Monday, 28 February 2011

Running (28/02/11)

I didn't go as far as last week, but there has been a definite improvement in pace so I'm happy with what I have been doing. Next week will see an even bigger cut back in long distance.

4 runs
17.7 miles
2 hours 50 minutes

So that's an average speed of 6.23 mph.

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Charles Durning


Happy Birthday to

Charles Durning

88 today


The inspirational (trust me) character actor worked in a wide variety of fields before turning to acting, including professional boxing, a dance instructor and a spell in the US Army. His first major performance for the cameras wasn't until he was about 40, so there's hop for all of us. Still working although nothing looks like it'll get international distribution.

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Sunday, 27 February 2011

Film Musical event of a lifetime (Film News - 26/02/11)

Wow, Oscar night already. I'd love to pretend I'll be staying up all night to watch it but it is on exceptionally late and isn't on free view here either, so I guess I'll catch up with the winners in the morning. In the meantime here are some articles that have caught my eye, as well as the monthly update on cinema release dates for films we've covered here in the past.

Les Miserables

It's one of the most successful and popular musicals of all time, last year it past it's 26th anniversary on Broadway and it's 10,000's performance in London, and yet there hasn't been a film adaptation for Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schonberg's work. Not that they haven't tried both Alan Parker and Bruce Beresford have had high-profile attempts to put it together but it's all come to nothing, until now. With the world at his feet, and the prospect of a surprise best Director oscar this evening, Tom Hooper is seriously considering taking it on as his next project. You know damn well that it will be massively popular, but will it be any good?



I confess I've never seen the musical, in spite of the exhortations of a number of my friends, for me it seems to be a monumental folly, an extraordinarily overlong retelling of an already padded out novel (Victor Hugo, not known for his brevity). However it has won numerous Olivier and Tony awards, a few of the tunes are catchy and I don't know anyone who's really hated it. It's also pretty clear that a movie with this sort of heritage will produce a much better box office return than, say Nine even if recreating the French revolution will cost significantly more and may thereby resurrect the moribund musical genre.

Another factor going for the adaptation is the central relationship between petty criminal Valjean and obsessive policeman Javert which should create an interesting dynamic for the two actors who takes these roles, and as we've all seen recently Hooper is a master at dissecting male relationships. Keep our fingers crossed for this I think.

Read on for timeless romance, Miami vice, more dream levels, an old mans love, unsolved murders, soccer and a fast and loose biopic. As well as the usual round-up of castings and release schedules.



Adaline

Gabriele Muccino is obviously gutted at losing Passengers from his schedule as he's now considering another sci-fi inflected romance, this time about a woman who stops aging at the turn of the 20th century until she meets the right man. The project previously has Andy (Hitch) Tennant and Katherine Heigl attached but with them dropping out it seems the film may be leaning more to the weepie audience. It's a difficult combo to get right, but I wish them the very best.

Cocaine Cowboys

The dramatic retelling of 2006's documentary (left) hit might still be in the works, according to David O. Russell and Mark Wahlberg. It focuses on 70's crime icon Jon Roberts and his aspirations and experiences with drug cartels in Miami. Right now it looks like we'll have Russell and Wahlberg collaborating for the fourth time soon whatever film he decides to make.

Inception 2

Tom Hardy has waxed lyrically this week about his forthcoming role in The Dark Knight Rises for which he plans to bulk up (what, even more you say) but he also let slip that his contract for Inception included a lock-in clause for a sequel. I very much hope that's a legal machination to prevent the rights falling into the wrong hands and not an indication that the story will continue. I quite like the open-ended ending it currently has.

Old Mans War

I always see to be writing about sci-fi movies here, yet exceptionally few of them ever get made. Really at the moment there's only Prometheus and the Avatar sequels on the horizon. So please read on with a healthy dose of scepticism as Paramount have picked up the rights to John Scalzi's highly praised novel (left). The memories and personality of a septuagenarian are transplanted into a genetically enhanced body of a young soldier. The plot then gets weird when he meets a woman who reminds him of his dead wife. On board to direct is Wolfgang Petersen (Das Boot, Poseiden) which seems like an odd choice so expect some changes before it goes before the cameras.

Paperboy

It looks like Precious director Lee Daniels has finally settled on his next project, and the bad news it's a thriller (I'm still trying to forget Shadowboxer). Based on the Pete Dexter's Florida set novel it meanders through a complex plot involving investigative journalism and unsolved murders whilst touching upon the seedy underside of the popular holiday destination. He's been talking to Bradley Cooper, Sofia Vergara and Alex Pettyfer about heading up the cast.

Seigneurs

Football doesn't often make it to the big screen, the latest attempt Goal was seen as a horrendous failure, but that hasn't stopped this latest French comedy from getting the go ahead. It will focus on a former star player who coaches his local amateur team in an isolated fishing community in Northern France. Combined with Zebras and Playing the Field it looks like soccer is beginning to ascend in cinema.

Strange Adventures of H.P. Lovecraft

A couple of years ago we heard about a fictional biopic of sci-fi author H.P. Lovecraft (there he is on the right, and you can kind of see why he wrote sci-fi novels) but then the trail ran cold. The latest update is that Big Fish/The Nines scribe John August has been brought on to revise the script. August has a solid genre background so he should be a nice addition to this dreams unleashed project.

Casting News

There's been the usual round of casting speculations including a (very)longlist of actors vying to replace Matt Damon as the central character in Bourne Legacy including Jake Gyllenhaal, Tobey Maguire, Joel Edgerton, Garret Hedlund, Kellen Lutz and on and on for 10 more possible actors! Robert Downey Jnr is all but confirmed as Paul Thomas Anderson's private eye in Inherent Vice, Uma Thurman and Jessica Biel will be among the ladies Gerard Butler will woo in Playing the Field, and Rachel Weisz, Naomi Watts and Rebecca Hall have all been linked to roles in the Matt Damon/Ben Affleck wife swap drama The Trade - that is providing the wives and players in the New York Yankees who inspired the story don't manage to prevent it from even happening in the courts.

Release Schedules

Not much going on with the latest release changes. I guess we're still consolidating after the winter. Mind you summer's beginning to look less empty - I now have two movies I want to see between 20 May and 02 September - shame they're both out on the same date.

Hanna - Who'd've thought that Joe Wright would be making a summer tent pole movie - well the latest release shift for his hit girl thriller has shifted straight into the mid May onslaught. Seek revenge through your children on 06 May 2011.

Conspirator - Robert Redford's historic-political drama about the trial of Mary Surratt shuffled out of Toronto last year with little support but it should still pick up an audience in a dull looking summer. Join mob mentality on 01 July 2011.

War Horse - Spielberg's still settling on a final release pattern for his patented serious and silly combo with this latest tiny shift. Follow your pet across Europe on 25 March 2011.

Bourne Legacy - It's yet to really enter into the pre-production phase, in fact as you can see above they're still 14 stars to disappoint before they can even begin, however the latest Bourne movie has a release. Forget your past on 17 August 2012.



No, Damon won't be appearing in this.

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Elizabeth Taylor


Happy Birthday to

Elizabeth Taylor

79 today


Liz is one of the few remaining stars of the 1940's, a bone fide link with the Golden age of Hollywood even though she's been retired for ten years. As I write this I've just read Liz has been hospitalised with heart problems so I'd just like to extend my warmest wishes. Get well soon. x

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Saturday, 26 February 2011

Are you a strong creature? (Out this week - 25/02/11)

We're back to the normal pace this week with seven hig profile releaes, and a couple of Bollywood entries. Although the box office lead could easily go to any one of the options available the film of the week remains Oscar-nominated Aussie entry Animal Kingdom.



