Monday, 31 October 2011

Lee Grant


Happy Birthday to

Lee Grant

84 today


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

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Saturday, 29 October 2011

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

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

The Stand

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



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

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

(and upcoming Whitey Bulger biopic)

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

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

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



The Arrangement

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

McFarland

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

The Snowman

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

Zeitoun

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

Casting News

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

Release Dates

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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Winona Ryder


Happy Birthday to

Winona Ryder

40 today


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

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Friday, 28 October 2011

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

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



Ides of March

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

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



The Help

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

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

The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn

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

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

Miss Bala

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

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

Anonymous

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

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

Seventh Sense

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

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

Silence

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

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

Sket

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

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

Velayudham

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

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

Demons Never Die

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

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

RA. One

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

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

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Joaquin Pheonix


Happy Birthday to

Joaquin Pheonix

37 today


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

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Thursday, 27 October 2011

Contagion

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



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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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Roberto Benigni


Happy Birthday to

Roberto Benigni

59 today


The Oscar winning actor-director has been quietly resting for some time, although I heard his one man touring Dante's Inferno was excellent, but it's interesting to see his coming back to our screens in Woody Allen's next Rome set comedy Nero Fiddled (formerly Bop Decameron) although set photos with his trousers round his ankles indicate this may be more farcical than many fans will hope.

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Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Restless

2011. Dir: Gus van Sant. Starring: Henry Hopper, Mia Wasikowska, Ryo Kase, Schuyler Fisk and Jane Adams. ●○○○○



I don't always agree with the broad consensus of critical opinion, sometimes movies receive unanimous praise which I refuse to buy into, other times I find myself enjoying sub-par thrillers that are collectively pummelled elsewhere. Indeed critical thinking regarding the filmography of Gus van Sant is especially controversial, whilst accepting their flaws I have positive views of his Hitchcockian exercise Psycho and the head-scratching Gerry. However Restless proves the critics right, a unedifying spectacle of cliche, a clumsy parable of death and forgiveness that deserves it's place as one of the most reviled movies of 2011.



Like van Sant's greatest works, the sublime Paranoid Park and the mystery of Elephant he returns to his preoccupations of youth culture and the violent ascent into adulthood. Where his previous teenage protagonists have fully encapsulated the self-imposed ennui and alienation of adolescence here they seem forced and pointed, the over-powering script full of unnecessary metaphor prevents the non-verbal communications and semi-improvised grunts that characterise his better works.

Centred around the budding romance between depressive loner Henry Hopper and quirky "Cancer Kid" Mia Wasikowska who meet at the funeral for a friend of Mia that Hopper gatecrashes in an ill-fitting, steam-punk inspired suit. In the way of these things she follows him relentlessly, miraculously bumping into him at another funeral they both have no business being at, and after a couple of attempts at appearing aloof he finally goes up to her in a graveyard and asks to see her sketches of water birds. All the while he's watched over by his faithful ghost friend (Ryo Kase) a kamikaze pilot who never said goodbye. And did I mention his parents were both killed in a car crash?

On the off-chance you hadn't noticed the continuous references to passing on this movie is all about death, and before you can say "Gosh, Mia, you're hair looks lovely" she's given just three months left to live (I have to say in the cinema it felt a lot longer than that), and the two of them are living those last moments together to the fullest.

Aiming for an age-appropriate Harold and Maude, or maybe a modern Love Story the lack of dimension to the characters (Mia's job is to die, Hopper's to mourn) prevents their predicament resonating, indeed the movies relentless pushing of the death theme negates the stakes of the pair. I'll say that again Mia is dying of cancer and the audience feel there are no stakes!

It's difficult to know where to lay the blame for this turgid mess, and I feel so strongly about it I want to blame someone, but I suspect it belongs to first time writer Jason Lew, whose screenplay stifles the performances and gives van Sant nothing to say. I understand that he originally wrote this as a play, and I suspect it may have worked in an intimate studio setting, but as cinema it's an unmitigated disaster.

Avoid at all costs.

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Bob Hoskins


Happy Birthday to

Bob Hoskins

69 today


Whilst his screen persona may imply the ultimate in cockney geezers, it's surprising to hear Bob was born in genteel Bury St. Edmonds. Although given that his mother had evacuated from the Blitz it's less of a shock. Loads of projects on the slate, but nothing that's really grabbing my attention.

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Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Tuesday Trailers - Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - part 1

There are some films which you go to see because of the stunning reviews, others because of the buzz surrounding the performances, you might be a fan of the talent involved or the book on which it's based. Occasionally though you go to see a film purely because of it's cultural impact, and so it is with the fourth instalment of the Twilight franchise, a film that will certainly end up in the top 5 biggest sellers of the year. So much so I may even take in a viewing myself.



Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - part 1 is released on 18 November 2011.

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Monday, 24 October 2011

Running (23/10/11)

I'm a day late writing because yesterdays run was a little disaster. a) my pace was way off where I want it to be b) the pain in my knee wont go away and, most significantly c) I took a dive whilst on the Bury New Road yesterday. One minute I was fine the next I was lying on the pavement with stigmata. Typing is still awkward. Hmpfh.

5 runs
17.8 miles
2 hours 32 minutes

So that's an appalling average speed of 7.05 mph

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Kevin Kline


Happy Birthday to

Kevin Kline

64 today


Juilliard alumni Kline has had an varied career that's seen him run the gamut of roles, from musicals to heavy drama, although it's his lighty satirical touches that probably resonate the most, especially his collaboration with Lawrence Kasdan in The Big Chill. Great news then, as he will next be seen in their dog tale movie Darling Companion.

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Saturday, 22 October 2011

An Unlikely Combination (Film News - 22/10/11)

This week there're a couple of stories this week about films I've already mentioned but didn't really discuss in detail because they were side issues, and there are a couple of stories about films that are way way off in the future and will probably be forgotten before they're made and then there's one very perplexing story that I had to read about four or five times before I even got close to believing it. Even then I've only seen it in one website so I am sceptical, although if it's true it seems like the most surprising combination of genre, director and source material that I can imagine. Naturally it had to come first.

