30 December 2011

The Mad Prophet's Top 25 Films Of 2011- #25-11

OK then, to hell with the rubbish I was chatting about yesterday. While this post will run down my 25 favourite films of the year, up until the #11 spot, don't think of these as runners up for the top 10 (which will be posted tomorrow), if you can help it. 2011 held plenty of great films, and I wouldn't stretch to 25 favourites if I didn't think so.

As I've explained in the past, this is based on movies released in the UK in 2011- I don't count The King's Speech as a 2009 film, and The Artist (unfortunately) won't be released until 2012. More than that, this isn't an outright meritocratic Best Of list- Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy was one of the year's best films, but I didn't enjoy it enough to place it in my favourites of the year.

So, with the usual caveats that this list is purely based on my own opinions, which should really go without saying anyway, let's start counting down the top 25 movies that I saw in 2011.

29 December 2011

The Mad Prophet's Bottom 10 Films of 2011

On balance, 2011 has been a good year for movies, with the average film generally being much better than in previous years. It's not to say that we've had many obviously deserving standouts for the next Oscars ceremony in February, because this is clearly the most open awards season in years. But certainly, there are many very good films, but I'll be posting those in the next few days. Today's order of business is the year's really sucky movies.

I've written up my bottom 10 list for Movie Reviews, and you can find that here, but I'll also give some more analysis and links to my original reviews, after the jump. So, with the Mayans having predicted the coming of the apocalypse within the next 12 months, I've picked out another ten films that might just make you think "You know what? If we survived that, we can survive anything."

28 December 2011

THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO- Review

Sometimes, there's a single aspect of a movie that you can imagine driving fans absolutely crazy. Although the particular aspect I want to pick out today has yet to get any significant backlash, at least as far as I've seen, it's an important one. And so, along with "surviving a nuclear explosion by climbing in a fridge", "the ebonics-speaking twin robots" and "a werewolf falling in love with a baby", we can reasonably add "Lisbeth Salander buying Happy Meals."

This is one small problem with David Fincher's adaptation of Stieg Larsson's novel, but it is part of a larger problem with this second version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. The story is, as you might suspect, the same as in the Swedish-language version, but it's now spoken in English. It's still set in Sweden, however, as a scrupulous financial journalist, Mikael Blomkvist, has his reputation ruined by a very public libel lawsuit. The publicity around this gets Blomkvist involved in the affairs of Henrik Vanger, and his powerful industrialist family, and also brings him onto the same path as a troubled, but brilliant hacker, named Lisbeth Salander.

27 December 2011

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE- GHOST PROTOCOL- Review

Ethan Hunt, as played by Tom Cruise, is effectively the closest thing that Americans have to a James Bond figure. 15 years on from his first run at the role, Mission: Impossible- Ghost Protocol takes more of a lead from the superior sequel, 2006's Mission: Impossible 3, by making the action even more ensemble-centric than before. With JJ Abrams working as a producer, and the handing of the directorial reins to animation legend Brad Bird, the series is no longer a vehicle for Cruise, but the Bond series equivalent it always had the potential to be.

We reunite with Ethan Hunt as he languishes in a Russian prison, charged with an unsanctioned hit on a group of Serbian nationals. In short order, the IMF breaks him out and assigns him a new mission, and a new team, comprising the vengeful Agent Carter and tech geek Benji Dunn. During their mission, Ethan's team then becomes the scapegoat for a terrorist attack against the Kremlin, and are concordantly disavowed by the US government. Together with Brandt, a prickly field analyst, they are all that remains of the IMF, and their mission is to clear their names and prevent a global nuclear war.

26 December 2011

The Zero Room #12- The Doctor, The Widow & The Wardrobe

After the head-sploding, universe-mashing consequences of Series 6, this year's Doctor Who Christmas special, The Doctor, The Widow & The Wardrobe sees Steven Moffat hit more of the key, with a standalone story in which the timey-wimey unravelling of major plot obstacles is, for once, a bit more manageable. On the other hand, the story feels somewhat smaller, as well as simpler.

