Thursday, 31 January 2013


A long time ago, there was a director who used to deliver a mixture of fun and thoughtful films. They, although very different, all had one thing in common - they were all live action.

Then Robert Zemeckis decided to champion the art of mo-cap and from 2000 all his films were centred around this technology - The Polar Express, Beowulf, A Christmas Carol. Now, he has come "Back From The Future" to revisit his old stomping ground of powerful stories aided by visual effects.

But this is no Forrest Gump or Castaway. Not by a long shot. Just like his one time mentor / collaborator Spielberg, Zemeckis appears to have grown up and moved into the realm of mature film making.

Here we have such ingredients as sex, drugs, alcohol, lies and loss of life. Plus a whole load of faith as well. And to bring this maturity to the screen he has seeked out the help of Mr Maturity himself, Denzel Washington. The actor who helped give creditability to such fare as Tony Scott's style-over-substance efforts, gets once again the chance to show why his name is synonymous with award nominations and winning - but without his usual Al Pacino-esque shouting that accompanied him in Training Day etc.

Washington has the unenviable task of playing a hated hero. His pilot is so much more than a flawed character. The implication seems to be that it's not that he managed to safely land the plane despite being drunk and drugged up, but that those intoxication's may have actually helped him to do so - keeping him high and alert helped him to do what 10 other pilots after the crash couldn't achieve in a simulator. Those pilots killed all the passengers and crew aboard their simulated planes whereas Washington's real life crash only loses 6 out of the 102 souls on board. Redeeming qualities are hard to come by for him. Just when you think he's going on the straight and narrow, the drink calls again and any feeling of sympathy for him from the viewer that has begun to build up, is then lost. This is eloquently shown in a scene nearing the films ending involving a minibar vodka bottle where Zemeckis leaves the camera, and the audience, static and waiting to observe the outcome.

With this being pretty much a Washington one man show, the co-stars, like the plane, get to take flight for a short while but then crash out of sight. Goodman is one of the few that leaves any impression on the audience and that is due to his larger-than-life drug supplier character who, with his two appearances, does a swift "pick me up" to both Washington's frazzled pilot and the viewers as well during the films running time. Cheadle as the lawyer who defends Washington somewhat begrudgingly - an alcoholic that never-the-less pulls off a miracle by saving almost all of the passengers and crew - feels like he had a much meatier role but maybe due to time constraints has found some of it lying on the cutting room floor.

Overall, a welcome return to non-mo cap from Zemeckis, Flight is a decent flawed hero film that does leave you guessing whether its central character will ever do the right thing, right up the official hearing finale.

UK release date: 01.02.13
Certificate: 15

Friday, 25 January 2013


Think back to a time, not that long ago, when females were mainly allowed only in front of the camera, and not behind it. That began to change when Kathryn Bigelow started to deliver the likes of Point Break and Near Dark. Then, not only did she fully prove that a woman could direct, but that they could also encroach on territories normally associated only with men - action-based films - and that they could also win awards whilst doing so. Her The Hurt Locker put her up against her ex - James Cameron - at the Oscars, and she won.

Now Bigelow has returned to the genre that placed her firmly on the map and once again delves into the world of modern warfare. Except this time she's bringing abit more realism with her - more fact than fiction.

Not unlike TV's Homeland, here we have a strong female character with what appears to be a lifelong obsession that dominates her every waking and sleeping hour. On the small screen, Claire Danes' agent is driven by the feeling that she could have helped avert 9/11. Here upon the silver screen, Jessica Chastain is seeking closure on 9/11 by wanting to help close the book on the worlds largest, and what feels like as the events unfold, the longest manhunt ever.

Based on reports, accounts and documentation from relevant sources, here the story is not a simple search and destroy mission full of adventure. Instead, we have years of trawling loads of leads with most of them becoming dead ends. At times Chastain's characters frustration can be felt by the audience as information about similar sounding possible terrorists is presented again and again with what feels like little or no purpose or resolution. But then, what should we expect from a depiction of a true life manhunt that took thousands of days and millions of dollars to complete? Here, it's not a" trace a mobile phone call" and send in Jack Bauer once the relevant info has been uploaded to his PDA. Sources appear and disappear, clues are proven and disproven. Leads are followed and some too late - the London bombings being one of the attacks that is, as we know, not prevented.