Animal Kingdom

Family crime drama from Oz, with newcomer James Frecheville getting overwhelmed by the criminal fraternity he finds himself drawn into led by his violent, unpredictable uncle Ben Mendelsohn and his Oscar-nominated grandmother Jacki Weaver.

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



Howl

James Franco proves he's no one trick pony with his extraordinary performance as beat poet Allen Ginsberg, however movies are really the best way to present poetry and despite the best efforts of a supporting cast including Jeff Daniels and David Strathairn and animated sequences to illustrate the literary illusions it may be best to just go to the page.

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

The Rite

It's had dreadful write-ups and has taken a paltry $30m in the US in spite of hitting the top of the box office on it's opening weekend, that said there must be mileage in watching Anthony Hopkins hamming it up as a priest in constant battle with the Devil.

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

Drive Angry

Nicolas Cage, and his latest crime against hair styling, escapes from hell (wtf???!!!) to rescue babies being sacrificed to Satan - nice tie up to The Rite, do I hear a double bill planned - in this pleasantly barmy sounding 3D high octane adventure

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

I am Number Four

It's a film that will probably be remembered more for it's genesis that the half-baked alen invasion meets teen romance plot. Its the first movie from James Fry's publishing house whoich sounds a little like the Mills and Boon writing model for stories designed for film adaptations. There needs to be better quality control though.

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

No Strings Attached

Oh, Natalie Portman, what have you done. Released in mid Oscar voting season this turkey about a fuck buddy relationship developed with Ashton Kutcher may just cost her the golden statue. Kevin Kline also stars.

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

Satrangee Parachute

Bollywood kids comic-drama with five friends lost in Mumbai searching for a parachute - no, really - whilst their family freak out in their small village. Looks like it may appeal to younger children.

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

Seedan

Sentimental love story between an orphaned servant girl who is taken care of like her daughter by the owner of the house and the owner’s son who comes in to stay for a few days before leaving for USA. Remake of another Bollywood movie.

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

West is West

Completely unnecessary and curiously delayed sequel to hit British/Pakistani comedy East is East whish this time sees our wife-beating bigamist father return to Pakistan to show his youngest son about his heritage.

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

And here are some minor releases I missed out from last week:

7 Khoon Maaf

Dark comedy about a serial killing/serial marrying woman, a Bollywood anser to Bluebeard perhaps. Irfan Khan has a starring role.

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

Nadunissi Naaygal

Ugly sounding Tamil/Teluga movie based around the psychotic behaviour of a woman who was sexually abused as a child.

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

Shine of Rainbows

From the sacharine and gag-reflex inducing title onwards this Irish-Candadian co-productions looks very missable, especially when the imdb plot synopsis goes: A lonely orphan's life is transformed by an extraordinary woman who teaches him to conquer grief and discover the magic in nature and himself. Shudder.

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

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Friday, 25 February 2011

Tom Courtenay


Happy Birthday to

Tom Courtenay

74 today


Born in Hull in 1937 the reserved and gentle performer Courtenay has been over-shadowed by other British actors who rose to fame during the kitchen-sink 60's, especially by his frequent co-star Albert Finney. Next up, for both of them in fact, is the screen adaptation of Ronald Harwood's Quartet.

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Thursday, 24 February 2011

How Do You Know

2010. Dir: James L. Brooks. Starring: Reese Witherspoon, Paul Rudd, Owen Wilson, Jack Nicholson and Kathryn Hahn. ●●○○○



How Do You Know if the movie you're in is an absolute dud? Well a good clue is when an extra walking into a building steals a scene from the romantic leads who you just know will end up together when the final curtain falls. Reese Witherspoon and Paul Rudd should really have looked behind them during the hospital scenes and handed in their notice at that point.



I apologise for starting the review using the title is such an obvious and derivative way. I'm not the first (much more learned critics have done the same) nor am I the most inventive but then neither is this movie. The title is so anodyne and bland it's difficult to imagine the rest of the film being able to crawl out of it's pointless premise.

Reese Witherspoon is the aging (32?) softball player dropped from the national team and so finds herself at a crossroads in her life. Amazingly she's the only member of the team replaced in this particular year even though her record appears to be impeccable. Owen Wilson is her philandering boyfriend - it's spot on casing even if Wilson is coasting with a dreadful accent. Paul Rudd and his father Jack Nicholson are facing FBI investigations into corporate corruption in Egypt (ooh, timely) and it takes no brains at all to work out who's taking the fall for whom in this company.

Note that of these central characters only Rudd comes close to having multiple sides to his personality, Witherspoon appears to need post-it notes to remind her to feel anything at all. In fact it could be said that Rudd is the only cast member able to walk away from this project with any dignity.

The fault lies with writer/director James L. Brooks who is clearly trying to repeat his 80's success with Broadcast News but forgetting to insert the vulnerability that made control freak Holly Hunter and vapid William Hurt such rounded characters. Here the instantly dislikeable characters have nothing hiding underneath to allow us to warm to them later, even when Brooks is clearly wanting us to let go and admit we all love each other.

Instead we have a series of sketch like scenes which often don't relate to each other with some lame humour thrown into the dialogue. The stand out of these follows on from Rudd secretary giving birth and her partner asking her to marry him, effectively played twice there is genuine humour and pathos in the reactions and memories of all of the performances in the scene. Something sadly lacking in the rest of the movie.

Sadly this is immediately followed by an extra in scrubs missing an automatic revolving door. Reese and Paul were saying something profound to each other at this point but I was far too busy bein istracted by the figure in blue. When that happens you know you're in trouble, and you know this is a movie best avoided.

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Wednesday, 23 February 2011

The Fighter

2010. Dir: David O. Russell. Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Melissa Leo and Mickey O'Keefe. ●●●○○



Everywhere I looked in late January there were posters advertising David O. Russell's The Fighter with the strangely unambitious critical quote "The best boxing film since Rocky". It's not, far from it, but like Stallone's breakout it shares the same metaphorical use of pugilism. Rocky is at it's core a working-class love story with a boxer, The Fighter is a working class family drama with a boxer.



Showing the fall and rise of light Welterweight "Irish" Mickey Ward and his crack addicted brother Dicky Eklund (Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale respectively) the film focuses on the family dynamics between the brothers, the rest of the family - led by over-bearing mother Melissa Leo - and the more sedate influences on Mickey's life in his cop-turned trainer Mickey O'Keefe (here played by himself) and girlfriend Amy Adams.

I won't deal with too much detail of the plot, not least because as it's a biopic the whole story is largely in the public domain including the influential crack documentary about Dicky's fall from grace. Indeed the biopic structure seems awfully forced in this movie, the happy endings seem contrived even though we know that's what really happened. It's a strange feeling where reality doesn't feel real. The attention to detail even extends to the boxing scenes which were filmed in the same way the original games were shown on TV even hiring the same commentators to read over their, at the time, improvised discussion of the action unfolding. This deliberately removes the viewer from the ringside we're used to in boxing movies and back into our armchairs however it also removes the tension from the fight. I rewatched Champion and Cinderella Man in recent weeks to prepare and both had more exciting boxing even if neither seemed realistic.

