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fatpie42 -

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    Now for reviews of two British movies. One with a star-studded British cast (and a ridiculously over-long title). One filled with rising stars (not least, the wonderful Lenora Crichlow from "Being Human").

    The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2011)

    I'd heard very good things about this movie, but I must admit I had my doubts. Still when I started watching, EVERYONE in the film seemed to be a big name British actor. Bill Nighy, Judi Dench, Maggie Smith... the list goes on. Not only that but Maggie Smith gave a refreshingly different performance as a gruff elderly racist, steering away from her more familiar posh voice.

    Unfortunately there are so many characters who are all essentially doing their own thing that we don't really get enough time spent on any of them. Any of the storylines could have made up a whole film, yet instead we get a bunch of bits. That being said, there were definitely a few points where I found myself rocked with emotion. Sadly those moments represented the climax of that particular character's storyline, so the film never really gets much of an opportunity to surprise. The formulaic nature of the film makes the occasional intense emotional highs feel cheap.

    Perhaps a major issue with the film is the central premise. A bunch of elderly people have been drawn by an advert for a particular hotel in India which, as it turns out, is in a state of disarray. The manager of the hotel is making a mess of setting it up, but in the meanwhile the gaggle of ageing visitors get to know India and try to deal with their own personal demons.

    Cue a storyline where a version of India that is in equal parts romanticised and trivialised helps the individual characters to find out something about themselves. Meanwhile little attention is really given to the issues that Indians themselves might face. For example, we are told without any need for related Indian characters to get some screen time, that a gay Indian man stuck in an arranged marriage to a tolerant wife makes for a pretty great life. Am I being unfair in suggesting that having this issue resolved offscreen was overly trivialising the situation? Couldn't this have made for an entire film? As much as I found "A Separation" a little empty, I feel like that film deserves a lot of credit for being prepared to give that story the level of depth it needed, unlike in "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" where there are a string of emotional moments which are not really accompanied by characters who have not alway been given a chance to clearly develop. The effect of their new location in India is often particularly unclear.

    This film could never have gained the positive reputation it has without its fantastic cast. These are actors who can convey a great deal of depth without the need for strong dialogue or a well-crafted plot. But when Maggie Smith's racist character makes her sudden character shift it feels completely undeserved and Maggie Smith ends up looking like she's playing an entirely different person from the one she portrayed at the beginning of the film. So talented is she, that she very nearly pulls off this ridiculous stunt.

    Dare say, this will probably appeal to those who loved "Love Actually". It's quite similar in some ways and certainly a lot better written and performed. "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" doesn't sink to the same cheesy depths, but the central issue remains the same. It's a bunch of vaguely interlinked stories which are desperately trying to coax a tear from you. While the stories in "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" might be somewhat more successful in this aim, the process still feels just as crass and shallow.

    By comparison to other issues, this issue feels petty; but still I feel I must mention it all the same: Dev Patel is a London-born Brit. Having him do the ultra-polite and self-effacing Indian hotel owner feels like the final nail in the coffin for me here. Sure, he's very much ethnically Indian and yes, there's no reason why he cannot play a native Indian man. But it just feels like another case of the filmmakers avoiding touching on any genuine Indian issues. Part of me simply couldn't believe Dev Patel's performance, not least because he's portrayed as a comically incompetent hotel manager whose love life and hotel business have to be SAVED by the elderly white guests. Ugh!

    Was there anything good in this film at all? Well, the performances were great and a few super-emotional moments really touched me in an expert way - and I simply have to acknowledge that. But overall, this film was kind of awful. As I said before, if you liked "Love Actually" you may well love this, but since I found "Love Actually" to be excruciating to sit through, I cannot possibly recommend this film.


    Fast Girls (2012)

    This started off looking like an interesting drama starring Lenora Crichlow (Annie from the tv series "Being Human" about monsters trying to live like ordinary people) as a poor orphan hoping to succeed with her talents as a runner. But as it went on, I felt it came to strongly parallel the classic comedy "Bend It Like Beckham".

    Now "Fast Girls" is a drama, not a comedy, but both films are about a young girl ambitious to go from local to national competitions in the sport they love, two girls on the same team fighting somewhat over the same man, and the contrast of two girls from different backgrounds. Now certainly all of these plot elements are fairly strongly mixed up, but the overall tone had something oddly similar about it.

    Still, "Fast Girls" is missing a lot of the things that made "Bend It Like Beckham" distinctive without really seeming to have much of its own to make up for it. "Bend  It Like Beckham" had the whole Sikhism and traditional Indian values aspect which made it really interesting, as well as the comedy which made it so endearing. However, one area "Fast Girls" definitely wins out is the acting. The performances are all-round brilliant, not least Lenora Crichlow who is playing a very different person to her well-known tv character. Noel Clarke deserves a lot of credit and I still feel he ought to be in bigger films, but another rather cool performance came from Lorraine Burroughs.

    Also, I'd be remiss in trying to say that the whole film is just a rehash of "Bend It Like Beckham". I suspect this format is also found in many other films and that just stood out for me as a particularly well-known British hit. But "Fast Girls" issue is definitely that it does not have anything unique to say. All that being noted, the simple unoriginal story is played out extremely well. This film was really good fun and, asides from perhaps some exchanges with one girl's overbearing father character, there are no points where the talented cast seem to be trying to do their best with poorly written lines.

    If you are interested in a sweet simple unchallenging sports film that'll put a smile on your face, perhaps after a long day at work, you might want to check this out. It's especially worth watching if you want to see what Lenora Critchlow is up to, since she is a fantastic leading lady. Unfortunately the story is a bit too cliched and doesn't really inspire as much as it hopes to.


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    As is often the case when you hurriedly assemble a set of movies you've never seen before (particularly when many of them are fished out of the bargain bin), most of the films I saw during the Halloween Candy horror movie marathon were awful. 31 films and only about 13 that I could realistically call "good". (That's a 42% success rate)  However, finally we have reached the final entry where I have collected the best 6 films (the top 19%) of the marathon.

    You can find the rest of the reviews sorted to their varying degrees of awfulness at the following links:
    Part one - The worst (Where the failure of Critters 3 to meet up to the promise of the previous sequel leads me into a blind fury - while a number of other horror seriously fail to impress.)
    Part two - The pretty bad (Where I'm happily surprised by "I Spit On Your Grave", very disappointed by the original "The Haunting", and moderately irritated by "Saw II".)
    Part three - The alright (Where I discover the, admittedly somewhat limited, joys of "Thir13een Ghosts" and am entertained by some creative effects in "Killer Klowns From Outer Space".)
    Part four - The pretty good (Where "Critters 2" proves to be an excellent horror comedy sequel, "Quatermass And The Pit" proves to be a great bit of old school sci-fi, and the 'Highlander' director is once again bizarre yet brilliant with his movie "Razorback" about a merciless giant boar.)

    6. Death Becomes Her (1992)
    A reliable childhood classic. Perhaps not really a horror movie, but definitely featuring a few horror-related themes.

    Remembering this back when I first watched it all those years ago I was convinced that it was a horror comedy. I thought it had to be. In some ways the label fits, but in others it doesn't. This is much more clearly comedy than horror, however there is something undoubtedly creepy about the mysterious lady offering eternal life. Bruce Willis' comedy seems somewhat limited by his moustache, but he's great anyway. And the rivalry between Meryl Streep and Goldie Hawn is also really good. This is a great little comedy and I still love it.


    5. Cold Prey (2006)
    While not really the most original slasher movie I've ever seen, "Cold Prey" (original title "Fritt Vilt") has some really well developed and performed characters. In order for a slasher movie to work, we need to care about the characters and that is where "Cold Prey" delivers in spades. Looking forward to checking out the sequels! :)

    Plot Synopsis: A group of skiiers have problems when one of them is injured while skiing in the mountains. Fortunately they find a nearby abandoned hostel. However, while it may have been abandoned, it is not empty.... DUN DUN DUUUUUN!

    The Sweet: Okay, I'm inclined to call this movie "the Avengers Assemble of slasher movies". That's not because I think Avengers Assemble represents the pinnacle of superhero movies or anything like that. The thing about Avengers Assemble is that the plot was pretty predictable before you went in. You knew that the good guys would demonstrate their powers, be enlisted to fight a villain, there'd be an encounter with the villain and a big fight scene at the end, the stakes would be raised but the superheroes would inevitably be victorious. All this was OBVIOUS before you even entered the cinema. However, Avengers Assemble manages to be great in spite of being wholly predictable because the characters are built up well and their interactions are well written and entertaining. In the Friday the 13th series the victims are generally fairly thin characters and the focus is generally more on Jason than on those he stalks. (The better sequels will have more interesting victims so that we actually care about them.) Cold Prey is pretty much the opposite. Very little time is really spent building up the monster/villain, but instead all that focus is given to the potential victims. In fact, this works pretty well because it means the monster/villain is even more mysterious and creepy.
    The Sour: Essentially, if I was to tell you the plot of this movie you would most likely tell me that you have seen this sort of film hundreds of times before. Nothing, in terms of the central storyline at least, is likely to seem terribly surprising. Also the ending was not exactly groundbreaking either. However, there are at least two sequels to this film already and I'm currently unsure as to how the movie series will really progress.

    Great fun. Loved it. If you like slashers at all you should probably check it out.


    4. The Grudge (2004)
    This was a bit of a surprise hit. Quite a few of the films I checked out were ghost movies and in the majority of cases I was characteristically unimpressed. "Thir13en Ghosts" and "The Evil Dead" were the only other ghost movies to make it into my top 20. But there was something special about "The Grudge". The unique visual style of the ghosts and the decision not to resolve the story with the protagonists solving the ghosts' 'unfinished business' (a phrase I first heard during the film "Casper"), made it feel like a cut above the rest. Certainly this is a Japanese horror with clear similarities with "Ringu". (I say that the remake is still Japanese horror because they've kept the Japanese director and the story retains its Japanese setting.) Still, I think that "The Grudge" is unique enough not to be classed as a shameless "Ringu" rip-off or cash-in (though it might not be a wholly unreasonable criticism, since the first low budget Ju-On film was released in the same year as Ringu).

    I think what I've discovered is that if the ghosts are a kind of monster and follow clear rules then I'm fine, but if you want me to accept a nice ghost you are going to need to shove some humour in there because I'm generally not going to be taking it seriously. If you want my whole catalogue of problems with ghost movies you should check out "What Lies Beneath". Pretty much everything that I hate about ghost films is contained in there.

    I've since watched some of the other movies in the "Ju-On" series with mixed results...

    Plot Synopsis: American remake of the Japanese horror movie "Ju-On: The Grudge" by the same director. The film still takes place in Japan, but with most characters being American immigrants to Japan. Before the opening of the film we are told that sometimes the rage of the deceased lives on after they die as a curse which harms anyone who comes into contact with them. After an opening involving Bill Pullman, we cut to a young woman acting as a helper for an elderly lady suffering from dementia. However, when the helper checks the room upstairs she discovers something terrible. The film regularly cuts to different characters sometimes jumping back in time a little bit so we get a full sense of events happening simulataneously.

    The Sweet: I just keep on checking out the ghost films lately, don't I? Still, this one seems to treat the ghosts more like a monster, rather than expecting us to be bowled over by the simple idea of people living beyond the grave. It's all very well imagining that you might be able to put these ghosts to rest, but in the meanwhile even having seen them means that you are probably better off wondering how you will survive. The theme is almost felt, to me, almost like a combination of "The Ring" and "Drag Me To Hell".

    I couldn't quite finish the movie in one sitting because I started watching it quite late and I found myself drifting to sleep. So I ended up going to bed without the plot anywhere near resolved. On my way to bed I had trouble with a door and when I forced it open I felt like the blackness of the night was coming to get me. The atmosphere of the movie had genuinely stuck with me and creeped me out. I like the way the film often shows the darkness encroaching like strands of hair. Also the use of inhuman noises coming from the pale human ghosts was highly effective.
    The Sour: I like Sarah Michelle Gellar as an actress but I don't think performance represented her at her best. She was alright. The plot is pretty simple overall, but I don't think that is much of a negative. Things never got convoluted and the ending was effective.

    Overall I enjoyed The Grudge an awful lot. Considering my general dislike of ghost movies, I was surprised that I enjoyed this as much as I did. It used ghosts to creep me out, succeeded in creeping me out, and I was completely satisfied with the experience.


    3. Detention (2011)

    The straight-to-DVD horror comedy (including time travel and aliens) "Detention" is now one of my favourite films of the year. The trailer makes it look fairly generic and attempts to explain the plot rarely prepare people for quite how different the film is, but this hyperactive rollercoaster heaped with 80s and 90s references is unlike anything you've seen before. The style is sort of like if "Scott Pilgrim Vs The World" meets "Return Of The Living Dead".

    Y'know what? The less you know about "Detention" before you shove in the DVD, the better. The synopsis on IMDB doesn't tell you much and is misleading in what little it tells you. Personally all I knew was that the director was a guest on the Slashfilm podcast, he'd previously directed "Torque" (which I think he's kind of embarrassed about now) and the other people on that podcast admitted (after he'd gone) that they thought the film was pretty cool. So I thought, what the hell, let's shove it on the rental list.

    The film opens with a girl explaining 'the way things work' rather like in the movie "Clueless". She quickly establishes herself as a horrible person, but in the most entertaining way ever. Everything cuts back and forth in a hyperactive fashion. We don't follow the same character all the way through, but the hyperactive comic style never stops and there is definitely a huge amount that I missed the first time around. The comedy is genuinely funny, though the jokes come so fast that you may not have time to get all of them. In short, watch this movie!

    ... So if you are still interested in knowing what kind of film this actually is, essentially it's a horror-comedy (which is a genre I'm particular fond of), but to go into more detail it's a slasher comedy with time travel, aliens, grizzly bears and endless 90s and 80s pop culture references. "Detention" is a work of insane genius and you should watch it.


    2. Rare Exports (2010)

    I'd been saving this one up for a review closer to Christmas, but when I was having a horror movie night with a friend I couldn't help but recommend it. (Don't worry. I'm amassing some more Christmas-related horror to watch over the Christmas period. :D) It stood up as well as the first time I watched it and I think my friend was fairly impressed.

    Plot Synopsis: A businessman employing an American excavation team (who oddly seem to have English accents) believes he has discovered the grave of the original Father Christmas in FInland, apparently buried by the Sami peoples centuries ago. As the excavation is carried out, a local Sami community experience some strange occurrences while one young boy learns the terrifying truth about the real Santa Claus.

    The Sweet: The idea of Father Christmas originating from Scandinavian demon myths is a pretty damn cool premise. I absolutely love the idea of Father Christmas as a folk myth about a creature that kidnaps and tortures naughty children. Early on in the film the young boy protagonist has a book about the truth about Father Christmas with images of Father Christmas as a kind of troll (with the same bulbous nose we saw in "Troll Hunter"). There's also a suggestion that Father Christmas's pointy hat developed out of older images of the demons curved horns. I've become quite a fan of horror comedies, particularly when they manage to be funny and scary at the exact same moment. There's one point where Father Christmas is staring straight at the young protagonist wearing his Santa suit and he gives an ambiguous smile. It is just so ridiculously creepy and at that moment I don't know whether to laugh or hide.
    The Sour:  On the Horroretc podcast  they seemed to think that the ending could have been better. While I can understand what they are saying, I felt the film worked much better the way it was. The kind of climax they were expecting would only work if the film had an absolutely huge budget to spend. I think I'd have liked to have seen the film get a little darker. It felt like it was pulling its punches to some extent. Still, it's pretty damn creepy all the same and an absolutely wonderful film.


    1. Let The Right One In (2008)
    Met up with a group of friends for what was supposed to be a scary movie night. Due to some delays at the start, the evening ended up consisting in the episode "Blink" from Doctor Who, the episode "Fear Itself" from season four of Buffy and this film, which I had admittedly seen before. Watching it again, having now read the books it was as captivating as ever. It's a real masterpiece.

    Also, vital additional point. Having rewatched this I now simply CANNOT understand people who liked the American remake "Let Me In". Not only did the relationship have less chemistry in the remake and not only were the filmmakers lying through their teeth when they said it was incorporating additional elements from the book (it's less true to the book than ever), but the EFFECTS are less good! It's almost like they shrunk the budget.

    (The hyperlinks in this paragrpaph, if they still work, are for clips from the sections of the movies under discussion.) If you check out the "not inviting the vampire in" scene in the remake, it is shot from a distance and all we really see is some blood round the edges while Chole Moretz has her head in her hands. It might as well be depicting a nose bleed. In the original we have close-up shots of everything that is happening to the vampire. Also there's 'the swimming pool scene' (in case it wasn't already obvious, don't check out the hyperlinks unless you don't mind spoilers). While in the original we have a fully lit swimming pool, a fixed camera and we can see everything that happens clearly, in the remake all the lights have been switched off and it's rather hard to work out what is going on as a result. (I'm reminded of "AVP:Requiem" where everything was darkened to hide the poor level of the effects work and this ended up meaning that the audience could barely tell what they were watching half the time.) One friend suggested that the darkness changes the mood and makes the pool seem cold, but my problem with this is that we all know that indoor pools aren't like that. They are always heated, often to the point of being very warm. My point here is simply this. The acting (or at least the direction) is worse, the effects are clearly worse, the filmmakers felt they needed to lie about adaptation decisions, so why on earth does anyone like the remake? *shrugs*

    The original still holds a special place in my heart as I explain in the review below....

    Rewatched this one recently at a special "spooky movie" night. It's just as wonderful as I remember and there were all sorts of details I missed. *Mild Spoiler warning for the next paragraph*

    I had not re-watched this since seeing the remake "Let Me In" and looking back on it, I am more certain than ever before that this is better than the remake in every respect. Oddly the effects seem to be better here than in the remake. I'd forgotten how awesome the "refusing to give permission to enter" scene was and the equivalent in "Let Me In" just involved the central vampire putting her head in her hands for a bit. The original version actually made my friend think of Christian depictions of Jesus, the way the blood seems to seep from the vampires head (like the blood seeping from Jesus' crown of thorns) and from the eyes. Absolutely everyone seemed to squirm as the vampire's guardian used the acid and there were quite a few "ewww"s when we saw the full damage later on. And of course when the vampire is crawling up the wall there was quite a positive reaction too. The finale at the swimming pool was absolutely wonderful and the way it was changed (not least by having it all take place in the dark) in "Let Me In" was a big problem for me. One thing I noticed this time having read the book now was that the expensive puzzle with lots of intricate pieces mentioned in the book is also found in the film. I'd forgotten it was there and it looks rather cool. I also noticed more clearly this time how the woman who starts changing into a vampire finds herself reluctantly gaining a taste for her own blood.