The Mountain

I've only seen it on Deadline so far, but they're usually reliable and calling this an exclusive, but Fox have acquired the above spec script by Helen Childress.

Described as a sophisticated horror in the vein of Rosemary's Baby (which in itself is quite a claim) it is based on the characters from Edith Wharton's "Summer". You certainly read that right, early feminist author's fable about a unwed mother contemplating prostitution will form the basis of a psychological horror - not what I expect Wharton had in mind. Then it get's even more bizarre when you hear Fox have asked Ben Stiller - who directed Childress' Reality Bites back in 1994 - to get back in the directors chair for this one.

So we have a horror, directed by Ben Stiller from a book by Edith Wharton.



Have you ever heard anything so bizarre?

I actually think it may work, I believe Stiller's most nuanced directorial work was with The Cable Guy with it's dark mood of melancholy behind the florid moments of over acting, so perhaps an unsettling tense horror will be something that he might work well with - as long as he doesn't try to make it funny.

Read on for smuggling, Scandinavia and a railway trip to mess with your head.



City State

Remaking Scandinavian movies seems to be in vogue right now, with Let Me In last year opening the flood gate for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and now this Icelandic crime entry with four diverse storylines converging in Reykjavik as overseas organised crime syndicates take over the cities trade. Given the original written and directed by Olaf de Fleur Johannesson (see poster right) is still out in cinemas over there, it only opened last weekend, there must be potential crossover appeal and it'll be interesting to see how this fares in the English speaking market now news of a remake is out there.

Italian Shoes

Also from within the Artic circle is the latest on Kenneth Branagh's new movie, which is keeping him from directing Thor 2. Written by Wallender creator Henning Mankell (so the link there makes some sense) the story concerns a former surgeon living in a self-imposed exile on a remote Island in the Baltic sea, until a former flame looks him up. It looks like a fascinating project for two performers in their later years, and Manning's themes of decay and danger as they relate to environmental damage and the extinction of isolated communities could make for a thought-provoking backdrop.

Snakehead/Other Stephen Gaghan smuggling drama.

Occasionally Syriana scibe Stephen Gaghan pops up and says he wants to direct again but for some reason his hyperlink dramas never seem to get a final greenlight. Now as a different strategy he's talking about two different projects he's working on, with the expectation that at least one will eventually make it to celluloid. Curiously they both revolve around smuggling illegal goods into America, the first one, based on the Patrick O'Keefe's non-fiction novel, follows the rise and subsequent end of Cheng Chi "Sister" Ping (left) whose Hester Street noodle store was the front for one of the most elaborate and expansive human trafficking organisations in U.S. immigration history (plus a rare chance for Chinese American's to take starring roles in cinema) whereas the second takes a look at Mexican Heroin cartels. Frankly I'm more stoked about the first, but as long as we get something from Gaghan soon it's got to be a good thing.

Casting News

Which I may as well call Carey Mulligan news as both of the stories I read that related directly to casting were about the rising British star. She must be networking in an extraordinary way (as well as being really very talented) as she's signed up to work with two of America's most exciting modern auteurs. On the one hand she's going to be in the next Spike Jonze/Andy Kaufman movie with Joaquim Pheonix, very little is known about the plot although it seems to be a satirical conspiracy theory based movie. She will also be working on the Coen Brothers' Inside Llewyn Davis, they're music based faux-documentary, it'll be a reunion of sorts of Carey with her Drive hubby Oscar Isaac as the lead folk artist.


Go on love, give us a smile.

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Joan Fontaine


Happy Birthday to

Joan Fontaine

94 today


I've been thinking a lot about the Golden age of Romantic cinema recently, so it's seems fitting to celebrate a birthday of one of the great stars of her time, and one of the few legendary beauties still with us. Best remembered for her collaborations with Hitch (Rebecca , pictured, and Suspicion) Joan's look of fragility and grace in the soft focus glow of the 40's is a reminder of what the studio system did best - create stars we could only dream of being.

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Friday, 21 October 2011

Sniffle sniffle (Out this week - 21/10/11)

Last week the huge selection of high profile big ticket releases none of them managed to take the box office lead over the Rowan Atkinson's spy spoof so this week where the most significant release is about germs then I suspect Johnny English is going to hang on for another week. There's some pretty decent arthouse fare this week to, so whatever you're into you know your local cinema's going to provide for your niche. Film of the week is, drum role please, Contagion.



Contagion

I had Steven Soderbergh's flu thriller at the top of my most anticipated movies for 2011, and whilst my enthusiasm has dipped a little it's a natural choice for the top film this week, with it's souped up cast list and chilly directorial style I expect the only fun to be had is trying to figure which famous face will be the next to go.

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



We need to Talk about Kevin

Tilda Swinton has another career defining performance, in a CV dominated by them, as the helpless and hapless mother to a monster in the film adaptation of Lionel Shriver's devastating novel. John C. Reilly and Ezra Miller co-star.

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

Hwanghae

Or The Yellow Sea. South Korean hitman movie that comes as a timely reminded that some of the most exciting action work takes place in the far East. Our anti-hero is a gabling addicted cabbie who signs up for murder in order to repay his debst and get his wife back, but will he only have to kill the once?

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

Restless

It's fair to say that Gus van Sant's latest film, which clearly apes the feel of Harold and Maude or Love Story (doomed protagonists you see) as well as a touch of magical realism in the form of a kamikaze ghost, is unique and original, but when renowned critic Armond White says it's the worst film he's seen this year you have to wonder if there's something in his comments.

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

Bendeyar

The Turkish film industry is a bit of a mystery to me, whilst reasonably prolific only a few films make it over here and the releases are sporadic without a feel for the community. This part-thriller, part plea for religious tolerance, features an action heavy plot interrupted by CIA backed telepaths. Yes, you heard that right.

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

Four

More concept than movie the single set (an abandoned warehouse, please) London thriller with character types (cuckold, private eye, lover and wife) trying to get the upper hand following a kidnapping.