The performances from the main cast are exemplary. Wahlberg and Bale play introvert and extrovert brothers perfectly, one being the yin to the other's yang, with each performance only working because of the alternative extreme of the other. It's the kind of sibling pairing we often see in real life but rarely in the movies. Don't be fooled by Bale forthcoming supporting actor Oscar his is a co-lead performance and the battles he faces are as central to the plot as Wahlberg sporting encounters.

Melissa Leo and Amy Adams add some needed character to the underwritten female roles the former especially transcending the material conveying so much with a sidewards look or a hand on the hip. On a side note the level of misogyny in this movie is shocking with every woman being presented as manipulative, cold or stupid.

The technical work is fine with some excellent make-up work being done and quality set decoration but a cliche ridden script (the scene where Wahlberg says he wants everyone to get along is particularly risible) and pedestrian direction doesn't help.

I really wanted to like this movie going in but performances aside it's the least effective of the best film nominees I've seen so far.

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Peter Fonda


Happy Birthday to

Peter Fonda

71 today


As acting dynasties go the Fonda one has plenty of gret form, father Henry and sister Jane may be stealing th limelight but Peter has plenty of talent as a low-key, and much more subtly, performer. Just last month was in the news for finding a body in a parked car, which is pretty unusual even in LA.

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Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Tuesday Trailers - The Tempest

12 years ago Julie Taymor adapted Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus for the big screen in an amazing and powerful way, presenting the movie version with a unique and visionary style. Now it's time for her to look at one of the more complex comedies, a story that involves sorcery, jealousy and high-farce. Just watching the trailer made me salivate over the style and (oscar-nominated) costumes. Can't wait to see more.



The Tempest opens on 04 March 2011.

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Monday, 21 February 2011

Ellen Page


Happy Birthday to

Ellen Page

24 today


Page has had a curious year, she appeared in a thankless expositionary role in Inception and did a marvellous job given the circumstances, however was largely ignored when praise was given out for the film. Next up - possibly - is Lesbian equal rights drama Freeheld.

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Sunday, 20 February 2011

Running

Another week of running has passed, a little bit further than either of the last couple of weeks but not as fast.

4 runs
22.6 miles
3 Hours 45 minutes

Or 6.02 mph. Need to be faster.

As bizarre as this might seem but with only 3 weeks of running (and not terribly fast running either) I've managed to lose over half a stone.

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Sidney Poitier


Happy Birthday to

Sidney Poitier

84 today


Trailblazing and distinctive Poitier did more for racial equality than any other actor in Hollywood although it took until 1965 (two years after his historic Oscar win) for The Bedford Incident and a role which didn't mention the colour of his skin. Hasn't worked for some time.

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Saturday, 19 February 2011

An Englishwoman abroad - (Film News - 19/02/11)

It's been a funny week. On the one hand there have been a number of news stories that could fascinate the potential cinema patron in the future, on the other hand none of those are really jumping out shouting "I'm the best story! Put me first!" Lots to see, not necessarily lots to get excited about. We've also been inundated with casting news which gives a reason to go beyond the jump.

Lady who Went too Far

Tom Hooper and David Seidler are currently on top of the world. The director and writer of The King's Speech are likely to come away with a number of Academy awards next weekend, and for both of them the collaboration seems to be the highpoint of their careers so far. With that in mind it's hardly surprising they are planning to work together again with the biopic of 19th century explorer and humanitarian Lady Hester Stanhope (below).



The niece of British Prime Minister Pitt the Younger, she travelled extensively across the Middle East treasure hunting and offering sanctuary to refugees, often whilst facing powerful opposition for her unconventional lifestyle from home and the largely Islamic local tribes.

It's a great role for a woman so expect a powerhouse performer snapping up the central part before long, especially given the additional budgetary clout the project may have due to the below the line talent involved. From the director of Oscar winning... works wonders for accountants.

Read on for spies, submarines, gang violence, reincarnation choices and fat cats acting outrageously (it's OK, I don't mean Garfield).



Agent Zigzag

As well as the return of Bond we have this non-fiction counterpart that may just be hitting our muliplexes in the next few years. Based on the life of Eddie Chapman, with the titular codename, it will focus on how his British spymasters and conveyor belt of lovers learn whether to trust him. It's being written by Brighton Rock scribe Rowan Joffe, son of Roland, and might be directed by Mike Newell once he's completed Great Expectations.

Hunter Killer

Submarine based movies are few and far between even though there have been some excellent examples (Red October (right), Crimson Tide). Notably both of these involved gung-ho Americans and mysterious Ruskies, and so it is with this latest script likely to go into production. It focuses on an American sub commander and a Navy SEAL team that must rescue the Russian president and defeat a renegade admiral who’s attempting a coup, which sounds utterly barmy will have some underwater action scenes as well as (hopefully) some torpedo dodging action.

The Knife

Curiously connected to Agent Zigzag above in both it's true story premise and scope this project looks at the modern version of spies: the snitch, the criminal who wants to get out but can only do so with the FBI so sings like a canary. Based on the 2008 GQ article by Guy Lawson it focuses on a South Central gang member who turns states to such a great effect it sends it's leaders into a panicked attempt to kill all snitches. Kimberly Peirce (Stop-Loss, Boy's Don't Cry) is the slightly unlikely director attached.

Ubik

Philip K. Dick's work is currently undergoing a film adaptation revival. Next month we'll see The Adjustment Bureau and a remake of Total Recall is in pre-production. Next will be his highly praised metaphysical comedy about death and salvation centering on a cabal of dead characters looking for their next physical manifestation. I'm not sure what the relevance of the aerosol can on the book cover is, really must read it, but if anyone can enlighten me I'd be very grateful. Michel Gondry is working on the script and planning to direct, let's just hope he's given enough rope to make a fun Gondry but not allowed to indulge his every whim a la The Science of Sleep.

Wolf of Wall Street

Formerly reported here as a potential project for Ridley Scott the biopic of investment banker Jordan Belfort has now moved to the schedule of Martin Scorsese an will mark his fifth film with Leonardo DiCaprio who's already signed on for the lead. However we will have quite a long time to wait as Franciscan monk movie Silence is still planned as Marty's next move.

Casting News

There have been another full wave of casting announcements made this week including Jude Law joining the love across class divide drama 360, Juliette Binoche and Matthieu Almaric will be helping to ruin Robert Pattinson's day in Cosmopolis, Rachel Weisz will learn to love her husband even after she becomes the first transgendered woman in Danish Girl. Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Marion Cotillard are the latest rumoured cast members for Dark Knight Rises, and talking of Batman alumni Michelle Pfeiffer is set to play the matriarch at the centre of the Dark Shadows with Helena Bonham Carter also set to join Tim Burton's movie (surprise, surprise). Colin Firth looks to be the next Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady and finally after sorting out her painful divorce (who says I don't pay attention to celeb culture) Halle Berry is back on for New Years Eve, although in a different role.



Anne Hathaway may be a better Catwoman than Halle Berry but she's got a lot to do to out Miaow Michelle Pfeiffer (above).

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Benicio Del Toro


Happy Birthday to

Benicio Del Toro

44 today


2010 was a disappointing year for Del Toro fans, firstly Wolfman was... (words fail me) then his cameo in Somewhere may have been a highlight but it wasn't enough to redeem the movie, and the constant Three Stooges gossip and set backs means he probably won't be seen in 2011 either. Shame.