Here, all is presented in a very straight forward fashion, almost to the style of a documentary. Many countries are visited but as they tumble across the screen, some begin to blur into others as the seemingly fruitlessness of the investigation begins to take hold. Then, after around two hours of this, Bigelow stops with the documentary and goes all Point Break action on the audience.

With stealth helicopters, night vision POV's, gunfire and expendable Bin Laden protectors, the last 40 minutes feels like a totally different film from what has gone before. She also, whilst ramping up the action and the tension, sneaks in a brave but ingenious factor of doubt as you watch these Marines perform their duty -  is it as honourable as it should have been? Some actions are questionable but is that acceptable in the circumstances? The question is not answered but presented for you the viewer to make up your mind about it.

Great but not as powerful as The Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty is a worthy addition to the ever-expanding and most welcomed cannon of Kathryn Bigelow.

UK release date: 25.01.13
Certificate: 15


One of America's best known Presidents. One of America's best known directors. There is a lot to expect here from Spielberg's partial recounting of the tale of Abraham Lincoln - the man who Presided over two major life- changing events during his two terms in office.

Those being the amendment to abolish slavery and America's Civil War.

And during its 150 minute running time, there is never a moment where you think, or feel, that that level of expectation has not been met. From its "straight into it" beginning, through to its quietly sombre and reverent ending, Spielberg's Lincoln shows exactly why both its director and its subject will be long remembered.

This is a classic example of the bearded ones excellence at what he does (Spielberg) and yet, it isn't. The emotions that you know that can be manoeuvred and manipulated so easily are done so - frustration at setbacks, anger at stupidity, tears at both strength and sadness, laughter at smile-inducing dialogue - and yet the look of it feels somewhat alien to the man who so recently gave the world the likes of Warhorse and The Adventures Of Tintin. To fully appreciate the style used to bring Lincoln to the screen you would have to go back to Schindler's List where in the same year of its release,  he also did Jurassic Park. In comparison, Schindler.. was a maturer piece with camerawork, timing, exposition and gravity to match. This was a relatively new style for the Indiana Jones and E.T. kid. Here, that same feeling of noticeable unexpectedness flows through every well-crafted moment, whether it be focused on Lincoln the President or Lincoln the man. The camera stays put mostly to allow the events and words to sink in with the audience and only seems to move when it pans around Lincoln during his  prejudice-confronting, life-altering speeches. So, as the camera slowly moves, so to does the hearts and minds of those listening to it.

To help pull this off, the bearded one needs someone exceptional to play the "other bearded one" and in Daniel Day-Lewis he has just such a person. Whether you're a fan or not of Day-Lewis or his work, no one deny that here he seems to have found possibly his acting career highlight - for all intents and purpose, this is Lincoln up upon the screen. The likeness is unnaturally uncanny when compared from your memories of pictures and statues, and the mannerisms, voice and walk is just how you would imagine the great President to be. This tied in with the stirring speeches, the shrewd mind concerning his political enemies and his attempts at keeping his human emotions at bay concerning his different family members (love and frustration at his wife and her mental and physical illness, protectiveness and letting go for his eldest son who wishes to fight in The Civil War) all add up to a no-brainer for why he has been nominated for an Oscar.

Although he may carry the bulk of the film, he is not without some great support. Boasting a veritable list of recognisable stars from both small and big screen, there are a few scene-stealing individuals to marvel at alongside Day-Lewis. Spader as the secretly hired "obtainer of votes" to ensure the Presidents successful passing of The Thirteenth Amendment is as fun as he is graceless and loud - he is the only person to swear in front of Lincoln - but the real contender for your soul and affection is Lee Jones. Imagine if his Jerrard character from The Fugitive grew old and was transported back to 1865, then you'd be on the right track. Cranky, opinionated and relentless, Lee Jones both then and now, chews up and spits out all that share the screen with him with equal smile and wince-inducing dialogue ( his response to a knock at his door - "it opens!")

