Sunday, 29 April 2012

It's a Man's World (Out this week - 27/04/12)

Another really crowded this week, but where there is a fundamental difference between last week huge selection of mid-level players fighting for attention and the box office giant hogging the screen this weekend. Indeed the other 11 new releases combined are in around a third the number of cinemas that this weeks comic geek mastubatory fantasy inhabits (that's an unfair comment as I hear the film is very good but the number are extremely shocking when you sit back and consider them). And as well as being the official start to the blockbuster season (the hors d'ouevres of John Carter, Hunger Games and Battleship not really counting) we also see the official end to 2011 Oscar season with the last mainstream feature nominee (excluding Foreign language and documentaries) getting it's UK release. Naturally the contest for the RLAG film of the week lies between these two extremes - the box office behemoth and the art-house breakout - but in the end a man can't change who he is so I opt for Albert Nobbs as the top choice.

It comes as no surprise that my box office predictions will go the other way, with Avengers Assemble likely to sweep everything else out of it's way at the multiplexes, indeed it's first day take on Thursday was larger than Battleship last week so were pretty much guaranteed a win there. The only questions is how the property will fare in the longer term, in the UK The Hunger Games has just past a gross of $35m which is slightly above the historic ceiling for comic book adaptations so it will be interesting to see if Joss Whedon can steer his superhero troupe ahead of Katniss in the next few weeks. Last weekend the aforementioned board-game adaptation just about stayed afloat at the top of the charts with Salmon Fishing nipping at it's heels. Needless to say I was smug about that prediction for days.

Albert Nobbs

Glenn Close's passion project has been waiting for funding for about 20 years as she reprises her acclaimed stage role of a 19th century cross dresser trying to make a living in hypocritical Dublin society. Justifiably picking up three Academy award nominations (Close, Janet McTeer and makeup) but drawing severe criticism for the pace it'll be interesting to see if it can get an audience.

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Read on for invulnerable tag teams, worthless horses and the return of an American Indie treasure, as well as all of this weeks trailers in just one post!

Hands up if you think the loud American voiceover in this trailer actually makes the film less appealing.

Avengers Assemble

Renamed in the UK so we don't go in looking for Steed and Diana Rigg, this is the much anticipated Marvel hero mash-up bringing together the subplots of every one of their releases over the last few years, with the other films effectively acting as trailers for this one. It'll be very interesting to see whether the combination of the stars and characters makes for a substantially bigger box office return. The all star cast includes Robert Downey Jnr. (Iron Man), Mark Ruffalo (Hulk), Chris Evans (Captain America), Chris Hemsworth (Thor), Samuel L. Jackson, Jeremy Renner and Gwynneth Paltrow. Phew!

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Damsels in Distress

There are many critics who point at Whit Stillman and laud him as one of the most influential American Indie directors of the last 20 years, yet I have never seen any of his movies. I doubt that will change soon judging on the divided critical reception to this college comedy, his first in 13 years.

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Le Moine

Vincent Cassell is the not altogether sane monk at the centre of this Middle Ages set French/Spanish co-production about a renowned and popular man of God confronting temptation. Cassell's always worth the money and I here he brings everything he's got to the role in the third act.

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The Assault

Based on the true story of the 1994 Air France hijack this multi-narrative piece replays the chain of events through the eyes of the kidnapper, the emergency command HQ and the captain of the assault team sent in to rescue the hostages.

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Ee Adutha Kaalathu

The first in our trio of Bollywood releases this week utterly baffles me with is tagline "Reality is a movie... Starring only you...". Does that mean no-one else is in my reality. Someone get me a philosopher my brain is hurting.

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Hans Kloss Stawka wieksza nic smierc

Exciting looking Polish WW2 movie that sees the hero Hans Kloss going behind enemy lines to prevent some Nazi plot (forgive me my Polish is rusty) and cause general mayhem. Lots of action, sex and violence that should do well in it's limited release.

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Translated as Minefields, this Tamil movie explores the continued presence of Landmines in Sri Lanka which sounds like a worthy and fascinating topic, however the acting style will still alienate many Western cinema goers.