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Friday, 18 February 2011

Do you have something to hide (Out this week - 18/02/11)

We're on time this week, but only because we're unbeliebery short on theatrical releases, unless you're into Canadian you tube sensations (not that I'm prepared to give that particular movie space here). In fact if you like docs the fascinating Inside Job is probably the film to watch this week, however I'll stick to my fiction rules whilst also continuing my 2011 commitment to non-English language cinema so the film of the week is Confessions



Confessions

School-based drama/horror that looks into the cycle of revenge and violence within the culture of bullying based on the novel by Kanae Minato it offers universal truths along with it's dissection of Japanese youth culture.

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



Paul

Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, the lovable chums at the centre of Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and "Spaced" team up again for this potty-mouthed, creationist baiting version of E.T. which is apparently a lot better than the trailer suggests. Sigourney Weaver probably steals the movie in a cameo.

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

Big Momma's: Like Father Like Son

I doubt you need to be warned away from Martin Lawrence's latest installment in this laugh-free comedy franchise. Fat suits and stereotype reinforcing dialogue abound.

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

Payanam

Our final release of the week - which is actually a holdover from last week - is this Tamil movie. Admittedly Tamil movies make most Bollywood entries seem easily accessible, but this hijack centred plot could be worth going on for the ride.

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

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Matt Dillon


Happy Birthday to

Matt Dillon

47 today


Isn't it great how Matt Dillon has that look of perpetual confusion with his deep puppy-dog eyes? I'm afraid I don't have anything else to say about him right now, nothing interesting on the horizon.

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Thursday, 17 February 2011

Biutiful

2010. Dir: Alejandro González Iñárritu. Starring: Javier Bardem, Maricel Alvarez, Hanaa Bouchaib, Guillermo Estrella and Eduard Fernandez. ●●●●○



Inarritu's first film without screen-writing partner Guillermo Arriaga (the split appears to be permanent) is a departure in stlye from the multi-character story arcs he's used to, but the overriding themes of multiculturalism and the interconnectivity of fate remain. The miserablist Biutiful reminds us that life is cheap and full of heartache, even it's brushes with magical realism do nothing to lift the spirits of the audience.



Barcelona criminal Javier Bardem is having a bad time, his schizophrenic wife has abandoned the family and is casually sleeping with his brother, the illegal immigrants he acts as a conduit for police bribery are hawking their goods in the wrong area, and his connection with the recently deceased is getting out of hand. Plus he's also dying of Stomach cancer so of course it's down to Bardem to ensure that his daughter is able to spell Beautiful succesfully (needless to say he doesn't totally achieve this).

Ultimately the plot is irrelevant - this is a movie about suffering - it explores the lengths to which Bardem's soul is able to deal with the inequality of life and the desparation of his circumstances. It's deliberately bleak with further trials heaping themselves on his fractured conscience.

Bardem's performance is superb, the suffering is etched onto his face. As is Maricel Alvarez as his imbalanced wife, neither overplaying nor sugarcoating her mental illness.

The star though is Barcelona, unrecognisable to the tourists in it's handling of the inherent poverty and underclass of major city life. The production design is also superb, each flat, each factory, each location seems recognisable and lived in with the subtle distinctions of class, taste and ambition.

There is also a refreshing sense that this film is for adults, the visions of the dead that Bardem is subjected to are fleeting and on the edge of the screen, the relationship is referred to without being overt. Visual metaphors on the delicacy of life are allowed to drift in the shadows but aren't forced down the viewers throats. Saying there there are obvious attempts to elicit emotion from the audience. There is a tragic event about three quarters of the way through which would be enough in itself but due to the characters involved pushes us to an unnecessary extent. The simplicity of the bookend, snowbound scenes are much more poignant - especially in the closing credits.

I would recommend this film, but take a tissue and be prepared: there are no happy endings in Inarittu movies.

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Hal Holbrook


Happy Birthday to

Hal Holbrook

86 today


There are two roles that define the career of this enigmatic character actor. On stage he excelled in his one-man Mark Twain show, winning a Tony in 1966, in film he will always be the voice of Nixonian whistle blower Deep Throat in All the President's Men. Next up is a role in Water for Elephants where he plays an older Robert Pattinson - which must be sobering for the Twilight fans.

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Wednesday, 16 February 2011

True Grit

2010. Dir: Joel and Ethan Coen. Starring: Jeff Bridges, Hailee Steinfeld, Matt Damon, Josh Brolin and Barry Pepper. ●●●●○



The Coen Brothers have done it again, they have taken their brand of subversive reverance and paid homage to a new genre. Tackling for the first time, in a direct way, the great American artform: the Western. All at once True Grit is a reminder/throw back to the classics of the genre that once ruled the commercial cinema scene, and yet at the same time there are distinct touches of Coen humour that fit the movie to their style perfectly.



We begin with a voiceover describing how Mattie Ross's (the younger version of whom will be played by Hailee Steinfeld) father has been brutally murdered at the hands of outlaw Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin in a virtual blink and you'll miss him role) and how she will set out to avenge his death, in a strike for feminism unlikely to be seen or believed in the Arkansas plains in which it's set. On the way she picks up two radically different compatriots in her quest (Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon).

It's impossible to review the Coen film without comparing it to the 1969 Henry Hathaway version which won John Wayne his only Oscar (and it's far from Wayne's best performance see The Searchers or The Quiet Man for that), so I will pepper the review with direct references to both version and I hope you don't mind that. The Coen's obviously might, they've claimed repeatedly that this adaptation is taken directly from Charles Portis's novel but there remain some obvious shots (hello final shootout) and iconic images (Cogburn has no eyepatch in the Novel) that must have arrived, conciously or subconciously, from the older version.

The screenplay has been tightened in the last 40 years, with some fluff removed quickening the pace of the movie and substantially improving the flow of the non-action scenes, although disappointingly the scenes between Steinfeld and the inept horse trader trying not to pay out for her loss have been cut down which takes away from the precosious intelligence of the character. Not that Steinfeld really needs it, she totally inhabits the role and convinces both as a teenage girl struggling to find a way in a man's world and as a hardened frontierswoman, coming to terms with the harsh realties of necessary violence.

Jeff Bridges, as the Marshall with True Grit she signs up to the cause, takes a deliberatly low-key approach to the role (in direct contrast to the bombastic Wayne), mumbling into his beard, breathing the drawn out intentions like every line is quoted from the Old Testament. It's the sort of performance that only Bridges can do, laidback but intense able to hold the audience in the palm of his hand.

Matt Damon is "a Texas Ranger" already under contract to capture Chaney. He's a comic delight, drawling his lines with a mix of pomposity and underscored menace. It's a shame his work hasn't seen more recognition from awards bodies. The character is missing for much of the screenplay - the arguments between him and Cogburn seem more realistic and thorough than the previous version with the team splitting up to allow the dust to settle on two occasions.

The Coen's, working within the post-revisionary Western Arena, have constructed a world far muckier and infused with corruption than Hathaway could allow. When Cogburn breaks his promise to bury a dying man there is no conscience baiting argument from Maddie. The ending is also changed significantly, and whilst surprising in it's anti-climatic brevity it does reflect the ambiguity of most of their work.

The look of the film is perfect, New Mexico has never been shot to make the vistas so elegant, and it's good to know the inevitable overdue Oscar for Deakins will be for a piece of work that thoroughly deserves it.

