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Saturday, 29 December 2012


0 - No Redeeming Feature
1 - Poor
2 - Passable
3 - Good.  Rent it.
4 - Full Price
5 - Must See!

Well now, I trust everybody got fat, jolly, and had a good time over the Christmas holiday?  I trust you are all looking forward to a great new year; it can't be worse than 2012, surely?!  Anyhow, I write this new entry on my brand spanking new laptop, and so far it is very nice, although I must say I'm not keen on the Windows 8 start screen.  Anyone know how I can convert it so that the laptop starts up with the classic Vista or 7 feel, do feel free to let me know.  Anyhow, as you might expect, aside from visiting friends, entertaining family, giving and receiving gifts and eating and drinking a lot, some of the holiday was spent on the sofa, and once in the cinema, in front of Christmas movies.  Here is a rundown of films seen this week, which I have not yet mentioned on this blog.


Chris Pine lends a good vocal to Jack Frost, who for a long, long time, has been unseen by children and whilst having a great deal of fun, remains at a loss as to his purpose.  It is when an evil spirit named Pitch Black threatens to wipe out all hope and belief in the Guardians, North, Pitch, Sandy, Tooth and Bunny (no prizes for guessing who is who) that Jack is summoned to help fight for the wonder and joy of children's belief.

It is a perfectly good idea, visually impressive, features reasonable performances from Hugh Jackman and Alec Baldwin, along with a notably fun one from Jude Law, and I do not doubt that it will be a kids' seasonal favourite.  Personally, I would have liked a bit more development on the idea of darkness being part of growing up, rather than the focus on it as an enemy to be banished; for a children's movie it seemed the character of Pitch lacked any learning curve about his role, and that disappointed me.  That said, it is what it is and for its audience it works perfectly well; not a classic, but I had a good time with it.

Still at cinemas.

3.5 / 5

Catch it if you like:  Seasonal animated features


Yes it is a Christmas movie, and yes it is a classic.  In fact, do I need to talk about it?  John McClaine kick ass, rocking the vest look, in the best of the lot; it is the only Die Hard with pretty much zero flaws.  A fast paced riot of a movie, full of witty dialogue, great characters, and lashings of humour and excitement.  If you haven't watched it at Christmas time, shame on you!

Pick it up as part of the box set now.


Catch it if you like:  Good action films!

Upon first inspection it is perhaps easy to understand why when first released, Frank Capra's Christmas movie, inspired by a simple seasonal card, was not well received.  It is a movie that opens with a fantastical scene of a star, later revealed to be an angel, talking to a faceless God, the voice-over stilted in sweet humour, and immediately suggesting the film is going to be one that is too saccharine a pill to swallow.  The thing is, beyond that, It's A Wonderful Life is the ultimate exercise in feel-good cinema, its virtue as such much referenced in TV and other films.

The film presents George Bailey, played by James Stewart, who would go on to refer to it as his own career favourite; Bailey stifles his lifelong dreams of traveling and discovery in order to save and run his father's Building And Loan Association.  It has long been responsible for the affordable housing in his hometown Bedford Falls, and he cannot see it lost to the scoundrel of the piece Henry F. Potter, who is a major shareholder in the Building And Loan and the only man residents could otherwise turn to.  A run at the bank leaves the Building And Loan on the brink of financial ruin, George's Uncle Billy misplaces $8000, and in an act of desperation George attempts suicide, at which time he is saved by the angel Clarence.  Understandably confused, he wishes he had never been born, and so his wish is granted.

If the plot seems familiar even though you have not seen It's A Wonderful Life, it is probably because you saw the idea loosely re-worked in the Nicolas Cage film The Family Man.  For all its up to date technique, its colour, modern setting, etc, this version could not capture what made the original.  So, what did make the original? What may surprise people is how Capra clearly believed in the notion that you have to suffer the low to get the high.  The second act of the movie gets really quite dark, with Bailey seeing what the world would be like without his birth, coming to understand just how important a person is to everybody else's existence, and bringing him to a full appreciation of his worth as a husband, father and friend.  The finale is obviously that classic scene that we all know, even if we do not realise it, with his daughter's famous, "Every time a bell rings, an angel gets its wings", and despite how much you might think the whole thing sounds cheesy, silly, saccharine and sentimental, the power of the film is to bring a genuine tear of pure enjoyment to your eye regardless; for a while you are full of the joy of life and completely happy, no matter what.

A lot of the film's success comes down to how believable James Stewart makes the plight; his performance is another illustration of why he is one of my all time favourite actors.  He shows how well he can hit any emotional beat, not to mention handle rather complex moments where a lot is being unsaid.  For just one example, check out the scene in which he wanders into Mary's mother's home and takes Sam's phone call - incredible!  For any flaws you may find with it, its colourful characters, its tremendous performances, humour, heartbreaking moments, perfectly pitched highs and lows, and its' unabashed final sequence make this an inexplicably perfect film.  No wonder it remains at the top spot of many people's favourite Christmas films, and so it should!  Oh, and see it in the original black and white, not the new, fancy colour, which is clever, but ugly.

Pick it up in stores or online.


Catch it if you like:  Good seasonal movies, as it may well be the best of the lot.

