Sunday, 23 September 2012

Some body count (Out this week - 21/09/12)

At first I was going to write about the sudden dramatic change in tone between the generally upbeat lite-comedy of last weekend and the thumping visceral action heavy output of this weekend.  But then I stopped to think whether that was really true and of course it's not.  It's just the films that appeal to me have changed.  It's a quirk of the scheduling that meant last weekend we have Meryl Streep and Woody Allen and now it's Brad Pitt and Oliver Stone.  So with a zero body count from 7 days ago I'm about to head to cinemas with the sure knowledge that will be crushed.  I'm thinking over 30 corpses between the two top films.  With the Runs like a Gay film of the week Killing Them Softly

There are lies, damned lies and statistics.  So said Mark Twain in his autobiography.  So bearing that in mind I'm calling last weekend's box office prediction a success.  What?  But RLAG said it would be ParaNorman yet any idiot with a Guardian can see it's The Sweeney claiming the crown.  Yes, true, but Nick Love's gritty crime flick (you see there were some last week) only squeezes into pole if you take into account two days of previews, an advantage the zombie tackling stop-motion didn't have, take that out and Laika studios are the clear winners.  Take that Regan and Carter, hooray for the misunderstood kid.  There are two action flicks competing this weekend, both with similar screen counts, but I think the shorter running time and generally better reviews will enable Killing Them Softly to edge ahead, making it the first time in ages the film of the week is also predicted as box office champ.

Killing Them Softly

It is generally agreed that Andrew Dominik's last movie, the intense balletic Jesse James film, is a modern masterpiece.  So all eyes were on his follow up at Cannes earlier in the year.  It comes as no surprise that the adaptation of George V. Higgins' pulp 70's novel hasn't quite reached the standards of his previous film, but it seems punchy and didactic and should still be an exciting and unmissable film event.

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Read on for drug cartels out of control, a special tool for ladies, more buildings you shouldn't go into and every trailer for films released this weekend.

There's a hint of Dominik's assured work behind the camera and this could be another knock out performance from Brad Pitt.  Honestly how could you resist?


Never a film maker renowned for his subtlety it looks like Oliver Stone has temporarily dropped the champagne socialism for a balls to the wall drug cartel action flick, featuring every Hispanic actor you know and a few up and coming white stars as the heroes this does seem to promise suitable amounts of mayhem and violence.

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Prepare for everything you though you knew about the sex life of Victorians to be wrong as you enter into the strange beginnings of the vibrators.  First produced and marketed as a medical aid to calm hysterical woman this fun period drama (more like Carry on Merchant Ivory) sees the patriarchal doctors, led by Jonathan Pryce telling the women what's best for their ailments whilst Maggie Gyllenhaal's proto-feminist is keen to tell him it's only about pleasure.

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It's a Bollywood movie about Bollywood, centering around a star trying to stay at the top of her game.  I'm not sure whether casting massive star Kareena Kapoor in the leading role will help, but it's warts and all look inside the Inidan movie business is bound to gets bums on seats so we can expect this to slip into the fringes of the top ten this weekend.

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House at the end of the Street

I can't claim to have learnt that much advice for living from trips to the multiplex.  Sure I've picked up some stuff about history, but for every moral there's another film that subverts it.  Except in the case of horror where it is the perceived wisdom that if a serial killing once took place in a house then it's best to just get the fuck out of there.  I don't think Elisabeth Shue and Jennifer Lawrence are quite as cine-literate as I am.

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Yorkshire based horror which sees a bunch of delinquents from London off on a field trip with their right-on carers only to find it'a particularly grim up north when the locals fancy a bit of torture the newbies.  A friend of mine from Yorkshire pointed the trailer out to me months ago and got all flustered about the regional stereotyping.  It gets an extra blob just for that.

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Now is Good

It's Love Story meets The Bucket List as Dakota Fanning goes all Cancer won't defeat me in this young adult weepie.  I hear it hits all the marks for the teenage target audience and the solid presence of Paddy Considine and Olivia Williams will have the adults in tears too.

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Tower Block

The vagaries of production times and release dates means we get the second James Moran script in a few weeks and whilst this doesn't have the enjoyable tone of Cockneys vs Zombies there's still a notable tension in this mysterious sniper in the council estate thriller.  Nice cast of TV names too.

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It's broken box office records in it's native France and proved to be an enormous crowd pleasing success across Europe and America, so it'll be interesting to see how this dramedy about a quadriplegic millionaire Francois Cluzet and the former thug he hires to care for him Omar Sy does in the UK.  If you ask me the tone is a little difficult to pin down, with it's nauseating "we all have disabilities" theme.  Maybe I'm just too cynical.

