Saturday, 31 March 2012

Coming of age in Italy (Out this week - 30/03/12)

Busy-ish week with lots of fine looking European movies competing for our collective attentions this weekend. Which, for the uninitiated basically means I will largely ignore the supposed big hitters that will blast their way into the box office charts -even the plasticine based one which looks quite good - and instead focus all my attention on the arthouse circuit this weekend. I suppose one of the real tragedies of our age is that even though there are three very highly praised foreign language pictures this week, any one of which could have made my film of the week, none of them has opened in as few as 5 cinemas let alone the 425 that The Hunger Games is still holding on to. Oh well, eschewing messed up relationships and miniature trees I have chosen Corpo Celeste as the runs like a gay film of the week.

Last week no-one was surprised to see Katniss Everdene smash it on the box office chart both sides of the Atlantic as well as Australia, Brazil, France, Germany, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, Russia, Singapore, South Korea and Sweden, as well as virtually everywhere else, so I get no kudos for jumping onto that particular bandwagon, even if I haven't personally added to it's gargantuan haul. This week we have dancing teens and wrathful Gods but I suspect Ardman Animation have the necessary edge to be next weeks number one with Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists

Corpo Celeste

Coming of age dramas might seem like a done to death genre but Alice Rohrwacher Cannes hit seems to take a interesting twist focussing on the confirmation classes of our heroine Martha and her readjustment following a recent upheaval.

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The trailer certainly hints at the complex moral and religious layers confronting young Catholic girls.


Noomi Rapace gets the opportunity to shine as a character both far removed from her revelatory turn as Lisbeth Salander as well as sharing some common DNA as a young mother escaping an abusive past who accidently overhears a shocking event somewhere in her apartment block. Superior Scandinavian thriller.

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Bonsai: A Story of Love Books and Plants

Looking slightly more surreal is this South American picture flicking between two timelines - the present where a writer tries to impress his new found love and the past the story the writer is telling of a previous relationship and how it failed. Looks really intriguing, but also only showing in one cinema.

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Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists

Aardman are back with their first feature length hand crafted animation since The Curse of the Were Rabbit. Hugh Grant plays the less successful than ambitious Pirate Captain intent on winning the Pirate of the year award, with David Tennant as Darwin who gets caught up with his nefarious plans. Imelda Staunton and Selma Hayek are along for the ride.

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Tiny Furniture

Five films in before the first US production and even this with it's vague indie stylings feels miles apart from the bombastic blockbusters that usually clog up screens. Flirting dangerously with an overdose of quirk the trailer at least gives us a glimpse of the multi talented (writer/director/actor) Lena Dunham who will be one to watch out for in the future.

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Les Lyonnais

Probably forgettable French crime drama, based on a true story, that nonetheless looks epic enough in scope to consider itself as an vague relative of the Godfather trilogy and more recently Mesrine. It'll be interesting if this finds an audience.

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Streetdance 2

Back when the first Streetdance came out a couple of years ago I remember being really captivated by the 3D trailer which promised the dancers jumping out of the screen at you, it's interesting the inevitable sequel is underplaying that aspect which perhaps shows the public loss of interest in 3D screenings. Anyhoo this looks like it will still appeal to the same crowd as the rest of the dancing movies with it's mix of beautiful people and displays of rhythm. I think Tom Conti learnt his French accent from watching "Allo Allo".

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I am assured it has a very limited cinematic release as well as the DVD issue this trailer points to even if I can't find a listing that proves that. Eric Cantona, who has done an awfully good job in changing career from footballer to actor, must run through a lot of streets to prevent bad things happening to fellow runner Karine Vanasse. Or something like that anyway.

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Two things struck me whilst watching the trailer for this Tamil language action romance. Primarily I really like the graphic where the heart monitor turns into writing, lovely job, and then I decided I need to go to India to give some lessons in kissing as the leads miss each others mouths twice in quick succession and clearly need help.

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Wrath of the Titans

It seems slightly disingenuous to end with this mythology sequel especially as it seems infinitely better than it's 2010 forebear. That said expect it to fail miserably at the box office and for the studios to continue to doubt the leading man credentials of Sam Worthington. Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes are on hand to do some thesping as a couple of the Gods in need of Perseus' aid.

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Saturday, 24 March 2012

One Million Presales? (Out this week - 23/03/12)

There are few things more difficult to understand than the forces of collective anticipation. It invariably feeds on itself but it can’t be reconciled to any particular factor, nor can a project be pre-selected as a potential lucrative goldmine. You probably need to hit the zeitgeist first, that intractable will ’o’ the wisp that raises a subject into public consciousness, witness the ground-breaking special effects of Avatar, the out of nowhere Jack Sparrow performance or the untimely passing of Heath Ledger for recent examples that dragged a film into the billion dollar club. This week we’re witnessing something akin to that with the release of The Hunger Games, the RLAG film of the week, and whilst I wouldn’t want to predict that large a haul from the partial indie I think few can doubt it will be in the top ten biggest international grosses of the year.

