Thursday, 30 August 2012

Take This Waltz

2012. Dir: Sarah Polley. Starring: Michelle Williams, Seth Rogen, Sarah Silverman, Luke Kirby and Jennifer Podemski. ●●●○○

Years ago, back when I worked in bars, part of my duties included the hiring of staff. It may seem clichéd but first impressions really matter and whilst you may not know if you're going to hire someone within 10 seconds you do know if you're not. Equally, interviewees take note, you cannot have a 10 second period after that where your interviewer doesn't like you. True, we want you to do your best and enjoy the interview and show your true self, but we are looking for reasons to reject you. It's the same with movies. They need to both open well and not lose the audience. Take This Waltz, the second feature from Canadian Sarah Polley, starts beautifully, ends gracefully with real truth in it's resolution and characters. Unfortunately there's one very troubling scene about 30 minutes in that nearly made me walk out, and consequently makes me very reticent about recommending the film.

The film opens in a touristy French Canadian settlement, where enthusiastic performers re-enact typical but caricatured period scenes, called away from an almost delicate marriage ceremony (in a clear foreshadowing of events to come) Michelle Williams' pamphlet writer Margot somehow gets involved in a public whipping of a local miscreant, egged on by mysterious stranger Luke Kirby (Daniel). They meet again on the plane, mild antagonism melting into shared appreciation of silliness. Both characters annoy, Williams is brittle and childish, Kirby blunt and a bit over-attentive, yet their traits are human and believable. These characteristics exaggerate the child like emotional state the individuals are in, they want to dislike each or more accurately to be disliked but inevitable the journey ends with them playing games in a cab, pretending their not falling into lust.

Then the double whammies of the plot. Margot is married (to Seth Rogen chicken obsessed cookery book writer) and the two live virtually opposite each other.

The film then follows the path of a modern Brief Encounter; the would be lovers repeatedly bump into each other, exploring each others mindsets unable to decipher their hormones. We see Margot torn between the dull but loving Rogen - really showing his chops in a dramatic role - and the virile romanticised Kirby. The cinematic trips together between the characters in David Lean's 1945 classic are replaced by semi-planned moments in the local swimming pool (the obvious joke of Williams losing control of her bladder and the balletic underwater dance between the two are superbly framed exposing different aspects of the budding romance) whilst scenes in Daniel's flat are reminiscent of the awkward march towards sexual awakening for Celia Johnson.

Where restraint and sacrifice characterised Brief Encounter we now live in a world where self-gratification is all, ignoring Sarah Silverman's holy fool of an alcoholic sister-in-law ("Life has a gap in it... It just does. You don't go crazy trying to fill it." is the line she wisely espouses in the trailer) Williams runs after Kirby when he moves away (not to Africa but to a suspiciously large loft apartment). But Silverman is right, there is still a gap, by this point we know all the relationship short-cuts between Williams and Rogen, all those silly things couple do between themselves, comfort acts that can't be replicated. Sure the sex is better (and far more explicit) but part of the emotional connection isn't there. Williams still faces a gap, but which gap was worse.

The performances are spot on all round, Rogen's big scene when he finds out about the affair is touching and effective, whilst being cut in a truly unexpected way, Silverman too does a great job, even if it's barely different from her comedic persona. The show belongs to Michelle Williams, though, expressive through her physicality and deep beneath her eyes, even when you disagree with Margot choices (be it the faux irritability at the start or the decision to enact her desires) you fully understand the motivation. There are two scenes on a fairground ride, tipping points for the character, where Michelle does the sort of fantastic jaw-dropping work that justifies her Oscar nominations as her entire situation catches up with her and you know where she must go next.

Sarah Polley is an poetic director, focussed on finding the truth in the characters, and working again with Away from Her DP Luc Montpellier, they bathe Williams in the light of renaissance art, confirming the character is at mercy of her sexual and emotional make-up.

Now I read back at that review and it feels like a rave, but I have to return to my earlier comments. A film mustn't lose the audience, even for 10 seconds. And this film lost me. There is a discussion between Williams and Kirby that uses homophobic language. I understand why, it's Williams teasing Kirby to admit he likes her, but it is protracted and I was offended. It seemed to me an unnecessary way to make the point and as a gay man I felt there wasn't a good enough reason, or a scene later that balanced out the homophobic attitudes. That one scene, which many people probably don't even notice cost this film a blob, and whilst I would like to recommend the film for the performances, the film-making and every other scene, that one exchange seriously undermines the movie and therefore I feel I have to caution potential cinema goers.


Saturday, 25 August 2012

Not everything it seems (Out this week - 24/08/12)

As you probably have noticed I don't normally mention documentaries, for one to get a namecheck is is quite rare. For the record it's not that I'm anti-documentary, I regularly watch them at home on TV, I just don't get why you'd trek to the cinema for one. However every now and then a doc that's so celebrated, so significant comes along and I simply cannot ignore it, Senna and Exit through the Gift Shop being two recent examples. This week Burt Layton award winning doc about the Frederic Bourdin case is getting a significant UK opening, and in a weak week it's easily the best reviewed release and I felt I could relax my self-imposed rules and name the runs like a gay film of the week The Imposter.

Brave hit the bullseye this weekend, unsurprisingly beating back the latest Bourne and Sly and his mates. If the total gross, including 4 days of previews, wasn't on par with previous Pixar releases that is in part explained away by coming after the critical flop Cars 2 and by the unfortunate box office drop that is often seen when there's a female lead. This week was going to be a fight between two underperforming US comedies - but one of them chickened out - yes, I'm looking at you Ben Stiller - not because the Three Stooges is likely to crush all competition. Instead the completely non-reviewed Keith Lemon: The Film with it's TV character familiarity is likely to find itself with the lion's share of receipts.