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You are God

Polish flick with a a tiny release window.  Telling the true story of Eastern European rap outfit Paktofonika and their tragic fron man Magik.  I imagine this is a movie playing very much to it's core audience, but if you're interested in the history of rap and how it's been taken up across the globe this should be worth catching.

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How to Make Love to a Woman

If you do want to see this instructional comedy, in the vein of a marginally less bawdy American Pie, then you've already missed your chance as it hung around in a limited number of cinemas during week nights only.  Still it won't be long before it appears in a bargain bin near you.

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The Prophet

I wanted to give this odd documentary more blobs but I honestly couldn't justify it, however the almost performance reading aspects - Thandie Newton voice overs extracts from Kahil Gibran's cult guide to living - whilst Gary Tarn finds some notable and exquisitely related things to film.  This is more art than art-house and almost certainly deserves checking out if you're able to do so.

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Thursday, 20 September 2012

To Rome with Love

2012. Dir: Woody Allen. Starring: Woody Allen, Roberto Benigni, Alec Baldwin, Ellen Page and Penelope Cruz. ●●○○○

There's good and bad news to consider when reviewing Woody Allen's latest Eurocentric release. On the positive side it's not an offensively bad film there are a lot of nice moments of subtle amusement and clever tie ins to the history and genre of comedy and in that respect Allen has clearly carefully considered the outline of To Rome with Love. Unfortunately once the spark had been formulated it seems the creativity quickly stopped. Much has been written over the years about how Allen moves quickly from project to project without retrospection, so it's possible he had one eye on his next San Francisco set movie whilst in post, or maybe the pressure of plugging last years delightful Midnight in Paris was too much? Either way that simply isn't good enough, having some good ideas and tossing off some throwaway jokes for the characters won't make the finished project anything more than a pseud on celluloid.

There are a couple of significant milestones that take place in Woody's Italian holiday.  In the first instance it appears to be the last leg of his current European tour, which started with Match Point, with it's London locale in 2005, and has since visited Barcelona, Paris and now Rome, although this was broken by his New York travesty Whatever Works, an obscene piece of misogyny masquerading as free-spirited liberality.  Notably WW followed Vicky Cristina Barcelona which wowed critics and made $23m in the US box office, this allowed Woody to fund a US set film, which flopped and sent him back to his gallic backers cap in hand.  So when last years Midnight in Paris took over $56m, the highest ever box office take for one of Woody's directorial efforts, he once again returned to America.  This also marks the first time Woody has directed in a foreign language, sure there were snippets of Spanish in Barcelona, but the story focussed on American tourists and the language barrier was used to exclude our heroines from the action.  Here half of the film is in Italian, with two of the four storylines featuring no English at all.

The film opens with a traffic policeman talking to camera, introducing the variety of life he sees from the roundabout by the Coliseum in broken, effete english. There's the American student and the Italian socialist and the absurdest clash of cultures when their prospective parents meet, there's the sex farce involving newlyweds a film star and a prostitute, there's an ordinary middle class man who will wake up one morning to find his life overturned in a satire on celebrity culture and there's wordplay and insight as an architect takes a walk down memory lane.   There isn't much that connects the segments, other than mostly taking place in a public and (possibly) geographically suspect version of the eternal city.  They all belong to a heightened reality, but the closest to our normal perception would be the farce, and the timeframes are all over the place ranging from a few hours to over six months.  This lack of connecting tissue hamstrings the movie as a whole, as we jump from scene to scene between each competing plot it feels as unstructured as a ramdom chat with a traffic warden, meandering through four simultaneous jokes, weakening the punchlines of all of them.

The most interesting strand involves Alec Baldwin as a gifted artisan, wasting his talent on designing shopping malls, strolling though the back streets reminiscing about his gap year decades ago, when he stumbles on student Jesse Eisenberg there's a look of recognition and soon Baldwin is sagely offering advice to the lovestruck youth, torn between his live-in girlfriend Greta Gerwig (utterly wasted) and her seductive best pal Ellen Page.  There's a fascinating premise hidden underneath the usual Allen mannerisms and stock characterisations concerning the emotional scripts we live by and how we're the sum of our experiences, supported by sly sarcasm mixed with genuine pathos from Baldwin.  It's a shame that Eisenberg is forced to play the Allen surrogate (he even uses them in films he stars in!) and Page's actress vamp has no ultimately redeeming qualities other than her sex appeal.  Although I confess Allen might be using that to underline the unreliable narrative of memory.

