality running time film but which make it ultimately make it feel like that so much longer. Normally these excerpts of dialogue would flesh out characters and make them more real for audiences to connect to, but here they just make the proceedings drag somewhat.

The other glaring resemblance to Dogs is its reliance on the more obscure choices of music and off-screen chatter. Dogs had its radio - a DJ linking tunes together whilst events unfolded upon the screen - and here the race for Presidency provides the chatter with what can only be described as an eclectic mix of tunes that blare out from the car radios. The Presidency race involving Obahma is surely to emphasis the state of the America seen on the screen that our characters are facing - decaying, degraded, dying - but this social commentary only helps to slow down the films pace and muddles the basic story of a contract killing that takes place to keep illegal gambling up and running. It's unnecessary, and at its worst, annoying.

Liotta, is, as you would hope to expect, perfect as the slimy and shady individual who causes the events to transpire, whilst Jenkins continues to clock up all the best supporting roles this year as the representative of the consortium who have to be "hand held" throughout the whole contract killing process. However, this is squarely Pitt's baby and when he's not up on the screen, he is sorely missed. Pretty much all of the films humour comes from the two "short of brain cells" criminals that are hired to rob the card game that starts events in motion, with Mendelsohn's Aussie junkie being the standout of the two. There is a scene where he and McNairy are high after the successful robbery that tries to depict the state of highness that, not unlike the whole film, is interesting but continues on so long that it loses any impact and momentum that it had.

Not like the trailer makes it out to be, Killing Them Softly is ok but not as half as cool as it wants or needs to be.

UK release date: 21.09.12
Certificate: 18



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Saturday, 8 September 2012

DREDD 3D


1995 saw a small but significant percentage of the population act as if their hearts and souls has been ripped out for something as superficial as profit. The hated Danny Cannon film saw Stallone's Judge Dredd not only try to appeal to the younger audience through humour BUT even more unforgivable, remove his helmet and show his face.

Fans of the 2000 A.D. comic hero did not take this sacrilege lightly and Stallone, Cannon and any chance of a sequel were promptly laid to rest. Judge Dredd had become a victim of his own quick routine of "judge, jury and executioner."

Take a jump 17 years into the future and director Pete Travis seems hellbent on making sure that his version of Mega City One's finest does not end up the same way. For a start there's no A-list celebrity cast as Dredd who doesn't want their face hidden behind a mask/helmet the entire film even if that is an integral part of the character. Step up Urban who, with his stints in Lord Of The Rings and The Bourne Supremacy, has shown he can do both heroism and detached killer - the perfect combination for the feared and fearless Judge Dredd.

The other way that Travis and screenwriter Garland make their incarnation independent is by fully embracing its 18 Certificate. No "distant deaths" are displayed here - blood and guts are the order of the day, in full blown 3D. Bodies are skinned and thrown 200 storeys down  onto hard, unrelenting concrete; a henchman's throat is clearly broken and punctured from a run in with Dredd; bullets rip through faces and bodies in comic-book coloured "slo-mo" to reflect the effect that the films drug has on its users - the brain slows down to 1% it's normal date therefore the users feel and see all in slow motion. Picture The Matrix's "bullet time effect" and add bright red blood to the equation and you get the gist. The introduction of Headey's MaMa villain (as beautifully rendered in the trailer) sitting in the bath with simple hand movements causing a glittering monsoon upon the screen, shows just how stunning the affect can be when not depicting the OTT violence.

Headey, who knows how to rock the "evil bitch" role from Game Of Thrones, is never given the scope or the dialogue to recreate another great-to-hate character, as most of the time it's her minions that encounter Dredd and his rookie- on-assessment, Anderson. MaMa sits and waits mostly in her penthouse for the cop and his rookie to make their way to her as their only way out of the looked-down block after her tannoy announcement for everyone within to bring her their heads. For those of you who read these reviews regularly, this will sound more than familiar - it's pretty much the plot for  one of the best action films of this year: The Raid. Due to one of those frequent unfortunate timings that seems to hit Hollywood where, like buses, 3 films come along about the same time that all appear to be so similar, Dredd's main plot runs like the Korean action flick, even down to the main villain broadcasting the presence of the heroes and demanding their deaths. The main difference though between the two is that The Raid rarely lets up on the shocking-action-front whereas Dredd takes moments for some characterisation - not for Urban's Dredd obviously, who grunts and minimum-sentence utters his way through the film but for Thirlby's psychic rookie who with each bullet fired moves from wet-behind-the-ears to serious Judge material.

Alot more fun than you feel you should have what with all the slo-mo deaths and blood galore, this new version of Dredd is, like X-Men was, a decent start at a franchise that leaves you curious and happy for another visit to its realm and characters. Contained in just a small portion of Mega City One, readers of the comic strip will know that there is so much more that can be used and abused in any sequel - all they have to do is keep Urban and Thirlby onboard, keep the helmet on and keep the mystery of the man that is Dredd...  No flashbacks, no delving into his past - just present him as the mean, lean judging machine that he is.