The Imposter

It's one of the most unusual missing person cases in the 20th century, a 13 year old Texan boy who disappears on the way home from a Basketball game. Three years later he turns up in a Spanish orphanage, his eyes and hair having changed colour. In retrospect it's easy to mock the family for believing Bourdain, the French-Algerian impersonating the boy, but the documentary brings up the concept of wanting to believe the lies and the subjectivity of truth.

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Read on for an insight into the Troubles, experimenting students, lessons in slapstick and all of this week's trailers and releases.

Cut almost like a thriller, you can see why this doc has really box office potential.

Shadow Dancer

Tom Bradby, the ITN News politics correspondent, here adapts his first novel with James "Man on Wire" Marsh taking directing duties. It's a gritty spy story set in the mid 1990's with Andrea Riseborough's low-level IRA member getting coerced into working for MI5's Clive Owen in an attempt to second guess the high command as they enter into the Peace talks. It's the type of high-brow intelligent cinema that calls to mind last years Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and should find an audience.

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Whilst set in Iran, and directed by Iranian film-maker Maryam Keshavarz, it's filmed in Lebanon and it's central conceit of teenage rebellion, even against the liberal families portrayed would probably raise eyebrows. That said reviews indicate this is a loving portrait of the left-leaning middle classes living under the regime.

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Continuing the semi-season of Iranian cinema, albeit with just couple of showings in London, is this 2010 homegrown movie about three working men crossing the Country in search of better things only to find low salaries and high living costs force them to make their home in a disused pipeline.

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Shirin Farhad Ki Toh Nikal Padi

Hindi comedy about a middle age romance, and that I picked up from the poster, unlikely to crack the top ten like last weekends Ek Tha Tiger.

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Tango with Me

One of the few Nigerian films to make a significant UK release, even if I would have a 300 mile round trip to the nearest showing, it's a relationship drama with strong moral messages. Possibly a little ripe in the telling, but this could be marking the beginning of a new wave of central African film-making.

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Tanner Hall

Odd little release for this American independent, obvious meant to capitalise on the growing fame of it's star Rooney Mara (note it was made 3 years ago, before either of her collaborations with David Fincher). Following four teenage girls as they experience the highs and lows of growing up in their elite but fading boarding school.

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The Three Stooges

Whilst the reviews have been mixed, I do quite like the concept of the Farelly brothers' latest cinematic foray. After all well done slapstick will always raise a snort, no matter how much we pretend to be above it, and the supporting cast that includes Jane Lynch, Jennifer Hudson and Larry David as Nuns sounds brilliant.

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Keith Lemon: The Film

I don't particularly understand why people find Leigh Francis' character funny, but lots of people do hence his transfer to the big screen. Coming out in a similar slot to The Inbetweeners last year this is probably aiming for a similar crowd, of course it won't do anything like that sort of business, but should still do reasonable business.

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Tuesday, 21 August 2012

The Bourne Legacy

2012. Dir: Tony Gilroy. Starring: Jeremy Renner, Rachel Weisz, Edward Norton, Stacy Keach and Oscar Isaac. ●●●○○

Perspective depends very much on how you look at things. Well, duh! No, I mean that seriously. So as a child when I experienced new movies I was instantly astounded, prepared to proclaim them as cinematic masterpieces. Disney's The Fox and The Hound was the best film ever, Clue a work of comic genius, even the first 18 film I ever saw (Arnie's The Running Man) was claimed as a milestone in on-screen entertainment. For the record only one of those statements would I still describe as true. But what has this to do with my review of The Bourne Legacy? Well, friends, I have never seen a Bourne movie. I have never watched Matt Damon kill someone with a Sunday supplement, nor imagined the moral dilemmas of waking up a programmed Government assassin. So, unlike nearly every other reviewer on the web, I cannot judge Tony Gilroy's franchise extension against the previous trilogy, a comparison that doesn't favour the new film by all accounts, all I can do is compare it to thirty something years of watching action films.

And it's a perfectly acceptable slice of cinema, neither great nor bad, but diverting and fun to watch but utterly disposable.

Given my ignorance of the original movies I'm almost certainly not the target audience, the entire movie concerns a parallel story of The Bourne Supremacy bookended between Paddy Considine's journalist assassination and the trial of David Strathairn's shady CIA controller (brought back in the form of a pointless cameo with Joan Allen and Albert Finney, all of them no doubt enjoying substantial fees for one day's filming). Meanwhile numerous references to secretive projects and Government agencies make very little sense to the casual viewer. The crux being, as the advertising handily suggests, there was never just one. Never just one unaware killer and never just one corrupt agency building an army of unquestioning assassins.

As the news of Bourne's re-integration into society buzzes around the intelligence community, Jeremy Renner's supersoldier Aaron Cross is on exercises in the forests of North America, working his way across mountain and river to Oscar Isaac's isolated cabin. He's an impressive specimen, fighting off wolves bare handed, leaping across vast chasms and breaking records for reaching the shelter. Whilst he and Isaac's sulking number 3 get better acquainted Ed Norton is in damage control mode, pulling strings and closing programmes with cold efficient calculation, and soon Cross has to be taken out of the picture. Cue the start of a long game of cat and mouse where Norton and his cronies scream into telephones whilst Renner trots around the globe, always one step ahead, picking up Rachel Weisz's imperilled scientist and searching for the blue and green pills that stabilize his enhanced capabilities.

