Monday, 31 January 2011

Lynn Carlin


Happy Birthday to

Lynn Carlin

73 today


Little remembered TV actress from the 70's who broke out in John Cassevetes 1968's Faces and garnered an Oscar nomination in the process. She only tried acting after an unhappy stint as Robert Altman's secretary came to a premature end.

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Sunday, 30 January 2011

20 for 2011: 1 - Contagion

Finally we reach my top pick for 2011, the film I'm most looking forward to seeing is...

Steven Soderbergh's Contagion.



Steven Soderbergh, that former darling of the American indie scene, is a cinematic chameleon, his back catalogue encompasses the full gamut of genres from biopics (Che) to star laden comedy (The Ocean's trilogy) to experimental art (Bubble). Even his misfires are generally considered to be worth watching, as they exhibit an understanding of form and content almost unparallelled in modern cinema.

For Contagion he reunites with The Informant writer Scott Z. Burns for what is described on imdb as "An action-thriller centered on the threat posed by a deadly disease and an international team of doctors contracted by the CDC to deal with the outbreak." That's just the tip of the iceberg, as the hyperlink movie will take in a variety of stories including familial sacrifice, panic-stirring bloggers, the collapse of Governments as well as the race to find a cure.

Originally planned to be shot in 3D, the latest I've heard is that has been quietly dropped as Soderbergh wasn't happy with the results, proof that he is serious about this multi-character drama. Indeed it seems to indicate the sort of serious mind he brought to Traffic, his superb take on the war on drugs.

Like that previous picture the cast is huge, and hugely talented, including Marion Cotillard, Matt Damon, Lawrence Fishburne, Elliott Gould, Jude Law, Gwynneth Paltrow, Kate Winslet and John Hawkes (recent Academy Award nominee for Winter's Bone). In case you weren't aware that little lot have 3 acting Oscars and a further 12 nominations between them, it's the sort of cast list you didn't think you'd see anymore and the sort of cast that wouldn't just sign on to anything.

In short this is a fascinating prospect, a director whosework I trust and have a long time affection for, working within a curious and underused genre with a castlist out of this world. How could anyone not be excited by this.

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But has it been worth the wait? (Film News - 29/01/11)

This weeks news has been dominated by the Oscar nominations on Tuesday morning, althugh a few other stories caught my eye. More on which later. With regards to the Academy as always we can bemoan and criticise their choices, there was an odd omission in the director category and a surprise inclusion in both foreign language and Documentary (Banksy for the Oscar!) but on the whole I think they did very well this year. In all of the categories there is a general level of quality, indeed I haven't spotted a single nomination that I disagree with (even though there are some I think we're better there's nothing bad in there). This probably speaks to the quality of films and work going into them that we've seen in the last 12 months.

I repeat what I said on Tuesday and congratulate the first time nominees (I'd especially like to congratulate Christian Bale and John Hawkes both of whom will get two mentions on the blog today), and I very much hope that the added exposure from gaining a nod helps you find more rewarding and enjoyable work in the future.

Right now though, it's back to the real news...

The Other Side of the Wind

Moves occasionally disappear in a mire of post-production woes, it's a sad fact of life that money, time and talent all run out and whn then do it often leaves the central piece in limbo. Many never complete filming (The Man who Killed Don Quixote, Nailed), some disappear in endless editing (Margaret) and still more get blocked by legal bickering and money men (La Mula). Most of these are forgotten with time, but some become legendary and so it is with Orson Welles (below) last directorial job. Locked in an French vault in the early 1970's the John Huston and Jeanne Moreau starrer has languished whilst various parties sort out the rights, but now seems to be edging closer to a cinematic release.



LA lawyer Kenneth Sidle told the Observer: “We are in negotiations for the picture, which would lead to the finishing and public exhibition. Hopefully within the next few weeks we will know.”

All of which we've heard before a number of times, but you can guarantee that if Wind does get a release I'll be right at the front of the queue.

Read on for a possible Poe trend, erotic thrillers, some unsurprising casting news and the latest release schedule changes.



The Pale Blue Eye

The Wrap are reporting Scott "Crazy Heart" Cooper is set to write and direct his next project for Fox 2000. Whilst no plot details have yet been announced it's inferred elsewhere this could be an adpatation of Louis Bayard's mystery/thriller set around Edgar Allen Poe's (left) education at West Point Military Academy. Sounds like a fascinating mix of location and theme if it's true, and along with this years The Raven it could make for an exciting Poe double bill.



Passion

When was the last time Brian De Palma had a bone fide hit? Don't strain it has been a while. The good news is he's coming back to a screen near you with a English language remake of a French psychodrama Crime d'amour about fueding exes who eventually end with murder. The orginal starred Kristen Scott Thomas and Ludvine Sagnier, but I don't know if they were each others exes or exs of an unnamed third person. I expect De Palma might be drawn to the former though. In a statement he declared: “Not since Dressed to Kill have I had a chance to combine eroticism, suspense, mystery and murder into one spellbinding cinematic experience”. Which sounds great.

Casting News

The latest casting rumours from Hollywood are incredibly predictable, in fact I'm sure we've heard all of this before at some point.. Judi Dench has confirmed she will reprise the role of M in Bond 23, Paul Giamatti is in for Cosmopolis and Naomi Watts will be J. Edgar's secretary for Clint Eastwood. Did any of that shock you?

Release Dates

The Eagle - There's been another short delay for Kevin Macdonald's swords and sandals adaptation of the Rosemary Sutcliffe novel, luckily only a week for scheduling reasons this time. Test your slaves loyalty on 25 March 2011.

Scream 4 - All the rules have been changed as we return to Woodsboro for the first time in ten years for Wes Craven's classic franchise. Don't pick up the phone on 15 April 2011.

The Debt - Delayed from last year Helen Mirren Mossad drama has found a new date, Toronto reviews were generally positive but not enough for an awards run hence the hold up. Regret the past on 02 September 2011.

War Horse - Originally slated for early autumn, Spielberg's serious 2011 film about a horse that went to war (natch) disappeared from the schedules for a while, but now returns. Globe trot after your pet on 06 January 2012.

The Dark Knight Rises - This years see the return of big and bright comic book heroes with Captain America and Thor on their way but few of us can really deny we long to see the brooding Batman return in 2012. Become morally questionable in your quest to serve justice on 20 July 2012.


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Christian Bale


Happy Birthday to

Christian Bale

37 today


And a very hearty congratulations on your Academy Award nomination in the best supporting actor category for The Fighter. I expect it's a well earned nom for an actor who always gives his all to a role. Of course the film we're all looking forward to seeing Bale in next is The Dark Knight Rises.

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Saturday, 29 January 2011

I see Dead people (Out this week - 28/01/11)

In three weeks time we'll be out of the Oscar season and the quality of films will drop ac down to it's usual level of mediocrity. In the meantime we have another week with four movies that could easily have come top of the heap, and a quality animation for the kids as well (which might actually be the film to knock The King's Speech off the top of the charts). Of course a winner has to be chosen so for now film of the week is Biutiful.



Biutiful

Picking up a surprise (ish) nod for Javier Bardem this week in the Academy Awards, Aleandro Gonzalez Inarritu's first self-penned movie has divided critics since it's Cannes bow with relentless misery. That said it looks gorgeous in the trailer.

