Wednesday, 22 December 2010

THEfilmBLOG Top 20 Films of 2010

Well my friends, here we are again, 2010 has brought us some rather memorable moments in the world of cinema, some good, some bad and, as always, some downright ugly. Seeing as my ventures to review Tron: Legacy have been put on hold due to the rather unusual snowy and icy weather outside (even for this time of the year) this will be my last post of this year on the blog, and keeping up with last year's Christmas tradition, there's no better way to finish than with the customary Top 20 list of the year!

20. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (March 2nd 2010) - "Tense, explosive and perversely creepy thriller, once again showing the wonders that the Swedish film industry has to offer."
19. Dogtooth (April 17th 2010) - "Would urge everyone who yearns for boundary breaking cinema to see this as soon as possible. Absolutely masterful."

18. Buried (September 30th 2010) - "A brilliant demonstration of fiercely intense, minimalistic, and ultimately, original film-making."

17. Gainsbourg (July 24th 2010) - "A provocative and imaginative window into a world of complete self-indulgence."

16. How To Train Your Dragon (April 3rd 2010) - "Smart script, hilarious scenes and heartfelt moments combined together with beautiful animation."

15. The American (November 26th 2010) - "A slow-burning and intelligent character study which may leave audiences pondering more questions than the film cares to answer."

14. Monsters (December 7th 2010) - "A superbly acted and deeply mature love story, set against a sparse, epic and ruthless backdrop of extra-terrestrial wilderness."

13. Shutter Island (March 12th 2010) - "One of the masters of modern, and classic cinema, returns with a chilling, provocative and gritty psychological thriller."

12. Up in the Air (January 14th 2010) - "Sit back and enjoy a wonderful, hilarious, uplifting comedy with enough drama, plot-twists and heart-wrenching moments that may even cause a few members of the audience to shed a tear."

11. The Secret In Their Eyes (August 19th 2010) - "A gloriously executed crime thriller, with some genuinely classy performances and exquisite surroundings."

10. Exit Through The Gift Shop (March 21st 2010) - "A honest and extremely humorous exploration into the art world, documenting its ultimate highs and its shameful lows."

9. A Prophet (January 2nd 2010) - "Intimate in its intentions, epic in its delivery."

8. Another Year (October 31st 2010) - "Combining the triumphs of love, wisdom and companionship with the painful awareness of loneliness, despair and realisation of one's own mortality."

7. Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (May 18th 2010) - "Unpredictable, intense, unsettling and even commanding the ability to raise a cheeky smile or light hearted chuckle, this is what a real Nicolas Cage performance is all about."

6. Black Dynamite (September 11th 2010) - "Leave common sense at the door and you will find a film which is surprisingly clever, outrageously funny and extremely sexy."

5. Winter's Bone (October 8th 2010) - "An emotionally numbing yet completely essential piece of American film-making."

4. The Social Network (October 15th 2010) - "Will The Social Network's portrayal of Mark Zuckerberg be one of cinema's great villains for the ages, or equally one of its most tragic?"

3. Of Gods and Men (December 4th 2010) - "A powerful and provocative drama highlighting the more positive and idealistic aspects of the Christian faith."

2. Toy Story 3 (July 19th 2010) - "I genuinely fail to see how anyone could not like this film or the films to come before it. Its closing scene will warm your heart and make you shed a tear. And if it doesn't, then at least it forever has a friend in me."

1. Inception (July 16th 2010) - "Hopefully a landmark and a wakeup call to the entire industry. Proof if you put your trust in a truly talented film-maker to attempt something entirely original, outside of countless reboots, remakes and comic book films, you can have your faith rewarded."

Bet you didn't see the top two coming eh? There were, of course, a few honourable mentions which unfortunately just didn't make the final cut, including Kick Ass, The Town, Tamara Drewe and A Serious Man. The King's Speech would have been included also, had it not been officially released in 2011.

And just like that, 2010 is over. Been a fantastic year for me, on the blog, would like to thank Richard and the lovely people at Panic Dots for giving me somewhere to bitch about films outside of this comfort zone. Ross, Laura and Jude for the immense amount of fun and randomness had on the Panic Shots podcasts (more of those in 2011!). Wee Claire for giving me work when I probably didn't deserve it. Ben Finch at The Gown for sending to see some of the films listed above. Ally Millar at for allowing me to piss off film fans on his domain. The ever classy Sarah Hughes for putting up with me on Saturday mornings at the Queen's Film Theatre press screenings. The lovely film bloggers I've gotten to know via Twitter, including Ronan at Filmplicity, Ruth at Flixchatter and of course, not least, all the people who have taken the time to read this blog over the past year.

Thank you.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! Now where's that bottle of red wine and my copy of The Muppet Christmas Carol...

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

The King's Speech - Review

There always seems to come a time in every British actor or actress' career where they must play the role of a historical British monarch. Riding on the success of his career defining performance in A Single Man and sampling the glory of Best Actor nominations across the award circuits, Colin Firth comes storming back with another film, determined, this time, to take the all the prizes with him too. But is The King's Speech worth its pre-Oscar hype?

Set across the years between the First and Second World War, The King's Speech concentrates on the rise of King George VI (Firth) and his personal woes, including his infamous stammer and disdain for public speaking. Obviously being royalty, having an ability to engage the public in moving and inspirational speeches tends to be a necessity of the job. In attempt to overcome this disability he's entrusted in the care of the eccentric and flamboyant speech therapist, Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush).

Over the course of the film, the two men of distinctly different social classes come to blows but ultimately forge a friendship which will last a lifetime. Colin Firth's portrayal of George VI (or simply Bertie to his family and friends) was a fascinating insight into the king's troubled personal life. His tragic inability to speak, both in public and to his family, was also tender and, in a way, heart-warmingly humbling. While Firth will deservedly get the plaudits for his regal starring role, it was Geoffrey Rush's witty, genuine, off-the-wall performance as Logue which personally blew me away, with immense comic timing and inability to be overwhelmed while in the presence of his most prestigious client.

The supporting cast was littered with enough real quality to make any award body take notice, and make most audiences marvel in delight. The graceful and articulate Helen Bonham Carter gave a honest and loving performance as the late Queen Mother, Elizabeth. Michael Gambon was sharp and somewhat intimidating as Bertie's father, King George V. Guy Pearce was arrogantly brilliant as Firth's brother and predecessor, King Edward VIII.

While the excellent Timothy Spall shone once again, in his second portrayal as the great Winston Churchill (his first was in October's god awful stop animation, Jackboots on Whitehall). Was also a pleasure to see the classy Jennifer Ehle - who starred opposite Firth in, perhaps, his most famous role as Mr Darcy in the BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice - as Lionel's wife.

Tom Hooper should also be credited for making a visually engaging period drama, which never once felt tired or dull on the eyes, as a lot of these quintessentially British affairs can so often become. The film's themes are also an uplifting and enjoyable treat for all, a story of friendship between essentially a prince and a pauper, a man's journey to overcome his own personal adversaries and become the king he was born to be. Yes we won't lie, this isn't original by any means, these are classic tried and tested formulas that can be found across a pantheon of cinema, but rarely to this level of detail and panache.

Final Thoughts
The most elegant buddy comedy in cinematic history? Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush's performances make The King's Speech an enthralling journey which is heart-warming, humorous and genuinely sincere. By the time this review goes to print the film will have swept numerous nominations at this year's Golden Globes and, in this critic's mind, is very much worthy of it. Highly recommended.


The King's Speech is in cinemas across the UK from January 7th 2010

Friday, 10 December 2010

The Tourist - Review

The Tourist - a remake of the little known French film called Anthony Zimmer - has a leading duo that most film-makers could only dream of pairing. Starring, perhaps, the two best looking actors on the planet at the minute, Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie, does the film's plot have more to it than the shallow reasons most people would probably choose to see this?

The story plays on plot points from a wide range of espionage capers, from The Bourne Trilogy to Alfred Hitchcock's North By Northwest and even touching on some of the latter day Bond films, albeit with a more light-hearted touch. The Tourist tells the story of Frank (Depp), an American tourist travelling across Europe who encounters a beautiful stranger (Jolie), who inadvertently sets him up to take her fall with the likes of a powerful gangster (Steven Berkoff) and an Interpol agent in the form of the under-rated, Paul Bettany.

While Angelina Jolie played her usual strong, dominate, female role well, even bringing back her Lara Croft accent, it was Depp who unsurprisingly shined in the role of Frank. Forever known to audiences as the cool and over confident Captain Jack Sparrow in the Pirates of the Caribbean films, it was quite refreshing seeing him play a hapless likeable loser, for a change. Paul Bettany's character could have been expanded upon, as the obsessive agent hell-bent on bringing Jolie's accomplice, the mysterious Alexander Pearce, to justice. As a slight nod to the Bond franchise, the film clearly lends from, it was a pleasure to find Timothy Dalton on typically fine form as Bettany's boss.