    This film is just as wonderful as I remember. An absolute classic.


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    ... the answer is "pretty damn horrible", okay?

    Y'see Ireland has this law whereby abortion is made illegal. It's not actually supposed to include cases where there's a danger to the mother, but that didn't stop the recent ridiculously unnecessary screw-up. The law actually doesn't really so much stop abortions as make them extra specially difficult because anyone who wants one has to travel specially to the UK to get the procedure done. Of course, that's not really feasible when your fully intentional pregnancy has gone awry and you are in a severe condition in an Irish hospital.

    This lovely lady is called Savita Halappanavar. She died tragically a week after being admitted to a hospital in Galway where she was found to be miscarrying. For three days she asked for doctors to terminate her pregnancy but this was refused on the grounds that: "This is a Catholic country." Apparently her response that she was neither Irish nor Catholic made no difference to this (she was Indian and Hindu).

    Dr. Jen Gunter explains:

    ...“Miscarrying” at 17 weeks can only mean one of three things:

    A) Ruptured membranes
    B) Advanced cervical dilation
    C) Labor (this is unlikely, although it is possible that she had preterm labor that arrested and left her with scenario B, advanced cervical dilation).

    All three of these scenarios have a dismal prognosis, none of which should involve the death of the mother.
    Since Savita was told that the doctors would need to wait until the foetal heartbeat stopped before they could intervene, Dr. Gunter has a number of possible explanations, all of which are horrible:
    As there is no medically acceptable scenario at 17 weeks where a woman is miscarrying AND is denied a termination, there can only be three plausible explanations for Ms. Hapappanavar’s “medical care” :

    1) Irish law does indeed treat pregnant women as second class citizens and denies them appropriate medical care. The medical team was following the law to avoid criminal prosecution.
    2) Irish law does not deny women the care they need; however, a zealous individual doctor or hospital administrator interpreted Catholic doctrine in such a way that a pregnant woman’s medical care was somehow irrelevant and superceded by heart tones of a 17 weeks fetus that could never be viable.
    3) Irish law allows abortions for women when medically necessary, but the doctors involved were negligent in that they could not diagnose infection when it was so obviously present, did not know the treatment, or were not competent enough to carry out the treatment.

    What we do know is that a young, pregnant, woman who presented to the hospital in a first world country died for want of appropriate medical care. Whether it’s Irish Catholic law or malpractice, only time will tell; however, no answer could possibly ease the pain and suffering of Ms. Halappanavar’s loved ones.
    And it only gets worse...

    This is Senator Ronan Mullen. He's decided to take this moment to announce that:"he hoped protestors outside the Dáil would not use the tragic death of Savita Halappanavar as an argument for legislating for abortion."

    Yes, because clearly a woman dying from being denied an abortion is NOT the time to start asking questions about access to abortion, right? No, instead it's the PERFECT TIME to start denouncing any such idea and SHAMING anyone who even dreamt of bringing up the matter, obviously! *facepalm*

    (Reminds me of the pro-gun guy who got upset that people were suggesting that the Colorado shootings
    might indicate that gun control was lacking. But at least he was just some random guy on the internet and not a public figure in a position of authority.)

    Meanwhile the minister for health, James Reilly, reckons that it's too early to say whether ties to a Catholic ethos were at fault:
    Speaking in the Dáil this evening, he said we "could not pre-judge" the situation, adding he had no evidence to suggest a Catholic ethos at the hospital prevented the pregnant woman's life from being saved by a medical termination.

    Okay, fair enough, I suppose that's true. However, if we consider Dr. Gunter's words, Reilly appears to be ignoring the seemingly inevitable consequences of what he's saying here. If the Catholic ethos was not at responsible for this tragedy, either through Ireland's Catholicism-determined anti-abortion law or in through the practices of the medical staff at the hospital, then there is only one possible alternative. That alternative is that the medical staff involved were abysmally and ludicrously incompetent.

    In the meantime there are candlelit vigils across Ireland in response to this tragedy. One might have hoped that the Irish authorities would take it a little more seriously.... D':

    (Guardian - Ireland should change abortion law)
    (Dr. Gunter considers the case)
    (Reilly: No evidence Catholic ethos prevented Savita's life from being saved)
    (Pharyngula weighs in)
    (Images of vigils and protests)

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    Sorry for the long wait! Below are the next four films of the Hitchcock Retrospective, putting the total of Hitchcock films seen up to 16! If this is the first entry you've seen, I've been working my way back through Hitchcock's films starting with his final film "Family Plot". You can find the previous three entries here:
    Hitchcock Reverse Retrospective Part One - Family Plot, Frenzy, Topaz and Torn Curtain
    Hitchcock Reverse Retrospective Part Two - Marnie, The Birds, Psycho and North By Northwest
    Hitchcock Reverse Retrospective Part Three - Vertigo, The Wrong Man, The Man Who Knew Too Much and The Trouble with Harry

    I was just double checking a actor's name from one of these four films when I realised that three of them had Grace Kelly as the lead. She possibly deserves a bit of credit for giving such varied performances that I couldn't tell that it was the same woman each time. She receives the opportunity to both play and to subvert the "hysterical blonde" character that Hitchcock seems to love to employ (often accompanied by a more character-filled brunette who is not the main love interest).

    So, as in previous entries I've been watching through the films in reverse chronological order of release, but the four reviews below work in reverse order of preference. So the films were viewed in the following order: "To Catch A Thief" (1955), "Rear Window"(1954), "Dial M For Murder" (1954) and "I Confess" (1953).

    To Catch a Thief (1955)

    This is another Hitchcock film starring Cary Grant. The other of which being "North By Northwest", my favourite Hitchcock film so far. Now when I saw "North By Northwest" I must admit that two things somewhat puzzled me. First was why anyone would think that Cary Grant's character was some kind of spy and secondly why the woman on the train would want to throw herself at him. Now watching "To Catch a Thief" I wonder why I ever found either of those ideas so strange.

    Cary Grant in this film is like the American equivalent of James Bond. When the police come by he neatly, casually and expertly eludes them and goes off to, once again - very casually, investigate what the police are after. After that, I've NO trouble understanding why women are throwing themselves at him and this time he has at least three. He apparently feels that Brigitte Auber is too young for him (though it's more that she's the daughter of an old associate), but that doesn't stop her from pursuing him anyway.

    Grace Kelly's character wants to remain somewhat aloof, but clearly likes him a lot in spite of herself. Meanwhile even Jessie Royce Landis, who plays Grace Kelly's mother, seems to fancy Cary Grant (and, once again, in THIS film - not a surprise!)

    Grace Kelly doesn't exactly do hysterical blonde here, but she also doesn't seem as interesting as the other two brunettes. (When I'm thinking that the male protagonist would be better off with your mother, you're probably doing something wrong.) Admittedly though, once the film gets going she grows as a character.

    The premise is that Cary Grant is well-known as an old jewel thief. However, since working for the French resistance during the war he received a pardon at the end of the war for any and all robberies up to that point. He can therefore enjoy the spoils of his old criminal capers in relative good conscience (so long as his pardon continues to be honoured). However, when another thief uses his old modus operandi to conduct robberies, it looks to the police like he is back to his old tricks. Rather than turning himself in, Cary Grant decides to study this new thief's methods and catch him in the act. But then again, won't it make framing him for the robberies even easier if he is present at the crime scene?

    It's a pretty exciting little plot with interesting characters, a good sense of fun and with Cary Grant just being generally brilliant. There's a whodunnit element which was more predictable than some, yet not SO predictable that I was annoyed when I guessed it before time.

    With an exciting plot and an awesome leading man, this is one of Hitchcock's best. Love it!


    Rear Window (1954)

    I was seriously worried when I put this into the machine. I'd only recently watched two Hitchcock films starring James Stewart which I felt were highly overrated. Not least "Vertigo", which was recently placed near the top of a pretentious "great movie ever" list for the publication "Sight and Sound" (with no films in its top ten released within the past 40 years). Now here was a film regularly touted as one of Hitchcock's best and there, once again, was James Stewart's name on the box.

    Now don't get me wrong. I love "It's A Wonderful Life" as much as the next man. But that didn't stop me feeling nervous. Thankfully I found my mind being quickly put at rest when James Stewart didn't seem to be taking himself so seriously as in the other cases. As much as the character is depressed and brooding, he expresses this through extreme cynicism this time.

    So yes, no drugging his wife before giving her devastating news or forcing a woman to wear the same clothes of his old dead lover. (And nothing like Sean Connery in "Marnie" either, so no blackmailing women into marriage.) Yes, he's still a little dismissive of women, but this time it feels like he's mainly dismissive of marriage as an institution. He's playing a photographer and prides himself on his spectacular photographs. Achieving one of these spectacular photographs (of a crashing racing car) landed him in a wheelchair and is severely limiting his movement, much as he worries that a marriage would.

    Naturally there's never just one female protagonist. If one's a blonde there's generally at least one brunette as a counter-balance. In comes Thelma Ritter as a nurse who comes to check on the protagonist. There's some neat banter between her and Stewart and she plays the part wonderfully.

    Later on we see Grace Kelly enter as the rich and efficient woman who wants to tie down James Stewart's protagonist. Far from being a hysterical blonde she manages to be highly sensible and proactive even while she puts far too much effort into pleasing the unappreciative male protagonist who clearly doesn't deserve her. As the film goes on and the plot thickens, we see her willing to go to great lengths and severely risk her safety. In this film Kelly's character works on her own initiative and doesn't feel like she's just going along with the male protagonist's whims.

    Eventually James Stewart's protagonist, who is essentially sitting in his flat waiting impatiently for the time when he is able to not only get out of his flat but fly to exotic locations around the world taking incredible photos, finds something that fascinates him just outside his own window. Ethical issues are raised about snooping through people's windows (particularly with binoculars). Still, on the other hand there's the ethical consideration that, once you've seen something terrible while snooping, shouldn't you act on it?

    Hitchcock gets to show off some wonderful filmmaking with his continuous and expertly choreographed shots of the series of flats with all the bustle of activity. It probably helps to make this film universally adored amongst typical filmgoers and hardened old-fashioned critics alike when it has the elements of clever filmmaking, an engaging plot and witty banter all working in tandem. (While "Vertigo" arguably had the first of those three and that's about it.)

    While I wouldn't say Rear Window was the best Hitchcock film ever, it's a solid A.


    Dial M for Murder (1954)

    This was the first of Grace Kelly's roles in a Hitchcock film and she is firmly lodged into the hysterical blonde role. Well, I say hysterical. It's a more low-key hysterical blonde performance. She's a traumatised woman who always does precisely what her husband tells her to do, no matter how stupid.

    "Don't call the police, darling." "Oh of course, my oh-so-sensible husband." Oh ffs! Protest! Tell him you MUST phone the police! Put up a bit of an argument and don't be so wet! Gah!

    Meanwhile the husband, played by Ray Milland, is wonderfully fiendish, cold and calculating. I absolutely loved every minute he was on screen. I actually saw this film before "The Man With The X Ray Eyes" (where he also starred) and found myself wishing for his scientist character in that film to be more villainous and dastardly like he is in this Hitchcock classic.

    The plot wraps up perhaps a little too neatly and, like I said before, relies perhaps a little too much on the wife being a wet blanket (even after proving unexpectedly physically formidable - though I'm risking spoilers just saying THAT much). Still, it's a cool little murder mystery and enjoyed it very much. Ray Milland's performance alone makes this an absolute must-see.

    Interestingly this was apparently a 3D film originally. There's only one scene which gave this away to me. At one point a particular an item is held right up to the screen for the audience to see. It seems pretty clear that this is supposed to be held right out of the screen and in the audience's face. (Since apparently the 3D back then caused even worse headaches than it does now, with the 3D in Friday the 13th: Part 3 apparently causing a searing headache which continues for around four hours after the film is over, I feel that I'm happy to have seen this without that additional effect.)

    A highly effective murder mystery with a cool central performance from Ray Milland. While rightly not put up there with Hitchcock's very best, it's hard not to squee over it.


    I Confess (1953)

    This was a pretty cool premise. A priest hears a confession of murder and is then bound to honour the sacrament of the confessional when the police ask questions. Things become further complicated when the priest himself becomes a suspect.

    Unfortunately quite a major part of the plot is a "scandal" which actually isn't that scandalous. There's some kind of relationship between the priest and a married lady, but any potential scandal turns out to be pretty minor. They had a relationship before she was married and before the priest entered the priesthood. They have since got back in touch but there's been no sex, no kissing, nothing that would impune their honour. Yet for absolutely no reason, they decide that it is scandalous to mention that they were even in each other's presence.

    This "scandal" was quite ludicrous and what's more the whole thing is told by Anne Baxter in full "hysterical blonde" mode. There's a whole "woe is me" element to the whole story and the character is defined by her relationship with the men around her. It's nothing against the actress of course. This is how Hitchcock has asked her to play the part. How he often likes to have his blonde actresses play their parts. It's just that it's kind of irritating for a modern audience to have women portrayed in this way.

    So who's the corresponding brunette? Well, it could be the murderer's wife who, while mostly in the background, proves to have rather more to her by the end. Still this is more like the female baddie who's a slave to her conscience (as in "The Man Who Knew Too Much", though at least this time she's not part of a whole criminal organisation) rather than the preferable snappy brunette character with a bit more personality to her (like the brunette artist friend in "Vertigo").

    The final scenes inject some well-needed excitement into this rather plodding script. But it's all too little too late. The beginning of this film is fine, the ending is pretty good, but the middle is dull as ditchwater. What's more, surely if a person keeps on referring to his confession OUTSIDE of the confessional box, that is not owed the same secrecy? The murderer keeps on taunting the priest, seemingly forgetting that he is no longer in the confessional booth where his words must not be passed on. What's more the priest seems to be expected not to mention that the murderer was even in the Church that night. Perhaps we needed an "as-you-know-Joe" bit of dialogue to explain how this confessional stuff really works, because I can't help but feel that the rules are being beefed up to make for a more compelling mystery (and if so, why is the film so slow paced)?


    Rankings of all Hitchcock's movies reviewed so far:

    1. North By Northwest (1959) A+
    2. Psycho (1960) A+
    3. The Birds (1963) A+
    4. To Catch a Thief (1955) A+
    5. Rear Window (1954) A+

    6. The Trouble with Harry (1955) A-
    7. Dial M for Murder (1954) A-
    8. Topaz (1969) B+
    9. The Wrong Man (1956) C+
    10. Family Plot (1976) C+
    11. Frenzy (1972) D+
    12. The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) D-
    13. I Confess (1953) D-
    14. Torn Curtain (1966) D-
    15. Marnie (1964) E-
    16. Vertigo (1958) E-

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    Okay, I'm not sure how I feel about this. I have posted about my love for "Flight Of The Navigator" once before. To my mind it wipes the floor with both of Spielberg's schmaltzy efforts and succeeds where both John Carpenter's efforts (Star Man) and Joe Dante's efforts (Explorers) came up short.

    It turns out that Disney have started moves towards a remake. There were rumours that the writers of "Safety Not Guaranteed" were being employed to work on new Star Wars sequels, but it turns out they were actually put on the job of writing this remake. I'm really excited about "Safety Not Guaranteed", which may actually be in cinemas before the year comes to a close. The poster for "Safety Not Guaranteed" reveals that the title comes from an advert by a time traveller for potential companions on the next foray into other time periods.

    "Flight Of The Navigator" does admittedly feel pretty dated, but there's something about it that still stirs emotions in me the way it did when I first saw it. The first half is pretty creepy and helps the film to hold on to a sense of wonder when the film goes more typically light-hearted and child-friendly in the second half.

    Perhaps the child actor could have been better, but child actors are always a tough call. How about that kid from "Looper"? He's a bit young, but in "Looper" Pierce Gagnon proved himself to be a pretty awesome little actor. Perhaps he could pull it off? Most people I think of as child actors are in their 20s by now. Remember that little kid from Harry Potter? He played a 30 year old widower recently. *stunned*

    Remakes CAN be good. John Carpenter's "The Thing" and David Cronenberg's "The Fly" are the most obvious picks. I was pretty forgiving of the "Nightmare On Elm Street" remake, but mainly because I wasn't so keen on Wes Craven's original (particularly the acting). I still wouldn't rate it higher than parts 3 and 4 in the franchise. Presumably we can't count cases like "The White Ribbon" which I, perhaps controversially, consider to be a remake of "Village Of The Damned", or "Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes" which I view as a pretty faithful remake of "Conquest Of The Planet Of The Apes"? So perhaps the most recent stab at a remake that most people would say was vaguely successful was Peter Jackson's "King Kong" (and that definitely had its flaws). Perhaps the reason why "reboots" have caught on so well is because they ensure that people don't feel like they have to choose between the original or the remake. I mentioned ROTPOTA just now and while that definitely feels like its reshaping the franchise, it still has nods and winks to the series as a whole and if you look at it at just the right angle it almost feels like it could fit in as just another entry in the same timeline.

    Until I see "Safety Not Guaranteed" I really cannot judge the likelihood that a remake of "Flight of the Navigator" will be a success. However, I think they'll probably need more than a half-hearted wink to the fans of the original if I'm to accept this new incarnation of my childhood favourite. I'll be keeping my eye on this project to see what comes of it...

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    After "The Grudge" was one of my favourite movies on the recent horror marathon, I couldn't wait to see more from the same series. I absolutely loved "The Grudge" because for once this was a ghost story which not only didn't irritate me, but genuinely scared me. Stopping part way through due to tiredness I went to get something from a room in my house and, having a little trouble with the door, was actually disturbed by the seemingly encroaching darkness as the door jerked open.

    One of the things I really liked was the effects. Now naturally it's not just the effects, but the way they are set up. However, when the dark hair of the main ghost was used to simulate the way darkness can sometimes 'creep' at you, that was the effect that stuck with me after the film was stopped.

    The Grudge 2 (2006)

    The sequel had a lot to live up to and I'm not sure it entirely met up to the high demands I had for it. Still, I think this was mainly an expectations issue. I went into the first film expecting nothing and I went into this sequel expecting the world on a platter.