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



Barney's Version

Highly respected adaptation of Mordecai Richler's novel which gained an oscar nomination for it's make-up this week. The titular Barney is played with schlubby aplomb by Paul Giamatti as we travel through his life of failed marriages, lack of career integrity and, possibly, murder. Dustin Hoffman and Minnie Driver are among the co-stars.

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

Hereafter

Matt Damon stars as a medium in Clint Eastwood's latest drama based on a Peter Morgan script. Feted for it's opening tsunami and Damon's underplayed performance the reviews have been negative about the overall structure.

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

How do you Know

Broadcast News and As Good as it Gets are now drifting a long way into the past as James L. Brooks seems to have forgotten what it was that made his earlier movies worthwhile. Reese Witerspoon agonises between two suitors, both of whom reveal inner anxieties throughout the movie.

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

Tangled

The Rapunzel-lite adaptation has taken over $180m in the US, putting it at number 10 of the 2010 releases and a solid entry in Disney's canon. By the way did you know this is their 50th in-house animation cinematic release? Should do well in this weeks crowded market.

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

Dil Toh Baccha Hai Ji

I think thi is the only Bollywood release of the week, although given that we've got more under the radar releases from last week that could prove incorrect. Slight variation to the usual mismatched romantic comedy, this has an (awknowledged) 15 year age gap between the protagonists.

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

Accursed Blood

Kellen Lutz tries to pretend he's the draw for the Twilight crowd with an above the title mention on a dirty looking stalker drama. He will probably fail.

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

The Mechanic

Jason Statham takes his shirt off, has sex with a girl to prove he's not gay, then teaches Ben Foster (why?!?) how to be a hitman in this remake of Charles Bronson's star making turn. Probably not worth seeing at cinemas.

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

And more films missed from last week - 21/01/11

Portuguese Nun

French/Portuguese collaboration about an actress playing a Nun who experiences a religious epiphany. Leisurely and respectful this should have been better advertised.

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

Kutsal Damacana 3 Dracoola

The Turkish comic-horror (which looks neither funny nor scary) comes back with a third bite at the filmgoing public. There must be a market for it, but I can't think of anyone who'd go to see this.

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

Pranchiyetten and the Saint

I believe, from looking at the trailer, that this Bollywood film does actually concern Catholocism in India in a positive way, even the soundtrack mixes Eastern beats to religious plainsong.

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

Charlie Noades RIP

Independent British comedy (don't laugh) written by Bafta nominee Neil Fitzmaurice and starring a notable slection of small screen comedc talent, problem is this looks from the trailer like it's much more suited to the small screen, maybe late night Channel 4.

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

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20 for 2011: 2 - Dream House

Straining the credibility of my countdown at number 2 is Dream House.



I've been very lucky with the timing as the first shot of Dream House was released just this week, don't Daniel and Rachel look awfully vexed to you? I'm quite partial to high quality drama based direcors slumming it, and after the excellent Brothers I think this is Jim Sheridan's chance to have a bit of genre fun.

The premise involves stars Craig and Weisz moving into their dream property only to find out from the neighbours (Naomi Watts and Martin Csokas) that the previous tenants went on a Manson like killing spree. Oh, and there's a group of cult supporters of the imprisoned mass murderer who keep turning up. Cue some dramatic changes of character and nice jump cuts.

I'm hoping that the mix of Sheridan and thi fine cast indicate there's a quality script from David Loucka underneath the tired cliches of a plot. (Although frankly without this could still be a couple of hours of hokum and fun.)

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Oprah Winfrey


Happy Birthday to

Oprah Winfrey

57 today


Now that Mississippi native Winfrey is no longer on Television is she still the most powerful woman in America (calm down Hilary I'm talking n terms of influencing people's opinions)? Given that the fawning Piers Moron chose her as the first guest on his new nightly show one can only imagine that she is seen with due reverence. Personally I just want her to use the new found freedom and make some films.

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Friday, 28 January 2011

20 for 2011: 3 - Twixt now and Sunrise

We're settling into the horror zone with number 3 Twixt now and Sunrise.



Bizarrely the director who's benefitted most from appearing in my top ten from 2010 is the one who should need it least: The Godfather and Apocalypse Now helmer Francis Ford Coppola. Watching Tetro was a reminder of the talent that Coppola used to be, before he wasted it on inferior studio fare in the 90's and a decade of wine production. Sure the story was pure soap opera but the look and feel of the film transcended it's origins.

This Val Kilmer starring horror may suffer from the same cliches as any number of Stephen King minor adaptations (see The Dark Half) as a writer blurs the line between fantasy and reality in his latest gothic masterpiece, but I thoroughly believe that Coppola can keep the suspense, beautiful film the sequences and, ultimately, give us enough to be able to ignore the histrionics.

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Alan Alda


Happy Birthday to

Alan Alda

75 today


Born Alphonso D'Abruzzo in New York three quarters of a century ago, Alda has been constantly in demand as an actor and director since his TV debut in The Phil Silvers Show, but of curse he's best remembered for his role as Captain Pierce in TV's M*A*S*H. He's got a couple of big films coming this year, Tower Heist and Wanderlust, but I can't say I'm relishing the thought of them.

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Thursday, 27 January 2011

John Carpenter's The Ward

2010. Dir: John Carpenter. Starring: Amber Heard, Lyndsy Fonseca, Mamie Gummer, Danielle Panabaker and Jared Harris. ●●●○○



Yesterday I fell head over heels for cinem that pushes boundaries, today, alas it's back to the grind with John Carpenter's The Ward, a movie that is no doubt proud of it's crass commercialism. Neither a leading piece in it's field of ghost stories nor a woefully dull failure John Carpenter's return to the genre is best defined as a steaming pile of averageness.



Amber Heard is the pyromaniac Kristen committed to North Bend Psychiatric hospital, looking suspiciously like an apartment block I stayed at in Florida once, learning how to get along with her ragtag bunch of fellow inmates and suspiciously forceful nursing staff. Of course anyone who's ever seen a horror movie set in an asylum already knows how this is going to end, although it reminded me most of a James Mangold's 2003 motel-set thriller (that'll be a spoiler so don't look it up unless you want to know the ending).

Of course we all know with a John Carpenter movie it's not the ending we're interested in but the journey. The titular ward is creepy enough with it's random blackouts and obilgatory electrical storms, and the staff do a good job of appearing to be either brutal or complicit in the games played by it's ethereal presence. Jared Harris in particular, as her gentle shrink, seems to be hiding much too much information about Kristen's past.

The other girls bravely try to play their intentionally cliched, cardboard cut-out characters without overplaying the slutty/kooky/bookish element written into the role. At the tim I thought Mamie Gummer did the best job, but just hours later I suspet I was influenced subconciously by her mother just proving how I too belong in that asylum.

The scares are there, hands jumping out of steamy shower scenes, bodies flying out of enclosed spaces, and there are even nods to the less effective gorno tactics of modern horror with electric shock therapy causing bleeding eyes, but without any feeling for the characters you tend not to care which of the supporting ladies will disappear first.

I suppose we couldn't have expected a return to Hallowe'en level talent for Carpenter, but at least he's improved greatly since his last couple of movies.

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20 fr 2011: 4 - Rampart

Setting number 4 in it's targets is rengade cop thriller Rampart.



