Saturday, 19 November 2011

No News is good news

Hi there,

I wanted to write a brief note to my few regular readers just to say how much I've enjoyed writing this blog over the past three and a bit years, however to be honest it has come to the point that I no longer enjoy writing.

This morning when I woke up my thoughts turned to preparing another week of birthday posts, and Tuesday trailers and a recap of the weeks news and a review of Cage/Kidman vehicle Trespass, and it just felt like a chore, neither a cathartic nor an excited prospect. These days I write just because I feel I have to keep going with the blog, rather than because of any desire to share my views.

It is for that reason that I'm going to take a sabbatical, initially until the end of the year however that may extend.

I will still stay on here though and visit your blogs, even occasionally posting responses. I would especially like to thank the trio of bloggers who have stuck with me since the blog began: Tom at Reinvention, Alex in Movieland and Andrew's Encore. These three are incisive and witty writers whose work I will continue to follow, indeed I hope to be able to continue discussion of movies with them through comments, something which I know I have been less than diligent with in the past.

Thank you once again for all your support here.

Ben

x x x

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Jodie Foster


Happy Birthday to

Jodie Foster

49 today


Choosing to work only when she wants to is a superb strategy for this two time Oscar winner, by carefully monitoring the output the resultant scarcity increases demand. Although her next film, Roman Polanski's Carnage, may well divide audiences on how they feel about the content of Yasmina Reza's bitter play on which it's based. Personally I couldn't be more stoked.

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Friday, 18 November 2011

Always the quiet ones (Out this week - 18/11/11)

It's all about Vampires vs. Werewolves this weekend. Actually that might be more interesting than the first half of the final chapter in the Twiglet franchise, you know the one where they get married, get preggers and mope around before the final battles commence. Not that the combined efforts of Bella, Edward and Jacob can manage to win my favour, instead film of the week goes to Aussie serial killer pic Snowtown.



Snowtown

Based on Australia's most famous serial killer case, the bodies in the barrels guy John Bunting, the film investigates the case through the eyes of his prospective step-son. This marks the second film in a growing crime renaissance in Australian cinema following Animal Kingdom earlier this year.

Runs like a Gay Excitometer: ●●●●●○○○○○



Special Forces

French movie tackling the Afghani conflict and a journo (Diane Kruger) who gets herself kidnapped, and the elite military squad led by Djimon Houson snatching her back from the Taliban. Holding up quite well on IMDb.

Runs like a Gay Excitometer: ●●●●○○○○○○

Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, Part 1

I don't need to explain the latest instalment of the teenage franchise, frankly it's advertising is everywhere and it's likely to take the box office crown globally this weekend. It's one of those cultural shifts that's so impossible to ignore that I may even be persuaded to see it myself.

Runs like a Gay Excitometer: ●●●●○○○○○○

Hero Hitler in Love

It sounds like the most distasteful Bollywood movie of all time, however I understand that's just controversy designed to build up some headlines. Oddly it's actually a love story across the Indian-Pakistani border, which may prove even more controversial in some quarters.

Runs like a Gay Excitometer: ●●●○○○○○○○

Justice

Nicolas Cage again, proving he's never says no to these half-arsed thrillers, getting into some double dealings with shady Guy Pearce, allowing them to bump off his wife's attacker only for his debt to be called in. Makes last weeks Trespass look like cinematic gold.

Runs like a Gay Excitometer: ●●●○○○○○○○

Welcome to the Rileys

Cashing in on the Twilight love out there, this American indie might actually be the more interesting of the two with James Gandolfini and Melissa Leo dealing with the death of their child in vastly different ways, the former hanging out with hooker Kristen Stewart and the latter hiding away.

Runs like a Gay Excitometer: ●●●○○○○○○○

How to Stop Being a Loser

Minor British comedy with a cast full of TV personalities and semi-famous faces, with our hero making a Faustian pact in order to woo the ladies. I think it's a comedy.

Runs like a Gay Excitometer: ●●○○○○○○○○

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Brenda Vaccaro


Happy Birthday to

Brenda Vaccaro

72 today


Are you trying to imagine where you've seen Brenda? Maybe as a TV staple, including a voice in Cartoon Network's "Johnny Bravo", or maybe as Bab's BFF in The Mirror has Two Faces or maybe you're casting your mind back still further to playing scrabble with a naked Jon Voight in Midnight Cowboy. A-ha you've got her now, superb performances but alas still an I know you actress rather than an a-lister. Seems to be semi-retired these days.

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Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Straw Dogs

2011. Dir: Rod Lurie. Starring: James Marsden, Kate Bosworth, Alexander Skarsgård, James Woods and Dominic Purcell. ●●●○○



Note there is no way of reviewing Rod Lurie's Straw Dogs without spoilers, largely because of the history of the original ground-breaking 1971 exploitation film, directed by Sam Peckinpah. In fact I doubt it's possible to review the film without explicit comparison to it's forebear because of that unique legacy, we will have to address - in detail - the iconic scenes that even people who haven't seen the film know and the social and cultural landscape in which the films were made. Therefore if you haven't seen the movie and you still wish to do so I would not advise reading on...



Thank you for joining me.

Back in the early 70’s Pekinpah was exploring the cinema-going audiences capacity to take violence, and whilst his Rio Bravo inspired siege movie didn’t have the genre defining revisionism he would later bring to The Wild Bunch it’s fair to say he still turned a few heads. His thesis was that man was at heart an vicious beast, prepared act on ultra-violent urges if his property or family were threatened. Dustin Hoffman’s mild mannered mathematician cuts a desperate, lonely figure, haunted by the rape of his wife and the invasion of his Cornish farmhouse by inhospitable locals, his anguish and loss of self control as he fights back is palpable. Peckinpah was taunting us with the barely disguised brutal reality of the human animal underneath this veneer of respectability in modern society.

At the time the movie caused a stir for it’s graphic depiction of violence, and especially for the murky issue of consensual rape which earned the film it’s video nasty tag when it was refused release in the 1980’s on this side on the pond. Yet here we are 40 years later, with torture porn and stalker pics regularly leading the box office charts and gradually upping the gore quotient to the extent that the content of the original now seems tame and unthreatening, even if the sexual assault sequence still retains part of it’s power. Would the remake try to outdo it’s predecessor? Where would it fit on the scale of violent semi-horrors? Does the rape still provoke controversy?

Well. No, not very high and yes and no.

The remake opens with James Marsden’s geeky but (let’s face it) buff screenwriter with gorgeous actress wife Kate Bosworth returning to her small Louisiana hometown, it’s a society ruled by hunting and church. Where the former stars of the football team are idolised well beyond their prime, slowly developing into the straw dogs of the title, abandoned Gods seeking ways to reassert their alpha male status, eager to torture the weaker or more passive members of the community.

Of course it doesn’t take long for the unlucky couple to walk into Bosworth’s ex, a hulking roofer (Skarsgaard) with a natty line in vests and the barest of flames still for his former squeeze, and Marsden being the naive townie that he is takes no hesitation in hiring his competitor to fix the barn. Needless to say the relationships between the central trio, and Skarsgaard’s cohorts of handymen soon breaks down with false acts of friendship and escalating war of words between the two men masking the battle for Bosworth’s body.

There are three stages of the violent acts, against the pets, the wife and finally the house, and each of these needs to be tackled separately.