On the other end of the scale, in that the concept seems cliched, is the neurotic adventures of Alessandro Tiberi and Alessandra Mastronardi.  Arriving for the first time in Rome, their Honeymoon also needs to double up as an interview for Tiberi, when he introduces his wife to the disapproving in-laws who run the family business (no, I don't believe it's an Olive Oil import company).  When Mastronardi nips out for a haircut she gets hopelessly lost in the big city and (in a nod to classic Commedia dell'arte stories) local call girl Penelope Cruz gets drafted in to impersonate her.  Hijinks ensue.  As I've said before Allen should be applauded for trying something different here, but his erudite script, even when translated, is too wordy to allow the inevitable bedhopping any momentum, in spite of how hard the cast are working.

Roberto Benigni gets his chance to shine in the segment addressing the sham of celebrity, morphing from incredulous to bitterness to craving his fifteen minutes of fame with ease, but alas the segment messages are hammer home by some needlessly profound speeches from his chauffeur.  Finally the segment involving Allen himself boasts a shrewdly bitchy turn from Judy Davis but the opera in the shower plot and cheap national stereotyping makes it the one to skip through on the DVD.

On the craft side there's nothing of note here, but at least there's nothing negative.

For the ideas alone this might have been a worthwhile entry in Woody Allen's canon but he fails to bring the script up to the necessary standard making this one for the fans only.


Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Hope Springs

2012. Dir: David Frankel. Starring: Meryl Streep, Tommy Lee Jones, Steve Carell, Jean Smart and Elisabeth Shue. ●●●○○

Hope Springs is a film about middle aged couples sleeping. Admittedly there's a lot of chat about sex, a few love-making scenes played largely for laughs, and ostensibly the plot hangs on an intensive couples counselling course for frustrated housewife Meryl Streep and her stand-offish hubby Tommy Lee Jones. Yet the most significant change appears to relate to their night-time arrangements with Jones starting the film in the spare bedroom and moving back to the master suite by the closing credits (it's not a spoiler, were you honestly expecting divorce papers?) and the action is punctuated by Jones dropping off either in front of the TV or on the sofa-bed. This is a helpful hint to the viewer. It's OK to fall asleep during this movie. Go on, close your eyes, you won't miss anything...

Note, I am not saying David Frankel's film is boring (even if at 100 minutes it slightly outstays it's welcome) just that the movie is so relaxed, so gentle it doesn't seem to care if you nod off. Indeed it's almost designed that way.

Something is clearly wrong in Kay and Arnold's 31 year marriage.  Meryl, as Kay, is ruffling her hair and adjusting her nightgown to entice Jones to an evening of sexual indulgence.  Alas he's not in the mood - he even has a headache if you can believe it - so Meryl must return frustrated and flustered to her boudoir.  The morning after, with it's lack of eye-contact and air of officious routine highlights the steady decline in their relationship, and seems to be the norm, unrelated to the previous night's snub.  Spontaneity, romance, even those tiny signals of affection have all deserted Tommy Lee Jones in his twilight years.

Realising it's up to her to break the monotony, Meryl books the couple couple into an intensive course of relationship counselling (focusing on sex) under the watchful gaze of subdued Steve Carell.  Over the course of therapy our wedded pair must remind each other of why they originally fell in love, away from the hustle and bustle of their schedules in the Maine town of Great Hope Springs.  In order to reignite that spark Jones will have to face up to his bullying attitude and inability to address his own insecurities and fear of intimacy, whilst Streep will allow her confidence to blossom, opening up avenues in her sexuality.

Except that's not quite what happens.  Like most therapy related movies the denouement is rushed to make the point - the problems in this marriage couldn't be fixed in five days, surely?  So when they do have sex again it's not the fumble on the cinema back row, the champagne and strawberries or even the introspection and analysis that appear to be the catalyst.  Instead it's Jones' fear of loneliness and the overbearing Annie Lennox singing "Why" on the soundtrack which is then dressed up as the answer to all their problems.  Of course Jones still can't admit to his hangups and Streep has developed a shrewish streak, but in the world of Hope Springs they're finally shagging giving us the happy ending we want.

Streep and Jones make an interesting coupling.  They're at their best when the two of them are alone, relying on their physicality more than the dialogue, able to reveal intense and significant shared histories through a glance, the smallest of gestures or the briefest of touches.  Unfortunately when they have to connect with other cast members, especially during the counselling, Jones plays the "I don't want to be there" card so convincingly I thought he meant the film and Streep is working the facial tic for two - there's one scene where I swear she was about to launch into her Shakespeare monologue she was emoting so much.  Thankfully Carell has the balance right, projecting genuine concern with just the right touch of forcefulness when required.

Frankel doesn't make his presence behind the camera known but there are some nice touches vis a vis the staging, with a story being told purely in the positions the lead couple take up at the counselling sessions.  It's a shames the mood is occasionally jarred by the over-insistent soundtrack, painfully on-the-nose it appears to have been selected with i-pod shuffle on a fifty something's easy listening playlist.