The drugs are nothing more than an international McGuffin, explained away with all the pharmacological veracity of primary science project. As the moral implications of taking an injured Iraq vet, with questionably too low an IQ to make an informed decision about his future (yes, this really is a modern Charley) turned into a fit, intelligent junkie able to volunteer for the most complex and dangerous spy missions, not to mention the extraordinary capacity to kill or maim highly trained combatants, are swept aside so Renner and Weisz can have a motorcycle chase on the bustling streets of Manila.

Renner does good action hero, suitably buff yet perennially tortured he has the perfect physicality for this sort of work. Not that he's given much chance to act, there's a nice exchange or two with Isaac, but alas much less chemistry with Weisz, possibly because here character is so underwritten and panicky. Don't get me wrong, no-one does emotional collapse quite like Rachel, but the arc is both predictable and forced.

Where the film sings is the set-pieces. A massacre in a lab is played out in real time with cold, patient camera-work and the extras acquitting themselves well as their plead or bleed through their last moments. Then a major plot twist in Weisz's house is played exceptionally well, switching from an uncomfortable interview to a chaotic gun battle in a blink of an eye. Even the final bike chase, whilst a little too long, showed some great stunt work and some excellent marksmanship.

On directorial and scripting duties Tony Gilroy brings the same high-quality, unimposing style we saw on Duplicity and Michael Clayton but alas he doesn't give his creations the zingy dialogue or intellectual sparring he brought to previous work, leaving us partly detached from the proceedings.

As I said at the beginning The Bourne Legacy isn't a bad film, but it's no great one either. Probably worth renting but not the trip to the cinema. Although personally I'm going to have to fork out on the original trilogy before watching it again.


Saturday, 18 August 2012

Dancing to it's own tune (Out this week - 18/08/12)

I don't give out many really high scores on the Runs Like a Gay Excitometer, I generally like to keep it quite low, after all there have been over 300 releases so far this year and choices have to be make, so the median average score for this year is currently 3, with only one in nine releases getting over 5, and so far only four getting a coveted 9 blobs. They were Oscar candidates The Descendants and Carnage and comic book behemoth The Dark Knight Rises all arriving with plenty of fanfare and international expectation. This week sees a very different film hitting that similar highpoint, indeed it's rather snuck up on me too. With a bevvy of high quality reviews and a strong cast breaking from their comfort zone it hard to not get excited and Canadian actress cum director Sarah Polley second feature, following the devastating Away from Her, simply has to be seen, gaining the runs like a gay film of the week approval it's Take this Waltz.

I think Seth MacFarlane probably really dislikes me, for two weeks in a row I have highly underestimated the box office potential of Ted and it second week drop was indeed less steep than The Dark Knight Rises leaving Mark Wahlberg and his belching toy still on the top of the charts. Sorry Seth, won't happen again. Meanwhile dance movie Step Up: Miami Heat was the highest new entry at 3, but it's performance was spectacularly bad, 60% less tickets than the previous entry in the body popping franchise, stand by for straight of DVD follow-ups. This week sees 2, potentially 3, US chart toppers battling it out in UK cinemas. I imagine Expendables 2 will end in clear third, mainly because of the certificate and the cheating previews of Brave and Bourne Legacy both of whom opened Monday. I suspect Pixar, will ultimately take the crown with it's savvy holiday opening strategy, but this could be an exciting weekend to follow.

Take this Waltz

Michelle Williams stars in this low-key modern tale of temptation and fidelity, whether she leaves her loving but staid husband (Seth Rogen in a piece of genius casting) for hunky rickshaw driver Luke Kirby is the central plot but if Polley brings half of the resonance of her last film then it will be about so much more. Unmissable indie drama.

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Admittedly it has indie written all over it, but I do wonder how it all ends which is a great start for this type of movie.


As ever with Pixar the animation looks sumptious and genre changing, with Merida's hair in particular bouncing out of the screen in the feminist fairy tale. Although the first tendrils of Disney involvement, there's more than a touch of Mulan in the plot and Pixar first female protagonist could definitely sit in the feminist end of Disney Princesses. The fine Brit cast includes Kelly MacDonald in the lead, Billy Connelly, Emma Thompson and Julie Walters.

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The Bourne Legacy

I've already caught up with the latest Bourne movie, hopefully I'll get the review out in the next few days, and you pretty much get what everyone was expecting. An average action adventure with Jeremy Renner and Tony Gilroy merely keeping the seats warm for Damon and Greengrass. The trailers seem to have worked though, it shot straight to the top last weekend in the US.

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The Bird

It's time for a bit of French existentialism in Yves Caumon's Venice hit. A secretive kitchen worker learns to open up her life to the possibility of romance and friendship after finding a pigeon trapped in her apartment.

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Expendables 2

Sylvester Stallone assembles an even batshit crazier band of 80's rejects for the follow-up to his 2010 hit. Jean Claude Van Damme shows up as villain Vilain and chuck Norris is on fine form to save a few asses. That said it still looks utterly forgettable pulp and the jokes drop like lead balloons over the trailer.

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The Wedding Video

Pretty much relying on the Peep Show audience to turn up in droves this nice looking Brit comedy will probably fall between the cracks before a decent run on DVD sales. Robert Webb is the groom, Lucy Punch the Bride and Rufus Hound the best man employing a professional film crew to follow the wedding preparations.