Something terrible happens to Bosworth’s pussy (no, we’re not on that bit yet) whilst the couple are at a town picnic, and the first reveal of this is both shocking and extremely well handled. Marsden opens a wardrobe and we and he see the deceased moggy, but we see it over his shoulder, partly obscured, enough to recognise what happened but not so we are taken out of the moment. This tension is then ruined when the cupboard is opening again and we see a cuddly toy suspended by a belt. Oh, when will filmmakers learn that less is more? This is also the point realism gets thrown out of the window because I for one would certainly report that to the Sheriff.

The final set piece involves the storming of the farm as the brooding roofers, egged on by the drunk James Woods (involving but not stretching) attempt to force their way into the couples isolated farmhouse, ostensibly to deal out some justice to the mentally ill local seeking refuse after accidently killing a local girl (more on that in a bit), but also to finally conquer the outsiders, to punish their arrogance and discrete fortitude. It’s this point where all the easter eggs of destruction the overworked set designer has laid around the property come into play. Including, you’ll be delighted to hear, the antique bear trap (and not in the way you expect). There is plenty of claret flowing during the ambush but when a lackey was beaten to death by a golf club it was off-screen, making it less gory than the stylish art-flick Drive.

Which only leaves the rape. As with the original the treatment of women is complex and troubling. There are two significant female roles, the sexually precocious teenager who lures idiot savant Dominic Purcell into the locker room before being smothered by him, and Bosworth’s actress who refuses to wear a sports bra whilst jogging (and given how much she sweated I can only imagine how sore her nipples were) and who strips off in sight of the workmen in order to assert her feminist empowerment. When Marsden states she’s asking for it (a long-time prior to the assault it must be noted) you can’t help but agree. Both characters overt sexuality leads directly to their fate, even if there is no is she/isn’t she enjoying the rape moment the filmmaker still condemns her actions.

This change subtly alters the point of the movie. In the 1970’s there was the question of whether a woman could enjoy a rape fantasy, now we are more obsessed with whether the victims are in some way culpable. In the case of Willa Holland's cheerleader she clearly is responsible for her own demise, orchestrating the scenario in which the petrified Purcell must defend himself, whereas Bosworth raises the spectre of the slut walks and whether the clothing or attitude of a girl gives the man implicit permission to push the boundaries. Does the difference lie between the perpetrators understanding of their actions?

The film raises more questions than it dares to try and answer, but in doing so it deserves some applause and I would certainly enjoy the discourse this film would provide with staunch feminists. Now there's a challenge to my readers.

Overall then I would have to just about recommend this interesting example of exploitative cinema.


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Maggie Gyllenhaal


Happy Birthday to

Maggie Gyllenhaal

34 today


It has to be said that Maggie does great red carpet, always stunning and always exceptionally well put together. With a career that spans high concept block busters, edgy dramas and cult favourites I expect to see Ms Gyllenhaal's career continue to grow from strength to strength. Nothing on the immediate horizon though.

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Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Tuesday Trailers - Frantic Friday

Runs like a Gay needs you!

Sometimes I have to make tough decisions, a couple of weeks ago I watched Ides of March and Tintin but at the time of writing I still haven't caught up The Help, hopefully I will - given the impact the film will probably make on the awards season - but maybe the choices about what I saw that weekend are now cast in stone. We can't go back.

But in 17 days time I have an even tougher decision. There are four films released which I have been following since the idea was first put together, or since before this blog was invented in one case, and I probably won't have the opportunity to see them all. So which ones do I prioritise, how do I make Ben's choice?

This is why I need you, dear reader, the trailers are presented in alphabetical order here, but in the comments I'd like you to rank the possibilities in order that I should see them. I'll go by the consensus opinion.

The Big Year

I suspect the least votes will go to this fairly inoffensive comedy starring Steve Martin, Jack Black and Owen Wilson especially given it's atrocious opening over in the States (yet to pass $7m domestic), but I did list it in my top 20 for 2011 so maybe I owe it something.



Happy Feet Two

The trailers don't seem to be selling this animated sequel terribly well, but then expectations for the original were pretty low and it went on to win the Best Animated Oscar. I simply don't see enough animated films, which explains why I'm considering this.



Hugo

On paper Martin Scorsese's latest movie is easily the top choice, with it's elaborate production and central love story to early cinema and 1920's Paris it could be unmissable. That said it's a children's film and early word has been complimentary but hardly gushing.



Margaret

Finally we have Kenneth Lonergan's very long awaited follow-up to You Can Count on Me which has sat in post production since Matt Damon and Anna Paquin looked very young. This will almost certainly be the hardest to watch on this list with a suspected limited release pattern.



I'm fairly open minded so write in nominations for other films opening in the UK on 02 December 2011 may also be considered but they will need a lot of support.

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Sunday, 13 November 2011

Whoopi Goldberg


Happy Birthday to

Whoopi Goldberg

56 today


The Commedienne/Actress Goldberg doesn't exactly stretch herself these days. Recently she played God in a Kate Hudson vehicle no-one watched and next up is a cameo in the Muppets, surely her co-hosting work on The view isn't that taxing, is it?

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Saturday, 12 November 2011

Rehearsing is for Frogs - (Film News - 12/11/11)

All eyes are on the Academy this week, from the moment Brett Ratner faux pas'd at a Tower Heist Q&A last Friday night the knives were out for the Oscar Producer. And probably for the best, whilst we can all appreciate the context of the comment and the vocabulary Ratner uses in interviews generally that his intention wasn't to denigrate gay men as a demographic, however the insensitivity of such an off-the-cuff remake is not in keeping of the man steering the gayest night of the Entertainment industry. As Ratner fell, so did his front man Eddie Murphy, in a career move that may be yet another turning point for the once reliable star. AMPAS then swung into damage limitation mode, quickly appointing Brian Grazer and Billy Crystal (ignoring the online campaign for the Muppets to host, hence the title) a reliable if safe choice. I suppose I should care for all this hoohar, but to be honest I don't watch the show. Of course I won't deny the Academy impacts my viewing habits, occasionally bringing a movie to my attention that I hadn't considered, but the night itself doesn't appeal. Time will tell what this will do to Ratner and Murphy's career however I suspect it will all blow over very quickly.

Moving on to the real news though.

Rule #1

At first, before reading the synopsis, I was really keen on the potential pairing of Frozen River director Courtney Hunt with Oscar winner Reese Witherspoon in a comedy, after all there aren't enough high profile films from women (of course part of that is my own inherent prejudice) and Reese is one of the best comedic performers of her generation.

Then the plot: According to THR, Witherspoon will play “34 -year old woman trying to cope with OCD, who takes in a young woman with ADD and her newborn baby in an effort to face her anxieties and ultimately get her estranged husband back. The resulting effort takes the woman’s already chaotic world spinning into the next level.”

So this is a comedy when OCD meets ADD. Whilst that does have slight thematic similarities to The Odd Couple however once the characters are labelled with mental health diagnoses it seems to be making the illness the butt of the joke rather than the interplay, of course that may change when Hunt revises the script and it ends up on screen, but I do have concerns.


Witherspoon gave one of the most hilarious and convincing comedic performances in the noughties for Legally Blonde and it would be great to see her back in the genre.

Read on for equal rights legislation, dating thrillers, a strip of pebbles and a non-comic comic book.