    The opening explaining the concept of the "grudge" was more effective than when I saw the first film. At the beginning of the first film I was rather dismissive of the way the film felt the need to use text on screen to explain the central concept. Now, with the concept having firmly caught hold of my imagination, the way that words like "curse" and "fury" linger on the screen and turn a deep red before fading had a clear parallel with the way the ghosts seem to work within the film itself.

    The opening scene was an separate piece of a couple arguing, just like the scene showing Bill Pullman at the beginning of the previous film. I was intrigued to see where this would go.

    The schoolchildren from the international school, who go into the cursed house -central to the story- as part of a dare, seemed a little older than they ought to be. Still, as per usual in these sorts of films, they are seniors, so the actors are probably somewhat closer to their intended ages than you'd normally expect. (All about 2 or 3 years older than the age of 18 they are clearly intended to be.)

    There are more characters in this film, particularly with the random American family whose connection is particularly unclear. However, when the story comes together it really pays off well.

    A lot of what happens in the film feels like a big 'eff you' to those viewers who hope for a happy resolution to the 'grudge'. There are a number of pretty optimistic characters who seem determined in the face of torment by the ghosts and their seemingly inevitable doom. Also, while it seemed like backstory to the grudge was pretty much all played out in the last film, it turns out there is more still to tell.

    I found this to be a pretty satisfying film, but where I think it was somewhat lacking was the scares. There's not the same build-up in some scenes and the loss of simplicity of the previous film doesn't help. That said, I cannot say that this disappointed me. Though not quite as neat as the last one, I would still recommend this film.


    Ju-On: The Grudge (2002)
    So, expectations probably couldn't be higher. There's a general pattern that the original is generally better than the remake. Also I was of the impression from what I'd read around the place that the content of this film was rather more brutal than was risked in the American remake. So I was expecting a more impactful and shocking version of a film I already knew that I loved. Sure, there were a few films in the series before this, but this was the first with a proper cinema release.

    I have to say, I was extremely disappointed. I think that the director benefitted a great deal from the opportunity to remake this with a proper effects budget since this film had to manage with pretty much NO effects and I have to say, I personally thought it suffered for it.

    The ghosts are more obviously than ever just people covered in make-up. The neat lighting effects which made them seem like pale creepy figures in the remake also made the make-up less obvious. One scene (which can be seen in most trailers for the remake of "The Grudge") involves the female ghost crawling down the stairs. In the remake special effects are used to make this a jerky, inhuman and implausible motion, but in this original movie it's just a woman crawling slowly down some stairs. It was not terribly impressive.

    This film suffers far worse than "The Grudge 2" from its large range of characters because no time is given for any of them to develop. When I was first watching the American remake I thought that it was going to be like an anthology movie in that each character had their own separate story of being hunted down by the evil curse, but overall there turned out to be clear story around which all these events were connected. Here, however, none of the individual sections is given enough time, and there's no clear passage for the story to run. With the protagonists generally either not surviving long enough or lacking sufficient screen time for me to anchor myself to them, I found it hard to invest in the story and began to get rather bored. I can only think of the American remake as a worthwhile improvement rather than a watered down sell-out flick as some seemed to suggest.

    Perhaps if I can track down "Ju-On: The Curse" and "Ju-On: The Curse 2", this might work better. But with the American movie "The Grudge 3" being handed over to a new director with some very bad buzz surrounding it and with this Japanese version of "The Grudge" feeling so disappointing, I'm somewhat inclined to abandon the series while I'm not yet sick to death of it. If the other Japanese versions are like this, I don't really want to sit through two or three more of them. Not unless I've got insomnia....

    ... That being said, looking for images for these reviews I'm seeing some rather intriguing shots from "Ju-On: The Grudge 2", so perhaps I'm not entirely finished with these films just yet...


    Anyone know anything about the Wii game? It looks strangely intriguing based on this youtube video:

    (video link)

    Cross Posted to Halloween Candy

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    In Darkness (2011)

    How many Holocaust movies have we had now (particularly since Spielberg's "Schindler's List")? I've seen at least 5 myself even though the idea of watching a holocaust film puts me right off. There's "The Boy With The Striped Pyjamas", "The Counterfeiters" "The Pianist" last year's "Sarah's Key" and now "In Darkness".

    Now admittedly the large quantity of movies on the same topic is not, on its own, a reason to get annoyed. There've been more than 10 superhero movies over the last two years (believe me, I've counted) and I'm not about to stop getting excited over those. However, there are a number of differences here....

    Most important is that the holocaust is not a topic for escapism. I actually wonder if it's not rather dodgy that the holocaust keeps getting re-used as if it were the western equivalent of the Ramayana (as in a popular story with cultural significance which people longed to hear again and again).

    The level of quality for holocaust movies has been much higher than that for superhero movies. Any new holocaust films have a lot to live up to. Also the subject matter is highly sensitive. When you release a new superhero movie you preferably want there to be something new and interesting to present to audiences, but in the case of a holocaust film I (at least personally) feel you need some kind of justification as to why audiences should go through the trauma of this historical event all over again.

    Now actually, at least on paper, "In Darkness" really does have a new take on the event. It's not the first holocaust film to take place in Poland, however it is quite interesting that it mainly focusses on a morally-ambiguous non-Jewish figure hiding Jews from the authorities, rather than on the victims themselves.

    Rather more interesting however is the hiding place itself. The protagonist, played excellently by Robert Więckiewicz, is a sewage maintenance worker who agrees to hide the Jews in the sewer in exchange for money. Naturally there are quite horrific conditions involved in hiding in the sewer such as the smell, the cramped space to hide and the lack of light (hence the title). What is more, there's the mistrust involved when the survivors are relying on a fairly unscrupulous character for food and secrecy.

    Unfortunately, the harshness of the conditions are not really played up that much. Considering the subject matter involved, there's a distinct lack of tension and I found I was having to remind myself that sewer would smell disgusting since the survivors themselves did little to demonstrate that they were living in filth. Heck, there are even a number of sex scenes taking place in the sewer, one acting almost like a 'sex in the shower' scene as water falls on the lovers from the drain above. While I'm sure the intention of this scene might have been a "love conquers all" feel, it just comes across as bizarre.

    At least sex scenes did not feel like an obligatory fan service to those who generally enjoy this kind of film, unlike the scene of one Jewish child bursting into song. Within the context of the scene everyone should have been shushing the child immediately because they are in tunnels below houses where the occupants might easily sell them out and be financially rewarded for doing so. But for the movie's audience to get their kicks, it seems that we need a young Jewish child singing (rather creakily, I might add).

    The message against anti-semitism in the movie is pretty clunky too. There are several "I suppose Jews are people after all!" scenes. The line "What? Jesus was a Jew?!!" is actually delivered twice (I am not joking!).

    Robert Więckiewicz, who plays Leopold Socha, gives a fantastic performance as the main protagonist who performs maintenance on the sewer and helps the Jews by finding them a hiding place and bringing them food. There's also a pretty great performance from Kinga Preis who plays his wife Wanda. However, the survivors in the sewer, though not bad actors are distinctly lacking in decent material to work with. The idea seemed to be to introduce us to a range of Jews with different backgrounds and motivations, but it doesn't actually lead to interesting interactions. Instead it just feels like the writers are ticking boxes.

    On the IMDB forums the view of one Jewish internet reviewer came to the fore (mainly because they are extremely right-wing, the review actually gives the film the following score: "four Marxes plus a Bin Laden and an Arafat") and while I think I would vehemently disagree with them in most discussions, I have to admit they don't feel unwarranted or over the top when they describe this film as "holocaust porn". In fact, there are other less extreme voices using that same phrase.

    If this was the only film that had ever been made about the holocaust it would be a fairly good film. It brings to light many important elements and the central performance is very good. There is even an attempt to use a more distinctive true-life story through which to introduce the audience to this horrible part of history. However, with all the films of this kind we have seen already it looks very pale by comparison. It doesn't elicit feeling anything like so effectively and many of the elements now seem very generic for what is becoming a rather disturbing 'genre' of films.

    Heck, people have different tastes, but unless you are one of the people who is (for whatever reason) drawn to this kind of film, I doubt you will be terribly impressed. Even if this is subject matter that you drawn to, this is certainly not one of the better entries. If you like your holocaust movies light and shallow, this is the one for you. But with such fantastic talent in the leading role and with such an interesting new version of the story to work with, this should have been so much better.

    Interestingly, while the film is an adaptation of the book "In The Sewers of Lvov" by Robert Marshall, the last living survivor actually brought out a new book after filming began called "The Girl With The Green Sweater" which those interested in this subject might find of interest.


    The Tuskegee Airmen (1995)

    When George Lucas'"Red Tails" came out last year, the response was fairly unanimously negative. Lucas posed it as a courageous decision to present an important part of black history, but the counter to this was that the story of the 'Red Tails' had already been told in a made for tv film called "The Tuskegee Airman" which features a similarly awesome cast. Meanwhile George Lucas' production, by most accounts, seemed to give a rather overly cartoonish portrayal. With the creator of the acclaimed tv show "The Wire" directing the film, it seemed logical to blame the problems with the film on Lucas.

    I haven't checked out "Red Tails" myself, but I was intrigued enough to check out this earlier tv movie. The Tuskegee airmen were a group of university educated black Americans who aspired to become the first African American squadron during World War II.

    The pilots are played by such actors as Laurence Fishburne and Cuba Gooding Jnr. There's also a short but sweet appearance by John Lithgow as a racist politician who opposes the appointment of African American pilots, convinced that he has scientific proof that such men would be mentally incapable of performing the role effectively.

    Sadly in spite of the wonderful performances and some very well-timed emotional moments in the film, the made-for-tv feel is very clear and made particularly obvious by the rather poorly chosen "uplifting" music, which never quite fits the shifts of tone in the film. Individual scenes are often brilliant and elevated by fantastic performances, but with blaring patriotic music in between each scene, the film ends up feeling like a bunch of sections selotaped together rather than a cohesive story. At the end of the film, I felt inspired by what I'd seen and I was keen to know what happened next, but I did not really feel like I'd been told a complete story in spite of very clearly feeling the time it had taken to tell the story so far.

    This was a wonderful piece of history painstakingly performed, with some absolutely wonderful uplifting moments. Unfortunately it doesn't work so well as a full story. It's a good film, but there was a lot of potential and I cannot help but wonder whether, (with someone other than George Lucas producing of course) a better version of this story could be made for either the big or small screens.


    Wild Bill (2011)

    "Wild Bill" could not really have been marketed much worse if they tried. The poster showed possibly the least well known actor in the entire cast showing off his tattoos with various other figures kind of leaning in from the sides. The poster background was bright yellow and it looked like a very silly comedy, with very little clue as to what it was actually about. It wasn't a poster that you could easily ignore, but I remember actually coming away from that poster thinking "that's a film I will never want to see". As such, I was quite surprised when the film had 100% on Rotten Tomatoes, after a pretty respectable number of reviews.

    I do not recognise the actor playing the eponymous "Bill", but I am familiar with the actors playing Bill's two adolescent sons. It turns out that they are essentially squatting in Bill's old flat since their mum has left the country and Bill, up until the opening of the film, was in prison. The older of the two is 15 and is skipping school to earn a living at the Olympic construction site. While the film is mainly more of a drama, lines like the construction boss shouting "hurry up and build me a Velodrome" are admittedly very amusing and these sorts of lines come reasonably often.

    The older of the two sons is played by Will Poulter who played Lee Carter in "Son of Rambow". While Bill Milner was the shining star in "Son of Rambow", Will Poulter proves himself here to be a rising star with a lot of potential. The younger of Wild Bill's sons is played by Sammy Williams who some may recognise as Probs (from the two kids 'Probs and Mayhem') in the council estate alien invasion movie "Attack The Block". The moment these two kids showed up, I knew this was going to be good. The two of them both have great screen presence and chemistry.

    Another rather neat inclusion in the cast was Iwan Rheon who plays Simon in Misfits. He's a bit of a comic relief character who sounds totally ridiculous using street language and punctuating all his sentences with "blood" (as if to mean "brother"). I found it amusing when one of the few black criminals in the film tells him to knock it off saying "stop talking black okay?"

    And of course, I couldn't fail to mention the small but satisfying appearance of Andy Serkis. He's in full Ian Brady mode here (the imprisoned child murderer he played in "Longford"), on the one hand relatively civil, but on the other hand cynical and threatening with a cold intelligence under the surface. (Serkis' performance as Gollum doesn't even scratch the surface of his ability. He's an incredible actor and I much prefer his live action appearances.)

    The story carried me along for the most part. There's an endearing quality to the film which pulls you in. There are admittedly a few points where the film goes a little Eastenders, but those points are thankfully minimal. However, my main problem was that the ending left the film feeling very unfinished and after the half way point the events in the film were a little too predictable. "Wild Bill" clearly contained the seeds for something much better and there are some wonderful moments, both comic and dramatic, but it's missing something if you're looking for one of the best films of the year.

    So, to quickly sum up the basic premise, Bill has finished serving his time in prison and comes home to find his two children have been abandoned by their mum and want nothing to do with him. They are mainly dodging social services. In fact it turns out that Bill's probation meetings inevitably shine a spotlight on the situation of his children. Suddenly Bill finds himself with a particularly awkward set of obligations. His old criminal friends want him to either join them or leave town. His children would rather he left, but need him to hang around until social services decide they can leave them alone. Meanwhile he initially has plans to get a job in Edinburgh which he has pretty much got to ditch. On top of that, the current crime boss in the area (played by Serkis), remembers Bill from the old days...

    Like I said before, a lot of potential that wasn't necessarily all used to best effect. However, there's no doubting that this film has a lot of charm, a lot of fun, some great drama, some top performances. It's definitely a better than average film and well worth a look.


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  • 12/11/12--00:03: Article 0
  • Awesome hilarious animation video about a guy who meets aliens, from the creator of "Pingu Vs The Thing".

    (video link)
    (More vids from Lee Hardcastle here)

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    I don't really have anything new to say about the Newtown incident. I talked about the Aurora incident at the showing of "The Dark Knight Rises" and I have to admit that if that hadn't been Batman related I probably wouldn't have mentioned it. Hearing about mass shootings in the US has become unremarkable for us here in the UK. The US has widespread legal gun ownership, including the ownership of powerful assault weapons (for hunting purposes apparently...), whereas in the UK guns are generally confined to gun ranges in urban areas and across the country the use of hand guns by civilians is banned. We do admittedly still have the occasional gun-crazed maniac, such as the Cumbrian shootings just over two years ago, and in London we have plenty of criminals in possession of illegal firearms, but it simply isn't on the same scale as in the US.

    I recognise that the situation with guns in America is complicated, but I have to address the complete loser who was trying to blame the whole thing on mental illness. Fortunately I'm not talking about Morgan Freeman. In actual fact, the words placed in Morgan Freeman's mouth weren't as awful as the words of the guy I actually wish to speak about, but it thankfully turns out that Morgan Freeman never said them. The statement attributed to Morgan Freeman regarding the Newtown incident was a hoax. The falsely-attributed statement insisted that we remember the victims rather than the murderer (which I think people are actually doing a lot this time around anyway), that we stop making a big deal about the incident on the news (I'm not sure that this helps the victims deal with the incident at all), that we avoid making people think that they'll be remembered if they murder a bunch of schoolchildren (which is an interesting point), but the very brief but significant point from this fake comment which bugged the hell out of me was this:

    "You can help by donating to mental health research instead of pointing to gun control as the problem."

    Now it just so happens that this also the main focus of the argument made by Richard Feldman, chief douchebag of the Independent Firearm Association. He claims that the biggest cause of massive shootings is "mentally deranged individuals" and therefore who does he think is REALLY responsible? (*nudge nudge* Any guesses?) Mental health provision!

    Now don't get me wrong. I'm sure mental health provision can be improved. It's not exactly on top form in the UK either and with all the medical insurance issues with ANY kind of healthcare in the US, I'm sure it's a pretty major concern there. It's this supposed link with gun crime that concerns me. It's almost like Feldman believes that the Aurora shooter just happened to be wandering around with a bunch of guns and thought "why not use them in my local cinema?" This is a guy who boobytrapped his entire house with the full intention that it would hurt the police officers who went to search it. These crimes aren't just random flights of fancy by mentally deranged individuals in need of help. They are acts of sick and twisted individuals who are lacking in humanity. These killers are not confused about what they did. They are methodical and capable.

    As much as better mental health treatments would help people with mental illness, it does sufferers of mental illness no favours whatsoever to label them all as the biggest threat when it comes to gun crime. There might be certain conditions were a person probably shouldn't be in control of a gun and in the majority of cases I suspect such individuals would insist that they not be put in charge of a gun, but I cannot imagine a situation where that then leads to them boobytrapping their house and going on a gun rampage in their local public setting of choice.

    Oh yeah, that's exactly how it works. *facepalm*

    The connection between mental health issues and gun-crazed rampages is not there, unless perhaps you include things like "being highly upset and possibly depressed by losing your job or being left by your wife" as, by itself, a mental derangement. The Cumbrian shooter was upset that he lost his job. Admittedly, the Aurora shooter apparently suggested to friends that he might have dysphoric mania saying they should stay away from him for this reason, but it's not at all clear that there's a direct correlation between his actions and any possible mental health issues. His decision to proceed with his plan seems to have come after failing a recent test at the university he was attending.

    In actual fact, the Newtown shooter's mother was a survivalist who was preparing for some kind of apocalyptic event, so it seems that there were ideological elements (which isn't the same as a mental illness, as I'm sure you are all aware) in the case of this most recent incident.

    Below (under the cut) is the whole interview on the BBC with Richard Feldman. I must warn you, the guy is a complete idiot, and I'm pleased to see that the interviewer makes a point of not humouring any of his attempts to pass the buck to the mental health services. The most important bit for me is where the interviewer notes that gun-related deaths of young children in a certain age-bracket are 13 times higher in the US and his response is essentially, it's too late to do anything about it and don't take away our guns. I don't care if hunting is EASIER with a semi-automatic weapon (since some US gun fanatics seem to insist on this), it's utterly ludicrous for those kinds of firearms to be available to the general public.

    Oh and "it couldn't have happened if we banned mental illness"? Mr. Feldman, you suck.

    Interviewer (Sarah Montague): Richard Feldman is president of the Independent Firearm Association. I spoke to him earlier and asked if it WAS now time for SOME tightening of gun controls.