It’s easy to argue the film will do well purely because the book is doing well, or even because of the extreme stage-management of it’s publicity, for some time last year barely a week went by without a casting announcement or the release of an image plus the post-Twilight feminism that guarantees a young adult audience driven by the girls as well as the boys; and whilst these have had an impact I would argue they only partly explain it’s likely profitability. I would like to posit that the 99% are understanding and accepting the social satire and political message of the movie even whilst cheering on the 12a violence. It’s occupy Panem and the corrupt self-serving ultra capitalist state it represents. The revolution won’t be starting here, but I expect it adds some fuel to the fire.

I’m still hanging my head in shame after last weekend’s post. Not only did I miss out on a British indie release (not that it stood any chance of picking up a sizeable audience anyway given it’s one screen pre-DVD strategy) but I also fluffed the box office predictions, even whilst making clear in the post I originally had other predictions. Yes, it was the critically ravaged Devil Inside that hit first and hit hard on the publicity circuit and beat off the action comedy 21 Jump Street by nearly 30%. This weeks is insanely easy to predict so I guess if Katniss isn’t standing astride her competitors with bow and arrow in hand I guess I’ll eat my Caesar Flickerman latex mask.

The Hunger Games

I may be reading too much into the plot synopsis of Suzanne Collins’ acclaimed series of books in the comments above but it’s certainly safe to say the Battle Royale meets The Grapes of Wrath in a dystopian alternative future treads the fine line between kiddie entertainment and brutal black comedy. Even though I personally won’t be going to see it (the trailer didn’t wow me as much as it should, it does seem a touch packaged in it’s approach to marketing) I do hope it does well, as I hope all new ideas do well, as Andrew Stanton recently pronounced in John Carter interviews “[The film industry]... isn’t a zero-sum game.” Increased sales for one film generally improve the likelihood of other films succeeding. Backing up Jennifer Lawrence as out heroine Katniss are the ever-reliable Woody Harrelson and Stanley Tucci in key supporting roles.

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It isn’t all about the YA’s this weekend, read on the brave counterprogramming form overseas and gangster Britflicks as well as a bizarre movie to compare HG with from the States.

Still not personally drawn in but when it beats all opening weekend records I'll be prepared to shut up.

Kid with a Bike

The arthouse crowd don't have too much to fear from the multiplexes, being catered for as they are by the redoubtable Dardennes. What's more the simplicity of the plot (it's literally about a kid with a bike, albeit a kid in foster care goign for rides witha local hairdresser) is an interesting way to get into the Belgian's oeuvre.

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Wild Bill

The British Gangster movie, a sub-genre that blossomed with Guy Ritchie's Lock Stock back in the late 90's has seemed like it was about to collapse in on itself ever since, but occasionally between the sub-par dreck a little gem can appear like paternal crisis spin by first time director Dexter Fletcher. Charlie Creed-Miles stars as the eponymous Bill trying to go straight and bring up his lads, left behind after an 8 year stretch.

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Agent Vinod

We're might be sick to death of remakes in the West, not that it stops Hollywood from trundling on, but at least it's not a purely Anglo problem as this Bollywood release is a remake of a 1977 hit. Saying that it's looks hardly more than a Bourne rip-off anyway.

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Bu Son Olsun

I have no idea whether the somewhat difficult subject matter of this Turkish movie will work - it's a comedy about five homeless guys sent to prison following the military coup in the 1980's and witnessing the results of the corrupt politics and gang violence. It could be biting and surreal, although my money is on it being crass and disrespectful. Feel free to contradict in the comments.

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Sümela'nin sifresi: Temel

Screwball comedy set in North Eastern Turkey which in essence follows a man desperately in love but unable to tell her. A football mad Iman and Russian hooker are among the supporting characters dragged into his "wacky adventures".

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Act of Valour

I promised you some odd counterprogramming this weekend and here you go. Facing off against Katniss and the neo-fascist society she lives in is this unashamed US military propaganda, the type of movie you didn't think they made anymore. Needless to say no civilians are killed in this SEALS recruitment video. I'm shocked it's done so well in the States and rather hope it won't start a trend of large indies co-operating with governments at the expense of subtlety and good story-writing.

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Oh, and one more thing:

Booked Out

Last week I missed the release of this low key British comedy about the misadventures of a photographic artist/novelist, the boy she falls for and her dementia ridden neighbour. Oddly I did see the Guardian review, which was reasonable positive, but I didn't see any listing that included the movie. I wasn't the only one to miss it as it took a paltry £223 in one site. Looking at the trailer it probably deserved more than that, but I have to ask why didn't they try harder to sell it?

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Wednesday, 21 March 2012

We Bought a Zoo

2011. Dir: Cameron Crowe. Starring: Matt Damon, Scarlett Johansson, Thomas Haden Church, Colin Ford and Elle Fanning. ●●●○○

It’s strange how distance and time affects your appreciation of a movie. Sometimes you exit the cinema unsure as to how to respond to the themes like Terence Malick’s Tree of Life or bombarded by the intellectualism of Fincher’s Social Network. These are usually highpoints of cinematic achievement, films that make you want to discuss and dissect their intentions. On other occasions the film elicits a more emotional response but even this sometimes needs to be discussed. A few weeks ago I saw The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. At the time I enjoyed watching it but as I’ve talked with my friends and family – most of whom also enjoyed it – my opinion has wavered. Those elements of the film that annoyed me have intensified in my brain whereas the feel-good aspects have dwindled.