Overall, in spite of all my misgivings, I did enjoy this movie.  There are times in every relationship where you aren't getting the sex (either frequency or variation) you want so the central conceit resonates.  However the film is neither a knock out sex farce nor the tragedy of a disillusioned marriage that it could be and going either way on that may have improved the overall experience. I would wait until it's showing on TV, and sit in front of it digesting a hearty meal.  You might take 40 winks in the middle but the film doesn't seem to mind and the effect of being woken up by Streep talking about oral sex can't be underestimated.


Saturday, 15 September 2012

Worse than your parents (Out this week - 14/09/12)

I am now 35 years old, half my life has passed since I lost my cherry, and I rather hope I will still be able (and willing) to enjoy a casual 69 when I've doubled that number again, however there is strange disconnect between ourselves and our elders. When my Mother was my age I walked in on her and my Step-Father indulging in carnal activities in front of the fireplace. I was shocked, partly because they'd thrown the dog off his normal stretching place into the cold hallway whilst at it, and appalled that they did that sort of thing. I have passed that strange semi-Oedipal jealousy, in fact I'm rather glad sex is still a part of their life. That said finding out that Meryl Streep still wants to get it on may just turn me into a prude again. All of which is a roundabout way of saying the Runs Like a Gay film of the week is Hope Springs

I rather overestimated the draw of Tom Hardy last week, possibly because I spend most of my time in the company of other gay actors and we obsessively fawn over the brawny talent and lose touch with reality. Not that his bee-stung lips didn't entice some viewers into the multiplexes for Lawless (even as Summer drew it's last breath) however more were interested in seeing Judge Dredd done properly. Interestingly enough Dredd is the first 18 rated movie to get to the top of the UK charts since Saw 3D in October 2010. This weekend could see a real slug fest between the major contenders with Streep pulling in the older crowd and Ray Winstone appealing to action fans however I'm guessing that the four weeks since Brave came out means kids are anxious for a new animation and ParaNorman could sneak it's way to the top of the charts.

Hope Springs

I'm not as much of a Streepaholic as many film bloggers out there but it's hard to deny the consistent quality of her performances, even when playing the less dramatic roles. So if this romcom about revitalising a lifelong marriage to Tommy Lee Jones seems like fluff, I am sure it will have a sweet, satisfying centre.

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Read on for Italian farce from a American auteur, ghosts goings on, a race through the streets of New York and every trailer for films released this weekend.

It's a likeable unstretching trailer that tells it like it is - it's about 60 something's having sex and that's OK.

To Rome With Love

It's difficult to know what you're getting into these days when you see a Woody Allen movie. Last year we had the enjoyable romp Midnight in Paris which almost cleared away the bad memories of the appalling Whatever Works. Hopefully this latest stop on his European tour, which sounds like a series of short stories cobbled together, will be pleasing and diverting, that's all I ask.

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About Elly

After the phenomenal success of Asghar Farhadi's Oscar winning A Separation it's no surprise his recent back catalogue is also making it to British cinemas. Still set among the Iranian middle classes this film explores cultural attitudes to women after a single teacher, Elly of the title, goes missing on a trip to the seaside.

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Laika entertainment have proven that stop motion animation and scaring kids is a perfect blend before with Coraline and the button eyed other mother. Whilst this anarchic pastiche may not be as startling original look out for more than a few chuckles from the trailer alone, a knock cast that includes Kodi Smit-McPhee, Anna Kendrick and Casey Affleck, and what might be a key moment in equality.

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Premium Rush

For a while this looked like the most disappointing wide release of 2012, box office wise, (that is until The Words bombed out this weekend) which is a big surprise as there's some style to this courier thriller and Joseph Gordon-Levitt is a rising star having a fantastic year with Batman and the forthcoming Looper. Maybe you just can't sexy up pushbikes no matter how hard you try. Michael Shannon co-stars.

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Snows of Kilamanjaro

Inspired by a Victor Hugo poem this French drama exposes the lengths of vengeance and obsession that we might all sometimes find ourselves at the mercy of, when an ageing couple are robbed by an acquaintance they get the taste of revenge and push for more and more punishment for their assailant.

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Unconventional 1970's love triangle that nobly posit's that Love is blind and what you might perceive as challenges are irrelevant if you love the person deep down. Of course Ranbir Kapoor may be hearing and speech impaired but he's quite a charmer in this trailer so I can't argue with the theme.

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Guy Maddin's latest cinematic outing is certainly not for the faint hearted as Jason Patric, Isabella Rosselini and Udo Keir compete in an overacting competition of scene stealing in this expressionistic noir. Expect long shadows and unexplained dreams.