    Richard Feldman: Well if we look at the facts of this case, these guns didn't come from a gun show. They were stolen by the shooter from his mother.

    Y'know when we start looking at guns we miss the opportunity to focus on the problem, which is always 'in whose hands are the guns?'

    This particular case, and all the other mass shootings, involve clearly mentally deranged individuals. It's a very difficult question, but we have a failed mental health system now in this country. And if we don't put resources into getting at these people BEFORE they commit such horrible acts, we're not going to solve this problem. We could lower the speed limit too. It isn't going to prevent deranged individuals from having episodes like this.

    Interviewer (Sarah Montague): But you are always going to have deranged damaged individuals in a society. The problem surely comes when there are so many guns and is it not time for the United States to find a way to remove some of the guns in society?

    Richard Feldman: There are over 300 million firearms owned in civillian hands in the United States of America. It's an interesting discussion but it's also an irrelevant one. For those who think it would be a good idea, it's really too late. That's just not the answer and fighting the hundred million Americans who own guns and didn't misuse their guns; why do we want to take away the guns from the people who DIDN'T misuse them?

    Interviewer (Sarah Montague): Can I interrupt here? What perhaps seems so very odd to perhaps many people outside the United States is to hear this argument and think... I mean, do you think if there WERE a ban on assault weapons what we saw in Newtown; it just couldn't have happened could it?

    Richard Feldman: Well, if we banned mental illness it couldn't have happened either. Having a ban isn't going to make the very people we would like to prevent from having them, having them. They are already owned by tens of millions of people. What is the government planning to do? Come and get the guns? I don't think so. It would be unconstitutional at this point. Our supreme court has already ruled on this issue.

    Interviewer (Sarah Montague): So what happens? Whatever President Obama tries to do nothing will change?

    Richard Feldman: No, I didn't say that and I hope things DO change. There's a lot of things that we could do. We could do better. We can talk about the gun show so-called 'loophole', but that's not where criminals obtain the majority of their guns.

    Interviewer (Sarah Montague): So what would YOU do to tighten the gun laws?

    Richard Feldman: I wouldn't do anything particularly on the gun laws. I would focus, if we are dealing with mentally deranged individuals, it's our mental health system. We can't incarcerate people. We can't take them off the streets until they actually do something that's dangerous. Well it's too late when they've already committed murder or killed themselves. If we can't help them beforehand. And our laws prevent us from helping them.

    And these incidences, as tragic as they are, as horrific as they are, statistically-speaking are extremely rare. You're much more likely to be killed on your way to or from the school in a horrible automobile accident, but naturally that's not going to make international news, but that's the reality.

    Interviewer (Sarah Montague): But the statistics for the number of children murdered in America by guns between 5-14 are thirteen times more likely to be murdered with a gun than in other industrialised countries. Are you saying that there's nothing that can be done about that because it's just everybody has guns and it's too LATE to remove them from society?

    Richard Feldman: That's part of it uh, and I AM saying that. But it's not going to play in the United States of America. The gun-owning community is not prepared to give up their firearm freedoms because a few individuals misuse those freedoms.

    Interviewer (Sarah Montague): Richard Feldman, thank you very much.

    Edit:Dr. Jen Gunter has an interesting post where she notes that the mental illnesses most clearly linked with gun-related massacres are schizophrenia and psychopathy. The former can be treated and better access to mental health might well help such people and prevent attacks in some cases. The latter, however, is pretty much untreatable and unlikely to be at all easy to spot. Psychopaths don't really act drastically differently from other people.

    Naturally Dr. Gunter wants mental health provision to improve. Don't we all? But if anyone is getting the idea that it's going to mean that all psychopaths are quickly and easily identified (never mind preventing future atrocities through treatment) that is naive (and I'm certain Dr. Gunter would not wish anyone to be drawn to that conclusion).

    Psychopathy is not generally a condition that leaves sufferers feeling like they need external help. The idea that labelling and treating psychopaths with the aim of reducing gun crime is a compassionate move is misleading. What if they refuse treatment? What if (as may well be the case) their condition does not improve as a result of the treatment provided? Will they be locked away on the offchance that they 'might' commit a crime in the future? Psychopaths are not so capable of empathy but they make decisions like anyone else and psychopathy is not a condition that prevents the subject from being held accountable for their crimes. Their mental health treatment is pretty much irrelevant to the gun crime issue in the US. (Dr. Gunter's original article is here.)

    calapine has made a post about this issue here.

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    Seven Psychopaths (2012)

    Martin McDonagh's debut film was "In Bruges" which has to be one of my favourite comedies of all time. Dark, beautiful and hilarious and the first film to reveal to me that Colin Farrell actually has talent after all. The first thing to say about "Seven Psychopaths" is that it isn't as good as "In Bruges". You cannot expect every film from a director to be the best film of all time. That being said, I did enjoy this very much. I will note however, that this is not the same situation as with"The Guard" (directed by Martin's brother John) where one of the main criticisms was also that "it's not as good as In Bruges". "Seven Psychopaths" is generally of a lower standard than either of those films. Still, at the time I noted that "The Guard" was arguably funnier than "In Bruges" yet lacking the same artistry, so perhaps it's not surprising that "Seven Psychopaths" falls slightly further short of excellence than those two now that Martin is trying to focus more on the comedy side of things.

    "Seven Psychopaths" has been compared to Chalie Kaufman's work because it follows a similar trick to "Adaptation" by placing the writer essentially inside their own screenplay. However, in many ways this is closer to a Coen Brothers film. Certainly I was reminded of my experience in the cinema watching "A Serious Man" with the rest of the audience (and in the case of "Seven Psychopaths" the audience was especially small) laughing a great deal less often than I did. That being said, while "A Serious Man" had me laughing fairly consistently from beginning to end, "Seven Psychopaths" had noticeable points where the comedy lagged. As with "In Bruges" there's a clear attempt to bring out somewhat meaningful moments in the craziness, but in both films McDonagh generally aims for such 'meaningful moments' to fall flat intentionally for comic effect.

    The plot is that Marty (Colin Farrell) is trying to write a movie about "Seven Psyhopaths". He's facing writer's block and his attempts to try something different are falling a bit flat. Meanwhile his friend (Sam Rockwell), who is running a dog stealing-and-returning scam with another friend (Christopher Walken), is keen to give him some ideas. In the background one mafia guy who's a bit on the psychopathic side (Woody Harrelson) is angry about his missing dog...

    Sam Rockwell is brilliant as ever, Christopher Walken gives a very impressive performance and I've found his performances rather varied in the past, but Colin Farrell is essentially playing the straight man here and I'm not sure that's playing to his strengths. Still, there's no doubting the comic timing between them is brilliant. I don't think Woody Harrelson is at his best here, though he plays his part well enough. Harrelson doesn't really seem as imposing as he ought to (though this is a little petty as his lack of threat by comparison to the other characters may be somewhat intentional).

    This kind of film is right up my alley. Black comedies like "A Serious Man", "Submarine", "In Bruges" and this year's "The Revenant" really hit the right note for me. There's a mixture between realistic sections and more off-the-wall craziness. In both cases, there are strengths and weaknesses, but a major strength is the chemistry between the main characters. The biggest weakness is the unreal setting. The sense of location seemed rather lacking. "In Bruges" gave a very strong sense of the setting (Bruges, of course) and that helped it a great deal. There was also a clear understanding on the world the central characters had come from and the kinds of lives they lead. In "Seven Psychopaths" the characters almost seemed to exist in a vacuum. There was no real weight to the setting in which the action takes place. When later parts of the film take place in the desert, it's less to make use of the desert as a setting and more to isolate the characters from any potential distractions. Admittedly the ability to twist reality and confound expectations is part of the intention of the film, but I still think that more could have been done to make the scenario feel real to us.

    McDonagh is a great director and writer and this is a great second film from him. There's some great moments, some wonderful comedy, and I've known highly praised comedies to be less consistent. One thing's for sure though, you need to enjoy black humour (which I think the title makes clear). The incomprehensible trailer for "Seven Psychopaths" with its horrific editing will give you very little idea of what this is like as a film (not least because it seems to be trying to portray the film as something Adam Sandler might make). Perhaps the best comparison is Shane Black's "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" starring Robert Downey Jnr. Things go a bit crazy, there's a lot of self-referential jokes and there's some funny characters with good chemistry. In that sense they have a very similar feel. I'd still say "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" was the better of the two films due to its more impressive payoff, but "Seven Psychopaths" is certainly good enough to deserve the comparison.

    "Seven Psychopaths" does not disappoint... unless you compare it to the director's previous offering and then you kind of wish he'd done a bit better.


    Safety Not Guaranteed (2012)

    In a recent post I was announcing how excited I was about the movie "Safety Not Guaranteed" (whose creators are about to work on a remake of my childhood favourite "Flight Of The Navigator"). Apparently the central advertisement around which the movie is based was really posted in a newspaper. Sure the person who posted it was lying. They did not have a time travel and so they were not really seeking companions for a trip back or forward in time. Still, the advert produced some really interesting responses, sometimes from ex-cons who wished they could tell themselves how not to get caught or to take other options in life, sometimes from those who'd lost loved ones and wanted to get another chance to talk to them or possibly save them, and in other cases the respondents were selling specific skills which they believed would be helpful during a trip through time. It seemed like there was no end to the scope for this film.

    Far from considering this a spoiler, I think it is my duty as a reviewer to let you know that there is not much actual time travel in this film. In that sense it's rather like "Another Earth" where the second Earth is mostly just in the background and there's not really any interaction with this doppelganger of our planet until the very end of the movie. The difference is that "Safety Not Guaranteed" has very little to say that is even related to time travel. This isn't really a film about time travel at all.

    In fact "Safety Not Guaranteed" is an indie rom-com. It has a central couple, some quirky characters getting in touch with their feelings, and a scene towards the end where a character plays a song that they wrote themselves (and which we, in the audience, are supposed to take seriously). Within the movie the only people we see responding to the ad around which the film is based are a journalist and his two interns who are seeking to write a quirky story for their magazine about the guy who posted it. These include the established journalist who mainly sees the trip to pursue the story as a holiday and an opportunity to sleep with an old sweetheart from high school while he's there. One of the interns is a fairly generic 'nerd' character who looks like he might have something more interesting about him when he's explaining the stickers of flames on the sides of his laptop. "It's gaming laptop. It's fast. Whoosh." is his explanation. But for the rest of the film he's mainly just there to look awkward, not to be a character in his own right. And finally the second intern and main protagonist is played by Aubrey Plaza.

    Aubrey Plaza is the only face I recognised here. She played an acquaintance of Scott Pilgrim who always looks infuriated by Scott and at one point says instantly-censored abuse at him. Here she is playing a introspective character who has decided that life is pointless and worthless ever since her mother died. It eventually becomes her task to get some information about the figure of "Kenneth" who posted the ad (played by Mark Duplass, who I know nothing about). Possibly the best scene in the movie is where the two of them meet for the first time, Kenneth asks Aubrey Plaza's character a set of questions to check whether he can trust her and she gives some clever responses. It's about the nearest the two come to having any onscreen chemistry yet, as it turns out, we are actually supposed to think of these two as having a budding relationship. Still, in a scene where a phone number written on a tin of tomatoes makes a real impact on me in the audience, I have to give the film credit for that. (Anyone whose seen the film is going "hey I remember that!" and anyone who hasn't it going "er... wut?" right?) But sadly none of these two central characters exchanges really have much of an impact from that point on, which is sad since their exchanges are focal point for the film.

    To be quite frank, Kenneth need not have been claiming to have a time machine. He could just as easily have believed in aliens, ghosts or some random cult. He's an odd figure who is pilfering random bits of gadgetry to construct something in his shed and meanwhile is convinced that the government are on to his plans. He is constantly training to deal with some unknown threat. Yet somehow Kenneth is never quite bonkers enough to be an interesting character. What's more, the song he eventually sings to Aubrey has absolutely nothing to do with the fillm, yet we have to sit through the entire thing because "it's so beautiful" (no, it isn't).

    So what we have here is a time travel movie with no time travel. A rom-com with little romantic chemistry and very little in the way of jokes. A side-plot about a misogynist jerk who never quite understands that he's a misogynist jerk and a sort of coming-of-age tale about a young nerd where we never get to see whether he actually comes-of-age. We also have a central premise which was overflowing with potential and little effort is made to take advantage of that. I'll admit, a few bits made me chuckle, but not enough to justify a full feature film.

    I was expecting a fun sci-fi comedy. What I got was a by-the-numbers indie rom-com. This looks like it's getting added to me list of horrendous "dramadies" where you are supposed to ignore that there was very little in the way of either comedy or drama, because the film is supposed to be some kind of ultra-bland melding of the two. (Other films in this genre include "Win Win" and "World's Greatest Dad".) I was all set to love this movie and I could find nothing to justify it. My score for this review has just sunk lower and lower the more I think about it. The film is inoffensive, but overall it's just boring.


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    The Hobbit - An Unexpected Journey (2012)

    Before I even begin, it's important to note the level of criticism there has already been for this film. Though on IMDB users have currently ranked the film as an 8.5 it is well known that there are some extremely rabid fans of the entire Lord Of The Rings trilogy. Meanwhile, of the critics on Rotten Tomatoes, currently only 65% of them can be said to have liked the film. Admittedly much of this has been due to the advanced format by which the film is displayed.

    The biggest news as the first installment of "The Hobbit" approached its release date was the highly negative reaction of the critics to the increased framerate in which the film has been filmed. As most reading this have likely already heard on several occasions by now and getting sick of hearing in every review they read, "The Hobbit" was filmed at 48 frame per second rather than 24 frames per second. The unfortunate consequence of this appears to be that the film feels like it is running at double speed, even though the action is playing at normal speed. I say this, admittedly, not as someone who has ever seen the film at 48 fps, but I did watch a version of the trailer displayed in this way and that was my impression. My own experience of the full movie was in 24 frames per second, as God intended, and the highly advanced headache-free experience which audiences have enjoyed ever since "It Came From Outer Space" (an example of the very old-fashioned technique of "3D filming") left them feeling a little peaky.

    Critics insisted that, in spite of their misgivings about the new technology, the film did not live up to Peter Jackson's earlier "Lord Of The Rings" trilogy anyway. They seemed to suggest that the dwarves exhibited toilet humour, that the characters were less interesting and fleshed-out than in the other films, that the scenes in the first half are too slow-paced, and on top of all that is the assertion that the film is too damn long. In regards to the prior trilogy, I wasn't really much of a fan. I enjoyed the first film quite a lot, though I did feel like it involved an awful lot of ponderous stopping and pontificating. This I was prepared to accept because I knew it was true to the book. However, like with the relatively recent reboot of the "Star Trek" franchise, a lot of the appeal came from the possibilities opened up for a whole franchise (and we'll see next year whether the sequel to the eleventh Star Trek really carries on the franchise like it's supposed to). The second LOTR film, however, I was less able to tolerate. "The Two Towers" is my favourite of Tolkein's books. It has a number of parts which I absolutely love and the cliffhanger is brilliant. Peter Jackson consistently removes all cliffhangers in his movies of "The Lord Of the Rings", resolving the battle scene in Fellowship Of The Ring rather than finishing with the two main Hobbits escaping while all hell breaks loose around them. In the film of "The Two Towers", exciting elements at the climax of the book are simply left for the third movie, but what's more, one of the most fantastic moments from the middle of the book where a frightened and misguided king is returned to his former glory seems to turn into a cheesy exorcism. Admittedly the ponderous shots of major characters staring into the distance felt more fitting in the extended editions of the films and a one-eyed Orc general adds a great deal more drama to what, in the theatrical edition, was a pretty much interminable and seemingly endless battle scene in "Return Of The King". However, by the time I had seen these rather better paced, longer versions of the films, I had trouble judging them. Everything in them was too familiar.

    I entered the cinema to see "The Hobbit" with a decidedly pessimistic view. Critics had damned the film, online reviewers had often expressed a similar view (including some who may well be reading this review themselves), the trailer which depicted serious-faced dwarves singing a sombre song made me think that this was following the same route as the previous trilogy (which irritated me), and to top it all off, that 48fps version of the trailer made the facial prosthetics of the dwarves look utterly ridiculous. In short, I was not at all sure that I would like this film.

    So now is perhaps a good time to say, before you read any further, to make this important point completely clear and unambiguous, that I loved this film. This, for me, is one of the best films of the year. (I'm a number of reviews behind and my favourite of the year has yet to be reviewed, so yes, I even preferred this to "Skyfall". It's THAT good, by my reckoning.) So does that mean that the critics' claims were entirely false? Well, not exactly.

    One claim that I will dismiss completely is the suggestion that the opening is not edited down properly. I will add the proviso that the one point where Frodo turns up could have been left out, but asides from that I don't think there was anything that could really have been missed. The opening shows a dramatic telling of the history of the dwarves. This information ensures we understand the precise nature of the adventure pursued by the dwarves with whom The Hobbit will later travel. There's an awful lot of reference in "The Hobbit" to Middle-Earth history of which we are left extremely ignorant and, as it turns out, giving us that history explicitly and in pretty good depth only adds to our enjoyment. The story need not have been narrated by the older Bilbo Baggins we saw in "The Lord of the Rings", but this and the brief appearance of Frodo is clearly pandering to the fans of the original trilogy and, in at least some cases it seems, this has done very little to help fans of the prior movies to accept the rather different tone of "The Hobbit".

    The story of the history of the dwarves does have a problem though. As the camera rushes through dwarven caves, almost as if carried on the head of a large drunken bat, the images rush past far quicker than I could take them in and what's more the images are often blurred. This is presumably a rather unfortunate consequence of converting the 48fps down to 24fps. Still, it doesn't look too bad and this seems like far too much of a cosmetic issue to criticise the film for too heavily. Whether 48 fps catches on or not, it seems that this issue may well be tidied up in the future one way or the other.