Airtight/Untitled Prop. 8 Movie

You should learn something new everyday, and this week its the turn of avuncular New Yorker Rob Reiner to reveal a facet of his character that surprised and taught me. You see Reiner is one of Hollywood's leading advocates of gay rights, founder of the American Foundation of Equal Rights he is a major supporter of the campaign against Proposition 8, so much so when the legal challenges eventually end in their logical conclusion (and as a gay man I pretty much have to say the plebiscite will be overturned, even if its by the Supreme Court) he plans to dramatize the fight. It's will no doubt be a worthy court-room drama in the vein of his 96 race crime elegy Ghosts of Mississippi and whilst I am in favour of bringing this story to the multiplexes I can't help but think there's a more interesting personal story to be told about how the vote illegitimised relationships and what effect that has on them and their close families.

By the way Airtight is a heist film he's also knocking around as a possible next project - purely because he has never done one before. No details yet, but we'll have to keep an eye on it.

The Double Hour

More remakes of European thriller, this time an Italian original (maybe the rights are being sold to save the economy) which started like a rom-com with a speed-dating leading to a one-night stand leading to a kidnapping and terrible secrets held by the cop and cleaner protagonists coming out to haunt them. Joshua Marston has been tapped to direct, which will make an odd English language change of pace for him.

On Chesil Beach

I know there are fans of Ian McEwans sparse internal novel, even though I personally wasn't engaged and think it's intensely un-cinematic, however I thought I'd pass on the news that the big-screen version hasn't died when proposed director Sam Mendes left for Bond, instead the baton has been passed to Mike Newell. Unfortunately whilst Newell's a nice guy with talent I think it's fair to say he's anonymous behind a camera and I suspect that McEwan's work needs someone flashier to bring out the tension.

Wilson

Just a reiteration of Alexander Payne's desire to adapt Daniel (Ghost World) Clowes' graphic novel. I confess to not being a reader of these books, having a barely concealed prejudice against the format, but Clowes is considered as one of the greats, able to create a fully rounded story within a three panel format, so I'll certainly follow this to see how it works on screen.

Casting News

The latest bizarre casting rumour to hit the web attaches Colin Firth to Spike Lee's OldBoy remake, as the chief antagonist to Josh Brolins wrongfully imprisoned revenge seeker. Not that I doubt Firth's ability in the role, but it is pretty left field a suggestion you have to admit.


There's a small campaign (which will no doubt be crushed before the end of the year) for Colin in the Supporting Actor field for Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy which conveniently brings us back to Oscar and the opening paragraph.

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Ryan Gosling


Happy Birthday to

Ryan Gosling

31 today


Riding high, with two well-received dramatic turns in the last few months, Gosling's come a long way since his Mickey Mouse Club days, or since his energetic turn in Murder by Numbers - I'll never forget how he licked Sandra Bullock. Coming up next, and where this picture comes from, we'll see him reunite with Derek Cianfrance on stunt motorcyclist epic Place Beyond the Pines.

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Friday, 11 November 2011

Next stop, Gonzo (Out this week - 11/11/11)

Weirdly, in spite of the fairly OK mix of movies out this weekend all I want to do since I wrote the title of this post is stare at the palindromic date. I hope I don't glance at the clock just after ten past eleven for fear of my head exploding. Of course this weirdness may be due to the stonking amount of alcohol I've had to drink in readiness for our film of the week:



The Rum Diary

Johnny Depp isn't quite Hunter S. Thompson in this adaptation of his earliest, yet latest to be published novel about a journalist heading to Puerto Rico and finding nothing but booze and money laundering. Co-starring Richard Jenkins (wearing the best syrup in 2012) and written and directed by Withnail & I helmer Bruce Robinson, this has to be better than it's paltry US box office implies.

Runs like a Gay Excitometer: ●●●●●●○○○○



Arthur Christmas

I really don't like the over-commodification of Christmas, and I say that as an Atheist, however I believe the celebration should be reflective of it's religious roots and not just an excuse to flog toys for two months. Yes, this is an Aardman animation so it's probably OK but you won't catch me near it. James McAvoy stars with Jim Broadbent, Imelda Staunton and Hugh Laurie.

Runs like a Gay Excitometer: ●●●●●○○○○○

Trespass

Joel Schumacher directed the worst movie I have ever seen in a cinema, no not Batman & Robin which was at least campy and bright but the utterly charmless action flick Bad Company yet I still return time and time again to see if he can top that. Nic's Cage and Kidman look like their having cheesy fun in this hostage in your own home flick so it might just be watchable.

Runs like a Gay Excitometer: ●●●●●○○○○○

Immortals

Tarsem Singh directs this latest foray into Greek Mythology, with the help of the producers of 300. Plenty of flesh in the trailer and an extraordinary visual aesthetic make this one to watch even if we expect the narrative to fall down in the same way Tarsem's previous outings have down. All eyes will be on future Superman Henry Cavill, but the brilliant supporting cast includes famous faces like Mickey Rourke and John Hurt.

Runs like a Gay Excitometer: ●●●●○○○○○○

Awakening

Nothing to do with Sleeping sickness this homegrown horror flick seems to have been trailering for months, and inspite of it's ubiquity I can safely say I have no intention of watching this derivative nonsense - with Rebecca Hall and Imelda Staunton - in a cinema.

Runs like a Gay Excitometer: ●●●○○○○○○○

Rockstar

This Bollywood rom-dram hasn't done much to conceal it's major plot in the title. Unless it turns out to be about India's most famous diamond cutter? I haven't seen the trailer yet so I'm on the edge of my seat about this...

Runs like a Gay Excitometer: ●●●○○○○○○○

Wuthering Heights

Andrea Arnold has taken an awful lots of risks in her unique adaptation of the classic Emily Bronte gothic romance, with the casting of a black actor as Heathcliffe, anachronistic dialogue and a foreboding sense of doom creeping across the moors throughout this won't selling to the bonnet and bodice crowd, but it will make for a fascinating look at the novels themes.

Runs like a Gay Excitometer: ●●●○○○○○○○

Black Pond

British comedy that's getting a very limited release, possibly due to the dark nature of the concept - upper middle class family have to deal with an unexpected corpse - the surrealist trailer - or the not quite interesting enough cast list of Simon Amstell and Chris Langham.

Runs like a Gay Excitometer: ●●○○○○○○○○

Kill Keith

But hey that's pure genius compared to this utter dross of a sort of Tarantino parody (although really only in the title) which mixes pointless celebrity cameos and on the cheap special effects with jokes that feel old and tired in the trailer let alone in real life.

Runs like a Gay Excitometer: ●●○○○○○○○○

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Susan Kohner


Happy Birthday to

Susan Kohner

75 today


Susan has not acted since 1964. By choice she retired, aged just 28, to raise a family. I'm sure her two children, with non Hollywood type John Weitz, count themselves lucky, not just because their parents obviously wanted the very best for them but because their mother chose to turn her back on an exceptionally promising career. Oscar nominated for her role of the light-skinned black girl dealing with prejudice in Douglas Sirk's Imitation of Life she proved she could take an unappealling character and reveal the hidden layers of vulnerability.

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Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Machine Gun Preacher

2011. Dir: Marc Forster. Starring: Gerard Butler, Michelle Monaghan, Michael Shannon, Madeline Carroll and Souleymane Sy Savane. ●●○○○



I don't know where to start. There is so much wrong with Hollywood's latest over-simplification of African politics and neo-colonialism, Machine Gun Preacher, that any beginning will reduce the film to a mass of critical detritus. We could castigate the incoherent acting, the dumbed down screenplay or the thud, thud, thud pacing, and yet I feel it justifies a second blob, one for existing (no film ever deserves nothing) and one for trying to raise interesting areas for discussion, even if ultimately it fails to deliver on that promise.