But what has this to do with the review for We Bought a Zoo? Do I think that too will lose it’s sheen over time? Well, no, almost the opposite. There are plenty of flaws with Cameron Crowe’s first narrative feature since 2006 but I am going to go out on a limb and say that over time I will look back fondly on the Benjamin Mee story that those flaws will feel less significant and that I will be singing it’s praises for some time to come.

Adapted from the Guardian columnists memoir with the notable change of geography from rugged Dartmoor to sun-dappled (except when the plot requires) California, We Bought a Zoo holds nothing about the plot back in the title, indeed it's one of those films where the title appears to be repeated ad nauseam during the two hour running time. Matt Damon as Mee and his two clichéd children (troubled teen Colin Ford and adorable muppet Maggie Elizabeth Jones) are struggling with coping following the passing of their respective wife and mother, played by Stephanie Szostak is photography and the odd flashback.

Seeking a new school, new house, new neighbourhood and new job (I said they were struggling) Damon buys a... you guessed it, and the family must learn some life lessons from the animals and zookeeping staff and remember how to work together as a unit before it all ends happily and the credits role. If that seems cynical it's only half intended. There's nothing in Aline Brosh McKenna and Crowe's script that in any way surprises or shocks the audience, this adaptation is aimed squarely to the family demographic, the animals are cute, just not quite as cute as the kids, and we are liberally peppered with platitudes such as "I like the animals. I Love the people." from Mee's hard-nosed but eventually approving brother Thomas Haden Church.

Of course the zoo will have to traverse some spectacular obstacles on it's way to opening, from over-zealous inspectors to economic woes to escaping animals - with only the threat of a Biblical flood in the final act seeming over-written for effect - and all of these obstacles will prove as easy to overcome as the apparent intractable father-son emotional pain. Nevertheless the triumph of the grand opening is no less emotive for it's predictability and when the mere sight of red kites can get the eyes watering you know the film has worked it's insidious magic on you.

Matt Damon once again proves he is the natural successor to Tom Hanks, effortlessly taking these everyman roles that magnify his humanity, unlike many of his peers Damon can sink under the skin of a role, and you easily forget your watching him. You can't forget you're watching Scarlett Johannson as the love interest/head zookeeper but she makes the effort to not appear unfeasibly gorgeous.

The acting plaudits mainly go to Elle Fanning as the 13 year old neighbour developing a crush on Ford, she expertly presents a winning performance of annoying character, so even as you understands Ford's stand-offishness you root for Fanning to get her man. (The same cannot be said for Maggie Elizabeth Jones who I saw as giving an annoying performance of a winning character, of course I doubt any child could make me like the over excited six year old as written).

The story also allows for supporting characters (including the animals) to shine in b storylines and whilst the rivalry between Angus Macfadyen and John Michael Higgins may be sketchily put together it's performed with such broad strokes the comedy will amuse the parents and kids alike. There's a bear and a tiger that in their own way provide Mee and his family with the tools and incentive to fix their problems.

Not all the animals get this opportunity and whilst it seems churlish to complain about the mistreatment of a (obviously plastic) snake in a children's movie there do seem to be unnecessary double standards about the needs of these creatures held in captivity. For the record the abuse on the snake is pointed out but only in a throwaway line in the next scene, very disappointing.

There's little technically great about the film, some of the photography is nice (especially the still shots of the deceased Mrs. Mee) and the location work helps with setting the story beats but it's no great shakes.

On the negative side (excluding the unadventurous storytelling) it takes a long time for the plot to get going and the editing appears to be all over the place with the pace of the picture veering wildly throughout and some hints of secondary plot strands that vanished in the final edit.

Overall I think I can recommend this movie to family audiences. It's nice and you'll have a nice time watching it. But I doubt they'll be any strong emotions tied to it at the end of the year.


Saturday, 17 March 2012

My family and Other Animals (Out this week - 16/03/12)

Here in the UK there are sometimes some really odd release clashes which come as a huge shock to those of us who pay attention to global box office strategies. This week there’s a real conundrum for the multiplex crowd with three US chart toppers set to battle for the top spot (admittedly one of them hasn’t opened yet, but it seems like a no brainer this weekend), and bizarrely none of them will have the screen count of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel or John Carter. Of course I won’t be recommending any of those films as my top choice, lets face it the general public have proven time and time again that they’ll watch any old dross. I won’t be going with the two very highly praised foreign language offerings either. Instead I’m nailing my middle of the road colours to the mast and choosing a family drama about Matt Damon reconnecting to his kids with the help of a tiger and Scarlett Johansson. RLAG Film of the week: We Bought a Zoo.

