Saturday, 1 December 2012

My Top Ten Films of 2012

THE DARK KNIGHT RISES

A suitably rousing and emotionally fitting end to "The greatest trilogy of all time".
Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight was not the hero that we deserved but the hero that we needed following the Batman and Robin disaster and his films managed to do something that no comic book movie had been able to do, and that was to transcend the genre and be treated as amazing films.
Nolan managed to break the comic curse that saw such franchises as Blade, X-Men and Spider-Man suffer from poor third instalments, instead managing to tie everything together and complete Bruce Wayne's journey from angry orphan to crime fighting legend.
It also gave rise to the year's favourite impression - Bane voices!
My full review of the film can be read here

LOOPER

Ranks up there with Moon and Inception as one of the smartest science fiction films of the last few years.
Some may have been disappointed they didn't get the Bruce Willis sci-fi action adventure they were expecting from the trailers but thankfully this is much more Twelve Monkeys than it is Surrogates!
It is very much a hard-boiled Tech Noir that draws on elements as varied as The Terminator, Akira and Casablanca yet still manages to create something that feels fresh and unique.
"This time travel crap, fries your brain like an egg" and you can expect many hours being lost to conversations with your friends in the pub over the various timelines and continuities that spring up as a result of the plot.
I really hope that the Academy doesn't turn up it's nose as it tends to do with science fiction and rightfully give Looper a nomination for Best Original Screenplay.

ARGO

Well who would have thought when Gigli was released that one half of "Bennifer" would go on to direct one of the year's best films and be a leading contender for a Best Director Oscar?
This is one of those stories where the truth is stranger than fiction, where you couldn't make up a story this good if you tried and Affleck excels at moving between a deft Hollywood satire and gripping hostage drama.
It evokes memories of Apollo 13 in that it is so well executed that even if you know the story and the outcome, it makes you doubt that everything is going to turn out ok.
Even my mum loved it, calling it "one of the best films I've seen in years"!

BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO

This is easily the film on my list that will have been seen by the fewest people but I urge you to give it a watch when it is released on DVD/Blu Ray on 31st December.
What you will find is a beautiful homage to the Italian Giallo films of the seventies where Toby Jones goes to Italy to work on the sound effects for a horror movie.
What follows is an astounding descent into madness accompanied by some of the best sound mixing and editing of the year.
Seriously, you will not find a better edited film than this. The transitions between scenes are extraordinary.

CABIN IN THE WOODS

The most entertaining horror film set in a cabin in the woods since Evil Dead 2.
It breathed new life into tired, old cliches by challenging everything we know about the genre.
How did it achieve this? Well to go into that here would spoil the surprise wouldn't it.
Just go into it knowing as little as possible and you are in for one wild ride.
It may be the smartest and wittiest horror of the year, but given that it is playing with the rules of the genre, it is not the scariest due to the fact that audiences will know what's coming (except for the opening credits!). For the year's scariest film, check out Sinister.

THE AVENGERS

Adam West was right you know, "Some days you just can't get rid of a bomb" as Avengers becomes the second film in my top ten to feature a superhero attempting to remove a nuclear weapon from New York City/Gotham.
While I consider The Dark Knight Rises to be the better film and more satisfying on an emotional level, The Avengers is as close to a perfect representation of what a comic book should feel like on the big screen.
The culmination of Marvel Studios Phase 1 could have been a disaster but Joss Whedon went two for two in 2012 and provided the biggest collective nerd-gasm the comic book movie has ever seen.
He survived a terrifying juggling act of giving so many lead characters their moment to shine including Clark Gregg's Agent Coulson and finally gave us the Hulk we were wanting to see.
In other words, The Avengers was a "HULK SMASH" hit!

THE MASTER

Similar to the Scientology that allegedly inspired The Cause, the religious group at the heart of the film, many people dismissed this film as pretentious and for all its ramblings and speeches, having nothing at its core to believe in.
I for one however found the movie to be beautiful, poetic and spellbinding thanks to a career-best performance by Joaquin Phoenix (an actor I've never been that taken with before) and his on-screen relationship with the always-superb Philip Seymour Hoffman. The scene where The Master processes Freddie by making him answer questions without blinking is one of the scenes of the year.
My full review of the film can be found here.

SHAME

I could write a list of superlatives about this film as long as Fassbender's... oh, you know where that was going.
Fassbender delivered the year's bravest performance in a movie that could be seen as a modern day American Psycho albeit one where his obsession isn't murder but sex.
My full review of the film can be found here.

MAGIC MIKE

So much more than the "male Showgirls" Hen night party film the adverts made it look like, showcasing Soderbergh's ability to adapt to any genre thrown at him, Magic Mike stripped off to reveal plenty of heart and soul as well as bulging biceps and rippling abs.
This film also cemented two things in 2012.
One - Alongside a career best turn in Killer Joe, it saw return of Matthew McConaughey from rom-com hell and fulfilling the promise shown back in the early nineties in films like Dazed and Confused and A Time To Kill.
Two - It also marked one of the very few occasions where I've had to admit that I've been wrong in a critical assessment. I had previously written off Channing Tatum as a bit of a meathead following such crap as GI Joe: Rise Of Cobra and the Step Up movies, even describing him in The Vow as "unfortunately having more varieties of chunky knitwear than facial expressions". However he was terrific as Magic Mike and a revelation as he brought the funny in 21 Jump Street.
Channing Tatum, if you are reading this... I'm sorry, you're ace!

LIBERAL ARTS

A Garden State for the thirtysomething's, it is the year's smartest rom-com, features scene-stealing turns from Richard Jenkins and Allison Janney and a bewitching performance from of the years breakout stars Elizabeth Olsen.
It is also the most sentimental pick in my top ten because if it wasn't for this film I wouldn't be back with Picturehouse at The Belmont.
Stopping off in London after a holiday in New York, I found out about a preview of the film with Q&A with Olsen at the lovely Gate Cinema which is part of the Picturehouse group. There I caught up with a couple of folk I hadn't seen since I left, which prompted a visit to head office and within a month this fortuitous series of events led me to being back with the company.
My full review can be found here.

Friday, 9 November 2012

The Master - review

As I emerged from a 70mm screening of The Master on Tuesday, the United States of America was in the midst of going to the polls to elect their President.
During the Presidential election, several topics become focal points of the campaign including the economy, religion, etc.
Back in 2008 (another election year), Paul Thomas Anderson produced a magnificent study of one man's obsession with "the American dream" with There Will Be Blood.
With The Master Anderson turns his attention to another important issue for many Americans, the issue of faith. And in doing so, may well have created a "master-piece" (sorry, had to get that cheap pun out of the way).
Following a tour of duty overseas in World War II, Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) is a loner, a drifter and a drunk. Freddie is a lost soul. A soul in need of saving in the eyes of Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman) who himself is a "writer, a doctor, a nuclear physicist and a theoretical philosopher. But above all, is a man, a hopelessly inquisitive man, just like you". If Freddie has questions, Dodd believes that The Cause has the answers.
In one of the films most powerful moments, Freddie undergoes "informal processing" with Dodd. He is forced to keep his eyes open and not blink during questioning for failure will result in the process being repeated. What follows is an intense examination of Freddie's troubled psyche. It is such an exhilarating, cathartic, intimate experience, it is no surprise to see the two share an almost post-coital cigarette upon completion.
One can draw a parallel between Freddie's relationship with The Cause and the experience that audiences may have with the film.
Upon first viewing of The Master it is easy to see why it is so appealing and seductive. Amid a cinematic landscape of never-ending sequels and remakes, this an original film of genuine vision and power. It appears to say and do all the right things and you can be quick to buy into the praise it has received so far from the critics.
The cinematography is breathtaking, creating a hypnotic, poetic beauty that is amplified by Jonny Greenwood's score.
Joaquin Phoenix is mesmerising as Freddie Quell. His hunched body portrays a man uneasy in his own skin, at odds with himself, always tiptoeing the line between rage and serenity.
It is easy to see why Freddie would be drawn to a man like Lancaster, especially when played by Philip Seymour Hoffman. He commands the audience's attention with charm, eloquence, humour and just a hint of BS.
But is it all too good to be true? After all blind faith can be dangerous. Naysayers may claim that the pacing moves at a glacial pace or that like The Cause, there is no real validity to the rhetoric and it's simply a case of style over substance.
It is important to ask questions yet the film does not set out to provide easy answers. Sure the Scientology comparisons are there to see but it is much more than that. The notions of faith, religion and their role in society melt away to reveal the heart of the story which is simply about the relationship between two people. They say that opposites attract but when the two people are as strong-minded as these two, something's gotta give.
At one point Dodd tells Freddie "If you figure out a way to live without a master, any master, be sure to let the rest of us know, for you will be the first in the history of the world".
After much consideration, and a few glasses of the kool-aid, I've decided that The Master is one film that I certainly do not want to live without.
I awoke on Wednesday morning to hear Obama's supporters cheering for "four more years". As a Paul Thomas Anderson supporter, I hope that we won't have to wait that long for another film as fabulous as this one.