On one level this is a simple sinner to saint story about a Heroin addicted Hell's angel finding God and going to Northern Uganda to build an orphanage to save the children in war-torn Somalia. Indeed I suspect the life story of Sam Childer's, the man who is literally dubbed the machine gun Preacher in West Africa is a fascinating study of redemption and ambition, but here the format is squeezed into a greatest hots montage of his life. We see him get released from jail, get angry because his wife gave up stripping, shoot up, stab a hitchhiker, go to church, get baptised, see a video about Africa, get caught up in a war, and so on. Each little vignette fails to connect with each other, his Christian zeal must come from something but we never understand what drives him to seek forgiveness, it's as if just by telling the story the audience should know how the man progresses to the next chapter of his life.

It's hard to know where the blame for this lies. I'd be tempted to say it's Gerard Butler, who switches to his usual shouty mode very early on in the movie and rarely changes gear - even when crying it's an obscenely angry form of depression. However he's not the only lost in this movie, the usually reliable Monaghan comes across as a mere cypher, failing to illuminated the long-sufffering wife and even Michael Shannon as fellow addict Donnie looks lost for most of the movie.

No I blame the script, which pushes forward into each scene without developing the characters in any meaningful way. I cannot say enough how much I wanted to understand the motivations of Childer's, especially as the presumed guilt and anger at the situation in Somalia begins to tip him towards the kind of violent fundamentalism he initially tries to reject. Not to mention several really horrid lines that completely took me out of the picture - when Childer's talks about keeping guns clean, the boy confessing his history out of the blue, when Paige (Butler's daughter) looking every inch a 15 year old asks Michael Shannon for a goodnight kiss (an incredibly creepy sequence that probably shouldn't have come across like that).

As I said there should have been so much more to this movie. At times the spectre of the Christian right's zealousness is noted, and the White America's colonialist tendencies is hinted at but these themes are never developed, essentially blunting any impact the movie actually may have.

Overall I would have to say this is a dull, missable film. I suggest picking up a copy of a fairly intelligent broadsheet, turning to the international news section and starting the conversation that way.

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Personal News (09/11/11)

I have been so awfully remiss lately, failing to keep you all up to scratch about the real world of Ben Rigby, although this is mainly because I've been so busy with things I've hardly had a chance to write.

Anyway the point is last night saw the press opening of Lloyd Eyre-Morgan's latest piece, Celluloid.



"Dawn is perceived by the world around her as a role model single mother, an academic medical professional supporting two children. Behind close doors it's a different story, Dawn is breaking down , her life and mental stability crumbles slowly around her as her family unit breaks down. Her therapist Dave is on hand to help, however is something more sinister at work, is he the cause of her mental breakdown?
Dawn's 15 year old son Joshua for years has escaped his family dysfunction by watching the world from behind a camera lens, creating fiction through filming the world around him. Whilst daughter Nicola finds darker alternate methods to escape her mother.
However, through moments from the past captured on celluloid, secrets will be revealed, and remember the camera never lies."

Tickets are available on the door, but they are extremely limited so if you would like to go to see this emotional roller-coaster of a production I suggest you arrive at the Three Minute Theatre, Affleck's, Oldham St., Manchester very early any night this week.

I look forward to seeing you there.

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Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Tuesday Trailers - Moneyball

I'll just go right ahead and say the last few weeks of trailers have been a little disappointing, it's strange how November is generally looking like quite a poor month for movie goers, with very films with the potential for hitting it out of the park which leads us nicely onto the last trailer for the month's releases (see what I did there?), a Baseball film that isn't really about Baseball, and possibly the first genuine Best Picture Oscar winner contender for 2011, bring it on.



Moneyball is released on 25 November 2011.

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Sunday, 6 November 2011

I'm getting to old for this s**t (Film News - 05/11/11)

I know, I know, I'm a day late. I would love to heap on the excuses and try to wriggle my way out of responsibility but it can't be done. I simply didn't turn my computer on yesterday (although to be fair I spent most of the day 200 miles away from it) so couldn't post up this weeks moribund news section. Not that we've missed much, the lead story has a title I don't understand and a premise that firmly sets out it's stall for potential audiences (not me it seems), there's the least surprising press call this year and even the monthly IMDb trawl barely uncovered anything. Oh well at least we've got our health, eh?

BZRK

Michael Grant's young adult high concept sci-fi may not be hitting the shelves until 2012 but Sony pictures are so sure of it's success in the lucrative market that optioning the big screen adaptation seems like a no-brainer. Although if you asked me they should wait to see if the novels pick up in the way of Twilight or Hunger Games before dishing out the cash. ALthough on the other hand whilst the books flopping might save them some money the resulting bidding war if the kids love it may be cripplingly expensive.

The plot features too competing factions using nanotechnology to try to control mankind, the first a unfeeling conglomerate headed by co-joined twins Charles and Benjamin (this'll do wonders for societies acceptance of co-joined twins) and their quest to turn mankind into subservient consumers and create a capitalist utopian society. On the other side is the BZRK's, a teenage guerilla army, no doubt representing the 99%, who will stop at anything to prevent this nascent corporate takeover. Including using nanobots that are linked to the lifeforce of the donor/controller in their group.



Of course it's very early days so I wouldn't go raising your hopes for this particular production, although Grant's literary pedigree is succesful enough (the "Gone" series) to suggest he knows his market so maybe this will turn out to be the next Harry Potter?

Read on for wolf pack refugees and why all eyes were on London this week, as well as the latest in casting and production news and the chance to say goodbye to a Hollywood hero.



Untitled Gus van Sant picture

At first this week I thought the world was about to end, that everything I had held dear to was about to be destroyed in a burning apocalypse. Taylor Lautner, him of the rock hard abs and even harder acting style from the Twilight franchise (on the right, you know who I mean), wants a real film acting career - actually with the recent box office disaster that was Abduction any career might be a bonus - and has "hired" Gus van Sant and Dustin Lance Black to mould a vehicle around him based on an as yet unknown New Yorker article. Now I could be putting two and two together and making five but given van Sant and Black are high profile gay film-makers and their last collaboration was homosexual politician biopic Milk so is Lautner about to go gay for pay? Does he really think the critics are so shallow that merely kissing a bloke will get him the plaudits he's so far missed?

Skyfall

So the next Bond movie is called Skyfall, surprise surprise. There was a big press call on Thursday where all the rumours that have circulated about the forthcoming production were confirmed - except for the less action more introspection story which was roundly turned upon. That's it really, a lot of bruhaha about nothing. I still really want to see it though.

Casting News

I am sure I've mentioned this before, but I'm damned if I can find my post on the film, but on the off chance I haven't it's great to see Nicole Kidman sign up to play elephant conservationist Dame Daphne Shledrake in My Wild Life which sound a bit like a pachyderm version of Gorillas in the Mist only with a happier ending. Everyone wants to work with Leonardo DiCaprio so it's no surprise to see him and Sean Penn on Alejandro Gonzalez Inarrittu's revenge western The Revenant, with DiCaprio recovering from a bear mauling and crossing America to demand an apology to Penn for leaving him to die.


The last time Nicole Kidman got involved with an Elephant it was a delightful cocktail, I doubt this will feature the same amount of singing and absinthe.