Reviews will contain spoilers, so if you haven't seen the episode yet, toddle over to the iPlayer, or watch BBC Three at some point in the next century's worth of repeats.

23 December 2011

A VERY HAROLD & KUMAR 3D CHRISTMAS- Review

If we look at the Doctor Who Christmas specials (review of The Doctor, The Widow And The Wardrobe coming on Monday), we can see that even in modern Christmas specials, we can throw out the usual standards and measure a film purely by how festive it was, and how much we enjoyed it. The Harold & Kumar films have consistently been the place where logic and coherence goes out of the window in favour of uproarious hijinks, so you can suppose that A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas goes the same way.

While the second movie picked up minutes after the first, this third instalment actually reunites our less than dynamic duo years after the hard-working Harold has upped sticks, married Maria and generally grown up. Meanwhile, Kumar is still getting high on his couch, while mourning his failed relationship and his expulsion from medical school. Typically, their chance reunion on Christmas Eve sees Kumar accidentally burning down a prized Christmas tree belonging to Harold's father-in-law. The pair must go on one more chaotic adventure to find a replacement and save Harold's family Christmas.

18 December 2011

SHERLOCK HOLMES: A GAME OF SHADOWS- Review

One of my bugbears with Guy Ritchie's enjoyably daft rendition of Sherlock Holmes, a couple of years back, was that it constantly seeded the arrival of Professor Moriarty in the then-unconfirmed sequel, with far less subtlety than the hat-tip to the Joker at the end of Batman Begins, and much more of Blofeld's incognito appearances in the early Bond movies. Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows actually vindicates its predecessor in that regard, by being completely worth all of that foreshadowing.

At the beginning of this sequel, Sherlock Holmes is effectively working solo, as his het life-partner Dr. John Watson is betrothed to the lovely Mary, and his on-off paramour Irene Adler continues her affiliation with a dastardly criminal mastermind. Of course, the criminal in question is Professor James Moriarty, an academic who is connected to a number of peculiar industrial accidents. When he and Holmes lock horns, Watson is snatched away from his irked bride and whisked off on an adventure, as the two quarreling detectives try to prevent the eruption of a world war.

16 December 2011

NEW YEAR'S EVE- Review

Clocking in at seven minutes shorter than last year's abominable ensemble romcom Valentine's Day, New Year's Eve also proved to be considerably less damaging to my brain, senses and face than its thematic predecessor. Director Garry Marshall rounds up every star he knows for another round of une film de Happy Madison, where everybody's having fun, and more importantly, everybody's getting paid. Except for the audience, of course.

Moving away from the previous film's compulsive February 14th ramblings, this one takes place, as you might expect, on December 31st. In New York City, all eyes are on the ball in Times Square, awaiting a magical midnight moment that may never come, if a mechanical fault cannot be corrected before the clock strikes twelve. But inside and around this story, famous faces all over the city are rushing around and trying to make sure that they end 2011 on a high, including record company secretary Ingrid, who hires bicycle courier Paul to help her complete her New Year's resolutions from the year gone by, before time runs out.

12 December 2011

PUSS IN BOOTS- Review

Would I be incorrect to credit the buzz of anticipation around Puss In Boots to the fact that it appears to be a film arriving seven years too late? 2004's Shrek 2, a film which looks better in retrospect for not having sunk as low as the sequels that followed, reinvented the character as a feline contract killer in the vein of Zorro, accordingly voiced by Antonio Banderas, and Puss was one of the comic highlights of the film. A spin-off film released shortly after would have been both timely and welcome, but as it turns out, it's predated by Shrek the Third and Shrek Forever After.