Over the last couple of weeks I have finally caught up wit 2009's The Messenger from director Oren Moverman and I confess to being utterly captivated by the calm sincerity of the piece. Ben Foster and Woody Harrelson both give superb performances as soldiers tasked with passing on the terrible news of the death of a loved one.

With that in mind I'm glad I'd already put this semi-true story so high on the list of forthcoming releases. The Rampart division was a department of the LAPD set up as a first response to high level drug crime and it's associated violence. Unfortunately it very soon became a nest of corruption. This film follows one of the last renegade cops, played by Harrelson, as he takes care of his family and fights for survival.

Oddly Ben Foster has recently been saying this is unlikely to ht the festival circuit until 2012, which given it's already in post-production seems awfully negative, but we'll keep our fingers crossed for a 2011 release.

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Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Black Swan

2010. Dir: Darren Aronofsky. Starring: Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, Vincent Cassel, Barbara Hershey and Winona Ryder. ●●●●●



It's all too easy to forget that cinema is an art form, we tend to imagine the studios heads sitting in overlit offices with fawning assistants, counting the box office receipts of whatever Transformer shaped dreck they've unleased to the public as a coked-out pimp would guard his wares. Even those of us who profess a love of arthouse cinema, with our badly subtitled Albanian propaganda that quietly destroys beourgeois family values whilst simultaneously propping up our intellectually elitist worldview, have been fooled by false prophets of the human spirit. But this study of artistic desire, this interlude in the mind of performer, this screeching, screaming "were-swan" pushes past the boundaries of the screen, boldly pronouncing "I AM ART"! Black Swan is the first film I've seen for a long time that cannot be judged against normal rules; it's as much an installation as a movie.



That's it. Rave over. The hyperbole is done with. My point though is Black Swan enters your conciousness in a way few films do. I've not seen all of the films that made it to the Academy's top ten yesterday, but I doubt Swan will be my favourite, however it will be the one I remember for longer. Certain images, themes and moments within the movie will stay ingrained in my head, so visceral is the experience I felt I was up there with Natalie Portman's Nina executing every pirouette forcing my way through the dance.

You see it's impossible: to describe it is to relive the moment.

Portman's Nina gets a surprise bump up the pecking order of her ballet troupe, cast in the dual role of the Swan Queen and Black Swan in Tchaikovsky's most famous ballet Swan Lake. Vincent Cassel as her director/choreographer and would-be lover taunts her inability to unlock the passion of the Black Swan, to overthrough the virginal perfection of her dancing and awaken the inner desires. Enter Mila Kunis as her rival, a dancer able to fully show the passion of the Black Swan, unhindered by the desperation to please.

It is this desperation that fuels the story, the layer upon layer of agony and mental torment that Nina puts herself through. Slowly destroying her body through excessive practice and relentless acts of self-harm and bulimia. When the opening night comes we hear every cracking bone, every heaving breath as Nina forces her way through the performance, like her natural counterparts we are treated to the excessive underwater effort whilst the audience see only the gentle majesty of the whole. Nina wants to be admired, she seeks the gratification of the applause and internally vows to prove the doubters, the other dancers, the lothario Cassel, her own bitter and poisonous mother, icily performed by Barbara Hershey, even when cooing over her "sweet, sweet girl".

None of the cast miss their marks, and Portman especially gives a career best performance fully realisng the emotional journey of her doomed heroine.

There are elements that don't work, the script overeggs the pudding reminder us again and again of the themes, and Winona Ryder's passed over Prima Ballerina Beth seems to exist purely to underline old cliches repeated in far too many ballet movies, but these cannot take away from the superb mix of sound and image.

Matthew Libatique upclose hand held cinematography enters the world created by David Stein's art direction and Amy Westcott's costumes, at the same time the layering of sound, dialogue and Matt Dunkley and Clint Mansell's arrangements of Tchaikovsky's masterpiece ensure every moment fits together even when we're clearly left the natural world.

But all of this leads to Darren Aronofsky. It's an achievement that cannot be overstated, he has directed a piece of art, he sought perfection, and that alone makes it worth seeing.

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20 for 2011: 5 - Young Adult

Kicking off the top five is a unlikely non-romance Young Adult.



It's extremely difficult to imagine a world where Charlize Theron can't just click her fingers and get any man she wants, but in the latest collaboration between director Jason Reitman and writer Diablo Cody we are expected to do just that. The last time the two joined forces they createdthe critical and commercial smash hit Juno and whilst the dialogue will probably be less self-conciously hip this time around we can still expect some classy zingers and real understanding of how people work.

Theron plays an author of "young adult" fiction who moves back to her midwest hometown to reconnect with old flame Patrick Wilson, who's now married to Elizabeth Reaser (Esme Cullen in the Twilight movies so no stunt casting there). Lessons will probably be learnt about being yourself and accepting other people for who they are - I don't mean to be trite I am looking forward to this.

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David Strathairn


Happy Birthday to

David Strathairn

62 today


The consummate character actor, David has been bolstering ensembles for over 30 years, but did you know one of his first jobs following graduation was as a clown in a travelling circus? Coming soon is his role as King Alonso, Helen Mirren usurper in The Tempest.

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Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Tuesday Trailers - How do You Know?

I'm so far behind on the trailers now I'm previewing films that will open in just 3 days time, which is not a good place to be in. As I believe I've said before I love January and the rush of quality movies, but it can be one hell of a struggle watching them all. Not that James L. Brooks' latest comedy has anything but the stench of box office failure around it. Not that you'd guess from the trailer which indicates a standard, if uninteresting, romcom.



How do you Know is released on Friday 28 January 2011.

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Oscar Nominations



About now the nominations for the 2011 Academy Awards are being announced. For the first time in years I won't be able to see it, and won't have the opportunity to comment until the weekend, however I would like to send a hearty congratulations to all the nominees, especially to any first time nominees. I hope for them this day marks a new era in their careers.

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Monday, 24 January 2011

20 for 2011: Competition

Every year I like to offer a sall prize for anyone guessing my most anticipated movie for the forthcoming cinematic year. We're down to just 5 films on the countdown so I wold love to hear your guesses (and your own opinions).

There's no set prize this year, so when you enter please tell me what you want as a prize (please be reasonable), last year I sent chocolates so that's more of less what we're looking at.

The winner will be the first person to guess the top film, or if no-one gets it the highest placing film not already mentioned (so if you guess today and get number 5 that will win it if no-one does any better).

As a clue I have mentioned the top film 6 times in the blog already, 3 times on news (although one of those was just casting) and 3 times in birthdays.

The countdown will resume on Wednesday, so get guessing.

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Sunday, 23 January 2011

Never marry an aspiring star (Film News - 22/01/11)

We're definitely back in the throes of real news now, with more stories hitting the headlines than can be comfortably described, although let's face I'm going to try. And that's not to mention the continuation of the awards season stories like the Golden Globes results and Ricky Gervais's career changing performance.

A Star is Born

It's a timeless story of changing fortunes in the world of entertainment that's been memorably played out on three occasions on the big screen (with countless others that use it as a starting point) and a tidy reminder that in la-la-land there can only be a limited number of stars, for every on that rises to the top another must make way for the to shine. It's no surprise to anyone that a new incarnation is on it's way, and Beyonce has been set to take the title role for several months, and whilst Russell Crowe was considered as the alcoholic has-been who marries and then is surpassed by his latest find the latest reports don't mention Crowe so I suppose he's out.