Okay, let's get this straight, at any other time of year the cynical critic in me would poo-poo this movie, to a certain degree, at least.  It is all over the place and even by Curtis' standards, it is no masterpiece.  Yet, at Christmas, it is perfect.  Every thread, every performance, from the completely stupid to the utterly believable and heartbreaking, balance out to make a strangely enjoyable film.  A mishmash of true to life love stories and utterly laugh out loud moments, strung together by coincidence and people who are minor characters in others' lives, this always leaves me feeling warm inside.

Buy it anywhere.


Catch if if you like:  To feel good.


Robert Zemickis works with Tom Hanks again to bring the wonder of Christmas home.  The story of a young boy doubting the existence of Santa does not preach or treat the subject in any sort of patronizing way one might expect.  Instead what we get is a visually stunning Christmas film about the wonder and joy of the idea of Santa, while it lasts, and the magic of the time of year.  On repeat viewing, I did find myself realizing just how much like a dream the films plays out, and how it may have been improved with a bit more narrative meat, but when you're sat in on a cold Christmas eve, drinking hot chocolate, there is nothing you'd rather be watching.

Buy it anywhere.


Catch it if you like:  Seasonal movies.

Saturday, 22 December 2012


0 - No Redeeming Feature
1 - Poor
2 - Passable
3 - Good.  Rent it.
4 - Full Price
5 - Must See!


 Pi Patel, played for the most part by Suraj Sharma with a confidence defying his absolute inexperience in front of the camera, and surely qualifying him for a Best Actor nod at the Oscars, is thrust into an adventure of survival at sea. The ship carrying his family and their zoo hits bad waters, inexplicably sinks, and from there he must learn how to share the confined space of a lifeboat with his only companion, the tiger Richard Parker.

Like 'Cast Away', due to its idea a great deal of the film is without speech, save for Pi's one way conversations with the animal and the occasional narration by adult Pi, played by a spectacular Irrfan Khan, who is telling his tale to an author, one who is after a great story that will "make you believe in God". Also much like another of this year's spectaculars, 'The Hobbit', the front end of the movie is loaded with a lot of setup, which those who only saw the trailer may find surprisingly hefty. Unlike 'The Hobbit', however, this front end engages you fast and it is not long before you are enjoying the development of Pi as a character, the amusing finding of his faith, his love, and his place in the family. Some genuinely hearty and smart humour can be found in this first act, also. The brilliance is that whilst it is not in any rush to get where we all know it is headed, at no point is there any wish for Lee to push it along faster; there is some understanding intrinsic to the direction that this is all important and not to be overlooked, which even those who have not read the hugely popular book pick up on. To add to this, it must be said that the length and pacing of this movie are outstanding; you would not want any more or less time spent basking in the warmth of the love and care that clearly went into putting every single gorgeous frame on the screen.
The second act is where we really see the film kick into gear and start rolling out what is stunning audiences and critics alike. From the greatest CGI animal I think I have seen on the silver screen, to the overwhelmingly beautiful photography, effects, and perhaps not the first, but certainly the best use of 3D technology to enhance the engagement with a story, 'Life Of Pi' sweeps the floor visually with anything previously held up as a bar setter.  Nothing against those previous movies, but it really does.

 All of this is obviously nothing without everything else being in place, and thankfully Ang Lee knows that the heart of his film is not how pretty it is, but the story by Yann Martel and the themes with which it deals. So what is 'Life Of Pi' about? The wonderful thing about this piece is that this answer could be different for you than it was for me. It is about a boy surviving at sea with a tiger. It is about the nature of life, death and loss. It is about the balance of fear and respect. It is about love and hope. It is about humanity and compassion. It is about religion and faith, faith not just in a higher power, but in anything in the world. It is about all of these things at once, but what I most took away from this film is how it is about the nature of nature itself. Yes, it sounds heavy and preachy, doesn't it? The truth is Lee gets the balance absolutely spot on; you take from the movie what you want and at no point does it preach at you about anything. It does not matter how you walk in, an atheist, a Hindu, a Christian, but if you are a human being with anything close to an open heart and mind, you might just walk out feeling like a better person!  Released for the festive season, it is an oddly uplifting film that entertains on one hand, and on the other is positively philosophical about our place in nature, our treatment of her, and of one another. Not often would I say that a film might just change your life, but as the film reached its finale, with both Sharma and Khan absolutely owning their respective final scenes, I realised I had been inescapably moved to tears more than once, had consciously assessed how I think about certain things, and that yes, this film just might change you for the better.  Is the preceding challenge to make a character believe in God achieved? That would be telling, but more importantly, it does not matter; in a rather smart bit of writing and beautiful execution of a twist in the tale, the film underlines that this is not really the point, and indeed never should be.

Ang Lee is a man who directs with a heart full of compassion, and a head full to its brim with an understanding of cinema's sheer power to entertain, engage and challenge, sometimes all at once. A look at his previous work is evidence enough of this; sure, not everything is a hit, but never could his passion for cinema, bravery and humanity, be more on show than with 'Life Of Pi'.  He has done what was said to be impossible, taken a book that should never have translated to cinema, and not only made a successful film, but made the all-round best spectacular to hit the big screen since Nolan's 'Inception'!  A loss at the Oscars for its visuals and adaption for screen, at the very least, would be a sin!  Regardless of one's reaction to the movie, Ang Lee may well have created his masterpiece. 

At cinemas now!