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

Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer

The first of two movie aimed at the pre-teen girl market (it's half-term didn't you know) concerns the titular third grader making the most of her vacation. Presumably she doesn't waste time with movies like this.

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

Monte Carlo

Or if you're slightly older you may want to try this mistaken identity whirldwind romance, with three cash strapped American's suddenly the centre of a media storm in Monaco when one looks like a ringer for a British heiress. Isn't it usually the other way round?

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

Paranormal Activity 3

I had completed forgotten that Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman were directing this second sequel, straight from the success of their was it or wasn't it a documentary Catfish. No way of hiding the reality of this unanticipated trip back in time to watch a ghost do nothing.

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

Reuniting the Rubins

If Honor Blackman were my Grandmother I suspect I'd want to make up wit my estranged siblings on her death bed, if only to get her to say how much she loves us in that husky Pussy Galore voice. So there's the premise of this Brit comedy almost ruined because you couldn't stay angry for long, pity.

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

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Thursday, 20 October 2011

Viggo Mortensen


Happy Birthday to

Viggo Mortensen

53 today


Viggo's been getting the lion's share of praise from the festival circuit tour of A Dangerous Method, with his performance as Sigmund Freud, the third consecutive collaboration with director David Cronenberg, being called fantastic and inspirational casting. I'm also looking forward to see him in the supporting ensemble of Jack Kerouac adaptation On the Road but with the buzz of that disappearing and the film being quietly delayed into 2012 I am beginning to doubt it's quality.

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Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Footloose

2011. Dir: Craig Brewer. Starring: Kenny Wormald, Julianne Hough, Dennis Quaid, Miles Teller and Andie MacDowell. ●●●○○



It's strange. It's been nearly a week since I saw the 80's dance classic remake Footloose and whilst I distinctly remember enjoying it, and seemingly floating out of the cinema on a cloud of warm air, I cannot for the life of me remember why. It's almost as if the movie only ever had ambitions to make you hum Kenny Loggins' theme track on the way out and then promptly forget each of the preceding 113 minutes. Luckily I wrote a cpouple of scribblings down during the bus ride home or I'd never be able to write up anything close to a review.

I also feel the need to confess I saw Paramount's latest teen-dance flick for free. I have filled a form out somewhere saying I blog and would appreciate free tickets for films which I would then write up. Usually I'm too busy or the tickets have already been given out, or the film looks rubbish, so I don't get them but this time it worked. You can now spend the rest of the post judging whether my unexplainable amnesia or the generosity of Paramount had the greatest effect on my comments.



If you lived under a rock during the 80's, or let's assume kindly you weren't born, then you may not know the 1984 original which launched the career of Kevin Bacon (and let it be known here that in spite of replacement Kenny Wormald's Rebels without a cause lite stylings and likeable delivery he will never be the sixth degree of Hollywood ubiquity) and featured the unlikely conversion of a town dedicated to crushing the teenage dancers to one willing to slowly accept their love of bump'n'grind. Here Wormald finds himself relocating to Bomont, Tennessee following the untimely passing of his mother and just before his graduating year of high school. He instantly falls for the rebellious Preacher's daughter (Hough, looking mightily like a young Jennifer Aniston) and, partly to win her heart from her oily sexually predatory stock car racing boyfriend (Patrick John Flueger), partly to find a physical release for his former champion gymnastic body (seriously - although his school seems not to care for his former athletic prowess) he must stand up against the militant townsfolk, led by Dennis Quaid, the Preacher father of Hough. You shouldn't be as confused as this plot synopsis sounds as there aren't that many characters.

I don't want to give away the ending, but if you've seen the poster you know that Wormald and Hough spend some time towards the end of the movie dancing, this is after Wormald's reciting passages from Leviticus at the town meeting in an attempt to move the puritanical bunch. You may during that scene finally lose your rage with the screenplay, of it isn't enough that rock 'n' roll moves were banned for no apparent reason - I realise the justification is the death of five local teens on the way home from an all nighter, but it looked like teenage drinking and poor driving skills were responsible not the form of entertainment they were up to - but the extent of Wormald's argument for dancing is "The Bible says it's OK" in passages that in no way reflect the town's specific underage dance prohibition.

Of course the film isn't trying to show real critical reasoning, indeed in places the moral message seems surprisingly twee. The hero of the piece is a wannabe lone wolf, angry at the world and ready to rebel at it's small c conservative core. However the most hardcore resistance he offers is playing loud music in a clapped out VW Beetle. He refusing drugs point blank and won't kiss Hough until she and Flueger are finished and even then anything more sexual than a slow twirl around the barn floor seems out of the question.

On a side note it's interesting to see the difference between American and British conurbations, like the fictional Bomont I grew up in a population around 20,000 and when the headteacher said there were around 220 kids in the final year of school I nearly fell off my chair, such were the numerical similarities to my childhood. But the thought of a town council actually being able to make a decision like banning dancing, let alone enforce it, seems like something out of the dark ages to this small-town boy. Indeed the most discussed motions in Melksham would be the date the Christmas decorations go up.

Movies like this live or die on the dance floor of course, and the variety and joie de vivre of the dance scenes is evident throughout, from a grungy car park face off to a superclub C&W Line dance, not to mention the obligatory update of Bacon's angsty solo. Wormald is infinitely better in that respect, bringing an athleticism to his moves that Bacon could only dream of, although you could question whether the character should have that polished a technique? It's a shame also to hear the best two tracks in the soundscape are the two Oscar nominated songs pilfered from the original, Footloose is used to post-ironically point the way to the original whilst Let's Hear it for the Boy hilarious plays during an affectionate montage sequence.

