Saturday, 25 August 2012


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


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.

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.

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.

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!

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!

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


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


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