Production News

Scanning IMDb has been it's usual process of rediscovering titles I thought had disappeared, surprising myself with previous posts that are coming to fruition and the odd new project came to my attention (and make no mistake the only new film is very odd). Resurrected this month is the Swedish crime thriller The Hypnotist, biblical drama Mary, Mother of Christ and Kenneth Grahame biopic Banking on Mr. Toad. On the new movie side we have Alexander Payne's Nebraska (although to be fair that's been drifting along threatening to enter pre-production for years), submarine actioner Hunter Killer - joining Antoine Fuqua's ever expanding to-do list, the Coen Brothers' folk music expose Inside Llewyn Davis (now with added Justin Timberlake), true life murder/siege drama Foxcatcher, sci-fi romance Timeless and Robert De Niro on acerbic comic form in The Comedian.

Monster Butler

Extended from a 2010 short film, Malcolm McDowell will be reprising his role as serial killing servant Roy Fontaine, who murdered 7 employers, acquaintances and relatives in the late 1970's before serving out the rest of his days in prison. Peter (Highlander) Bellwood's script, partly based on Fontaine's own memoires, will probably take in the complex addictions and weaknesses of it's anti-hero as he graduated from petty thievery to more serious crime and found that he couldn't stop once he started. Or it could be exploitative nonsense, we'll see.


McDowell has a spotty filmography but you know he fully commits to eveyr role so he at least should be worth seeing.

Gilbert Cates

Finally this week we were saddened by the passing of Gilbert Cates, veteran director and producer who's early relationship dramas and TV staples will no doubt be passed over for the incredible contribution and consistency he brought to producing the Oscars telecast between 1990 and 2006. Like it or loathe it it's fair to say much of what we recognise in the annual celebration from tinseltown directly stems from Cates' ideas and production values over the last two deacades. He will be missed.

Here's a snippet of I never Sang for My father the 1971 play adaptation that first brought him to the attention of the mainstream.

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Sally Field


Happy Birthday to

Sally Field

65 today


About 30 years ago Ms Field was one of the biggest stars in Hollywood winning two Oscars within 6 years and drawing crowds to her movies. Then it all went silent for a while, with most of the naughties spent on TV, however now she's back in the mainstream with the next Spiderman movie, as Aunt May no less, and Steven Spielberg's Lincoln both on their way next year. Look out for another nomination at least.

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Saturday, 5 November 2011

Tatum O'Neal


Happy Birthday to

Tatum O'Neal

48 today


It's when kids that marked cinematic milestones have birthdays that we begin to realise how time is passing, and so it is with anyone who remembers film in the early 70's when Ryan's daughter stole the limelight in Paper Moon. Of course I wasn't even born then and can only remember Tatum from her marriage (and divorce) to John McEnroe, but anyone who can remember is probably now considering whatever happened to the last 38 years.

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Friday, 4 November 2011

A Date for your Diary (Out this week - 04/11/11)

You know it's not a classic week when I go with a foreign language movie as the top choice. Please don't take that the wrong way, obviously I understand that cinema was mostly born in France and that high quality pictures are produced around the world every year, however because I'm mainly in thrall of tinseltown my excitement levels for American product is usually higher (I know more about it for a start) so it's unusual if a little delightful to see a Norwegian drama taking the top spot, film of the week is Oslo, 31 August.



Oslo, 31 August

Almost documentary style in it's realism and hand-held closeness, this Scandivian pic, which comes with very complimentary reviews, follows a thirty something former drug addict on the day in question as he struggles with choosing a future that can provide the comfort he craves.

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Jack Goes Boating

Philip Seymour Hoffman directs and stars in the big screen adaptation of an off-Broadway hit by Robert Glaudini, essentially a romance between lonely people in New York counterbalanced by the disintegration of another couples relationship, it's the kind of plot you imagine PSH would be drawn to. Also starring Amy Ryan.

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Machine Gun Preacher

Sam Childer's biopic (hell's angel turned heaven's warrior) that I've followed since it's initial planning stages, also marks the first step of Gerard Butler's new career, although probably won't be his entry into the Oscar race.

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Tower Heist

Shock horror, it's a Ben Stiller/Eddie Murphy comedy that actually looks quite good, possibly because of it's on the nose plot about disgruntled workers sticking one to the capitalist system, but also because of the fantastic supporting cast (Gabourey Sidibe, Casey Affleck, Alan Alda and Judd Hirsch).

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The Future

Miranda July's indier than thou style may put off viewers with low levels of quirk tolerance (especially if the thought of her voicing monologues from a soon to be adopted cat makes you wince) but the trailer hints at exploring the staleness of relationships and the importance of finding the real you.

Runs like a Gay Excitometer: ●●●●○○○○○○

Straw Dogs

Updated and relocated to the deep south it's highly unlikely that Rod Lurie's movie will have half the impact or cultural resonance of Sam Peckinpah's gory 1971 thriller. Appalling box office, less than $11m, in the US indicates there isn't even a market for this uncalled for remake.

Runs like a Gay Excitometer: ●●●●○○○○○○

Anatolian Eagles

The Turkish Top Gun....Sort of... Five diverse candidates line up for the opportunity to fly fast jets in the Turkish Air Force. Is the jet squadron so small they only take 5 pilots a year?

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Human Centipede Part 2

Now the stink over it's initial "banning" from the BBFC has cleared the cut (about 8 seconds) version is still aiming for the gorno crowd, it's a shame as Tom Six's follow-up with it's avant garde black and white cinematography and it's meta plot about an obsessive film fan re-enacting the original human centipede could've been an involving character study.

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In Time

Is Justin Timberlake a bona fide filmstar? Probably not but at least he gets to run around a lot in Sndrew (Gattaca) Nichol's latest sci-fi thriller set in an alternative future where time is the only currency. Interesting concept at least.

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Weekend

Much buzzed about gay romance with Tom Cullen and Chris New's one-night stand in Nottingham getting perilously close to something more over the course of one weekend of drugs, sex and intimate chats. I've heard relentless raves from the LGBT community and the festival circuit so maybe I can be persuaded to catch it.

Runs like a Gay Excitometer: ●●●○○○○○○○

Will

A treat for Liverpool football club fans here with Stephen Gerrard getting more screentime than pitch time in recent months. It's a heart warming story about an orphan travelling across Europe to see the Champions League final with the tickets his Dad bought. Trivia fans note Bob Hoskins plays a kindly publican and the film is only showing in the North West.

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Gunfighter's Pledge

Luke Perry and C. Thomas Howell reappear from under the rock they've been hiding under since the mid 90's to star in a revenge Western with a central gunfight that's completely spoiled in the trailer. It's been in limited release since Monday but no-one seems to have heard about it.

Runs like a Gay Excitometer: ●●○○○○○○○○

Junkhearts

Brit indie about a haunted soldier, a determined rough sleeper and a hedonistic prostitute and the deeply depressing relations between them. Guardian film critic Jason Solomons cameos as a barman, that makes me so mad as any jobbing actor (including myself) would have killed for that role and they give it to a critic. Shame.

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Snow Flower and the Secret Fan

If laotung, the concept of childhood friend being bound together for eternity, in any way appeals then you can probably add a blob or two to the rating here. Two narratives, one in modern Shanghai the other in 19th century feudal China, explore the meanings of sisterly love.