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Outside Bet

There's a whole host of British stars who really should know better including Bob Hoskins, Adam Deacon and Jenny Agutter in this low-rent comedy about a bunch of working class heroes and that horse that makes their fortune. Probably not worth putting a punt on it, though.

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388 Arletta Avenue

Canadian stalker thriller that proves Nick Stahl is still alive even if his career seems to have taken a turn for the worse, completely filmed with 'hidden cameras' I think we can all guess where the plot goes.

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Strippers vs. Werewolves

You know there's something about this campy, poorly produced 'B'-movie trailer that actually works for me, it's as if the team behind it almost knew from the get-go that they wanted to make something crass and cheap for a Friday night beer and movie marathon. But there's nothing that will persuade me to spend £8 on it.

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You won't believe the central conceit of this Anglo-Indian co-production, there's a bomb on a London to Glasgow train speeding up the country (Yes, it's speeding which shocked me) whilst a collection of only Hindi speaking police must catch the man responsible before it's too late.

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Last week I, unfortunately missed out

Grave Encounters

yet another found footage horror briefly visiting a tiny number of screens before making it's DVD debut. Not that you can blame me, it manages to look both derivative and dull in two minutes.

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Thursday, 26 April 2012

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

2011. Dir: Lasse Hallstrom. Starring: Ewan MacGregor, Emily Blunt, Kristin Scott Thomas, Amr Waked and Conleth Hill. ●●●○○

I hope you don't mind if I waffle a little at the start of this review, can you believe it's been five weeks since I last saw the inside of a cinema, let alone had the opportunity to discuss my findings with you here. I also have the added advantage of having read Paul Torday's novel, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, dramatised by Slumdog Millionaire's Simon Beaufoy and directed by Swedish helmer Lasse Hallstrom. The novel itself takes an epistolic format with a series of e-mails, interviews, diary entries and Hansard extracts which allow the audience to piece together the events that led to the suggested desert set fly casting. Cinema naturally struggles with translating the myriad of styles into a single movie, although the film nods to social networking and modern communication systems, however the smoothing out of the narrative had the unfortunate side effect of downplaying some of the key themes of the novel.

If the central conceit of establishing the sport of salmon fishing in the mountainous areas of Southern Yemen seems far fetched then you will probably sympathise with Ewan MacGregor the middle ranking civil servant in DEFRA with an expertise in Caddis fly larvae seconded into the project much to his personal chagrin. Perhaps you will just have the confidence that money can buy you anything, including the apparently impossible, like business consultant Emily Blunt. Or maybe there's a third way, maybe all you really need in life is faith - possibly a faith in an greater force, God, if you will - or just faith in the power of idea. It's this third way that is personified by Amr Waked Yemeni Sheikh in the novel, a man who's mere presence changes the way people look at the world, who's softly spoken wisdom nicely counterpoints the stressed actions of our main protagonists and most especially the wheeler-dealer Prime Minister's press secretary Kristin Scott Thomas, in a slightly less sweary version of The Thick of It's Malcolm Tucker.

It's perhaps a shame that the film stirs away from the practical difficulties of the project, summarising them in a few ill-tempered rants from MacGregor and an extended section looking at the procurement of the fish, as this reduction of focus (along with other decisions) undermines how important faith is to Waked and to the project as a whole, and as a result lessening the impact. Instead the unlikely romance between MacGregor and Blunt takes centre stage with all the complexities of their personal lives laid bare.

You can't fault the two leads, mind. MacGregor does fusty reasonable well, even if he's fundamentally miscast in a role clearly written for someone much older, struggling at the outset within a failing marriage (and well done to the studio for not writing out that tricky story element). Blunt is as delightful as she always is although the romantic decisions she makes in the final third of the film are hard to keep up with.

Of course both of these performances are blasted out of the movie by Scott Thomas who sets the screen alight every time she gets a chance, her Press Secretary is ballsy and insightful, whizzing from flirtatious to bitchiness and back again often within a sentence. As ever she's the main reason to watch a film, although without resorting to spoilers, her final act is squeezed unforgiveably into a - admittedly quite humourous - punchline.