Despite the terrific performances, which were a genuine pleasure to witness on screen, the plot fell rather flat, at times. Its extravagant use of romantic European locations, such as Paris and Venice, often came across more like a Christian Dior advert than a gripping thriller full of suspense and mystery. Also particularly bothersome was the film's two key plot twists just before and during the final act, which felt like they were just shoe-horned in to stop people from falling asleep.

Final Thoughts
Johnny Depp and Angelina Joile's presence gives The Tourist a tonne of creditability and, cynically, box-office receipts it probably wouldn't of attained with any other leading pair. Though the plot is mostly entertaining fluff, the characters, at times, feel under-developed. Casual film-goers looking for their fix of Depp or Jolie looking pretty on the big screen will undoubtedly enjoy the pair's light-hearted and playful chemistry, though the rest of us, who like their features to contain a bit more substance, may feel this trip to the cinema to be a somewhat hollow venture. But hey when in Rome...or Venice...


The Tourist is in cinemas everywhere now.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader - Review

It begs the question, if the pencil pushers at Disney can't seem to make visually breathtaking and universally enjoyable Narnia adaptation, what makes the people over at 20th Century Fox - synonymous for making mostly bland and uninspiring family films, not to mention, Avatar - think they can achieve a different result?

Set a year after the previous film, Prince Caspian, the film forgoes two of its main protagonists, Peter and Susan, to concentrate on their younger siblings', Lucy and Edmund, (George Henley and Skander Keynes) return to Narnia on an epic quest across the ocean, lead by the newly crowned, King Caspian (Ben Barnes). New additions to the cast include their bothersome cousin Eustace (Will Poulter) while everyone's favourite on-screen geek, Simon Pegg replaces the brilliant Eddie Izzard as Reepicheep the mouse.

One of the few good things that can be said about the Narnia films, unlike the Harry Potter films to a certain degree, is that you don't necessarily have to see the previous instalments to understand what's going on. The works of C.S Lewis can exist as stand-alone tales. That doesn't however take away from the films - including this one - being so flat and mediocre.

Maybe it was the casting of the children, - which didn't work in two films previously - perhaps it was the overly colourful play-school sets or regrettably it might well have been the source material now becoming slowly out-dated in an age of broodier tales such as Harry Potter, His Dark Materials and A Series of Unfortunate Events. Whatever the case, the Narnia movies just aren't the overly pleasant cinematic experiences they could (and indeed should) have been with more passionate and committed film-makers at the helm than the man who gave us the hideous Bond film, The World Is Not Enough.

George Henley and Skander Keynes as Lucy and Edmund, felt as though they were lifted straight from a slow and tedious ITV Sunday evening drama. While their on-screen cousin played by Will Poulter (credit where it's due, he was excellent in Son of Rambow) came across more like a nagging old pensioner than a cynical 13 year old. Ben Barnes however fared much better in this film than his début appearance in the series, feeling much more at ease, with the role of Caspian, having dropped the silly Spanish accent - even if it does open him to harsh criticism in regards to the Chronicles' overall continuity.

Though director, Michael Apted, tried to be daring and ambitious with the fantastical settings and action pieces, the entire feature felt largely like it was being held very tightly by a leash. Whether that was in regards to the film's budget - greatly reduced since being dumped by Disney - or the lack of vivid detail into these moments through the original source material, I imagine few would really care. The CGI was second-rate and though I only saw it in 2D, in the cinema, I can't imagine being charge an extra five quid for a shoddy post 3D conversion would raise my opinion any further (quite the opposite in fact).

Final Thoughts
The latest Narnia film, to enter its much maligned series, suffers the same shortcomings as its predecessors. Not dark enough to match the brilliance of the later Harry Potter films, not even comparable to the awe-inspiring vision of Peter Jackson's epic Lord of the Rings. Not to mention, if you're of a certain belief, your skin might crawl at some of the less than subtle religious parables. I'm a fan of the books, I believe they're some of the most beautifully written fantasy novels ever committed to paper, but it might be best for all concerned, if the powers that be, called time on these cinematic explorations into The Chronicles of Narnia for now. No good can come from them.


The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is in cinemas throughout the UK now.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Monsters - Review

What I'm about to suggest may seem completely insane, but bare with me for a moment. If you're reading this and you happen to be a devoted sci-fi geek, such as myself, and it's your turn to pick a film in the cinema for you and your girlfriend (or boyfriend) - who happens to not be a devoted sci-fi geek - then Gareth Edwards' début movie might be the, date night, feature for you.

Monsters tells the story of photojournalist, Andrew Kaulder (Scoot McNairy), as he reluctantly escorts his boss' daughter (Whitney Able) through Mexico back to the United States. The only catch seems to be that half of Mexico is now overrun by some giant extra-terrestrial squid-like creatures, making life rather horrific for the locals. So far so Jurassic Park meets Cloverfield.

What sets Monsters apart from the strewed brand of, soulless, sci-fi survival horrors I suffer through on a yearly basis (Skyline is unfortunately still fresh in my mind) was that it wasn't really a survival horror at all - despite trailers and posters suggesting otherwise. Though tensions are high and there's always an intense edginess that something terrifying is just around the corner, the film is surprisingly a rather touching and intimate love story between two lost souls - like Lost in Translation, except replace Japan with an alien infested Mexico.

This combination of profound loveliness mixed with unsettling imagery could've easily been a recipe for disaster - especially with the sparse scattering of appearances from the alien menace in the film - if it were not for the two brilliant leading performances. Whitney Able and Scoot McNairy's chemistry was so seamless on screen it comes to no surprise to find out, after the curtain raises, the two are actually married in real life. Their characters were both multi-layered, likeable souls from the film's opening moments right through to its ambiguous end.

Similar to last year's excellent District 9, Monsters' social observations were as subtle as they were highly provocative. I found it fascinating to see instead of run in horror and despair, that the locals of Mexico simply tried to just 'get on with it', adapting to life with the aliens - albeit with mixed results - instead of America's rather potent and ironic answer which is to just build a huge wall to keep the ghastly beasts out, including any potential refugees. If any happen to approach the American boarder, well, you just blow them up. Simple and effective, if not the most humane of plans I have to admit.

Monsters most impressive feat however was that Gareth Edwards shot the entire production - filled with grand cinematography and impressive visual effects (he processed entirely in his bedroom on a Mac using store bought, Adobe Autodesk 3DS Max) - on a shoestring budget of $500,000. This isn't to say the special effects were quite as good as a film with a few million extra latched onto it but the film never once felt cheap or rushed, holding my attention through its entire running time. The production was also carried beautifully by a moody ambient score by electronic artist, Jon Hopkins.

Final Thoughts
Despite the hype Monsters, regrettably, isn't quite "the next District 9, Jurassic Park or Cloverfield". It is however a superbly acted and deeply mature love story, set against a sparse, epic and ruthless backdrop of extra-terrestrial wilderness. If Gareth Edwards can achieve something like Monsters on a minimal budget, it excites me to see what the future holds for yet another shining light in a, seemingly, growing list of high quality British film-makers.


Monsters is in cinemas throughout the UK now. Belfast audiences can see it in the wonderful Queen's Film Theatre from Friday December 10th 2010.

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Of Gods and Men - Review

As 2010 comes, slowly, to a close, the films which will undoubtedly dominate the 2011 award season come rolling out, in abundance. Already praised heavily at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year, picking up the coveted Grand Prix and the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury, does Xavier Beauvois' latest film - in the director's chair - live up to the hype?

Based on a true story, the film centres around the monastery of Tibhirine where Trappist monks live in harmony with a, largely, Muslim population in Algeria. When Muslim extremists invade the village and the threaten the monks' way of life the story tells the remarkable tale of these men and how they defied their home country and the wishes of the Algerian government to stay on and fulfil their admirable work.

What made Of Gods and Men such an, at times, beautiful and, regrettably, very tragic tale was, despite being drowned in rather profound Christian and Muslim parables, the heart-warming and humbling performances from its wonderfully constructed ensemble. Lambert Wilson (of The Matrix 2 and 3 fame) gave a triumphant portrayal as the head of the monastery, Brother Christian. A strong and reasonable leader with a warm heart and a respect for his fellow man.

Michael Lonsdale's (mainstream audiences might know him from his appearance in Spielberg's Munich) performance was particularly moving as the wise and knowing Brother Luc, also acting as the physician of the local community and seemingly involved in some of the film's most powerful scenes. Various moments including being, in a way, the architect of the only scene to involve actual music and close-ups of the main cast as they share a final meal with wine, and the face up to the painful realisation of their inevitable fate.

The film's overall theme was highlighted brilliantly in one particular scene involving Wilson and one of the Muslim extremists as the walls of religious persecution break down and the similarities within The Bible and The Qur'an come to the forefront. The collective chants/hymns between monks served as rather haunting transitions between acts and gave intriguing insight into their way of living, usually to the backdrop of some stunning cinematography.

The ending - which anyone in tune with their history and world affairs will undoubtedly know - is dragged out to a sad conclusion, more so, because by the time you leave the cinema, you feel you've gotten to know these kind and honest men and care dearly for them. The slow and silent walk to their doom doesn't make for easy watching, being one of the few films of 2010 to make me shed a slight tear.