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The Devil's Business

Reviews of Sean Hogan's low budget horror have rated it reasonably highly, even if it owes a massive debt to last years Kill List. Two hitmen are despatched to dispose a particular thorn in a local crime bosses plan, only when they find a Satanist alter in his garage the job turns out to be more complex than was originally conceived.

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Ek The Tiger

Globe-trotting Bollywood espionage actioner with significant funding from the US, should do well across the international markets thanks to it cross-appeal trailer and stars Salman Khan and Katrina Kaif. Tiger is Khan's undercover codename.

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Thursday, 16 August 2012


2011. Dir: Fernando Meirelles. Starring: Anthony Hopkins, Rachel Weisz, Jude Law, Maria Flor and Ben Foster. ●●○○○

Do you remember when Peter Morgan used to write structurally tradition biographical screenplays that read like simplistic portrayals of The Queen or Brian Clough but revealed inner depths that challenged the viewers perception of the central characters and ultimately displaying hidden their humanity. That time is gone, Morgan has clearly seen the success of multiple character dramas like Amores Perros and Crash and wishes to emulate them whilst ensuring we understand the deeper meaning. Last year his heartfelt humanist parable of death, Hereafter, showed how the emotional thematic elements eventually over-shadowed the interest we developed in the characters and the final act shoved all the storylines together to forcibly underline their individual arcs and yet rang false. In 360 he returns to the hyperlink drama charting the sexual and emotional connections of a diverse group of strangers across globe, and unsurprisingly the point feels just as tacked on and a good half of the plotlines feel so insignificant they could be cut out completely.

The film starts (and, without really spoilering, ends) with a young lady shooting a topless advert for a hooker internet profile, it's a nod to Arthur Schnitzler's turn of the century scandalous play La Ronde, bookmarked by a Viennese hooker, on which the concept of 360 is based. But where Schnitzler intended to shock his audience into the realisation that sex was both natural and dangerous (the play essentially follows a strain of Syphilis as it journeys between class and national borders before returning to the whore who kicked it off) Morgan wants to comfort us, there's a streak of misplaced romanticism that forces characters to get into cars with each other or to not have the affair they were planning. The theme of connection, the 360° we go through, is merely the means by which we make many story, rather than the end in itself.

So sexy Slovakian Lucia Siposová is about to offer herself to cuckolded husband Jude Law. He wimps out and goes back to his wife, Rachel Weisz, not so subtly having an affair with Juliano Cazarré (frankly who wouldn't). But before you can say plot device Rachel is back with Jude watching their daughter forget her lines in the school play and Juliano's live in girlfriend, Maria Flor, has also run off having caught the whole thing on tape. She gets on a plane with chatterbox Anthony Hopkins and they both get caught in a snowed in Denver with paroled sex offender Ben Foster. Hopkins then runs into Dinara Drukarova at an AA meeting before she goes back to Paris to tell her husband Vladimir Vdovichenkov it's over before expressing her love for her dentist boss Jamel Debbouze. Vladimir, feeling vaguely rejected but clearly not that put off, drives to Vienna with his obnoxious boss Mark Ivanir before a meet cute with Gabriela Marcinkova, the sister of Luica Siposová.

That's the plot in a nutshell and apart from the relentless coincidences that take us round full circle, the only real spoiler in there is the always watchable Jamel Debbouze playing a conflicted dentist, the sort of career choice that often gets marginalised on screen but here really informs their romantic stirrings.

The film started badly, with neither Law nor Weisz making interesting enough character choices to make me care if their marriage floundered or not. If it wasn't for Cazarre cavorting around in nothing but a towel, tattoo's and Clark Kent glasses I'd have walked out.

Luckily the second act, focussed around Flor, Hopkins and Foster kicks in. The three of them are all at the top of their game, Maria slipping between sisterly affection and drunken flirting and Ben tightly wound and electrifying with potentially every extra in the airport a victim if he can't control his urges. Meanwhile Hopkins gives a superb performance that reminds us of how potent a film star he can be - his speech at the AA meeting, drawing as much from his own experience as from the script is as heart-warming as it is heart-breaking. In those three characters, all of whom must turn over a chapter in their lives, director Fernando Meirelles finds a chord, allowing the comedy to flow organically, the tension to build (there's one scene I nearly had to cover my eyes for) and the pay-offs for the characters were rewarding for them and for the audience in a way the rest of the film failed to deliver. Yes, from there it quickly descended into Russian gangster and tart with a heart clichés.

Elsewhere Meirelles doesn't seem to have the confidence in the material, the occasional camera flourishes and cutting techniques only hammer home the themes rather than hint at them, like Clint Eastwood before him, he seems unable to make a solid enough film from the good script sections to allow to forgive the weaker parts, and the variable script is what really lets 360 down.

Overall I can't recommend the film, but if anyone every offers you the chance to watch a 30 minutes short about Maria Flor, Anthony Hopkins and Ben Foster stuck in an airport I urge you to watch that masterclass in screen acting.


Saturday, 11 August 2012

Coming Full Circle (Out this week - 10/08/12)

Just as no major releases saw their debut at the same time as the Olympic opening ceremony a couple of weeks ago now the games at coming to a close there is again a slight pause in the proceedings. There are two major releases coming out on Monday, the latest from Pixar and a twist on the Bourne franchise, so afraid are they of losing a few punters on Sunday evening. There are a dozen foreign language efforts and mid-level independent releases competing for audiences with Stephen Daldry's closing night on Sunday. Most of them are forgettable and frankly look awful, but there are a couple that are worth a look. The Runs like a Gay film of the week may not be one of those but it's got a great cast so Fernando Meirelles sneaks into the lead with 360

Last weekend my scepticism about Seth MacFarlane's cinematic debut led to me underestimating it's chances predicting it to miss out on the lead in the charts. Instead it soundly defeated the third weekend take from The Dark Knight Rises proving the cult audience of "Family Guy" and "American Dad" would follow their hero to multiplexes. As I mentioned earlier there's only one big release this weekend - the latest dance drama Step Up 4: Miami Heat - which will certainly find an audience but will it surpass Ted of the Batman? My guess is The Dark Knight Rises will climb back to number 1.