Furthermore, it's not only a spin-off, but a prequel, that most precarious of cinematic endeavours. In the case of X-Men Origins: Wolverine, the origin story superfluously expanded upon the salient points made in X-Men 2. As no such backstory can be picked up from the Shrek films, Puss In Boots finds our hero as a wanted cat, travelling the land, and trying to clear his name in connection with a terrible crime against his home village. The egg who framed him, Humpty Dumpty, comes to him with a sultry feline associate, Kitty Softpaws, and a daring heist plan to raid the legendary giant's castle, via beanstalk, naturally.

9 December 2011

When Worlds Collide! ANOTHER EARTH and MELANCHOLIA

Today sees the release of a thoughtful little sci-fi drama called Another Earth, a film that came out of this year's Sundance with a justifiable buzz about it. It was duly snapped up by Fox Searchlight, and its release gives me the opportunity to recap a film I missed out on when it was originally released, but one which has generated quite enough of a response even before my delayed review.

For Melancholia is also a drama that hangs on a sci-fi twist, with a certain amount of indie cred and festival buzz. However, it happens to have been directed by Lars von Trier, which may lead you to expect that the film isn't as interesting as the media furore that surrounded it. And you'd probably be half right. It's not front-loading my reviews, to say that I much preferred Another Earth, but it remains that both are dramas with an existential slant, which each happen to involve the appearance of a fucking great planet in the sky.

7 December 2011

THE THING- Review

One of the first reviews I remember doing for this blog, a couple of years ago, was Tony Scott's remake, The Taking of Pelham 123. Even aside from how it completely misses the point of the original film, and John Travolta's especially revolting performance, it's a pretty competently made film, which left some readers puzzled as to why I hated it so much. And their confusion is probably down to the fact that I don't know many other people who count the classic 1974 version amongst their favourite films.

So colour me unsympathetic, now that we're faced with The Thing, ostensibly a 21st century remake of John Carpenter's The Thing, which was itself a remake of 1951's The Thing From Another World. As becomes apparent throughout the 2011 version, however, it's actually in continuity with Carpenter's film, which prominently features a Antarctic base in the aftermath of an attack by the shape-shifting bastard of the title. So, the film opens with the discovery of a spacecraft, frozen underground, and palaeontology graduate Kate Lloyd is shipped out to Antarctica with a bunch of Norwegians, to investigate the discovery.

5 December 2011

HUGO- Review

The thing about Hugo is that it's one of those films that pivots on a great twist, midway through the film, which makes it difficult to review without giving away spoilers. I shan't give it away myself, but if you haven't yet seen Martin Scorsese's first film for children, a heartfelt ode to silent cinema that also happens to have the best use of Real-D 3D ever... then I'd say give it a chance without reading the rest of this review first. Go see it, and then come back. I'll wait.

So, from the director of Taxi Driver, Goodfellas and The Departed, comes this U-certificate family movie, based on a popular children's novel by Brian Selznick. Hugo Cabret is an intelligent and technically-minded boy, who is orphaned after his father dies in a tragic museum-related accident. His drunken uncle, Claude, decides to skive off his job, winding the clocks in a Paris railway station, and put Hugo to work in his place. Hugo moves into the station, living in a hidden apartment and scavenging parts to try and repair his father's legacy- an old-timey automaton that they were restoring together.

2 December 2011

BlogalongaBond- FOR YOUR EYES ONLY Review

Wrap up warm, Grandpa Bond...
You can say what you like about Moonraker... and that, incidentally, is why I chose to say that it was insane, egregious, intergalactic bullshit. But while you can say what you like about Moonraker, at least it was committed in its laser-fighting, space-faring, pigeon-surprising shite. If the series had crashed and burned on its sequel's return from the outer space lunacy, that would have been far more interesting than the gentle thud made by For Your Eyes Only.

The problem, as I see it, is entirely to do with the fact that it's another reboot. All of the elements that remind you of a James Bond film are here, and it's a palate cleanser, after the previous instalment. However, an attempt to recast Bond didn't pan out, and so Roger Moore ambles on through another plot where some bastard or other twocks something from the Royal Navy, in this case, their submarine communication system, ATAC. Upon investigating the theft, Bond encounters Melina Havelock, blazing a trail of vengeance across Europe, after her parents were murdered in a fly-by shooting.