Once again I find myself drawn back to comparisons with the novel. The central romance is pushed forward whilst the issue of faith is downgraded, the ending is softened to make a joke about ineffective politicians funnier. And I don't want to seem like a like literary snob arguing against the very concept of adapting novels but this is a rare case where I feel Simon Beaufoy his missed the mark, taking an insightful satirical novel and turning into a standard romantic comedy that merely hints at the bigger themes.

Overall I can thoroughly recommend this diverting and pleasant movie, even if I can't honesty say I was stunned by it.


Saturday, 21 April 2012

In, two, three, out, two three (Out this week - 20/04/12)

It's a bizarrely complex week this year with a massive 14 new non-fiction narrative releases not to mention the re-release of Vincenti Minelli's excellent inside Hollywood expose The Bad and the Beautiful and the highly praised Bob Marley documentary from Oscar winner Kevin MacDonald which is getting most film of the week recommendations. This platoon of cinematic offerings oddly doesn't have a clear front runner in either terms of critical reception or box office clout, in the former case there's plenty of decent looking pictures that seem utterly watchable but nothing looks like a must see art-house selection. I'm going to see (Yes, for the first time in 5 weeks) an adaptation of a satirical novel that appears to have lost it's edge in translation, but I'm skewing European in the weekly recommendation and am going for Austrian coming of age movie Breathing as the Runs like a Gay film of the week.

Box office wise I have no idea which film to back, so whilst I consider the options lets have a look back at last weekend. I claim no pride in having correctly guessed the rise of Battleship, with a £2m lead against it's nearest rivals. I expect Peter Berg's board-game adaptation will continue to lead the box office charts, but the battle for the top new release will be between Salmon Fishing in the Yemen and Lockout. My £8 is going to the former so I suspect that the romance between Ewan MacGregor and Emily Blunt will just about win out.


Just about sticking it's head out in front of the pack is this Austrian picture (side note Austria seems to be having a mini filmic renaissance as this is the second RLAGFOTW from the central European nation this year) directed by Counterfeiters star Karl Markovics and starring Thomas Schubert as a child offender readjusting to life outside, his new job as an undertaker and the guilt and responsibility he still feels.

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Read on for frank sexuality, fly casting and a misleading named revenge thriller, as well as the round-up of all of this weeks releases and their trailers.

Elegant slow-paced trailer there that appears to encapsulate the feel of Markovics' debut.


Juliette Binoche is the magazine journalist working for French 'Elle' assigned to investigate the rise of middle class working girls (Elles) using the oldest profession to fund their University education. The article, and the close relationship founded with one of her subjects, awakens long repressed sapphic desires. Note even the trailer doesn't hold back in the imagery.

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Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

Paul Torday's epistolic novel is part political satire - a watered down Iannucci - and part treatise on the power of faith. This big screen adaptation with heavyweight Brit cast list including Ewan MacGregor, Emily Blunt and Kristin Scott Thomas appears to focus on the love story angle, but I'm still drawn by the unique premise.

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The breakout picture at this years London LGBT film festival is this South African expose of Afrikaaner brutality in Apartheid with Roeline Daneel struggling with internalised homophobia and becoming obsessed with the son of a family friend. The title translates into Beauty.

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Called The Samaritan in the States I expect the name change is in part to capitalise on the publicity for Samuel L. Jackson's little know Nick Fury character who you may know appears in a tiny independent fil coming out next weekend. Tom Wilkinson also stars as the mark in this twisty turner grifter flick.

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I'm not sure if this French trailer looks funny or not, mainly because it isn't subtitled and the release is so limited I can't be bothered to find a better version, but the concept of a dubbing artist trying to meet the "A"-lister she provides a French voice for is quite a cute premise and Jemel Debbouze has been good value in the past.