Unsurprisingly John Carter of Barsoom just about took the top spot in last weeks charts, but be not fooled the £2m gross was pathetic by blockbuster standards and given the critical drubbing and poor word of mouth I can’t see it maintaining any defence against this weeks new releases. Tellingly the number of showings for Andrew Stanton’s overpriced misfire has – in my local cinema at least – reduced to less that the aforementioned Judi Dench does Jaipur dramedy. But what’s going to take the top slot? It’ll certainly be close but I reckon 21 Jump Street with it’s promise of big action, big laughs and big Channing Tatum will sneak ahead of the rest of the pack, sure there’s no awareness of the antecedents this side of the pond, but the reviews are very positive and it will probably appeal across the spectrum.

We Bought a Zoo

Based on the memoir of Benjamin Mee, the British journalist who lost his wife to cancer and set about reinvigorating Dartmoor Zoo (although it could have been the other way round in real like) Cameron Crowe’s first film since 2006 looks like a sweet option. Matt Damon is the everyman father figure helping his kids through the grief whilst impulsively buying a Southern Californian animal sanctuary. Aided by Scarlett Johannson (Oh you know where that storyline is going) and Thomas Haden Church he must find a way to open the zoo and save the animals. Yeh!

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You'll find the trailer for WBAZ, as well as the trailers and synopsis from all of this weeks releases after the jump, including undercover cops, counterfeit cash and an apple caught in a stream.

Luckily this is not the type of film that has much to spoil so it doesn't matter the entire plot is in the trailer.

In Darkness

Based on the true story of Leopold Soha this Oscar nominated Polish movie exposes an untold story of survival during the Nazi occupation. Soha, initially motivated purely by profit, gave a disparate group of Jewish refugees a chance of survival by housing them in the sewers and delivering their supplies. Reviews indicate this is not an easy film to sit through, and perhaps the situation (excluding the locataion) feels a bit overdone but the characterisations of Soha and the refugees are excellent.

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Once upon a Time in Anatolia

If you see just one Turkish film this year then make it Anatolia, on one level it’s a simple police procedural, following an uninspiring collection of coppers investigate the dumping of a body over one very long night, but on the other it’s a philosophical discussion of the nature of criminality, of the place of Turkey in 21st century politics and the repetitiveness of life. It ain’t a Cannes Grand Prix winner for nothing.

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21 Jump Street

Since last years atrocious Dilemma I’ve been looking forward to seeing Channing Tatum’s next foray into comedy, he seems to be a uniquely safe aware Hollywood hunk and is prepared to work his genetic advantages in ways that undercut the machismo of other chisel-jawed beauties. Here he stars with Jonah Hill, straight off his Oscar nod, as a pair of mismatched cops (is there any other kind) returning to high school to bring down a drug ring. Only to find it’s very different from when they left. I don’t know the original TV series affectionately parodied however it’s most recognisable alumni, Johnny Depp – don’t know if you’ve heard of him, gets a career boosting cameo.

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“Marky Mark” Wahlberg wears two hats in Hollywood, as an actor witness his searing performances in The Fighter and The Departed or as a Producer he created the fantastic and virtually cult making series Entourage. Unfortunately when he does both he chooses a derivative remake of Euro thrillers like this smugger with family movie, directed by the star of the Icelandic original. Did get to number 1 in the States. Surprised everyone at the time.

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Kac Wara

Do you remember when Sex and Zen in 3D opened last year we thought we’d seen the lowest point where producers would go to try and burst titties out of the screen? We were wrong. This Polish film looks like the smuttier, less plot driven, comedy version of that. Amazingly it has a IMDb average vote score of 1 so clearly it’s not a film that needs to be seen on the big screen.

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Devil Inside

If you’d asked me three weeks ago which film was likely to capture the public imagination this weekend I’d have plumped for this dreadful looking exorcism, found footage dreck. Obviously it’s not for the quality – I’ve seen one Guardian blogger call it the worst film ever made – but for the early publicity campaign which took the watch audience members scream route to selling the movie which worked so well on Woman in Black and added a twist by showing it IN A CHURCH. However the ads have virtually disappear now and 21 Jump Street looks really funny.

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Sunday, 11 March 2012

Weight of Expectation (Out this week - 10/03/12)

The title says it all. Whatever your views on the panopoly of cinematic releases this weekend they are mostly united by the pressure of delivering to expectations, whether in a literal narrative sense, or in the sense of public perception of the project. In the first category we find Michael Winterbottom's update of Tess of d'Urbervilles with it's Indian caste war setting or the challenge set by the copycat killer taunting Edgar Allen Poe, but it's more keenly felt in the second derivation. Adam Deacon makes his first big screen appearance after winning the BAFTA rising star award in February, and we'll begin to find out whether his career will go the way of Tom Hardy or Eva Green. The biggest challenge faces Pixar alumni Andrew Stanton, making his live action directorial debut, and wrestling with a reported budget north of $250m, with the perceived financial success of the project lies not just Stanton's future but also the potential for an on-going lucrative franchise for Disney. Whilst we're theoretically spoilt for choice among all the British and American releases it has to be said few look significant enough to warrant attendance, with even the best reviewed options getting middling notices at best, so whilst I find myself selecting John Carter (not "of Mars" as originally stated) as the Runs Like a Gay Film of the Week it hardly comes with a ringing endorsement, and should be noted it's only been selected because I can't just leave a gaping hole in it's place.