Catch if you lke:  Cast Away, The Fountain

Monday, 17 December 2012

THIS WEEK: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey/Babycall

0 - No Redeeming Feature
1 - Poor
2 - Passable
3 - Good.  Rent it.
4 - Full Price
5 - Must See!


I admire Peter Jackson, coming from the world of low-budget horror, his desire to take on the epic Lord Of The Rings, and ability to deliver what he did, is hugely impressive. His love for the source material was very clear, and despite anything about that trilogy with which I may have my reservations, it was a near masterpiece. Now here we are, about a decade on, with Martin Freeman taking on the role of Bilbo Baggins, in what we could consider a prequel, though they were never written that way; truth be told, in the long-run it won't matter which way round the movies were made, this is a separate story and, importantly, a different tone.

There are many good things about this film, much to be admired, but Jackson's adoration for the source is still well on show, and unfortunately this means he wants to cram a lot of superfluous material in to what should have been a straightforward adaption of a children's book. Whether you be a die hard fan who remains excited about Jackson's decision to include all sorts of other Tolkein material that isn't strictly 'The Hobbit', or a casual viewer who does not know the first thing about Tolkein's tale, one thing is unarguable, this film is far too long. With an extremely baggy introduction at bag end, and an awful lot of exposition, it is a good forty minutes or so before we hit any sort of movement in the narrative; this would not have mattered so much if a lot of the introductory material didn't end up feeling quite so inconsequential. Then there is the struggle to balance the lightness of 'The Hobbit' with the tone set by 'Lord of the Rings'; on one hand the film displays a sort of whimsy, on another it wants to be dark and epic, the prior feeling at times strangely awkward when punctuating the latter.  As prime examples of how misjudged we're talking, take a look at the scene with the trolls, and any elements involving Radagast the Brown.  For this critic at least, it means you never quite feel completely comfortable and 'in gear' with the movie; I think it speaks volumes that the film is at its obvious best when it is most like the previous trilogy, the Riddles in the Dark scene with Gollum clearly standing out as a highlight.
Then we have the choice to shoot at double the normal film speed; with many theatres still catching up with this technology, the likelihood is this won't bother most who see it projected at normal speed, but why bother shooting this way? It is observed now that it tends to make things feel too real, and remove the magic of cinema from the piece, something I would have expected Jackson to recognise quite early on and avoid. There is no reason to see this any way other than 2D at normal speed.

Do not get me wrong, An Unexpected Journey is an enjoyable film for many reasons, not least of which are the performances of Martin Freeman, Andy Serkis as Gollum, looking and sounding even more incredible, and Sir Ian McKellen, who can make even the most dull moment seem like more; the score is typically gorgeous and Jackson's love and respect for the material is very clear on screen.  It is fair to say, however, that based on the evidence of this movie alone, perhaps a bit more discipline and the creation of one 210 minute film may have been more wise; this is a movie that should have been incredible, but is overly bloated and feels, at times, burdened by a little too much indulgence, and so ends up being just very good.

See it at the cinema now.

3.5 / 5

Catch it if you like:  The Lord of the Rings, Willow


This film has been on hold for a while, it would seem; since this was made Noomi Rapace has become a name to follow, so Babycall is well worth checking out for the sake of curiosity, if nothing else.  Sadly, a great central performance by Rapace, as a mother moved with her son into a new area to protect them from the threat of her ex partner, along with the film's good intentions, is not quite enough to save it.  Pal Sletaune creates great atmosphere and sense of place, drama and tension, builds it nicely and reminds me very much of classic Polanski, but when he starts to play his hand and get clever, he unfortunately ties himself up in knots and leaves you wondering what went wrong with the last act. I'm a big fan of Noomi Rapace; I don't doubt her for a second, and it must be said there is a lot of promise here, but sadly, by the end, it is little more than a good but failed effort.

Catch it on DVD now


Sunday, 9 December 2012

THIS WEEK: End Of Watch / Seven Psychopaths / Martha Marcy May Marlene / Rampart

0 - No Redeeming Feature
1 - Poor
2 - Passable
3 - Good.  Rent it.
4 - Full Price
5 - Must See!


Brian Taylor and Mike Zavala, played by Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena respectively, are two police officers who patrol their beat in a dangerous area of Los Angeles.  Written and directed by David Ayer, who penned the superior Training Day, this film straddles a line between down to earth drama about the lives of these cops, and Hollywood cop thriller; the hybrid a degree.

So why to a degree?  Whilst having a good ear for very natural dialogue, clearly trying to illustrate the cops' life in an honest way, looking at them from both sides of their badge, there are a few burdens on the movie.  The now commonly observed, and most disruptive issue, is the choice to adopt the found footage approach.  He explains Brian's use of camera in a way that feels a bit contrived, but is acceptable; he then proceeds to not only have other characters filming their actions and discussions on their phones, with no explanation, but also to let us view events from a non-existent POV.  It could be argued his intention was to put us right in the action, having introduced us to the visual approach, and trust that we will go with it without question.  A lot of people have mentioned this did not work for them and I was one of them.  I would have been more impressed with a hybrid of visual style; Brian's on the job camera covering their actions, always seeing things from his POV, could have easily run counter to a more stylised shooting format for the overarching narrative.  Whilst this may have felt a little strange, it would have at least been consistent, but as it is Ayer seems intent on breaking his own rules of engagement, which speaks perhaps of his inexperience behind the camera.  With the whole movie feeling, at times, like an episoe of COPS, the visual style was a distraction I could never completely get my mind off.