The only risk taken by Spielberg and co would seem to be the concentration of the time line in the film. The source novel depicted Lincoln's rise to The White House but here there is no back story nor is there any dwelling on his theatre assassination. It is all about the man and his struggle to have The Thirteenth Amendment passed before the opportunity disappears. Whilst The Civil War rages on forever in the background, that is where its kept. There is no Saving Private Ryan horror reenactment for the audience to be reminded of how bad things were - the horror here is the battle for what now seems so natural and understandable to us but back then was conceived as unimaginable and even a sin against God himself!

An emotional ride that you will feel glad that you watched, it is not one for the popcorn pundits looking for a no-brainer, switch-off experience. It holds a mirror up to the ideals and standards that were prevalent in 1865 but which however have not entirely been eradicated and shows you how strong men must behave and what they must do in order to stand up for what is right and to make changes.

Poignant. Powerful. Provoking.

UK release date: 25.01.13
Certificate: 12A

Saturday, 19 January 2013


For his fans and haters alike, Tarantino's latest has been a long time coming. 3 years have rolled by since his first serious attempt at a historical piece - Inglorious Basterds - but finally, like a lone gun slinger riding into town, his Django Unchained is tying itself up to the local cinemas hitching post.

And then letting loose in a total bloodbath accompanied by colourful language galore! Yes, this maybe be set in 1858, but this is still a film written and directed by Quentin Tarantino.

This means that you should expect sass, crass and along with the depicted violence as displayed in his Inglorious Basterds (this is a long way from the cut away techniques of the debut Reservoir Dogs), a inordinate amount of the "n" word.

However, this being Quentin's work, you also get some incredibly quotable lines - "who dat nigger on dat nag?!?" and "you have my curiosity, now you have my attention," - along with his knack for pulling out great performances and pulling out and dusting off performers that have seen better days. Those of you old enough to remember the like of Miami Vice and The Dukes Of Hazzard will delight in some small but significant roles whilst those who watched LOST and Dexter will also be treated to a few smiles. Of course though, these are only side dishes to the main 3 course meal that is served up throughout the films 165 minute running time - Foxx, DiCaprio and Waltz.

These 3 are able to deliver exactly what you would want, and expect, from people of their current reputation - performances that equally make you smile, laugh, wince and ultimately remember why they were cast. The weakest out of the 3 strangely is the films supposed lead Foxx, but this may be down to the simple fact that his is the least "showy" out of them. DiCaprio gets to be the Joe Pesci character - all smooth gears then a burst of terrifying speed and uncontrolableness from out of nowhere. Whilst Waltz is the George Clooney of the operation - all smiles, charm and charisma while the mind is working out the angles and options. Foxx has to make do with the Michael Batman Keaton role to the other two - necessary but sometimes sidelined when they are stealing the limelight... which happens often!

The two biggest surprises of Django Unchained lie in a performance and in its structure. For the first time I can recall, you actually want Samuel L. Jackson to die. And horibbly at that too! His head slave Stephen (yay!) is the biggest, and loudest, back stabber of recent cinematic memory and only just falls short of a "Boo! Hiss!" panto villain. Despite the short temper and burning desire for revenge of Django, it is infact Stephen's desire to see continuity and tradition continue to take place in Candy Land where he has a role of authority, that sees the plan hatched by Waltz's German bounty hunter head further South than they already are.

The second surprise sees Tarantino ditch his non-linear timeline approach and just tell the story in a straight forward beginning, middle and end fashion. Yes, there is a flashback or two, but gone is the cross-over, skipping stylus-on-a-scratched-record method of plotting. This change of editing and style allows you to sit back and relax a tad more, letting the characters and their interactions sink into you further instead of you facing the possible distraction of trying to place all the events in the right time line for you to understand the proceedings better.

As funny as you would hope it would be, alot of the humour (and the very bloody violence) centers around the racism and more specifically the people that practised it, that was in over-abundance back then. The sequence involving the KKK and their desire to hang both Foxx and Waltz is genuinely laugh out loud and upon reflection would easily sit more comfortably in a Farrelly Brothers movie than in a Tarantino one. For those of you who are squeamish or prone to being offended, take note - Django Unchained makes full use of its 18 certificate... when people die here, they die in a spectacularly bloody fashion!

With its Kill Bill Vol 1-esque ending (think the Crazy 88, but Old West style) this sees the disappointing likes of Death Proof left behind and a return to the form that made the video shop employee become a force to be reckoned with and watched within Hollywood. Yee Haw!