Final Thoughts
A very powerful and provocative drama dissecting the more positive and perhaps idealistic aspects of the Christian faith. Regardless of where you stand on the topic of religion, its hard not to love and respect the characters on display, their undeniably platonic love and respect for each other as well as highlighting their humanistic flaws, doubts and uncertainties. A cinematic treat, and sure to be in the running for Best Foreign Language film at the Oscars next year.


Of Gods and Men is in selected cinemas through the United Kingdom now.

Friday, 26 November 2010

The American - Review

Anton Corbijn's The American, the long awaited follow-up to his brilliant 2007 début feature Control, is certainly not for everyone. If you prefer your espionage thrillers to be packed full of high octane action then you'd best give this a miss. However, if you like those slow and methodical character studies in a similar tone to John Le Carre's Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy then this might just be the film you've been looking forward to all year.

Based on the novel by Martin Booth entitled, A Very Private Gentleman, George Clooney forgoes his slick charismatic persona to reveal a tortured, tired, soul in the form of ageing assassin, Jack (no surname). After killing three people in a remote part of Sweden, Jack flees and takes refuge in the quaint, beautiful town of Casta Del Monte in Italy, haunted by the ghosts of his past while being ultimately consumed by his own guilt for his actions in the opening moments of the film.

After being coaxed into one last job by his boss (Johan Leysen), where he won't even need to fire a single gun, the man finds comfort in the stunningly gorgeous and slightly mysterious prostitute named Clara (Violante Placido) while also feeling at ease with the unlikely arm of friendship from the town's priest (Paolo Bonacelli). The slow burning nature of the film's plot conjured memories of old school westerns from Sergio Leone, and clearly an influence on Corbijn's approach to the project with a cheeky nod during one of the beautifully shot cafe scenes.

I've always been a huge fan of George Clooney's work, from O Brother Where Art Thou, the Ocean's trilogy and even as recent as Up in the Air. Despite all these wonderful performances, I don't feel I've seen Clooney open up to his audience on the big screen as he did in this very touching and personal portrayal in The American. His very quiet and measured approach won't appeal to fans of his mainstream work, but I feel that's always been the beauty of the actor's career as he's never been afraid to do something a bit different occasionally.

Similar to January's Up in the Air, Clooney's performance is supported by two fascinating and enigmatic performances from his female co-stars, Violante Placido and Thekla Reuten (last seen in the excellent comedy, In Bruges). However my personal highlights involved his somewhat philosophical musings and confessions with Paolo Bonacelli's, Father Benedetto.

The American's true strength resided in Corbijn's beautiful use of the camera, with a faint reminiscence to Abbas Kiarostami's Certified Copy without all the convoluted tosh thrown in. These gorgeous quiet European settings were extenuated by Herbert Gronemeyer's soft emotive score.

This isn't to say the entire film consisted entirely of watching Clooney sulk and cry over past woes for two hours, there was forever this rather uneasy, yet undeniably gripping, tension, and unjustified paranoia which Jack carried through the film from beginning to end. Though the antagonists' true nature is never fully revealed, those moments of elevated tension and true suspense resonate through the plot long after they've actually occurred.

Final Thoughts
A slow-burning and intelligent character study which may leave audiences pondering more questions than the film cares to answer. George Clooney's Neo-Western, Eastwood-esque approach was undeniably touching while Placido and Reuten added a real sense of glamour and class. The real winner of the film though was the director himself who continues to show his natural talent for making truly provocative and visually gorgeous films.


The American is in cinemas nationwide now.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Unstoppable - Review

If there's at least one thing you can say about Tony Scott's latest film, Unstoppable, is that it's thankfully not as terrible as its bland and uninspiring title suggests. Inspired by the CSX 8888 incident in 2001 (go on Wikipedia it, I'll wait), the movie tells the tale of a runaway train and the two men (Denzel Washington and Chris Pine) who attempt to stop it.

There's nothing that quite warms up a wintry afternoon than a Tony Scott film, with its colour saturation always seemingly cranked up to 11. This isn't intended as an insult but an observation of the director's, somewhat, unique style. In keeping with the rest of Scott's films, its pace goes as fast as its 'unstoppable' lifeless antagonist while also giving the characters themselves a chance to breathe occasionally.

Being Tony Scott's ideal leading man in most of his films over the last decade, Denzel Washington once again shows off his cinematic pedigree as the streetwise rail veteran, Frank Barnes. Though he's still a brave bit off being over the hill - unlike the nature of his character seemingly - one suspects Mr Washington will become a classier screen presence the older he becomes, in a faint reminiscence to Morgan Freeman.

Chris Pine measures up equally as well to his co-star. Having defied audience expectation and pleasing some of the most fickle of sci-fi fans in his role of, the iconic, Cpt. James T Kirk in last year's Star Trek - my third favourite film of 2009 for the record - the young actor once again shrugs off his pretty boy looks and manages to portray a gritty, relatable, working-class hero in the form of train conductor, Will Colson.

Though the highly charged set pieces should keep audiences marvelling and on the edge of their seat, the film is undoubtedly carried by Washington and Pine's brilliantly natural and sincere on-screen chemistry. Their somewhat unfortunate and frustrating home-lives is what grounds the film and separates it from the other big and dumb action movies released in recent times, yet for all the shallowness found in his features, this personal tone is something Tony Scott tends to pull off really well.

The support cast was littered with, well, support actors. Kevin Dunn and Rosario Dawson added their unappreciated workmanship and class to the feature very well, while Ethan Suplee (of My Name is Earl fame) Lew Temple performed as well as to be expected, which admittedly, wasn't much.

If I had to heap any criticism at the film (and frankly I am slightly nip-picking), it would be that it's a fun film, but not a spectacular film, of which I may add to my DVD collection in the years to come. Both the stars and the director have made films much more memorable than this. If I want to watch a Chris Pine film I'd probably stick on Star Trek, similarly if I wanted to watch a Washington/Scott collaboration, Man on Fire would probably get the nod ahead of this feature.

Final Thoughts
It might not hold in my memory for long, but Unstoppable is still a well paced and ultimately very enjoyable action thriller. Washington and Pine form an unlikely double act of honest working-class heroes, which should warm the heart as well as highly entertain. Very much recommended for all adrenaline junkies out there, even if it's quite unremarkable in places.


Unstoppable is in cinemas nationwide from November 26th 2010.

Monday, 15 November 2010

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Part 1) - Review

A friend of mine, a week prior to writing this review, described the arrival of the final Harry Potter films as marking the true end of her childhood and I feel that particular theme runs through this film. As a man who has never read the books - and makes no apologies for it - I've often looked upon the films of the past decade with a mixture awe and frustration. Critically none of the cinematic adaptations have made completely perfect films, with perhaps the exception of the excellent Prisoner of Azkaban. Though the final part of this 'epic finale' is still six months away, The Deathly Hallows Part I unfortunately follows the same trend of the majority of the films past.

Picking up roughly where the last film left audiences over a year ago, we find Harry along with his chums Ron and Hermione continuing their search for the remaining Horcruxes in order to defeat the dark and menacing Lord Voldemort.

Perhaps the most surprising and disappointing aspect of The Deathly Hallows Part I was the complete lack of the magical and visually spellbinding Hogwarts school which has been the main backdrop of the films since they began in 2000. Unsurprisingly however, the film suffered enormously for it. That isn't to say the film didn't feature magical and peculiar realms, but ultimately it tended to fall a little flat for the most part, which is a shame because the opening 20 minutes were pacey, action packed and featured all the characters we've come to love and care about since the early days of The Philosopher's Stone. From there until about the last 10 minutes it just loses its momentum as we see Harry and his two closest friends seemingly meandering along in the Lake District for two hours.

One thing that can be said of the series, as a whole, is watching Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint mature into decent, proper actors over the years. The first part of The Deathly Hallows is probably the first film I can recall where they have, genuinely, had to carry the entire film together, without the assistance of much more seasoned veterans of British cinema and to their credit they do it very well.

After the second instalment comes out next summer I will watch with great interest where these three young actors take their careers, if indeed anywhere at all. Regardless of your feelings for young Radcliffe, Watson and Grint, for better or worse, they are now embedded into cinematic history as JK Rowling's leading three characters.

The trailers which have captivated audiences since they made their début earlier in the year are also slightly misleading as Warner Bros have seemingly decided to splice in a lot of what's promised in Part II while neglecting to tell people, in my opinion, nothing really happens for the majority of Part I. I'm sure fanatics of the book will see more of a purpose to the whole affair than I did, but for me the first instalment of the final Harry Potter story did nothing but act as a prelude to the darkness and destruction that is bound to unfold come July 2011.

That isn't to say it was a complete disaster, because there was a lot of the film I did enjoy. One of the most beautiful and innovative highlights was the delightful animated retelling where Hermione tells the story of The Three Brothers which of course leads to the revelations of The Deathly Hallows itself. When the film decided to kick into gear occasionally, there was a deep emotional core to the tale, a coming-of-age story where Potter and his friends are no longer mischievous school children, but turning into real wizards and witches. Plus I love my dark and brooding features, though perhaps The Deathly Hallows was guilty of accentuating this aspect at the expense of the magical, fantastical qualities which makes Harry Potter so appealing to mass audiences in the first place.