I had the right idea last week when predicting a holdover title taking the box office crown, unfortunately I picked the wrong one, whilst Woman in Black slipped a very respectable 22% in takings, Best Exotic Marigold Hotel actually experienced a 5% rise in attendance, possible because I went, and has stolen the lead. This Means War was the highest new entry with a respectable, but by no means successful third place. Next week I feel confident in predicting John Carter defeating all other contenders, but this comes with the caveat that it still won't be enough to make the accountants happy.

John Carter

Even if you didn't know about Edgar Rice Burrough's series of sci-fi novels you would almost certainly be aware of their legacy, it's not hyperbolic to state that John Carter and his Martian adventures extensively influenced the space adventure genre including Flash Gordon, Star Wars and Superman unfortunately this familiarity may work against the project as trailers have made it seem highly derivative and safe. The plot revolves around a civil war veteran transplanted to the red planet where the difference in gravitational pull on a smaller planet causes him to appear superhuman in strength, perfect to be used as a pawn in the power struggles between native tribes/species. Taylor Kitsch leads (in what should be a make or break year for the young star) with Willem Dafoe, Thomas Haden Church and Samantha Morton among the Martians hoping to exploit his abilities.

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Read on for the full breakdown of releases and trailers this week including Parisien gigolos, paparrazi shy celebrities and a stash of £1 million.

This second John Carter trailer was better than the first, but there's still a feeling of been there, done that, and the damage may have already been done.

Bel Ami

I am not a pervert, but I have had my share of contact with skin flicks, so when I first heard R. Pattz had signed up for a Bel Ami movie I was shocked at the thought of Ed Cullen getting down and dirty with a troupe of Eastern European twinks. Fortuntely, for him, me and the majority of teenage girls, this is a straightforward adaptation of the scandalous 1885 novel by Guy de Maupassant centred around a homeless soldier using his considerable charm and sexual appetite to manipulate the ladies of Paris society. Kristen Scott Thomas, Uma Thurman and Christina Ricci are among the deflowered females.

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It doesn't look like Games of Thrones has re-propelled Sean Bean (or Seen Born) back into A-list releases yet, but at least this UK terrorism drama is at least trying to be even handed about the prospect of jihadist cells targeting London streets. Bean is the Secret Service Agent tasked with capturing Abhin Galeya a radicalised Muslim undergoing a crisis of conscience about his proposed course of action.

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Bollywood thriller that follows a pregnant woman across the globe, well from London to Kolkata, and she tries to find her missing husband. Hampered by the lack of evidence or even belief that the husband ever existed. Was he just a figment of her imagination? If so what is the pregnancy about? I have to say that's a really good trailer, too.

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Sen Kimsim

Turkey remains one of the most interesting exporters of film-making to the UK, in that unlike most European countries where we get the critically lauded art-house selection the Turkish community are fed with a broad range of home-grown hits, whether historical epics like Fetih 1453 a few weeks ago or high concept comedies like this. The private eye plot is based on the hunt for a wealthy heiress, however the widow instigating the search may not be all she seems to be. (Is it me or is that just Chinatown?)

Bollywood thriller that follows a pregnant woman across the globe, well from London to Kolkata, and she tries to find her missing husband. Hampered by the lack of evidence or even belief that the husband ever existed. Was he just a figment of her imagination? If so what is the pregnancy about? I have to say that's a really good trailer, too.

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Winterbottom has wrestled with Thomas Hardy before, witness his stunning Gold rush set The Claim (based on The Mayor of Casterbridge) or early work Jude (the obscure), and in each he has found unique ways to present Hardy's themes. In his retelling of Tess of the D'Urbervilles the action has been transplanted to modern India where rapid industrialisation and the growth of universal eduction attainment creates a split between the feminist heroine, played by Frieda Pinto, and her traditionalist upbringing. Riz Ahmed is the wealthy hotelier she falls for.

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Decoy Bride

Yes, we're already down to 2 blob releases; the first week since October that saw such a high proportion of very crappy looking movies. Alice Eve, getting a baptism of fire this weekend, is the Hollywood actress marrying shy novelist (and former Dr. Who) David Tennant. Unsurprisingly these planned nuptials incite the whole world's press to descend on the remote Scottish community playing host to the wedding of the century, so the happy couple hire Kelly MacDonald to pretend to be a bride in order to lure the snappers away from the real deal. I have no idea how that would work in practise, after all there's a good 6 years and 3 inches difference between them, however I feel confident in predicting a change of heart by the groom before the final reel.