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Run Baby Run

It's true Inidan movies tend to come in three's these days. You get the Hindi film that will be a hit, see above, the Tamil film that doesn't bother to try, see below, and the Malayalam movie that apes Western cinematic tropes. Like this news room set thriller, which looks like a pilot for a new NBC serial.

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The Sweeney

Oddly the Orange advert which featured Ray "Regan" Winstone and Ben "Carter" Drew was far more satisfying than this over dubbed trailer which highlights all the problems of trying to bring back a half-forgotten TV franchise with 21st century levels of drugs and salacious violence.

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When the Lights Went Out

British horror that, allegedly, is based on writer/director Pat Holden's cousins and the Poltergeist that freaked them out in mid 1970's Yorkshire. Although in interviews he had candidly admitted the family were more stoical and the ghosts intent more mischievous than malevolent but where's the drama in that?

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The trailer's not selling it I'm afraid, and that coupled with no IMDb page and no plot synopsis really halts any building enthusiasm for this Tamil action comedy starring Sasikumar.

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British gangster pic that opened on Monday in a select handful of cinemas. Whether it intends to make any interesting comment on the growth of street gangs and turf wars in London remains to be seen, but it is nice to see a British film with Asian characters front and centre.

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Thursday, 13 September 2012

Wild and Windy weather (Film News - August 2012)

Whilst most bloggers have been focused on the late summer film festivals (Venice, Telluride and Toronto) eager to identify some late entry awards bait or future cult viewing I have been playing the long game. Yes, we're back again for a monthly look at the latest cinematic treats slipping into production and you never know some of these projects could end up being Oscar players in 2014. I don't necessary expect them all to be future winners, or even good, or even get made at all, but that's all part of the fun of reading IMDb and here's what I found this month.

Crazy for the Storm

Sean Penn is back behind the camera with Norman Ollestad's survival memoir, and if the central storyline of a young protagonist forced to struggle in extreme weather conditions before finding his way back to civilisation sounds a little similar to Into the Wild but in reverse then you're not too far off.

Where Emile Hirsch's Christopher McCandless deliberately put himself in extreme situations to test his resilience and paid the ultimate sacrifice, Ollestad was orphaned in a horrific plane crash on the side of a mountain and had to forge his way out of danger, aged just 11. The book cover, below, and it's simple inscription, explains it all.

We know Penn has an incredibly feel for capturing the beauty and danger of the natural world and, with Josh Brolin signing up to play Norman's FBI father, expect this to be a well acted mood-piece that highlights man's fragility and place in the natural order.

Read on for criminals in wheelchairs, dreams of Fellini, patricide, the secrets of the universe and a potential manic pixie girl. Go on, read on, what are you waiting or?

Bandits manchots

There was a time when Jean-Paul Belmondo was the face of French cinema, his weathered features and mysterious style saw in cast in iconic roles for Godard, Truffaut and Lautner. It's was a shock to many when the once virile star suffered a debilitating stroke in 2010, however even without the use of one arm and one leg Jean-Paul is determined to keep on working, taking the lead role in the French farce about geriatric fugitives. Oddly this film is also planned as the first of a trilogy linked by a single sequence in the middle.

Elsa & Fred

Shirley Maclaine may be lording it up over at "Downton Abbey" at the moment, but it's a casual fling not a permanent residency as she's already planning her next cinematic outing. The remake of Marcos Carnevale's Argentinian hit, also called Elsa & Fred (see poster, right), will see Maclaine as a lonely dreamer, obsessed with Fellini's 'La Dolce Vita' and her widower neighbour who's life she turns around. As The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel has proven this year there's is a significant market for films focussing on older characters and this elderly romcom has plenty of potential to be a mid market hit.

In God We Trust

There are two films that don't seem to be limiting themselves to a standard narrative, and this is the one that doesn't feature Terry Gilliam. Described as a "thriller about stealing a country, manipulating money but also about the desire to kill your parents" this seems more like a therapy session than a movie. It does sound strangely enticing, although when you break it down it could just be a coup in a royal family, not that imagining Prince Harry usurping the throne wouldn't be incredible.

Zero Theorem

On to Terry who's latest project sounds as barmy as you'd expect. Penned by first time script-writer Pat Rushin and starring Christoph Waltz as a computer hacker trying to solve the mysteries of the universe whilst being watched by a bureaucratic all-knowing Government agency, Theorem seems to borrow elements from Gilliam's finest hours, including Brazil's politics and embattled hero (left) and 12 Monkeys sci-fi leanings. It's also set almost exclusively in one location - a burned out chapel - so look out for the most astounding and detailed production design.