5 stars

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Films watched in November 2012

Room 237 - 3 stars
The Master - 5 stars
Here Comes The Boom - 3 stars
The Sapphires - 3 stars
Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part 2 - 3 stars
Silver Linings Playbook - 3 stars
Amour - 4 stars
Sightseers - 3 stars
Gambit - 1 star
End Of Watch - 3 stars
Ray Harryhausen: Special Effects Titan - 3 stars
Trouble With The Curve - 3 stars
The Hunt - 4 stars
Rise Of The Guardians 3D - 2 stars

Number of films watched in November - 14
Total number of films watched in 2012 - 185
Total number of unique films watched in 2012 - 162

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Films watched in October 2012

Looper - 5 stars
The Campaign - 2 stars
Looper - 5 stars
Pusher - 3 stars
Sinister - 4 stars
Beasts Of The Southern Wild - 5 stars
Hotel Transylvania - 1 star
Frankenweenie - 4 stars
Ruby Sparks - 4 stars
Taken 2 - 1 star
Holy Motors - 3 stars
Paranormal Activity 4 - 1 star
Madagascar 3 - 3 stars
Argo - 5 stars
Rust & Bone - 4 stars
Skyfall - 3.5 stars
Skyfall - 4 stars
Silent Hill Revelation 3D - 1 star
The Shining (US cut) - 5 stars

Number of films watched in October - 19
Total number of films watched in 2012 - 171
Total number of unique films watched in 2012 - 148

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Films watched in September 2012

Lawless - 3 stars
Celeste and Jesse Forever - 4 stars
Raiders Of The Lost Ark - 5 stars
Premium Rush - 3 stars
Liberal Arts - 4 stars
Vertigo - 4 stars
Paranorman - 4 stars
Dredd - 3 stars
The Sweeney - 2 stars
To Rome With Love - 1 star
Berberian Sound Studio - 5 stars
Anna Karenina - 2 stars
The House At The End Of The Street - 2 stars
Killing Them Softly - 3 stars
Looper - 4 stars
Perks Of Being A Wallflower - 4 stars
Resident Evil: Retribution - 1 star

Films watched in September - 17
Total number of films watched in 2012 - 152
Total number of unique films watched in 2012 - 132

Saturday, 18 August 2012

Take This Waltz - review

Seth instantly regretted that "waking up at the crack of Dawson" joke."

The old saying "two's company but three's a crowd" rears it's head in Take The Waltz.
Margot, a struggling writer (is there any other type in the movies?), finds the temptation to act on an attraction to neighbour Daniel (Luke Kirby) brings her marriage to Lou (Seth Rogen) into question.
This film has been heralded by some critics as the best movie about relationships starring Michelle Williams since, well, the last great movie about relationships starring Michelle Williams Blue Valentine.
The secret to any great dance, like a waltz, is having trust and chemistry with your partner. Many may have a viewing that Craig Revel-Horwood would describe as "Fab-U-Lous" but unfortunately some will find the experience more akin to trying to tango with a partner with two left feet.
The main stumbling block is rather surprisingly Michelle Williams and her character of Margot. Perhaps it is the overly-cutesy babyish way she says "I wuv you" or apparent immaturity of the character (witness the "gaylord" putdown she uses to try and win an argument) made it impossible to like the character and therefore develop any empathy with her and care about the outcome of her relationship crisis.
Which is a shame because the film does have some really beautiful moments.
A scene on a fairground Waltzer (see what they're doing there) set to The Buggles' Video Killed The Radio Star is a highlight where the growing attraction threatens to boil over until an abrupt end to the ride interrupts the moment and a silent shot of the two looking at each other tells the audience everything about their relationship. The best moments do come when they, as Ronan Keating eloquently put, "say nothing at all". Writer/director Sarah Polley should have possibly heeded this rule when writing the sequence where Daniel describes what he would do to Margot in bed as it comes across like he's reading from a chapter of Fifty Shades Of Grey.
However the biggest misstep in the film comes with a stylistic montage sequence that, after Watchmen, offers further proof that Leonard Cohen songs should not be used to soundtrack sex scenes in the movies.
The end result is unlikely to provoke a Last Tango In Paris instead create the desire for Murder On The Dancefloor.

2 stars

Friday, 3 August 2012

The "Greatest Films Ever Made"?

Last week film critics and bloggers got themselves worked up into a frenzy following the publication of Sight And Sound's latest Greatest Films Ever Made list.
It began in 1952 and compiled every ten years from a poll of film critics who submit their own personal top ten, it had previously always produced the same result - Citizen Kane being proclaimed "The Greatest Of All Time"... until this year when Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo grabbed the top spot.
This then sparked off a mass debate on Twitter with everyone putting in their two cents worth on why this result was correct/incorrect/a conspiracy due to the fact the BFI are currently running a Hitchcock retrospective*. * - Delete as applicable.
The main things that everyone could agree on is that lists of this nature are incredibly subjective, "greatest" or "best" can mean "favourite" in this context but above all else, the lists are very effective at prompting hours of arguments down the pub.
In response to the Sight And Sound Critics Top 50 list, which can come across as a list of film's that you should have seen, Adam Lowes of Hey U Guys blog set about putting together an Alternative Top Ten compiled by online bloggers.
As you can see below, the results are rather varied with only Citizen Kane and 2001 appearing on both lists.

Sight & Sound Top Ten

1. Vertigo
2. Citizen Kane
3. Tokyo Story
4. La Regle Du Jeu
5. Sunrise: A Song Of Two Humans
6. 2001: A Space Odyssey
7. The Searchers
8. Man With A Movie Camera
9. The Passion Of Joan Of Arc
10. 8&1/2

Hey U Guys Alternative Top Ten

1. Jaws
2. Back To The Future
3= The Dark Knight
3= Blade Runner
5= 2001: A Space Odyssey
5= There Will Be Blood
5= Psycho
5= Citizen Kane
9. Pulp Fiction
10= The Thing
10= Alien


So what can we read into the alternative top ten? Lots I'm sure.
Initially it does appear more mainstream.The Dark Knight is at number 3, but franchises like Star Wars and Lord Of The Rings are conspicuous by their absence.
One interesting aspect of both polls which isn't known, but I'm sure influences the films that are picked, is the average age of the critics and bloggers voting.
With the alternative top ten featuring a number of film's from the late seventies and eighties, I would assume that most of the bloggers are in their late twenties/thirties and films like Jaws and Back To The Future played a huge part of their childhood and what led them to fall in love with cinema in the first place.
That's probably enough analysis from me. You can read the whole list here and exclaim "I'm glad that is there"/"I can't believe that is missing" to your heart's content.

"But Dallas...", I don't hear you cry, "what were your top ten films?".

Well of course I'm going to tell you, but first I will explain that in selecting my top ten, my decisions were based on the impact that these films have had on my moviegoing life. And of course it goes without saying that I rate each film very highly.
So what follows is my own personal top ten in chronological order.

Citizen Kane
A pivotal moment for me. I saw this film in a Film Studies class at University and it was the first time I really understood about the language of film. Over seventy years on after it's release it really does remain one of the greatest films ever made.

Casablanca
My favourite film of all time. I wholeheartedly agree with Robert McKee that Casablanca has the "greatest screenplay ever written". Harry Burns is right to claim that "Louis, I believe this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship" is the best last line of a movie ever. So many classic quotable lines and in Claude Rains, the greatest supporting performance of all time.

Psycho
Contains the most famous death scene of all time. My pick for Hitchcock's best film (sorry Vertigo) and one of those films that you can never see it for the first time again. There is the shock and awe of the first viewing as the twists an turns are revealed, followed by a completely different experience second time round. Pure genius.

Star Wars
I do prefer Empire Strikes Back but in terms of influence, nothing beats Star Wars: A New Hope for introducing me to film and completely blowing my tiny little mind as a kid seeing the star destroyer coming over the screen and being transported to a galaxy far, far away. A life changing experience and the film I would watch every weekend between the ages of 6-13.

Alien
If Star Wars was the sci-fi of my childhood, Alien is the science fiction film for my grown up life. It has slowly creeped up my list as I appreciate it more and more with each viewing. Hell, I'm even named after the captain of the Nostromo... well that is my reason anyway!

Raiders Of The Lost Ark
Back To The Future
Both films are perennial favourites from my childhood, classics of their genres and very rare examples of what I believe are perfect films, in that I would not alter a single frame of them.

When Harry Met Sally
The best romantic comedy of all time thanks to one of the sharpest, wittiest scripts ever written, it succeeds at being equally romantic and funny when most rom-coms fail to find that delicate balance. It also acted as a gateway film into Casablanca, then Play It Again Sam and finally a deep love and appreciation for Woody Allen with the likes of Annie Hall and Manhattan. Both of those film's were close to making the list but they wouldn't have been on my radar if not for that fake orgasm.

In The Mood For Love
One of the first foreign language films that I watched, and it still remains one of the best. The acting superb, the story heartbreaking and the score is sublime. It proved to me that film is universal and you can tell a great story regardless of whether it needs subtitles or not. Also it was one of the first films that I saw at The Belmont Picturehouse where I ended up working for eight years.

Black Swan
Upon it's release I described it as "if Polanski had directed a hybrid of The Red Shoes and Suspiria", and it was the first film to move me to the brink of tears thanks to an emotional sucker punch to the gut. Like a prima ballerina, it was flawless in it's execution, plus it is the only film on the list to feature a love scene between Queen Amidala and Meg from Family Guy!