He is the law!

UK release date: 07.09.12
Certificate: 18



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Friday, 7 September 2012

COCKNEYS VS ZOMBIES


British humour - there is nothing quite like it at all! Some of it has travelled the globe very well indeed - A Fish called Wanda, The Full Monty - and have been global successes. Then there has been the more "select/cult" hits worldwide that have helped fly the flag - any Monty Python, Shaun Of The Dead. The latter helped create and define new genres whereas the former just perfected their respective ones.

Director Matthais Hoene's first stint behind the camera sees his work fall squarely into the former category - a "standing on the shoulders of previous giants" type of thing.

Firstly, it should be known that if the title of Cockneys VS Zombies didn't appeal to you or brought a smile to your face, then it's safe to say that this won't be your type of film. Here, not unlike the Snakes On A Plane idea, it does exactly what it says on the tin. One half of the writing duo - Moran - had previously cut his teeth in writing episodes for TV such as Doctor Who, Spooks, Primeval and Torchwood. These cult shows deal with the slightly ludricious and it seems that Moran, along with co-writer Loche, have gone all-out loopy for their first shot at the bigtime. There's no denying that it feels (and looks like) a lesser cousin to superior Shaun... but the lads have tried to distance themselves with attempting more sillyness, more swearing and more stains of blood. And for some of the time, this works.

Where it excels in is its moments of sheer ridiculousness: a flashback to Ford's gezzer Granddad storming a Nazi bunker in WWII and givin' them what-for whilst shouting such things "ave some o that!" in a true cockney accent. It also shows that being dead, or technically undead, cannot quell the deep-seated rivalry between opposing football fans as our "heroes" watch on astounded over the slowest and strangest football hooligan fight ever seen. Its ultimate visual stunner aimed at the funny bone though has to be the sequence that makes an appearance briefly in the trailer - that of the nations' beloved Briers trying to outrun a zombie in his zimmer frame. The full scene is thankfully still a laugh-ou-loud moment without the brief snippet in the trailer detracting from your enjoyment.

Where it does fall short though is its over-reliance on its "star" - the foul-mouthed, takes-no-sh*t Alan Ford. Basically reprising his Bricktop role from Snatch, the writers and the director seem reluctant to keep the camera and story away from him for any length of time, allowing him to appear on the screen and utter his delightful way with words....buried deep in a pile of expletives! This does mean that the other cast members do feel like they're treading into his spotlight when it's their turn to speak, and some do suffer for this - Ryan, one of the more recognised of the cast, feels thrown in amongst the whole proceedings as if to add abit of glamour and eye-candy in the typical male-dominant world of zombie apocalypse. She does fare better than King's bank robbery-gone-wrong hostage who only has to think how stupid everyone is until she realises that they're all "nice" bank robbers and decides to join them in the fleeing of the over-run East End.

Having said all that though, Cockneys VS Zombies is not a film that requires a deep examination nor a thoughtful reflection afterwards. It is pure and simply a film to grab a friend, down some beers and then watch with a warm smile upon your face and a load of blood and gore in your eyes and a swear word every few minutes in your ears. Silly, stupendous fun, there's nothing quite like a film that has "Northern monkeys" in its dialogue or one that explains it all in its title. Nice one!

UK release date: 31.08.12
Certificate: 18



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Tuesday, 4 September 2012

LAWLESS


Not too long ago, it seemed like the little-visited genre of the gangster/western had eventually had its time. Despite the star power of Johnny Depp, the well-publicised Public Enemies did not fare well at the box office, and the genre once defined by the likes of The Untouchables seemed destined to play the part of a ghost town once again.

It would appear that this is not what John Hillcoat wants. Having already directed The Proposition and the short Red Dead Redemption: The Man From Blackwater, Hillcoat still has a need to scratch his Old West itch. And praise the Lord that he did!

As many will atest to, the phrase "Based On A True Story" (when it comes to the cinema at least) can lean inevitably towards a huge helping of a cheese-fest with a dollop of "I don't believe it!" on the side. Fear not, for there will be no cause of indigestion by cheese here on Hillcoat's latest - your more likely to try and hold your meal down due to the violence that rears its head throughout its running time rather than corny-itis and eye-rolling.

To help you better understand where Lawless sits, try and picture a Hillbilly version of Goodfellas and you're pretty much there. The Ray Liotta role of "wannabe respected and feared manboy" is taken by the fresh-faced LaBeouf who, like his Italian American cinematic cousin, narrates his way through the proceedings for us. It is he that introduces his two older brothers - the two that he so desperately wants to impress and eclipse. Clarke  - the eldest brother - takes the Pesci role of the unhinged individual who you can count on, but only when it suits him and his moonshine intake. His violence is mentioned throughout the film but the acts of silent and deadly aggression that spill blood out onto the screen that is the most disturbing all belong to Hardy's middle brother, Forrest. The brains of the brothers, Hardy mixes the menace of his Bane (The Dark Knight Rises) with the confidence of his Eames (Inception.) LaBeouf may be telling the story but Hardy steals it. Completely. Despite wearing a natty grey cardigan, attached to a whisper of a voice and a grunt that equates to half of his dialogue, Hardy portrays a coiled tension which, with the aid of a knuckle duster hidden in his cardigan, breaches the still waters of conversation like a Great White. When he erupts, best step back and watch from a distance.