UK release date: 18.01.13
Certificate: 18

Friday, 11 January 2013


There was a time when a chap could take his gal out to the flicks and see a gosh darn good musical. That time is, like Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire and Frank Sinatra, long since gone.

Despite the likes of Chicago and Nine, the resurgence of the musical has never truly taken place, but then again, none of the recent efforts have truly been musicals. The odd "singing & dancing" number thrown in here and there amidst the action or dialogue hardly counts as a full-blown experience and the less said about the modern likes of Step Up the better...

Now of course that's all changed. After the world-wide success of his The King's Speech, director Tom Hooper no doubt had the pick of the crop for his follow-up project. No one would have guessed he would do a faithful rendition of the worlds longest running musical - Les Miserables. Make no mistake, this is nothing like anyone has seen in mainstream cinema for years.

For those who have never seen its source material - the theatre version - or indeed been to see and hear a musical in recent years, this will come as a big surprise to them. Here, over 90% of the film is sung - yes, you read that right, almost every single line of dialogue is sung, whether in a moody monologue or an incendiary interaction between individuals, all is imparted lyrically.

Now, it's not only this that sets Hooper's opus apart from any other song-incorporating film. Others have their stars record the song in a studio for them to then mime to or sing-along whilst on set thus aiming to achieve the best of both worlds - great sound and great acting. Here, every one has been done "live" whilst the cameras were rolling. So, for the audience, everything is captured. Every emotion felt whilst singing about unrequited love ("On My Own") or about the hopelessness of life and its cruelty upon a struggling mother ("I Dreamed A Dream") comes through on both the sight and sound being experienced. This simple yet brave and clever move helps for the emotional ties between singer and viewer to become that more binding.

Much has been said about the three main leads and their singing capabilities. Jackman, originally trained as a singer and dancer, has the bulk of the film on his shoulders and carries it as well as his character carries out his promises. You forget that this is Wolverine upon the screen and instead immediately see him as Prisoner 24601. Opposite him throughout the films 158 minutes running time is Crowe, the star who has had the most criticism concerning his voice. Nonsense. Crowe, and his voice are a match for his character - a man of stiffness, gruffness and obsession. Varying pitch and glass-shattering heights are not necessary for him and his songs of tracking Jackman down. The main heart-wrenching, tear-inducing material is left to the surprise sensation who, whilst only being in the film for the shortest time, totally steals the limelight and your heart. Hathaway. As the mother forced to sell her hair, her teeth and then eventually her body to keep her daughter alive, Hathaway delivers what should, in celluloid anyway, be classed as the most perfect cinematic song ever committed. Her "I Dreamed A Dream" is the reason she stands to win an Oscar for her role and will forever define this film in the years to come. Any musicals to follow will have to have to match this one song and nothing more in hope of being as revered or successful.

If all that sounds a tad deep and heavy-going on the soul (and the tissues) then fear not for despite the emotional train-wrecks of obsession, unrequited love and a put-upon populace uprising, there are smiles and joviality to be found. This is mainly with the double act of Cohen and Carter as the inn-keepers who are entrusted to look after Hathaway's child but are a cross between Cinderella's step-mother and Fagin. It is their light-heartedness and their smile-inducing songs that help lift the film out of the nearing depression stakes and help you to take a breath before the next disaster rolls around towards Jackman's on-the-run parole.

Brave, bold, beautiful and at times bewitching, Les Miserables is a truly unique cinematic experience. I cannot stress enough how different it is to previous films that incorporate songs in them so just remember this before you sit down and you should find yourself transported to a time that has not been seen for ages - welcome back musical - you have been sorely missed.

UK release date: 11.01.13
Certificate: 12A

Friday, 4 January 2013


And so here are my top five films on the year that saw both good and bad in equal measures...

5. Looper
Maybe a tad too clever for the popcorn pundits, Looper delivered to the screen a head-scratching, mind-bending experience not unlike the first The Terminator did upon its initial release.

It also proved that Joseph Gordon Levitt could pass as a younger Bruce Willis as the concept of a man trying to both save himself AND kill himself at the same time gave one of the years most brain teasing times in the cinema.

4. Skyfall

Originally the idea of Sam Mendes helming Bond's anniversary outing was met with much sneers and confusion. Now, looking back, it is easy to see that Mendes was a perfect choice as many consider Skyfall as one of 007's finest missions.