So do you agree or disagree with my list? Feel free to let me know where I have gone right/wrong...

Films watched in August 2012

Brave - 3 stars
The Expendables 2 - 1 star
Take This Waltz - 1 star
The Bourne Legacy - 1 star
The Imposter + Q&A - 4 stars
Keith Lemon - The Film - 1 star
The Dark Knight Rises - 5 stars
Shadow Dancer - 3 stars
Total Recall - 2 stars
The Watch - 2 stars

Films watched in August - 10
Total number of films watched in 2012 - 135
Total number of unique films watched in 2012 - 115

Brave - review

Despite sharing the same hairdresser as Rebekah Brooks, Pixar heroine Merida has much more in common with a Disney Princess than a Wicked Witch... albeit a Princess who has a poster of Katniss Everdeen on her bedroom wall.
Merida is as bold and fiery as her beautifully rendered hair and rallies for her independence against her overly protective mother as hard as Scotland is currently fighting for it's own.
Fed up of being prepared for an arranged marriage with one of the potential suitors from the three surrounding clans, Merida attempts to win her freedom in an archery contest but a blazing row with her mother and a chance encounter with a witch gives her a spell and a chance to change her fate. But change must come from within, yadda yadda yadda, etc, etc and the audience will have seen enough Disney film's to know where the plot is heading and it is slightly disappointing given Pixar's great history of producing such unique stories (rat becomes culinary master chef in Paris, nearly mute love story of robot meets robot, grumpy octogenarian realises dying wife's dream of travel by tying 1000 balloons to his house) that the end result feels so pedestrian.
So while the story might not be up to Pixar's usual high standards, the same cannot be said for the vocal casting and visuals in particular which are arguably the finest this animation team have ever produced.
One of Pixar's strengths has always been their talent for matching the voice to the character. Unlike studios such as Dreamworks that tend to go for "stunt casting" in getting A-List names for the posters, Pixar have found success in choosing lesser known actors such as Craig T. Nelson as Mr. Incredible or Patton Oswalt as Reme and Brave is no different.
There were rumours that Reese Witherspoon was initially approached for the role of Merida but thankfully it went to Kelly McDonald (Trainspotting, Boardwalk Empire) who gives her a steeliness thanks to her actually being made in Scotland from girders. Yes that is an Irn Bru reference but it's valid since Merida's hair is the same colour.
The rest of the cast is rounded out with fellow Scots Billy Connolly, Robbie Coltrane, Craig Ferguson and Kevin McKidd (whose Doric tongue got a huge reaction from the Aberdeen audience where the dialect originated) with fine support from Emma Thompson (sporting an affa good accent) and Pixar lucky charm John Ratzenberger.
Having a predominantly Scottish cast helps to add to the authenticity of the film when combined with stunningly realised visuals that really show off the real beauty of the land that inspired the tale.
For what it may lack in originality, Brave makes up for in heart... Get it?
Ah whatever, if the audiences like the film more than my jokes perhaps, given Pixar's current streak for green lighting sequels, we can look forward to a cameo from Benedict Cumberbatch next time round.

image courtesy of Ethan Runt

3 stars

Sunday, 22 July 2012

The Dark Knight Rises - review

"Every great magic trick consists of three parts or acts. The first part is called "The Pledge". The magician shows you something ordinary: a deck of cards, a bird or a man. He shows you this object. Perhaps he asks you to inspect it to see if it is indeed real, unaltered, normal. But of course... it probably isn't."

Forget the threat of Bane breaking the Bat, the real damage to the Caped Crusader was done in 1997 when Joel Schumacher's critical and commercial flop Batman & Robin crippled the franchise and the superhero genre.
When your friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man gave the comic book movie a radioactive bite to the arm, Warner Brothers gave the preverbial keys to the batmobile to Christopher Nolan, a director of critical hits Memento and Insomnia but unproven on a big studio blockbuster.
Nolan set out to prove that Batman could exist in the real world and for the first time with the character, explore exactly how an ordinary man, albeit a billionaire playboy, goes about dressing up as a bat to fight crime.
Batman Begins was intelligent filmmaking on a blockbuster scale and it would be fair to say that the end result was akin to Nolan pulling a bat-shaped rabbit out of his hat.

"The second act is called "The Turn". The magician takes the ordinary something and makes it do something extraordinary. Now you're looking for the secret... but you won't find it, because of course you're not really looking. You don't really want to know. You want to be fooled."

Ironically for a film called The Dark Knight, the sequel kicked off with a scene set during the harsh light of day. Nolan was giving us a Gotham we had never really seen before and the thrilling bank heist proved to be worthy of comparisons to Michael Mann's Heat and as a terrific introduction to a new take on one of Batman's most iconic characters, the clown prince of crime in Gotham, The Joker. Nolan had received a lot of criticism prior to the film's release for casting Heath Ledger in the role but his faith was rewarded in what turned out to be one of the all-time great screen performances, which won Ledger a posthumous Oscar.
Nolan truly achieved something extraordinary with TDK by not only creating a sequel that was superior to the original (a case that can be argued for most superhero sequels) but he had crafted something that transcended its comic origins to simply become a fantastic film.

"But you wouldn't clap yet. Because making something disappear isn't enough; you have to bring it back. That's why every magic trick has a third act, the hardest part, the part we call "The Prestige"."

And so eight years after Batman, literally, took the fall for Harvey Dent's crimes (and his murder) we return to Gotham City. A Gotham City free of organised crime and thanks to the Dent Act and without the "Batman", or Bruce Wayne for that matter. He spends his days locked away in Wayne Manor as a Howard Hughes-esque recluse "with eight inch nails and peeing into mason jars".
Yet the arrival of a few new faces to Gotham will see Wayne forced bring back his various masks.
The theft of his late mother's pearls by slinky cat burglar Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) and his rapidly disappearing fortune, thanks to a failed clean energy project with Marion Cotillard's Miranda Tate, see the return of the public face of eccentric billionaire Bruce Wayne.
However "a fire rises" in the form of Bane, a villainous masked brute excommunicated from the League of Shadows, who comes to turn Gotham to ashes and in order to stop him, as Commisioner Gordon confesses, "the Batman has to come back, he must, he must...".
But Batman is not the same man he was eight years ago. The physical and emotional scars of his battle against the criminal underworld have taken their toll and Alfred is keen to point out that going up against Bane could complete what he fears to be Bruce's journey towards self-destruction.
Indeed with this being the final part in Nolan's take on the Batman mythology, all the taglines for the film have stated "The Legend Ends", and as Bane's vice like grip over Gotham (and Batman) increases, there is a genuine feeling that things will not end well for the Caped Crusader.
It is not hard to see why either, as Bane has a tremendous physicality to him and anyone who saw Tom Hardy's terrific turn in Warrior will know,he is extremely capable of delivering on Bane's promise to break the bat. Between his imposing and the raspy wheeze and bassy tones of his voice through the mask, there are similarities to another great screen villain Darth Vader, especially when he demonstrates his displeasure at a henchman's mistake.
Whilst it is an incredibly physical role, much of Hardy's amazing performance comes from his eyes. The majority of his face is covered by the mask yet he is able to convey so much range, story and emotion with his eyes, particulary in one scene towards the end of the film.
As one might expect from a Christopher Nolan film, he has yet again assembled a terrific ensemble cast.
Joining Hardy as newcomers to Gotham are fellow Inception actors Marion Cotillard and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Cotillard brings warmth to proceedings as Miranda Tate, the woman who may be able to provide Wayne with a future beyond the bat and Gordon-Levitt has plenty of heart and integrity as Blake, an idealistic cop and strong supporter of the Batman.
Franchise stalwarts Freeman, Oldman and Caine once again bring their A game, as one would expect with actors of their calibre. Caine provides several heart wrenching moments with Bale, who himself delivers his best and most moving performance of the series.
However the real ace up Nolan's sleeve is the casting of Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle. Her casting, like Ledger's, was the subject of much debate but once again "In Nolan We Trust". From the moment that playful smile creeps across her face and she utters "Oops", Hathaway relishes in the sultry, slinky role like a cat that got the cream and is just as capable stealing scenes as well as pearls.
The pearls in question were the ones worn by Wayne's mother on the night his parents died, the event in Batman Begins that sowed the seeds for Wayne's transformation into "a silent guardian, a watchful protector, the dark knight". TDKR really is the concluding part of the trilogy as it revisits and ties into plot elements from the first two films. Bane seeks to fulfill the plans of Ra's Al Ghul and destroy Gotham, a city that has now eradicated organised crime thanks to laws built upon the lie that Harvey Dent died a hero at the end of TDK. A lie that will have severe repurcussions when exposed, both for Gotham and Batman. For the events in this film will force Bruce Wayne to examine whether the city truly needs a Batman to survive but also whether he needs him too.
Each part of the trilogy has had one central theme running through the film. Batman Begins could be summed up in one word - "fear": Bruce .
With The Dark Knight it was "chaos" as The Joker seeked to terrorise Gotham through anarchy. The Dark Knight Rises however focuses on two words - "hope and despair".
Bruce Wayne had hoped for a normal life beyond Batman. A life with his childhood sweetheart Rachel Dawes, but her death has left him in a permanent state of mourning and despair. Batman was meant to be a symbol of hope for the city but instead vilified in order to fulfil the false hope created by Harvey Dent's fight against crime, yet there are still those who hope the Dark Knight will return to save the day.
Bane speaks of the hope and despair he felt during his time in a prison that could be described as a Lazarus pit, looking up at the light and imagining the climb to freedom only to fall again and again, increasing the sense of despair. He plans to torture the souls of Gotham by giving them hope of surviving his dastardly plot, only to tear it down when Gotham's reckoning is finally unleashed.
Nolan's trilogy has always had a layer of social commentary bubbling away under the surface. In TDK for example looked at how society deals with terrorism but with TDKR it would be fair to say that the social commentary is a little more on the nose given its relevance to today's society.
Bane's presents his occupation of Gotham in the form of an insurrection, calling on the masses to break free from the shackles of society and rise up against the bureaucracy and corrupt officials that have kept them down for so long. Angry uprising mobs provoke uneasy memories of the recent Hackney riots. There is a literal attack on the stock market with key characters becoming victims of a financial crisis. At one point Selina Kyle says "there is a storm coming Mr Wayne... You and your friends will wonder how you ever managed to live so large and leave so little for the rest of us" furthering the 99%/1% rationale that fuelled the "Occupy Wall Street" movement.
But beyond the political allusions and themes it may try to explore, given the shocking events this past weekend, it is important to remember that it is just a film and a film's primary function is to provide entertainment and escapism for a couple of hours.
At nearly three hours long, this is a truly epic conclusion to the story. Not just in terms of length but also in scope and action, once again showcased beautifully by Wally Pfister's cinematography and Hans Zimmer's rousing score. Nolan immediately outdoes the thrilling bank heist and truck flip featured in TDK by beginning the film with an audacious mid air skyjack that, as is Nolan's style, was practically achieved in camera as much as humanly possible, allowing little reliance on CGI. So when seen on an IMAX screen (over an hour's worth of footage was filmed in the format), the audience are almost overwhelmed by the sheer scale of the action whether it be a shot of hundreds of Gotham's police battling Blackgate prisoners outside City Hall or the visceral brutality of the first fight between Batman and Bane where you can feel every single punch.
That particular fight closes the first act of the film, which has a definite three act structure (comic book fans might label the acts Knightfall, No Man's Land and The Dark Knight Returns). Yet while there are some that have criticised the film for being too long or too heavily plotted, the first two acts really reinforce the emotional investment in the character of Bruce Wayne that had been built up over the saga so when the final act takes hold, the audience is taken on a roller coaster ride of excitement and emotion that has a such an overwhelmingly satisfying conclusion (both in terms of narrative for the film and for fans of the comics) that it was a surprise to find that tears were being shed. These tears are likely to be a mixture of joy and sadness. Joy at seeing such a perfect end to a wonderful story but also sadness at knowing that the comic book genre is never likely to see anything as good as this again.
With The Dark Knight Rises, Christopher Nolan has achieved the near impossible and not only produced the first great superhero trilogy but also arguably the greatest film trilogy of all-time.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Films watched in July 2012