The film is also a bit baggy, with parts that feel shabbily cut in and overlong to pad out the running time; I must confess there was a run of the film where I was not completely engaged, and was consciously waiting for the next scene that would pick it back up.  This is a shame, as the other characters surrounding these guys could have added something very fresh to the film, as counterpoint to their duty as cops, but there is never really any fleshing out of these elements; much of what we know about any backstory is delivered in short hand through conversations between the two leads.  Towards what turned out to be the end of the movie, I did get excited and shifted in my seat, as it looked for a moment like Ayer had a secret surprise up his sleeve which was about to raise the film to a whole new level, but then it turned out to be a quirk that felt unnecessary.

This said, I did admire the film's desire to present cops as real human beings with real lives, as nicely illustrated by Gyllenhaal's opening speech, and I thought the chemistry between the guys was very good; their dialogue is amusing, their performances strong, and the film is not without a lot of gripping moments.  It is also clearly well researched.  I enjoyed it overall, but more as a performance piece with good intentions and exciting punctuations; as a piece of cinema I think it is flawed and certainly not the best cop movie ever made, as it has been hailed elsewhere.

At cinema now


Catch it if you like:  Brooklyn's Finest, The French Connection, Training Day


Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson, Colin Farrell, and Christopher Walken as a principal cast.  Add to that cameos by Michael Pitt, Harry Dean Stanton (who I thought was dead!) and Tom Waitts (the first two of which really are cameos - almost a Why did you bother paying named actors to do this? situation), playwright responsible for In Bruges, Martin McDonagh, as writer and director, and we are surely on to a winner, right?

I am happy to say yes, but not in the way you might think.  This madcap tale of a flailing writer with alcohol problems, getting himself tangled up with a bunch of psychos and doggy kidnap, is about as nutty as its title and synopsis would have you think.  The film is actually quite flawed.  After In Bruges it is clearly a step down, a product of a writer flailing in a similar way to the film's leading character; it is sloppy, baggy, anarchic film making, it is all over the place with its tone, ill-disciplined, obviously self-referential, and so off-beat as to sometimes miss the beats entirely.  In other words it's a bit like punk, and like the best punk, it is all of those elements that work in its favour; it has a charm and energy that would not be there if it was handled better...ironically.  It is also smart, which I didn't expect.  The performances are top-notch from top to bottom, with each actor providing exactly what you expect (and some of what you don't), a chemsitry that makes them completely watchable, and the stylish violence and snappy dialogue are fashioned in a way of which Tarantino would be proud.

Not an awards contender, and a movie that will likely be overshadowed by future work, but it is the fact he knows it and treats the material exactly as it needs to be treated that makes it work.

At cinema now

3.5 / 5

Catch it if you like:  Coen Brothers when they are funny, In Bruges, Jackie Brown


Sean Durkin directs a cast, some of whom will be familiar to many film buffs, which includes Elizabeth Olsen as the titular character in this low-budget bebut.  Martha returns to the closest thing we could call home with her sister and now brother-in-law, after relieving herself of the company of an abusive cult.  After years with them, however, she is haunted by dreams and visions, and finds herself struggling to adapt to normality.

Once the film reaches a certain point, it does not take much looking to find the most obvious influence in recent history for such a story, and credit goes to the film for portraying the allure and effect of a group such as the one here lead by Patrick, played by the tremendous John Hawkes.  Credit must also go to the cinematography for capturing the blur between reality of the present and memory of the past so seductively.  The final and largest appluse obviously goes to Olsen, who is surprisingly effective and is already proving she may have a solid acting career ahead of her.  Beyond that, frustratingly, this film leaves a lot to be desired; too much to be able to recommend it, unfortunaely.  We never really get to explore the cult's motives or ideas, aside from the occasional lofty discussion about the body, identity, ways to live and life and death, nor do we ever dig into Martha's backstory and reasons for getting involved in the first place.  The interactions between Martha and her relatives also feel frustrating due to their increasingly unrealistic lack of understanding or empathy; at no point do we ever believe they truly care or worry about what has happened to Martha over the last few years with no contact.  Finally, as much as I enjoy open endings, leaving things to the audience to think on, etc, I must say I could not believe the credits rolled when they did.  In fact, I was looking forward to what was going to happen next; the movie had just engaged me when it came to an end!

So, not a bad effort, and worth a watch for the performances and some creepy elements, but on the whole Sean Durkin has a way to go before he is one to watch.

On DVD now.


Inspired by the real Rampart division and the stories of corruption that were weeded out in the late 90's, this should have been an engaging cop movie.  Woody Harrelson is as watchable as ever as the corrupt cop on charges of brutality, truly finding the real, complicated human being behind the badge.  Sadly, he cannot carry this film all the way home, and small guest appearances by Sigourney Weaver and Steve Buscemi are too brief to save it.

In short, some great acting and the occasional scene driven by some flukily good dialogue aside, this is a mess of a film; by an hour in I was waiting for the end.  Watch any other cop film and you are likely to find something better.

On DVD now.

1 / 5

Sunday, 2 December 2012


Okay, in a rather pathetic display for a film fan, I watched one movie this week that I actually want to talk about.  It is at the cinema right now, so check out my review.