Wormald copes well with the blandness of his character, nailing the angry exchanges with his recent memory and the lost puppy looks, and in a attractive best friend kind of way he could have a career ahead of him. The less said about Hough's wooden performance the better though, I suspect she was given advice from Andie McDowell who floats in as her mother. However all of these performances are firmly in the shade of Miles Teller, excelling as the best friend Willard, always ready for a fight and so filled with manly pride he refuses to dance throughout the first two acts, he alone manages to bust through the stereotypical character profile and give a fully rounded comic performance with just a touch of self-awareness. When combined with his sterling work as the teenage driver in Rabbit Hole earlier this year you realise this is a guy to watch.

Craig Brewer, with cinematographer Amy Vincent, know how to light a scene and show the cast in their best but it's certainly not as edgy or interesting as their last two films Black Snake Moan and Hustle & Flow, making you hope that whatever Brewer moves on to he can return to that dangerous style. Whilst this version may be just a little too beholden to the original there's enough here to justify watching this as an alternative some Saturday afternoon or mid-week sleepover in the future, and I for one certainly think it was worth every penny I spent on seeing it.

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John Lithgow


Happy Birthday to

John Lithgow

66 today


I can't help but think there's a certain sniffiness about audience opinion of Lithgow, his long running stint on TV's "Third Rock from the Sun" obscures the two dramatic supporting actor Academy Award nominations. Maybe his acclaimed turn in Rise of the Planet of the Apes will introduce him to a whole new generation of film fans. Next up is ensemble romantic comedy New Years Eve.

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Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Tuesday Trailers - Trespass

Sometimes you've got to mix the rough with the smooth, you've got to try the derivative schlock in order to appreciate the good stuff when it comes your way. So it is with November this year which is looking packed with cinematic disasters (there will be a couple of good picks but it's slim pickings) and Joel Schumacher's latest outing looks like it will fill bargain bins for years to come. Still at least the starry cast (Nicolas Cage, Nicole Kidman) guarantee a cinema release, his last 2 films have gone there direct.



Trespass opens on 11 November 2011.

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Sunday, 16 October 2011

Running (16/10/11)

On the off chance you're a regular reader of my running posts you will know that 5 weeks ago today I was due to complete the Nottingham Marathon, the culmination of over 30 weeks of training. You will also have spotted that I hadn't shared my results. I kept quiet because, frankly, I was a touch ashamed. After 14 miles my knee gave out and I had to retire from the race. Now after a few days on crutches and a few physiotherapy sessions, not to mention a four week rest, I've started back on an easy routine. There's ache, but not the pain there was, but I'm not feeling 100% yet. Anyway this week:

5 runs
12.9 miles
1 hours 43 minutes

So that's an average speed of 7.50 mph

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Fernanda Montenegro


Happy Birthday to

Fernanda Montenegro

82 today


I usually pick generic publicity or red carpet shots to celebrate birthdays, but I just love this Luiz Garrido portrait of the Brazillian screen star. Bursting onto the international stage following her Oscar nominated turn in Central Station, a film I love. Next up is A Igreja do Diabo for the sprightly 102 year old director Manoel de Oliveira.

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Saturday, 15 October 2011

The Real Computer Genius - (Film News - 15/10/11)

Difficult to get a handle on the headlines this week, especially with the leading story as there are two vastly different points I want to make about the forthcoming Alan Turing biopic. Of course overall I welcome the increased pace of news this week, with three completely new stories coming our way as well as a flurry of castings it feels like a proper week again.

Imitation Game

Leonardo DiCaprio wants an Oscar, his yearning has become obvious, as reports of his J. Edgar indicate it's fairly missable, he's already lining up his next biopic, a biopic that has all the hallmarks of Academy Award bait. He'll play mathematical genius, suicidally tortured homosexual and renowned stutterer Alan Turing.

Don't get me wrong with 2012 seeing the centennial of Turing's birth the list of his achievements should be sung from the rafters. Here is a man who virtually invented the modern computer, and whose work on the German Enigma device in the second World War won the war in the Atlantic. I wish that Hugh Whitemore's 1986 play "Breaking the Code" with it's award winning performance by Derek Jacobi at the core had a more significant part to play in Turing's fame. It's an incredible play that really gets to grips with Turing's work and personal dilemmas.


It's interesting timing for this news in a couple of ways, partly because of the J. Edgar connection, but partly because of the perceived connection between Turing (above) and Apple computers whose founder Steve Jobs passed away last week. Turing committed suicide in response to chemical castration following a conviction for homosexual activity (illegal in 1952 Britain) by taking a bite from a cyanide laden apple. When the epithet genius has been bandied about far too much in the last couple of weeks to describe branding maestro Jobs, it's time to remember the man who may (or may not) have inspired the Apple logo and who truly deserves the tag of genius.

In many ways I want DiCaprio to pass on the role, and as much as I want to see this film made I would rather the part went to an unknown (obviously I'm prepared to put myself up for the role) and the film garnered a less obvious but still committed audience. After all this story doesn't need awards it just needs to be told.

Read on for New York shenanigans, a time-travel twist on Pride and Prejudice and some casting stories.



The Emperor's Children

Scott Cooper has taken over the helm for the adaptation of Claire Messud's novel, taking over from Noah Baumbach. The novel revolves around the romantic and platonic relationships between four New Yorkers about to hit the big 3-0. Michelle Williams was attached for a while, but the latest press release says nothing about the actors so it could be that she's moved on. Either way this looks like it could have some curious performances from some up and coming actors.

Lost in Austen

Nora Ephron is set to make her first sci-fi movie, albeit one which won't alienate her core fans. Adapted from an ITV mini-series the film centres around a modern New Yorker - shifted from London - whose romantic life is further complicated when she finds herself implanted in Jane Austen's seminal novel "Pride and Prejudice", hijinks involving the novel's plot strands falling apart and the headstrong Elizabeth Bennett making the most of her New York adventure will no doubt make an excellent fish out of the water comedy. Ephron will probably use her Julie & Julia template of jumping between the stories much more than the ITV production which stayed firmly with our heroine. Expect two big names to sign up soon, as well as another iconic Mr. Darcy.


A book cover of Jane Austen's classic, I expect the book itself will feature heavily as a prop.