I would have to highly recommend this movie, it's very limited drawbacks would only be the lack of ambition with regards to subtext and an over-enforced brevity which doesn't givve the actors the freedom to explore they probably deserve.

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Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Tuesday Trailers - Rango

I made two new years resolutions when it comes to movie watching in 2011. I want to see more foreign language movies and more animated movies. I've already seen Biutiful so had to choose my first "cartoon" and why not start with this Johnny Dpp starrer, which basically looks like a comic Western and if all the usual tropes are put in it should be an enjoyable experience just picking up the references. Still not sure where the clockwork fish from the initial teaser fits in.



Rango is released on 04 March 2011.

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Monday, 14 February 2011

Personal News and Running (14/02/11)

Happy Saint Valentine's Day. Not that I really give a monkeys, or even did when I wasn't single, but at last we don't have it's namesake clogging up the cinemas this year. Just thought I'd quickly brief on the latest personal news.

Theatre& have extended my contract for another 4 months - most unexpected and delightful - so I'm not horribly unemployed at the moment. I also have 'Baby Jesus Freak' touring to London in a few months, see the press release here, so it's all go this end.

On the running front I have, after an extended hiatus, returned to pounding the pavement. I've been out 9 times in the last 2 weeks racking up a total of 27.4 miles over 4 hours 32 minutes (I know that's quite a shrt average but I'm only just getting back into it). That's an average of 6.04 mph so I need to pick up my pace if I have any plans of joining a marathon this year.

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Sunday, 13 February 2011

Honouring the writers (Film News - 12/02/11)

It's been a fantastic week for film fans, every day we've been treated to valuable nuggets of information all building up to exciting propositions for future cinematic releases. Some have been for the sort of box office behemoths that dominate the front pages however there has also been a tsunami of reportage for more high brow fare, including some projects that may bother the Academy over the next couple of years.

The Third Act/He Loves Me

We start this week with two very different projects that share a similar starting point: Writer's Block (something I imagine most bloggers are familiar with). In The Third Act we have a sucessful author of Western novels - set to be played by Morgan Freeman - He Loves Me will star Paul Dano as a former child prodigy trying to break into serious adult fiction (that's fiction for adults nothing saucy).

That's where the similarities end. Whilst the former involves Freeman meddling with the lives of the local inhabitants of the small town he retreats to for inspiration and the latter will riff on Pygmalion and see Dano writing up hs ideal girlfriend into existence. Behind the cameras will be Rob Reiner and Little Miss Sunshine duo Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris further highlighting the divergent styles.



You wouldn't have thought tht writer's block (as visualised above) would be such a hot topic in Hollywood, but with these two and Jason Reitman's upcoming Young Adult there definitely seems to be a trend forming. I would be tempted to say theres been a lot of it about but you could hardly argue the output has dwindled over recent years or that the quality of high end writing has dimished either in la-la-land or on the Waterstone's shelves. Maybe it's just an outpouring of nostalgia for the printed word before it finally gets subsumed by the instant gratification of the computer screen.

Read on for tragic siblings, runaway princesses, gospel singers, assassins, hypnotherapy, bible stories, werewolves, The Coen brothers, mad millionaires and the usual helpings of casting news.



Back Roads

Andrew Garfield (left) clearly has a good head on his shoulders, or at least a clever agent, as he's already signing onto the indie options tht will prove invaluable once the Spider-man cash cow has met it's untimely end. Once filming on the web slinger is over he'll be raising his youg sisters all by himself as a result of his domestically abused Mum murdering his Dad. Expect lots of wrought emotions, as well as steamy encounters with neighbour Jennifer Garner, in Adrian Lyne's film.

Girl's Night Out

The King's Speech has reminded everyone that good old-fashioned Royalty mixing with commoners is still as popular as ever so it's no surprise to see the tale of young Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret sneaking out of the Palace on VE day and having a high old time in London. Expect Margaret (due to be played by Dakota Fanning!!!) to be having much more fun than her upright sister, now The Queen.

Got to Tell It: Mahalia Jackson, Queen of Gospel

If you think one American Idol reject winning an Oscar is not enough then stand by for Fantasia Barrino (to be honest I have no idea who she is, but apparently she's well known on that side of the pond). She's taking the lead role in the biopic of the Gospel singer Mahalia Jackson (right - in full flow). Unlike most biopics there's very little dirt to dig up on Mahalia, raised in an abusive household she found the Church fairly early on and never looked back. On the other hand she sung at the March on Washington in 1963 and at Martin Luther King's funeral as well as being the first Gospel artist to perform at the Carnegie Hall. So it should be a fairly affirming movie at least.

Headshot

I wouldn't normally go for Stallone movies, especially one where he plays a hitman lest it be a sort of sequel to the horrific Assassins. However the graphic novel has been adapted by The Messenger scribe Alessandro Camon which, given how powerful and nuanced his previous work is, makes me very interested indeed.

The Hynotist

Dragon Tattoo fans rejoice there's a new Swedish thriller set to ake the leap to the big screen, and even better it's not being made as a TV miniseries then being butchered into feature length episodes. On the other had Lars Kopler's first novel (left) in his Det. Joona Linna books is hardly Steig Larsson levels of notoriety. The plot involves a near dead boy being hypnotised to reveal details of who murdered his family in order to protect the other surviving siblings. Probably gory.

Noah's Ark

A few weeks ago we had speculation about Darren Aronofsky writing a comic book in order to obtain finance for his next projet. This week we found out that comic is for his Noah's Ark story. The odd thing is it's not even a metaphor. Darren Aronofsky really wants to make a biblical epic about the most famous boat in Genesis, covering themes of environmentalism and survivors guilt, it's the sort of film they definitely don't make anymore. Not sure how middle America will respond - but then I guess they didn't watch Black Swan.

Sharp Teeth

Danny Boyle and Simon Beaufoy may be joining forces for the third time running (after Slumdog Millionaire and 127 Hours) with the adaptation of the Werewolves in gangland LA novel by Toby Barlow (right). It's had some very good press and won the Alex award for young adult literature. Clearly Boyle's highly acclaimed National Theatre production of Frankenstein has persuaded him to make the leap to onscreen horror.

The Coen Brother's next movie

Joel and Ethan Coen are in an virtually unheard of position as they have no project on the go, and as much as I'd like them to return to some of their abandoned ideas (The Yiddish Policeman's Union first and foremost) it seems they're going to bemoving on. During a recent webchat with Empire magazine they hinted a full blown horror may be on the cards - with Frances McDormand as the monster - or a faux documentary might make it first (according to Roger Deakins). Frankly, with the financial and critical success of True Grit I imagine the studios will make them make whatever they want to make this time.

Christopher Nolan's Howard Hughes biopic

Apparently Christopher Nolan (left) fancies making a small movie after Dark Knight Rises, aiming to follow the increasing bizare behaviour of reclusive Billionaire Howard Hughes. I'm not sure how much more needs to be said about the man, between Scorsese's The Aviator and the Melvin and Howard cameo I think we've seenit all, however Nolan clearly wants an Oscar and it might be that biopics are the only way for him to get one.