I've been a Ben Affleck fan for some time now, and anyone in the know understands why. With Gone Baby Gone he surprised all who saw it, with a keen eye and a passion for serious cinema that didn't make things easy; an emotional movie full of great performances, which drove everyone to consider their position on a serious subject.  With The Town, gone was Ben Affleck the joke actor we all remember; instead we saw a bright new talent, both in front of and behind the camera. Now we have Argo, the dramatisation of the CIA's rescue of six Americans, who escaped the US Embassy during the 1979 Iranian revolution and were sheltered by the brave Candian Ambassador.

They say truth is stranger than fiction, and here it certainly appears to be the case. Most recall the big event, but the smaller story of the rescue of the six was only de-classified in 1997, and it is this almost absurd tale that Affleck is interested in, though this is not to say the bigger picture is overlooked. Indeed, one of the numerous beauties of this film is the wonderful balance between the different parts.  The political unrest is not missed while focusing on the plight of the group, and you never feel you are spending too long or too little time back in America, where the crazy plan is gradually being set in motion; you care about all at once, and the shift between the different threads has the feel of a master at work. Not only this, but in a lesser director's hands the tone shifts could have been totally misjudged and all over the place. Again, Affleck shows he understands how to balance politics, personal drama, exciting thriller and, surprisingly, even humour, with a panache that feels wrong for somebody with his short time in the director's chair; this certainly does not feel like this director's third film. To be starring in it and not dropping the ball or stealing the limelight is also testament to his humility, and desire to focus on making the best film he can.

With the help of a careful, steady screenplay that includes a smart, brief history lesson at the front of the piece, allowing you to jump into the stunning opening scene fully informed, a terrific editor, a few surprise turns including those from John Goodman and Alan Arkin (who at times threatens to steal the movie, as always), Affleck has made another intelligent picture that boasts a great eye for detail, and which asserts him as certainly one to watch. Sure you can see certain liberties being taken to appeal to the popcorn crowd, but those liberties, particularly in the final section, do not feel naughty; they feel like a great way of bringing an important story to a gripping climax.

Barring the aforementioned big names, most performances go unnoticed, with the group of Americans being given little fleshing out, but this film is all about engaging with the story of the event rather than the characters, and given that from the opening moments I was hooked on the drama, could almost feel the fear and danger of the situation, could see a realistic, well paced cranking up of tension that is so masterfully paced we might call it Hitchcockian, and that I was on the edge of my seat for the last half hour, it is fair to say that to this end, 'Argo' is another success for the man.  Still not Gone Baby Gone, but a third solid piece that puts Affleck well on the way to being a classic film maker.


Catch it if you like:  Gone Baby Gone, The Town, Rendition, The Great Escape

Sunday, 25 November 2012

THIS WEEK: The Master / Killer Joe / Cosmopolis

Well now, with the Twishite saga finally having reached its vastly overdue finale (Seriously, even splitting the final book in two?  How gullible can an audience be?), with which people are obviously obsessed since swallowing the lie it is good cinema featuring a GOOD ROLE MODEL FOR WOMEN (really?), I am hugely excited about the cinema we have coming up this season; it's almost like they have been holding the quality stuff back so as not be overshadowed by the twinkly vampire monstrosity.  A quick look through forthcoming releases, I find my unashamed film-geek side almost salivating.  But that is for later, right now I'd like to talk about three films I have already seen, and I've cheated a little. Usually I review films I've seen in the week only, but I've only seen one this week, and I realise there are a couple I saw some time back which I never talked about enough, so now that those movies are available to rent or buy, I'm going to take the opportunity to talk about them ...because this is my blog...and I can :)


So this was a recent cinema release, directed by PT Anderson, who is not the most easy film maker, which, due its controversial topic, style, and I think partly due to the aforemention Breaking Dawn, is not being shown for long in many places.  A WW2 veteran returns to America traumatized and with little direction; he finds himself, like many others, sucked into a world that is overseen and seemingly controlled by The Master.

P. T. Anderson's last film 'There Will Be Blood' was a masterpiece; this isn't quite that, but it is almost as impossible to talk about.  David Lynch once explained how the beautiful language of cinema should not be translated back into words once a film is complete, and Anderson's movies seem to illustrate his point.  Since Magnolia he has sat somewhere between Kubrick and Lynch, making films utterly without compromise and completely enthralling; I for one hope he continues to do so.  He always seems intent, like Kubrick, on finding a new language of film; his voice is very unique, and consequently not to everyone's taste.  It is funny how he and Tarantino are very good friends and mutual admirers, since as film makers, you could hardly imagine two directors with approaches more different!

The Master is far more a character study than it is a narrative, and many may find this frustrating.  A look at opportunistic power, religion, the role of belief systems, their pros and cons, and America at this point in history, it is long and heavygoing.  Nevertheless, with another strange and superb Johnny Greenwood (Radiohead) soundtrack, stunning cinematograhy, outstanding performances all round, particularly from the ever infallible P S Hoffman, Joaquin Phoenix (who looks strangely terrifying as the vulnerable veteran, whose trauma is literally made manifest in his twisted physicality) and Amy Adams (a million miles from The Muppets here), this is a must for cinema fans.  Despite its form, I would say this is certainly an Oscar contender in at least a couple of categories.  I do understand it is a difficult movie, and it may be worth familiarising yourself with Anderson first, but if you want near masterful cinema, when you do get a chance, check this out.