The Amazing Spider-Man 3D - 3 stars
Katy Perry: Part of Me 3D - 3 stars
Friends With Kids - 3 stars
The Hunter - 4 stars
Magic Mike - 4 stars
Searching For Sugar Man - 4 stars
Batman Begins - 4 stars
The Dark Knight - 5 stars
Seeking A Friend For The End Of The World - 3 stars
The Dark Knight Rises IMAX - 5 stars
The Dark Knight Rises - 5 stars
The Dark Knight Rises - 5 stars
The Dark Knight Rises - 5 stars
The Lorax - 1 star
The Dark Knight Rises - 5 stars
The Dark Knight Rises - 5 stars
The Dark Knight Rises - 5 stars
The Dark Knight Rises - 5 stars
Ted - 2 stars

Films watched in July - 19
Total number of films watched in 2012 - 125
Total number of unique films watched in 2012 - 106

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Films Watched In June 2012

Prometheus 3D - 3 stars
Prometheus IMAX 3D - 4 stars
Rock of Ages - 2 stars
Woody Allen: A Documentary - 3 stars
A Fantastic Fear Of Everything - 1 star
Cosmopolis - 3 stars
Jaws - 5 stars
Fast Girls - 3 stars
Red Lights - 2 stars
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter - 1 star
The Five Year Engagement - 3 stars
Killer Joe - 4 stars

Films watched in June - 12
Total number of films watched in 2011 - 106
Total number of unique films watched in 2012 - 94

Saturday, 19 May 2012

The Avenger Effect - An Empire Blog Post

This week I wrote a little piece on how the success of the Avengers has boosted Shawarma sales since its release. Also provided a few other examples of products that have received a boost on the back of movie product placement.
I am very proud to say that the blog is online at the Empire magazine website, and you can read it here.
Hopefully it will be the first of many items that I'm able to do for my favourite movie magazine.
Thanks to Helen O'Hara and Phil De Semelyn for their help and advice.

Friday, 11 May 2012

Last Night A Movie Saved My Life

Last night I simultaneously discovered the highs and lows of being a film geek.
Being such a massive nerd/geek, it might not surprise you to learn that I am currently single and live on my own.
This proved to be a terrible inconvenience yesterday when I nearly choked to death after getting part of a peanut butter sandwich stuck in my throat, and there was nobody around to give me the Heimlich manoeuvre.
After ten seconds of feeling sad that I had no one to help, my mood quickly shifted to panic as remained unable to either swallow or cough up the sandwich. I had made it to the bathroom where I was confronted in the mirror by a sight very similar to the photo below.

It was at that point that I remembered the film Choke. It is based on the novel by Chuck Palahniuk and is about a sex addict con-man played by Sam Rockwell who plays on the sympathies of those who rescue him from choking to death in restaurants.
There is one particular scene in the film where Rockwell forces a choking incident in a quiet restaurant only to discover that the sole customer is blind and doesn't notice him. He is then forced to perform a solo Heimlich manoeuvre by forcing the back of a chair into his midsection.
Grabbing the chair from the study, I did the same thing and after a couple of attempts, a piece of bread coated in peanut butter and spit went flying across the room.
So being such a film geek, I guess that in some strange way, because I saw the film, I owe a life debt to Sam Rockwell and director Clark Gregg aka Agent Coulson himself.
Just like by watching Die Hard I would know what to do if I was in a skyscraper that had been taken over by terrorists/thieves. Or the girl who diagnosed herself with cancer after watching My Sister's Keeper.
So my question to you is, has watching a movie ever saved your life or come in handy in a real-life situation?

Sunday, 6 May 2012

Films watched in May 2012

American Reunion - 3 stars
Beauty & The Beast 3D - 4 stars
Safe - 3 stars
The Lucky One - 3 stars
Dark Shadows - 2 stars
Avengers Assemble - 5 stars
How I Spent My Summer Vacation - 2 stars
Piranha 3DD - 1 star
Cafe de Flore - 3 stars
Robocop - 3 stars
The Raid - 4 stars
The Dictator - 3 stars
2 Days In New York - 3 stars
The Raid - 4 stars
What To Expect When You're Expecting - 2 stars
MIB 3D - 2 stars
Moonrise Kingdom - 2 stars
Iron Sky - 3 stars
The Angels's Share - 3 stars
Snow White & The Huntsman - 1 star

Films watched in May - 20
Total number of films watched in 2012 - 94
Total number of unique films watched in 2012 - 83

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Marvel Marathon - The Avengers Assemble during The Adventures of Agent Coulson

Ever since Samuel L. Jackson turned up at the end of Iron Man, in 2008, talking to Tony Stark about the Avenger initiative, Marvel Studios have been building towards this epic moment. The release of The Avengers (or Avengers Assemble for us "stupid Brits" who might confuse it with the TV series or terrible 1998 movie of the adventures of John Steed and Emma Peel) is a landmark moment in superhero movies as it is the first time that characters from different franchises have appeared in one movie.
To get myself in the mood for the film, I am revisiting the entire Marvel studios canon of films leading up to Avengers in a giant Marvel marathon where I'll pick out the best fanboy moments, Stan Lee cameos and how much Avenger assembling takes place in each film along, etc.
I'll also take a look at the evolution of my own personal favourite character within the series, Agent Coulson played by the fabulous Clark Gregg. Much like how you can view Star Wars through the experiences of a seemingly minor character like R2-D2, like in Kurosawa's Hidden Fortress, it is fun to view the lead up to The Avengers as the continuing adventures of The Son Of Coul.

Iron Man

Marvel Studios knocked it out of the park with their first solo production, mainly thanks to the performance of Robert Downey Jr. For far too long, comic book movies had the problem that the villains were far more interesting and entertaining than the heroes. Tony Stark changed that. This is a man who is, in his own words, "genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist...", and RDJ plays the role to perfection. It is easily a part that could lose the audiences sympathies but you totally buy into his characters journey into the superhero he becomes, and refreshingly one who doesn't care who knows it.
There is also excellent support from Gwyneth Paltrow, someone who I'm not normally a fan of, as Pepper Potts and Jeff Bridges being "very un-Dude" as the villain.
It is a welcome light and fun antidote to the dark and dour world of Nolan's Batman, and excellent start to the long road to The Avengers.