This week we also learnt that Clint Eastwood is set to direct the latest version. This seems like a bizarre choice, mainly because I would've thought they wanted a studio hack to take the reins. No offence to whoever does direct the piece, but A Star is Born, or at least both the 1954 and 1976 versions, were star vehicles designed to highlight the prespective talents of Judy Garland and Barbra Streisand. Eastwood, as a director, has shown little interest in allowing his leading actresses room to manouvre themselves into the spotlight, and how will this fit into his overarching themes of natural justice and redemption unless this version focuses more on the waning talent.


Judy is surprised as I am by Eastwood's news.

There's a touch of sceptism about this news for another reason: Eastwood is not a young man anymore. Does he need to be making films unless he really believes in them? What do you think?

Read on for title changes, Italian Singers, underused States and Darren Aronofsky's very big plans.



American Bullshit

Ben Affleck still has the pick of projects coming off his success with The Town, the latest rumour sees him picking up this Black List entry from Eric Warren Singer (for anyone who doesn't know the Black List is an annually publised list of promising unproduced scripts knocking around the studios). It's about a convoluted FBI sting in the late 1970's which aimed to root out corruption in the US political system. Sounds like it's the sort of multi-character crime thing that Affleck likes and it might be an opportunity to get some mates like Matt Damon involved. By the way I can't see this title lasting long.

Mina

After the quasi-horror of The Skin I Inhabit it looks like Pedro Almodovar is returning to more familiar terrain with his next picture, a biopic of Italian singer Mina who gave it all up to have a child with a married man. You just know Almodovar does his best work wih female leads so I can't wait to see what he does with a story already in the public eye.


Nebraska

I'll be honest I know little about most of the States except what I've seen in movies, so when a film comes along with the state in the title I know I'll have to watch it for general geography research purposes (see map below if you weren't aware of it's location). To be fair Alexander Payne's road movie is mostly set in Montana (go North two then West one) with the destination of an overly optimistic prize draw winner in the titular state. Payne's been planning this project for years, but only now he's taken a break from road movies (the forthcoming Descedents) does he feel he can give it the justice it deserves.



Untitled Comic Book Adaptation for Darren Aronofsky

Aronofsky's been rustling some feathers this last week with anti-method acting comments and admitting a dislike for Robert Altman's The Company but he's also let slip that the next film he's planning to make after The Wolverine has such a complex script he's turning it into a comic book in order to sell it to executives. Frankly that seems bizarre, but I guess that's the nature of the business right now. I'm not sure if this comic book is any of the seven different projects he was circling last year, or even a Batman movie as some sites have suggested, is unclear.

Casting News

Anne Hathaway has been confirmed as the Catwoman in Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight Rises which whilst fine casting does beg the question of whether she'll be able to eradicate any memories of Michelle Pfeiffer's puurfect (sorry) performance in the role. It's all change at Cosmopolis with Colin Farrell and Marion Cotillard stepping out of the limosine for Robert Pattinson and Keira Knightley. The supporting cast of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, the 9/11 influenced family drama, has swelled following the addition of Viola Davis and Jeffrey Wright. Dianne Wiest has joined The Odd Life of Timothy Green and Johnny Depp now looks to be the eponymous wizard in Oz: The Great and Powerful. Shudder.

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20 for 2011: 6 - Pirates of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

Sailing into number 6 on the countdown is Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides



Proving I'm as vacuous and empty-headed as most movie goers, like a pre-programmed automaton I will flock to see the fourth peaen to commercialism that is the Pirates series of films. It's hard to imagine any of these years crop of releases claiming the box office crown of 2011, only the new Transformers film has any remote chance (Pixar have only a sequel to a middling performer, the coic book releases are minor characters and Potter and Twilight never seem to be able to make that final leap to the top).

That won't be the only reason to watch, from the trailer there looks to be a scenery chewing competition between Rush and Ian McShane as Blackbeard, not to mention Johnny Depp coming back to do a caricature of his previous performances of Jack Sparrow. It'll be interesting to see if Rob Marshall can carry off action scenes with the same talent he displays with his musicals (all cuts and close-ups, with most of it happening in the characters heads).

I expect my comments come across as cynical, given my thoughts why would this juggernaut appear so high on the countdown? Does the relentless selling of the movie compensate for my fear of it's history? Apparantly so. And to be honest I'll probably leave my brain at the door and just have bit of fun watching it.

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Saturday, 22 January 2011

20 for 2011: 7 - War Horse and The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn

I'm cheating here at number 7 and calling it a draw between The Adventures of Tintin and War Horse, it's a Steven Spielberg double bill.



It's not the first time Spielberg has released two films in the same year, in 2005 we had War of the Worlds and Munich, in 1993 it was Jurassic Park and Schindler's List and similar pairings happened in 1989, 1997 and 2002. In each case there was a popcorn film and one with more personal themes. This year looks set to be the same with Tintin pushing the boundaries of motion capture and the adaptation of Michael Morpurgo's horse and his boy novel.

All in all I think we can expect to see Steven both reaching the top of the box office charts as well as critics top tens in the coming year.

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What happened to my sweet sweet girl? (Out this week - 21/01/11)

It's not an awfully surprising choice as the top film this week, Darren Aronofsky's latest ballet mindf**k is a cinematic must see. That said there are a lot of films out that may be worth seeing after the jump. There's also been a mini festival of Bollywood entries that I've missed off from the last couple of weeks so go through the jump to find out what you're missing. Although if you take my advice you'll just see the film of the week: Black Swan



Black Swan

I saw this last night and am now unable to gets it's imagery out of my fevered brain, plus I keep scratching at my back. When a simple movie is able to get into your subconcious in that way it is simply impossible to ignore.

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



The Dilemma

It made it into my top 20 for 2011 with it's concept alone, the reviws have been poor and Vince Vaughn with Kevin James isn't far off from a satanic punishment. That said Channing Tatum looks hot and this is the second best Winona Ryder film of the week.

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

Get Low

Robert Duvall gets his first starring role in over 15 years as the mysterious hermit who returns to his local town in order to arrange his funeral (which he will attend whilst still alive). Bill Murray and Sissy Spacek are among the supporting players.

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

Morning Glory

Critics are mixed on this TV newsroom-set romcom, those that compare it to Broadcast News or who value the santity of reporting are sniffy, those who take it at face value have been quite positive. I'll have to see for myself.

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

John Carpenter's The Ward

80's synth fans rejoice, the mast of stalker horror has returned after a ten year sabattical with a maniacal killer loose in a psychiatric ward story. Probably derivative, but with Carpenter at the helm expect some nifty scares.

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

Dhobi Ghatt

Lyrical looking hyperlink drama from Bollywood with four interlocking Mumbai-set stories. Trailer plays down the traditional feel with a seductive, plaintive soundtrack.

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

Honeymooner

Low budget British indie from Sophomore director Col Spector, about a jilted bride groom spending the two weeks honeymoon moping around London getting over it. The sort of work that would fit in nicely at Sundance if it were set in New York.

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

I Spit on your grave

Notorious video nasty and rape revenge fantasy of the early 1980's gets a twenty-first century makeover. Expect the gore to be upped and the subtext dumbed down.

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

Kaavalan

Tamil film, translates as The Bodyguard. The trailer is full of action scenes and comic sidekicks, but nothing that looks vaguely like a plot.