Catch if it you like:  David Lynch, Stanley Kubrick, Magnolia, There Will Be Blood


William Friedkin is rarely one to tread on eggshells; from the visceral power of 'The Exorcist' to the radical characterisation in 'The French Connection' to the uncompromising adaption of Tracy Letts' play 'Bug', he opposes the notion of watering anything down for an audience. In fact, by his own words, he comes from a school where confrontation and challenge were desired, adult storytelilng for people who understand art can engage, enlighten and infuriate as much as it can lightly entertain. Whether times and audiences have changed is debatable, but what certainly isn't is that Friedkin has not, for here he is with a second adaption of a Tracy Letts play, and it may be the most nasty, twisted, scuzzy release this year, one which has the power to drop jaws (literally) and draw genuine gasps and howls from the audience. A rarity. Where 'Bug' clearly dealt with post-9/11 themes of paranoia and fear, and wouldn't have been out of place in David Cronenberg's catalogue, 'Killer Joe' is a more sloppy affair, whose comment on "trailer trash American culture, morality and familial breakdown", if indeed that is at all what it is, is tougher to discern. What remains clear, however, is both Letts' desire, and Friendkin's ability, to shock and appaul an audience.

Emile Hirsch is possibly the weakest link of the cast, as the young drug dealer who ropes his dad and stepmother into a noir plot to off his estranged mother in order to collect her life insurance. Thankfully, the rest of the cast hold their scenes up and carry Hirsch nicely, with Thomas Haden Church in particular bringing a great deal of humour with him. The fact the last thing I saw him in was 'We Bought A Zoo' only makes this cast seem more surreal. The UK's own Juno Temple is perfect as the innocent, simple sister in all this, drawn against her will and in the most underhanded way, into the arrangement.

The movie is utterly owned by Matthew McConaughey, though. Fans only familiar with his rom-com King/sex symbol status are in for a nasty/exhilirating shock. His performance as Joe is incredibly powerful; it reminds us that he is actually a great actor (we all recall 'A Time To Kill'?), and that he has a level to which, even in his most heavy roles, we have not seen him go before...and here it is! The less said about where he goes with the character the better, but let's say he has created a screen presence as intense and intimidating as Dennis Hopper's Frank Booth in Lynch's 'Blue Velvet'. It reached a point fairly quickly where he didn't actually have to be doing anything, and I found myself on edge just because of his presence. If he does not receive a 'Best Actor' nomination, there will be something very wrong.

The movie has its problems, but they are not really worth mentioning. It isn't quite the maserpiece I secretly wanted him to have created, but it is a stunning-looking, extreme, startling vision, which has more moments of important, well-observed subtext than I think can be picked up on in one sitting. Due to its sexual politics and surprising moments of extremity, it caused walkouts, prompted conversations over just how nasty and depraved a film should be allowed to be, and caused young ladies to get all up in a huff over their dreamboat's decision to be part of something so vile.  Don't say you weren't warned.

Certificate 18 for a reason, this is 'Blue Velvet' meets 'Blood Simple' via 'American Psycho' with a dash of Quentin Tarantino. Slightly surreal, very tough to watch, but even harder to look away from. It will make you laugh, gasp, cringe, and leave having to talk about it. You will experience something intense, whether you like it or not, and sometimes, as William "The Exorcist" Friedkin would undoubtedly say, that is what it's all about.  

I saw this a few months back; you can rent or buy this now!


Catch it if you like:  Blue Velvet, Bug


David Cronenberg is a film maker who, for over 30 years, has refused to work anywhere other than at the edge. He is the director known for pioneering body horror, dealing with concepts that push any audience willing to take the ride to consider that which they wouldn't otherwise. Known for his ability to use visual metaphor in the way a novelist or poet might use a literary one, the closest to blockbusting success he has come would be 'The Fly'. At some point he made a transition, not necessarily a conscious effort on his part, but a clear change nevertheless. The common themes of his work remain, the ideas of psychology, identity, transformation, the horror within, etc. but recently we have seen a more subtle approach, with finesse of performance and what is being said taking precedence over purely visceral assault and visual effects. From this "new" Cronenberg we have seen unsung masterpieces ('A History Of Violence'), modest successes ('Eastern Promises'), and he has proven himself to be somebody not afraid of adapting for the screen dangerous material that most wouldn't dare touch ('Crash' and 'A Dangerous Method'). 'Cosmopolis' sees him doing the latter again, and definitely with the greatest sense of experimentation so far. The film falls in the category into which we would put David Lynch's most surreal work, one for cinema that defies description as simply good or bad, and instead invites you to an experience, one whose quality only YOU can decide.

Adapted from the Don Delillo book, which was already pointedly distant, David Cronenberg's latest offering has drawn a fair deal of negative criticism for retaining the detached approach of the novel, and for being, it would seem, deliberately cold and apparently uninterested in its audience. Cold it is, most certainly; indeed if it were any colder it could sink Titanic all over again, but quite honestly this is the only truly valid criticism of the film, and I don't even consider it a criticism so much as an observation. Its coldness is clearly intentional due to the subject matter, and much like an iceberg, what you think you've seen on first inspection turns out to be just a bit of what's actually going on. Indeed for a film set for the most part in a silent (really, completely silent!) limousine, it is one you can delve into surprisingly deeply, and find level after level of meaty ideas to chew on.