Marvel Canon Fodder - Rhodey gets a nice moment, looking at the Mark II suit and remarking "Next time baby", setting up his War Machine storyline. The terrorist cell is called The Ten Rings, hinting at the involvement of The Mandarin. Last time Nick Fury was on our screens, he was portrayed by David Hasselhoff (no, really!), but having Samuel L. Jackson assume the role places Iron Man and the subsequent films well and truly within the Ultimate Marvel universe as first featured in the comic series The Ultimates written by Mark Millar and illustrated by Bryan Hitch who based Fury's look on Mr Jackson.

Fanboy Geekout Moment- While the first flight in the Iron Man suit is a terrific sequence, it has to be Nick Fury's appearance at the end of the film that seemingly promises fans that we will see an Avengers movie.

Avenger Assembling - Iron Man is very much a stand alone film. Besides the introduction of the Strategic Homeland Intervention Enforcement and Logistics Division (which Coulson is repeatedly told requires a new name) there is only Samuel L. Jackson appearing in a post credit sting teasing the Avenger Initiative.

Coulson Factor - Created for the movie, Coulson acts as a liason for S.H.I.E.L.D. and is continually dismissed by Stark until he helps protect Pepper against the Iron Monger but Clark Gregg's straight-faced deadpan delivery provided enough for producers to see the potential in the character.

Loki's Fact of Fiction - The Iron Lady starring Meryl Streep was originally going to feature a scene where Maggie Thatcher borrowed the suit from Tony Stark and fought the Falklands War single handed.

Stan Lee's Hitchcock Cameo - Stan 'The Man' Lee is mistaken for Hugh Heffner by Tony at a gala event thrown by Stark Industries.

Overall rating - 4/5

The Incredible Hulk

Bringing the character of the Hulk back under the full control of Marvel Studios, producers decided to largely ignore the events in Ang Lee's 2003 Hulk movie and instead start up events 5 months after the origin of the Hulk.
The film had a troubled production with director Letterier and Edward Norton delivering a 3 hour version that was a Jekyll & Hyde style meditation on trying to understand the tortured, conflicted nature of the Hulk but Marvel edited it down to a more popcorn friendly summer blockbuster featuring an epic Harlem smack down between Hulk and the Abomination.
The end result is a bit of a mess and the actual Hulk itself is still too CGI, not having the weight or personality that hopefully Ruffalo's performance capture will add in The Avengers, but personally I prefer it to Lee's version. At least there are no mutant poodles or Nick Nolte turning into a radioactive jellyfish cloud!

Marvel Canon Fodder - Going against standard Marvel canon in which Banner turns into the Hulk after exposure to Gamma radiation, in this incarnation Banner was also working on the Super Soldier serum and it was this, combined with the radiation that caused his transformation. The character of Emil Blonksy is Russian in the comics but here he is born in Russia and grew up in England so Tim Roth didn't have to put on a funny accent. It also introduces the character of Dr. Samuel Stern who would go on to become the villain known as The Leader.

Fanboy Geekout Moment - It's a toss up between composer Craig Armstrong's use of the "sad walking away music" from the Bill Bixby TV series and the moment inspired by a scene in The Ultimates comic where they induce a hulk out by dropping Banner out of a plane.

Avenger Assembling - During the opening credits, it establishes General Ross getting assistance from S.H.I.E.L.D. In his hunt for Banner along with the use of Stark weaponry. General Ross talks about the 'Super Soldier' program used in WWII i.e. the program used to create Captain America. In the post credit sting, Tony Stark approaches a drunk General Ross telling him that they are putting a team together that might be able to solve his "little problem", at this point hinting that The Avengers could be assembled to take down and subdue the Hulk.

Coulson Factor - Sadly no appearance from everyone's favourite S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent :-(

Stan Lee's Hitchcock Cameo - Stan plays the man who gets an extra kick from an energy drink contaminated with Banner's Gamma blood.

Loki's Fact of Fiction - The Hulk's fighting style was based on wrestling legend Hulk Hogan and in a deleted scene he delivers the immortal leg drop to Abomination.

Overall rating - 2/5

Iron Man 2

This is the film in the Marvel series that suffers the most from the issue of setting events in motion for The Avengers. So much so that it feels like the film is more concerned with this than providing the audience with an Iron Man sequel.
The main plot line that features rival weapon manufacturers trying to get their hands on Stark's tech and a climatic battle between CGI robot figures is just recycled from the first film. Having said that, Sam Rockwell's weasely Justin Hammer is a nice contrast to Stark and Johannson and Gregg get their moments to shine.

Marvel Canon Fodder - Continues the progress of War Machine and starts Tony down the path laid out in the 'Devil In A Bottle' storyline. Mickey Rourke's Ivan Vanko becomes a combination of villains Crimson Dynamo and Whiplash.

Fanboy Geekout Moment - Possibly the Iron Man suit in the briefcase or Black Widow's athletic takedown of half a dozen guards.

Avenger Assembling - There is a hell of a lot going on here. Nick Fury reveals that he knew Howard Stark and he was one of the founding members of S.H.I.E.L.D. and gives Tony some of Howard's research including a case that contains a Captain America comic and an unfinished prototype of his shield.
Black Widow is sent in undercover to keep an eye on Stark and assess his viability for the program, ultimately recommending that he only be used as a consultant rather than a full team member due to his behaviour.
Post credit sting involves Agent Coulson locating Mjolnir, the hammer of Thor, in the desert of New Mexico.

Coulson Factor - Agent Coulson returns to babysit Stark before heading to New Mexico on a special assignment. The two of them share a couple of great exchanges including Coulson laying the verbal smack down on Tony with "If you try to escape, or play any sort of games with me, I will taze you and watch "Supernanny" while you drool into the carpet."

Loki's Fact or Fiction - The end credit sting originally had Nick Fury approaching John Steed and Emma Peel to join the Avenger Initiative.

Stan Lee's Hitchcock Cameo - Tony Stark really needs to get his eyes tested as this time round he mistakes Stan for Larry King.

Overall Rating - 3/5 (from an Avengers setup standpoint) 2/5 (otherwise)

Marvel One Shot: The Consultant

Coulson and fellow agent Hernandez devise a scheme to sabotage plans to have The Abomination added to the Avenger Initiative. They decide send someone to annoy General Ross to the point where he will refuse to release Blonsky. This leads to the footage seen at the end of The Incredible Hulk with Ross and Stark.

Marvel Canon Fodder - Not canon at all. Instead it is a short film created to help fill in the gaps between the films and tie in all the ongoing story lines.

Fanboy Geekout Moment - Coulson wipes his mouth with a napkin after eating pancakes... OK, I admit, it's not great but it is a short film of mostly dialogue!

Avenger Assembling - No more than what we have already seen but puts a new spin on the existing footage to allow a new interpretation in keeping where the overall storyline is heading.

Coulson Factor - The short helps to establish where Coulson ranks in the grand scheme of things at S.H.I.E.L.D., he has a Level 7 clearance which probably places just under Fury in terms of authority.

Loki's Fact or Fiction - This short was filmed by David Fincher who did 111 takes of the final scene which meant Clark Gregg had to eat 111 pancakes.

Stan Lee's Hitchcock Cameo - No cameo

Overall Rating - 3/5

Thor

More than any other film in the arsenal of Marvel studios, this is the one that could have gone horribly wrong. Thor is not your typical superhero, he is a Norse God and between this hero and the direction of Luvvie Branagh, the movie could easily have become a camptastic romp like Flash Gordon (possibly one of the reasons sadly why Brian Blessed was not cast as Odin because it would have immediately drawn comparisons).
Happily the result is the best Marvel since Iron Man. As well as ticking all the boxes in terms of comic book blockbuster, Branagh puts a lot of focus on the central relationship between Odin, Thor and Loki, with the scene where Loki confronts Odin over his true heritage being the finest in the film.
Performances are terrific all round but the real star turn is Tom Hiddleston as Loki. He brings real pain and conflict to the role which makes his villain the best in the Marvel canon so far and I can't wait to see what he will bring to The Avengers.

Marvel Canon Fodder - While many of the other films have taken elements from the Ultimate universe, this incarnation of Thor is more the classic Norse God rather than a possible psychotic with delusions of grandeur and super powers.
Thor's earthbound alias Donald Blake is referred to as Jane Foster's ex boyfriend.

Fanboy Geekout Moment - It's not really a "Geekout moment" per say but I love the scene where Thor goes into the pet shop demanding a horse... or dog, cat or bird large enough to ride. That or Odin's full-on boombastic Shakespearian "you're a vain, greedy cruel boy" speech.

Avenger Assembling - We get our first glimpse at Clint Barton aka Hawkeye who is providing weapons cover for S.H.I.E.L.D. at the Mjolnir crash site. Dr Selvig (Skarsgard) mentions he knew a scientist who worked in gamma radiation who disappeared after involvement with S.H.I.E.L.D. (we can safely assume he means Bruce Banner). The post credit sting sees Fury show Selvig a glowing cosmic cube and Loki appears to influence Selvig's mind and says that it is worth a look.