    Once we are filled in on the history, it is time to introduce Bilbo Baggins. Yes, Martin Freeman often seems to play the same sort of character. The thing is that the sort of character he normally plays IS Bilbo Baggins. What's more, his ability to play that kind of part is absolutely stunning and Freeman is on top form in this first installment of "The Hobbit". We follow the initial part of "The Hobbit", the highly memorable 'unexpected party', with not a single error. We feel The Hobbit's frustration as the dwarves slowly invade his personal space, but the comedy of the scene is also captured perfectly. What's more, in spite of such a large cast, all the characters struck me as much easier to relate to than the various Hobbits of "The Lord Of The Rings". It probably comes as no surprise to hear that Freeman as Bilbo has infinitely more depth than Elijah Wood did as Frodo. But that the whole host of dwarves managed to have more character than three Hobbits with a lot of screen time should be rather more surprising. I recognised James Nesbitt from "Five Minutes of Heaven" and (when I was younger) the tv series "Cold Feet", playing the dwarf 'Bofur'. I also recognised Aidan Turner who played the vampire from "Being Human", putting his excellent comedy skills to use as 'Kili'. Another dwarf actor I should have known was Ken Stott who has been in a number of things I have seen, not least being the detective in Danny Boyle's "Shallow Grave", but a great deal of prosthetics made him hard to recognise here. Still, I would say that all the dwarves are expertly performed.

    The claims of toilet humour are not really fair in regards to the dwarves. It is part of the story of the 'unexpected party' that they should be uncouth in their behaviour. However, the nearest reference to bodily functions I can recall is some of the dwarves beltching loudly while they eat. Much closer to toilet humour is the later encounter with trolls, with a great deal of snot coming from a troll with a cold. I did not feel like the humour was overly childish. In fact, I found that the film rather perfectly captured the tone of the book. A tone which I much preferred as a reader to that found in "The Lord Of The Rings". There was no way that the unexpected party towards the beginning of the film could have been cut down. Pretty much everything that happened in that part of the film HAD to happen to be true to the spirit of the book and the whole scene is endlessly entertaining.

    As for the idea that the film is over-long, I watched the film after quite a long trip by car. I was, I must admit, rather tired. Throughout most of the film my attention was carried perfectly in spite of being preceeded by irritating adverts, a trailer for Les Miserables that I thought was never going to end, and the film itself having the unusually long runtime of three hours. The one part where my eyes closed for a little was a climactic scene involving a baddie who is not technically found within the novel at all. During that scene Bilbo quickly does something heroic and unfortunately I had my eyes closed at the vital moment, leaving me confused when he was later praised. This is not a fault of the movie, but rather of my own tired state. At the beginning of the film I had not believed that I would need to pay much attention, but by this late scene I was utterly gripped and was actually annoyed to find my tiredness overtaking me.

    The new baddie is known as "The Pale Orc". He is derived from a character briefly mentioned in "The Hobbit" and described in rather more detail within Tolkien texts on the history of the dwarves (and we get a flashback scene to fill us in on this), but in the original text he is a goblin, not an Orc, and he does not play a part in the adventure found in the novel of "The Hobbit". The purpose of this character is to ensure that this film has a satisfying ending by itsef rather than feeling like only an episode of a bigger story. Clearly Peter Jackson has learnt a great deal from his prior trilogy.

    What IS found in the novel of "The Hobbit" is multiple references to a baddie known only as 'the necromancer'. I understand that there is some connection between Sauron and 'the necromancer', but it's never been clear to me what that connection is. Our main insight into the appearance of the necromancer within the film is another of the wizards known as "Radagast the brown". While I didn't initially recognise him, this role is played by none other than my childhood Doctor, the ever-awesome Sylvester McCoy. (If you haven't seen "Remembrance Of The Daleks" check it out now!) Sylvester McCoy has a great comic ability, but is able to combine that with seriousness where necessary (which is what makes him so great as Doctor Who, where he actually represented one of the darker portrayals of the character). Here he is playing a hermit who chooses to live with the animals and has some kind of mould growing on the side of his head. He is horrified as he sees the darkness encroaching on the land and killing various animals and somehow McCoy's performance managed to keep me on board even while he is desperately trying to heal a CGI hedgehog. Once his character is fully established the full creative dynamite of his character is at full tilt when we see him on some kind of sled made of twigs being pulled by super-fast bunnies. Perhaps being familiar with the 'racing snail' from a childhood favourite movie "The Neverending Story" made this rather easier to swallow, but I went along with this easily.

    I think the silliness of "The Hobbit" suits Peter Jackson rather better than the ultra-seriousness of "Lord Of The Rings" did. Jackson was previously known for rather bizarre and silly films like the endlessly inventive zombie comedy "Braindead" and the ridiculous low budget alien invasion romp "Bad Taste". Even his highly acclaimed "Heavenly Creatures" goes a bit ridiculous at one point, betraying the bizarre humour of its director. Peter Jackson has a great flair for the kind of comedy which is present throughout "The Hobbit" and as much as I was so keen to see Guillermo Del Toro make this film, I feel I must admit that "The Hobbit" was the film Peter Jackson was born to make. Far from being the lowest quality of the film franchise so far, for me this suggests that the "The Hobbit" films may well redeem the "Lord Of The Rings" films for me. Finally I may be able to accept the extended versions as films linked with the excellent "The Hobbit" series rather than improved versions of 'those disappointing films I saw in the cinema'.

    One last element I must mention is Gollum. Yes, of course Serkis is great. He's always great. However, I had some misgivings about the way the scene with Gollum brings back that multiple personality thing from the Lord Of The Rings films. It's not clear that the Lord Of The Rings books really portray Gollum as having mulitiple personalities. It's more like he's conflicted. Gollum's multiple personalities suggest a weakness or softness that I would not expect Bilbo to see. I remember Gollum in "The Hobbit" being frightening and the expression of a softer side detracts from that somewhat.... Except that the scene has always involved Gollum getting excited about riddles and I must admit the mixture between the excitement about riddles and the threats to eat Bilbo are actually very well represented by the multiple personality. So as much as this portrayal of Gollum somewhat annoyed me in "The Two Towers", I can admit that it works quite well here.

    The Hobbit is one of the best films of the year. It is an absolute masterpiece. It is genuinely very funny, it exhibits wonderful performances all round, the characters are all very well-defined and the fantasy elements of the story are depicted perfectly. I do not know why anyone would want to criticise this in the way many have. It was a wonderful cinematic experience and in the 24fps 2D form in which I saw it, I was quite simply blown away - and I can't really say that about the theatrical versions of either "The Two Towers" or "Return Of The King".


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    Charlize Theron has had a pretty busy year. She managed to knock my socks off in her role as a kind of sister-figure to Michael Fassbender in "Prometheus". Below are two other films released this year starring Charlize Theron: "Young Adult" and "Snow White And The Huntsman".

    Young Adult (2011)

    To say I was unsure about this one is putting it mildly. This is a film directed by Jason Reitman, whose first film "Thank You For Smoking" I enjoyed very much, but his most recent film "Up In the Air" somehow irritated the hell out of me. "Up In The Air" felt so calculated to play on emotions, but seemed to spend more time pushing the 'isn't marriage wonderful' angle rather than the 'economic downturn is destroying peoples lives' angle. The way the film focussed more on the former rather than the latter was particularly confusing seeing as the filmmakers brought in REAL people who'd lost their jobs for particular scenes. "Young Adult" is also written by Diablo Cody. The last film I saw that she wrote was "Juno" which was also directed by Jason Reitman, and once again I hated it.
    So here's Diablo Cody and Jason Reitman re-united, so what convinced me to give it a try?

    Well, the main push was possibly Fabfunk (or Gabe Toro as he is known in most other places online, with his livejournal account looking rather empty this year), who assured me that this is a much better film from these two figures. I don't always agree with Gabe, but I do appreciate his opinion and I was intrigued. Another push was that Diablo Cody is writing the new "Evil Dead" reboot and it'd be really nice to see some evidence that Diablo Cody can write something that I enjoy before I check that out.

    Needless to say, Charlize Theron is brilliant in this film. I also like that she's not playing a wholly sympathetic character. After watching "Julia" starring Tilda Swinton, one of the best films released in 2008, I checked out the reviews on Rotten Tomatoes. I was surprised to see that many of the negative reviews criticised the film for having such a horrible central character. Yes, the character of Julia was utterly selfish and intentionally deluded herself about the harm she caused to others, or even to herself, yet she was compellingly watchable and very strongly written character. Finding out what awful thing she would do next was part of the fun and with so many male anti-heroes out there already it strikes me as surprising that a female anti-hero should cause a problem for critics. In "Young Adult", Chalize Theron's protagonist never does anything as awful as kidnap a small child or run over their carer with a car, but she is still a pretty mean person. Having already enjoyed "Julia" so much, I had absolutely no trouble empathising either Charlize Theron or sometimes even cheering her character on, in spite of how awful the things she said and did might be.

    The premise is that Charlize Theron's character is a writer of Young Adult fiction. She writes about a popular self-obsessed girl in high school. Meanwhile, she herself has as yet to learn to grow up. As the film opens she's decided to try to get back together with her, now-married, ex-boyfriend from high school. On returning to her home town, where her ex-boyfriend still lives, she comes across Patton Oswalt who plays someone who also used to go to her high school, but who she has completely forgotten. While our protagonist plots to end her ex-boyfriend's marriage, Patton Oswalt becomes her regular drinking buddy. The differences between the two characters somehow draw them together and become a good source of comedy.

    As much as I've criticised a number of films over the past year for being annoying combinations of drama and comedy with very little of either, this actually had a pretty good balance of the two. Plus, with the protagonist's nefarious scheme and Patton Oswalt's character's not-entirely-cheerful past, this is often rather black humour which appeals to me all the more.

    I don't really think there's much more to say. The characters are interesting, the protagonist is compelling, the film is funny (often in a somewhat dark way, though not "Julia" dark), and even though this has some elements of the indie style that has irritated me in so many other films, I have to admit to being completely won over by this film. Diablo Cody's next film is "Evil Dead"? Great!

    Snow White And The Huntsman (2012)

    I'd heard somewhat mixed views on this film. Actually make that VERY mixed views. Some seemed to dimiss it as awful while others said it was really good fun. Everyone seemed united in praising Charlize Theron for her role as the villain and yes, she is brilliant. And despite a rather lame script, the parts involving her character were very interesting indeed. She's a woman who has learnt that being accepted requires that she remain beautiful and beauty has become the most important thing in the world to her. This premise makes the central storyline surrounding her jealousy of Snow White's beauty a lot clearer. No, Kristen Stewart doesn't look like more beautiful than Charlize Theron, but then again there's the suggestion that Snow White is growing in beauty and threatens to surpass her in the future, rather than being someone who has been more beautiful for many years. (In any case, this would be a rather petty issue on which to condemn the movie.)

    Where I found my view veered sharply from much of the views I had heard was in regards to Kristen Stewart's acting. Some said that she ruined the movie. I say this is the best performance she has ever given. Sure, there's one point where she's trying to do a "Henry V" style rousing speech and all her attempts at shouting in an inspiring way fall rather flat, but she does a fair bit of emoting without once biting her lip and probably deserves some credit for that. What I was rather less impressed by was Chris Hemsworth's performance. Now admittedly a sub-par Christopher Hemsworth performance is still not all that bad, but what made this worse was Chris Hemsworth's embarassing attempt at a Scottish accent. To make matters worse, his voice is even used in narration early in the film. I'd heard a few short clips of his accent before watching the film and I had to admit that it was not obvious whether it was supposed to be Scottish or Northern English, but within the film itself it was extremely distracting and annoying. By contrast, Kristen Stewart's English accent in the film is actually pretty good.

    Where "Snow White And The Huntsman" shines is the effects. Any effects shots look brilliant and the styles are highly creative. We have the evil queen taking the form of a flock of ravens (or possibly a murder of crows), we have the heroes of the film being attacked by assailants in humanoid form made out of shards of glass, we have the evil forest which draws on the fear of those who walk within it and we have the pure heart of the forest populated with fairies. Any effects shot is absolutely beautiful. Unfortunately any other shot looks very plain, particularly by comparison to the effects shots. The "Prince Charming" figure in the film is particularly bland, though no actor is helped by the script.

    I was pleased to have seen the effects work in this film since it was absolutely gorgeous. I was also pleased by the take on the evil queen's character, since she made a very compelling villain. Unfortunately the film as a whole was fairly paint-by-numbers and I found it all rather slow and boring. The arrival of the dwarves meant that the film picked up a bit since all the dwarf actors were rather awesome British acting talent such as Nick Frost, Bob Hoskins, Ray Winstone, Toby Jones and Eddie Marsan. As much as I could appreciate the whole "connection between the rightful Queen and the land" theme which was also found in the movie "Excalibur", it seemed to rather undermine the empathy gained with the evil queen. Similarly, asides from Bob Hoskins' blind dwarf recognising the healing power of Snow White, the dwarves had very little connection to the plot. (And seriously? A blind character that sees better than anyone? Sure, I'm happy to have that trope used, but it was extremely unsubtle here.)

    Asides from the dwarves there were a lack of standout performances, the dialogue was generally pretty bad, the plot was very simple and outside of the effects sequences the film looked remarkably bland. The effects were gorgeous and inventive and the film lit right up whenever Charlize Theron was on screen (not least because she seemed to have been given all the best lines), but unfortunately Theron alone was not enough to save these films. Chris Hemsworth's appalling accent was enough to make me never want to see this film ever again, but then again perhaps a few of the effects shots could just about tempt me back? In any case, I would not recommend this film to anyone. I would merely accept that it is bearable (whenever Chris Hemsworth's huntsman character isn't speaking).

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    Seven more reviews, catching up with the many films I'd still not gotten around to reviewing. There's "Albatross", a fairly obscure British movie,"The Descendants", one of the more appealing of this year's Oscar nominees, "J. Edgar", Clint Eastwood's latest biopic,"The Kid With A Bike", a French 'gritty issues' movie,"Like Crazy", a low-key British/American heartfelt long-distance relationship love story of sorts,"The Raid", a Malaysian martial arts flick, and "A Royal Affair", a criminally under-mentioned Danish movie.


    Albatross (2011)
    Jessica Brown Findlay stars as a quirky unpredictable and sexy girl who has plans to become a writer, convinced that she is descended from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. She starts working at a local hotel with seemingly no need for an interview or identifying documents. The well-known, but now rather washed up, author who joint owns the hotel agrees to give her writing lessons, while she also becomes good friends with the writer's somewhat reserved daughter who is about to go to university (very probably at Oxford or Cambridge).

    Jessica Brown Findlay plays a bit of a rebel and the father ends up being somewhat inspired by her and ends up having an affair with her. Findlay herself doesn't seem terribly realistic or terribly interesting as a character. Felicity Jones has a rather better written part in the role of the daughter. On the one hand her character is finding a whole new way of looking at the world opened by her new wild and rebellious friend, but on the other hand she's hurt by the way her father seems to find her friend more interesting than his own daughter.

    All the actors are doing their very best, but the problem is that the central character isn't really compelling enough as a character. Her whole background issue about whether she's descended from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle or not feels really hard to take seriously and while the guy playing her grandad is great, he's bizarrely not given much of an opportunity to even speak until late on in the film. Meanwhile the married washed-out author and father who has an affair with Jessica Brown Findlay's character is clearly fairly central and it's hard not to feel completely outraged by how long he's allowed to continue without being called out. For such a light-hearted film, I didn't expect to find myself so thoroughly hating a main character throughout the entire running time.

    On top of all that, this feels very much like a made-for-tv movie. It's all a bit light and a bit insubstantial and I'm afraid to say that by the end I felt the whole thing had been a bit of a waste of time. It's especially sad since the cast were all cleary very good. If it weren't for the incredibly dull Christmas special I saw the other night, this might even encourage me to check out the series of "Downton Abbey" since apparently Jessica Brown Findlay is one of the stars. Here she's sadly used as little more than eye candy. A quirky character expertly performed, but used as little more than the object of affection for a lecherous older man. I'd give it a miss.

    The Descendants (2011)
    There are still a fair number of this year's Oscar nominees that I still haven't managed to see even as the year is coming to an end. A few of them looked absolutely awful and I'm not about to try them. "War Horse" and "Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close" both sound horrendous to me. "The Help" not only had widespread accusations of racism, but I've also heard from a reliable friend that it's nowhere near as good as the book in any case. "Midnight In Paris" has limited appeal because I've been unimpressed with most recent Woody Allen films and "Moneyball" also has only limited appeal because I'm not even remotely interested in sports. That leaves another four films. There's "The Artist" which I actually reviewed and thought was a bit average. "Hugo" which I'll probably watch eventually, but so far I'm rather sceptical about (after all, it's a film about films - which seems rather self-indulgent). "The Tree Of Life" which many have dismissed as self-indulgent, so I plan to see the director's earlier film "Badlands" first since it seemed to have rather more widespread appeal. Finally there's "The Descendents" which I finally got around to seeing recently.

    George Clooney is a pretty great actor and he's on top form here. In spite of claims that he doesn't want to spoil his children, they are pretty badly behaved. On top of that George Clooney's character also has a wife in a coma, with the added news that she'd been having an affair arriving fairly early in the film. The film is spent on the one hand announcing the imminent shutting down of his wife's life support machine and on the other hand investigating his wife's affair. 

    The central characters are all ultra-rich, yet it is partially the wealth of the characters that allows the story to go in the direction it does. It is revealed early on that Clooney's family are the decision-makers regarding a land deal which decides what happens to a huge chunk of Hawaiian land. Many of the shots of Hawaii in the film are gorgeous, but particularly impressive is this supposed piece of private land. The fate of this private land, a combination of tourist spas, residential areas, golf courses, etc., is always in the background of the story.

    The film takes its time and becomes a pretty fantastic film as a result. It's simply a really excellent drama and I really really enjoyed it. I wouldn't say it was perfect. Overall I wouldn't really say that an awful lot happened and I don't think the characters are enormously compelling, but this was a good solid film and well worth your time.

    J. Edgar (2011)
    In spite of being directed by Clint Eastwood, this film was not received at all well by the critics. One pretty major reason, and I must admit this is a concern, was the dim lighting. Most scenes seem pretty dimly lit and the intended effect of this is unclear. Another issue is that the "old age" makeup looks rather unimpressive, particularly on Naomi Watts. Leonardo Di Caprio does a great job in the eponymous role as J. Edgar Hoover, but as great as his performance is, it does feel somewhat like he's being asked to reprise his performance from "The Aviator". I liked "The Aviator" very much, but I worry that DiCaprio is being typecast here as an uptight conservative figure with some level of OCD.

    The acting is all great and I knew none of the history, so it was all very interesting. Some have complained because pretty bold assertions are made about Hoover's sexuality. However, from what I hear, these are fairly plausible assertions too. Judi Dench plays his mother and it sounded to me like she was just using her normal voice much of the time, but supposing that her accent isn't completely out of place (since I often find it hard to judge) I think she gives a pretty good performance, if perhaps not the mind blowing performance we might expect.