30 November 2011

50/50- Review

I've been doing enough comparisons of new movies to slightly less new movies in recent weeks, that I hope that such comparisons are lending context to a review. Why rely on my opinion? Isn't it better to tell you what it's kind of like, thus help you decide if you're going to enjoy it, without resorting to the almost always misjudged "See this if you liked..." pieces that populate cinema listings?

Where does this relate to 50/50? Basically, I found the film's humour and pathos to land somewhere between the previous works of its two stars, and not at all like Love And Other Drugs. (500) Days of Summer's Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Knocked Up's Seth Rogen are the stars of this movie, which finds a nice balance between each of those films' separate approaches, on a much more serious topic than either- cancer. During a supposedly routine doctor's visit, Levitt's character, Adam, is diagnosed with schwannoma, but it seems that the more imminent problem is how his disease changes the way that his loved ones treat him.

28 November 2011

MY WEEK WITH MARILYN- Review

The most instant and obvious comparison to make, after viewing My Week With Marilyn, is with Richard Linklater's underviewed 2009 film, Me And Orson Welles. Like Welles, Simon Curtis' film uses a memoir as its starting point, setting up the protagonist as a plucky accomplice to a screen icon and taking the opportunity to wax cinematic about an institution. Linklater's film is an ode to the theatre, and this is a film that is in love with Marilyn Monroe.

Colin Clark is a young aspiring filmmaker who doggedly pursues a job working for Sir Lawrence Olivier on his new film, The Prince and the Showgirl. Colin becomes the third assistant director, and gains a unique insight into Olivier's leading lady, Marilyn Monroe. At the height of her popularity, Marilyn's arrival in England to film The Sleeping Prince, as it was then known, makes her adoring public ecstatic. But beneath the star's sultry exterior lies much greater vulnerability, as Colin discovers when he begins a dalliance with the world's most famous actress.

25 November 2011

TYRANNOSAUR- Review

Depending on your point of view, I've either talked about two really depressing films this week, or just one. How better to round out the week, as we hurtle towards the general jollity of the nationally anointed Christmas movie month, than with a less-than-cheerful slice of British social realism, and the directorial debut from Paddy Considine, Tyrannosaur. To paraphrase the rear-view mirror from Jurassic Park, the film may contain less dinosaurs that it would appear.

While the metaphorical pre-historic beasty of the title is revealed in the dialogue, one could argue that it represents Joseph, a self-destructive grouch who lives alone and is constantly given to misdirected acts of rage and violence. After one such act, he meets Hannah, a kind but downtrodden Christian woman, while hiding behind a clothes rack in her charity shop. The expected clash of personalities is largely more of a meeting of hearts and minds, as Hannah tries to escape the realities of her abusive marriage.

23 November 2011

WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN- Review

You have to hate any film title that gives people a legitimate excuse to use the most obvious pun that comes to mind, especially when discussion of We Need To Talk About Kevin is, by the nature of the film itself, a serious business. Still, as the film makes its way around the country, having somehow dodged wide distribution despite sold-out screenings in my local arthouse cinema, it's time for me to throw in my twopenn'orth as well.

The script, by Rory Kinnear and director Lynne Ramsey, takes great pains to work from the first-person focus of Lionel Shriver's novel, and so the film largely takes place around, and from the point-of-view of Eva Khatchadourian. She's stigmatised by society for the actions of her sociopath son, Kevin, and through seeing the various points in her life, it is clear that she has failed to connect with him, if not for lack of trying. Though her husband, Franklin, adores their son, the antagonism between Eva and Kevin can only come to a devastating conclusion.

21 November 2011

BREAKING DAWN PART 1- Spoiler Review

This review contains spoilers for all of the Twilight films. You can read my spoiler-free review of Breaking Dawn Part 1 on Movie Reviews.