Of course it's not all about the violence. Cave's script is able to make the occasional nod to matters both relevant back then and now - racism, greed and corruption. These are supplied by the support cast of Oldman - a small part despite his billing but a significant one as it is he that sets LaBeouf off on the path to wanting to be a "Wild West Goodfella" - and Pearce, the dark heart of the film. Picture the albino that kills Connery's Irish cop in The Untouchables and the Secret Service Agent from The Frighteners and you've nailed Pearce's creepy, gloved, no-touching Special Agent from the Big City. Yes, he may be a walking cliche so as to help you side with the boys who are technically on the wrong side of the law, but he does it so well that it can be overlooked or at least forgiven. You will want his comeuppance before the end credits roll and you'll want it as painful as possible for him!

Overall, fans of Goodfellas may think it just alittle too close for their liking - LaBeouf even falls for and tries to impress the girl who knows she shouldn't be with the boy from the wrong side of town but can't help loving him, especially as he flashes the cash and shows her the sights - but its music and actors pull it away enough to have it as a side thought in your head rather than a stick stuck in your throat. The female cast do struggle somewhat to shine as bright as their male counterparts - Wasikowska plays the preachers daughter that falls for the youngest sibling and for the most part just has to look alluring-yet-innocent enough to keep him and the audience interested. It is Chastain that has the meatier of the two female roles but even then she seems destined to be the love interest for Hardy's tongue-tied man who can't act even when it's handed to him "on a plate."

Entertaining and engaging, Lawless is able to keep you right up to its end narration, with a smile-inducing moment involving the legend of the invincible Bondurant Brothers which just goes to show that some "true life stories" are stranger than fiction but nothing is invincible in the end....

UK release date: 07.09.12
Certificate: 18



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Sunday, 2 September 2012

THE SWEENEY


Out there now, there is a whole generation who won't understand that driving a Ford Cortina through boxes and litter "makes the car look good." These individuals will not know the joys of sitting infront of the goggle box and watching Thaw and Waterman show the BBC how gritty cop shows could be - all violence and curse words and a huge disrespect for rules and regulations, guv'nor.

The ITV series ran from 1975 - 1978 and showed how The Flying Squad had to go beyond the law to uphold it. It may sound like nothing radical now with "loose cannon cops" frequenting everything from the small to the big screen but back then it was a sight to see.

Forward 34 years and it's the turn of Regan and Carter to feel the big boot of the remake squarely up their Sergent's motor, courtesy of director Nick Love. With the ramped-up macho likes of The Football Factory, The Business and The Firm on his CV, Love seems like the perfect companion to bring the two secret detectives and their "no shit-taking ways" to the silver screen.

The answer is NO, with a side order of YES.

The problem isn't so much with Love and his direction, but with the script and its inability to bring itself kicking and screaming into the present - and then sit comfortably there. Other attempts at old TV shows being reimagined have realised that their premise or feel may have been unique to its original time period and have compensated accordingly - Starsky & Hutch and Dragnet! went tongue-firmly-in-cheek whilst The A-Team and Mission: Impossible went big budget and ultra-modern, leaving behind any traces of their out-dated ideals and feel. The Sweeney attempts neither of these tactics and maybe the non-comedy route was wise but the keeping of the ideals and feel however was not. The way that Winstone's Regan and Drew's Carter act and react to people and situations - indeed their roles and ethos - are outdated and do not ring true or feel correct and plausible in today's society. It may be a great line but "you're nicked sunshine" doesn't fit right anymore.

On the other hand, what does work in its favour is its commitment to the big-boy/hard-nut buddy-movie that normally takes place across the pond with one cop who's nearly past his prime and his younger partner who's sometimes wet behind the ears. The lads strut around satisfactorily enough telling everyone who isn't part of their team to "**** off" but their story arc and their words don't match up. Love films London like it's an American city with camera swoops and aerial shots that wouldn't go amiss from a Bruckheimer production and he even gets one of the leads to "hand over their badge and their gun" from a demanding desk-jockey Boss. The only thing missing is the sound of Detroit in the background whilst they glare at each other through bouts of shouting.

One Americanism that Love has managed to make his own though is what appears to be his homage to Heat. Michael Mann's cat-and-mouse movie saw his criminal crew make an ultra slick retreat from an L.A. bank job gone wrong in a breath-holding sequence where the pattern of "covering fire, reach cover" repeated itself over and over again in a hypnotic cacophony of gunfire and running. Here, Love takes this scene, its pacing and mentality and places it amongst the backdrop of Trafalgar Square in broad daylight, making it all the more impressive and provoking thoughts of "how did they do that?!?!" from anyone who's been around London during the day.