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Guy Pearce takes the wisecracking anti-hero role in this thriller inspired by an original idea from Luc Besson or maybe hundreds of B-movies to which it obviously holds a debt, films like Escape from New York, with the key concept of a one man mission to rescue the President's daughter from a high security prison. In space. Some shonky special effects in the trailer though.

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Vicky Donor

Somewhat odd looking Bollywood comedy about a serial sperm donor and his later attempts to romance. I expect the hundreds of children he's fathered on behalf of others complicate matters but not so much to spoil the chance of a happy ending.

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Darren Lynn Bouseman's (of the Saw films) cheap looking horror stumbled into US multiplexes (just 17 of them) last November and barely managed $30k, here in the UK without the benefit of the appropriate release date and with only a single showing it's not going to do even close to those paltry figures.

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I've watched the first few seconds of this apocalyptic thriller several times and I have to say I'm a touch confused but apparently you can outrun an nuclear blast. Obviously the survivors will then turn on each other and the living will envy the dead. It's all derivative crap with allegedly Michael Biehn's best ever performance.

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More psycho killers in this US thriller starring Amanda Seyfried in her attempts to prove she can open a film as an escaped kidnappee convinced her sister has also been abducted in order to be horribly murdered. Lots of screaming, untrusting cops and running around in creepily lit woods at night. P.S. she can't this grossed only $9m in the States in January.

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Irvine Welsh's Ecstasy

I had thought this latest adaptation of Irvine Welsh's Scottish drug scene came out last year to unenthusiastic reviews but no. It's come out this year to equally unimpressed ratings. The problem being that however much work is put into a project like this it's always going to suffer from comparisons to Danny Boyle's Trainspotting. Still it's good to see former Hobbit Billy Boyd is still employable.

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What a difference 8 years makes. Do you remember when Jim Caviezel defied all expectations and box office prognostications with The Passion of the Christ but now it's all virtaully direct to video thrillers like this nonsense involving a security truck heist, mixed bags and marital tensions coming to the fore. Mind you at least his career is going better than Mel Gibson.

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Elfie Hopkins

And finally the worst looking movie since last months Act of Valor is this British comic horror staring Jaime Winstone as the sleuthing titular teenager who discovers her neighbours are cannibals. Daddy Ray cameos as the local gun toting butcher.

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Saturday, 14 April 2012

Forgotten Genius (Out this week - 13/04/12)

Choosing a film this week is a tough job, there's a whole range of releases that is bound to include something that appeals to everyone although possibly not appealing enough to persuade anyone to actually go to see them. It's odd in that even as I type this up, reading the reviews and watching the trailers, even as I can appreciate the quality offerings I just can't imagine buying a ticket for any of them - even my film of the week. Incidently I've sidestepped the revisionist Westerns and genre bending horrors to select a little known French movie as the pick of the week, whilst I suspect it won't break out of the art-house circuit (just 2 screens this weekend) it got some minor awards buzz back in December including a trio of Satellite Award Nominations. So the RLAG film of the week is Mozart's Sister.

Has the blockbuster season started yet? I know it hasn't in America as this weekend the biggest opener is a Farrelly brothers re-imagining of a classic comic trio that precisely no-one really wants to see. However here we have the first big box office behemoth opening this weekend in Battleship presumably to avoid Euro 2012 which is known to affect cinematic attendance in the UK. I think we can safely assume it will take the box office crown this week, but I also suspect that - based on the reviews - it will be the second box office disappointment for Taylor Kitsch. Last week I foolishly imagined Mirror Mirror would lead the pack however not only did it fail to pass The Hunger Games but Titanic 3D, which I suspiciously avoided last week, was the clear box office champion. I hang my head in shame.

Mozart's Sister

Classic music fans everywhere will be fascinated by this French movie concentrating on the early life of Wolfgang's older sister, a prodigy whose genius was later overshadow by that if her male sibling mainly because of his gender. Clearly this film is in the shadow of Amadeus but could well be an interesting companion piece that displays a different side to that well known family dynamic.

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Exquisite costuming, but the translations seem to let the trailer down.