Loosely based on Alfred Schnitzler play La Ronde, with a terrible on the nose title referring to the structure of following sexual and emotional couplings across class and geographical barriers, this international co-production brings together a huge number of stars from all continents - keen on the foreign market sales. It premièred at Toronto last September - reviews may explain why we've waited so long to see it.

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Read on for Albanian blood feuds, Scandinavian pools and Chinese thrillers and all of this weeks new releases and trailers.

In an Empire interview last week director Fernando Meirelles stated the Austrian trailer and poster best exhibited the film. What can I say, I don't speak German so you have the English version.

Forgiveness of Blood

I have a thing about Blood feud plots. No really, ten years ago I loved Behind the Sun which tackled a similar plotline in South America. So when I heard Joshua Marston - the genius behind Maria, Full of Grace - was travelling to Albania to film a similar stand-off between neighbouring families and tying in the themes of technological progress against cultural stand-still I knew I had to see it. It's a shame it's only on in London or Cambridge.

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The second Jo Nesbo novel to get apated this year comes with less fanfare than the critically acclaimed Headhunters but should do equally well in terms of box office thanks to it's pitch black comedy elements. How could a former criminal who wins the pools with three mates and then wakes up, some hours later, squashed under a dead chubby hooker fail to make you laugh?

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Harold's Going Stiff

It's difficult to try to work out what this well received independent British horror is aiming for, with it's mix of social realism and zombies. I expect it's a metaphor. With the question of whether Harold really is infected holding the entire plot together.

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Let the Bullets Fly

A couple of cinema chains are holding an exclusive this weekend, with Reel cinemas the only place to find this immensely popular Chinese film which took over $100m in it's home country back in early 2011. Chow You-Fat is the name over the title even though this looks like a shared lead movie. If the film is half as fun as the trailer then it's worth travelling for.

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It's already been and gone on it's limited one day release but this Russian spy thriller set during the Second World War looks like it has the right balance of action and romance, including a delicious tango, seen intercut in the trailer. Probably worth digging out the DVD in next weeks bargain bin.

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Barbie: The Princess and the Popstar

Make it stop. Please just make it stop. Luckily I don't have to watch this sort of garbage but the trailer was bad enough. Anyway this badly animated 90 minute advert is exclusively showing at Cineworlds nation wide this weekend. They shouldn't bother.

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Dinosaur Project

It's the Blair Witch meets Jurassic Park in this fairly predictable adventure romp that sees a sextet of young athletic 'explorers' crash land into Conan Doyle territory and live just about long enough to regret it. Much like paying to see it at cinemas.

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I Against I

It's taken a very long time for this tale of London gangsters to make it to the big screen, but the patience the producers have shown in the 2 years since filming was completed has paid off, for at least 9 cinemas. It's a shame the same amount of effort wasn't put into an original and insightful script.

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In the Dark Half

I'm probably coming across as really harsh, bashing all these low budget British films, after all I'd probably kill to get into one of them and to have even a couple of cinemas showing my work. Some nice shots of stampeding deer is fine but it's not enough to make me want to see this over-worked plot.

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Taking the starting off point of last summer's riots this ultra-violent youth picture follows our hero Joe Cole as he infiltrates a young offenders institution in order to take brutal revenge for his girlfriend being attacked. I think I'm too old and middle class to appreciate the warfare on the streets message.

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Step Up 4: Miami Heat

Thankfully not all the bad looking movies this week are British, as the likely biggest selling bad movie will be American. I want to like to concept of flash mob dancers forming an alliance with small businesses against the corporate sharks aiming to buy up whole neighbourhoods, but there's still probably nothing new in either the romance plot or the choreography so why should I bother buying a ticket?

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Thursday, 9 August 2012

The Dark Knight Rises

2012. Dir: Christopher Nolan. Starring: Christian Bale, Gary Oldman, Tom Hardy, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Anne Hathaway. ●●●○○

Last week I admitted to being lazy, this week I'm going to admit to being a coward. I've been holdign back on my The Dark Knight Rises review because my opinion may be unpopular. So here we are, three weeks too late, I didn't much like the closing chapter to Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy. I felt it to be an ambitious, glorious piece of film-making sadly let down by an overstuffed, incoherent and dull plot. It is both an improvement and a let down compared to Nolan's previous work and I only hope he pares down his narrative fancies for whatever non-chiropteran project he works on next.

Seven years have past since the thrilling climax of The Dark Knight when Bale’s Batman took the fall for Harvey Two-face Dent’s murderous rampage and Gotham has radically changed. The Dent act, which allows draconian charging for organised syndicates has virtually destroyed the Falcone family interests and created a crime free zone, whilst an arrest warrant sits over Batman’s head. Bruce Wayne, with no crime to fight, has sunk into a deep depression, brooding over the death of Rachel Dawes and shut off from all society; an effort to create a cold fusion generator macguffin was thwarted when a Hungarian scientist pointed out how easy it was to turn it into a bomb and the entire R&D budget has been sunk in keeping the device, handily stored under the city, leaving Wayne industries close to insolvency, all in all things are not looking good for Batman.