An OK cop movie, The Sweeney lets itself down by never acknowledging its origins or trying to adapt that origin to a believable modern setting. The other tv-to-cinema adaptations did so and mostly came through unscathed but here you really do wonder why did they even bother to call it The Sweeney and not just something like London's Calling, You Slag.

UK release date: 12.09.12
Certificate: 15




Saturday, 1 September 2012

TOTAL RECALL


For those of you counting, or old enough to remember, it's been 22 years since Arnie told himself to "get your ass to Mars." Those who do recall (sorry) Paul Verhoven's OTT interpretation of the short story We Can Remember It For You Wholesale may find themselves smirking as the beginning credits flash up on the screen - "Original Films presents Total Recall." Original? Hah! Another stale cash-in from a "fresh out of ideas Hollywood" more like!....

And you'd be both right AND wrong. As a film that isn't compared to either its original source material or the 1990 Schwarzenegger-starrer, this is an average, run-of-the-mill Summer blockbuster that follows all the rules for popcorn-punters and ticks all the necessary boxes - sexy stars, big action sequences, good effects, ludicrous-but-easy-to-follow plot all rolled into an enjoyable 2 hours running time.

What is evident whilst watching Len Wiseman's fourth foray into directing, is that alot of time has been spent in discussions about what the future would look like. It wouldn't be surprising to find out if there was a "think tank" (not unlike Spielberg used in creating the look and feel of Minority Report's world) used here for Total Recall - but more about Minority Report later. The "phone in the palm of your hand" (a genius idea and so desirable) along with Police "energy harness guns" and essentially a skyscraper-sized lift that runs through the Earth's core between the films two locations, are believable but also breath-taking at the same time. The hover cars have been done before (still not at Minority Report just yet!...) but with the storyline stating that Earth has, through its ignorance, misuse and wars, has depleted most of its habitable land, thus housing has built upwards and the hover cars can magnetically float above and below the raised "roads."

Now, for those that are familiar with the previous efforts/incarnations of Doug Quaid's "who the hell am I?" exploits, there is alot of changes to deal with. In a refreshing, and somewhat surprising turn of events, in this tentpole Summer Blockbuster, there is NO America! We have the UFB (United Federation of Britain which contains the UK and Europe) and The Colonies (Australia). A tunnel that runs through the Earth's core that links them via a massive lift is what the "downtrodden workers" of The Colonies have to use to keep the UFB's in the lifestyle they have become accustomed too which is home to the films grand-ish finale. Up to, and including that point, Wiseman's version sets itself apart by trying the more recent favoured style of "grittier" film making. Gone are the jokes, wisecracks, one-liners and absurd feel and in are the handheld camera shake, moody looks and tortured souls trying to fathom out there place in life. Farrell may act the pants off of Schwarzenegger, but with his turns in Horrible Bosses and In Bruges, it's clear that he could have been given and easily pulled off a little light relief to increase the films enjoyment levels. He does hold the film together but for the most part, it is he and Beckinsdale that share the responsibility of not only moving the ridiculously-fast-paced story ever-forward, but keep you engaged throughout. She as his "wife" has a much more expanded role and easily replaces Sharon Stone that qualified for "a divorce" back in 1990 and takes up the role of the original Quaid hunter filled by Michael Ironside.

There are some nods to the original cinematic adventure - look out for the "two weeks" lady at the border control and of course the three breasted call girl that makes Quaid wish he had three hands - but that's your lot. It seems that there are two other movies that have more than a nod, or passing resemblance, to. The area of The Colonies is straight out of Blade Runner - all rain, neon signs, Asian crowds, see-through umbrellas and an overall feel of disrepair, decay and despondency. The UFB on the flipside is straight out of Minority Report - an expanse of impressive architecture linked by multiple levels of roads that have thousands of fast hover cars zipping across them with suited Police-types that carry amongst their arsenal non-lethal weaponry - even to the point where the cinematography matches that of Spielberg's sci-fi hit with lens flare abounding throughout scenes filmed in that location. This dies tend to somewhat draw the comparisons away from the original Total Recall but to replace it with two recognised classics such as Blade Runner AND Minority Report, wasn't maybe such a clever idea! They even have a sequence where a confused and weary Farrell sits tickling the ivories of a piano in exactly the same way that a confused and weary Ford does in the unicorn dream scene from Blade Runner! Brave, bizarre but blindingly foolish.

Better than it should be due in part to Farrell but especially Beckinsdale - all others are wasted (Cranston and Nighy) or sketchy (Biel) - and the impressive detail in the tech side of things, it could have done with abit more tongue-in-cheek than stares-into-distance plus it could have done with a huge dollop of "is this real or rekall?" rather than action sequence after action sequence.