Runs like a Gay Excitometer: ●●○○○○○○○○


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Thursday, 3 November 2011

The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn

2011. Dir: Steven Spielberg . Starring: Jamie Bell, Andy Serkis, Daniel Craig, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. ●●●●○



Unsurprisingly Steven Spielberg latest big budget roller coaster has conquered the box office across Europe, including a record breaking haul (non-sequel American movie) in France. Unsurprising not because of Spielberg, or for the cult cast list, or for the motion capture 3D presentation, but because The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn are based on one of the most successful cartoon characters of all time with over 350 million copies of his adventures sold - translated into 80 languages. I was a fan as a child, regularly borrowing the books from my local library, even using copies in it's native French to help me learn the language as a teenager, so it was with some trepidation that I went to see the adaptation, fearing the emotional connection to my youth would force me to find fault. Luckily the British trio of screenwriters, Steven Moffat, Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish, are able to transfer the flow and meaning of the comics to the screen, unfortunately whilst this makes for a delightfully quick romp it also highlights the flaws of the comic book medium.



Based on a mixture from Herge's stories we follow Tintin (Jamie Bell) as he gets entangled with the mysterious Unicorn, a 17th century Naval vessel that was lost with all hands and a priceless pirates booty, and it's replica models. The trail leads him across oceans, deserts and his own countryside (I assume this adaptation moves him from Belgium to the UK as he pays in pounds), encountering favourite characters from the books like the irrepressible drunk Captain Haddock (Serkis), the dubious detectives Thom(p)son twins (Pegg and Frost) and the Milanese Nightingale Bianca Castafiore (Kim Stengel, virtually the only female character in the cast), all the while accompanied by his faithful terrier Snowy, and chased by villainous emigre Ivanovich Sakharine (Daniel Craig).

The titular reporter has to be the unluckiest man/boy (his indeterminate age and social background aren't cleared up in this film) as not five minutes have gone by before a panting American is shot on his doorstep and his flat is ransacked, even crossing the road turns a hitherto peacefully foggy road into speed trials. This relentless action, taken it's cues from the books aim to always end a page on a cliffhanger, keeps the movie moving on at an exciting pace, but robs each sequence of it's threat. When a rottweiler gives chase to Tintin in the early scenes you already feel it won't be long before a deus ex machina comes along rescuing him from certain doom. Of course we know before the opening credits that Tintin's safe as houses, but a little more tension might have been appreciated.

This over-reliance on action also comes at the expense of character depth, I admit the lead has always been a bit of a cypher but surely the relationship between him and Haddock (or even Snowy) could have been drawn out with dialogue, rather then the furious intercutting of the Unicorn's potted history.

Of course there are moments where the action is delightfully appropriate, and fully justifies the otherwise unnecessary motion capture technology, especially the Moroccan chase sequence, shot a in a single take it's Heath Robinson complexity has our heroes (starting in a motorcycle and sidecar) follow the dastardly Sakharine and his trained hawk down the slopes to the port whilst a raging torrent of reservoir is released behind them. It's visually stunning, edge of the seat stuff that simply could not be filmed with any amount of stunt work or computer effects.

Andrew L. Jones' art direction, seemingly a tautology when the sets are created in a computer, captures the between the wars aesthetic and character designs, all noses and chins, are cleverly reworked from the simple drawing they're derived from. Odd flashes of dead eyes and over-realistic body parts (why was I distracted by arm hair at one point?) probably argue against the technology though.

And yet, and yet... In spite of all these complaints whilst I watched the film I thoroughly enjoyed it. The plot may be bobbins, the motion capture still not perfected, the action over-stuffed and the comedy painfully unfunny, but so were the comics and I sat there transfixed, captivated by the pure joy of the film, the chance to converse with my inner six year old. And not only was I mesmerised so was every child in my screening, that sat with wide eyed wonder, gleefully accepting every twist and turn, agog at the colour and speed of the images, unaware this is a pale imitation of Spielberg's earlier exploits with 1930's adventurers. They enjoyed it for what it was, and so did I, and so will you.

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Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Ides of March

2011. Dir: George Clooney. Starring: Ryan Gosling, George Clooney, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti and Evan Rachel Wood. ●●●●○



I've not seen "Farrugut North", Beau Eillimon's play that forms the basis of George Clooney and Grant Heslov's latest venture, so far as I know the play hasn't made it to the UK, however right now I don't feel that I need to. Ides of March hews so closely to a theatrical experience that seeing it live can hardly bring much more to the story. The inherent staginess of the adaptation is hard for this movie to shake off, it's structure and style of moving from room to room with powerfully dressed men with distressed ties underlines how little has been changed. That said, in spite of this limitation, it's themes of loyalty and corruption (mirroring the more successful Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy) are presented so thoroughly and realistically that the quality of the screenplay and acting pushes through.



Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling) may only be 30 but he's a veteran of political campaigning, something he's very keen to stress to Marisa Tomei's political hack in an early pace setting introduction, and after years of backing the wrong horse he's finally found a Presidential candidate he can believe in, a man whose proto-Liberal values are only matched by his personal integrity, ladies and gentleman I give you the next president of the United States, Senator (and co-writer/director) George Clooney.

Anyone who's ever watched a political film will know that Clooney isn't all he seems to be, and in this modern sex-crazed post Clinton world it's hardly going to his atheism that's going to be his undoing. Not that Meyers guesses it, he goes right on with his hubristically unchallenged behaviour, seducing intern Molly Stearns (Evan Rachel Wood) and getting played by rival strategist Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti) until both storylines collide dramatically turning Meyers from wide eyed idolised to deft spin-doctor.

Much has been said about how Ides recalls Political thrillers from the 70's with it's intense paranoia, but to me it most closely resembles Gore Vidal's tight 1964 screenplay for The Best Man, that too was a fraught political fight between two prospective Presidential candidates set in one city during hustings, and like this modern antecedent the drama came from guys whispering poll figures, however where Henry Fonda was a flawed but moralistic politician trying to do the best for his party and desperated avoiding mudslinging, here Clooney is sidelined. Modern politics has taken the candidate, the celebrity, out of the picture, now we're more concerned with the spinners on the sides and everyone accepts the personal is part of the game.

This is an actor's wet dream, with everyone on top form. Evan Rachel Wood as the intern whose sexual precociousness hides an inner turmoil is superb, and watching Giamatti and Philip Seymour Hoffman as two old school campaigners, with their personal vendettas and careful strategies, is a joy. Hoffman has the best scene in the movie, a rip roaring speech on loyalty that somehow seems out of touch with the modern world. All this would be for nothing if Gosling couldn't handle the lead role, bringing the same blank canvas he displayed in Drive the character arc seems both irresistible and inevitable, and the final scene, of Gosling looking to camera about to give the most important interview of his life, will no doubt be one of the most hotly discussed cliffhangers of 2011 cinema.

This movie is also designed to within an inch of it's life, no decoration, no lighting set-up is left to chance, we're in no doubt that this is a movie about politics (even if it's not about Politics) from the stuffed campaign office with it's inspirational posters to the functional hotel rooms and dimly lit bars there is a real sense of place in each of the scenes. Clooney also does a good job as director keeping the tension and unpredictability of the characters even when you can see the direction where the plot is heading.

Overall I would recommend this film, of course I'm the crowd it's playing to, but it's presentation of the modern political game is both damning and compelling and short of the play coming to your town this is the next best thing.