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

My Soul to Take

I'm not sure whether Wes Craven's cinematic return has actually made it to cinemas. There are no reviews anywhere and it isn't showing on any listings. Given it's appalling US business that's probably a good thing.

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

NEDS

Or Non-Educated Delinquents. Peter Mullan's Scottish gang coming of age drama has a lot of high profile fans, mainly because of the superb central performance of first time actor Conor McCarron. Will almost certainly be lost in the shuffle of this weeks releases.

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

14 January 2011

And some Bollywood late entries that I missed out on:

Aadukalam

More Tamil action this time based against the backdrop of competitive cock-fighting. I'm not sure I can in any way support this one.

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

Isi Life Mein

Professional looking trailer with lots of dancing for Bollywood movie espousing living life to the full. It's a romcom about a couple from different walks of life, naturally.

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

Siruthai

I can't find a synopsis anywhere for this Indian release. The trailer indicates a police corruption plotline with some pretty nifty Saw like weaponry.

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

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Seymour Cassel


Happy Birthday to

Seymour Cassell

76 today


Veteran actor Cassell's most memorable roles come from his frequent partnership with John Cassevetes including Faces and Love Streams. Not that he's been resting on his laurels for the last 20 years he's a committed and vocal member of SAG tirelessly promoting actors rights and he starred in 5 films last year alone.

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Friday, 21 January 2011

20 for 2011: 8 - A Dangerous Method

No need to analyse why A Dangerous Method is in at number 8.



David Cronenberg reteams with Viggo Mortensen for the third consecutive film only this time we're in a period setting and there's likely to be less little Viggo than we saw in Eastern Promises. Or will there?

Based on Christopher Hampton (Dangerous Liaisons) award winning play about the birth of pschoanalysis and the two schools of though posed by Sigmund Freud (Mortensen) and Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) above. The film also dramatises the relationships the men had with patient, and later pioneer herself, Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley).

That's a powerhouse cast and enough reason in itself to watch the film, but with Cronenberg delving into the inner workings of the mind expect some dream sequences less coherent than Inception dared to show us.

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Geena Davis


Happy Birthday to

Geena Davis

55 today


Geena burst onto our screens, siren-like, in 1982's Tootsie as Dustin Hoffman's often scantily clad co-star. This led to more projects (with clothes this time) including The Fly and Beetlejuice although sadly she's been MIA from cinemas for some time. After three unsuccessful attempts she is now hapily married to husband number 4, the surgeon Dr. Reza Jerrahy.

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Thursday, 20 January 2011

20 for 2011: 9 - Peace, Love and Misunderstanding

Standing up to the man at number 9 is Peace, Love and Misunderstanding.



I have a soft spot for the big stars of the 60's and 70's returning to our screen after an absense and whilst this is the third film from Jane Fonda in 6 years there was a 16 year gap prior to that so I'm still rooting for her. Sounding almost like an inverse Georgia Rules, PL&M sees a conservative lawyer (Catherine Keener) return to her hippy mother (Fonda) following a painful divorce complete with kids in tow.

This is not a synopsis that screams great drama and director Bruce Beresford (Driving Miss Daisy) is unlikely to push any boundaries with the mother/daughter relationship set-up, however it'll be great to see the interaction between Fonda and Keener both of whom bring magic to the screen at their best.

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Wednesday, 19 January 2011

The Green Hornet

2011. Dir: Michel Gondry. Starring: Seth Rogen, Jay Chou, Cameron Diaz, Christoph Waltz and Tom Wilkinson. ●●●○○



Is the lure of a large budget just too much for some of cinemas most idiosyncratic directors? Do these often visionary and talented helmers think they will be the one to tame the studio system and allow their ideas shine? How else can you explain Michel Gondry signing for The Green Hornet, the latest in a long line of comic book style superheroes brought to the big screen? Gondry's done what he could with the material, but it's still a mishmash of styles and themes with an inescapable feeling the writers, director and producer all had different ideas of what the final product should be like.



The hornet started life as a radio series in the 1930's, moved into theatres as a supporting serial for a while before finding it's ideal location in 1960's TV where it is mostly remembered for introducing the world to Bruce Lee as the enigmatic chauffeur/martial arts expert Kato. On it's way to the screen this version of the story has had as many amendments and personnel changes with directors, stars and villains bailing at every opportunity.

Britt Reid (Seth Rogen, looking almost sexy now he's lost a bit of weight) is the lounging Lothario son of media mogul Tom Wilkinson with whom there is a complex father-son relationship. No sooner than can you say expositionary scenes Wilkinson is lying dead on the veranda and Rogen most take over the family business. Through a chucklesome and clever drunken prank Rogen and Jay Chou (playing Kato) end up being identified (largely by his glamorous secretary Cameron Diaz) as a pair of small time gangsters with the ultimate aim of muscling in on Christoph Waltz's criminal empire.

As the whole appears to be three different films tacked together I'm going to try and break this review into those separate slices:

The Script by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg is in the same vein by the work they've done together in the past on Superbad and Pineapple Express with it's fair share of homoeroticism and un-PC banter between the fighting duo. The one-upmanship and petty jealousies that form the backbone of their relationship make perfect sense in respect to their respective childhoods and the nature of their employer/employee background. Unfortunately the further away from this bond the less competent the writing, Diaz's Lenore Case is little more than a receptacle for T&A comments and her comic potential is utterly wasted and characters like Edward James Olmos's sub editor and David Harbour's DA are simply there to advance the plot.

The Direction by Gondry is recognisable, with delightful touches like Kato time, the garage kissing and the moment where Rogen works it all out that recall the practical effects and quirky style we've come to see from him. The opening scene also nicely sets up the different ways Rogen and Wilkinson view the world and wholey explains what will happen later in the movie. On the other hand we're not in the Gallic helmer comfort zone, some of the fight scenes are frantic and poorly lit with key mobsters just disappearing in the dark - I'm still not sure what the final fate of Waltz's Chudnofsky. There is also a strange disconnect between scenes, with rarely a flow from one section to another - you could easily walk out to get a coke and come back and not need to know what happened in between.

The Studio probably bear the biggest brunt for the failures of the film, so far we have a flawed but fun action flick with adequate central performances from Rogen, Chou and Waltz (reprising his Inglorious Basterds schtick but with more self doubt) and then it's gets spoiled with a shoddy and unnecessary 3D conversion which has the bizarre consequence of making the special effects look cheaper. When flaming lumps of building are coming towards you they oddly look less real than when they're not.

Overall I would say this is one third a good film, one third OK and one third unforgivable. Watch it for the first two, and enjoy the good parts.

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20 for 2011: 10 - One Day

Moving into our top ten we have literary adaptation One Day.



After the critical and commercial set back that was Love and Other Drugs Anne Hathaway is in dire need of a rom com success story, and this could just be it. Set over a period of 20 years David Nicholl's self adapted screenplay follows Emma (Hathaway) and Dexter (Jim Sturgess) on every St. Swinthins day as their lives intertwine and the romance they should have had drifts apart and together again. It's a delicious concept about fate and patience and making the best of what you have - both of them get involved in hideously inappropriate relationships along the way.

Unfortunately I recently read the novel and by the end I simply couldn't care about the characters. The traits Nicholl gives them to make them rounded or more realistic are just about enough to ensure both of the leads are irritating. Hopefully the screen version has managed to tidy this up - I hope so for Anne sake.