When I reviewed The Half-Blood Prince last year I had questioned why Warner Bros decided to stick with director David Yates when more stylish directors could have brought something truly magical to the tale. Though Yates does a perfectly competent job, there is times where I often wondered if he played it too safe (bar the bit where Ron destroys the Horcrux which needs to be seen to be believed, for all the wrong reasons, trust me). I will often look back with regret for what might have been if Guillermo del Toro had taken on the project after initially expressing interest.

Final Thoughts
Time will tell if Warner Bros, somewhat, controversial decision to split the final Harry Potter book into two films will result in the most authentic adaptation, of the series, ever seen on the big screen, or simply just another soulless Hollywood moneymaking ploy. Until Part II makes its way come July 2011, all audiences are left with is an incomplete story. Half a film. A prelude to... greatness? I wait with bated breath.


Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I is in cinemas November 19th 2010.

Friday, 12 November 2010

Skyline - Review

You always have to approach a film with great trepidation, when you find out the directors' - Greg and Colin Strause - only previous film was Alien Vs Predator 2. With three years to hone their film-making skills and learn from their mistakes, one can only hope their follow-up, Skyline, would fare much better. Unfortunately, it doesn't.

After a night of shallow partying in a Los Angeles penthouse, a group of friends wake up in the middle of the night to find the human race being sucked up to the heavens by a strange blue light. While trying to survive the strange and rather grotesque symbiotic aliens, the central character - played by Eric Balfour - who had been exposed to the light previously, starts to undergo a rather misleading transformation.

Oh, where to start? Yes this film was bad. So bad I think Michael "f''n" Bay probably could have done a better job. Which is a shame because on paper it could have been a lot of fun in a similar vein to the brilliant 90s smash hit, Independence Day. Skyline faltered mainly from being a confused and soulless tale, once again the Strause brothers emphasised their lack of film-making talent in comparison to their impressive special effects artistry.

If the film's entire plot had been condense into about 45 minutes, it would have been an intriguing first act to a ballsy alien vs mankind galactic war. Unfortunately once the film starts to gain a bit of steam it just ends inexplicably, with little or no explanation to the alien's origins, their weakness or if there is any genuine hope for the human race.

This isn't helped by the faceless cast on hand who, with the exception of Turk from Scrubs (Donald Faison), are probably doomed for a career making 'Straight-to-DVD' features in the years to come. Akin to a wealth of 80s and 90s horror films, they were mostly young, good-looking and met rather distasteful ends. I always stress I'm never looking for breathtaking Oscar winning performances from these kind of affairs, but at least put some effort into it.

The shining light from Skyline (no pun intended I assure you) and the only thing keeping it from being condemned to the bargain bin at Tesco (even then I don't fancy its chances) is the rather impressive and well imagined, enigmatic, alien creatures. However, similar to the Strause brothers début effort, they take the horrific violence to, frankly, needless levels, coming across more as an extra terrestrial survival horror, which is fine, but fails to create the atmospherics which made the likes of Ridley Scott's Alien or Paul WS Anderson's Event Horizon so undeniably chilling.

Final Thoughts
Well it wasn't quite on the sh*t scale of Battlefield Earth but with a lesser budget it might well have been. Yet again Colin and Greg Strause demonstrate their directorial shortcomings with some less than average storytelling which fails to match their ambitious, albeit, fanboy special effects. Do us all a favour chaps, stick to what you're good at and leave the directorial duties to more capable souls.


See This If You Liked...
No, just don't see this at all!

Skyline is in cinemas everywhere now

Friday, 5 November 2010

Let Me In - Review

One often wonders with creating countless brilliant horror films such as The Exorcist, The Omen, Halloween, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Nightmare on Elm Street and even as recently as Paranormal Activity, a lot of American studios still insist on remaking all the other brilliant horror films from around the globe. The latest film to join this long list of remakes, including the likes of The Ring, The Grudge and A Tale of Two Sisters is Let Me In, based on the modern Swedish classic - and my one of my favourites of 2009, second only to Michael Haneke's The White Ribbon - Let The Right One In, from Cloverfield director, Matt Reeves.

Save for a few subtle differences in narrative, the plot of Let Me In stays relatively close to Tomas Alfredson's original. For those who haven't had the pleasure of experiencing the Swedish version, Let Me In tells the beautiful yet unnerving story of a socially inept 12 year old boy (Kodi Smit-Ree) as he strikes up a lovingly innocent friendship with his mysterious new neighbour (Chloe Mortez) who holds a dark secret. You only need to watch the trailer, see the poster and whatnot to guess this mysterious new friend just happens to be a vampire.

Being such a huge fan of the original, I was terribly reluctant to say anything remotely nice about Let Me In, forever questioning the necessity of the entire production since it was announced. However, at the very least, Matt Reeves must be praised for getting the casting of his young leads completely spot on. Back in March I championed the natural comedic talent of Chloe Mortez when I reviewed Kick Ass, but her portrayal of young Abbey is where her true acting credentials were evident. She came across as quite a pure and gentle soul as well as being forever knowing and wry beyond her seemingly physical years, at times looking much more emotionally vulnerable than her Swedish counterpart.

Kodi Smit-Ree was similarly not quite as confident and outspoken as Kare Hendebrant's portrayal in the original, however it made for compelling viewing nevertheless. Also unlike Hendebrant, you got the impression Ree's character wanted, more than anything, to fit in and do all the cool things kids just coming into their teens want to do. Starting to become attracted to girls, wanting to hang out with friends and quite innocently play fun and senseless games. The sad truth however being he was singled out by three bullies forever determined to make his life miserable, something which is very real and very relatable to a lot of children of that age.

What Let Me In also did very well was bringing over the cultural differences from the Swedish original to this American remake. Not to imply the people of Sweden are godless sort, but continuously evident in Let Me In was this deep god-fearing backdrop of middle America, especially in the odd reinvention of the boy's mother. It was these subtle observations which started to give the film an identity of its own.

Where the film kind of missed the point for me was in the tone of the tale during the more horrific moments. Whereas the original had very atmospheric scenes involving the children while the grizzly violence was few and far between, with Let Me In, in typical American fashion, the gore and horror factor was turned up tenfold. What I found particularly bothersome was this demonic possession they insisted on giving Abbey anytime she donned her vampiric form, coming across more like the girl from The Exorcist with her contorted body movements and slightly overdubbed voice.

I'm rarely kind in my judgement of horror films, I find - save for a quality few - the majority are plotless dribble with less than competent actors scattered around a cinema screen while the audience waits patiently for them to die in completely inexplicable ways. With Let Me In however the actors truly excelled themselves and it was clear Reeves wanted to make a film with a good story first and foremost before making a blood-sucking extravaganza - yet that still didn't stop him also creating the latter.

Final Thoughts
Let Me In is a worthy and, even at times, enjoyable adaptation of John Ajvide Lindqvist's novel and competent companion to Tomas Alfredson's original film. It even contains two brilliant performances from the young leads, Mortez and Ree. Shamefully though it is often guilty for over-stylising a film I consider to be practically perfect and quite beautifully balanced - often bowing to horror clichés seen in countless films past. All cynicism aside though, if you haven't seen the original I would recommend this for being one of the few remakes to contain a degree of substance. For me however, it can come in, but unfortunately it's just not the right one...


See This If You Liked...
Let The Right One In, Twilight, Dracula

Let Me In is in cinemas everywhere now.

Sunday, 31 October 2010

Another Year - Review

You don't have to be arty, cultured or even 'in the know' to love Mike Leigh's latest, Another Year. All you have to be is honest and human. The opening moments of the film are slightly misleading as we see the brilliant Imelda Staunton - star of Leigh's phenomenal Vera Drake while also being Professor Umbridge of the Harry Potter films to everyone else - being examined by a doctor, awkwardly giving the audience hints into her chequered family life.

In fear of getting quite a harsh, downbeat, examination of a modern broken British family, the focus shifts from her altogether into slightly more upbeat circumstances. The real story is channelled through a man called Tom (Jim Broadbent) and his wife Gerri (Ruth Sheen) - a perfectly happy professional married couple - living their lives through the progressing seasons of one year, each segment told in, almost, a short story narrative, quite reminiscent of September's wonderful Tamara Drewe. The real stars however are the perfect couple's not so perfect friends.

While Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen's causal, witty and ever so knowing chemistry is absolutely tremendous on screen, it was the wonderful Lesley Manville's portrayal of their rather lonely, needy and emotionally unstable friend, Mary, which sets the film apart. It was really quite captivating watching some of her, socially awkward but completely mesmerising, scenes which conjured smiles, sniggers, laughs and occasionally making me close my eyes or turn away, on account of being so hideously cringe-worthy. I mean this in the best way possible, mainly because it was, at times, so relatable.