UK release date: 29.08.12
Certificate: 12A




Saturday, 25 August 2012

THE IMPOSTER


It has been said time and time again that truth is stranger than fiction. Nowhere is this more evident than in the oft-overlooked category of documentary.

In the cinema, the genre of documentary has been distorted of late with horror writers trying to recreate the success of films such as The Blair Witch Project with the use of "found footage" in the style of a loosely-themed documentary -Troll Hunter, The Devil Inside - but to those who are willing to take the chance and try something alittle different, there are gems out there to be discovered - Project Nim, Catfish...

Now, another opportunity to not see the genre as only something that appears on BBC2 or Channel 4 during weekday evenings presents itself with the added punch of "if it wasn't true, you wouldn't believe it happened" weaved into it its very core.

Director Layton seems to have taken onboard suggestions from the producer of the riveting doc Man On Wire and used them to create a slow-buring but none-the-less engrossing depiction of the lengths that people can go to to either disguise or accept human nature in all its weird wonder. Within the first ten minutes you are presented with the full story - that of the disappearance of Nicholas Barclay from his home and family in June 1994 and his subsequent discovery three years later in a small town in Spain. So far, so back page news. Then, the screen pauses and the footage rewinds back to the beginning and all the details and interviews between the highlights are laid out for the audience to digest, contemplate and decide on whether they could have done the same things in the those circumstances.

With the combination of interviews with all the real people involved and recreations of the events they describe, Layton is able to pull you along to exactly where he wants you to be - a place of suspended disbelief of why and how a 23 year old Frenchman would pass himself off as a missing 12 year old Texan boy AND then be taken in by the family of said missing boy. But for this to be a 'doc that would rock" your world, it obviously doesn't end there. The Frenchman Bourdin is frankly mesmerising as he explains calmly and plainly the reasons of why he needed to take the identity of a missing child and, as the story progresses, more and more incredulously at what the family around him accepted and his reasons for why they did according to him. This, tied in with the actions of the authorities and their intentions behind them - to look good in the eyes of the press and respective superiors - puts you into a perfect state to be led rather than to guess at the unfolding events. You think that the story of the family and their interloper will end up with a frankly Jerry Springer-esque finale but, as stated before, fact is stranger than fiction and here, with both parties giving up their side of the lie, all presented here is fact.

Now, you may feel cheated that the ending that seems to be hinted at does not come to pass, but that should be all the more satisfying since it only cements the fact that you're not being lied to or being force fed a line to "entertain" you. The last 20 minutes of its 99 minute running time starts to pull the rug from under you whilst helping you to question exactly how some people can behave and be allowed to mingle with others.

A intriguing documentary that thrives in the cinema environment but one that most people would settle to watch on the usual BBC2 or Channel 4 stage, The Imposter is worthy of your time and effort, even if the people upon reflection, aren't.

UK release date: 24.08.12
Certificate: 15




Wednesday, 22 August 2012

TONY SCOTT - A QUICK-CUT, FAST-EDIT LOOK BACK AT THE 80's & 90'S

At just 68 years young, Tony Scott - the little brother of Ridley but by no means the lesser sibling - is no longer with us, leaving behind a wife, two children and a back catalogue of films that, whilst never award-winners, were none-the-less crowd-pleasers to varying degrees.

Scott's body of work, not unlike his brother's, was born out of commercials where messages/information must successfully come across in a very short space of time. He seemed to keep this ethos with him as his films were all about fast edits and quick cuts - infact some said that the same amount of information and substance that would be contained in one of his three minute commercials was to be found in his 120+ minute films. Whether you agreed with this point of view, it was one of his commercials that would change his career and for some, their cinema experience, giving them a slew of iconic imagery, cool cuts and desirable dialogue. His SAAB commercial where the car raced against a jet fighter came to the attention of two "wanna-be-famous" producers " who needed someone to helm their little film about posing in-training pilots and their fighter planes...

TOP GUN (1986)
The film that announced the arrival of Scott, put the producing duo of Simpson & Bruckheimer on the map and launched a million female (and male) pounding hearts due to Cruise and Kilmer and their beach volleyball shenanigans, would forever be a defining pillar of 80's movies. Seen by many critics as "style above substance," it none-the-less created queues that stretched around the block, queues outside the Air Force recruiting booths and queues for Aviator sunglasses.





BEVERLY HILLS COP II (1987)
After the success of their Top Gun, the trio of Simpson & Bruckheimer and Scott were allowed to continue the good fortune (and box office) of Eddie Murphy's wise-cracking cop Axel Foley from Beverly Hills Cop. More frenetic than it's predecessor, their sequel, continued to build on what what become their trademarks - fast action and plenty of it with camera movers to match. More set pieces, more humour and more senseless action and violence, Beverly Hills Cop II was yet another success for Scott and his mentor producers.