Yet something under the city is stirring, gangs of youths are disappearing into the sewers, lulled by the promise of jobs still denied to the Gotham underclass. A few switched on cops led by aging Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) and angry young pup (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) are imagining the worst and wondering when the bat signal will once again need to be turned on. Even sophisticated jewellery thief Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) knows enough to spout warnings of a war coming, an inexorable tide that will bring the rich and powerful of the city tumbling to the streets. Yet even Kyle isn’t completely prepared for the changes, because it’s no campaigning Victorian with concerns about social harmony, nor is it the financial meltdown the real world has experienced, Gotham has a more substantial foe, international terrorist and towering brute Bane (Tom Hardy in a mask) is about to reveal himself as Gotham’s reckoning.

Two paragraphs of exposition on and I’ve yet to mention other key characters brought forward from previous movies (Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Cillian Murphy) and new batch (Marion Cotillard, Matthew Modine, Tom Conti, Ben Mandelsson) all of whom almost have story arcs of their own to get through, even if the arc precludes the possibility of character development. Inevitably many of actors get shafted in the screen play, we've seen plenty of Morgan Freeman's witty and taciturn technogeek, and not just in this trilogy, but Marion Cotillard who really should make an impact in order to justify her ropey romance with Bale and her third act journey, yet Miranda Tate is always a cypher to the audience, seemingly there only to give the fanboys something to shout about at the end.

Instead of the supporting cast Nolan turns the camera back on the Batman, returning to the story of a scared orphan falling down in order to learn how to get up, an angry child emotionally scarred by his parents untimely death and his battle to clean up the streets. It's thematically linked to the first film in that examination of Bruce Wayne's psyche and the surrogate parental relationships formed with butler, Alfred, and Liam Neeson's Ra's al Ghul and the infamous League of Shadows.

Against this most introspective of comic book hero's it takes a really special performance to steal the limelight, and alas Tom Hardy's Bane whilst superficially fulfilling the flipside to Wayne - a man who started with nothing intent on destroying the world order rather than protecting it not to mention the yin and yang of their masks - is given so little to do about from a couple of rousing, only just decipherable speeches and a chance to pummel the Batman. Indeed Bane is able to build an army and mount a revolution yet the audience aren't given a chance to understand what makes his men follow him, not just into battle but also to a sacrificial alter.

When considering the film I find myself constantly returning to Bane, his plan and his motives. Each time I confuse myself more and more, did Bane want to stir up a revolution to overturn corrupt capitalist society, or was the whole thing a ruse to get Batman so riled up he crawls out of a hole? Doesn't Bane and his key accomplices know the bomb will explode? Did Nolan not think it would be interesting to see the results of Bane's tyrannical overthrow, or was a montage of the rich being thrown out of their hotels enough to satisfy? It's not even as if the politics of the film hit the zeitgeist, Bane doesn't represent the 99% as he's pushing not for equality of opportunity and social justice but another kind of inequality. Even the attack on Gotham's own stock exchange isn't to break the bank but to make some high value transactions of his own. It's the filmic equivalent of Robespierre and Idi Amin keeping the masses in place by routinely executing the old order and redistributing wealth with reckless abandon.

Thank God for Anne Hathaway, from the moment she appears on screen her cat-burglar (geddit???) steals every scene, by turns vulnerable, playful and vindictive, she's the proof Nolan could help create significant, rounded female characters (sorely missing from most of his back catalogue).

Technically this film delivers in spades. Wally Pfister knows how to use IMAX cameras like no-one else in the business, there were times I was as giddy as a school-girl watching the camera work. Lindy Hemmings costumes, always a highpoint of the series once again impress, from the stylish duds of Gotham's partying rich to Gary Oldham's cardies and from the utilitarian suggestion of cat to Anne Hathaway's suit to Bane's coat, which I fully expect to see everywhere this winter.

Overall though I have to say it doesn't matter how much I try to big up the successes in The Dark Knight Rises, the bar was simply too high to climb. Flawed and unwieldy this is not the closing episode any of us wanted and I can really only recommend it to fans of the Batman.


Tuesday, 7 August 2012

When Title's and Feeling's collide (Coming Soon - August 2012)

I like catching up with all the latest gossip from Hollywood, and over the last month we've had Comic-Con with a plethora of announcement about new Marvel titles, a third Hobbit and more than our fair share of action adventures. The trouble is, I do find it hard to care about all these whizz bang pop comic book adaptations. Sure I was excited about The Dark Knight Rises as anyone else, but if you look at my viewing habits over the last 4 years I've over seen two superheroes in cinemas (Batman and Thor). It's the oscar baity drama's that I tend to go for most often, and on this front there's been very little news since my last report, indeed 3 of the 5 projects I am going to mention have already had their Runs Like a Gay debut. Still I've promised to report on all the new titles catching my eye on IMDb, and I intend to do so.

I'm so Excited

Even without knowing anything about Pedro Almodovar's latest cinematic offering that title's expressing how many cinephiles feel about it. With The Skin I Live in the Spanish master showed he could subvert genre and add his own blend of high camp into any subject - even torture porn - so taking a ridiculous set-up like a doomed plane flight with a highly excitable cast and crew you know he has something special up his sleeves.

The first set photo, above, confirms Almodovar stylish design will once again be present and the cast reads like a best of Almodovar's previous collaborators with Javier Cámara, Blanca Suárez and Lola Dueñas among the passengers and crew. Not to mention rumoured cameo's from Penelope Cruz, Paz Vega and Antonio Banderas.