Casting News

Some interesting addtions to projects already in the pipeline including Richard Jenkins joining the card cheat fallout out in Cogan's Trade, Nicolas Hoult will be Jack, The Giant Killer out to dispose of the Bill Nighy and John Kassir's two headed giant whilst being manipulated by Stanley Tucci. Bruce Willis, Justin Timberlake and Catherine Zeta-Jones will all be gambling on Lay the Favourite. Oscar nominees James Franco is the latest Wizard in Oz: The Great and Powerful and Jennifer Lawrence will be involved with drug cartels in The Savages. Finally - and I know this isn't cating - David Frankel (Devil wears Prada) is the latest diretor attachedto Meryl Strep marital therapy comedy Great Hope Springs.

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George Segal


Happy Birthday to

George Segal

77 today


Segal is one of these actors whose career never seemed to reach the promise of his early performances, in films from Ship of Fools to Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolfe he was able to expose the softer side of tough no nonsense characters. He was last seen, briefly, in Love and Other Drugs.

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Saturday, 12 February 2011

The clue's in the eyepatch (Out this week - 11/02/11)

I can't quite believe it's happening, but after two and a half years of previewing the weekly releases I'm coming to a major milestone - it's the first movie to get a perfect score. The reviews have been cracking, it's from a director(s) and cast that I truly admire, it's picked up awards and nominations from major organisations - whilst I have had my doubts frankly it's hard to ignore it even if it didn't actually make my countdown for most anticipated film for 2010! So later today I will go to see , this weeks film of the week True Grit.



True Grit

Without doubt this is the most exciting Western proposition in nearly 20 years. The Coen brothers returning to Charles Portis' novel for this exciting tale about redemption and loyalty all seen through the eyes of a 13 year old girl. By the way the talk that this is not a remake of the earlier movie is slightly undermined by the eyepatch, which was an invention of the first film.

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



Gnomeo and Juliet

Smart looking children's adaptation of Shakespeare most famous romantic tragedy set to the music of Elton John. The changing of the characters to Gnome's is odd but is at least understandable for the kids. The eclectic cast backing James McAvoy and Emily Blunt in the leads ranges from the highbrow Michael Caine, Maggie Smith and Julie Walters to the bizarre trilogy of Ozzy Osbourne, Jason Statham and Hulk Hogan!

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

Never Let me Go

Kazuo Ishiguro's subtly sci-fi love triangle set in an alternative 1970's UK somehow never managed to capture the pre-screening buzz it elicited. Nevertheless the melancholic style and triumphant central performances by Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley and Andrew Garfield makes this an interesing proposition.

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

Just Go with It

Dreadful looking Adam Sandler vehicle where he somehow manages to drag Jennifer Aniston and Nicole Kidman into the mess with him. Plot seems to revolve around Sandler pretending Aniston is his wife in order to attract another (younger) woman.

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

Nothing to Declare

French Buddy Cop Comedy (be warned) about the closing of the French-Belgian border in the ninety's. Plenty of national stereotypes abound. Should appeal to the Top Gear crowd - if it weren't actually in French.

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

Patiala House

Akshay Kumar headlines this UK set Bollywood movie about a second generation Sikh, the central question is whether supporting your family or following your dreams is more important or whether you should have to choose.

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

Son of Babylon

Iraqi drama about a 12 year-old boy Ahmed and his Grandmother crossing the country to find Ahmed's missing father who might have been released after the fall of Saddam Hussein.

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

Yogi Bear

The questionable regurgitation of 1960's cartoons reaches a new low with Hanna-Barbera's most famous Bear, most famous for it's "Best things come in Bears" first poster. You can understand why Dan Aykroyd desperately needs the work but Justin Timberlake has no excuse fr this boo boo.

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

Bizarrely missed from 04/02/11

New York, I Love You

Not sure how I missed the release of this themed collection of shorts in the same vein as Paris Je t'aime. I've already got the DVD and will review - as part of my normal film reviews - in a few weeks.

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

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Josh Brolin


Happy Birthday to

Josh Brolin

43 today


Brolin may not be getting much of the heat from True Grit (which opened yesterday) but I expect his scarred Tom Chaney is coming across as suitable repellent. Add that to his forthcoming performance in Woody Allen's You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger and it's quite a year for the Californian native.

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Friday, 11 February 2011

Burt Reynolds


Happy Birthday to

Burt Reynolds

75 today


International star and all round sex symbol Reynolds has been making the fans swoon since the late 50's (although Deliverance in 1972 really marked the beginning of his high profile career). He's keeping busy, but aas nothing looks worth seeing.

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Thursday, 10 February 2011

Morning Glory

2010. Dir: Roger Michell. Starring: Rachel McAdams, Harrison Ford, Diane Keaton, Patrick Wilson and Jeff Goldblum. ●●●○○



Formulas are meant to work, they are meant to work because the plot is tried and tested with a million other examples in the relevant genre. They work because we, as an audience, often don't want much more than the formula. In Morning Glory writer Aline Brosh McKenna (The Devil Wears Prada) and director Roger Michell (Notting Hill) both know that formula and work very hard to follow it. They should have tried something different. The formula restricts them so much that the great chemistry and situations are buried under the relentless forward motion of the plot contrivances.



Of course the plot does not have an original twist in it's 107 minute running time. Rachel McAdams, as perky as possible, plays a workaholic TV producer who gets the enviable job of trying to save Daybreak (no, not that one) the ailing breakfast news programme on IBS (couldn't thay have found better initial than that). Recognising things have to change shesacks the pervy male anchor and replaces him with grumpy high-minded journo Harrison Ford. In the meantime she's in the early stages of a relationship with current affairs producer Patrick Wilson.

Does the show get to the magic share that will stop Jeff Goldblum's exec cancelling it? Will Ford and co-anchor Diane Keaton put away their differences and work together as a team? Will Wilson and McAdams find a way to co-exist with the demands of their high pressure jobs? We know the answers to these - they all fit within the formula.

On the plus side, other than the bleeding obvious throughline of the movie, just about everything work fine. The comic element works well throughout with some choice one-liners from the older cast and the occasional bout of slapstick, the romance seems a little tagged on but both McAdams and Wilson are beautiful people and you can't help hoping it will be OK for them in the long run, although frankly I have my doubts. The audience that were hoping for Broadcast News level bite at the dumbing down of hard journalism shouldn't be too disappointted as the thesis seems to me to suggest that - in Breakfast anyway - the big story should be able to rub shoulders with culture.

The cast all put in fine work, with Diane Keaton and Harrison Ford particulary proving what great comedic performers they are; she's all ditzy and charming, he's deadpan with solid timing.

For a change I'd like to suggest how this film could have been significantly better. Instead of showing the arc of the characters over several months I believe we could have followed behind the scenes during one morning show, from the pre-production meeting to the final credits. I think the same beats could've been hit, and the emotional storyline for the characters who learn might have had a better chance of translating with the audience if it were a single day of getting there. The jokes would also have had more time to develop. Any Hollywood producers who agree just give me a call and we can discuss Morning Glory 2.

Overall the film was pleasant enough viewing in spite of it's straitjacket. I fully expect this to be the best romantic comedy I see this year.

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Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Rabbit Hole

2010. Dir: John Cameron Mitchell. Starring: Nicole Kidman, Aaron Eckhart, Dianne Wiest, Miles Teller and Sandra Oh. ●●●●○



Grief is a difficult and complex set of emotions, and losing a child must be one of the most horrific episodes in anyone's life, but presenting that issue on screen is rarely managed well. The usual method is to overload the pathos to emotionally devastate the parents. Thankfully Rabbit Hole manages to avoid that pitfall in this slow-burning, deeply felt and under-played look as parental loss.