DAYS OF THUNDER (1990)
It had to happen at some point, and the "Top Gun with cars" idea was it - the bubble had burst with their third collaboration. The production started without a script and the "style before substance" technique was never more evident then here where critics and audiences turned their backs on it despite Cruise's raised popularity and the on-screen/off-screen romance between the two leads, Cruise and Kidman.





THE LAST BOY SCOUT (1991)
A personal favourite of mine, this is where a perfect combination of writer, directer and actor culminated in a truly too-cool, way-funny flick of a film! Shane Black's black comedy script matched Scott's slightly calmer camerawork approach and took full advantage of Willis' ever-strong shining star. Cracking dialogue and a bonkers story - Scott couldn't fail!





TRUE ROMANCE (1993)
After the successful pairing of Scott with producer Joel Silver on The Last Boy Scout, he moved onto the Weinstein Brothers for his next, and arguably coolest film, not only of his career, but of all time! Quentin Tarantino's ice-cold script paired with a who's who of hip stars gave Scott the opportunity to relax even more with his crazy camerawork and let the audience watch the screen rather than hold on for dear life during it! An instant cult and destined to be quoted forever!




CRIMSON TIDE (1995)
Returning to the fold of Simpson & Bruckheimer, Scott returned to the low-on-script, high-on-style story of two men at loggerheads (not like the strained relationship of the producers). This was also a milestone as it was the first of many pairings of Scott with Denzel Washington and, not unlike the effect to Top Gun (but not nearly as much), it saw a increase in recruits for the US Armed Forces. Scott wisely brought Tarantino in to polish up the script after the praise for the True Romance screenplay and another hit was in the bag.




Regardless of whether you liked the mans body of work, there's no denying the impressive amount of work he delivered - especially when you think of how directors now seem to take anything up to three or four years between their films hitting the silver screen. His shaky hand-held camerawork; the fast edits; the sometimes stupidity of the story - all these gained Tony Scott a fanbase and some of the ingredients mixed correctly did indeed deliver modern classics that even the harshest of critics couldn't completely shoot down.

Not a true favourite of mine, the loss of director Tony Scott is still a tragic one. Especially when you realise what his CV contained. When he did good, he did great. 

Friday, 10 August 2012

BRAVE

Since Pixar first wow'd audiences back in 1995 with Toy Story, there are those who have been waiting for them to fall squarely on their pixeliated arses but time and time again those nay say'ers have been left out in the cold. Pixar on a bad day - Cars, A Bugs Life - is still ten times better than most of the competition on a really good day.

However, now could be the time that those unwell-wishers get their dream fulfilled as Pixar delves into unknown territory for themselves, infact, it's two firsts for them - a female lead AND a human cast and story! Their UP! may have had a cantankerous old man and a wet-behind-the-ears scout, but it also had talking dogs and a weird bird to liven up the proceedings. One of the messages that both UP! and Brave share  may be the same - belief in yourself and stay true to your dreams - but their latest animated feature tries in a somewhat more grounded way to get it across to its captive audience.

And captivated the audience will be as the harbingers of doom will have to wait another year to see if Pixar will fumble the ball because they've scored another home run.  With their tale of a Scottish Princess who longs to change her pre-ordained life and her fate, they have, yet again, mixed that sometimes all-too-elusive mix of humour for both the children and the adults, along with absolute stunning visuals and as always, a serious tug at the heart strings at some point through the proceedings that culminates in a broad, dopey grin upon the face as the lights go up and the end credits begin to roll.

One of the strengths of Pixar has always been their dedication to the story rather than just the look of the film, famously throwing out the whole storyboard if it doesn't feel right - RatatouilleToy Story 2 as two of the best examplesOf course that's not to say that Pixar have never continued to push the boundaries of animation that they themselves helped create - some of the shots here are so amazingly stunning that they look lifelike/photo realistic. As the camera flies across the various Scottish glens and lakes, you'd swear you were looking at some of Jackson's New Zealand footage from Lord Of The Rings and not from a CGI'd interpretation of "Bonny Scotland."

As said though, it's the story and the characters that inhabit it that hook, line and sinker the audience right from the off. The first third of the film introduces all the characters that you will need to know and has them all take their time in the spotlight so that you can not only remember them, but you get to laugh, cringe and especially sympathise with them. This last emotion has never been truer depicted in a Pixar presentation then here with the struggle between Macdonald's Princess Merida and Thompson's Queen as they fight over clan tradition and an individuals future happiness. In one glorious sequence, Merida is shown how Princess' should behave and what they can and cannot do with such wondrous lines as "an' Princess' don nay doodle!"

Without giving away the films "didn't see that coming!" twist that propels the last two thirds of it, the bond between mother and daughter is continually fleshed out and examined along with the topics of faith in possible magic and in one self. These are explored but not at the expense of fun or the rest of the cast. The three clans that assemble to win the hand of the Princess bring the broad slapstick humour to the experience - as seen in the trailer below - whilst the three wee brothers (and their part of the twist) bring just good old fashioned smirking laughter with their antics and special brand of help.