Casting News

We've had some odd rumours with regards to bills over the last week, none more so than the Avatar 2 saga with Sigourney Weaver and James Cameron both weighing in over the Alien star's potential to return to the franchise. Whilst currently denying it Cameron made a point about non-linear storytelling which could indicate that we could go back to Grace's early work on Pandora. Not to mention the spiritual world-building could bring in some surprising facts about the afterlife. I'm sure this story will go on and on either way. Liam Hemsworth, the brother of Thor with the least interesting CV, has signed up for time-travel romance Timeless, I normally wouldn't care but he's only 21 - how can we justify giving the role about a man inventing a time machine to see his dead wife just once more to a child? Alexander Payne has a long list of veterans he's approaching for his alcoholic old man road trip, including Robert Forster, Jack Nicholson, Robert Duvall and, most intriguingly given he's retired, Gene Hackman. If he can persuade Hackman to make a comeback then you know this will be something special. Finally the cast for Robert Redford's Company you Keep keeps on getting better and better with the latest additions of Anna Kendrick and Terrence Howard, look out for this to be in my top 20 for 2012!


Can Payne persuade the legendary Hackman to come out of retirement for one last role? I hope so.

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Friday, 14 October 2011

Time for a quick nap (Out this week - 14/10/11)

It's an admittedly facetious title this week, which in part relates to the Cannes nominated film that takes the top slot this week, but it also indicates that there's not much really jumping out to me. If you slept through the weekend would you honestly miss anything worth seeing? Personally I very much doubt it, there may be some OK releases out of 14 new movies (the highest number we've had out in a particular week) including 2 US chart toppers but I doubt anything's going to end up on anyone's top ten lists. Film of the week is Sleeping Beauty.



Sleeping Beauty

This film divided audiences in Cannes where critics fought over whether the central character played by Emily Browning is empowered or subjugated by her job as an unconscious prostitute, and you can be sure Julia Leigh's debut gets the same response in it's UK release.

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



Dolphin Tale

I don't think anyone had this true-life inspirational fable of a dolphin that loses it's tail and the boy who fights for a prosthetic replacement on their radar at the beginning of the year, sure it may have Morgan Freeman tottering on the edge of the storyline, but no-one expected it to take the $50m it's just passed at the US box office. So it must have something heart-warming in it.

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Footloose

Remake of the classic 80's dance drama with Kenny Wormald taking the Kevin Bacon part and bringing rock and roll to the small town where dancing has been banned and bringing the kids to their rebellious feet. I may go and see this...

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Three Musketeers

Each generation gets the Dumas adaptation it deserves, so whilst I grew up with the comic swash-buckler starring Michael York, now we have Paul W.S. Anderson's steampunk visualisation with Logan Lerman (who at least I've never heard of), Christoph Waltz provides bad guy swagger and Milla Jovovich is badass in a corset.

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Aazaan

Bollywood movie that explores the boundaries between loyalty to family and to Mother India, as the titular half-Afghan hero must prevent the terrorist plot led by his brother.

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Albatross

Low budget British indie with an interesting cast, led by Julia Ormond and Felicity Jones, that explores an unconventional love triangle with one of two friends falling for the others father.

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Everything must Go

I'm not completely sure why this Will Ferrell vehicle has completely passed me by until it's UK opening. It could be because it's his reach for dramatic credibility as his relapsing alcoholic loses his family and decides to sell all his stuff in order to move on. Rebecca Hall and Laura Dern support.

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

Khushiyaan

The Bollywood movie industry is at least in part built on the dramatic tension between family and career, and here the theme is built upon with an architect and his New York based wife and child returning to the Punjab village where he grew up and reuniting with his ailing father.

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

Real Steel

Rocky with Robots? It swept to the top of the US charts last weekend, and should almost certainly do the same on this side of the pond, with it's ubiquitous bus advertising campaign, but I've yet to hear anything about the movie that makes it seem unmissable. Although Hugh Jackman doing Sugar Ray Leonard's fight choreography might be worth it.

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Retreat

It's another entry in the mankind falls apart after a virus begins to wipe people out sub-genre, joining last week's Perfect Sense and the upcoming Contagion, only this time we have sweaty trio of Brit thesps Thandie Newton, Jamie Bell and Cillian Murphy fighting in a small island retreat.

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

Texas Killing Fields

I'm not sure why but earlier in the year this swampland cop drama was picking up awards buzz, possibly because it's the sophomore directorial effort of Michael Mann's daughter Ami Canaan or the appearance of the ubiquitous Jessica Chastain with Sam Worthington among those chasing the local serial killer with a taste for small girls.

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First Night

Odd little mix of Country house romantic shenanigans and opera as a bunch of industrialists with more time than sense decide to put on an amateur performance of Mozart's Cosi Fan Tutti. The music is, of course, fantastic, but the soap level histrionics look utterly missable.

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Snehaveedu

Finally Mayamalan Comic drama also sees a wandering character returning home to his small village, this time the prodigal is the father who must get to know the son he left behind.

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Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Midnight in Paris

2011. Dir: Woody Allen. Starring: Owen Wilson, Marion Cotillard, Rachel McAdams, Michael Sheen and Corey Stoll. ●●●●○



Long time readers will know I have a masochistic relationship with Woody Allen, the sort of loyal passion to his work that brings me out to see all his releases, no matter how critically reviled. I have seen a number of truly awful films but every now and then he surprises and whilst his latest movie Midnight in Paris doesn't reach the heady heights of his 1970's-80's heyday, nor does it quite top his most recent return to form Vicky Cristina Barcelona however it is a delightful oddity that will be an enjoyable night out for any pseudo-intellectual or nostalgist.



Allen chooses to open with a jazz-scored montage of postcard scenes of modern Paris, it's bustling and beautiful and whilst the devise drags a little it's clear he's aim is to set up the romanticism of the city, a parade of lovers walking in the rain, scuttling boulevards with tiny cafes, a city of culture, architecture and wistful yearning. The extent of Allen's idolatry is to underline how his vision of Paris varies from other cities; this isn't the noisy, mishmash of Manhattan or the grimy morally complex London, instead it's a clear-cut city of Romance, a place where art can transport reality and magic might just come true.