With enough respect and nods to the past whilst carving out a new future, it has become the highest grossing Bond of all time and set new records in the UK and across the world.

3. Life Of Pi
Ang Lee showed that there is no such thing as an unfilmable book. Having already shown that he could easily tackle the greats such as Sense And Sensibility, Lee turned to the tale of a tiger and a boy sharing a lifeboat for 200+ days adrift in the Pacific Ocean. 

Stunning graphics, and effects that are indistinguishable from live action, Life of Pi became, along with Hugo, the standard of what 3D could and should look like.

2. The Dark Knight Rises
The expectation of Chris Nolan's final instalment in the Dark Knight trilogy was off the charts! With the previous outing considered to be the finest superhero film committed to celluloid and one of the best sequels ever made, the task that lay ahead of the cast crew was staggering. Lucky for them, and of course us, that they blew those barriers clean away.

A perfect trilogy, The Dark Knight rises with the inclusion of Catwoman and Bane did not overload the film as so many others before have experienced with adding to many characters into the mix.

True spectacle for the more intelligent viewer.

1. Avengers Assemble
Quite simply, the most fun you cold have in the cinema - that's legal and decent of course. Joss Whedon showed that when it comes to the tricky task of ensemble pictures, there is no one better than he.

Avoiding what could have been the Ironman and friends flick, Whedon gave each of the characters time and room to shine and more importantly interact with each other - no one who saw it will forget the Tony Stark and Bruce Banner bantering.

A box office killer, Avengers Assemble did not disappoint and lived up and exceeded its potential. All hail Whedon!

So, that completes the Top Films  for 2012. The list this time was hard to do with at least a few more nearly making it in until the last moments.  Those films were standout for different reasons but in the end there are only ten places so you just have to do a Sophie's Choice and await the backlash!

So, over to you!


Now with the clarity that can only come from people having to get ready to go back to work and having detoxed from alcohol after New Year's celebrations, it's the perfect time to look back upon the year that was 2011 and the films that graced our screens...

BEST 20.1/2 FILMS OF 2012 - 10 thru to 6

10. Silver Linings Playbook
A film that not only dealt with its two main characters both suffering from different forms of mental illness, it portrayed them with respect and humour but never once belittling them and their personal battles or dumbing things down for fear of alienating the audience.

Silver Linings Playbook was one of those experiences that made you feel all the better for having watched it. It also helped that both Cooper and Lawrence gave outstanding performances and the supporting cast surprised all by DeNiro not coming across as if he was "phoning it in" and Tucker not going OTT.

 From the people that can seem to do no wrong, it was none-the-less a big step for Pixar to have their latest concern itself with people as leads rather than in the background AND to have a female as the central character.

They and audiences needn't have worried. Brave showed that Pixar is still king when it comes to characterisation and fun for everyone of all ages - jokes for the older folks and quips for the kids were still present and correct.

8. Argo

 Remember the time when Affleck was just one of the other halves of either Damon or Lopez? Well those days are truly long forgotten as Affleck delivered another fantastic piece of film with his "based on a true story" drama that had bucket loads of suspense, drama and nostalgia.

Awards will be headed his way no doubt.

7. The Cabin In The Woods

From the mind of Whedon, this was a film that played up its teen slasher premise to the extent that its true nature may have been lost on those who went to see it thinking it was just a teen slasher movie!

Clever, funny and subversive, this was a film that refused to be pigeon holed into a category and left those without an open and quick mind behind in its wake.

6. The Raid
A Welsh man and an Indonesian walk into the movie making industry... Sounds like the beginning of a joke but it was infact the beginning of a wonderful relationship that gave those lucky enough to see it a truly breath-holding experience.

Relentless and genius, this showed the big budget makers how to make a movie that could please all.

The countdown will continue with 5 through to 1.... What have you seen and what do you think should be included?

Thursday, 3 January 2013

TOP 20.1/2 FILMS YOU SHOULD HAVE SEEN THIS YEAR - 15 through to 11

And so here continues the countdown of my top films of the year...

15. Headhunters

If you didn't get to see the little film that had big ideas and a nail-biting plot, then see the original before the inevitable Hollywood remake. Clever and damn funny, it proved that good actors and not A-list stars can keep an audience enthralled hook, line and sinker.