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Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Tuesday Trailers - Dream House

Isn't it amazing how different directors react to making bad movies. Two weeks ago I showed the trailer from the king of awful films Joel Schumacher, and to his credit in interviews he's admitted to it's flaws and agrees in places you should just laugh at it's flabby lack of tension. On the other extreme this week we have Oscar winner Jim Sheridan, whose career trajectory has been on a downward slope for some years but has not hit rock bottom with the dreadful critical and commercial response to his Daniel Craig starring horror. So much so he's asking to do an Alan Smithee and have his name removed from the credits. It doesn't matter Jim, everyone knows you're responsible. The good news is you can watch the trailer here and not have to watch the film because every twist and dramatic beat is included for you.



Dream House is released on 25 November 2011.

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Toni Collette


Happy Birthday to

Toni Collette

39 today


When Fright Night came out a couple of months ago I heard one reviewer lament how every time you see Toni she looks thinner. It's an interesting point, and one that seems to hinge on the unfortunate ways that female stars have to conform in Hollywood, whilst never really over weight, Toni was often thought of that way because of her Australian breakout role in Muriel's Wedding but in order to keep the parts coming, even the mother to the hero parts like the aforementioned horror remake, she's had to scrape every inch of form from her body. There aren't even any great parts coming for her right now.

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Monday, 31 October 2011

Lee Grant


Happy Birthday to

Lee Grant

84 today


One of the most successful actresses that no-ones heard of, you will almost certainly know Lee's work, from In the Heat of the Night to Shampoo her career was full of cult hits and fascinating choices, as well as being one of the the unfortunate actresses to have been blacklisted during the McCarthy trials.

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Saturday, 29 October 2011

What now, Ben? (Film News - 29/10/11)

It's Ben Affleck everywhere you look this week, he's headlining the news and his latest picture has a release date, it's like he won't leave me alone. (For the record he has pretty much left me alone for the last 34 years but I can dream). So todays news post is partly dedicated to the chinned wonder and his growing strengths of his directorial career.

The Stand

The first story came as a bit of surprise to Harry Potter fans, it was thought David Yates would go on to adapt the seminal Stephen King novel as his next project however it looks like Warner Bros. have passed the baton on to Affleck, which would mark the biggest project so far for the actor/director.



The Stand (above) is a dense complex novel about the end of civilisation and the split of mankind's survivors into two distinct social structures one good and one evil! Developed into a miniseries in the early 90's even short-changed many of the characters and over-simplified the thematics of King's work, so how it will squeeze into two and a bit hours remains to be seen.

That said it's great news for Ben's career, his last two films have been Boston set crime novels which have proven he knows how to work with strong ensembles and tense action scenes so perhaps this is proof a large studio is willing to take a chance on his growing skills behind the camera.

(and upcoming Whitey Bulger biopic)

That is if he doesn't choose to focus on the second story, a potential new collaboration with his Good Will Hunting buddy Matt Damon, a biopic of the famed Boston gangster/FBI informant Whitey Bulger. As much as I'd like to see the two old friends working together again I don't really have much anticipation for this, which appears to be a step back for Affleck's directorial career. Especially given this is the third Bulger biopic I've heard about, although none of them appear to be far enough in production to deter the others from developing the idea right now.

I guess we'll just have to wait and see which way Ben goes, there's another 340 days before Argo is released so plenty of time for him to make his mind up.

Read on for a miss-sold thriller, some running, Norwegian crossovers and a catch up on something I completely missed, as well as the latest casting news and a review of the latest changes in UK release dates.



The Arrangement

I'm not sure why the press notes for this love triangle pitch are calling it a thriller, but the mixed race romance scripted by Brian Tucker is getting that moniker everywhere I see it. Maybe the man on the side turns into a Bunny boiler when the affair ends? That'll be a neat twist which hopefully I haven't just spoilt.

McFarland

Disney make inspirational sports drama on a regular basis, they tend to involves teams of no good kids, learning to work together under the tutelage of a sports star on the way down (usually a well known star) who realises his (and lets face it it's almost always a he) potential to inspire greatness and defeat his own personal demons. They will probably be a last minute pep talk in the locker room and an amazing turnaround in the final quarter. Usually. This time though the sport in question is athletics, individual players who work alone to prove themselves on the field (although I expect the relay, right, to feature heavily). It'll be interesting to see how this true-life story of a predominantly Latino school turning around it's fortunes will be handled, interesting to see how racial politics come into play too.

The Snowman

Even more news from the North as another Scandinavian thriller looks set for a US adaptation. This time it's the serial killer novel by Jo Nesbø which has been optioned by Working Title in part to the books rise in popularity in the wake of Steig Larsson's Millenium trilogy and partly due the success of the homegrown adaptation of another of Nesbø's novels, Headhunters. The seventh in a series about Harry Hole, a detective who doesn't play by the rules and a killer whose modus operandi includes burying the victims under snowmen. Sounds more TV to me, but we'll see.

Zeitoun

I probably should have mentioned this Jonathan Demme project some years ago, after it's been on his to do list for a long time, but I honestly thought it was a documentary (let's face it these days he does drift between fiction and non-fiction works these days) however the more I hear the more I doubt that assumption. It's going to be animated, not that that discounts the possibility of documentary, it's based on a non-fiction novel by Dave Eggars (left) and concerns the muslim shopkeeper who was arrested and detained without charge for 23 days following Katrina, allegedly for terrorism charges. Whether the film will essentially be a biography in the nature of the novel, or whether it will look at the incident as we would expect from a doc remains to be seen for a time, either way it will probably blur the boundaries of the medium and I'll probably flip flop several times over my commitment to talk about it.

Casting News

Probably the most bizarre casting story this week is the addition of Albert Finney to the Bond 23 supporting rosta. What that's you say? "How is that surprising?" I suppose you have a point, with the recent rumours Sam Mendes is going for a more dramatic Bond, less action orientated, it makes sense he'd ask a star like Finney on board, however considering Al's next movie is the other spy franchise The Bourne Legacy there might just be some unfortunate pre-conceptions that audiences will bring in. Also in the news is Sylvester Stallone who's joined the prison break drama The Tomb replacing Bruce Willis in the role of an architect caught in his own labyrinth.

Release Dates

Trespass - The first of the changes you've probably picked up on because I posted the trailer a couple of weeks ago, not that you'd know living in Manchester, less than two weeks until opening and I've only seen one small poster in the cinema. Laugh at Cage's syrup on 11 November 2011.

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen - Paul Torday satirical novel, with it's curious mishmash of styles (memos, diary entries, interviews) it's going to be odd to interesting to see how it adapts to the screen, especially with the gender changes that have happened to some characters. Realise your most ambitious plans on 09 March 2012.

We Bought a Zoo - We're going to have to wait a little bit longer for Cameron's Crowe's first film in over 6 years, as it's shifted out of the Christmas opening probably to avoid getting missed in the mix of prestige pics. Learn how to deal with sick Lions on 30 March 2012.

Playing the Field - The Gerard Butler career shift continues with this romantic comedy based around children's football (OK, soccer) team and his attempts to shag his way through the Moms. Go to the park for a kick about on 30 April 2012.

Lucky One - Get your hankies ready for the next Nicolas Sparks (Notebook, Dear John) novel to make it to the big screen, with Zac Efron searching for the anonymous girl in a photo that sustain him during his tour in Iraq. Find someone you don't know on 04 May 2012.

Argo - Ben Affleck may be in the news this week for his long-term plans but we still have his CIA subterfuge movie to see first, heading for a similar release pattern to The Town. Pretend to make a film on 05 October 2012.