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Payback Season

Realism be damned in this morality tale about a Premiership footballer, played by up and coming Adam Deacon, who gets drawn back in to the petty crime and drug deals he thought he's left behind in the council estate he grew up in. Between flashing around in his fast car with his fast women he must ensure his kid brother stays on the straight and narrow and avoid getting caught up in the gangland culture of his youth. If I had as much money as a Premiership footballer there's no way me or my brother would be near the old estate - but maybe that's just me?

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When John Cussack was first tapped to play influential poet and novelist Edgar Allen Poe there were whispers that this could be the kind of casting coup that nets him his first Oscar nod. Rest assured this pulpy mess looks unlikely to trouble any award bodies at the end of 2012. Watch as historical fact and Poe's lurid prose gets mashed into a dash to identify the serial killer using Poe's suggested methods to off his victims. Alice Eve (again) is one of the pretty girls he must save. No spoiler, but I reckon Poe dies at the end.

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7 Welcome to London

A few weeks ago we witnessed the release of Naachie London a Hindi language movie made exclusively with UK financing, and as the market continually expands, witness the regualr appearance of Bollywood releases at the bottom end of the top ten box office figures, it seems like a reasonable business model. This film centres around 25 year old Jai, a Dehli resident who migrates to London, meets two beautiful girls and gets embroiled in a web of criminal deceit.

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Hard Boiled Sweets

Finally, crashing in as the least appealing movie of the week there is Brit gangster drama that feels like it's been played hundreds of times before with an ex-con at the centre forced back into the game for one more heist, targetting the personal stash of organised crime ganglord Shrewd Eddie. Oh, and he's not the only one trying to get hands on the cash.

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Wednesday, 7 March 2012

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

2011. Dir: John Madden. Starring: Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Dev Patel, Tom Wilkinson and Maggie Smith. ●●●○○

I can highly recommend watching the trailer for John Madden's The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, it's a delightful piece of advertising with a distinctive palette, easily definable characters and the odd laugh out loud line delivery. Unfortunately I cannot recommend the movie as a whole which somehow drags that trailer over two hours without further developing the characters, providing tension or even giving the audience many more laughs.

In the pre-credits sequences we are introduced to the great and good of British acting talent through a series of short vignettes designed to develop an understanding of back-story and hint at the personalities. There's everything from Judi Dench as the resilient widow to Tom Wilkinson's down-to-earth judge stopping off at Bill Nighy and Penelope Wilton as a bickering pair of retirees choosing how to spend their later years with reduced incomes. One by one they are seduced by the tempting offer of the best exotic marigold hotel, a palce converted into a residential home for senior citizens looking for adventure and not quite requiring care.

As our dysfunctional septet make their journey to Jaipur, mixing for the first time on the plane out you rather hope their stories will intertwine, however oddly right until the end it feels like separate tales. Even as one pair find a common cause whilst another share the beginnings of an illicit romance there's never a feeling of cohesion within the group. Each day the characters go off alone to face or hide away from the world, each night they return to the culinary challenges placed on them by the hotel's love starved owner Dev Patel.

This literary convention of presenting a collection of characters all of whom must have an arc in which to travel probably works very well in Deborah Moggach's novel but I find it irritating beyond belief. In two hours it's simply too much to ask from an audience to make them care about so many personalities, so their storylines either feel irrelevant or hopelessly shortened. It's not helped by most of cast who seem content to take the money and run. Judi Dench reprises her "As Time Goes By" performance only with less one liners, whilst Tom Wilkinson reveals a secret he's kept hidden, tearing away at his soul for over 30 years, with all the gravitas of someone admitting to eating marmite with a spoon.

Maggie Smith does the best she can with an underwritten role, effectively playing a threatened working class racist bigot at the beginning and a entrepreneur with purpose at the end; it's not her fault that the scene where she undergo's her transformation makes no sense. Does she really embrace Indian culture just because an untouchable lets her rant about her life in service? By the way how old is she?

Only Celia Imrie as a glamorous granny looking for husband number 4 and Dev's over the tops pride inject any life into the film, and the scene they share just past the halfway mark is a moment of delightful farce. And no, I'm not going to tell you what happens, other than it involves a chain of misunderstanding starting with the wrong people getting in bed together.

I suppose one of the reasons that scene shines is because there were laughs to be had that hadn't already been shown in the trailer. Make no mistakes this isn't a comedy, it's a series of life lessons with comedic elements, and I rather believe that amping up the comedy may have helped the film. There were moments in the trailer that made me chortle out loud, but stretched out across the running time it felt awfully thin, just the odd joke at the expense of the more extreme characters surrounded by the self-satisfied blog posts of Judi's silver surfer. When she tapped out "With so many old people together it was inevitable one of us would die..." I nearly screamed at the screen in disgust. The average age of the 7 actors is barely 65 and none of them - bar Maggie Smith and her plot developing broken hip - look remotely like age is slowing them down, even the character that does die simply slips away during an afternoon slumber once their storyline has been resolved. It's nothing like the pain and torment and inherent boredom most of us will experience in old age.