Look out for I'm so Excited at Cannes next year where it's bound to cause a stir and melt a few hearts on the croisette.

Read on for cyborgs, and a Broadway star

Battle Angel

Now I know James Cameron has vowed to be only in the business of making Avatar sequels from here on in, however someone obviously haven't told our Bristolian programming friends who have put the manga adaptation back on his slate, admittedly with no firm date for release. I could try to explain the bonkers plot again, or even give a brief history of Cameron's attachment, however it's much easier to point to the post labels and invite you to look through my previous posts.

Go for Sisters

John Sayles is one of the most reliable directors in the American independent scene, with a back catalogue filled with classics and near-masterpieces. Who among us actors cannot forget the stunning "Anal Probe" monologue in Passion Fish or the moody atmosphere of Lone Star? His last film, Amigo (right), unfortunately didn't find a UK distributor but I remain hopeful that this project, about two friends reunited after a 20 year separation when one becomes the parole officer for the other. Edward James Olmos, LisaGay Hamilton and Isiah Washington have been confirmed in the cast so far.


If I didn't know better I would read the synopsis for this Aussie Western, starring Guy Pearce and Robert Pattinson (yeah, I sort of feel sorry for him right now), and think Mad Max rip-off, avoid. However whilst it indicates a dangerous and dysfunctional near future with roaming gangs of violent criminals there's no mention of Angry Anderson, Thunderdome or even a hint of nuclear Armageddon so perhaps there's something more to it. David Michod, who made a name helming the bleak Animal Kingdom is back in the directors chair, so expect Air Supply on the soundtrack, the odd bit of slo-mo and a massive shock in the final couple of shots.

Squirrel to the Nuts

For as long as I can remember writing this blog there's been rumours that Peter Bogdanovich (pictured right) will be returning to behind the camera's for the first time since 2002's underrated Cat's Meow. Finally after Wes Anderson and Noah Baumbach have joined forces to produce and Owen Wilson agreed to star at the Broadway producer at the centre of the story it's finally looking like it will happen. From this distance it looks like a screwball comedy about Wilson's infatuation with a hooker turned actress and his desire to help her climb the slippery slope of fame. Sounds like a perfect mix of director and subject.


Sunday, 5 August 2012

The Dark Night Sets (Out this week - 03/08/12)

After last weeks appallingly uninspiring cinematic choices it's good to be back to double figures of releases, with a fair mix of genre's styles and nationality I think we can probably guarantee something for everyone. And if not I believe The Dark Knight Rises is still out in multiplexes. At the top end of the table there are four films with generally positive reviews to choose from, but giving the timing of the release I have to say one of these has the edge. All the Batman fans out there take note that there's an alternative Christian Bale performance to catch up with, starring as a drifting mortician caught up in the Rape of Nanking, and one of the first of a new wave of US/Chinese collaborations the Runs like a Gay Film of the Week is Flowers of War.

Last weekend The Dark Knight Rises fell a predictable 49% in revenue yet was still taking more than every other release in the top ten combined. The Lorax may not have performed as well as producers would have liked, but it still took second place in the charts, although that's third when adjusted for previews. All this means there's plenty of scope for a new film to out-perform expectations. Now with it's limited art-house release strategy Bale has no chance of knocking himself off the top of the box office so the best contender is probably Seth McFarlane's Ted. Defying the odds in America earlier this year it opened very well and is the highest grossing R-rated comedy of the year and "Family Guy" is surprisingly popular on this side of the Atlantic. It's going to be a very close race, but I think The Dark Knight Rises dropped further than expected last weekend because of the Olympics opening ceremony and this week we'll see a much more sedate decline with Ted taking a comfortable Silver.

Flowers of War

Yimou Zhang visionary action films Hero and The House of the Flying Daggers introduced him to the world as a meticulous, operatic director with a gorgeous eye - every frame from those two hits could be displayed as a example of screen craft at it's best - but this film about the rape of Nanking marks a new stage in his career, both in terms of the gritty modern content and the eye to the international market with Christian Bale in the lead. Serendipitous release date for Yimou, who directed the Beijing Olympic opening ceremony that they said could never be topped.

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

Read on for aging maids, talking teddies and a cult with one foot in the future. As well as all of this weeks trailers.

One thing we know from this trailer, Yimou Zhang hasn't lost his touch for finding beauty in conflict.

A Simple Life

At the other end of the scale for Chinese cinema, the clue being in the title, is this low-key examination of selfless acts showing the shifting relationship between a successful film-maker - Andy Lau - and his elderly Amah and former nanny - Deannie Yip. Exploring contemporary attitudes to the elderly and the debt we owe our forebears it deserves a much bigger audience than it's art-house release will generate.

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As a boy Mark Wahlberg has all his wishes come true when his Teddy comes spectacularly to life. Thirty years later the full consequences become clear as foul-mouthed, womanising Ted holds back Mark in his relationship with Mila Kunis, his job and his life generally. Essentially 90 plus minutes of watching a child's toy drink, swear and have sex it's clearly not looking for an Oscar, but there's plenty of chuckles to be had in the trailer and MacFarlane's fans will eat it up.

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Sound of my Voice

The ascendancy of Brit Marling continues with this strange haunting American indie about a couple investigating a bizarre cult, led by a woman claiming to have time travelled back to the present. I hear great things about the movie, especially it's open ended conclusion and simple believable script.