Sam Shepard picks up the mantle of Butch Cassidy from Newman in this 20's set Western focussing on Cassidy's (now called Blackthorn) career as a Bolivian horse trader, only he gets the itch to return back to the States and right a terrible wrong. Cue plenty of contemplative vistas and shoot-outs. Stephen Rea also stars.

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Cabin in the Woods

Twisty Turny horror movie produced by Joss Whedon and directed by one of his prodigies Drew Goddard. It's spent an awful long time on the shelves due to the financial implosion at MGM but that shouldn't be considered indicative of it's quality given the high praise from most critics. Thor himself (Chris Hemsworth) leads the usual selection of disposable teens but it's the presence of Richard Jenkins and Sigourney Weaver in a potentially spoilerish cameo that make this seem like an interesting spin on the deserted cabin horror sub-genre.

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La Delicatesse

Do you remember when Audrey Tatou was set to be a huge star? Well, whilst her international career prospects may have been stalled by The Da Vinci Code she is still a bona fide draw in France and for French exports hence we're seeing this uninspiring looking lump of whimsy in which Tatou falls unexpectedly for another man after her "the one" is tragically killed. Should do reasonably well at cinemas.

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Oh, come on, this slice of boring Hollywood crap designed purely to sell toys and appeal to pre-pubescent boys should be throttled at before it gets a chance to throw away millions on hum-drum sub Transformers CGI. What's worse is I hear the plot sees the US Navy firing the first guns so therefore seems to applaud the aggressor. Is this really the type of message we want our children to see at cinemas? Liam Neeson pops up as an Admiral and Taylor Kitsch and Rhianna are among the sailors looking to kick start their acting career with this bilge.

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Oru Kal Oru Kannadi

Something tells me this cheap looking trailer will not be the one that persuades non-Bollywood followers to try something a little different (bearing in mind Houseful 2 made the UK and US top tens last weekend). It's about a guy and a girl and the guy's best friend who gives him all the worst advice in how to woo her, which is at least very familiar to all audiences.

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Carol Morley's recent semi-doc Dreams of a Life was exceptionally well received in the last quarter of last year and it's probably that good will which has led to her previous feature starring local girl (to where I'm living) Maxine Peake getting it's release. That said the glooming looking chamber piece about six characters in a dour hotel is hardly likely to gain the same traction.

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Gospel of Us

I did want to give more blobs to this cinematic oddity, but finding reviews or in reality an audience for this strange experience seems difficult. It's the filmed elements of Port Talbot's acclaimed Passion Play from last year with Michael Sheen in the role of Jesus. I do wonder why it wasn't opened last weekend but I'm sure the producers have their reasons and I do hope that non-Christian cinema-goers see this which is as much about community as it is about God.

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Saturday, 7 April 2012

Rock on Seany (Out this week - 06/04/12)

There's a giant boat shaped elephant in the multiplexes this weekend which, being a re-issue, does not fit within the usual rules surrounding this post. That's right I'm going to try and completely ignore it. That's relatively easy to do in this first section devoted as it is to mulling over the relative qualities of our new feature releases, indeed whilst I thoroughly enjoy the nautical tragedy I don't have any issue with recommending the French cartoon or the Scandinavian darkly comic thriller over Cameron's weepie largely because I feel it's important to try new things, back in 1997 it's possible it would have been the top film (I went to see it twice at cinemas but then I was a newly out student), and sometimes we should choose the art-house over the multiplex. So this week I feel no qualms in selecting the Sean Penn as a Nazi-hunting washed-out rock star in the RLAG film of the week This Must be the Place.

Last week I fluffed on the box office predictions, as The Hunger Games clung on to the top spot and Wrath of the Titans somehow sneaked ahead of Pirates to become the highest new entry. I confess to being quite shocked by this double loss of judgement however I pick myself up and cheerfully ignore that iceberg (it's got a very good chance of stealing my thunder although I suspect it will just lose out). Instead I'm going to go out on a limb and predict, thanks to the aid of several days of preview and the kids being off school, that Julia Roberts will lead the first Snow White adapt of 2012 Mirror Mirror into the top spot.