To my shame this is the only film in the 20 most anticipated directed by a woman, An Education helmer Lone Scherfig. Sarah Polley's Take this Waltz and Catherine Hardwicke's Red Riding Hood just missed the cut. Should I have included anything else?

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Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Tuesday Trailers - Hereafter and Biutiful

There are still three more trailers I want to show for January films (it's madness Januray here, it really is) and given there's only to more weeks I'm having to double up this week. Actually it makes a little sense doubling up on these anyway, both of the films were in my top 20 most anticipated for 2010 and both films appear to discuss the issue of death in one way or another, with Clint Eastwood's latest looking at grief whilst Aleandro Gonzalez Inarrittu ponders the imminence of death.

If I had to choose between these two meditations on the afterlife which should I see?



Both Hereafter (above) and Biutiful (below) open on 28 January 2011.

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20 for 2011: 11 - Midnight in Paris

Holding steady at number 11 is Woody Allen with this years entry of Midnight in Paris.



I'm like a puppy, I keep returning to my master even though he ignores me and gives me rubbish to eat. Every time Woody makes an appalling film I give him the benefit of the doubt and think the next one will be a return to form. So whilst Whatever Works was one of the biggest disappointments of 2010 and with You will meet a Tall dark Stranger getting warm but not effusive reviews I look to his next film as being the next great one.

Like most of Allen's work the premise is both simple and surprisingly complex. In this case we have a romantic comedy set within a group of tourists in Paris, where one engaged couple will have their eyes opened to new ways of experiencing happiness in a relationship. Allen's had a few open relationships in his moves recently so I wonder if that's where it's going.

As always he's managed to net a great cast including Marion Cotillard (pictured above), Michael Sheen, Rachel McAdams, Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody and Kathy Bates, so all in all I think I'm ready to forgive him once again.

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Monday, 17 January 2011

20 for 2011: 12 - Hugo Cabret

A surprising choice from Martin Scorsese jumps out of the screen at Number 12: Hugo Cabret.



Martin Scorsese has dipped his toe in different genre's before, he done period, musical and "women's" pictures (The Age of Innocence, New York, New York and Alice doesn't live here Anymore respectively); and yet we were all surprised when he annouced this project a children's film to be made in 3D. Should we have been shocked?

Whilst it may be a departure there are plenty of signs that Scorsese would want to make a film like this. Primarily the film is set in Paris in the 1930's, a world in which Society was changing rapidly with the old class structures disappearing. There will alo be plenty of opportunity to ape the styles of his heroes Powell and Pressburger with garish and striking colour palettes, and using stories within stories in the structure. Finally the mysteries in the book revolve around the cinema legend Georges Melieres, pioneer of early animation techniques, and we all know how much Scorsese likes to preserve old films. In many ways this is a culmination of all his hobbies.

With the recent re-release of Peeping Tom Thelma Schoonmacher has been making the rounds and in interviews she has often brought up the sheer mass of detail Scorsese is working on, you can guarantee he's taking the 3D filming process seriously. You add to that a cast led by Ben Kingsley, Jude Law and Asa Butterfield (The Boy in the Striped Pajamas) as Hugo then this is virtually unmissable.

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James Earl Jones


Happy Birthday to

James Earl Jones

80 today


It was recently leaked that James Earl Jones received just $7,000 for his Darth Vadar voicework. Given it's now one of the most famous voices in cinematic history you rather hope he's got a little more for the later movies.

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Sunday, 16 January 2011

20 for 2011: 13 - The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

The retirement home beckons with The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel at 13.



Sensing a gap in the market Dr Ravi Kapoor, a South London casualty consultant, enlists his cousin Sonny (played by Dev Patel) to open a Mumbai based Old People home for his more complicated patients. When those patients include Maggie Smith (picture with Dev above), Judi Dench, Tom Wilkinson and Bill Nighy you just know there'll be sparks flying and some serious fish out of water gags.

It's going to be tough to balance the tone for this, is it a comedy or will we mainly be learning lessons about the fragility of life? If I were to guess which of the films in the top 20 is most likely to be delayed until 2012 I would probably choose this one. Sorry.

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Unreasonable punishment (Film News - 15/01/11)

Movie news isn't quite back to full throttle following the New Year break, but some interesting side stories are beginning to come out as well as fevered rumour mongering over the stars in big ticket films due to come out in 2012. Let's dive straight in.

Prometheus

For months we've thought Ridley Scott was wog primarily on a prequel to his highly successful 1979 haunted house in space flick Alien but it seems the scrpt has taken a numbef unusual turns and is now so far apart from the original concept it can no longer carry the Alien moniker in the title. He's settled for Noomi "Dragon Tattoo" Rapace in the lead role with Charlize Theron (or maybe Anjelina Jolie) supporting.

Of course we don't know how close to what we've already heard this film will be now there's no xenomorph, clearly the space jockey will be out but what of the rumoured mind controlling sex-obsessed Aliens or the bio-weapon cautionary tale that featured in some script versions?

The title may shed some clues, in classical mythology The Titan Prometheus (which literaly translates to Forethought) stole fire from Zeus and gave it to mankind, he was then punished by being chained to a rock where an eagle would eat his liver every day (being a deity it regrew overnight). Prometheus has been famously painted over the years, including the below by Jacob Jordaens. Mankind were punished too, as a direct result they were give women, in the form of Pandora who came with an ominous box. Whether Scott plans to riff on any section of the mythology or simply nod to the translation that could be an interesting premise for a sci-fi epic.



Read on for in-your-face orgies and more hopeless selling out from Hollywood.



Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice Remake

Director Paul Mazursky's been stirring up the batter this week. In an interview in the Wal Street Joural he said he was willing, at 80, to remake his 1969 swingers comedy but only if the studio would give him the budget for a orgy scene filmed in 3D. Doesn't bare thinking about.


The original's "orgy" scene.

Pirates of the Caribbean 5

Disney are so confident that On Stranger Tides, the fourth installment in the bloated cash-cow franchise that is Captain Jack, that work has already begun on the fifth film. Both Depp and number 4 director Rob Marshall are being courted to return to the series. It's enough to make you want to boycott the next one in protest to the flagrant profiteering, but I am really looking forward to seeing it come May (as you'll see very soon....)

Casting News

The female cast of Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight Rises have been dominating the coverage this week, there have even been articles in The Inependent and Guradan about the possible roles and the significance of them. Frankly it's a bit of a poisoned chalice as the love interest for Bruce Wayne always seems to ge the fuzzy end of the lollipop, added to which Nolan repeatedly leaves his female characters underwritten, all of which makes it surprising that women in the frame include Eva Green, Anne Hathaway, Keira Knightley, Natalie Portman, Naomi Watts and Rachel Weisz! Naomi is also set to get into a catfight with Amy Adams over the role vacated by Charlize Theron in J. Edgar, which proves Clint still has it.

Peter Yates


This last week we also saw the passing of veteran British director Peter Yates, his best known works are probably Breaking Away (left) which captured small town America in a way no native could've done and stage to screen adaptation The Dresser which garnered Academy Award nominations for it's co-stars Albert Finney and Tom Courtenay. He also is responsible for unleasing Cliff Richard into cinemas with 1962's Summer Holiday which proves no-one's perfect. I shall be re-watching some of the better films this weekend, I hope you get a chance to do the same.