Untitled Cameron Crowe Project that might be Deep Tiki

Finally Almost Famous director Crowe looks like he's resurrecting his 2008 project that quietly disappeared in spite of attracting Reese Witherspoon and Ben Stiller to the script. Set in Hawaii and involving a disgraced weapons expert (really?) discovering himself against a back-drop of discovering the islands culture and politics. Emma Stone has replaced Reese as the local girl the hero falls for, but no word on the male lead as yet. You never know Crowe might even mix things up and swap the genders...

Emma made her name with quirky high-school comedy with literary roots Easy A, pictured, and is building quite a fan base with her obvious leading lady appeal and smart choices.


Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Anna Karenina

2012. Dir: Joe Wright. Starring: Keira Knightley, Jude Law, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Domhnall Gleeson and Alicia Vikander. ●●●●○

We are now approximately 70% of the way through the 2012 and it is inevitable that a number of the Academy Award players have already seen the inside of cinemas. Whether it's the spectacular effects sequences of The Avengers or the surprisingly strong performances of Magic Mike there are some films that get namechecked during the awards season. But over the last few weeks we have seen the passing of the Venice and Telluride festivals whilst Toronto is in full swing so the floodgates can now open. Every movie that opens in the Auntumnal months will be judged as a possible contender and it's safe to say that Joe Wright's Anna Karenina has become the first must-see of the season, and whilst I doubt whether it can win any of the big prizes (the style and setting may put off as many voters as it pulls in) it will certainly be a major part of the conversation.

I won't spend a great deal of time describing the plot of Leo Tolstoy's 150 year old classic, venerated by literary circles and adapted to the screen on dozen's of occasions, except to reiterate Tolstoy's counterpoints two romances. The first passionate, uncontrolled, destructive between the unhappy heroine Anna (Keira Knightley) and dashing cavalry officer Count Vronsky (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), whilst the second is more sedate, slower to build by made of firm foundations involving Levin (Domhnall Gleeson) and Kitty (Alicia Vikander). These courtships are inexorably linked, both in terms of their shared histories (Kitty holds a candle for Vronsky as the novels start) and thematically.

Tom Stoppard wisely realizes the importance of Levin's story and retains it (many film versions do not, hardly surprising that a 900 page novel needs some cuts to make it to the big screen) so we shift between the two pairs of lovers, and as one affair blossoms the other appears to wither. Stoppard rattles through the early plot developments, aided by Joe Wright audacious move to film almost entirely within a theatre, using the stage, auditorium, wings and fly rails to signify different aspects of Russian society and allowing scenes to flow into each other with sets, props and extras moving in and out of the setting. It's is incredible to behold, one moment Matthew Macfadyen (having a ball as incorrigible womaniser Oblonsky) is marching through his factory of paperwork stamping drones then a flurry and long pan later we're at dinner with Levin, diligently eating the diet of the peasant classes then suddenly we're at the Shcherbatskaya's watching society function.

The staging works to reinforce the artificiality of Imperial Russian aristocracy, the lives of the elite are constantly on display to each other, every gesture and action judged by the gawping onlookers, every reaction magnified grotesquely. Wright uses a number of cinematic and theatrical tricks, including choreography, perspective and Dario Marianelli's sumptuous score to guide the audience's emotional response, the ball scene where Anna and Vronsky first meet is electric, the horse race heart-stopping and Anna's final visit to the train station unexpectedly tense.

The only times we leave the theatre (apart from an ill-judged picnic scene between Anna and Vronky) is to Levin's country estate, far from the view of the baying crowd. It's a more simple world, where chickens grace his dining room not immaculate tableware and the expansive Russian countryside is gorgeously shot by Seamus McGarvey.

Keira Knightly is just the right side of virtuous for Anna, cleverly showing her all-consuming passion and her third act descent is devastating and acute. Jude Law meanwhile retains a dignity as cuckold Karenin, his actions, from the misjudged forgiveness of Anna to him banishing the mother from son seem both cold yet believable actions, it's a testament to Law's performance in that even when you disagree with his actions you understand his motivation. Gleeson and Vikander also make a cute pair, and I look forward to seeing them over the next few years as their careers develop.

It's a shame the production loses steam once Anna leaves Karenin, as the story slows down and Anna's jealousies and suspicions tangle with societies rejection of her lifestyle there is some interesting stylistic work highlighting the production design and portentous use of mirrors, but it simply cannot compete with the innovations of the first half and somewhat sags in comparison.

That said this is a near masterpiece and the first film of the 2012 awards season that must be seen. I highly recommend it to all movie goers.