We are then introduced to Luke Wilson's Gil Pender, a California hack visiting Paris with fiancee Inez (Rachel McAdams) and finding inspiration for his novel from the Parisien vibe and Monet's Water Lily's. Slipping away from the stifling company of his future-in-laws and hectoring friends, he is picked up by an out of place 1920's Peugeot at the stroke of midnight and transported to a party filled with snazzily dressed gents and flappers. But appearances, or at least perceptions of appearances, cannot be trusted. This is no costume party with cigarette paper games but a time travel mystery, Pender has slipped back in time and is now hobnobbing with Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, being crooned at by Cole Porter and receiving literary advice from Hemingway and Gertrude Stein.

In the hands of a less self-assured writer the mechanics of the sci-fi premise may be explored and investigated, but the physics of this don't matter to Allen, even surrogate Pender is only mildly flabbergasted, stuttering and confused but not beyond asking Hemingway to read his manuscript. Instead his main concern is the feeling of escape inherent in the concept, Pender is obsessed with the past, his novel is set in a nostalgia shop, he yearns openly to have experienced the roaring 20's. His obsession comes from a need to escape the present, whether it's the vague distrust of modern US politics or the insufferable circumstances of his life, and it's no wonder that he seeks to escape.

In his trips to the past he falls for the luminous Marion Cotillard, shot in the style of romantic Hollywood, lit perfectly with soft focus she bursts from the screen, an untouchable beauty. But secretly she yearns to be equally transported back, wishing to revisit the Belle Epoque, Allen wants us to know that wishing for the past is fine, but there too nostalgia for bygone eras is rife and inescapable.

The film soars in it's time bending passages, whether it's Corey Stoll's machismo laden line-readings as Hemingway, or the farcical discussion between Pender and the Surrealists, with Adrien Brody squeezing every syllable of rhinocerous to great comic effect, or the gorgeous costuming and the plaintive musical cues, however in the modern world the movie misfires. McAdams' shrill performance, backed by her grotesquely rich republican parents and pedantic college alumni Michael Sheen, makes you wonder why the outwardly personable Pender would associate with any of these people let alone consider marrying them. Inez is the kind of horrific stereotype that lurches from blatant mistrust of the working classes to open disloyalty about her partner's work. The resolution of that aspect of the the story seems false and rushed, which perhaps might have worked better if Inez was a more sympathetic character.

I also find Allen's recent tendency to judge his characters and his non-audiences off-putting. It's fine to describe the Tea Party as crypto-fascist zombies, I may even agree with that assessment, but it's no way to win an argument against their policies. Equally Sheen is loathed for his pseudo-intellectual oratory, the low-point being when he tries to correct Carla Bruni's tour guide, but the audience cheer when Pender uses the same trick in giving background to a Picasso, quoting Kathy Bates' Gertrude Stein as if that's the only opinion that matters and smacking down Sheen with a description of it's lineage. If it's not about the rudeness of the act then it must be about the accuracy of the opinion, therefore it's fine to be a prick if you're right and you share the intellectual insight of Stein.

I disagree with Allen, to value one artistic interpretation over another is unbearably snobbish, the appreciation of art is purely subjective and whilst understanding the background and influences may aid in the discussion of form and content the feelings inspired are equally valid whether the audience is aware or not.

That probably sounds like a rant, and possibly that's undeserved. I really liked Woody Allen's latest, and I would recommend it to anyone, it's a lovely little piece that will transport you back to a gentler time, but I doubt it's anything more than that.

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Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Tuesday Trailers - Machine Gun Preacher

It's hard to second guess what the studio's plan is with the biopic of Hell's Angel turned Evangelist turned campaigner against child soldiers in Eastern Africa. On the one had you hand a juicy life story that could have made an awards play, the release date itself is an indication that was considered, but on the other you have Gerard Butler in the role with this action-heavy trailer. Could still be worth catching up with.



Machine Gun Preacher is released on 04 November 2011.

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Joan Cusack


Happy Birthday to

Joan Cusack

49 today


From juicy supporting turns to the 80's - whether for her brother or when sporting big corporate hairstyles - to mainly voice and TV work recently Joan's career has followed a strong if predictable path. Of course I'd prefer her to be do some serious comedy turns but I guess we'll just have to hold on to the memories.

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Saturday, 8 October 2011

Bzzzzzzzzz (Film News - 08/10/11)

I thought we might be back to decent levels of news with last week's onslaught of great projects, however I was clearly mistaken as this week we drift back to virtually nothing taking my fancy. Admittedly the sad passing of Apple founder Steve Jobs has dominated the headlines, and apart from a brief flurry of biopic rumours most of Hollywood has been respectful in it's simple response. A couple of potential stories had surfaced over last weekend though, and these form the backbone of this weeks breakdown.

The Fly 2

Back in October 2009 I first reported that David Cronenberg was interested in revisiting his classic 80's creature-feature The Fly updating it with the best of modern special effects techniques. Two years on and David's now on post for his Robert Pattinson in a limo movie and is talking up the possibility again. Only now with a completed script it's looking much more like a sequel, a continuation of the original's story.

The script is apparently sitting with Fox right now, awaiting for either the green light or whatever else studios do with screenplays these days. Great news for anyone who's missed the King of Venereal Horror's most excessive flights of fantasy, although I have to admit I have my doubts whether Fox are prepared to go with it and wouldn't be surprised if we get a complete re-boot first.


The final stage of Goldblum's evolution gets it's own back on Cronenberg.