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Saturday, 15 January 2011

20 for 2011: 14 - Hanna

Purely popcorn entertainment at 14 with Joe Wright's Hanna.



I'm afraid you can't persuade me that Joe Wright is trying for anything other than bums on seats with his latest movie, especially after the iffy box office performance of The Soloist. Saoirse Ronan stars as the 14 year old killing machine brought up by her spy father Eric Bana purely to kill Cate Blanchett (at least that's how it ooks in the trailer). In many ways Hanna may be a slightly more realistic version of Hit Girl from Kick-Ass, although I expect there's still plenty of suspension of disbelief to be done.

Most of the plot may be obvious from watching the recent trailer but that won't stop us from watching many of the big blockbusters, so why should it stop you for this fight fest, and you never know Wright might turn out to be a surprisingly efficient action director.

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Breaking up is so very hard to do (Out this week - 14/01/11)

We're still wading through prestige pictures here in the UK, with some awards calibre performances ready to shine through. Whilst I personally am checking out the low brow option at the multiplexes the other two top scorers both look interesting, with the clear film of the week being:



Blue Valentine

Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams (both of whom are very close to oscar nods for their work) headline this make-up/break-up relationship drama from director Derek Cianfrance. The process by which they made the film is as fascinating as the story - using different film stocks for each of the time periods covered, putting up the actors together in a house so they really know each others thoughts etc.

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



Conviction

Tony Goldwyn's true life-tale of a mother who enrols in law-school in order to begin a 18 year battle to free her wrongly convicted brother almost screams movie of the week, but it's empowering story and A-list cast (Hilary Swank, Sam Rockwell, Melissa Leo, Minnie Driver and Juliette Lewis) are enough to make it worthwhile.

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

The Green Hornet

Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg may seem an unlikely pair of writers to embark on a superhero movie, given their last collaboration was Pineapple Express, but then the hornet is no ordinary superhero. As the deconstruction of comic book fanboy cinema continues it'll be interesting to see where this fits in the canon.

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

Henry's Crime

Just when you thought it was safe to return to the cinema Keanu Reeves has returned with this low key crime caper (he's robbing the same bank, again) with Vera Farmiga and James Caan lending some credibility.

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

Yamla Pagla Deewana

It's the Bollywood films that will probably benefit most from the recent changes in my grading system - whether it will be enough for any of them to be film of the week remains to be seen. This one's about a prodigal son returning to the bosum of his con-artist family.

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

Final Sacrifice

Also known as Last Letters from Monte Rosa it's a low budget second world war movie focussing on the relationships between German and Italian soldiers during the Allied invasion of Italy. I'm not sure about relationship between this film and Ari Taub previous war movie The Fallen is, but it looks like a very similar feel.

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

Travellers

It seems unlikely but this is the second week running where I've issued a one blob rating, and I fully stand by it. This dreadful looking indie brit follows a group of high flying city boys as they go into the Wilderness (of Surrey!!!) and get involved in a deadly game of cat and mouse with some Irish travellers.

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

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Friday, 14 January 2011

20 for 2011: 15 - Win Win

The only Sundance entry on my list is number 15 Win Win.



It's difficult to know what to expect with this one. Thomas McCarthy's last two directorial outings have been the small scale dramas The Visitor and The Station Agent, both of which received plaudits for the initimacy of the vision, themes of lonliness and the performances he elicits from the cast. We should expect all of these comments to continue with Paul Giamatti taking the lead role of a disillusioned attorney/high school wrestling coach who lucks onto a major case which then gets a lot more complex than he first imagined.

It should be a meaty role for Giamatti, the sort of thing he does as bread and butter work, and for him alone I would probably recommend this one. I expect we'll hear more from Sundance soon.

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Faye Dunaway


Happy Birthday to

Faye Dunaway

70 today


Faye is an interesting example of how women in Hollywood hit a certain age thenvirtaully disappear. In the 1960's and 70's she could do no wrong and was constantly appearing in critical and commercial successes. Then when she hit 40 in 1981 the parts just dried up, and it doesn't look like she'll ever recover from that slump.

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Thursday, 13 January 2011

It's a Kind of Funny Story

2010. Dir: Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck. Starring: Keir Gilchrist, Zach Galifiankis, Emma Roberts, Lauren Graham and Viola Davis. 4/5



Auteur theory posits that the director is the primary author of a film and therefore the style reflects his or her personal creative vision. Following the theory to it's natural conclusions you can identify the director from the choices within the film and any film they make should be reviewed as part of an ongoing series of productions. I'm not sure whether Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck hold to the auteur theory, or even if they're output is consistent with it (you can check my review on Sugar using the labels below) however they're certainly willing to push the boundaries of the theory with their third feature It's a Kind of Funny Story.

Half Nelson tackled drug culture in public schools, Sugar was a baseball biopic in Spanish, so it's surprisingly been followed up with an adpatation of a young adult novel by Ned Vizzini about teenage mental health issues with shades of whimsy.



Keir Gilchrist stars as Craig, a confused high schooler with suicidal fantasies, who, having kicked his meds prematurely, opts to check into a mental health institution in order to get back on them. Unfortunately he then finds himself housed in the adult ward and he's committed (sorry) for a minumum of five day. During his stay he connects with the other patients including Zach Galifiankis's Bobby and self-harmer Noelle played by Emma Roberts.

Like Boden and Fleck's previous collaborations the dialogue feels real and observed rather than scripted, even the stylised ramblings of the patients and the gentle realism of Viola Davis's therapist has a geniuine feel to it. The growth of the relationship between Craig and Noelle particulary plays well with both of them feeling the limits of their capacity to be hurt in both playful and angered exchanges.

On a number of occasions this realism is memorably interrupted with flights of fantasy, including a hilarious opening dream scene and the music therapy sessions which segues into a glam rock concert version of Under Pressure with Gilchrist as Mercury and Galifiankis as Bowie. That scene alone is worth the ticket price alone.

Gilchrist himself isn't a very memorable lead, but that works well in context to his feelings of alienation and low self worth and with that in mind it's small wonder that Galifiankis (who doesn't do much we haven't seen before but he does it very well) and Roberts stand out with their respectively manic and understated presences.

It's difficult to review this film without questioning it's (and our own) attitudes to mental health issues. On the one hand Craig's short spell within the institution is not just long enough for him to reassess his life and reorganise his priorites - actually that makes sense - but he's also gifted with the ability to partially heal an agoraphobic roommate. On the other hand another patient, who confesses to Craig his seven suicide attempts, simply disappears from the film with all of his storylines unresolved; a painful reminder to Craig and to us that depression often does not just go away and that we can never really set about understanding what's in anyone else's thought process.

Overall I would say this film works, it doesn't pander to the preconceptions of it's primary audience and nor does it completely shy away from it's responsibilities. Sure it's no Cuckoo's Nest, but then it almost certainly didn't want to be, the institution isn't the villian here there is no villian. It's strength lies in the small things, and once again it's a reason to rejoice for Boden and Fleck. I can't wait to see what they work on next.

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20 for 2011: 16 - The Big Year

Number 16 on our countdown is twitching comedy The Big Year.