Coulson Factor - Coulson is running the show down in New Mexico, LIKE A BOSS, as evidenced by Hawkeye taking orders from him. He even gives Thor a dressing down during an interrogation. This also marks the origin of Clark Gregg's nickname 'Son of Coul' which is what Thor calls him when offering his assistance in protecting Earth's realm.

Loki's Fact or Fiction - Branagh actually filmed a scene where Hemsworth rode a chihuahua!

Stan Lee's Hitchcock Cameo - A New Mexico driver who attempts to pull Mjolnir out of the ground with his truck, and fails miserably.

Overall rating - 4/5

A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To Thor's Hammer

Marvel Canon Fodder - not set within the existing Marvel canon.

Fanboy Geekout Moment - Coulson smacking a criminal in the face with a shotgun.

Avenger Assembling - No additional assembling takes place.

Coulson Factor - Another chance for Gregg to show a different side to Coulson, this time being a total badass and beating up two criminals who try to rob the gas station he has stopped at. Also has another chance to deliver some killer lines with that deadpan delivery we have come to love.

Loki's Fact or Fiction - Clark Gregg really can't decide between powdered and frosted donuts.

Stan Lee's Hitchcock Cameo - No cameo

Overall Rating - 4/5

Captain America: The First Avenger

The "First Avenger" and final movie in the run up to the Avengers as the final pieces of the puzzle start to slot into place. Director Joe Johnston recovers from The Wolfman disaster to rediscover the magic he worked on The Rocketeer to deliver a great old-fashioned romp but also keeping it Marvel too. Even throwing in a few nods to Raiders Of The Lost Ark along the way. The only real issue with the film is by setting it within a flashback structure, there is a lack of real tension in the film as we all know how it is going to end, even if it does have a scene that rips off Armageddon.

Marvel Canon Fodder - Initially it does appear odd to have the Human Torch playing Steve Rogers but once you get over this the film sticks fairly closely to the traditional Marvel canon and origin story (although one major character is killed off to create a more emotional edge to the story). There is also a fun spin on the original comic cover that featured Cap punching out Hitler.

Fanboy Geekout Moment - The original Captain America outfit and 'Star Spangled Man' (which should have been nominated for Best Original Song at the Oscars).

Avenger Assembling - The blue cosmic cube glimpsed at the end of Thor appears here and is called The Tesseract, one of the relics from Odin's treasure room, found by the Red Skull but ultimately ending up in S.H.I.E.L.D.'s possession. This film seems to contradict information about the Super Soldier program mentioned in The Incredible Hulk. In Hulk, Ross says he's still working on the program and takes a vial of the serum from a tank that claims the creator was Dr. Renstein. However in this film, the creator of the formula is Dr. Erkskine and it appears the last of the formula is destroyed.
Howard Stark plays a major role in the creation of Captain America and the Stark Expo, which features in Iron Man 2, also makes an appearance.
The film ends with Rogers waking up in a S.H.I.E.L.D. Facility to be informed by Nick Fury (in the middle of Times Square) that he's been asleep for 70 years. It is assumed due to the wee teaser trailer at the end of the credits that Rogers remain in their custody until the events of The Avengers.

Coulson Factor - Sadly this film rates a zero on the Coulson scale. Not even an appearance at the end when Steve Rogers wakes up in modern day New York.

Loki's Fact or Fiction - Chris Evans and Ryan Reynolds have a running bet about who can appear as more comic book characters.

Stan Lee's Hitchcock Cameo - Lee appears as a General at a medal presentation for Steve Rogers.

Overall Rating - 4/5

Monday, 23 April 2012

Salmon Fishing In The Yemen - review

Based on Paul Torday's best selling novel, this film tells a literal "fish out of water" story as fisheries expert Dr Alfred Jones and financial consultant Harriet Chetwode-Talbot are tasked by a Shiekh to introduce salmon fishing to the Yemen, which is not known for its natural abundance of water.
It starts with an In The Loop style sequence of emails passing back and forth discussing the feasibility of the scenario and Kristin Scott-Thomas's goverment press officer, think Malcolm Tucker only with slightly smaller balls and 12A certificate to restrict the more colourful language, sticking her oar in to generate some positive feedback in the Middle East.
From that point on however, it rejects the political commentary and satire in favour of your typical British 'stiff upper lip' romantic comedy.
It might lack bite but Salmon Fishing is a warm, fuzzy, sweet film with a strong romantic bond between the mis-matched pair of stuffy, unhappily married Dr Jones (McGregor, who is starting to find himself as an actor in his middle age) and the younger Harriet, whose soldier boyfriend has gone MIA in Afghanistan.
I know what you're thinking now, and yes the plot unfold exactly as you imagine it would, but the pedestrian, unimaginative plotting is forgiven thanks to the chemistry between the leads, with Emily Blunt once again proving to be one of, if not the, finest actresses in the UK.
There is great support from Amr Waked in a wonderfully non-stereotypical performance as the Sheikh and Scott-Thomas attempts to chew through the scenery every time she appears.
Now I'm not sure the only one who will do this when watching the film, but I found myself chuckling whenever someone called McGregor's character Dr Jones as it conjured up images of him as Indiana Jones. There is even a gag about digging up the Ark of the Covenant. I was just hoping that at one point Blunt would have said to Ewan, " No time for love Dr. Jones!"... Perhaps the opportunity will arise in the sequel, Salmon Fishing In The Yemen 2: Fish Harder.

3 stars

Lockout - review

The pitch for Lockout, a film about a former CIA agent called Snow who is forced to gain access to a maximum security prison (in space!) in order to rescue the president's daughter who is trapped there following a mass breakout, probably included the phrase "Escape from New York meets Demolition Man... IN SPACE!".
Lockout never tries to hide away from the fact that this film is a hark back to the dumb, high concept action movies of the Eighties, and it certainly has a lot in common with them. A plot that can be described in terms of other movies, action set (prodominantly) in a single location, a sardonic anti-hero, a British villain (in this case two brothers giving the Scottish a bad name, with Joseph Gilgun on scene-stealing form), and some CGI graphics that would not look out of place in an Eighties computer game. Yes, that last part was not meant to be a compliment.
Along with the awful CGI, the direction is rather pedestrian and the film lacks any truly spectacular action sequences that would allow the film to rise above it's schlocky origins. Thank goodness then for Lockout's trump card... Guy Pearce.
Back then this type of genre flick would have starred the likes of Seagal, Van Damme, Norris or any of the stars of The Expendables. Made today, it would normally have starred Jason Statham. Instead the filmmakers have gone down the Kurt Russell route by casting someone against type.
It would be fair to say that Pearce is known for his more serious roles in the likes of L.A. Confidential, Animal Kingdom and The Proposition but here he shows a welcome new charismatic side full of humour and sass. Snow is as capable of cracking wise as he is at cracking skulls and he brings a weary cynicism to his mission, especially when interacting with Emily Warnock.
Maggie Grace once again is in need of rescue (she is as bad as Kim Bauer from 24), that it is a surprise that Liam Neeson isn't playing The President.
The scenes between Pearce and Grace are among the best in the film, with them sharing good chemistry as Snow casually mistreats Emily in order to get her out alive.
Lockout is no Casablanca, despite Pearce's Bogart-like cynicism and a final scene that does its best to evoke similarities, and is unlikely to appear on many people's Top Ten end of year lists or start a trend of remaking 80's genre films in space but thanks to Pearce it makes for an entertaining diversion on a Friday night at the movies, which sometimes is just what we need.

3 stars

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Clip Joint - Photographs

I've written this week's edition of Clip Joint on The Guardian website. The theme for my top 5 is cinematic photographs.
I've picked my five most memorable pictures from the moving pictures and provided clips and reasons for my selections.
Have a look and see if you agree or disagree with me.
Before anyone has a go at me for missing Blow Up or The Omen of the list, they were two of my original choices but I wasn't able to find the appropriate clips for them and so they didn't make the cut.
Check out the list here.

Friday, 6 April 2012

Delicacy - review

Audrey Tautou plays Natalie Kerr, a young woman in love and happily married to the handsome, charming Francois. When Francois is killed in an accident, Natalie pours herself into her work. Accused of never letting anyone in by her smitten boss, she impulsively kisses a co-worker. Will this random act show Natalie that there is life after 'the one'?
After getting over the fact that Audrey Tautou looks identical to when she played Amelie some 11 years ago (I don't what they put in Chanel No. 5 but it must be very good), she convinces as the fragile, grief stricken widow but slowly that trademark ingenue smile starts to creep back onto her face, thanks to her burgeoning relationship with Swedish employee Markus.
Damiens may be familiar to UK audiences for comic supporting roles in Heartbreaker and OSS:117 but makes the transition here to leading man, even though he may not be your typical romantic lead (Not meaning to sound harsh but if there was a Hollywood remake they would probably cast Paul Giamatti). What he may lack in looks, he more than makes up for in an unassuming charm and humour that really makes the audience root for him to get the girl, albeit it one who is out of his league.
He also gets one of the best moments in the film with a little fantasy sequence reminiscent of (500) Days of Summer.
The two leads have genuine chemistry between them, helped by a script by Foenkinos, adapting from his own novel, that has a smart ear for dialogue that comes across as honest and authentic, which is where a lot of romantic films fall down.
Whilst marketed as a rom-com, it doesn't follow the traditional structure and the gentle humour of the mismatched couple can sometimes feel at odds with a story which is just as much about dealing with loss and the spectre of her former husband threatens to derail any permanent chance of romance .
Overall, the tone doesn't quite gel together but the great chemistry and a refreshing unwillingness to follow cliche, with characters who are savvy enough to know what the audience are thinking and an ending that is left open to their interpretation rather than having everything tied up in a bow, means that Delicacy is a tasty treat to consume at the cinema but you might not be craving seconds.