What may come across to those who have grown up with Pixar, is that it feels that Pixar themselves have grown up abit, at least on this project. Alot of the laughs seem directed at the older members of the audience rather than the normal balance of jokes which lean towards the younger end of the spectrum - looks that only parents would understand between adult characters and hen-pecked big brutes that cower from their female better halves litter the films 101 minutes running time but the kids get to have their laughs with the brutes walking butt-naked after having to fashion their kilts into a makeshift rope ladder to escape one of the castle's towers.

Another emotional roller coaster from Lassiter & Co., Brave is indeed a brave step as they put their faith in not only a female lead but also in an all-human based story. Their faith and hard work have been rewarded as it can easily stand with its head held high in the same line up as the other greats such as Finding Nemo, WALL-E and Monsters, Inc. If you're not trying to disguise the lump in your throat or the tears running down your cheeks at the finale, then you have no business being in the crowd at a Pixar presentation. Another home run!

UK release date: 13.08.12
Certificate: PG




Sunday, 5 August 2012

TED


The leap from the small to the big screen is often tried but rarely successful in either of the categories of critical acclaim or box office takings.

Macfarlane seems to know this and has acted accordingly. Instead of going for the easy-but-open-to-failure route of simply extending one of his TV shows into a feature-length running time, he has written and directed a fresh piece of work for his first foray into the medium of film.

However, for those of you who are now wary of this new direction and change from the creator of Peter Griffin, don't fret - this might not be an actual episode of Family Guy, but it's the nearest thing to it. Just like Malcolm In The Middle was like a live version of The Simpsons, Ted has ALL the trademarks of its surrogate father show present and correct. From cast all the way through to cut-away sequences that have no place being there, fans will know that Macfarlane's hand, and blue-languaged mouth, are all over this project.

And cleverly on his part, for those of you that have never "quite got" the wonderful weird humour that is Family Guy, American Dad and The Cleveland Show, there is more than enough fresh material and new actors to help those people differentiate it from its animated parents.

Narrated by American Dad alumni Patrick Stewart, we are told the simple story of a boy that even the beat-up Jewish kids won't play with - a boy so lonely that he wishes his favourite teddy bear could talk to him so they could be best friends forever. Amid the 80's posters and references ( Indiana Jones and The Temple Of Doom etc), we see the wish come true and a montage that shows the passing of time for both "thunder buddies for life" - Ted the magical bear being interviewed by Johnny Carson, both friends dressing up as E.T. and Elliot, the strangeness of graduation day and Wahlberg meeting Kunis.

Skip 30 years ahead and that's when the filthy fun really starts! Ted and Wahlberg's Johnny are happily drifting through life and still together, with the addition of Kunis' quietly suffering Lori under the same roof and into the mix. The basic plot of how friendship can be affected by the process of growing up has been depicted before - You, Me And Dupree - but here the added element of a beer swigging, coarse-mouthed bear is enough to make Andy and his favourite toys Woody and Buzz wanna head back to Daycare with their hands clamped firmly over their ears. Make no mistake, Ted is not for the easily offended. If you've seen any uncut episodes of Family Guy, you'll already know exactly how far the jokes can go and that no one is safe from the mirth-magnifying-glass. Over the years what has become more and more acceptable in films has now equated to the fact that you're still kind of shocked at what is said because the certificate here is only 15. The idea that a joke is a joke, and that no one should be above or beyond being at the end of one is run with throughout but strangely never seems to stray into the truly offensive arena but mostly into the "hand over mouth, oh no they didn't!" vicinity.

The non-bear cast are great with Kunis bit-by-bit breaking away from her put-upon, unwanted Meg character as Macfarlane's writing and her performance never let her fall into the so-easily-seen "hateful girlfriend" that tries to break up the long-life buddies. Wahlberg must have credit for treading the thin line of dumb schmuck that can't get his together and loyal friend torn between two individuals that he loves, without ever losing your faith in him. Except for one scene when he confides in McHale's wonderfully egotistical slimy Boss of Lori in a "man to man" pact that delivers one of the films best scenes where Ted has an unexpected guest arrive at his party - Flash Gordon himself! Not unlike the Mike Tyson surprise appearance in The Hangover, this one gets extra kudos points for keeping the gag running throughout the film and also the fact that both Ted and Johnny are star-struck every single moment that Flash is upon the screen.

What does come as a surprise however, is the emotional pull that the film is able to create with its audience. The final act, not to give too much away, sees events unfold where Johnny and Lori realise that they could lose Ted forever and put their "hanging by a thread" love life aside to unite to save the day. That a CGI'd bear that humps cash registers and wants to have strong words with Hasbro about his lack of bear/manhood can make you want to cry during the finale is truly a great feet of emotional manipulation on Macfarlane's part and of the technology that gave us Lord Of The Rings' Gollum and Avatar's Na'vi. You'll believe a bear can drink!