The Thor 2 - I really enjoyed the first Thor - the only comic book movie I saw this year - and I suspect the change of director to Patty Jenkins will definitely make the follow-up one to watch too, although the delays in getting her to sign up have delayed the release a few more months. I need to buy a horse on 15 November 2013.



Obviously I couldn't end this post without at least one Ben pic - slightly less sexually objectified as I planned but I'm sitting next to my landlord right now!

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Winona Ryder


Happy Birthday to

Winona Ryder

40 today


After years of virtually disappearing, apart from certain security camera footage, Winona is bravely moving into the next stage of her career - kicking and screaming through Black Swan as the former Prima Donna replaced by Natalie Portman. Next up is voice work on Tim Burton's Frankenweenie.

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Friday, 28 October 2011

Cowards die many times before their deaths (Out this week - 28/10/11)

It's an interesting week for film releases with two Oscar players hitting British cinemas, but neither of them have received the kind of outstanding reviews that would guarantee box office hit status, not that we need to worry about ticket sales as Spielberg and Herge will be claiming the top spot. There's an interesting selection of Bollywood releases too, as a post Diwali celebration, not that I'm going there for film of the week, which has to be Ides of March.



Ides of March

George Clooney's throwback political thriller, with it's roots in 70's cinema - albeit reflected in todays celebrity obsessed politics and 24 hour news footage - looks set to peel the facade away from the business of spin and is another chance to see Ryan Gosling's star ascending (gotta be worth it for that alone).

Runs like a Gay Excitometer: ●●●●●●●○○○



The Help

The astonishing success of Tate Taylor's directorial debut ($166m domestic and counting) has once again proven there's a significant market for films that are made for an adult audience, although being adapted from a New York Times bestseller certainly helps. Although whether the Civil Rights theme will translate to British audiences remains to be seen.

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The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn

It's taken a surprisingly long for Hollywood to pick up on the best selling Belgian journalist/detective, possibly because whilst the character is wildly popular this side of the Atlantic he's barely dented the US market. Of course if anyone can change the opinions of the US public it's Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson.

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Miss Bala

Mexico's submission for the Foreign Language Oscar is an unlikely account of the drug cartels as seen through the eyes of an aspiring beauty queen.

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Anonymous

World wrecker Roland Emmerich is taking a break from destroying mankind by indulging in one of the more fanciful Shakespeare conspiracies, calling the authorship of the plays into questions, although frankly it hardly matters giving the quality of the work. Somehow he drags Rhys Ifans, Vanessa Redgrave and Derek Jacobi into the mix.

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Seventh Sense

Jumping straight past the sixth one, presumably because that involves seeing ghosts, this Tamil feature mixes elements of global arms races, genetic technology and a big song and dance number naturally.

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Silence

European crime thriller with the central abduction of a 13 year old girl offering eerie parallels to a 23 year old cold case the original investigators must work together to prevent another murder. Sounds awfully TV to me.

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Sket

Gender equality is a good thing, of that I'm sure there's no question, however the sight of a gang warfare movie focussed on a half dozen of teenage girls chasing down the drug dealer who hospitalized one of their brothers does feel like a step too far.

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Velayudham

Bollywood option number 2 could be about journalistic integrity with a columnist basing their copy on the experiences of an unwitting postman. But it'll probably be about an unconventional romance - do tell me if I'm guessing this wrong.

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Demons Never Die

Lo-fi British horror which starts with a terrific premise - teenagers enter into a suicide pact only to be brutally murdered if they fail to enact their plans - but swiftly turns into an unnecessarily derivative stalker pic.

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RA. One

For Random Access, this 3D superhero movie is reported the most expensive Bollywood movie of all time with a rumoured budget of $50m. Huge pressure then for megastar Shah Rukh Khan to deliver the audiences.

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Joaquin Pheonix


Happy Birthday to

Joaquin Pheonix

37 today


The super-sexy stud has, unsurprisingly, been taking it easy since his infamous performance art mockumentary I'm Still Here which followed his apparent breakdown and crossover to drunken rap star. However he's chosen a great vehicle to reintegrate with mainstream with the Paul Thomas Anderson religion drama The Master.

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Thursday, 27 October 2011

Contagion

2011. Dir: Steven Soderbergh. Starring: Laurence Fishburne, Jennifer Ehle, Matt Damon, Kate Winslet and Jude Law. ●●●○○



Contagion does a great job of changing the way you think. For a few hours after leaving the cinema I was afraid to touch door handles, hand driers, bar snacks, nervous of using public transport and definitely avoiding coughing in peoples faces. All of these apparently harmless activities now seem to invite painful inevitable death. One minute you could be throwing dice in Macau, gleefully planning to shag your ex, and the next your cranium will be cut in half by nervous pathologists. Steven Soderbergh's clinical thriller, analysing the likely response to a global pandemic, certainly ratchets up the tension but objective approach and multiple storylines prevents the audience from empathising with the characters and ultimately we left with the impression of a heavy handed Government Information broadcast.



Picking up the story from day 2 and the first anonymous victim stumbling under a lorry in his Hong Kong Soderbergh has deliberately avoided the usual disaster movie conventions, instead he's trying to understand the likely battle against a rogue flu. So we follow Laurence Fishburne's head of the Centre for Disease Control, with his field operative Kate Winslet trying to contain the virus and his top scientist Jennifer Ehle finding a way to beat it. All the while Matt Damon's everyman and Jude Law's harbinger of doom blogger are caught up and carried along by the collapse of society as fear and desperation become even more viral than the initial bug.

Soderbergh is trying to replicate his success with Traffic, weaving a multi-character arc around an issue we will all face from time to time, however the storylines don't provide enough of a variation to create a satisfying whole. In his 2000 masterpiece each of the major plot informed reactions to the others, here they feel tacked on, even when Fishburne and Law debate their point on TV news or when Marion Cotillard surveys Gwynneth Paltrow's last steps these seem ultimately disconnected events. Some sections manage to make an interesting case to have seen more of - ultimately the CDC sections are the most compelling - however others seem unnecessarily sparse (Cotillard is especially hard done by) and Matt Damon's personal travails come across as petty and small - and he loses his wife and stepson in the first 10 minutes of the film!

The messiness also seems to detract from the central thesis, the status quo for mankind isn't panic and disorder but trust and sacrifice. The scientist that tests a drug on herself, the reasercher who gives up a coat, the man in a queue picking up a passport, the importance of a handshake. These are the minor moments that define us as human beings.

We do see some nice performances, Jennifer Ehle's resourcefulness is a highlight, as is Elliott Gould's proud academic (a character I really wanted to see more of), indeed none of the cast are doing a bad job it's just a shame so many of them have very little to do.

Steven's work as a cinematography also throwbacks back to his earlier experiments with colour filters, here a sickly green hue permeates through the action, queasily altering our general perception. There are also some nice touches with out-of-focus shooting, even if we have seen all these before. The script also provides some belters, "Blogging isn't writing, it's graffiti with punctuation." easily winning plaudits as the most quotable line. So naturally I repeat here - spraypainting my thoughts on the wall of the internet.

Overall I would say this is a competent movie and would recommend it (if only to make everyone think twice about going to work when they have a cold) but I couldn't help thinking probably had something better inside of it, maybe a much longer miniseries or jettisoning the other stories and focusing on the work of the CDC could've have kept the film sharper.

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