3 stars

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Wrath Of The Titans review

Pike was gutted to miss out on the role of Katniss Everdeen.

When Clash of the Titans was released in 2010 it became the poster boy for the backlash against 3D. It's dark, murky, sloppy post-conversion reeked of 'cashing in' over 'creativity'.
It could possibly have been forgiven if the 3D conversion had been used on such elements as plot, acting, script and character development. Then of course there was the fact that no titans actually clashed during the original film.
But it made enough money at the box office to merit a sequel and it offered the producers the chance to correct the mistakes that were made first time around.
Sadly it quickly becomes apparent they haven't learned anything.
Wrath Of The Titans is once again post-converted into 3D and doesn't look like it has added much to the film. In fact the 3D spectacularly failed around 20 minutes into the film during my screening, forcing me to watch most of it without my glasses and a lot of it looked 2D to me. One shot near the beginning with the initial Chimera attack even featured a ratio change with visible black bars at the top and bottom which is very poor for such a major release.
There is a story in there somewhere but essentially this, like Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows Part 1, is "the one where it goes a bit Lord Of The Ringsy".
Perseus must gather up a fellowship (well two people anyway) to help him travel to Mount Doom (the Titan prison of Tartarus, otherwise known as the God of Plaque) in order to rescue the White wizard Gandalf (Zeus) before slaying the Balrog (Kronos).
Once again Titans is found to be sorely lacking in the fun factor but perhaps not surprising when your lead character is played by Sam So-Not-Worth-It-Ton, whose Perseus has now adopted an Australian accent to throw into the mix of various regional English, Irish and Spanish accents featured in the film.
The script gives the actors very little to work with, perhaps why they didn't bother putting on an accent, and character development is practically non-existent.
One such example is when Perseus kisses Queen Andromeda at the end. There has been no build up to this moment, no hint of romance between them but because Gemma Arterton couldn't return for the sequel, lucky her, her character has been written out of the film and it feels like a producer has watched a rough cut and demanded some romance so they have tacked on a kiss that feels completely out of place.
That sort of filmmaking by committee feeling hangs like a giant ash cloud over the whole film and, ironically for a film about the fall of the gods, I will be preying to them that we won't be seeing any more additions to the Titans series any time soon.

1 star

Mirror Mirror review

I think it is safe to say that I was polishing my poisoned apple ahead of this screening thanks to Mirror Mirror having some of the worst trailers I've seen so far this year and suffering unfavourably in comparison to the "other Snow White film" out later this year, Snow White And The Huntsman.
However it seems i should have listened to my own advice about not judging a film by its trailer, because it appears that someone has managed to achieve the impossible and polished a turd because the final product is much better than I was anticipating.
Performances are good. Julia Roberts is clearly having a ball as the wicked Queen/step mother and Arnie Hammer puts in a (Prince) Charming comic turn as the dashing, but dumb, Alcott.
I should really apologise to Lily Collins because I was quite harsh on her in my review of Abduction last year, but I am now willing to put it down to that just being a really awful movie because she is adorable as Snow White and has excellent chemistry with Hammer and a good rapport with the dwarves (the majority of whom sadly get the chance to make an individual impact).
It wasn't until reviews for the film started coming out that I realised she was the daughter of one of Patrick Bateman's favourite artists, Phil Collins. She is easily the best thing that he has produced in years.
Although she still has one of the most prominent and distracting set of eyebrows in Hollywood!
Tonally it it still a little unsure of itself, flitting between Shrek-style fairytale parody and full-on pantomime, but it is fair to say, as with all Tarsem Singh films (Immortals, The Cell, The Fall) that Mirror Mirror is definitely a case of style over substance but it is hard to resist its charms when it is styled as well as this.

Julia Roberts has more costume changes than a Lady Gaga concert and the Queen's Animal Ball features outfits like Snow White's swan dress that would be Bjork's Oscar night wet dream.
The late Eiko Ishioka, Singh's regular costume designer, sadly died before seeing the finished film but I truly believe that a posthumous Oscar nomination is on the cards for what is undeniably the most extravagantly and opulently dressed film of the year and deserving of 5 stars on their own.

3 stars

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Films watched in April 2012

The Wicker Tree - 2 stars
Mirror Mirror - 3 stars
Delicacy - 3 stars
Titanic 3D - 3 stars
The Cold Light Of Day - 1 star
Battleship - 1 star
The Cabin In The Woods - 5 stars
The Cabin In The Woods - 5 stars
The Kid With The Bicycle - 4 stars
The Room - 5 stars
Lockout - 3 stars
Salmon Fishing In The Yemen - 3 stars
Gone - 1 star
Marley - 3 stars
La Grande Illusion - 4 stars
Avengers Assemble 3D - 5 stars
Avengers Assemble - 5 stars
Avengers Assemble 3D - 5 stars
Avengers Assemble - 5 stars
Avengers Assemble - 5 stars

Films watched in April - 20
Total number of films watched in 2012 - 74
Total number of unique films watched in 2012 - 65

Saturday, 31 March 2012

Films watched in March 2012

This Means War - 1 star
Wanderlust - 2 stars
Project X - 1 star
John Carter - 3 stars
The Raven - 2 stars
Company - 4 stars
We Bought A Zoo - 3 stars
Contraband - 2 stars
21 Jump Street - 4 stars
In Darkness - 4 stars
Wild Bill - 4 stars
The Hunger Games - 3 stars
The Shining - 5 stars
Pirates! An Adventure With Scientists in 3D - 3 stars
This Must Be The Place - 5 stars
Headhunters - 3 stars
Wrath Of The Titans 3D - 1 star
Streetdance 2 - 1 star

Films watched in March - 18
Total number of films watched in 2012 - 54
Total number of unique films watched in 2012 - 49

Sunday, 25 March 2012

The Belmont Picturehouse

Last week I was very lucky to write a Cine-files review of The Belmont Picturehouse for The Guardian website.

I believe that my review is balanced and fair, especially given my history with the cinema.
Now that the future of the building has been secured, it is nice to see that City Screen have invested some money by upgrading all the screens to digital projection and the bar has benefitted from E.A.R.L. serving delicious food and the introduction of live music and events.
I still have some misgivings over the high ticket prices and some of the film choices. 21 Jump Street, unsurprisingly, performed poorly for example.
Personally I feel that they should try to model their ticket prices and film line-up on the fantastic Prince Charles Cinema in London which does tremendously well despite being surrounded by several multiplex cinemas in Leicester Square by having a diverse, exciting film schedule and competitive pricing structure.
But I cannot be too harsh as The Belmont remains the only place in Aberdeen that you are able to enjoy riotus screenings of cult classic The Room.

The response to the article so far it has helped strengthen my resolve to really give this freelance film journalism thing my very best and hopefully turn it from a hobby into a paid career.
Plus I can now put on my CV that I've written for The Guardian and Empire magazine... websites.

Anyway, to read the review in full head over to The Guardian website here.

Friday, 2 March 2012

Project X review - Superbad? Super f*cking hideous more like!