This Must be the Place

On paper the combination of a Robert Smith alike goth rocker and a plot involving the investigation and capture of Nazi criminals doesn't seem at all enticing. But when revered Italian director Paolo Sorrentino is making his English Language debut and using a cast that includes Sean Penn (as the washed out star), Frances McDormand (as his eminently sensible wife) and Judd Hirsch (as a pragmatic Nazi hunter) it begins to appear to be something more. Ignore the mixed reviews from Cannes last year and focus on the incredible soundtrack and you know you're getting drawn in.

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Read on for twisted fairy tales, a briefcase with big secrets inside and a small scale Iraq war indie as well as all of this weeks releases and trailers.

It's got a Coen-verse vibe (partly attributable to the appearance of Frances but also to the weird characters inhabiting the story) which makes it hard to resist.

Cat in Paris

This French animation was a surprise nominee in the 2012 Best Animated Feature Oscar race, and the crude animation style may certainly put off a lot of kids but as a branch they are usually quite discerning so I suspect this may be worth the extra mile for the more adventurous parents this Easter weekend.

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Already the subject of a major studio bidding war for the remake rights and boasting Mark Wahlberg as a major fan this Norweigan thriller, based on the international bestseller by Jo Nesbo sees an art thief, masquerading as an estate agent, suddenly out of his depth after stealing from the "wrong people". Expect black comedy as well as the usual spills and chills in this potential art-house breakout.

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Le Harve

There's another Cannes alumni hitting screens this week and it's slightly disappointing to note Aki Kaurismäki's movie has had such little critical attention. It's also bringing dead-pan comedy to a serious subject - European attitudes on immigration in a time of fiscal austerity - and maybe that odd mix of tone and content will put people off.

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Mirror Mirror

Now I believe that one day musical video supremo Tarsem will create a masterpiece, always visually inspirational he just needs someone to write him a good script to use. Note this is not it - although it does look more compelling to me than the other Snow White adaptation coming this year. Julia Roberts and Armie Hammer get to ham it up as the Evil queen and Prince Charming whilst Lily - daughter of Phil - looks pretty as our heroine. Expect kids to love it at least. Mare Winningham and Michael Lerner pop up in tiny supporting roles.

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North Sea Texas

You'd be forgiven for thinking NST is just another American Indie, indeed at first I made that assumption, but watch the trailer and you'll find a sweet coming out story about a teenage boy in Belgium coming to terms with his sexuality and how that affects his teenage years. Almost a flemish Beautiful Thing so should be worth a look.

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Cold Light of Day

We haven't had too many chances to see future Superman Henry Cavill in action - sure he was Theseus in last years Immortals but who honestly watched him as an actor rather than just as a piece of well oiled meat - so this CIA double cross thriller with Bruce Willis and Sigourney Weaver might just introduce him to audiences. Shame it hasn't been shown to critics and looks horribly unoriginal. Does make you worry about the box office potential for the man in tights.

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Housefull 2

The biggest Bollywood release in some time might just sneak into this weeks box office top ten thanks to the 52 screens and the 2010 success of it's predecessor also starring Akshay Kumar. That said there aren't many Bollywood sequels and the slight whiff of mysogny - all the women seem interchangeable - might put more enlightened viewers off. We'll see.

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Mirza - The Untold Story

There are two South Asian releases this weekend which don't yet have corresponding IMDb pages - which as you probably know irritates the hell out of me. The first is this action-romance about a girl forced to choose between her gangster brother and her sweetheart saving her from an arranged marriage. I wonder...

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On the other end of the spectrum is this comedic mystery set entirely on a bus journey to a remote mountainous village. It sounds like an interesting set-up.

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Fans of In Contention (at Hitflix) will have read Guy Lodge's raves about this final Cannes release, a small scale picture starring Linda Cardellini doing career defining work as an Iraq war veteran re-adjusting to life in her small industrial town. Deftly handling themes of alienation and PTSD and with a cast that includes Michael Shannon and John Slattery it's a real pity that only two cinemas (in London and Hull) are showing this.

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