Truth of the matter is this movie was never going to receive huge commercial success, it is simply too divisive for obvious reasons:

- A tough, obtuse novel that reads like a discombobulating dream

- A director who adapts it almost directly, creating arguably his most experimental film, and if anything emphasizing all the more the metaphoric devices of the story.

- Casting a teen heartthrob from one of the biggest cinema series of all time in the lead, making it immediately eligible for the mainstream audience, a brave choice on both parts. A fair amount of people walking into this film are "seeing the new R Pattinson film" and have no idea what they are in for.  I am just thankful to see clear signs that the man himself is not impressed with his starting point; I look forward to a lot more grown up, serious work from this guy, as it is clear there is some talent there.  He has already signed up on the next Cronenberg picture alongside Viggo Mortensen, so we shall see what happens.  Let's hope he is serious about wanting to distance himself from it all.

Put this all together and you have a small, experimental film that you have to be completely prepared for, one that is purposefully aloof and probably disappointing to at least half the audience who weren't to know any better. On the other hand, you have a master of his craft making cinema from an un-cinematic source that is essentially metaphor piled upon metaphor, drawing a compelling performance from a lead who I never thought I'd like, and creating something which, despite all that has been said about its impenetrability, actually managed to pull me in to a point where I wanted to know where it was all leading.

So where does it all lead? An inevitable showdown with an acting veteran, a 20 minute scene, driven by some stunning dialogue. It is a scene I think Stanley Kubrick would have been proud to put his name to; as he once said, "It might be real, but it's not interesting." Well I think 'Cosmopolis' proves his point nicely; it may not be "real" but there is definitely something exciting happening that I didn't want to walk away from. If you are still on board by the end, it will knock your socks off and bring the film to a close in a way that makes some strange, demented sense, and even carve out some empathy, though who you feel it for may be unclear.

I completely appreciate this is a niche film, and many either won't understand it, or won't work to engage with it at all. Certainly most people going for the star are going to leave confused. If, however, you are a Cronenberg fan and you want to see him treading some genuinely new cinematic ground, or you simply have patience and an understanding that cinema does not necessarily have to make full sense to be exciting, try this out. Certainly due to be the strangest film this year, but one I can't stop replaying in my head and wanting to watch again for reasons I can't even explain. Pattinson's character Eric says, "Show me something I don't know." This echoes nicely the attitude with which you need to approach this film to even stand a chance of getting into it, but if you can you might just be surprised.  My rating reflects a general audience potential view of the film balanced with my own feelings on it...I kiss Cronenberg's ass more than most reading might, so I'm trying to be fair :)

You can rent or buy this now.

3.5 / 5

Catch it if you like:  David Cronenberg, or the idea of Robert Pattinson actually performing



Sunday, 18 November 2012


Remember when Korn were gracing the covers of Metal Hammer all the time, when Blind was the biggest song on rock radio and they were heralded as pioneers?  The truth is they were merely holding the door open for bands like Limp Bizkit, Papa Roach, Disturbed, Staind, Taproot and Linkin Park to wander through (and promptly shit all over the floor); Deftones were the band who, with debut record Adrenaline, kicked that door open in the first place!  They were the true Kings of Nu Metal, and as if to reaffirm that status, they followed it up with an album many rock fans may recall as being quite good, Around The Fur, featuring a little ditty called My Own Summer (Shove It).  Then, in 2000, something happened nobody foresaw; while many of those other bands were sinking with the nu metal ship, recycling the same old boring ideas and sounds, moaning relentlessly about how awful it is to be buggered by your father and beaten by your mother (even when they hadn’t experienced such horrors), Deftones were swimming away from the!  White Pony was their difficult third album, the one by which most artists can tend to be judged more harshly; you’re not allowed to recycle the same thing a second time, but you mustn’t disappoint your fan-base either; it is easy to see why it is a tough record to make, and why a lot of bands tend to drop off the map with it.  White Pony did indeed disappoint those who wanted more of the same, but for the rest of us it was a breath of fresh air, with a new approach, a maturity and a confidence, it was a near perfect record that quickly had them being referred to as the Radiohead of metal due to its daring freshness and new sound (as opposed to nu sound).  Still very much Deftones, but to some degree a shift in gear for a band who had matured and allowed more non-metal influences on their music to shine more obviously.
As a big fan of Deftones it was not easy for me to acknowledge my disappointment with what followed.  The lack of title for their fourth outing was indicative of its laziness, and the rather average and somewhat disjointed Saturday Night Wrist was a bit of a non-event.  Then they became one of those bands that were “hit and miss when playing live”, and I came to terms with the idea that they had dropped the ball permanently.  This feeling of loss of such a musical force was only cemented by the tragic accident that put bassist Chi Cheng into a coma.  Imagine my pleasant surprise, then, when they came back a couple of years ago with friend Sergio Vega on the low end and an impressive record in Diamond Eyes!  A little burdened by some ‘filler’, it is nevertheless a far weightier and satisfying affair than its couple of predecessors, and importantly, it was an indication that there was life in the beast yet. 