Sunday, 9 September 2012

Choosing the best medium (Out this week - 07/09/12)

I am acutely aware I am late posting, I simply got caught up with other stuff yesterday and didn't have the opportunity to look through this week's releases, which is a shame as from the outside it looks likes a vital and exciting week with fascinating costume dramas from the 20th and 19th centuries as well as a independent comic book feature and a semi-return to form from a much maligned comedian. Not that my choice of film of the week can come as a surprise to anyone, it looks utterly gorgeous, features incredible artistic choices and comes from one of the most exciting British directors working today. The RLAG film of the week is Anna Karenina.

Last weekend Total Recall did indeed smash it's way to the top with the additional 5 days of previews for The Watch proving utterly fruitless when it arrived DOA. This weekend is a bit of a dilemma. Amazingly Anna Karenina has the largest opening with 419 cinemas, and there's certinaly plenty of fanboy hype for Dredd but I think Lawless with it's rising star cast and effective and ubiquitous marketing presence will take the top spot.

Anna Karenina

Joe Wright apparently decided to film Tolstoy's epic love story(s) in a theatre for budgetary reasons however just watching the trailer and reading the reviews proves this was a profound and vital choice underlining the themes of society as show and the formality of the rules of Russian etiquette.

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That has to be one of the most gorgeously presented trailers of the year, making the film a must-see experience.


John Hillcoat directs from Nick Cave's screenplay in a return to the partnership that created the superb Aussie Western The Proposition and if this country gangster pic doesn't quite hit those dizzy heights there's no shame in that. Tom Hardy and Shia Labeouf are the stars likely to bring in the punters, ably supported by eyebrow-challenged Guy Pearce, Jessica Chastain and Gary Oldman.

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That's My Boy

OK, I accept in theory the injustice of a Adam Sandler movie getting 4 blobs, effectively meaning it could have been film of the week on at least one occasion. Furthermore the trailer in no way makes me want to see this movie. However the reviews on this side of the pond has talked about how the loser father plot is closer to the on the knuckle Sandler movies of his early career and less like the crap he's recently been making and that should be applauded. Plus Susan Sarandon and James Caan have minor roles and they're always worth watching.

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Debbe: Mir cin Vakasi

Turkish found footage horror movie with some arresting images, and suitably wide eyed acting, but lets be honest it looks like a rip of hundreds of other found footage horrors. Did anyone else think of Paranormal Activity watching this trailer?

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The ultra-violent comic book finally gets the adaptation it deserves with Karl Urban wearing on the iconic mask (and not taking it off) and Lena Headley as the "slow-mo" drug pushing big bad. It's a shame the plot device of taking out a tower block seems so similar to the martial arts classic The Raid but them's the breaks.

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Poetic looking sci-fi indie in the vein of 2001 or Solaris that probably deserves a much bigger audience than it's going to get. Gunner Wright is the astronaut isolated on Space Station Mir slowly questioning his sanity in William Eubank's debut film, marking him as a talent to watch.

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Night in the Woods

Talking about found footage horror knockoffs does this British flick, starring rising star Scoot McNairy and a couple of other disposable 20 somethings as they frolic adulterously around Dartmoor before a mysterious hunter comes after them resemble a certain Blair witch to you?

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Raaz 3: The Third Dimension

The third installement in this popular Hindi horror franchise which uses the odd connection of possessed women to link the films. It doesn't have a massive opening but it should do please the faithful.

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Portuguese movie that sits firmly within the arthouse bracket with two seemingly unconnected storylines about a devout woman in modern Lisbon and a pop band covering the Everly Brothers in 1960's Mozambique. It won the FIPRESCI prize at the 2012 Berlin Film Festival for it's imaginative and unique contribution to cinematic art.

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When Pigs have Wings

Random comedy about a struggling fisherman who's life takes a turn for the bizarre when he finds a live pig in his net. With gross-out humour played against real-world religious and political strife this looks like a fascinating project.

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Ajj de Ranjhe

Punjabi film that supposedly satirises the relationship between the police and the youth of modern cities. Still it's a pretty cast and probably involves a few nice tunes.

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St. Georges Day

I'm not sure I completely understand the marketing strategy that sees this date specific London gangster flick opening 5 months off from the feats day it's named after but given it's unimaginative plot revolves around football hooliganism, one last heist and strip joints I'm guessing they were happy to see the inside of a cinema.

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Saturday, 1 September 2012

You won't believe your ears (Out this week - 31/08/12)

I'm making it official. This is the worst weekend of the year so far, filled with dull unimaginative studio fodder and below average foreign language imports. If it wasn't for British independent cinema I'd probably write a stern letter of complaint. Perhaps even more bizarrely I'm plumping for an inverse horror movie as the top pick, anyone taking up my recommendation will have the opportunity to watch Toby Jones watch a grisly Giallo movie whilst cutting up vegetables, sounds odd but the trailer is deliciously suspenseful. The runs like a gay film of the week is Berberian Sound Studio.

