Sunday, 30 September 2012


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


Saturday, 8 September 2012


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


Friday, 7 September 2012


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


Tuesday, 4 September 2012


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


Sunday, 2 September 2012


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


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