Casting News

And that's pretty much it, with the main news, although there are a couple of casting coups that may be curious. First up is the news that Halle Berry doesn't care what films she makes as long as she's working, as proved by her signing up for Joel Schumacher's The Hive as a emergency phone operator who answers a call that connects her to a murderer in her past. I also read that Schumacher might squeeze in an indie before filming starts in February, although the fact that I'm not headlining with that is somewhat telling. The surfing biopic Of Men and Mavericks has expanded it's cast by adding Abigail Spencer and Elisabeth Shue as subject Jay Moriaty's mother. Finally the cast of Ron Howard's Formula 1 movie Rush is picking up players, tracing the legendary on-track rivalry between Niki Lauder and James Hunt as well as the personal tribulations of the drivers whose personas were on the opposite end of the scale. Hunt, pictured below, was the rock star of the sport, making the celebrity headlines as much as the sports pages, Chris Hemsworth has been set for a while to play Hunt and now Olivia Wilde looks close to signing on as his supermodel wife Suzy Miller and Russell Crowe may cameo as Hollywood icon Richard Burton, who stole Suzy away from Hunt.

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Matt Damon



Happy Birthday to

Matt Damon

41 today


Damon is one of the most exciting actors working in mainstream Hollywood from his preening lisping LaBoeuf in True Grit to the downbeat medium in Hereafter he is able to fit snugly in a variety of roles. Coming soon is a huge list of great looking movies including bird-flu thriller Contagion, animated cameos in Happy Feet 2, family friendly We Bought a Zoo and the long delayed Margaret (no sign of a UK release for that though). Looking even further in the future I'm really interested in seeing how he'll play lover and chauffeur Scott Thornson in Soderbergh's Liberace.

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Friday, 7 October 2011

The City of Nostalgia (Out this week - 07/10/11)

There are two films that look like they might be worth catching at multiplexes this week. On the one hand you've got a brutal British kitchen sink drama that marks the directorial debut of a cult UK actor and on the other you have a comedic master who's found new inspiration in the city of light. Meanwhile expect a cut-price secret agent to continue his international trend of capturing the box office lead. Film of the week, obviously, goes to Midnight in Paris.



Midnight in Paris

It's being universally heralded as Woody Allen's best film in years and it's US box office take has eclipsed his entire back catalogue (ignoring inflation) and with Owen Wilson's surrogate role slipping back in time to the 1920's what's not to love about Allen's delightful confection.

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



Tyrannosaur

Paddy Considine steps behind the camera for the first time, dissecting the harrowing lives of council estate alcoholics and Christian housewives unable to escape the downward spiral of domestic violence. Compared favourably to Leigh and Loach this debut shows promise of immense talent, as well as showcasing some high calibre performances from Olivia Colman and Peter Mullan.

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

Battle of Warsaw: 1920

Poland doesn't have a rich history of defensive successes (no offence) so it's a bit of a surprise to hear how rarely their decisive victory over the invading Bolsheviks has made it to the big screen. I can't see this breaking out of the homegrown market though.

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Don't be Afraid of the Dark

It's oversold the produced by Guillermo del Toro tag which may have even caused this Katie Holmes/Guy Pearce starring remake to lose a little sheen. Certainly I've heard only vague notions of disappointment, but if you like this sort of thing then you probably like this sort of thing.

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Irvine Welsh's Ecstasy

Somewhat less iconic than his genre breaking drugs novel Trainspotting, this similarly veined drugs are hell but cold turkey can be worse missive at least stars a hobbit in a supporting role.

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Perfect Sense

David MacKenzie's second film in three weeks, following the music festival romance You Instead, has a much more bittersweet romance with Ewan MacGregor falling for Eva Green as the human race succumb to a mysterious illness robbing us of our senses. It's probably a metaphor.

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Rascals

It's a quite humourous trailer for this Bollywood con-men movie which stars Ajay Devgan and Sanjay Dutt as competing tricksters pulling more and more convoluted jobs on each other.

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Johnny English Reborn

It's already taken over $35m in Overseas revenues and stolen the top spot in Russia and South East Asia, so look our for Rowan Atkinson's credit card spin-off to do much the same on home turf.

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Vedi

New Tamil picture, I don't know much about it. Now that's honesty for you.

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Yaar Annmulle

Three hours plus for this punjabi musical, that's an hour each for the student protagonists (all of whom look far too old) each of whom try to outdo each other in the romantic complication stakes. Only for hardcore fans I suspect

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Thursday, 6 October 2011

The Debt

2010. Dir: John Madden. Starring: Helen Mirren, Jessica Chastain, Sam Worthington, Martin Csokas and Tom Wilkinson. ●●●○○



Who would have thought I would spend a weekend watching two incredibly diverse films but find that both of them have deep parallels to another film I saw earlier in the year. In the case of The Debt thematically it couldn't be further from it's predecessor but if I say one of the similarities is rising star Jessica Chastain then you'll know I'm subconsciously drawn to Tree of Life, but the similarities don't end with the casting because as with Malick's free-associated meanderings there is a great movie hidden within a silly one. Only in the case of John Madden's latest it's centre is much less great and the wrapping infinitely sillier.



The film see-saws between a modern day (or mid 90's at least) Israel and 1960's East Berlin, between a trio of retired Mossad agents (Mirren, Wilkinson and Ciaran Hinds) reminiscing and basking in the glory their younger selves (Chastain, Csokas and Worthington respectively) earned kidnapping the notorious Surgeon of Buckenwald, a nazi war criminal who comes across as a amalgamation of Eichmann and Josef Mengele (as played by Gregory Peck).

The Berlin scenes are very well handled, throwing us back to muscular espionage thrillers of the past, with cut wires and stolen cars each part of the plan to smuggle Vogel (Jesper Christiansen) and his captors across the border seems so precise in it's planning that the failure of the original mission and the days the three spend, cramped together enduring the verbal onslaught of their captured socio-path, more observant and insidious than the agents could have imagined. Chastain proves her mettle as an actress here, utterly captivating as the naive but steely Rachel, watch her haunted expression outside her gynaecological visits to Vogel and you can see why her star has risen so quickly.

There are some interesting plot developments in this section, Csokas ebbing of humanity Worthington's survivors guilt and the love triangle that develops between them even identifying the conflicted soul of Vogel but alas these all lead to nothing much as the film seems anxious to return to the present. Even the second act twist, the debt of the title came as an anticlimax as we'd virtually heard the details in Mirren and Wilkinson's meaty encounters.