    It was annoying to see Naomi Watts become mainly a background character, but she's brilliant as ever. Armie Hammer is fantastic as Clyde Tolson. Basically this is an all-round wonderful cast and it seems wrong to undermine their work simply on the basis that the film is a little on the low-lit side. The performances are always gripping and the telling of the life story of J. Edgar Hoover had me intrigued all the way through.

    Where I feel the film lacks, however, is that the film feels it absolutely necessary to tell the ENTIRE story of J. Edgar Hoover. It tells the story right to the end. It feels wrong somehow to suggest that a famous person's story should end with their death. "Lawrence of Arabia" and "Gandhi" both have the good sense to begin with their famous-person-of-choice's death and get it out of the way before they begin to tell that figure's central life story. On the other hand, it felt rather wrong to me that the recent film "The Iron Lady" should feel it important to mention Margaret Thatcher's dementia at the end of her life as if that had any bearing on her earlier controversial career in the Conservative Party as Britain's first female Prime Minister. That being said, the central focus for the film "J. Edgar" is Hoover's work in establishing the FBI as we know it today and he continued to work for the FBI to the last day of his life. Still, the film definitely felt a bit too long overall.

    In the end, my view of a film has to come down to how much I felt that it entertained me by the end. "J. Edgar" certainly kept my interest, but it didn't feel like there was a clear idea about where the film was headed. A lot of elements are brought together, but the relevance to the latter part of Hoover's life was not always clear. In the end, Hoover's life didn't feel like it had been formed into a particularly strong narrative, as opposed to "The Aviator" which seemed to fit into a rather more clear story about Howard Hughes' struggle with a rival airline. In spite of some great performances and some great moments, the overall story is somewhat lacking direction and, I must admit, the dim lighting and the unconvincing makeup took away from the film somewhat. Nevertheless, I still think this was well worth watching and would recommend it.

    The Kid With A Bike (2011)
    We begin the film in foster care at what the synopsis at IMDB refers to as a "youth farm" (???). A young boy is trying to get hold of his father on the phone and refusing to accept the youth worker's claim that the father is simply unreachable. The boy tries to run away to find his dad and discovers, as everyone had told him, that his father's flat is empty. The boy really wants his bike, not least because it was given to him by his dad, but the bike is not at the old flat either. Eventually a woman who happened to be in the block of flats when he came round recovers the bike, befriends the boy and offers to help him locate his father. But when the boy starts living with her, his sense of desperation to be with his father makes him easy to manipulate by some older youths in the area.

    The central protagonist has a very natural performance. He's playing someone who doesn't always express himself well, seems to display a childish selfishness and only shows a limited range of emotion most of the time. This is all bourne out of the character's abandonment issues and it's worth recognising that the way the film feels like almost a fly-on-the-wall documentary is a testament to the acting talent of this young actor.

    The direction the film goes is somewhat awkward. If anyone watched "Attack The Block" and was somewhat annoyed by the way the character Moses was suddenly proclaimed a hero at the end as if his actions had somehow cancelled out everything he had done wrong in the past, then you may feel a similar annoyance here. The boy eventually does something pretty horrendous and the film does a great job of showing us how he could be persuaded to do it (which is more than I could say for "Attack The Block" admittedly), but it makes it hard to sympathise with the character. So far so good at this point. A bit of moral ambiguity is always good.

    Unfortunately, I feel this is another film that is let down by its ending. As I always say, endings matter! It's one thing suggesting that the lead protagonist's actions are understandable and noting that the character is hard done by, but the ending seems to portray the lead protagonist as some kind of martyr. It just felt so self-righteous and was such an odd place to end it. Ending the film 5 minutes earlier would have been great, but to just stop dead in the middle of a moral quandary as if the response to it was obvious seemed lazy.

    I said before that the film feels a bit like a fly-on-the-wall documentary, but that also feels like a problem. Everything is just shown and your reaction is up to you and while some parts are admittedly very interesting, a great deal of the film feels very slow paced. This is a film with down-to-earth drama and very little excitement and, as such, in order to be enjoyable the content needed to be very very good. The film tries hard and I can see why some might be won over, but personally I wasn't quite sold and the ending thoroughly turned me against it.

    If you are interested in down-to-earth dramas about under-privileged kids to explain their anti-social behaviour then you might enjoy this. If you are looking for a film with something genuinely interesting to say and perhaps even some level of excitement, you should probably look elsewhere. I wouldn't call anyone a snob for liking this. There are some great moments. But the film seemed to expect me to like the protagonist at the end and, to be quite frank, he's a horrible kid. Expecting me to empathise is fine, hoping I might even like him is fine, but EXPECTING me to like him and portraying him as some kind of martyr is over-ambitious and, for me, just didn't work.

    Like Crazy (2011)
    This ended up being quite an obscure choice and I can see why. The story is simple but quite effective and there are some excellent actors in the lead roles. On the one hand there's Anton Yelchin, who you may remember as Checkov from the "Star Trek" reboot, finally getting to show some proper acting chops. There's also Felicity Jones who gets to be a much fuller character than she was as the daughter in "Albatross" (reviewed above). In supporting roles there's Alex Kingston (River Song from the tv series "Doctor Who") and, spectacularly under-used, there's also Jennifer Lawrence.

    The story is that Anton Yelchin and Felicity Jones are two students in America who are in love. Felicity Jones' character has rich parents back home in England (with Alex Kingston playing her mum). When it comes time for her to go home she decides to ignore the time limit on her student visa and spend the whole summer with her boyfriend. When she returns as a tourist, it turns out that this was a bad move. Anton Yelchin's character gets started in a business selling furniture, while Felicity Jones's character gets started as a journalist and finds herself in charge of the online side of the magazine. As such, it would be easier for Felicity Jones to continue her work in America than for Anton Yelchin to pack up and move to England, yet that's now become absolutely impossible. The elephant in the room, however, seems to be the possibility of the two of them getting married.

    The film does a pretty awesome job showing the issues of a young couple who are very much in love, but are still young and finding it a bit early for overly strong commitment. The only drama to be found in the film is fairly low level relationship stuff. There's no soap-opera-esque skeletons in the cupboard about to rear their head. The focus of the film is fairly narrow and that is part of what makes it so impressive. The film is entirely about one relationship strained by nothing more than distance.

    The problem with "Like Crazy" is that while the central relationship is handled pretty well considering the limited scope of the film, that limited scope also holds back the audience. I cannot really say that this is especially beautifully filmed or even that the two central characters were really interesting people. Admittedly the foolishness of the characters is part of the drama, but I cannot really say that I always understood their state of mind as the film unfolded.

    Another problem is that Jennifer Lawrence plays Anton Yelchin's love interest when his relationship with Felicity Jones seems to be impossible, but we never really get to know Jennifer Lawrence's character in this. Lawrence is such a fantastic actress, as can be seen in "Winter's Bone", but even if I didn't know that, the role she is playing seemed to deserve a lot more development. I wondered whether the reason why this isn't developed further is because it would make us hate Anton Yelchin's character. After all, this film isn't about one man choosing between two women, but about the strain that distance places on a relationship.

    I have a lot of respect for "Like Crazy". I think the way it explores the problems when something like a visa holds back a long distance relationship of a young couple is very well handled. However, I think the limited scope and the lack of drama also makes the film of limited appeal. Some people will find this film captures their heart. I could feel that somewhat, but overall I just thought it was a good movie.

    The Raid (2011)
    Last time I heard people so excited about a martial arts movie, it was "Ong Bak". As such, I was really looking forward to it. Every action sequence in Ong Bak was not only carefully choreographed but featured something new and interesting. Ong Bak features the protagonist out-climbing others on a massive tree, jumping across people by stepping on their heads, surprising people at fighting contests. I'm much more interested in inventiveness than fighting styles in martial arts movies. The director's follow-up to "Ong Bak", entitled "Chocolate", featured a particularly young female action star who is portrayed as being autistic and learning martial arts out of pure determination and using them in unlikely scenarios. Another interesting martial arts action film was "District 13", which featured fantastic parkour chase scenes and had action unlike what you'd see elsewhere as a result. In both these cases, however, there was also a great sense of fun and a pretty reasonable plot.

    The Raid is about a group of armed police who have decided to infiltrate a block of flats known to be a base of operations for a large gang involved in major organised crime. The problem comes when the police find themselves nowhere near a match for the criminals they wished to bring down and that they are unable to call for backup. The question remains whether to persist with the original brief or to just try to escape with their lives.

    I cannot fault the choreography of The Raid and also the filming seemed to be done pretty well. Much of why it has the reputation it has is because of the incredible choreography and the way the action is filmed. Unfortunately a lot of the action is very similar in style. Also, considering that the film begins with a whole group of armed police, it's remarkable how many people the protagonist faces who are not armed with any weapons at all. In fact, we even have the cliched situation where a baddie puts down his weapon because it's 'more honourable' to fight bear-handed. 

    The number of characters we are actually expected to care about seems to very quickly go down. By that, I don't mean that more and more people die. I mean that we eventually recognise that some characters are important and any others are just expendable. I got VERY bored of them picking off the various expendable people surrounding them. Sure, the defeat of the various expendable figures was all very well choreographed, but I just did not care.

    We have a whole bunch of cliches. There's corruption amongst the police, there's backstabbing amongst the criminals, there's people on one side related to people on the other side, there's some level of mistrust all round. In the end though, all attempts at a story are extremely shallow. Meanwhile the action scenes aren't anything like as varied as they could be. The most exciting scene in the film comes pretty early on when the protagonist is hiding behind a wall in one of the many flats. That scene had some serious tension, but much of the rest of the film ended up being rather predictable.

    I admittedly had very high hopes for this movie, but I certainly wasn't expecting to find this dull. There was clearly a lot of potential, but I was expecting something a lot more fun.

    A Royal Affair (2012)
    This is a film about an English princess who is wedded to the king of Denmark. (The princess is played by a Swedish actress, but during the brief section of the film where she is actually expected to speak in English, I thought her accent was pretty much impeccable.) When she arrives she finds that the king is somewhat mentally disturbed (and certainly disinclined to follow typical social etiquette) and that she has some trouble fitting into her new role as queen. She also discovers that many of her books from Enlightenment thinkers are banned by Denmark's censorship laws. The introduction of a new doctor for the king, played by Mads Mikkelsen, who is himself a strong believer in the Enlightenment, begins to cause a whole shift in the situation within the palace and even the politics within the country as a whole.

    The acting is fantastic and the story is extremely interesting. Each twist and turn of the tale had me on the edge of my seat. The film looks utterly gorgeous and the music does a great job of complementing the film. In many ways the film was completely perfect.

    Mads Mikkelsen's performance in particular completely blew me away, not least because of the subtlety of his expressions, but also because he's completely different from any of the other times I've seen him. In "Casino Royale" he was a reserved villain, in "Pusher" and "Pusher 2" he was drugged up and a bit of a thug, and in "Valhalla Rising" he was a violent wild man able to bring down pretty much anyone in a fight and needing to be kept in chains for the safety of those around him. Here he's an intelligent doctor with a great deal of charm. No two performances by Mikkelsen ever seems to be same.

    Beautiful, dramatic, interesting, clever, fully, featuring events in history I had not previously heard much about, with great dialogue, fantastically performed with subtle nuances, and just generally a really satisfying watch. I absolutely loved this film and if you haven't yet seen it you are in for a treat. To be quite frank, I'm not sure why I cannot see people raving about how great this film is all over the place. It's absolutely brilliant. Very probably the best costume drama I have ever seen.

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    So why am I giving you a list of films I haven't seen yet? Well, you may well have missed the same ones and have good reasons for doing so. Or you may have seen them and wish to warn me away from them. Or, I might just list a film that you've never even heard of before and which you might be interested to check out. Who knows?

    Not only am I paying more attention to when films are actually released these days, but I have also have discovered the rather neat little function on the IMDB website that tells you when a film was released in each country. (This normally automatically reveals the release date within your own country.) As such, when I write lists I'm planning to ditch my habit of using the imdb entry title to identify a film's year. I'm going to start using the UK release date to identify what top ten list a film should be entered into instead.

    Naturally this means that all my previous year's lists are now mistaken, so new (shorter) "best of" lists for films in previous years will be forthcoming fairly soon. Hope you are looking forward to those. (Is that "YAY! More lists!" I hear? Very good!)
    In the meanwhile, it's time for a 2012 list!


    Before I even BEGIN on a list of the top 2012 films, it's vital that I give some indication of what important films I still haven't seen. These films which I still need to see include:

    Amour - Michael Haneke's latest film looks pretty interesting and even if I don't absolutely love it, it looks like it's going to be one I'll need to have seen at some stage. I hope it doesn't make me too miserable.

    Argo - Ben Affleck's Oscar bait? Well, it's got a lot of attention and a lot of positive reviews. I wasn't tempted enough to check it out in the cinema, but I ought to check it out on DVD.

    Berberian Sound Studio - Now apparently sharing the top spot for best film of the year on Mark Kermode's list. I think Toby Jones is an awesome actor and I'm really interested to check out this smaller film. A horror film based around sound effects, eh? Intriguing...

    Bellflower - A couple bond by designing weapons in the hopes that they will be prepared for a global apocalypse (Mad Max style?). Sounds awesome and it may finally be available on DVD next year.

    Brave - The latest Pixar film has mixed reviews, but not quite the outright hatred received by "Cars 2". I may have to check this out.

    Coriolanus - Ralph Fiennes does a military based modernisation of the Shakespeare play. Another case of mixed reviews, but I don't think I can resist.

    So many more films (in alphabetical order) under the cut. This is why I'm not a professional movie critic. These are all films I actually WANT to see. (Well, that and lack of writing talent, but yeah...)

    Dredd - I really really REALLY wanted to see this in the cinema, but unfortunately there wasn't a single headache-free version available. I know they failed to sell at least two cinema tickets as a result of this and I doubt we were the only ones. I cannot wait to see this in 2D AS GOD INTENDED as soon as possible.

    Exit Humanity - Zombie movie in the American Civil War. YAY!

    Headhunters - Gritty scandinavian film about murder. Gotta see this!

    Hotel Transylvania - The great Genndy Tartatovsky, the master animator behind Dexter's Laboratory and the "Clone Wars" animations which were released to fill the gap between the horrendous episodes 2 and 3 of Star Wars.

    The Hunger Games - I haven't read the books and sometimes it's easier to enjoy an adaptation if you aren't familiar with the novel beforehand. (Except in cases like "American Psycho" where the book goes on and on without being terribly compelling while the movie has a great sense of humour.)

    Juan Of The Dead - Cuban zombie comedy. YAY!

    Margin Call - So far all I know about this is that Paul Bettany has an awful-sounding American accent (though perhaps my feelings about this are partly to do with being so familiar with his typical English accent - which I love!) There's such an interesting selection of actors in this that I cannot help but be interested.

    Paranorman - An animated film in the same style as Coraline about a boy who's somehow familiar with ghosts, ghouls, zombies and the like. It looks just brilliant (and no sign of Tim Burton's name on the poster).

    The Perks of Being A Wallflower - I wasn't interested in this at all until I saw some pretty high critical consensus. Apparently this is really good. Once again, I'm not familiar with the book. (Yeah, I don't read enough books. Clearly. Perhaps when I finally get myself an electronic book that'll change? Certainly my collected works of Lovecraft I've been reading lately would be a lot more manageable as a file.)

    Sightseers - Black comedy about caravan holiday-makers. Just wow... this is going to be good. (Although it's both written and directed by the same people as "Kill List" so, considering the way that film ended, that might possibly be a bad sign.)

    Silent Hill: Revelation - Yeah, it's supposed to be awful but one online reviewer who I have as yet to give a shout out for is "Film Master Adam" (click here for his youtube channel), seemed to reckon it was a bit of a mixed bag, rather than an utter let-down. (Admittedly he doesn't actually recommend the film, but even so...)

    Silver Linings Playbook - The latest Jennifer Lawrence movie - YAY! From the director of "The Fighter" - YAY! There's no guarantee that this'll be great, but I think it's probably worth the risk.

    I'm still really on the fence about whether I can be bothered with "Life Of Pi" and I'm not entirely certain that "Ted" will be my sort of film, but I'll probably see both of those eventually. I also have the tv movie "The Girl" with Toby Jones playing the part of Hitchcock waiting to be watched.

    So, anyway, if you think that my 2012 list needed me to see any of those, you'll need to wait until next year (by which time, it's quite possible you won't care).

    This year's (and several other years') best movies of the year list(s) coming very soon!

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    The Duchess (2008)

    I missed this when it first came out, so when it was on tv this holiday I decided to give it a go. In many ways the essential premise has similarities with "A Royal Affair" which I enjoyed so much. A young girl finds herself married to a man who cares more about his dogs than he does about his new wife. The Duke generally likes to get his gratification from ladies elsewhere, but his wife, the Duchess, has no such freedom. The Duchess finds herself pursuing political goals to take her mind off of her horrible situation and falls in love with a man with strong political leanings.

    The unique side of this film is that The Duchess was known for drawing attention with fancy outfits. She notes that while men are able to express themselves in many ways a woman during this era's best means of expressing herself is through her clothes. She uses her ability to draw attention in order to promote politicians she supports. The problem is that we get very little idea of what her actual politics are. While she clearly has political friends who know that she has political leanings are no doubt occasionally discuss those with her, the film explores this very little. Instead the film is more focussed on the state of her miserable marriage. This aspect is so central to the film that this ended up, to me, seeming very dull. Horrible marriages were pretty common and I needed to know more about what made The Duchess unique. I don't think that was provided here.

    Keira Knightley's acting is great and Ralph Fiennes was wonderful as ever. Unfortunately, those good performances take place within quite a limited script. One of the reasons I loved "A Royal Affair" so much was because it constantly surprised me and somehow managed to exceed the typical conventions of a costume drama. "The Duchess" is more of a typical costume drama and not really a particularly good one.