We all know that I don't really "do" comedy. Generally I try to avoid that sort of thing as what makes us laugh as individuals is so distinct that few people can agree on any fram of reference. Nevertheless I am curious about this bird-watching caper, hoping it may tend towards farce in a easy to enjoy way.

Among the twitchers are Jack Black, Owen Wilson and Steve Martin, and although we're a long way past his heyday I believe a return to form must be on it's way eventually. Plus the supporting cast is excellent including Anjelica Huston, Dianne Wiest and Rosamund Pike. It's a light choice in the countdown but I'm sure it'll fit in fine.

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Wednesday, 12 January 2011

The Next Three Days

2010. Dir: Paul Haggis. Starring: Russell Crowe, Elizabeth Banks, Olivia Wilde, Liam Neeson and Ty Simpkins. ●●●○○



When Paul Haggis first announced his intention to remake the superior 2008 French thriller Pour Elle there were the usual round of objections against Americanization of European output and the general lack of originality within Hollywood. Whilst watching The Next Three Days proves the latter assertion however it hasn't completely embarassed itself and might be considered one of the least inappropriate of the current crop of remakes.

After the jump I will be discussing the plot of the film as well as my thoughts on it's quality, it will be impossible to lay out it's flaws without spoilers so please don't look or if a) you haven't yet seen this and b) you want to.



Russell Crowe is a school teacher who turns his personality inside out and breaks his wife out of prison. There you have it; spoilers not yet over but that's the plot in a nutshell. After a ridiculous pre-credits flash forward, really it's pointless and does nothing to help build any tension if anything it makes the whole action scenes seem less dangerous for Russell as we're waiting the flash forward to happen, we enter the happy home life of Russell and Elizabeth Banks, complete with adorable sproglet.

Their idyllic lifestyle (sort of, she's a bit of a downer at the best of times) is shattered when the police arrive en masse to charge Elizabeth for killing her boss with a fire extinguisher. We jump to the failure of the last appeal and Crowe deciding he must break her out of jail. Naturally he goes to see prison break supremo Liam Neeson, who like Sean Connery in The Rock, can't be bothered with a consistent accent. Russell then obsessively plans the break, without giving the audience much of a clue to his real plan (and there are plenty of surprises along the way to keep us enthralled during the actual escape), and becomes a different man to how he used to be in the process, joining shoot-outs in crack dens and leaving his son for good.

I liked Crowe's performance a lot; he could manage both the emotional early scenes with Banks (not that she could) and the action scenes at the end. I suppose the trouble with his performance, or rather the casting, is that he managed the action scenes so very well. At no point in the movie did we not think he was going to be able to get his wife out, even when the plan was falling apart or when he was being shot at we knew he was actiony nough to get out of the situation. Perhaps if someone without an action background was in the ead it may have worked better.

The pace of the movie was pretty good, in spite of the obvious way it would end there were some neat red herrings and action beats that kept me guessing what methodology Crowe would be using.

I do have a problem with the final scenes though, not the family altogether stuff in Venezuela, but the moment whn we find out Banks is innocent. After setting up that she might actually be a cold-blooded killer during the movie and a couple of clever nods to Don Quixote and the triumph of irrationality over rationality it was a great shame to find Crowe's actions were worthwhile.

Overall this is a fine Sunday afternoon movie. Watch it when there's nothing else on, with nibbles and a glass of wine, enjoy the ride then forget about it afterwards.

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20 for 2011: 17 - Eye of the Storm

Choppy waters ahead for our number 17 the deathbed drama The Eye of the Storm.



It's hard to believe but that's Charlotte Rampling under the make-up front and centre of this antipodean adaptation of the Patrick White novel. She plays an elderly matriach coming to the end of her life, losing control of her estate to her grasping children Geoffrey Rush (he's got a good year coming) and Judy Davis whilst remembering the times gone past when she was the centre of Australian good society.

The novel is both a epic battle against death being fought by the central character and a Chehkovian satirical drama as the staff and famiy within this grand mansion interact and say nothing of substance. Whatever the film is I'm hooked.

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Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Tuesday Trailers - John Carpenter's The Ward

It's finally here, the trailer for John Carpenter's latest foray into cinemas and the last of our five options for two weekends away. It will effectively be fighting against two other horror films (although given that includes Black Swan it's a very loose description) for the top spot. It looks pretty standard but should contain some masterful jump cuts if his previous high standards have in any way stayed with him.



John Carpenter's The Ward opens on 21 January 2011.

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20 for 2011: 18 - Moneyball

At number 18 we have an unusual proposition. Moneyball a film about computer programming in baseball.



For two days in a row we have a Zaillian script, although so many people have worked on this it's going to be difficult to tell. Telling the true story of how the Oakland A's general manager Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) used computer analysis to model the best team combination on a budget this seems like the perfect movie for fantasy sports players everywhere. Of course the film is likely to concentrate on the tensions between Beane and the rest of the management who probably go for more instinctive ways of finding talent.

Baseball is a sport that works well in movies, it's a team game where the individual often has to make their own mark, and we're due a high grossing sports movie. The question is with all the high profile troubles this film had getting made (Steven Soderbergh lost all the funding one week before the cameras were set to role with Bennett Miller taking over when production started) will this be the one to hit a home run?

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Monday, 10 January 2011

20 for 2011: 19 - The Girl with The Dragon Tattoo

Just in the race at 19 is David Fincher's English-language version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.



I saw Niels Arden Orplev's version of the international best seller and, to be perfectly frank, I wasn't terribly impressed. It seemed to me that it was just a standard detective story that isn't actually solved by the protagonists and one terrific character.

I therefore really believe that David Fincher, the man behind Zodiac, can make a better job of adapting this dense and murky thriller. Especially when working with writer Steven Zaillian who has solid form in the genre. Perhaps the biggest drawback is Lisbeth Salander, the lead female who's damaged history is integral to the plot as well as a number of the meandering plotlines that link the three novels. It probably doesn't matter how well Rooney Mara fits into the character for most of us Noomi Raplace is Lisbeth and it will be difficult to get that indelible performance out of our heads.

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Sunday, 9 January 2011

Keep 'em begging for more - (Film News - 08/01/11)

I almost didn't bother today. After porig through the minutia of news stories I simply could only find one article that in any way appealled, in fact I almost decided to drop the news this week and stuff it into next weeks batch (although I've made that mistake before) but then it occurred to me this is not something that can wait and it certainly shouldn't be sharing billing with any other movie.

Gypsy

Barbra Streisand (pictured below in 1962, around the time the original film is released) is planning to star, and potentially direct, in a new big screen version of the classic Jule Styne musical. Described by critics as the greatest American musical it's essentially the biographer of dancer/singer Gypsy Rose Lee and the complicated relationship with her pushy stage mother Rose, as well as detailing the hardships of show business in the dying days of vaudeville.



With the current vogue for Burlesque (even though the movie of that name flopped) it seems like a perfect time to remake a movie - it's been nearly 50 years since Rosalind Russell and Natalie Wood immortalised the roles on screen, and few could argue with the potential for Barbra knocking out "Everything's coming up Roses". In fact the role of Rose could be an interesting part for the notoriously tough Barbra one that would play on her image.

Andrew at Encore Entertainment has written a very nice piece about Barbra's directorial talents focussing on Prince of Tides which can be read here.

Finally have a listen to Ethel Merman knocking it out of the park from the original Broadway recording:

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