Almost everyone who watches Another Year will undoubtedly say they have a friend like Mary, hell if you were honest enough you may even observe you are, indeed, that friend. Unless a gross injustice comes Manville's way, don't be surprised to find her listed amongst best actress or best supporting actress categories come award season in the new year.

Equally fascinating but not featured as heavily was Peter Wight's appearance as Tom's long-time friend, Ken. Like a mirror imagine to Manville's Mary, he's a lonely ageing man with his best years behind him, grossly overweight with drinking, eating and smoking habits which just aren't in line with the overly health conscious society we live in today. He is obviously aware of his health problems - seemingly helping him cope with previous family and friends passing away.

Strangely similar to the needy nature of Wight and Manville's characters was the understated performance of David Bradley as Broadbent's estranged and less well-off brother Ronnie. Reeling from the death of his wife and forever battling with his rebellious son feels wry of how he will be able to live without someone caring for him.

The whole movie feels more like a beautifully written play on the West End, than a genuine cinematic experience - substituting intermissions and seasonal transitions for moments of Broadbent and Sheen's ventures into their eco-friendly produce garden full of fruit and vegetables. Gary Yershon's absolutely gorgeous classical score must also be praised, for adding a real sense of elegance to film.

Final Thoughts
Another Year was never about creating another meandering plot going nowhere until the characters inexplicitly discovered some sort of divine, liberating, epiphany. This was, quite simply, a very honest exploration into the modern relationships people can develop with their friends and family - combining the triumphs of love, wisdom and companionship with the painful awareness of loneliness, despair and the realisation of one's own mortality. A real testament to the rich and enthralling talent currently found in this particular era of British cinema. Mike Leigh: Another Year. Another Hit.


See This If You Liked...
Vera Drake

Another Year is in selected cinemas from November 5th 2010.

Saturday, 30 October 2010

Burke and Hare - Review

It's always slightly exciting for a child of the 80s - such as myself - when a true legend that helped define one of my favourite decades of films finally returns after a prolonged absence. For his first film in nearly 12 years, John Landis - famous for genuine classics such as The Blues Brothers, An American Werewolf in London and Animal House - brings us the dark macabre tale of the Burke and Hare murders with a slightly comedic twist.

The film, set around the aforementioned body-snatching/murders, portrays William Hare (Andy Serkis) and William Hare (Simon Pegg) as down on their luck con-men who stumble upon a lucrative business of supplying a highly distinguished doctor (Tom Wilkinson) with dead bodies for educational and research purposes. Of course it's never quite that simple and as their social status rises on account of their wealth, the duo also sink deeper into the criminal underworld, annoying the wrong people from the local mob to the Scottish Militia.

If I'm being honest, there's something I really like about Burke and Hare - and annoyingly I can't figure out what - however it's by no means a perfect, or indeed a brilliant, film. Though being a huge fan of both Pegg and Serkis their Irish accents were a bit rough around the edges to say the least, Pegg - perhaps it's time to stop milking the likeable loser persona - occasionally sounded like he was dipping back into his English accent from time to time, which is a shame considering how brilliantly he nailed an American accent in 2006's Big Nothing. Serkis meanwhile actually faired quite well, nailing a semi-decent, if slightly over-exaggerated Northern Irish accent - but being someone from Belfast, I find hearing my home country's accents quite painful on the big screen anyway. Their natural chemistry together was wonderful, even if their characterisations of Burke and Hare felt like they could have been lifted from a staged pantomime.

The entire support cast was littered in an impressive who's who of British comedy including the likes of Bill Bailey, Jessica Hynes, Hugh Bonneville, Ronnie Corbett, Stephen Merchant and Reece Shearsmith. While also including some real veterans of the screen such as Christopher Lee and a cult-favourite of mine, Tim Curry.

It comes to no surprise the infamous and almost institutional Ealing Studios made the film, as it at times came across as a film the studio could have quite easily made with Peter Sellers, Alec Guinness and co back in 50s and 60s. Unfortunately because of this, the film takes formulas which feel tired and dated, not quite on par with the real wit and edginess the majority of these comedy actors can effortlessly produce. However I did find it really hard not to smile anytime Ronnie Corbett was on the screen, as the way he conducted himself was very much in a similar mould to his legendary Two Ronnies sketches with, the now departed, Ronnie Barker.

At times the film also lacked a bit of cohesion, not sure whether it wanted to be a dark comedy or some bizarre parallel retelling of William Shakespeare's Macbeth. Made all the more knowing from the sub-plot involving Isla Fisher's determination to produce an all female production of the Scottish play - a slightly cheeky nod towards Edinburgh's richly vibrant Fringe Festival. The Gothic undertones were faintly in keeping with movies such as, Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes, Tim Burton's Sleepy Hollow and the Hughes Brothers adaptation of Alan Moore's From Hell (not to mention the opening Halloween weekend of its release), it's just a shame Burke and Hare just simply didn't have the cinematic panache to match these films - perhaps through a combination of a lower budget and rustiness of John Landis.

Final Thoughts
Not dark enough to be a black comedy, but not slapstick enough to be a laugh a minute. Burke and Hare certainly isn't John Landis' finest moment of his career, and could quite possibly mark a tragic, whimsical end for the once infamous director's sparkling career. Simon Pegg and Andy Serkis lead the ensemble well in a mostly entertaining affair which unfortunately could've been made for television at Christmas and nobody would probably be able to tell the difference.


See This If You Liked...
Sleepy Hollow, From Hell, Sherlock Holmes

Burke and Hare is in cinemas everywhere now.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Tron Night - Belfast


It’s not every day Belfast moviegoers are treated to a world exclusive event on the film calendar, but on October 28th 2010, a select few – including myself – had the chance to sample over 20 minutes of Disney’s upcoming sci-fi extravaganza, Tron: Legacy in 3D.

After a short introduction by a rep from Disney, the film opened with a short message from the film’s director, Joseph Kosinski, then launched into – what I imagine is – part of the film’s opening scene involving Sam Flynn (Garrett Hedlund) and – an old character from the original Tron – Alan Bradley (Bruce Boxleitner). Not much of the film’s true potential was exploited during in these moments and indeed it wasn’t even shown in 3D but nevertheless it did set a dark and mature tone for what was to come, as we see Sam entering his father’s old games arcade, looking no different to how it was presented in the early 80s.

From here we see Sam whisked away into the world of Tron, or ‘The Grid’ as it is often known as. In the next scene the leading protagonist is taken captive by some guards and flown to a detention centre in one of the command ships seen in the original film – and updated to quite amazing effect. From this Sam gets suited and booted into the typical Tron gear and forced to battle in the games, in a gladiator-esque arena, sparking a visually glorious fight scene which completely blew me away.

The third and, unfortunately, final scene the audience were given a taster of was one of the highly anticipated lightcycle chases Tron is probably most famous for. Due to the crashing and derezzing debris scattering all over the screen, the frantic and brilliantly realised action really showed off the true potential of 3D. Something, in my honest opinion, even James Cameron’s Avatar failed to do last year. The chase climaxed with Sam finally meeting his estranged father, and hero of the original film, Kevin Flynn (the legendary Jeff Bridges) for the first time in nearly 20 years. Despite all the spectacular special effects being shown off during the film’s preview, this scene also demonstrated that Tron: Legacy has a deeper and more emotional side which is sure to add weight to the overall story.

To finish off, the display closed with the video to Daft Punk’s latest single – taken from the film’s soundtrack – Derezzed, which spoiled the audience further of what is to come when Tron: Legacy hits our shores in mid December.

From those 20+ minutes, it was clear Disney have truly invested a lot of time and care into this long awaited sequel. The world Joseph Kosinski has created is imaginative, dark, brooding and not totally out removed from the world of The Matrix. What really got me however was the sheer scale of the feature, undeniably epic in proportions – and despite its mind bending Stanley Kubrick-esque moments, it looks like it’s also set to be a heck of a lot of fun also.

It’s hard to really pick apart what was essentially a glorified, extended version of the footage we have already seen in the previous two trailers so we’ll leave the nit-picking for now. My only real complaint? It was only 20 minutes! I’m on my hands and knees begging to see this film in its entirety now. This was something really special.

Tron: Legacy will be released worldwide December 17th 2010 - along with my full review.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Jackboots on Whitehall - Review

It always frustrates me to no end, some people's insistence on making films that are apparently. to coin the tired phrase, 'so bad, it's brilliant,' when in reality they're simply just bad. Unfortunately for débutante directors Edward and Rory McHenry, Jackboots on Whitehall certainly falls into that latter category.

Set in an alternate reality of World War II, the film tells the tale of the occupants of a small rural village, which could well pass for the inhabitants of The Archers, as they try and take back a now Nazi-occupied England starting with the defence of Hadrian's Wall - with the help from the last remaining Gurka unit in England, a volunteer American, a mysterious Frenchman, Winston Churchill and a bunch of angry Scots.