Well now we have Koi No Yokan, an 11 track mammoth record, which confirms the re-birth of the most important band in the nu metal movement as now one of the most innovative alt rock bands working today!  Twenty years on, to still expect any Adrenaline Pt 2 is ridiculous (just go and listen to that record, dude), but that said, the album is not without its nods to previous work.  Kicking off with the strident Swerve City, we are immediately smiling at the promise this might be as good as anything offered up on White Pony; the energy and groove are top-notch, and the hook is a dangerously addictive one.  It is not the last time that album seems to be referenced either;  Gauze is jagged, deceptively heavy and nicely textured in a way that brings Korea to mind, a sort of controlled chaos at points that houses some great bass work from Sergio, while Romantic Dreams is evidence that Frank Delgado is now officially a necessary member of this team, who pulls in the same direction as the rest and broadens their canvas, as first truly seen on White Pony, rather than a gimmicky fifth member just added after the fact.  All over this record his keys and samples can be heard to be doing so much more than anything DJ Lethal offers Limp Bizkit.  On Entombed, for example, a song that might not sound out of place on a new A Perfect Circle record, he adds a hypnotic layer, and on Tempest, one of the tracks they previewed prior to the album’s release and one which took a little time to grow on me, his work pulls you in and makes the track all the more compelling, complementing the song’s dark grooves and beautiful dynamics.  Another grower is Graphic Nature, which has a certain Adrenaline vibe going on, and sounds like it should have been the best song on Saturday Night Wrist, its guitar work at times bringing the likes of punk legends Fugazi to mind, and Abe really shining with some nifty, very precise hi-hat grooving.  It may take time, but this could end up being a fan favourite.

Another song they previewed, Leathers, nods its head to Around The Fur, with grooves full of swagger and huge guitars.  It is another example of the band’s desire to step away from the standard format of their peers, playing in 11/8 time.  It is not the only time they let this progressive tendency show either; Poltergeist, featuring sexy guitar effects and continuing the progression they made with Diamond Eyes, shows Chino’s penchant for a ‘hip-hop’ type of delivery in the verses, with a 7/4 time signature, completely atypical of the genre these guys are supposed to be part of.  If further evidence were needed that they do not see themselves in the same bracket as a lot of their peers anymore, look no further than Rosemary, a slow build to a slow BPM, putting on show an affection for the ‘post rock’ influence without going overboard,  it is heavy and seductive.  A huge Djent riff leads into a gentle outro that cleanses the palette ready for Goon Squad, which grows out of it expertly. 

Chino sounds like he cares more than ever about his performance on this; he is writing what seem to be his most positive and evocative lyrics, delivering gorgeous hooks with his unmistakable approach.  He is singing in that seductive way only he really can, and screaming very little, but it is exactly what is required for where they are as a band.   Any doubt that Sergio or Delgado may not fit is eradicated, Steph again shows off his ability to keep what he does simple yet hugely effective, with often molten heavy, groove-laden riffs.  Abe Cunningham is as solid and unpredictable a drummer as ever, straddling the line between punk and progressive perfectly.

Their reinvigoration may be down to working with Rush and Foo Fighters producer Nick Raskulinecz, who has helped them inject a boldness to their sound that has been lacking for some time.  Maybe it is certain members of the band cleaning up their act on a personal level and getting back to doing what they do best.  Perhaps it is the love for Chi Cheng and the hope he will return to play the music they enjoy making once again.  The latter is most apparent on uplifting album closer What Happened To You? which I am sure was written in Chi’s honour.  It may be all of the above, but one thing is for sure, Koi No Yokan is all the good things we know Deftones for rolled into one record with equal measure and perfect balance.  Dark and beautiful, textured and varied, heavy and emotional, it is their most creative work since White Pony, and unlike the last few records, it is in perfect playing order and has not one moment that you feel the urge to skip; in fact you feel almost rude for even considering skipping a song, and I struggle to pick highlights, it is that good!  This is an album you enjoy most when listening from front to back, in its entirety.  If there is any complaint, it is only that there isn't enough of it. This record is a tremendous gift if you're already a Deftones fan, and for anyone who is not, it's a perfect introduction.  There may be some who say it is their best album to date; it is a statement I would not try to argue with.


Tuesday, 30 October 2012


You and I will never have to go through this again,
We watch it all crumble to the sea.
We count the colours in your head,
Which one is he?
And some illusions break
While some cling to the lie;
Some are purged by the ache,
Then something dies.

All this time you waste crawling back in;
The hardest thing to shatter,
Willingness to give.

You and I don't need this safety net,
We’ve got our feel flat on the ground.
We count the colours in your head,
You think one is me?
The harder you try to push
The more you see the smile;
Some are cleansed through the pain,
Then something dies.

All this time you waste crawling back in;
The hardest thing to shatter,
Willingness to give.
The greed gets cold, and the teeth start to bite;
The easiest thing to smother,
My only light

I settle into you in every wrong way;
Blinkered and poisoned, clinging to the day.
Watching from a distance, see you hiding in the grey;
Under lock and key, put the selfishness away.

All this time you waste crawling back in;
The hardest thing to shatter,
Willingness to give.

But you and I will never sift through this again,
We can wait to believe.
We can count the colours in your head,
Which one is she?

And some illusions break
While some cling to the cry;
Some are purged by the pain,
Then something survives.