You see after the mission Chastain and Csokas marry and have a child who later writes a book about their exploits, keeping them in the public eye long after they should have slipped into footnote lore, so when the threat of the extent of the mission failure looks set to go public they must take action to hide the truth. Between unnecessary dialogue and Mirren prancing around like a female, sexagenarian Bourne the plot disappears into a mess of it's own making so by the time the credits role instead of the indelible image of Chastain holding back her tears you've got old people wrestling. It's undignified.

Madden is as pedestrian a director as always, able to hold a scene but adding nothing that isn't in Matthew Vaugh, Jane Goldman and Peter Straughn's script.

It's probably worth waiting to see this one on TV, and even then I'd probably change channels about 15 minutes before the end. Might be worth chasing down the Israeli original Ha-Hov though.

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Elisabeth Shue


Happy Birthday to

Elisabeth Shue

48 today


Curiously prior to her career defining turn in Leaving Las Vegas Shue was mainly known for playing inconsequential girlfriends to Ralph Maccio, Michael J. Fox and Tom Cruise. Now of course I can't think of her without wondering why she's sitting so gingerly. It's just inferior genre fare on the horizon these days though.

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Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Melancholia

2011. Dir: Lars von Trier. Starring: Kirsten Dunst, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Kiefer Sutherland, Alexander Skarsgård and Stellan Skarsgård. ●●●●○



Man’s place within the Universe is a hot topic with auteurs this year, first Terence Malick persuades us that we are both insignificant yet fundamentally connected to the whole, that we are both a servant of and a centrepiece to the will of a creator. Now we have Lars von Trier rejecting the notion, instead reminding us of our helplessness against an impassive and intransigent galactic system. In Melancholia von Trier adds "The Universe is Evil" to his "Nature is Satan's Church" Antichrist quote to confirm his extreme nihilism and phobia of the natural world.

I'm being disingenuous though as the movie is not about the end of the world, as much as the plot is driven by the cataclysmic event, instead it's about how depression upends your world view such that ostensibly joyous events (like the Wedding reception that plays through the first half) can trigger deep periods of malaise whereas the forthcoming interplanetary apocalypse gives the depressive an opportunity to display vital stoicism. It's the cinematic evidence that a pessimist is never disappointed.



The film bravely opens with slow-motion dreamlike surrealist shots heavily underscored with Wagner's "Tristan and Isolde". Some of these images - such as Charlotte Gainsbourg sinking into the green of the 19th hole, clasping her son in her arms - will be repeated as the titular blue planet rushes to collide with Earth albeit in a less idealized way, others are pure fantasy, echoing the mental state of Kirsten Dunst's Justine, like the poster image of Dunst in her wedding dress helplessly drifting downstream in an image reminiscent of Millais's "Ophelia...", a romanticised portrait of suicide Justine will later open during an art appreciation based tantrum. A few of the shots slow the inexorable and inevitable collision, with the music finally being drowned out by the bass rumble of Earth being shattered.

We cut to Dunst and her recently betrothed, Alexander Skarsgård, in the back of an impossible stretch limo, giggling and obviously deeply in love as the driver fails to negotiate twisty drive leading to Keifer Sutherland's grotesquely opulent mansion and the Wedding reception held within. As the two lovers eventually give up and arrive on foot you rather wish they had just backed out and gone straight on Honeymoon. Instead they stumble into a vipers nest of guests, each nipping away at each other and at the bride, reducing her confidence and stability until she has no choice but to surrender to the negative impulses within.

Whether it's smary, Machiveliian boss Stellan Skarsgård, orchestrating a network of spies to close around Justine's every utterance, her drunken letch of a father (John Hurt), her bitterly divorced mother (Charlotte Rampling, struggling to cope with some dreadfully clunky dialogue) or even the loving sister Gainsbourg, who will forgive every negative impulse Justine has but not without griping at her for having them.

Skarsgård jr. does his best to keep Justine on side, by turns utilising patience, bribery and physical comedy, indeed it's hard to see why anyone could not fall in love with this gorgeous and sensitive suitor. But then it's not the depth of their feelings that are in question, instead it's the gnawing feeling of unworthiness that chews on Justine's mind, she makes decisions, acts of commission and omission that deliberately drive a wedge between the two of them. And later when he eventually gives up her simple comment "What did you expect" could be seen as both triumphant and reconciled.

The second half sees a shift in the story as we concentrate on hitherto sensible sister Claire (Gainsbourg), with only her pragmatic husband (Keifer) impressionable son and the virtually catatonic Justine she awaits the arrival of 'Melancholia', mourning the loss of her child's future and slowly fragmenting in panic. As the end gets closer we eventually see the roles of the two sisters completely reversed, I won't spoil the final shot (yes, the World ends but there's more to it than that) but it beautifully encapsulates their new found emotional states.

The scene composition throughout the movie is incredible, with von Trier proving he is at home with complex special effects as he is with a bare stage. Melancholia, with all it's physics and complexity, is stunningly visualised, as the family stay up to watch the planet rise over the horizon you too will marvel at it's passage and the twin shadows against the moon.

The script is a little too obvious at times, with a couple of scenes jumping out as downright clunky, especially the Wedding speeches (each character essentially states what they feel rather than revealing in in subtext) and there's a chat between Justine and Claire towards the end that seems terribly forced. But beyond that it's difficult to find criticism for this movie. Kiki is fantastic in the role of Justine, finally proving to the critics what a versatile and committed performer she is. The other element that stood out for me was the sound design and editing, which really draws the narrative. From the panicky whinnying of the horses to the whoosh of Melancholia in the sky and from full pelt Wagner to terrible silences you could close your eyes, remove the dialogue and still understand the tragedy of the central story.

Overall I would have to say this is one of the most fulfilling and baffling cinematic experiences of the year, and one I would recommend. But don't ever trust von Trier, he puts enough clues in the film to know when he's lying to us, as I have in this review.

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