The film picks up eight months after Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart have lost their only child in a car accident, and follows them as they drift apart, both of them looking for ways to deal with their mixed emotions and neither of them feeling the other can help. Kidman begins a - suspend your disbelief here - faltering friendship with the college student who ran her son over (newcomer Miles Teller) whilst Eckhart finds himself drawn to Sandra Oh, a fellow attendee at the group grief counselling sessions.

The tone of the screenplay allows the charcters to feel and think in ways that seem realistic and nuaced, elements of guilt and mutual anger - partly due to the differences in how they cope - mingle freely with black comedy and tender observations. The group therapy includes some of the most delicious lines, Kidman reishing "Why didn't he just make one" which is even funnier in context than it was in the trailer.

Both of the protagonists give career best performances and I'm surprised Eckhart didn't get much heat in award season his mood swings and need to both goforward and hold onto the past are utterly convincing, Teller also stands out as one to watch in the future (he has a supporting role in the Footloose remake coming up but I expect more will come). I have to say I was less enthused by Dianne Wiest, party because I found it extremely hard to imagine her and Kidman were actually mother and daughter both in the way they interact with each other and the characers outlook on life.

John Cameron Mitchell directs with an unfussy plainness that would surprise fans of his earlier work (Shortbus, Hedwig) and Frank G DeMarco shoots with a drab sensibility that fits the dourness of the script. I would like to suggest to Nicole and Aaron that they get some decorators round, it's going to be difficult to sell their house with the relentless brown of the ground floor, a depressing reminder of the emptyness of their lives.

A couple of glitches and a painfully slow pace aside this is a unique look at the grieving process and certainly worth a look.

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Joe Pesci


Happy Birthday to

Joe Pesci

68 today


Few critics argue Joe Pesci ever tries subtlety, whether playing an psychotic gangster or a Brooklyn ambulance chaser he's displays a larger than life character which makes him hard to cast (even if he usually knocks it out of the park). In theory we'll next see him in Taylor Hackford's Love Ranch but that's looking less and less likely that it's going to get a UK release.

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Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Tuesday Trailers - Animal Kingdom

It's surprising really that we're going to be treated to most of the Oscar nominated films so early in 2011, remember the American indie that breaks out often doesn't make it to this side of the Atlantic until much later if at all (see Frozen River or The Messenger), however this year all the nominated performances will screen in UK cinemas by the end of February with the last one being Jacki Weaver's horrific mother in the Aussie crime drama from David Michod.



Animal Kingdom is released on 25 February 2011.

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Nick Nolte


Happy Birthday to

Nick Nolte

70 today


Whilst it's hard to imagine Nick Nolte being young it's equally impossible to think of him as a septugenarian. Coming up is the ultimate fighting flick Warrior with Tom Hardy getting into to ring to impress daddy Nolte. Hopefully that won't go the same way as the Renee Zellweger/Nolte starring My Own Love Song which is set to go straight to video in the US.

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Sunday, 6 February 2011

Dinner fit for a bride (Film News - 05/02/11)

There's been some interesting headlines this week with a couple of new titles coming our way which look very watchable, in fact the beauty of my first title is it will provide casting opportunities to hundreds. This is on top of the usual rounds of casting rumours and our monthly check of upcoming movies on imdb.

Great Expectations

If watching Derek Jacobi intone a few lines of Little Dorrit in the third act of Hereafter made you salivate for more Charles Dickens then you're in luck. It's looking like a version of his classic tale of class envy and redemptive guilt is set to make a foray into the big screen. Naturally this isn't the first time Pip, Magwitch and Miss Haversham have been in cinemas, most notably in the 1946 David Lean version with John Mills, Finlay Currie and Martita Hunt in those memorable roles.

I won't go into the plot details here, like all Dicken's it's long and meandering and with characters disappearing and reappearing with alarming regularity. There are also some magical moments of descriptive writing including fog shrouded escaped convicts and uneaten wedding cakes that could easily become iconic shots from the film.

The key thing is to try to imagine the casting. It's a film that practically begs for the brightest and best of British acting talent to be assembled. I'm saying Andrew Garfield for Pip and Helen Mirren as Miss Haversham. You heard it here first. Any casting ideas you have?


An early illustration of Miss Haversham's Wedding feast.


Read on for an unlikely true story, an surprising director says his next film will be an epic and the usual News segments.



Argo

The hunt for Ben Affleck's next directorial task continues with this bizarre true-life tale set to be produced by Men who Stare at Goats colleagues George Clooney and Grant Heslov. Like Goats it's an expose on one of the weirder moments in US military history focusing on the CIA operation to release the American Embassy hostages in 1979. Their ultimate plan involved disguising the operatives as a film crew scouting for locations. Whether Affleck can produce the satirical edge a project like this might need remains to be seen but if he pulls it off this could be hilarious.

Place beyond the Pines

Derek Cianfrance has been talking up his follow up to Blue Valentine to almost epic proportions. In an interview with indiewire he used terms like "the transformative power of fatherhood", "a Darwinistic idea of survival through ancestry" and (if that wasn't enough "I’ve had people tell me they feel like its ‘The Deer Hunter’ meets ‘The Godfather." Proof that he's certainly willing to enthuse about the project. The story focuses on a motorcycle stunt driver (Ryan Gosling's already practising in Cage's of death like this one to our right) who has to learn how to be a father and will cross generations. If it taps into even half as much honest human emotion as his latest then it will definitely be one to watch.

Casting News

The usual suspects have been hogging the casting rumours with Javier Bardem and Ralph Fiennes both close to signing on for Bond 23 - which could just become the starriest Bond ever - and Eva Green and Jackie Earle Haley may be hiding in Tim Burton's Dark Shadows. Robin Williams continues to be a possibility for Hugo Strange in Dark Knight Rises, although the main issue seems to be are three villains too many for the film to cope with. David O. Russell may be inviting Amy Adams back for his next project, the big screen adaptation of Playstation 3 game Uncharted: Drake's Progress although Scarlett Johannsson is another name in the mix. Finally Samuel L. Jackson has surprised nobody by exclusively revealing he'll cameo in Thor, frankly I was surprised when it was rumoured he wasn't going to.


Production News

Every month I like to update on the latest films moving into the pre-production stage, essentially as a way of monitoring which of the stories I've previously covered have actually come to fruition. This time we're seeing movement on David Cronenberg's limousine set thriller Cosmopolis, 60's crimecaper remake Gambit, hyperlink love story 360, and big budget big effects movies The Wolverine, Prometheus, Oz, Th Great and Powerful and 20,000 Leagues under the Sea. The last four of which are bound for box office glory if nothing else. One movie though caught my eye even though I hadn't imagined it would.

Playing the Field

Gerard Butler obviously believes he's a big star, and I expect the studios think the same, why else would he continue to get high profile roles. So to follow his "acting" turn in Machine Gun Preacher there will be this black comedy about a soccer coach working his way through the Mums from his son's team. Whilst this doesn't scream high quality there's something intriguing about the notion and I expect they'll be some fun to be had when they start joining the dots.



You get some very odd results if you search for Soccer Moms on google, but this pic's relatively tame. Apparently there's a whole subculture relating to the term. Anyone want to clue me up on it?