    Sound Of My Voice (2011)

    This is the OTHER film from Brit Marling and though there was talk of it long ago when the other film "Another Earth" was being released, it has taken a long while to reach ordinary people. Finally it's (rather criminally) ended up going straight to DVD. I'd heard reports that of the two Brit Marling movies, this was the better one, and boy were they right. I really enjoyed "Another Earth", but this is phenomenal

    The plot surrounds a couple who have decided to infiltrate a cult. The first section of the film is available online where the two are cuffed and blindfolded and then transported to an unknown location. At the location they do a secret handshake and finally it's time to meet the central figure of the cult, a lady who uses an oxygen tank to breathe called Maggie (played by Brit Marling). She makes an over-the-top claim and has her followers engaging in intense manipulative activities intended to ensure complete loyalty.

    The couple we are following are made up of Peter who is a very analytical thinker and was hurt when his mother listened to a cult that told her that modern medicine was evil. His mother died of cancer and he's determined that this cult must not hurt people in the same way. His girlfriend Lorna has a history of drug abuse and seems a bit too vulnerable to be putting herself through this experience. Peter is currently working as a teacher in a primary school while Lorna is hoping to become a writer.

    The events within the cult are always interesting and ambiguity about Maggie's claims comes from her bizarre sixth sense (possibly suggesting Derren Brown style techniques in cold reading). The progress of the film is very clever and the acting, particularly from Brit Marling (who co-wrote the film with the director), is exceptional.

    This is a very simple, yet very effective film which really gets under your skin and there's a sense that things are going to get much worse and a bit of a sense of panic related to the film. I don't want to give away the central claim of the cult, but trust me when I say that it's a really interesting concept (particularly if you are keen on sci-fi).

    Amazing film.


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  • 01/01/13--08:21: 2013 is here!

  • Happy New Year to everyone in 2013!

    Unfortunately I appear to have the plague....

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  • 01/04/13--16:21: Best Movies of 2012!!!

  • Many of my favourite films of the year have gone pretty much unnoticed in more mainstream circles. It's quite cool to have a pretty unique set of favourites here. Whether it's due to a very limited release in cinemas, limited publicity, or having neither of those whatsoever, many of the films in this list simply past under the radar for most people.

    While there was some question as to whether this was really a good year for movies or not, I can't help but look at list and go "actually this year was pretty awesome". I still have a pretty large list of films still to check out from 2012.

    10. The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)
    UK release: 4th July 2012

    Most people who've been following my blog long enough probably know that I was really excited about this before it even came out. Ever since the second trailer (the one that didn't look like the videogame "Mirror's Edge") I'd been absolutely buzzing to see this film. I was a big fan of the comics during the 90s, Andrew Garfield looked like a great choice of casting for Peter Parker and I absolutely hated Sam Raimi's Spider-Man trilogy.

    The actual film had a real focus on the characters and I thought it was interesting to portray Peter Parker learning how to be a superhero and misusing his powers out of anger over his uncle's death. He makes a lot of mistakes and this will lead to the guilt-ridden figure that Spider-Man inevitably becomes.

    The combination of drama and comedy really appealed to me and the selection of Marc Webb as the director means that Peter Parker's relationship finally has some chemistry for a change.

    My review here

    Marc Webb is signed up to direct the sequel with Jamie Foxx expected to play the villain Electro.

    9. The Grey (2011)
    UK release: 27th January 2012

    I fully expected this to be a "Taken" style cheesy action film. It turned out to be an existential drama contemplating the inevitability of death and the struggle to survive. The wolves themselves represent death, appearing where any of the characters die regardless of the means of their demise. From the point early on in the film where Liam Neeson guides a man through the process of death, uncompromisingly announcing "it's alright, you're going to die, just let it wash over you", we can see that this film is going to be something different.

    On the one hand the film is beautiful, but on the other hand it is deeply uncomfortable to watch. The film is executed to make you think of death and its inevitability and the shots of the surrounding scenery portray it as both forbidding and tranquil. In many ways "The Grey" is a masterpiece.

    My review here

    Joe Carnahan is now working on a tv movie called "Those Who Kill".

    8. The Innkeepers (2011)
    UK release: 8th June 2012

    The director of "House of the Devil" had a hiatus making, by all accounts, a pretty dreadful sequel to Cabin Fever. However, with this clearly more personal project, he's back to his own moderately paced style. Also this time "The Innkeepers" has a fantastic sense of humour too.

    Sara Paxton in particular is absolutely brilliant as the childish and naive central character. Particularly effective is her body language during her performance. She flips between being floppy and listless or alert and excited. The film contains jump scares of sorts but there's no cheating, none of the whistle and bang effects or loud soundtrack noises to elicit a reaction and many of the scares are false alarms. The characters are endearing and the small cast allows for a clever script. I look forward to whatever Ti West comes up with next.

    My review here

    Ti West has just finished a movie called "The Sacrament"

    7. The Cabin in the Woods (2011)
    UK release: 13th April 2012

    Joss Whedon co-wrote this intelligent spoof on the horror genre with the director Drew Goddard. The premise is that a typical horror scenario, young holidaymakers staying in a cabin out in the woods, is being orchestrated by a secret organisation. In equal parts funny and exciting with a genuine sense of fear in parts. While there's definite horror in the film, the main appeal is the comedy. Cabin In The Woods is supreme tribute to the fun side of horror films, even as it ridicules horror movie cliches. The climax of the film is an absolute delight for horror fans everywhere.

    It's rather interesting how close the cabin scenario in "Cabin In The Woods" comes to the "Friday The 13th" remake by Platinum Dunes. While it's very easy to presume that "Cabin In The Woods" was directly spoofing this recent horror turkey,

    Cabin In the Woods actually began filming just one month after that version of "Friday The 13th" was released. There was little time to work ideas from the Platinum Dunes remake into their film, so it seems more likely that the elements in the remake were just SO cliched that both films inevitably introduced the same elements. One out of laziness as a remake, the other out of obligation as a decent spoof.

    My review here

    Drew Goddard has written the screenplay for Spielberg's upcoming movie adaptation of "Robopocalypse".

    6. Detention (2011)
    UK DVD release: 27th August 2012

    Joseph Kahn's teen slasher comedy with aliens, time travel and grizzly bears is a remarkably hard sell. The trailer does a spectacularly bad job of conveying quite how unique, hyperactive, insane and hilarious the movie really is. There are a variety of references to films from "Clueless" to "Saw" to "Dirty Dancing" to "Freaky Friday" and that's just scratching the surface.

    Detention is more than just a great comedy. It's a uniquely bizarre experience which somehow manages to come together perfectly.

    My review here

    Joseph Kahn is currently mainly focussed on directing music videos.

    5. The Revenant (2009)
    UK DVD release: 2nd April 2012

    The Revenant was a long time coming, finally being released on DVD just this year. A horror comedy about a soldier who returns from the war in a coffin only to discover that he is a member of the undead. After scaring his old friend half to death, they try to work out his predicament together.

    The film starts with a remarkably fresh-feeling comedic approach to the bare bones of the zombie genre, before upping the ante to absolutely hilarious levels in the final scenes. At no point does the film feel like it's struggling to be clever. The film progresses in a very natural way.

    As much as I worry about spoilers, I don't think anyone is going to work out what I mean by "an extremely inventive use of a vibrator" without actually watching the film. Like I said before, as crazy as the film allows itself to get, it is sure to make sure everything is set up and built up smoothly. No rushing.

    The Revenant is possibly the most enjoyable zombie film I saw this year (and this was the year I discovered "The Living Dead In Manchester Morgue" too).

    My review here

    Director Kerry Prior mainly works on special effects, but is not listed on IMDB as having worked on anything since this film.

    4. Skyfall (2012)
    UK release: 26th October 2012

    There've been a lot of criticisms levelled at this film for a variety of reasons, but there are a few things I don't really feel can be denied:

    1) The performances are fantastic. Javier Bardem is a great villain. Judi Dench is fantastic as M (and gets to do a lot more than normal). The new Q is also terrific in his role.

    2) The action sequences are gripping. Rather than having a load of action scenes and using the storyline to tie them together, every action sequence felt like something was at stake. Even when Bardem's underlying plan is hard to follow, the emotional mood of the film is not. I was fully caught up in every scene because of the way the performances sold it to me and that meant that when we entered an action scene the film was all the more effective as a result.

    3) The movie is gorgeous. Even some strong critics of "Skyfall" are still keen for the cinematographer to receive an Oscar. This is possibly the most beautiful film to be released this year.

    4) This is the best Bond film ever made....

    Lets not forget that Bond films have always been a bit daft. What criticisms are being levelled here? The villain's plot isn't always logical. - Nothing new there! The hacking scenes aren't realistic. - Why, that's practically a tradition in Bond movies! There are a few goofs, like M forgetting her bag when she storms out of an office. - You call that a goof?

    I had thought that one of my lj-friends only tut-tutted at the misguided use of a torch because of her military background, but it's become clear now that I'm practically the only person not to have been bothered by that plot conceit. I think that it's fair to say that M isn't thinking straight in that scene, though apparently it's a pretty ludicrous mistake for the character actually holding the torch in that scene too.

    Skyfall is an exciting roller-coaster ride, like all James Bond movies should be, but it has a heart to it too. It also feels very much like a love letter to the entire franchise. If the upcoming Star Wars film manages to capture the franchise's past magic they way this has for Bond, it'll be an absolute miracle.

    My review here

    Current reports suggest that Sam Mendes may well be back to direct the next Bond film. There's also good news for those annoyed by certain plot elements since the writers (who had been on board since before "Die Another Day") are finally being changed.

    3. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)
    UK release: 14th December 2012

    With pretty much all critics hating the new higher frame rate and despising this movie, I'm pretty sure that 48 frames per second are probably not going to catch on. It's a pity that this new technology has led to such a negative critical reaction to "The Hobbit" since it's probably the best of the Lord Of The Rings movies so far. The story gives much better opportunities for Peter Jackson to exhibit his flair for comedy.

    Also, as wrong-headed as the long length may have seemed beforehand, the opportunity to finally learn about events that, within the book itself, were always in the background, makes this uniquely justified as an adaptation. This isn't simply an attempt to put the story of "The Hobbit" on screen, but a way to bring the whole scale of Tolkein's stories of Middle-Earth to life. Take Radaghast, a character who only makes a brief appearance in the book of "Fellowship Of The Ring", who is now a fully fleshed-out character and one of the highlights of this movie. His encounter with the Witch-King is properly explored and it looks like this series of films will finally tell us what happened with the mysterious 'necromancer' whose whole confrontation always felt very much like a missing link when it was briefly mentioned at the end of The Hobbit and the beginning of The Lord Of The Rings.

    The Hobbit is very well paced and ideas from the story are brought to life wonderfully. Somehow Peter Jackson manages to give unique characteristics to all thirteen dwarves. It's quite simply a wonderful adventure film and certainly more fun than Jackson's previous trilogy.

    My review here

    Peter Jackson is already working on the next two films in the series, starting with "The Desolation of Smaug".

    2. Sound of My Voice (2011)
    UK release: 3rd August 2012

    This indie movie about a couple who try to expose a cult leader has an interesting structure, but what really pulled me in was Brit Marling's central performance. Unlike the quiet broken figure in "Another Earth" here she plays a somewhat eccentric, manipulative figure; both calm and controlling all at once.

    "Sound Of My Voice" is quite simply VERY well written. Each stage of the plot is cleverly devised and every piece of dialogue serves a purpose. All performances are clever without being overblown. I really appreciated this film for its simple yet effective approach.

    My review here

    Zal Batmanglij is now working on "The East", also co-written with and starring Brit Marling, this time with Brit Marling infiltrating an anarchist group

    1. A Royal Affair (2012)
    UK release: 15th June 2012

    Quite simply the best costume drama I have ever seen. Well-written characters expertly performed, gorgeously filmed without a single panorama of Danish countryside to speak of and, at the heart, a surprising yet highly plausible story based around genuine Danish history.

    Mads Mikkelsen is fantastic in the lead role, but the cast as a whole is just wondeful. "A Royal Affair" elicits a whole string of emotions, but what's more important is the message the film sends to the audience. We get a full sense of how hard-won our modern freedoms really were.

    A movie with a beauty that is more than just skin-deep. This film really touched me. Full credit has to go to Mark Kermode for recommending it, because without him I'd probably never know about this gem. He may be recommending Twilight movies and he may be massively overrating "The Dark Knight Rises" and "Martha Marcy May Marlene", but at least with this choice he opened my eyes to something truly special and strangely under-promoted.

    My review here

    Writer/director Nikolaj Arcel has written a Danish film called "Kvinden I Buret" which is currently filming with a different director.

    Important runners up
    These films only narrowly missed my top ten for the year.

    Prometheus (2012)
    UK release: 1st June 2012

    A lot better paced than Alien with some great atmosphere and an incredible central performance from Michael Fassbender. This also shared the horror convention of having a few fairly shabbily fleshed out characters, but there was a Lovecraftian nightmare and the centre which really captured my imagination. Not sure how Ridley Scott is going to explain the central "Space Jesus" elements in the sequel.

    My review here

    Avengers Assemble (2012)
    UK release: 26th April 2012

    Everyone saw this and while I wasn't enormously excited about these characters joining together to fight a character-less alien army, I must admit that their interactions were great fun. I was a much bigger fan of the first half than the second. Just generally a really good fun action movie - and there's nothing wrong with that.

    My review here

    Young Adult (2011)
    UK release: 3rd February 2012

    Diablo Cody proves her mettle by writing this story of a genuinely unsympathetic female character who is mostly horrible to other people and yet is fantastically watchable. Her goal to try to destroy her ex-boyfriend's marriage and to lure him away to New York is a lot of fun. Charlize Theron is fantastic in the lead role.

    My review here

    Other runners up
    Some other great films from this year worth mentioning

    Lockout (2012)
    UK release: 20th April 2012

    Quite simply a great action film, moving the "Escape" action from New York to Outer Space. Guy Pearce plays a great arrogant hero in the same vein as Snake Plissken, but the other fantastic performance in this film comes from Joe Gilgun as the insane and unpredictable brother of the convict running the prison uprising.

    My review here

    Looper (2012)
    UK release: 28th September 2012

    A little lacking in internal logic, but a very inventive sci-fi story all the same. Bruce Willis and Joseph Gordon-Levitt make a great pairing. In spite of some neat foreshadowing, few were expecting the direction the film takes in the third act.

    My review here

    Seven Psychopaths (2012)
    UK release: 5th December 2012

    Martin McDonagh does Charlie Kaufman and gets a great performance out of Christopher Walken in particular. There's some great ideas lovingly worked together. A beautifully wacky black comedy.

    My review here

    Chronicle (2012)
    UK release: 1st February 2012

    A rather beautiful found footage movie about a bunch of kids who gain superpowers. It goes a little too blatant in the final act, but remains gripping from beginning to end. Well crafted characters make this really quite special.

    My review here

    Iron Sky (2012)
    UK release: 23rd May 2012

    The comedy about Nazis hiding out on the moon, "Iron Sky" has a lot of charm. While not hitting the mark with every gag, the film is wonderfully inventive and ends up having a much more coherent and interesting plot than anyone had any right to expect.

    My review here

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    Tobe Hooper Review: The Sci-fi Horror

    For this feature, Tobe Hooper teams up with Dan O'Bannon, the writer of Alien, to bring us what has been labelled by some as "lesbian vampires from outer space". It's actually more bi-sexual than lesbian (or possibly simply bi-curious), it's not really vampires as we understand them (though they're more like vampires than the immortals in Highlander were admittedly), but still the "outer space" element is definitely true.

    I also Kind Of have a review of Hellraiser: Bloodline (not a Tobe Hooper movie, of course). I say "kind of", because I found something rather cool on Youtube. A re-edit of the movie including deleted scenes (some of them very rough). At some point I intend to watch the typical theatrical cut, but I had to share this altered version.

    Lifeforce (1985)

    This does not start off well. We begin on a spaceship with a crew whose acting talent is negligible. In particular, a woman operating a monitor appears to deliver all her lines in an irritating monotone. On the ship they discover three naked figures contained in some kind of pods, two of them male and one of them female. The two males play a much smaller role in the rest of the film. They also discover frozen bat-like creatures.

    Anyway, the woman in her pod seems to have a hypnotic effect on the crew from the start. Most of the crew do not make it to Earth. It's not long before the female pod-woman is encouraging men to kiss her and then stealing their life force. It turns out that once you have your life force stolen you have to either regularly suck the life force out of someone else or you explode into dust.

    Now on the one hand, the mystical seduction stuff IS kind of creepy. But I can't help but feel that Dan O'Bannon has got a little carried away with his reputation from "Alien". "Alien" was not exactly explicit in its relevance to sexuality asides from the suggestive imagery of Giger. (And even Giger's imagery is somewhat toned down in that film. I don't think I'm the only one to have been shocked by how explicitly sexual Giger's artwork is, having not really recognised those aspects in the movie series.)

    So here, the threat of the alien vampire thingies is tied up with their ability to bring people to them through sexual attraction. The idea that sexuality is terrifying is clearly a regular trope (and we see it in Hellraiser too), but the film often feels quite trashy. I've actually got to give Tobe Hooper credit for managing to make the atmosphere so compelling since this could have been done a lot worse.

    There's one scene where this becomes particularly ridiculous. One of characters whose exposure to the aliens has made him psychic (yeah okay whatever), decides to hit a woman he and a British intelligence agent wish to question. When hitting her he announces "I can sense that this woman is a masochist. She wants me to hit her." He says this very matter-of-factly and the woman genuinely does seem to be enjoying his rough approach, but for me as a viewer the scene was absurd. Sado-masochism is based on trust, so being a masochist doesn't mean you are going to enjoy being hit by random strangers. What's even more ridiculous is the reaction of the accompanying intelligence agent whose response to the onset of sexual violence is to sit on the sofa and announce casually "well I personally am a voyeur". Now there's no way any director could have made this any less ridiculous. We even have the excellent Peter Firth (the boss of MI5 in the TV series "Spooks") playing the British intelligence agent and he tries to make the line as casual as he can. It's just utterly stupid and, like I stated above, I think Dan O'Bannon is just going out of his way to add sexuality-related stuff (even if it's stuff he doesn't personally understand).

    The lifeforce-draining effects have not aged well. They clearly involved a lot of work, but they do not look good. In that same year, Dan O'Bannon personally directed the film "Return Of The Living Dead" and the effects on some of the zombies in that look quite similar. However, the difference is that ROTLD is a comedy, while Lifeforce actually expects us to take this stuff seriously. In the long term that means that Lifeforce suffers for its out-dated effects a great deal more. (Though to put that comment in perspective, ROTLD is one of my favourite horror comedies of all time.)