Admittedly on paper it had potential to be a lot of fun and oh do I love a good World War II film, from serious pieces such as A Bridge Too Far and Saving Private Ryan to more light hearted features such as Kelly's Heroes and Inglourious Basterds. Unfortunately with Jackboots on Whitehall, the writers seemingly must have spent too much time trying to rip off every film they had watched the weekend the script was conceived, than trying to carve out a genuinely hysterical satire piece which could have been a laugh a minute if delivered with much more panache.

Borrowing obvious cues from Matt Stone and Trey Parker's modern classic, Team America, for its unique animation style, the film then goes on to reference countless other films such as Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Gladiator and most notably Braveheart - even poking mild fun at its central character famously played by Mel Gibson.

The film was also guilty at times for typically bowing to the odd perceived stereotype which has become monotonous and, for lack of a better word, horrid in recent times. However if you insist on doing it, you might as well be funny about it - which for the most part this wasn't. The English had their bad teeth, sat in the village pub and generally were all very Tally-ho about the whole affair. The American was ignorant, crude and just plain obnoxious. The Frenchman was inaudible, yet suave, managing to seduce whatever ladies came his way. The Scots were ginger, angry, alcoholics apparently still living in some mysterious dark age. Then of course the Germans were all zombified psychopaths with a fetish for S&M. We've all seen it time and time again, and unfortunately in much funnier contexts. Only thing missing was an ensemble of drunk Leprechauns accusing the Nazis of stealing their pots of gold...

And all this is a genuine shame, because the young directors must have went to amazing lengths to attract the stellar British cast which featured in the movie. Such heavyweights as Ewan McGregor, Dominic West, Rosamund Pike, Richard E Grant, Timothy Spall (his first of two Churchill portrayals in the coming months), Stephen Merchant, Tom Wilkinson, Alan Cumming, hell even Richard O'Brian was brought back from the depths of The Crystal Maze to appear in this. Shamefully it just wasn't enough to save the film from some horrendously bland jokes and equally piss poor story-telling.

Perhaps I am taking the whole thing a bit too seriously, and yes I admit, I find it really hard to find a comedy film which makes me genuinely laugh uncontrollably. Less critical souls might appreciate spending 90 minutes turning the brain off and letting this absurd insanity unfold on screen, but alas I can not on this occasion. Winston Churchill: The Hollywood Years made me laugh more than this, and lord knows that's damning criticism if I ever heard it.

Final Thoughts
A star-studded British cast cannot save Jackboots on Whitehall from being a mostly bland, predictable, uninspiring World War II satire, playing on cultural stereotypes which stopped being funny 20 years ago. While it is commendable for being the first film to use solely animatronic puppets on-screen, one thinks that's all it'll be remembered for in the years to come.


See This If You Liked...
Team America, Winston Churchill: The Hollywood Years, Braveheart

Jackboots on Whitehall is showing in selected cinemas across the UK now. Belfast visitors will be able to see the film in the Queen's Film Theatre from Friday October 29th, 2010.

Friday, 22 October 2010

Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole - Review

Though I sometimes don't act like it, I honestly do admire Zack Synder as a film-maker. His films are always visually extravagant affairs, while his ambition to make stories with a real epic scale to them must always be commended.

However, he does have a history of making a certain type of film, be it his Dawn of the Dead remake or highly successful adaptations of 300 and Watchmen. All the films are essentially littered in brutal yet stylised violence as well as oozing tonnes of sex appeal. So whenever it was announced Synder was attempting a children's fantasy film about owls, many eyebrows - including my own - were raised. The results however were really quite remarkable.

The story - loosely based on the series of books by Kathryn Laskey - tells the coming-of-age journey of a young owl named Soren (Jim Sturgess) as he's captured by a malevolent renegade movement known as the 'Pure Ones', eventually unravelling an adventure which leads him to the legendary Owls of Ga'Hoole. I must admit I've never read the books the film was based on, so I can't comment on the accuracy of its adaptation. However upon viewing the movie I certainly intend to sit down with them, on a cold winter's night, sometime in the near future.

One of the aspects that instantly strikes me with Legend of the Guardians is how amazingly dark the story is. Strangely it was often reminiscent of watching Don Bluth's masterpiece The Secret of Nimh for the first time when I was a child, for its unsettling suspense and horror. I always feel the best children's films are the entries which aren't afraid to break boundaries and scare its core audience a little. Such films as the Walt Disney classics, Snow White and Pinocchio, Jim Henson's Labyrinth and Dark Crystal films or even more recently, the wonderful Henry Selick production of Neil Gaiman's Coraline.

Overall the voice acting was tremendous, Jim Sturgess' sincere and naive qualities worked well with the film's leading protagonist. Geoffrey Rush channelled his best moments from Pirates of the Caribbean as Soren's slightly eccentric, battle-worn mentor, while Helen Mirren was rather sinister as the wife of the chief villain, Metalbeak. Joel Edgerton's portrayal of the main antagonist was the personal highlight of the film for myself, adding real weight to the dark and deadly imagery associated with his character.

The animation was simply breathtaking. I found myself completely engrossed in the world Synder and his team had created on screen. The beautifully realised fantastical realms would not look out of place in Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings films. Carrying on from their impressive feats with 2006's Happy Feet, animation studio, Animal Logic take the photorealism of the owls' movements and facial expressions to spectacular heights, dare I say, even giving the people at Pixar a run for their money.

Despite the dark emotional story, the film wasn't entirely perfect. Though I did like there being a lot of focus on the villains of the tale, this came at the expense of slightly whimsical portrayals of the so-called Guardians themselves, so much so I didn't even have the chance to catch their names until doing this review. There was also a few gaping holes in the plot, like practically zero drama and tension placed on the parents of the main character and his siblings upon their disappearance. It also begs the question, if the film featured humans in the roles instead of the novel use of owls, would it still have the same kind of emotional impact as a feature?

However, one does have to stress this is, primarily a children's film, told from a child's perspective and in this respect, Snyder has performed his duties brilliantly. And encase you forget Zack Snyder is the director of this outlandish feature, the film is littered with his own personal trademark quirks, such as - yet again - his insistence on slowing all the action down for much fuller effect. There was also a few cheeky nods in designs and camera shots to, arguably, his most famous film to date, 300.

For once I wasn't actually being a stubborn old cynic, going out of my way to not see the film in 3D, but surprisingly the film wasn't actually being shown in my cinema in 3D. This did little to hamper my enjoyment when watching the movie however, and being objective you can see where the format might have indeed enhanced the feature for a more rounded experience.

Final Thoughts
Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole is an old fashioned story of good versus evil, with a deadly folk tale of sibling rivalry buried, underneath the grand backdrop, which could undoubtedly be explored in potential sequels to come. I doubt this will go down as the film Zack Snyder will be remembered for, but through making this with such subtle storytelling craft, spectacular animation and ultimately remembering who is core audience is, Synder has suddenly went up in my estimations as a film-maker, now capable of much more than the comic book adaptations he is now infamous for creating. Without a doubt, one of the most enjoyable family films I've seen in the cinema all year.


See This If You Liked...
The Secret of Nimh, Happy Feet, Lord of the Rings, Dark Crystal.

Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole is in cinemas everywhere now

Red - Review

The latest film from Robert Schwentke, ambiguously titled RED - short for Retired and Extremely Dangerous - both surprised and disappointed me in various capacities. Surprising in seeing the level of genuinely top class acting talent scattered throughout the film, surprising also in being one of the few DC Comic adaptations not released by Warner Bros (DC's parent company) and surprising in how much fun it ultimately was. However it also disappointed me for being, annoyingly, like every other action film I've came across throughout 2010.

The film tells the highly charged tale of retired CIA agent, Frank Moses (Bruce Willis), struggling to adapt to his lonely and rather pedestrian life, after spending years jetting off to various destinations killing people. Through, seemingly, boredom Moses strikes up a relationship with his pension officer (Mary-Louise Parker) over the telephone which through inexplicable events leads to them meeting under intense circumstances.

Being on the run from the US government, Moses calls in favours from old friends. The insanely paranoid Marvin Boggs (John Malkovich), the wise and battle-worn Joe Matheson (Morgan Freeman) and an ex-MI6 agent Victoria (Helen Mirren). After jetting around the country with seemingly little direction or purpose, the team eventually discover why they're being targeted leading to some predictable but, nevertheless, satisfying conclusions.

It must be said Bruce Willis lead the line brilliantly in this film, putting in an old school Willis performance. Fans of the Die Hard films will undoubtedly be entertained by his contribution in RED. Though there's striking similarities unlike his most iconic on screen persona, Frank Moses is arguably a more likeable soul than John McClain, much more relaxed and romantic at heart as well as ultimately just looking for some companionship after years of being a cold hearted killer. His on screen chemistry with Mary-Louise Parker was terrific despite the slightly awkward yet comedic introduction the pair have in the film's first act - something which, bizarrely, wouldn't be totally out of place in most romantic comedies.