Last week I massively overestimated the popularity of TV celebrity character Keith Lemmon and failed to take into account the largely absent reviews and bus-side advertising. It didn't flop like a fat man on a diving board achieving the highest gross for a newly released movie, but it did struggle to make much of an impact on the top ten, with Pixar's Brave still at the top of the charts. This weekend I suspect Total Recall will just about manage to scrape it's way to the top, but I won't be surprised if The Watch pips it to the post.

Berberian Sound Studio

Toby Jones, whose probably the most underutilised Great British actor working today, gets a moment in the sunshine (or is that moonlight) in this spooky British thriller about a stuffy foley artist creating the sound effects and ADR work on an Italian splatter fest. You don't see the film, but you do see the affect it has on poor Toby's sanity and the odd watermelon.

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Read on for forgotten moments, a classic genre mash-up and two Alien comedies as well as all the trailers for this weeks releases.

It's certainly cut like a horror movie, well worth the journey to see it.

Cockneys vs Zombies

Clearly the most bonkers film of the week is this Brit horror comedy about a group of East End caricatures and the residents of a Nursing home taking on the undead. I laughed at Richard Briers outrunning a zombie on a zimmerframe so there's certainly potential here.

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So if you watch just one inter-galactic comedy this weekend it should probably be this Hindi movie starring superstar Akshay Kumar. Set in the fictional republic of Paglapur, a village on the border of India and Pakistan that no-one wanted during the partition, facing tough economic times they invent the story of a full-scale Alien invasion to boost tourism. Only maybe it's not as fictional as they originally thought.

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Myth of the American Sleepover

David Robert Mitchell's slowburn youth picture has a good pedigree from the festival circuit, and indeed the wistful remembrance of the summers of our youth looks interesting and will no doubt stir up all of our repressed or half-imagined tales of our late teens, however will need to be more than that to really find an audience.

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[Rec]3 Genesis

I thought this parallel story to the first 2 Rec movies had already come out, but it turns out it was just previewing back in May. Anyway the zombies (?) have invaded a wedding reception and the found footage meme gets lost halfway through. Probably not as groundbreaking as the first of these Spanish creature features it'll still have a few fans.

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Total Recall

It's interesting how Philip K. Dick's "We can Remember it for your Wholesale" has, on both adapatations, perfectly encapsulated the action cinema world around it, so the 1990 Shwarzenegger version was bright, bloody and subversive, but now with Colin Farell is visually stunning, violent without consequences and scripted by committee. Still it gets a point for not casting Ethan Hawke.

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The Watch

It's earned a reputation as being one of the unluckiest movies of the year, with unfortunate connections to global news events, however that doesn't make the movie good and judging by the trailer and the appalling US take this just isn't good enough. I have a message for Richard Ayolade and Jonah Hill - you're better than this rubbish find a decent project to work with. Thank you.

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Polish true life crime thriller where the titular youth rises from a petty criminal, shoplifting trainees, to the most feared and powerful bank robbers in the Eastern bloc. Expect early 90's bling aplenty, and the occasional throwback song choice.

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Few Best Men

If you thought The Hangover was a little too reserved then this UK/Aussie collaboration starring a few British TV stars and Olivia Newton-John, and featuring a plethora of jokes about sex, drugs and stag do shenanigans might be for you. Probably not for the rest of us.

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Mr. Marumakan

Two of this weeks releases, both minor output from the subcontinent, are so low key they don't even have IMDb pages. This Malayalam entry is the first, a seriocomic fantasy about business corruption and nepotism. Not playing in many cinemas.

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The Tamil option is surprisingly under-advertised given that it appears to be a straight up superhero movie, with Batman inspired costuming (admittedly I'm talking Schumacher's version). I'll certainly keep an eye out on how this performs over the weekend.

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The Possession

It's the Jewish exorcist! The trailer is surprisingly effective in putting the chills and thrills of this demon (or dibbuk) horror front and centre, but it's still derivative and devoid of depth according to the reviews. Best not bothered with.

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Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends: Blue Mountain Mystery

It's only out today in a selection of cinemas, and at barely 70 minutes long this Thomas adventure is really just an extended TV show. It might keep the kids entertained, but the sun is out so there's probably better things to do with the last weekend before school's go back.

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And finally last weekend I missed the tiny release of

Tim and Eric Billion Dollar Movie

Well it was only on at the Prince Charles for 2 nights so you can't really blame me. It's clearly aimed at the fans of Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim's Awesome show, with it's surreal sketch comedy and celebrity cameos (hello Will Ferrell, John C. Reilly and Zach Gallifiankis) and the plot of a meglamaniac Robert Loggia funding the billion dollar enterprise seems to be just an excuse to let the duo do their shtick.

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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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