Where do I start with Project X?
Perhaps with a disclaimer that I am not without a sense of fun. I have been to and hosted several parties. I've played drinking games, done beer pong, danced like nobody's watching and struck out/had success with members of the opposite sex at such events... but after sitting through 88 minutes of what was supposedly "the greatest party ever", I am clearly getting "too old for this shit" as Project X is one of the morally vacuous, repellent pieces of "filmmaking" I've ever had the displeasure of witnessing.
Coming out just a few months before American Reunion, it is hard not to wonder what has changed in the 13 years since Jim first had sexy time with some shortcrust in American Pie?
Pie's plot, like Weird Science before it and Superbad after it, revolved around the age old problem of horny teenage boys trying to get lucky with unattainable high school girls.
Where they succeeded, and this film spectacularly bombs, is that underneath all the lewd, crude and rude behaviour (and the laughs that go with it) was that they had heart.
A geek like myself could relate to the likes of Jim, McLovin and Anthony Michael Hall and would root for them to get the girl in the end. All I was rooting for the protagonists in this film was for a long, slow agonising root canal.
The central trio here of Thomas, JD and the utterly repellent and obnoxious Costa decide to throw a party for Thomas's birthday while his parents are away for the weekend. Before you can say Jaagerbombs, the "small gathering" has turned into a full scale Old School style house party that soon descends into scenes reminiscent of the recent London riots.
Beyond the glamourising of underage drinking, promiscuity, drug use, destruction of property, blah, blah, blah, the thing that left me with such a bad taste in my mouth that need a keg of mouthwash to get rid of it, was how no one seemed to take responsibility for their actions.
*spoiler warning* during a rushed epilogue on the morning after the night before, the three boys who organise the party, albeit indirectly responsible for much of the chaos, so no real remorse and are treated like celebrities at the school. Even Thomas's dad seems impressed that his "loser" son, his words, had it in him to start an event that would result in their house being burned down *end of spoilers*
But I should really get off my high horse now and stop complaining about "the youth of today" as my issues with the film go far beyond any moral high ground and concern the quality of the filmmaking in general that barely musters any form of script or characterisation beyond stereotypical cliches.
It is the latest film to use the found footage concept and for every film like Troll Hunter or Chronicle that tried to breath new life into an increasingly tired concept, Project X does its very best to drive the last nail into its coffin.
The Blair Witch Project was one of the first, and most successful, films to use the idea of found footage and worked because it presented a video evidence edited to document what had happened to the three filmmakers who went missing in the Burkitsville woods.
Here we are shown the evening's debauchery and mayhem mainly from silent Goth Dax's camera (who conveniently seems to be at the right place at the right time to catch all the action to further the subplots) but there is a wide variety of different camera perspectives including news reports, camera phones and others which show amazing high definition and underwater capabilities.
Who edited all this footage together? How did they get access to all this public and privately owned footage? It doesn't make any sense whatsoever.
That being said, whilst it doesn't ring remotely true or in keeping with the genre, the one positive aspect of the film is that it is shot and edited incredibly well. A little too well though as it comes across as the world's longest episode of Skins, starring the casts of The Only Way Is Essex and Jersey Shore, styled by Abercrombie and Fitch and given an MTV soundtrack.
Chris Hewitt of Empire magazine has written an equally vitriolic and scathing review where he called it "possibly the worst film of the last 20 years" and I joked to him on Twitter (after stupidly going to see it to find out if it was as bad as he said - it was) that I would need a Project Xorcism to expel the 88 minutes of my life that have been poisoned by this repellent garbage that has been vomited into theatres by a drunken teenager who has done one too many tequila shots.
Project X is one party that I am glad that i'm not on the guest list for, and if anyone should offer you an invite to it please, please, please RSVP with a resounding HELL NO!

Saturday, 25 February 2012

Oh God, oh Jesus Christ! You had better keep your Appointment With The Wicker Man

The Wicker Man is a true 'cult' classic, one of the most influential horror films of all time and arguably the best Scottish film ever made.
It is fair to say that the Loch Parry Players production of 'The Whicker Man' takes a fair amount of dramatic licence when it comes to their adaptation of this famous film, yet it is certainly no way near as horrific as the recent Nicolas Cage remake and not a single bee in sight.
An Appointment With The Wicker Man is a play within a play and concerns Rory Mulligan, a TV star from a successful Glaswegian detective series, who steps in at the last minute to play the role of Sgt Howie in a local amateur dramatic company's staging of The Wicker Man.
Rory starts to get frustrated with the lack of professionalism of the cast, the changes to the script (including the addition of a few Broadway style musical numbers), and also the lack of information regarding the mysterious absence of Roger Morgan.
As the opening night grows ever closer, Rory begins to suspect that the Loch Parry Players, led by Finlay Fothergill, have an altogether more sinister use for him as The Whicker Man reaches it's shocking climax.
The style of the amateur production conjures up images of the Sandford Dramatic Society's production of Romeo & Juliet that featured in Hot Fuzz, and it draws favourable comparisons to the Edgar Wright/Simon Pegg film.
Both used the central plot device of The Wicker Man of having an outsider coming into a rural community where everything may not be as it seems, and both successfully managed to balance the humour created by the differences between the parties and creating a growing feeling of unease and suspense as the true nature of the mystery is revealed.
Greg Hemphill (Chewing The Fat, Still Game) and co-writer Donald McCleary have written a script that pays an affectionate tribute to the horror film yet never alienates members of the audience that have never seen it.
Die hard fans will geek out on visual gags and attention to detail in the sets and costumes or in-jokes and references like Lord Summerisle improvising "snails, blah blah, some Walt Whitman pish" which refers to a scene only available on the Director's Cut DVD.
The plot of the play and the order in which the company rehearse their scenes mirrors that of the original, even down to dialogue being appropriated by these new characters, which allows newcomers to follow the story without ever feeling like they are missing out on anything.
This is helped by a very witty script that keeps the gags coming thick and fast with many of them familiar to anyone who has dabbled in the world of amateur dramatics.
All of them are delivered by a cast that is on fire (sometimes literally). Sean Biggerstaff (Harry Potter) is terrific as the big star in a small pond, co-writer Hemphill naturally gives himself the majority of the cracking one liners, "I knew I should never have put on Joseph Fritzel Superstar" and Sally Reid nearly steals the show with a unique reenactment of Willow's seduction dance.
This show is one appointment that you must keep at all costs as the result is a hilarious evening's entertainment for film fans, am-drams and Wicker Men alike.

5 stars

An Appointment With The Wicker Man plays at His Majesty's Theatre from 21st -25th February before touring to Glasgow, Inverness and Dunfermline. It may also appear at The Edinburgh Film Festival later this year.

Monday, 6 February 2012

Films watched in February 2012

Chronicle - 4 stars
Man On A Ledge - 1 star
Young Adult - 4 stars
Journey 2 - 2 stars
Martha Marcy May Marlene - 3 stars
Carnage - 3 stars
The Artist - 5 stars
The Muppets - 4 stars
The Vow - 2 stars
The Woman In Black - 4 stars
Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close - 2 stars
The Woman In Black - 4 stars
The Muppets - 4 stars
Casablanca - 5 stars
A Dangerous Method - 2 stars
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel - 3 stars
Safe House - 3 stars
Rampart - 2 stars

Films watched in February - 18
Total number of films watched in 2012 - 36
Total number of unique films watched in 2012 - 31

Saturday, 28 January 2012

Films watched in Jan 2012

The Artist - 5 stars
Shame + satellite Q&A - 5 stars
The Artist - 5 stars
The Iron Lady - 2 stars
War Horse - 2 stars
Margin Call - 3 stars
Haywire - 1 star
Goon - 4 stars
The Artist - 5 stars
W./E. - 1 star
The Sitter - 1 star
Coriolanus - 2 stars
The Descendants - 3 stars
J. Edgar - 1 star
Underworld Awakening - 1 star
Margaret - 4 stars
Like Crazy - 3 stars
The Grey - 2 stars

Total number of films watched in Jan - 18
Total number of films watched in 2012 -
Total number of unique films watched in 2012 -

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

The Championship Celluloid Awards aka Alternative Oscar Nominations

It is Oscar night and while I am up watching the tedium that is Ryan Seacrest insipid interviews on the red carpet I have decided on my own personal winners for the best film, actors, etc from the past year.

Best Picture
The Artist
Drive
Midnight In Paris
Shame
Warrior

Winner: The Artist

Best British Film
Kill List
Shame
Submarine
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Weekend

Winner: Shame

Best Director
Tomas Alfredson (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy)
Michel Hazanavicius (The Artist)
Steve McQueen (Shame)
Nicolas Winding Refn (Drive)
Martin Scorsese (Hugo)

Winner: Michel Hazanavicius

Best Actor
Jean Dujardin (The Artist)
Michael Fassbender (Shame)
Joseph Gordon-Levitt (50/50)
Ryan Gosling (Drive)
Andy Serkis (Rise of the Planet of the Apes)

Winner: Michael Fassbender

Best Actress
Olivia Colman (Tyrannosaur)
Rooney Mara (The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo)
Anna Paquin (Margaret)
Meryl Streep (The Iron Lady)
Michelle Williams (My Week With Marilyn)

Winner: Olivia Colman

Best Supporting Actor
Benedict Cumberbatch (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy)
Nick Nolte (Warrior)
Alan Rickman (Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows Part 2)
The Rock (Fast and Furious 5)
Corey Stall (Midnight In Paris)

Winner: Nick Nolte

Best Supporting Actress
Jessica Chastain (The Help)
Marion Cotillard (Midnight In Paris)
Melissa McCarthy (Bridesmaids)
Carey Mulligan (Shame)
Vanessa Redgrave (Coriolanus)

Winner: Jessica Chastain

Best Original Screenplay
50/50
The Artist
Margaret
Midnight In Paris
Shame

Winner: The Artist

Best Adapted Screenplay
Drive
Moneyball
The Skin I Live In
Submarine
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Winner: Moneyball

Best Cinematography
The Artist
The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo
Shame
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Tree Of Life

Winner: Shame

Best Original Score
The Artist
Drive
The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

Winner: The Artist

Best Visual Effects
Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes

Winner: Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes

Best Documentary
Senna

Winner: Senna

Best Animated Film
Rango

Winner: Rango

Best Foreign Language Film
I Saw The Devil
Little White Lies
The Skin I Live In

Winner: The Skin I Live In

Best Newcomer
Jessica Chastain
Tom Cullen
Tom Hiddleston

Winner: Tom Hiddleston