    After a lot of meandering pointlessness we come to the final act of the film where (a model of) London is on fire and the alien spacecraft is busily sucking bright blue life force into space. It's at this stage where all hell is breaking loose that the film finally seems to get back into the swing of things. The threat of having your soul sucked out and carried off by aliens is clearly pretty scary and with a few um... 'infected'(?) figures announcing the futility of trying to stop what is happening, the urgency is very clear. Once again, I have to give credit to Tobe Hooper for getting the tone right. Even though the plot is stupid, the dialogue is absurd, some of the minor actors clearly aren't great and there's a cheapness to the film in general, Tobe Hooper clearly does his best with what he's got and I don't think anyone could have done a much better job with the script.

    Just to quickly expand on the cheapness, Lifeforce is one of the films produced by Cannon films during the period where it was controlled by Menahem Golan and Yoran Globus. The films they released during this period are well known for being stingy on the budget and somewhat compromised. That includes (only naming those films I've actually seen) "Superman IV: The Quest For Peace" (clearly the most embarrassing of the Superman sequels) and Tobe Hooper's own "Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2". It even includes my personal favourite, "Masters Of The Universe" starring Dolph Lundgren which, as much as I love it, was clearly compromised. (This is particularly obvious in the final fight scene where the filmmakers speak of plans to construct an intricate set especially for that scene which all appear to have been scrapped in favour of multi-coloured lights.) Interestingly they also made "The Company Of Wolves" which is actually very good. (The director wasn't happy about it being marketed as a horror movie by Cannon, though personally I found it pretty disturbing so I don't really think I can take the director's side on that.)

    Oh yeah, also Patrick Stewart is in some of the film. He delivers a good performance, but I doubt this is a film he looks back on fondly.

    Overall, Lifeforce is an interesting atmospheric sci-fi horror which will provide a unique cinematic experience for anyone who gives it a go. Sadly, it's no blooming good.


    Hellraiser IV: Bloodline (1996)

    Reviews for previous Hellraiser films found at the following links:
    Hellraiser (I changed my mind on this one and would now give it a C+ i.e. 3.5/5)
    Hellbound: Hellraiser II
    Hellraiser III: Hell On Earth

    Okay, so this review is tackling a form of the Hellraiser movie that has never been released. A particularly industrious Youtuber has been involved in a neat little project to reconstruct the movie with deleted scenes and rough-cut footage and shift the timeline to make the plot clearer. I haven't seen the original theatrical version so I have no idea how this compares, but having become a fan of the series upon watching the sequel "Hellbound: Hellraiser II" I can definitely recommend this version.

    The Youtube channel is here.

    The first video out of 8 parts is here.

    And while I'm on the subject of Hellraiser stuff online, the original short story "The Hellbound Heart" can be found as a pdf at this link here.

    As I understand it, the original theatrical cut starts in outer space. This version takes a very different approach. The earliest scenes from "Hellraiser IV: Bloodline" used in this version are back in what must be something like the 18th Century. These scenes involve LeMerchant first making the infamous puzzle box of the series known as "The Lament Configuration".

    However, prior to this lazarusryu begins this film with a key part of the ending of "Hellraiser III: Hell On Earth". Joey has just run into the two most inventive of the new cenobites created in Hellraiser III (and also the ones given the least time in that movie). We see how this particular section of Hellraiser III was resolved and we see that the Lament Configuration finishes up (very mild spoiler) buried in wet cement where a new building is about to be set up. As it turns out, this information is absolutely key to understanding the way the puzzle box turns up later on in "Hellraiser IV: Bloodline", so this new introductory scene is very helpful in both getting us into the right mood and setting up the story so far.

    In "Hellraiser III: Hell On Earth" it was revealed that cenobites (or at least Pinhead) are a combination of a human with a demonic persona. So following from this idea, this scene in the 18th Century shows the summoning of a demon into a human body. This time the demon seems to be much more independent of her human host. It turns out that she can be bidden to do whatever her human summoner wants so long as they follow the vital rule: "Do not stand in Hell's way". This rule seems pretty vague, but it's used consistently in the film.

    18th Century scenes are also used as flashbacks later on, but the next section of the film is in the modern day with a later descendant of LeMerchant (now with the surname of simply 'Merchant') and then the final part of the film all takes place in outer space with the latest descendent of LeMerchant. Each one of these descendants still holds skill in toymaking and has a connection in their nightmares to the ideas behind the Lament Configuration (due to a curse placed upon LeMerchant's family by the aforementioned demon). However, they also all share in a mission LeMerchant comes up with for himself. Since they know that the specifications of the Lament Configuration can create a portal to hell, LeMerchant comes to believe that those same patterns may contain a hint as to how to reverse it with a new pattern.

    The plot is actually pretty good. The acting is actually alright too, asides from a set of twins who appear to have been mainly case because they happen to be twins and not because of their ability in line reading. The underlying creepiness and themes of sado-masochism are much more consistent in this film (as opposed to in Hellraiser III where the first quarter of the film kept that aspect and then the rest of the film seemed to promptly ignore it). Overall I would say that I preferred this to Part III. Part II (Hellbound) is still my favourite, but I might be willing to say I preferred Bloodline to the first Hellraiser movie since, as with Hellbound, this benefits from seeming less wacky due to the mythology having already been set up in previous installments.

    The new cenobites in this movie actually seemed pretty cool and were all certainly a lot more interesting than stuff like the CD man in Hellraiser III. And they bring back The Engineer! (The monster with big teeth that Kirsty ran into at one point in the first film.) YAY! The appearances by Pinhead are awesomely fiendish and the new demon also has some great lines at times (though her cool speech towards the end is clearly from the rough cut- boo!).

    The Engineer in "Hellraiser" (left) and in "Hellraiser IV: Bloodline" (right).

    I am not one of those who enjoyed the extended cut of "Alien 3". I don't enjoy watching films where half the scenes don't look right. I'm actually really hoping that the original theatrical version of this is still as enjoyable. But I have to say that if this is the best version of Bloodline, that's okay. It's not perfect, but it has what I want from a Hellraiser film and it keep things sufficiently on track to leave me feeling wholly satisfied.


    [Update: I have now seen the original version of "Hellraiser IV: Bloodline" and the re-cut isn't hugely different. Perhaps the most annoying cut from the final film is a speech given by the demoness Angelique towards the end. Also the original ending is rather more satisfying. However, despite how much this film was compromised, I still thought it was a pretty cool entry in the franchise and would not change my rating at all.]

    x-posted to Halloween Candy

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    Django Unchained (2012)
    UK release date: 18/01/13

    With the help of his mentor, a slave-turned-bounty hunter sets out to rescue his wife from a brutal Mississippi plantation owner. (165 mins.)
    Director: Quentin Tarantino
    Stars: Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Kerry Washington

    Zero Dark Thirty (2012)
    UK release date: 25/01/13

    A chronicle of the decade-long hunt for al-Qaeda terrorist leader Osama bin Laden after the September 2001 attacks, and his death at the hands of the Navy S.E.A.L. Team 6 in May, 2011. (157 mins.)
    Director: Kathryn Bigelow
    Stars: Jessica Chastain, Joel Edgerton, Chris Pratt, Mark Strong

    Other releases in January:

    American Mary (2012)
    UK release: 11/01/13

    The story follows medical student, Mary Mason, as she becomes increasingly broke and disenchanted with the surgical world she once admired... (103 mins.)
    Director: Jen Soska, Sylvia Soska
    Stars: Katharine Isabelle, Antonio Cupo, Tristan Risk, David Lovgren


    Warm Bodies (2013)
    UK release: 08/02/13

    After a zombie becomes involved with the girlfriend of one of his victims, their romance sets in motion a sequence of events that might transform the entire lifeless world. (97 mins.)
    Director: Jonathan Levine
    Stars: Nicholas Hoult, Teresa Palmer, John Malkovich, Dave Franco

    Other releases in February:

    Flight (2012)
    UK release: 01/02/13
    An airline pilot saves a flight from crashing, but an investigation into the malfunctions reveals something troubling. (138 mins.)
    Director: Robert Zemeckis
    Stars: Nadine Velazquez, Denzel Washington, Carter Cabassa, Adam C. Edwards

    Hitchcock (2012)
    UK release: 08/02/13
    A love story between influential filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock and wife Alma Reville during the filming of Psycho in 1959. (98 mins.)
    Director: Sacha Gervasi
    Stars: Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren, Scarlett Johansson, Danny Huston
    Wreck-It Ralph (2012)
    UK release: 08/02/13
    A video game villain wants to be a hero and sets out to fulfill his dream, but his quest brings havoc to the whole arcade where he lives. (108 mins.)
    Director: Rich Moore
    Stars: John C. Reilly, Jack McBrayer, Jane Lynch, Sarah Silverman

    Cloud Atlas (2012)
    UK release: 22/02/13

    An exploration of how the actions of individual lives impact one another in the past, present and future, as one soul is shaped from a killer into a hero, and an act of kindness ripples across centuries to inspire a revolution. (172 mins.)
    Director: Tom Tykwer, Andy Wachowski
    Stars: Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Hugh Grant, Hugo Weaving
    Hansel and Gretel Witch Hunters (2013)
    UK release: 22/02/13

    In this dark spin on the fairy tale, siblings Hansel and Gretel are a formidable team of bounty hunters who track and kill witches all over the world.
    Director: Tommy Wirkola
    Stars: Jeremy Renner, Gemma Arterton, Peter Stormare, Famke Janssen


    John Dies at the End (2012)
    UK release: 22/03/13

    A new street drug that sends its users across time and dimensions has one drawback: some people return as no longer human. Can two college dropouts save humankind from this silent, otherworldly invasion? (99 mins.)
    Director: Don Coscarelli
    Stars: Chase Williamson, Rob Mayes, Paul Giamatti, Clancy Brown

    Other releases in March:

    Oz: The Great and Powerful (2013)
    UK release: 08/03/13

    A stage magician is hurled into a fantasy world, and must use his wits to stay ahead of three enchantresses who have plans for him.
    Director: Sam Raimi
    Stars: James Franco, Michelle Williams, Rachel Weisz, Mila Kunis

    Side Effects (2013)
    UK release: 15/03/13

    A woman turns to prescription medication as a way of handling her anxiety concerning her husband's upcoming release from prison.
    Director: Steven Soderbergh
    Stars: Rooney Mara, Channing Tatum, Jude Law, Catherine Zeta-Jones

    Jack the Giant Slayer (2013)  
    UK release: 22/03/13

    A modern day fairy tale in which the long-standing peace between men and giants is threatened, as a young farmer leads an expedition into the giants' kingdom in hopes of rescuing a kidnapped princess.
    Director: Bryan Singer
    Stars: Nicholas Hoult, Stanley Tucci, Ewan McGregor, Bill Nighy
    The Host (2013)
    UK release: 22/03/13

    A parasitic alien soul is injected into the body of Melanie Stryder. Instead of carrying out her race's mission of taking over the Earth, "Wanda" (as she comes to be called) forms a bond with her host and sets out to aid other free humans.
    Director: Andrew Niccol
    Stars: Saoirse Ronan, Diane Kruger, William Hurt, Jake Abel


    Evil Dead (2013)
    UK release: 19/04/13

    Mia, a young woman struggling with sobriety, heads to a remote cabin with her brother and a group of friends, where the discovery of a Book of the Dead leads to danger and horror. (90 mins.)
    Director: Fede Alvarez
    Stars: Jane Levy, Shiloh Fernandez, Jessica Lucas, Lou Taylor Pucci

    Iron Man 3 (2013)
    UK release: 26/04/13

    Tony Stark uses his ingenuity to fight those who destroyed his private world and soon goes up against his most powerful enemy yet: the Mandarin.
    Director: Shane Black
    Stars: Robert Downey Jr., Guy Pearce, Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle

    Other releases in April:

    Carrie (2013)
    UK release: 05/04/13

    A sheltered high school girl unleashes her newly developed telekinetic powers after she is pushed too far by her peers.
    Director: Kimberly Peirce
    Stars: Chloë Grace Moretz, Julianne Moore, Judy Greer, Gabriella Wilde


    Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)
    UK release: 17/05/13

    After the crew of the Enterprise find an unstoppable force of terror from within their own organization, Captain Kirk leads a manhunt to a war-zone world to capture a one man weapon of mass destruction.
    Director: J.J. Abrams
    Stars: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana, Benedict Cumberbatch

    Other releases in May and June:

    Hummingbird (2013)
    UK release: 03/05/13

    The story of an ex-Special Forces soldier who has found himself homeless on the streets.
    Director: Steven Knight
    Stars: Jason Statham, Lee Asquith-Coe, Vicky McClure, Benedict Wong

    Man of Steel (2013)
    UK release: 14/06/13

    An alien infant is raised on Earth, and grows up with superhuman abilities. He sets out to use these abilities to guard his adopted world.
    Director: Zack Snyder
    Stars: Henry Cavill, Russell Crowe, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon

    World War Z (2013)
    UK release: 21/06/13

    A U.N. employee is racing against time and fate, as he travels the world trying to stop the outbreak of a deadly Zombie pandemic.
    Director: Marc Forster
    Stars: Brad Pitt, Mireille Enos, David Morse, James Badge Dale

    Much Ado About Nothing (2012)
    UK release: 21/06/13

    A modern retelling of Shakespeare's classic comedy about two pairs of lovers with different takes on romance and a way with words. (107 mins.)
    Director: Joss Whedon
    Stars: Alexis Denisof, Amy Acker, Fran Kranz, Jillian Morgese


    Pacific Rim (2013)
    UK release: 12/07/13

    When an alien attack threatens the Earth's existence, giant robots piloted by humans are deployed to fight off the menace.
    Director: Guillermo del Toro
    Stars: Idris Elba, Charlie Hunnam, Rinko Kikuchi, Charlie Day

    Other releases in July:

    Monsters University (2013)
    UK release: 12/07/13

    A look at the relationship between Mike and Sulley during their days at the University of Fear -- when they weren't necessarily the best of friends.
    Director: Dan Scanlon
    Stars: Billy Crystal, John Goodman, Steve Buscemi, Julia Sweeney
    The Wolverine (2013)
    UK release: 26/07/13

    Wolverine travels to Japan to train with a samurai warrior.
    Director: James Mangold
    Stars: Hugh Jackman, Will Yun Lee, Tao Okamoto, Famke Janssen


    The World's End (2013)
    UK release: 14/08/13

    Five friends who reunite in an attempt to top their epic pub crawl from 20 years earlier unwittingly become humankind's only hope for survival.
    Director: Edgar Wright
    Stars: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Martin Freeman, Rosamund Pike

    Elysium (2013)
    UK release: 20/09/13

    Set in the year 2159, where the very wealthy live on a man-made space station while the rest of the population resides on a ruined Earth, a man takes on a mission that could bring equality to the polarized worlds.
    Director: Neill Blomkamp
    Stars: Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, Sharlto Copley, Alice Braga

    Other releases in October and November:

    Thor: The Dark World (2013)
    UK release: 30/10/13

    Thor battles an ancient race of Dark Elves led by the vengeful Malekith who threatens to plunge the universe back into darkness after the events of Avengers Assemble.
    Director: Alan Taylor
    Stars: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Christopher Eccleston, Anthony Hopkins

    The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013)
    UK release: 22/11/13

    The continuing adventures of Katniss Everdeen, which take place in a futuristic dystopian world, as she prepares for the Quarter Quell.
    Director: Francis Lawrence
    Stars: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Philip Seymour Hoffman

    Silent Night of the Living Dead (2013)
    UK release: ??/11/13
    A zombie outbreak plagues a small English town on Christmas Eve.
    Director: Paul Davis
    Stars: Tom Savini, Reece Shearsmith, AJ Bowen, Freddie Smith


    The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)
    UK release: 13/12/13

    The Dwarfs, Bilbo and Gandalf have successfully escaped the misty mountains, but Bilbo has gained the one ring. They all continue their journey to get their gold back off the Dragon, Smaug.
    Director: Peter Jackson
    Stars: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage, Elijah Wood

    No UK release date provided yet:

    Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)
    Release Date Provided: 08/02/13 - USA

    A singer-songwriter navigates New York's folk music scene during the 1960s.
    Director: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
    Stars: Carey Mulligan, Justin Timberlake, John Goodman, Garrett Hedlund

    Mud (2012)
    Release Date Provided: 17/04/13 - France

    Two teenage boys encounter a fugitive and form a pact to help him evade the bounty hunters on his trailer and to reunite him with his true love. (135 mins.)
    Director: Jeff Nichols
    Stars: Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, Michael Shannon, Sarah Paulson

    Only God Forgives (2013)
    Release Date Provided: 23/04/13 - Denmark

    A Bangkok police lieutenant and a gangster settle their differences in a Thai-boxing match.
    Director: Nicolas Winding Refn
    Stars: Ryan Gosling, Kristin Scott Thomas, Tom Burke, Yayaying

    Machete Kills (2013)
    Release Date Provided: 25/04/13 - Russia

    The U.S. government recruits Machete to battle his way through Mexico in order to take down an arms dealer who looks to launch a weapon into space.
    Director: Robert Rodriguez
    Stars: Amber Heard, Mel Gibson, Jessica Alba, Michelle Rodriguez

    Calvary (2013)
    Release Date Provided: 19/09/2013 - Russia

    After he is threatened during a confession, a good-natured priest must battle the dark forces closing in around him.
    Director: John Michael McDonagh
    Stars: Kelly Reilly, Chris O'Dowd, Aidan Gillen, Brendan Gleeson

    Her (2013)

    A lonely writer develops an unlikely relationship with his newly-purchased operating system that's designed to meet his every need.
    Director: Spike Jonze
    Stars: Amy Adams, Olivia Wilde, Rooney Mara, Joaquin Phoenix

    Machete Kills Again... In Space! (2013)

    Director: Robert Rodriguez
    Stars: Peggy Schott

    Snowpiercer (2013)

    AD 2031, the passengers in the train are the only survivors on Earth.
    Director: Joon-ho Bong
    Stars: Chris Evans, Jamie Bell, John Hurt, Alison Pill

    The Last Voyage of Demeter (2013)

    Follows the ill-fated crew aboard the merchant ship Demeter which carried Dracula's coffin from Transylvania to England only to arrive at port with no survivors aboard.
    Director: Neil Marshall
    Stars: Viggo Mortensen

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