Slickly cool, if only short (watch it and you'll understand!)

14. The Descendants
Is there nothing that the Clooney cannot do? Yet again, him off of E.R. proves that he is not only bankable but dependable in this quiet tale of a husband having to reconnect with his family after his wife slips into a coma. Heart strings are deliberately pulled but in such a way that you don't care - you only care about the people up on the screen.... and that's quality film making.

13. Beasts Of The Southern Wild

Despite looking like a documentary, Beasts Of The Southern Wild wasn't. This little film that stood head and shoulders against all the action and adventure faire at the cinemas - a feat not unlike its central character. If you failed to fall in love with the little girl who lives with her daddy in The Bathtub during a massive flood, then go see your local mortician!

12. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
The expectation for Peter Jackson's return to The Shire was hard to quantify - it had been so long coming that there could be a fear that the film wouldn't stand a chance of living up to the hype. Nonsense dear boy! The wizard wasn't late - he arrived in our cinemas att exactly the time he wished to and blew all out doubts away! So, fly you doubters!

11. The Hunger Games
Who would have thought that a book aimed at young girls could be turned into a successful film? Yes, Twilight did that. However, The Hunger Games proved to pull off an even more impressive trick... boys liked it too!

With something for everyone, the box office receipts led the way to the second and third books being green lit into films as well. Katniss and Peter's story will continue, and the world will be watching!

So, onto the next batch....

TOP 20.1/2 FILMS YOU SHOULD HAVE SEEN THIS YEAR - 20 1/2 through to 16

Now with the clarity that can only come from people having to get ready to go back to work and having detoxed from alcohol after New Year's celebrations, it's the perfect time to look back upon the year that was 2012 and the films that graced our screens...

BEST 20.1/2 FILMS OF 2012 - 20 1/2 thru to 16

20 1/2. This Means War
Just before they hit BIG TIME, the new Captain Kirk and Batman's new enemy Bane, teamed up in this light, frothy but none-the-less hilarious spy spoof that pitted both against each other when they fall for Witherspoon's indecisive blond.

Great chemistry between the three helped for the audience to continuously change who they were rooting for throughout the misuse of America's Government Agencies as each guy tried to outdo the other.

20. Warhorse

Spielberg once again proved that there wasn't anything he couldn't turn his hand to - even a stage play that once seen, invokes an air of certainty that the same feelings felt whilst watching it could not be transferred onto the silver screen. They were wrong.

Emotionally strong, visually stunning, his depiction of a boys and a horses struggle to survive a World War is a breath taking experience.

19.Moonrise Kingdom
From the usually strange mind of Wes Anderson, this tale of young love and the unusual situations it has to endure is pure gold right from the get go. More accessible than his previous films, Moonrise Kingdom is part sweet, part absurd and part kooky.

The big stars all play second fiddle to the children actors who steal the show despite Edward Norton's best role in ages as the Scout Leader caught up in a young lovers pact to be together.

18. Ted
For those who either loved or hated TV's Family Guy, its creators first foray into film - Seth MacFarlane - had a strong gut reaction to its announcement and its premise - a teddy bear that comes to life but still exists when its owner grows up.

Surprisingly touching and able to bring a few tears to the eyes, Ted was laugh out loud funny throughout with its humour and language both close to the bone. You wouldn't expect nor want anything less though.

17. The Pirates! In An Adventure With Scientists

The team that brought us Wallace & Gromit, Chicken Run and Flushed Away are simply put - geniuses. This does not alter that fact in any shape or form! Brilliantly balanced for both old and young alike, its depiction of luxurious beards roaming and plundering the high seas is a delight from absurd beginning to fantastic finale.


16. The Muppets
A film about AND starring The Muppets hadn't been around for a long time. This fact is cleverly played upon with them trying to regain their waning popularity in order to raise money to save their old theatre. The human cast are fantastic - Segal and Adams are wonderful as the couple who seem stuck permanently in the 1940's - but lets be honest, as good as they are, its The Muppets you've paid to see and with such gags as Fozzie's Fart Shoes, they did not disappoint!

The countdown will continue with 15 through to 11.... What have you seen and what do you think should be included?