There's not even much given to the Indian actors either. Sure Patel along with his girlfriend and mother, played by Tena Desae and Lillete Dubey respectively, have a soap opera level storyline along the lines of following your heart over tradition and family expectations, but aside from them no other Indian gets a look in. There's even two moments when Dench and Wilkinson refer to long conversations they have had independently with a husband and wife whose connection to the group has rocked their relationship to it's core, yet all we hear is a precis from the mouths of our middle class heroes.

All this sounds like I'm ragging on the film, but to be honest I did like it when I was watching. It was nice, the location work was fabulous, as Wilkinson says in the trailer "[I see the] light, colours, smiles. All life is here.", and he's right India is stunning, if nothing else this is a brilliant tourist video for the sub-continent.

I can't say I recommend it. But if you're seeing it for free don't say no. And do try out the trailer.


Saturday, 3 March 2012

Not your average Monster (Out this week - 02/03/12)

There's a grim inevitability to this week, we've been leading up to it since the start of 2012, although you could in fact look back further, since September last year. We have now run out of films worth seeing. Oscar season is well and truly behind us, and the big summer tentpoles are a few months ahead so we're stuck in the doldrums of early spring. Over the past three years release schedules have proved remarkably stable with an average of 3 releases I've wanted to see in March and just 2 in April and this year looks even worse. At the moment there only one scheduled release in the next 6 weeks looks likely to excite me enough to visit the cinema. In the meantime there may be some unusual releases heading for the coveted film of the week accolade, movies that wouldn't stand a chance against the middle of the road dramas I tend to favour, and so it is with this week's top choice. Cold-hearted European art-house cinema rarely appeals to me, so this low-key Austrian effort following the day to day life of a loner insurance salesman/dangerous paedophile and the pre-pubescent boy he has locked in the cellar has chosen as extraordinary week for it's release date. Be prepared to be shocked by the theme (if not the content which is resolutely non exploitative) of the RLAG film of the week Michael.

Last week I predicted box office domination by The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and whilst it did extraordinarily well, taking £2.2m, it wasn't quite enough to topple Daniel Radcliffe and The Woman in Black off the top of the charts even in his third week. This week I'm torn, clearly the spy vs. spy high concept of This Means War, combined with solid marketing and a high screencount will ensure it's beats all rivals to become the biggest grossing new release, however the poor performance Stateside and general crappiness of the content seen so far suggests they won't be queuing round the block. With that in mind either WiB, or the oldie centric Exotic Marigold with it's traditionally low first weekend turnout could wind up in the lead, I'm going to predict a fourth week for the highest grossing British horror since reliable records began.


The biggest question about Marcus Schleinzer's dark look at the domestic arrangements of a child abuser is not what has influenced his deliberate, focussed style - an acolyte and collaborator with Michael Haneke the German master's style is clearly evoked in the trailer - but why choose to observe a banal demonstration of evil practice without painting him as a monster or even trying to condemn and explain his actions. No doubt viewers will be divided on how to punish or cure the perpetrator, but I suspect the mere passing of time, the inevitable aging of his victim is seen as the most significant pat of his downfall.

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Read on after the jump for the full round up of this week's releases, complete with every trailer that matters. Look out for Bowie inspired schoolteachers, super-chilled hippies and misuse of Government funds.

The trailer for Michael manages to be capture the spirit of the film whilst delivering a strange chill even without knowing the content of the film.

This Means War

It's hard to imagine what persuaded rising stars Chris Pine and Tom Hardy to sign up to this clichéd action comedy, surely both of them have the career momentum and cinematic nous to successfully avoid the clutches of Charlie's Angels director McG. Yet here they are diverting CIA agents and equipment from real work by directing their considerable resources in winning the hand of serial dater Reese Witherspoon. Personally I'd have realised that any girl willing to double date behind your back isn't worth it, but that would have made for a very short film. Rosemary Harris and Angela Bassett are among the supporting cast.

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I will have to check this but I'm sure there was talk back in 2010 that Pablo Trapero's Argentinian drama would get the remake treatment. He runs off and checks. Yes, Scott Cooper was set to direct with the translated title Vultures. We haven't heard anything about that in over a year so I guess this may be the only chance to see this highly recommended investigation into the seedy world of ambulance chasing litigators and doctors patching up the countless road traffic victims. Please note Argentina you may be threatening a boycott of UK imports over the Falklands but we're still going to let your critically acclaimed movies show here.

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If Not Us, Who

The 1960's as witnessed by a couple of rebellious left-wing West German students. Covering the post-war period of denial and conformity segueing into the rise of psychedelica and pro-violence activism there must be a whole load of ground covered to make sense of the shifting European mindsets. Hopefully the central passionate, tumultuous love affair is enough to keep the audience grounded.