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

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days

The last two wimpy kid movies have been popular thanks to the established kids books with their dedicated fans. That said the cast are clearly not getting younger so you have to wonder if the younger potential audience will still identify with the leads.

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Jism 2

Take your mind out of the gutter, jism is the Hindi word for body. That said Sunny Leone's debut lead performance is hitting plenty of headlines thanks to her past as a porn actress and the films themes which hint at woman being masters of their own sexuality, something many traditional Bollywood audiences shy away from. It'll be interesting to see if this is the third Indian movie to hit the top ten in as may weeks.

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

Leave it on the Floor

I feel like I should want to be more excited by this trailer, a gloriously camp concoction of the African American New York scene, dance competitions and stunning bodies, but honestly the cliches just keep coming so I'm not sure it's for me. I do hope it finds an audience though, it's cotton-candy design and fierce cast deserve that.

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Multi-genre Tamil release without an IMDb page - honestly it's like they don't want anyone to see it - but the inclusion of scenes filmed in my home city of Bath do make me a little homesick and act as something close to a recommendation.

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The Reverend

There are two British horror movies taking in a select few cinemas before their inevitable trip to DVD bargain bins this weekend. Of the two this has the most notable cast with Rutger Hauer showing up to remind us he'll do anything for money in this Vampiric updating of Job. The production values like quite good too.

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Truth or Dare

But The Reverend looks like Shakespeare compared to this tosh about five friends going to a party only to find it's been set up by a psychopath interested in finding out what happened to his brother and torturing a few screamy teens on the way. Yawn.

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Friday, 3 August 2012

Magic Mike

2012. Dir: Steven Soderbergh. Starring: Channing Tatum, Alex Pettyfer, Olivia Munn, Cody Horn and Matthew McConaughey. ●●●●○

I've been terribly lazy over recent weeks. That's not quite true, after a long period of unemployment I managed to find work, whilst at the some time performing in a fringe show so I haven't really had the time to write up reviews. That's a shame as I've seen two films that definitely deserve talking about. First up is Steven Soderbergh's Magic Mike a film that should be utterly disposable and vicariously pleasurable, and yet behind the façade of male stripping excess there's a curious and vital film about Western attitudes to money and the relentless pursuit of it.

Channing Tatum stars as a thinly veiled version of himself - as the press notes were proud to exhort Tatum spent 8 months as a stripper before hitting it big in acting - the eponymous Mike, the star attraction at Matthew McConaughey's revue show. Not only is Tatum a dedicated performer, out in the town prior to his gigs drumming up interest with the hen parties and birthday girls, but he also has a interesting work ethic, taking day jobs as a roofer and making custom furniture (his major ambition). Whilst roofing he bumps into a confused kid, Alex Pettyfer, desperate for cash but without Tatum's obvious ambition. Mike see's something in his demeanour and takes him along to the club and before you know it "The Kid" is making his stage debut, awkward, ungainly and with all the presence of a brick he still manages to produce the screaming from the excited crowd that forces McConaughey's Dallas to let him into the troupe.

From here the plot could only go one of two ways, "Star is Born" or "All About Eve" and without giving too much away whichever story it is Tatum's future in the stripping business does not look good. Luckily he does have The Kid's sister, bland blonde Cody Horn as the friend/love interest that might just become his saviour.

Tatum does a great job as himself, the more films I see him in the more I enjoy his lunky presence, and here he is able to mix the confidence in his ability and sexuality with a hint of fragility when dealing Horn. There's one stand out scene later in the film where Tatum is trying to explain how he feels, seemingly improvised he stutters and meanders through the dialogue and all at once the audience want to reahc out to him in a far less sexual way than previous reactions.

McConaughey steals every scene he's in, Machiavellian and mischievous his Texan drawl seductively addresses the throngs of women, as he warns the punters of the house rules, you can almost feel him dare us to break them. His silver tongued compere is a modern update of Joel Grey's Cabaret performance, complete with his own streak of ruthless intent. Pettyfer is fine in an underwritten role, his arc merely existing to push forward Tatum's. Unfortunately the cast is let down by Horn who gives one of the least expressive performances of the year.

Whilst the show scenes are surprisingly unexplicit - perhaps partly down to the nature of male revues with their aim to titillate rather than turn-on the audience - there is a pleasing structure and narrative to the dances. Tatum for instance is centre stage, his obvious ability on the podium is exploited both by Soderbergh's camera and Dallas's staging, but as you move further back through the pack of strippers, Matt Bomer, Adam Rodriguez, Joe Manganiello and Kevin Nash there's a clear depredation of choreography and talent. Whilst Tatum bodypop in the foregound it's hilarious to watch pro-wrestler Nash as the bulky Tarzan barely able to move his arms in time to camp classic "It's Raining Men".

Aside from the dance numbers it's the attitudes to money that stick in the mind, Tatum works hard and considers every choice he's making and how that will affect his future business plans, Pettyfer is more about today, blowing his earnings on a drug-happy party lifestyle and McConaughey is slyly working the margins, ensuring he always ends up on top. There's a pre-occupation with cash that drives these guys to do what they do, which gives them the feeling their masters of their own destinies rather than exploited slabs of meat that will one day find the income has dried up. There's a fascinating beach scene which sums up the dancers ambitions, nicely reflected in the third act where Tatum must finally choose his destiny.

Soderbergh brings a unique sensibility to this movie, once again proving he can balance an exploitative genre with a art-house feel and whilst this doesn't quite hit the devastating highs of his previous sex industry expose, The Girlfriend Experience, it makes a fine counterpoint and I very highly recommend the picture.