A wonderful mix of various types of humour, ranging from slapstick to shock, Ted is part 80's homage, part Toy Story (18 Cert ), part coming-of-age tale, part bro-mance, part love story, but mostly, it's the funniest film you would have seen in ages!

UK release date: 01.08.12
Certificate: 15




Sunday, 22 July 2012

THE DARK KNIGHT RISES


Every film studio's marketing agency tries to bill their latest effort as "the most anticipated movie of the year!" Well, this time, one company have the right to use that slogan, but haven't. Now there's confidence for you!

2005 saw Christopher Nolan turn the superhero genre on its head with his realistic, reality-based Batman Begins. It wasn't until his 2008's The Dark Knight that the world woke up to the fact that Nolan had not only turned the genre around but would have redefined it for all of those that were to come. Now, the finale in Nolan's Batman trilogy is upon us and the pressure to not only perform to the standards of The Dark Knight but to also manoeuvre into the rare slot of "perfect trilogy" along with the likes of Toy Story and The Bourne franchises is all too real.

He's done it!

From the beginning reel, this is all about spectacle, story and surprise! For those of you that have recently watched the first two outings you will be rewarded with  a story arc that goes full circle and will have you smiling and nodding in appreciation at the cleverness of the script and its execution. It's that good. It's that engaging. It's that close to celluloid perfection. Each cinematic visit to Gotham has shown Nolan's increasingly deft hand at the action sequences as they, along with the scripts and performances, have built up to more and more breath-holding, armrest-clutching and mind-bending proportions. It now comes to the point where, especially when viewed in the IMAX format, that you seriously wonder how Warner Bros could reboot the Batman franchise and who would be brave and stupid enough to try.

The opening sequence here involving a Federal plane being hijacked whilst in flight is enough to equal, if not top Dark Knight's Joker-fuelled bank robbery for sheer visual opulence. The "jump-straight-into-the-story" scenario of a mid-flight kidnapping is something that any of the Bond films would sell Moneypenny to have on their CV and is made all the more enveloping to the viewer by being one of the many extended scenes filmed in the IMAX format. Here, Nolan along with his regular cinematographer Pfister, uses that format to fill the entire frame with a controlled cacophony of colour, conundrums, chaos and carnage. The stakes are the highest that they've ever been for the Batman and this is reflected in the set pieces that fill the screen and the imagination.

After such a striking intro, some audience members could feel that the following 45 minutes feel like abit of a "go slow" but this is where Nolan and co-writers Goyer and brother Jonathan Nolan take the time to introduce the new key players in memorable style and lay the groundwork for the finale by going over key points from Batman Begins and Dark Knight. One such player is Hathaway's Selina Kyle/Catwoman. By still keeping everything grounded in a heightened sense of reality, here the Pfeiffer interpretation of Catwoman in Burton's Batman Returns that sent hormonally overcharged males over the edge is a gone-but-not-forgotten memory. The overtly sexual chemistry that she delivered opposite Keaton's Batman is replaced here by Hathaway's coolness and banter with Bale's broken Bruce. Hathaway treads the thin line between help and hindrance to Bale's out-of-practise hero with the single goal of solitary survival - it's this characteristic that makes her so watchable without any camerawork that lovingly follows her form in the skintight catsuit.

Then of course there is Bane, the Bat's baddie this time round. Original fears that circled around the characters hard-to-understand voice are mainly unfounded - all is clear, and those lines of dialogue that aren't are easy to establish with Hardy's body language and his motivation - destroy Gotham and its protector, the Batman. Here, the threat to Bale's broken Bruce/Batman is all the more credible than before - Ra's Al Ghul wanted to mentor him; Joker wanted to play with him; Bane wants to destroy him. There is, especially tied in with the fact that this is Nolan and Bale's final Batman outing, a real sense that the Bat could bow out at any time whilst on the receiving end of Bane's fury.

The returning cast members, in true Nolan tradition, all have their own story lines and their parts to play in the return and the Rise of Batman. Caine, as loyal Wilfred, is still the anchor of reason and humanity for his master and as well as delivering alot of the humour still, this time he gets to hit the emotional target for the audience as he tries to speak some sense into Bale's heart-broken billionaire. Freeman as the Q of Bruce Wayne's world has the most diminished role of all the regular cast but still has the dry sense of wit that makes him a welcome addition each time he appears on the screen. The best revelation is Oldman's increasingly grizzled Gordon. With the knowledge of Harvey Dent's true demise haven eaten away at him for 8 years, Oldman gets the more accomplished story arc and remains the strongest link through all three films. That, plus he gets to have one of the more emotionally charged reveals in the final act.

What we have here, is the perfect end to a perfect trilogy. Nolan has delivered what many feared that he couldn't do - a film that could be equal to what was considered one of the best sequels committed to celluloid and the best superhero film of all time. Each fan will have their personal favourite out of the three adventures but they will like all of them regardless, and that is what separates these from the rest of the wanna be's. A film that has definitely been worth the wait and worth the hype.

UK release date: 20.07.12
Certificate: 12A