The real strength of the film however was in Frank's relationship with his older colleagues. John Malkovich was truly brilliant when he hit his hysterical best. He often delivered the best lines and made the film a lot more zaney and frantic, which worked wonderfully to counteract Willis' cool persona. Morgan Freeman on the other hand was simply playing the Morgan Freeman we've seen time and time again, but frankly I have zero problem with that. Helen Mirren was surprisingly delightful, adding a layer of elegance to a film littered in big guns and explosions, it also was clear for all to see how much fun she was having with this role - also striking a brilliant on-screen relationship with a former KGB agent played by Brian Cox.

Shamefully, the film fell on the same sword various other action films this year have unfortunately fell upon. If you read my reviews of The Losers, The A-Team, Salt and, to a slightly lesser extent, The Expendables, once again we have another film where the best the writers can muster up is corrupt, evil and ultimately faceless US government agents as the protagonists main threat.

This was made even more irritating because there's always that one agent who 'is only doing their job' - this time being Karl Urban - who inevitably helps the team by the end of the film. I never mean to get ranty, but frankly I've had enough. At least Salt had crazy f*cking Russians as the villains.

All that said, underneath the impressively over the top set pieces and strangely plausible romantic comedy which forced its way into the plot, the message RED was trying to portray was actually quite sweet. A story which attempted to address a person's issues with his own mortality, and that inability to let go of a life which essentially defines who you were.

Final Thoughts
It may have a high calibre cast and feature some extremely enjoyable outings from Willis, Malkovich and Freeman. However, like many to come before it, RED lacks originality, failing to add anything to a genre which has unfortunately regressed on itself in the past year. That said I'd still happily watch this bunch of pensioners over the underwhelming Losers, the tired, steroid-pumping crew of The Expendables and the frankly over-hyped A-Team.


See This If You Liked...
The Expendables, The Losers, The A-Team

RED is in cinemas everywhere now.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

New York, I Love You - Review

The grand city of New York has always had an affinity with the world of cinema. I only need to look at the countless DVDs on my shelf to instantly pick out several features where a story is set to this magnificent urban backdrop. The Godfather, Manhattan, Rear Window, Doubt, Citizen Kane, Miracle on 34th Street, the list could go on and on. It comes to no surprise to find Emmanuel Benbihy, producer of the elegant ensemble feature Paris, Je t'aime, replicating the same formula on New York giving 11 world renowned film-makers free rein to make their own unique contributions to the beautiful city.

I've always enjoyed reading short stories, or watching short films. Arguably through a sense of laziness on my part, but also because it takes a truly talented soul to get across an entire character's life story in under 10 minutes. There is always that introduction, like a stranger on the street. Then there's the middle where this person is no longer a stranger but a character you've felt like you've known for years. Suddenly, once you think you have them figured out, something unexpected and magical happens, resulting in a satisfying conclusion for both the artist and the audience. Regrettably, similar to its Parisian counterpart, New York I Love You doesn't always get it right however in the moments it does, the film makes for a genuinely moving and heartfelt experience.

While all the stories are very loosely tied together by a video artist played by Emille Ohana, all the shorts are essentially stand alone tales, told in different districts of New York. The highlights include those sparse moments of Bradley Cooper sharing a taxi with any unbeknown stranger, arguing the quickest route to the other side of town. Another is the wonderful tale told by, one of the few American directors listed, Brett Ratner, about young Anton Yelchin going to his senior high school prom - set up on a blind date by his pharmacist, James Caan - with the beautiful yet seemingly disabled Olivia Thirlby. There's that initial awkwardness which quickly turns into quite a beautiful moment between the pair, resulting in a comedic twist, frankly, very few would see coming.

One of my personal favourites however was Ethan Hawke's sly talking, struggling writer, trying - rather well it must be noted - to chat up Maggie Q's sultry mysterious woman over a sharply poised cigarette. The witty exchanges, the vivid descriptions all came intricately into place through screenwriter Oliver Lecot's sophisticated writing along with Israeli director, Yvan Yattal's beautiful use of the camera.

Perhaps the most surprising moment however, comes from Indian auteur Shekhar Kapur's story involving Julie Christie, John Hurt and Shia LeBeouf in a eerily elegant hotel. Surprising not only for its wondrously supernatural twist but also because it is, without doubt, Shia LeBeouf's finest performance of his career that I have certainly seen, and clear evidence there might even be a creditable future beneath being Hollywood's current poster-boy.

But as said, not all the stories quite hit the mark, lacking a degree of cohesion while fitting into the overall feature such as Natalie Portman's acting and directorial entries while Bradley Cooper's own short alongside the gorgeous Drea de Matteo came off more as a prolonged perfume advert for Coco Chanel. Though all the directors taking part did a tremendous job, it perhaps would've been interesting to get a few directors who actually grew up in the city and giving their own personal touch on the film. I'm not even suggesting someone like Woody Allen as he's kindly given us some of the city's finest moments on the big screen already, but just a director who knows the city, as everything about the film did have something of a tourist's portrait to it at times.

Final Thoughts
New York, I Love You gives the audience a more personal exploration of the world famous city, without the clichés of certain national monuments dominating the background. Unfortunately this comes at a price as the stories, at times, become too generalised and frankly could have been set in London, Paris, Amsterdam or Edinburgh and it would have mattered little. Overall this film won't make me fall in love with New York, but it certainly makes me want to get to know it that tiny bit more.


See This If You Liked...
Manhattan, Paris Je T'aime, Tokyo!

New York, I Love You was part of Belfast's Queen's Film Theatre's BT Surprise Screening and is in selected cinemas across the UK now. American visitors can purchase the film on DVD and Blu-Ray now.

Friday, 15 October 2010

The Social Network - Review

The sheer concept of The Social Network pretty much demonstrates why I could never be actively involved in the film industry - outside of a critical capacity of course. If one was to approach me with the idea for an origin story set around the global phenomenon Facebook, I would have laughed them straight out of the office. Which would have been a crying shame, because I would have cheated a lot of people out of an excellent film.

David Fincher, with the help of screenwriter Aaron Sorkin - chief writer of The West Wing - crafts a beautifully told tale based on the real life events, albeit with a few artistic liberties taken here and there, at time mimicking the cinematic classic, Citizen Kane.

The film follows Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) from his - not so -humble beginnings as an overly obsessed computer geek blogging in his Harvard dorm room, all the way to his world famous law suits with his once former partners - which resulted in some of the messier court cases seen this century.

Regardless of how accurate Zuckerberg's portrayal was, Sorkin still managed to construct a truly gripping character study - much to the credit of Eisenberg's brilliantly witty and neurotic performance. Unlike Orson Welles' iconic Charles Foster Kane, Zuckerberg seemed to rarely be interested in money or power (though I bet he's not really complaining about it now), and didn't seem to even invent Facebook for that sole reason.

His true motivations were far more fascinating. Instead of having this young, hotshot, college student trying to make a more "open world", we get a man who is petty, spiteful and ironically one of the most socially inept people you're ever likely to encounter. There is an overwhelming feeling, from the film, he made Facebook just to prove a point that he could, rather than intending to start a revolution - much to MySpace and Bebo's dismay I'm sure.

The supporting performances from the well conceived ensemble were just as vital to this brilliant drama as Eisenberg's. However it was safe to say, mostly, no one came out of The Social Network with their reputations intact. The only real exception was co-founder, Eduardo Saverin, played with a degree of sympathy and honest emotion by the excellent Andrew Garfield. Which is strange because, in a way, he represented the greedy capitalist side of the tale. He joined Zuckerberg in this ambitious venture because he wanted to make money, and often came to blows with his original partner because of their clashing of visions for the company. Despite these conflicts, Saverin was possibly Zuckerberg's only true friend, making their colossal lawsuit all the more tragic in the end.

Justin Timberlake's rise as a creditable actor continued with a solid performance as the bane of the music industry and inventor of the once mighty Napster (remember that?), Sean Parker. He was brash, arrogant and helped Facebook become the global force we've come to know it as today. Parker's character was interesting because he often came across as the evil little voice whispering everything and anything into Zuckerberg's ear. The accuracy of these accounts are definitely open to interpretation, regardless however, it still makes for genuinely gripping cinema.

Adding a bit of light hearted comedy to the darkly proceedings was Armie Hammer's dual roles as both Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss. They were typically like every other preppy American university jock we've seen time and time again from countless John Hughes movies to the likes of Animal House. The hilarity being the conflict between the pair on whether to take action or not - with one brother desperately wanting to take Zuckerberg down, while the other shows his reluctance based on the simple reason it's ungentlemanly for a man of Harvard to go down such a petty route.

The other most notable contribution to the film was the surprisingly minor role of Rooney Mara as Zuckerberg's disenchanted girlfriend at the very beginning of the film. Her, quite reasonable, rejection of Mark's horrid spite kick starts the whole Facebook phenomenon into action. And once all is said and done, and Zuckerberg has been revealed to be nothing but a lonely abominable billionaire who has subsequently screwed over everyone who has ever tried to help him, the film's closing moments hint at slight redemption for the character. Something Charles F. Kane never really had the pleasure of experiencing until his final dying moments.