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I really don't like Jennifer Aniston. It's not her screen persona which always seems to be a variation on a theme of Rachel; I really do understand the pressure and career necessity of typecasting. Nor is it the choices of films she makes, the back catalogue of largely inoffensive (rom)-coms generally passes me by - I've only seen Marley & Me, Rumor Has it, Rock Star and the Object of My Affection in cinemas, all of which I regretted. Mostly I am irritated by her contrived ditziness and faux intellectualism. I don't know if she can act well, but I do know she can't hold her own in a chat with Front Row's Mark Lawson. In this Jennifer and recently unemployed hubby Paul Rudd find themselves not fitting in at the hippy commune led by coasting Alan Alda.

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Hunky Dory

Do you remember when Minnie Driver was about to be the next big thing? I honestly don't know where it went wrong for her as she's both stunning and a talented actress. I suppose a couple of cinematic missteps are all it takes far a star to wane. In this anti-"Glee" she plays a Welsh drama teacher coercing her students into a production of Shakespeare's The Tempest with 70's musical interludes. The talented younger cast all perform live but I can't help thinking it seems all a bit too nostalgic.

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London Paris New York

Bollywood romantic comedy that does exactly what it says on the tin - a globetrotting adventure with two obviously mismatched twenty somethings finding common ground and a mutual desire over three nights in different cities.

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Paan Singh Tomar

Our second Indian release is a biopic of Paan Singh Tomar, a record breaking steeplechase runner who dominated the sport in the 1950's before he was forced to abandon athletics in order to avenge the murder of his mother by a criminal gang. Star Irfan Khan has called it "the most physically and mentally demanding film of my career".

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Project X

I think I'm getting old. Obviously in a strict literal sense we all are, but I think my age is beginning to affect my opinions about upcoming movies. After all there was a time when I would have flocked to see a film about a massive party going out of control, in fact I distinctly remember loving the third act of Weird Science in all it's anarchic glory. But since then I have been to parties, I have done the cleaning massively hungover, I have fixed furniture and discovered the best parties are rarely the biggest. That said there's only one found footage movie about wild excess this weekend so I suspect there'll be an audience.

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Thursday, 1 March 2012


2011. Dir: Oren Moverman. Starring: Woody Harrelson, Ned Beatty, Ben Foster, Sigourney Weaver and Robin Wright. ●●●●○

It's been a surprisingly long time since I last saw a film that was visually as stunning and arresting as Oren Moverman's Rampart. There are many positive elements to this movie, many aspects of sublime filmmaking that will stick in the memory for a long time, but above all there is the cinematography. Moverman has collaborated again with his The Messenger
DoP Bobby Bukowski and together they have thrown away the rule book, and made a piece of visual art for the screen.

In essence the story can be boiled down to the slow disintegration of corrupt cop Dave Brown, Woody Harrelson giving a career best performance, a violent racist bigot in a LA Rampart division uniform, the scandal (a widely reported culture of cops acting like vigilante gangs and committing violent and profit orientated acts) distilled into one individual. Not that Brown can be remotely described as an archetype, he's barely holding himself together at the beginning, father of two girls who mothers happen to be sisters living next door to each other, he functions purely on alcohol and cigarettes, routinely bullying his female partner and picking up one night stands in seedy bars. Known as "Date-Rape Dave", a moniker based on the alleged murder of a serial rapist Brown has avoided being charged for for years, an example of the vicious animal lurking within.

Yet even this thin veneer of normality is torn apart when he brutally retaliates against a motorist who crashes into the side of his patrol car. It is a cold and hard beating, captured on film by a passer-by, instantly going viral. Brown is taken off front line duty, temporarily, in the whirlwind of appalling press and daily campaigning the department, headed by Sigourney Weaver, attempt to oust him. It's when he decides to fight, when he faces the mounting defence bills that events spiral out of control.

Harrelson is perfect in roles like this, even as his most dislikeable there's a shimmer of magnetic insouciance, like the string of sexual conquests (former wives Anne Heche and Cynthia Nixon, lovers Audra McDonald and Robin Wright) we find ourselves drawn to Dave. We want to be part of his world. It's testament to Harrelson's performance that even during the depths of depravity he can still draw us in, the cracks of mental defeat, the threats and pleading with his family and friends are never far behind his crumpling facade.

The rest of the performances are also high class. Robin Wright gives a brittle and wounded performance as a lawyer flickering around Brown, like a moth round a flame, a flame that will ultimately burn her. Ned Beatty also reminds us of his electric presence, as a retired cop still in tune with everything going on in the department, Machivellian and reptilian he toys with Brown, playing him off against the department.

The screenplay by Moverman and novelist James Ellroy contains the later's trademark staccato dialogue in a way that no adaptation of his work has managed, indeed the downbeat sprawling open feel towards the end is more Ellroy that anyone could have imagined.

But all this is a sideshow to Bukowski's work behind the camera. He uses Brown's breakdown as an opportunity to showcase new ideas with design, from a dizzying dance of pans during a tribunal to the nightmarish vision of a swingers club each scene dazzles with invention. We get conversations filmed from behind people's heads, repeated uses of reflected light, even the city skyline looks ominous and unusual in Bokowski's lens.

I must recommend Rampart to everyone who gets the opportunity to see it, a fantastic powerhouse of a film that beguiles and overcomes the audience. A must see.