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Saturday, 5 February 2011

Eye of the Tiger (Out this week - 04/02/11)

Really quiet week with only five releases, however it's still been tough choosing the top film due to the competitive nature at the top of the tree. With top Oscar nominated films vying for the title I think I've naturally imagined the two heavy hitters in the ring and with that sort of attitude it's no surprise that The Fighter is the film of the week.



The Fighter

David O. Russell has proven to be a quality director several times before (even if his methods can be questionable) but this is the first time his movies have made it to the Oscars with his true-life boxing fable.

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



Rabbit Hole

Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart try to rebuild their lives following he untimely death of their four year old son, based on David Lindsay-Abaire's award winning play.

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

Brighton Rock

Grahame Greene's gangster novel gets it's second big screen treatment, and unfortunately can't seem to get out of the shadow of it's 1947 counterpart. Helen Mirren and JOhn Hurt provide support to Sam Riley as Pinkie.

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

Little Bit of Heaven

Kate Hudson falls in love with Cancer specialist Gael Garcia Bernal as he tells her she's dying. Not sure if that sunds at all workable as a premise. Kathy Bates and Whoopi Goldberg (as an angel?) turn up in minor roles.

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

Sanctum

James Cameron puts his 3D producer name on the poster for this familiar looking disaster movie with a bunch of b-list actors caught in a big cave as it floods and desperately fight to escape. Trailer looks OK.

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

And naturally I missed one last week:

Men on the Bridge

Three men working and waiting on the Bosphorus bridge in Istanbul find their lives intersecting in this slice of life European drama which uses non-professional actors.

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

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Barbara Hershey


Happy Birthday to

Barbara Hershey

63 today


Is Ms Hershey everyone's favourite ballet mum now? Frankly I'm surprised Barbara's performance in Black Swan didn't get more awards recognition as she petrified me.

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Thursday, 3 February 2011

The Dilemma

2011. Dir: Ron Howard. Starring: Vince Vaughn, Kevin James, Winona Ryder, Jennifer Connolly and Queen Latifah. ●●○○○



How do they say it? Dying is easy, comedy is hard. And judging by Ron Howard's latest effort, The Dilemma, comedy is very very hard. Actually I very nearly didn't judge this film in terms of it's comedy as there's only a couple of laughs to be had, then it occurred to me that would be awfully generous, not matter that it would work better as a drama the movie spends most of the time desperately trying to raise a chuckle and consistently fails so that's how it should be measured.



Vince Vaughn plays a salesman who's scored well above his league with top chef Jennifer Connelly. Vaughn's best friend and business partner Kevin James is even more inexplicably married to Winona Ryder, and has been since they were at college. It's no surprise that Ryder's playing it away with heavily tattooed Channing Tatum. Vaughn stumbles upon the two making out at the local tropical garden and then faces the decision of whether to pass this information on.

This has all the makings of a fine farce, with slapstick humour and uncomfortable conversations, and when the film succeeds it's aiming for those ideas. The fight between Vaughn and Tatum has a nice energy and Vaughn's monologue at a wedding anniversary raised a little titter, but most of the jokes fall utterly flat. Signposted and overwrought the one-liners limp into the characters mouths with no perceptible timing or any thought of consistency. Minor characters are introduced in order to create a "funny" situation or make an amusing statement. Queen Latifah in particular seems to have walked out of a completely different movie. In fact the whole section she represents, where the central duo are selling electric engines that vibrate, could have been completely exorcised from the movie without anyone caring.

The bigger issue is the moral quagmire the film seems to lower itself into. All of the central characters are deeply flawed human beings (Vaughn's a recovering gambling addict, James visits prostitutes, Connelly's secretive and patronising) to such an extent tht you don't care who is, or has been, sleeping with whom. It's almost justifible on many counts.

In terms of the performances only Ryder, all spiky and manipulative, and Tatum showing surprising talent for physical comedy come out with any credit. Below the line talent seems perfunctory and Howard does nothing to persuade his critics there's anything close to a competent director here.

Needless to say I regret putting this in my countdown for 2011. Avoid at all costs.

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Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Hereafter

2010. Dir: Clint Eastwood. Starring: Matt Damon, Cécile De France, Bryce Dallas Howard, Jay Mohr and Frankie McLaren. ●●●○○



Last week I heard an interesting pair of interconnected stories about the pre-production process of Hereafter, both of which mainly concern the passage of the script from Peter Morgan's bottom drawer to Clint Eastwoods shooting schedule. After Morgan's success with The Queen and Frost/Nixon he was well aware he needed to get more scripts out whilst on top, keep the money coming in when the goodwill's there, you know what I mean. So he dug out his draft script for a piece about three characters linked through death, and sent it to his agent. Some time later he was called to a meeting with Steven Spielberg (which allegedly involved sitting for ten minutes in a pitch black room) where he was told that Eastwood loved the script and planned to direct. Morgan then asked for the script back so he could work on it and get it ready for filming - at which point he was told it didn't need any revisions.

Cut to the finished product; a film which virtually screams "This script isn't finished!"



Each of the three storylines explore characters with differing attitudes and experiences of the possibility of life after death, and you could easily have made a better feature that concentrated on two of those then trying to mix them up, with the wholly uninspired way of bringing them together at the end.

In section one we follow Cécile De France as a Parisien TV reporter who through surviving the Boxing Day Tsunami in South East Asia goes through a near death experience. It's worth noting the special effects at this point are spectacular, not only is the tidal wave and it's destruction rendered with spine chilling precision (you've probably seen the trailer which showcases the trees falling in the distance) but it also features the most realistic underwater movement shots I've seen. De France then researches the phenomenon of near-death experiences at the cost of her job with the network. It's a neat concept, but without a central thesis or the evidence of rigourous research it somehow cheapens what could have been an interesting segment on scientific dogma and political discomfort around the whole idea of death.

The second, and by far the most successful, strand follows retired medium Matt Damon as he tries to live his life without lapsing back into the old habits. The script treats his abilities as real but unwelcome, as a psychological affliction he cannot be cured of. The tentative romance he builds with Bryce Dallas Howard, a co-student in an Italian cookery class, is wonderfully judged from the tasting tests to preparing dinner at his apartment. That later scene is heartbreaking as Damon tries to convince Howard not to have a reading. There's a final reading that Damon does towards the end of the movie that lets you into how much might be show - it's perfectly judged, Damon giving a performance that should have had better notices.

The final section involves two wooden twins and their mockney heroin addicted mother, and before you can say green cross code one of the boys is hit by a van. I realise it's early days for Frankie and George McLaren but neither of them have much of a future in film acting based on their performances here. This section also sees the biggest emotional jumps from broad comedy to mawkish sentimentality neither of which work.

Eastwood directs with the steady assuredness we've come to expect but there's no real connection to the material, so even the emotional beats seem forced. Perhaps if he'd only let Morgan play around with the script a bit more it may have worked.

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Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Tuesday Trailers - The Fighter and Rabbit Hole

Welcome to a special Oscar edition of Tuesday Trailers. This Friday two films recently awarded with Oscar nominations get their UK release and I'd like some advice on which of them I should see. Both have high quality casts, auteur-like directors and gushing reviews, but neither were high on my radar this time last year so which to go for?



Both The Fighter (above) and Rabbit Hole (below) are released on 04 February 2011.

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Stuart Whitman


Happy Birthday to

Stuart Whitman

83 today


Through a combination of luck and longivity this is the third consecutive year I've mentioned Whitmans birthday, that's three times as popular as Nicole Kidman. I hope he knows that.

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