I've spent much of this review praising the strong, well developed characters created. However, much praise should also go to Fincher's ability to tell a brilliant story oozing with atmosphere and even a degree of intensity. He even covers his own artist licence on the story-telling with this quite touching scene involving Zuckerberg and one of his own council when he admits, "I'm not a bad person" and the female lawyer admitting that a lot of these depictions in lawsuits that often completely exaggerated to benefit of the plaintiff. Strangely adding some sympathy for an otherwise deeply troubled individual.

The film's rich and darkly elegant atmosphere is also heavily attributed to the truly fantastic electronic/ambient score composed by Nine Inch Nails' frontman Trent Reznor and famed musician Atticus Ross, which results in one of the most distinctive film soundtracks seen in a film all year. Actually listening to it while I type...

Final Thoughts
Given the absurdity of the film's basic premise, would it be fair to say David Fincher is something of a film-making genius for actually making this work? A truly fascinating drama about the conception of a website which has defined the past decade. Facebook isn't just a social networking site, it's an addictive way of life for a lot of people (something this critic is even guilty of). Will The Social Network's portrayal of Mark Zuckerberg be one of cinema's great villains for the ages, or equally one of its most tragic? Either way I'm clicking the "like" button on this movie...*


See This If You Liked...
Citizen Kane, 21, Wall Street, Hackers.

The Social Network is in cinemas everywhere now.

*Can't believe I just said that

Monday, 11 October 2010

Fifteen Directors That Have Shaped The Way I Look at Cinema.

In the time I've maintained this site, I often forget that I am not alone in the wider film blogger community. Through no fault but my own, I've neglected writing many articles about film which say much about me as a person. Never been sure why to be honest, just always been so consumed with the reviewing aspect.

However, in the pursuit of writing about everything and anything to do with film, I thought it was time (and only polite) to follow the lead of my dear colleague, Ruth, over at FlixChatter and explain why the 15 directors below changed my perception of cinema and the films attributed to their untouchable status.

Most of the directors and films listed you will probably expect, though others might surprise, and perhaps the odd entry you have yet to experience. If the latter is the case then I urge you to see the films listed as soon as possible, as I can only hope they will carry the same emotional impact as they did, the first time, I caught them on the big screen or at home.

In no particular order...

1. Steven Spielberg - If there's one cinema trip I remember more than any other, it's surely the first time I saw Jurassic Park on the big screen. I often look back on the scene where Dr Alan Grant (Sam Neil) catches his first glimpse of that Brontosaurus herd as the moment where I truly believed anything was possible in cinema.

2. Francis Ford Coppola - Predictable? Yes. But those first two Godfather films are really quite brilliant. I also still believe the third is a good film, by definition, also. Just when placed next to its predecessors it just falls short in comparison.

3. Christopher Nolan - Nevermind the fact he made Batman cool on the big screen again. With an unrivalled ability to tell engaging and complex stories for mainstream audiences - and currently developing a Midas Touch - with such films as Memento, The Prestige and Inception, Nolan is perhaps this era's answer to Stanley Kubrick. Though he's bound to make one bad film eventually...right?

4. David Fincher - Though Fight Club contains better lines, the film which caught my attention was Seven. Very few films of that dark and at times unbearably gritty style I could watch again and again as I have with Fincher's second feature film. It turned Brad Pitt into a creditable leading man, reminded us all once again how f**king cool Morgan Freeman is and lastly how sinister Kevin Spacey can be as a villain.

5. Mel Brooks - If Seven is the thriller I could watch again and again with zero effort, then the same applies Mel Brooks' best films - The Producers, Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein. It should be noted that all three of the aforementioned films contained the comedic legend (I don't use that term lightly) Gene Wilder in one of the leading roles. Heart-warming cinema which was able to make you laugh because it was genuinely funny.

6. Guillermo del Toro - Mr del Toro never had the best luck with Hollywood features, but one of the reasons why I've admired his work above most is because of his, undeniably, personal touch he brings to his more domestic Spanish language films. Though visually exquisite and beautifully told, Pan's Labyrinth, at times, felt like del Toro was right there in the cinema with you telling the story over a soft burning fire on a cold winter's night. His more folky and earthly blend of fantasy, in my opinion, often surpassed Peter Jackson's mammoth efforts on his Lord of the Ring's trilogy and now makes you think, with a touch of regret, how wonderful del Toro's Hobbit films might have been, had he stuck with the production a little bit longer.

7. Alfred Hitchcock - As good as the other 14 directors on this list are, how many of them would even be making films if it weren't for this visionary? He always got the best out of his actors (Dial M For Murder/Strangers on a Train). Was able to tell interesting stories within constrained environments (Rear Window), and needless to say, kept the cinematic world on the edge of their seats at all times (The Birds, Psycho, North By Northwest).

8. Jean Pierre Jeunet - I once said in a previous post that Jeunet's finest achievement, Amelie, was a celebration of a life worth living. How the most insignificant of acts can enrich someone's life. And I still believe that. Very few films worldwide have matched Amelie for its sincerely gorgeous portrayal of Parisian life and I defy anyone out there who feels subtitled world cinema is beneath them to watch this just once and still feel that way upon the film's end. And once you have, go watch his equally celebrated collaborations with Marc Caro - the Terry Gilliam inspired City of Lost Children and the darkly comedic Delicatessen.

9. Wolfgang Reitherman - I, like many others between the ages of zero to ten, probably believed that Walt Disney created every single one of his films before his death in some magical Roger Rabbit-esque environment surrounded by all his beloved characters. Disappointingly, he didn't. He did however place his trust in a few men to direct his timeless classics, one of which I am singling out solely for his directorial efforts on some of my favourite Disney films growing up, most notably, Sleeping Beauty (co-credit), 101 Dalmatians, Sword in the Stone, The Jungle Book and Robin Hood. There is perhaps better Disney films out there but as a child I probably rented these few from my local video shop more than any other. And yes I now own all of them on DVD...

10. Ridley Scott - Like Spielberg, everyone has their favourites. With Mr Scott, two instantly spring to mind. The first obviously being Blade Runner. Though Alien had more atmosphere and a much more memorable tagline on the poster, Blade Runner went a long way to influencing a lot of Sci-Fi films we all see today. The other notable entry for me on a personal level was his epic Oscar-winning cheesefest, Gladiator. Yes it is a little bit over the top at times, but it's littered with countless scenes of iconic imagery and quotations which is bound to stay in the mind for years to come.

11. Hayao Miyazaki - Often labelled as "Japan's answer to Walt Disney", Miyazaki has created a prestige unrivalled to most in the world of animation over the past 25 years. Though trying not to draw comparisons to Disney's work, as they're frankly two completely different propositions, Miyazaki's work with Studio Ghibli offered audiences more mature story-telling with absolutely breathtaking hand-crafted 2D animation, in a period where most Western studios were starting to crossover into the computer-generated era. Films such as Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke aren't only the benchmark for quality Asian animation, it's recognised world-wide by fellow peers as examples that mere "cartoons" aren't just for children, they're cinematic experiences for all audiences.

12. Woody Allen - Though undeniably on the decline over the past 10 years, it can be easy to forget Allen created some of the best films ever made. Again like other directors, everyone has their favourites. Mine unsurprisingly is the smartly written and wonderfully shot Manhattan, which contains one of my favourite opening scenes to any film ever, set to the backdrop of that grand Gershwin score.

13. Robert Altman - Probably the best director ever at creating interesting, interweaving stories for such a carefully constructed ensemble cast. You only need to look at the chemistry between the polarising casts of his most famous work, MASH and one of his last ever films, Gosford Park to affirm these beliefs. And hey, anyone who has the balls to do a live-action adaptation of Popeye always deserves some praise right?

14. Tim Burton - Though Chris Nolan made Batman films cool again, it's definitely worth mentioning the director who made Batman films cool in the first place. Comic book geeks aside, the general preconception of Batman in the realms of pop culture was the half hearted campy 60s version portrayed by Adam West. Cue Burton and his distinctly Gothic quirks who transforms Batman into the real Dark Knight we have all come to love and expect. Burton isn't perfect however, and often has a habit of letting his visual style dominate his productions, which is why the likes of Batman Returns, Alice in Wonderland, The Corpse Bride and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory fell slightly flat for me. As mentioned countless times I feel, Burton is at his best when giving some artistic constraints, like his first Batman movie and one of his most under rated, and frankly my favourite film by him, the beautifully made, Big Fish.

15. Darren Aronofsky - Last but certainly not least, Darren Aronofsky for a long time belonged mainly to the arthouse realms of cinema, with such cult hits as Pi and the bleak and unsettling drug exploration, Requiem for a Dream. Watching his evolution into the film-maker about to release the hotly anticipated thriller, Black Swan perhaps wouldn't of came to be without the tear-jerking performance of Mickey Rourke in his 2009 drama, The Wrestler or the multi-layered, effects laden spectacle The Fountain. It's a shame Aronofsky never got the Superman role as I sense we have missed on something potentially quite special in that department.

So there you have it. I could probably list another 15 directors on this list, but the men listed have probably done the more for moulding my own tastes in film more than anyone else. Cheers to Ruth over at FlixChatter for asking me to do this. Had a lot of fun reminiscing.