It's quite annoying that the myth of the ongoing Twilight saga being utterly eventless and worthless has gathered so much steam, or so much hot air, as the case may be. It's annoying because I find myself pushing extra hard in the opposite direction for what is only the difference between a one-star film and a two-star film. But when the former is Transformers- Dark of the Moon, and the latter is Breaking Dawn- Part 1, it's only fair to discuss the relative merits of a fangirls' franchise.

Having languorously adapted the first three books in painstaking detail, with not an awful lot of character development along the way, Summit have gone the way of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows with Stephanie Meyer's final novel in the series, and split it into two parts, with the second due in cinemas this time next year. In the first instalment, Bella and Edward finally consummate their dopey, mopey romance, by getting married. An explosive deflowering on their honeymoon leaves Bella with an inordinately powerful bun in the oven, and her pregnancy could pose as much of a danger to the world as it does to her own health.

18 November 2011

IMMORTALS- Review

With a new Twilight movie in cinemas today (my review is coming on Monday), it's surprising to see that the studios keep trying to make mythological fantasy films into the correspondingly popular brand of erotic wish-fulfilment with young men. Ever since Zack Snyder orchestrated the campy action extravaganza of 300, we've had a number of varying attempts to capitalise on Greek mythology for different audiences, with varying success.

And now comes Immortals, another action movie in which grunty, shirtless men do battle for liberty, and the production design is just fabulous. Ahem. This latest contortion of Greek mythology is based around Theseus, who, in this version, is some sort of plucky lumberjack, living in a cliff-side village. His village is destroyed by Hyperion, a murderous tyrant who is looking for a bow that will allow him to unleash the titans and dethrone the gods. The gods, forbidden to interfere in the affairs of mortals, trust in Theseus to deliver mankind from destruction, relying on only his courage, the companionship of a hot prophet and... oh yeah, the magic bow.

17 November 2011

THE RUM DIARY- Review

Even in the process of actively trying to avoid comparisons of The Rum Diary to Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, it feels like my feelings about the movie can only be articulated in relation to my similar disaffection with Terry Gilliam's film. It still seems like a reasonable comparison to make, as this film and Fear and Loathing would make a serviceable double bill, with each film featuring Johnny Depp performing as an alias of Hunter S. Thompson.

The Rum Diary, based on one of Thompson's early, originally unpublished books, essentially serves as Hunter S. Thompson Begins, in the parlance of the mainstream cinema with which it is more obviously trying to blend in. Depp plays Paul Kemp, a novelist who's struggling to find his voice at the height of Eisenhower's America. Puerto Rico is a big enough change of scene, and the local rag, The San Juan Star, signs him up as a reporter. But the assignments don't exactly grab him, and his increasing dependency on alcohol gets him into trouble, especially when the beguiling Chenault enters the equation.

15 November 2011

THE AWAKENING- Review

While I hasten to join in with those reviewers that hope the BBC will pick up The Awakening and make six more episodes, post-haste, it's not to say that Nick Murphy's boarding school chiller is ever less than cinematic. The line has been blurred for some time, what with Sherlock comprising three feature-length episodes and the general production value of certain American shows putting Hollywood equivalents to shame.

The fact remains that Florence Cathcart, a no-nonsense paranormal investigator who exposes ghostly hoaxes, and her adventures in 1921 would be a fantastic springboard for a spooky BBC drama series. As it stands, it's also a very good film, which inevitably finds Florence confronted with evidence of real ghosts, in a creepy-looking rural boarding school. A boy appears to have died of fright, at the sight of the school's visitor, and a sceptical Florence is brought in to investigate.

14 November 2011

ARTHUR CHRISTMAS- Review

Christmas movies peak and trough like most other sub-genres, and Arthur Christmas proves to be the most instantly rewatchable festive family fare since Elf. After voyages to the uncanny valley with Robert Zemeckis, in The Polar Express and A Christmas Carol, this one comes from Aardman Animation, the geniuses behind Wallace & Gromit, and it probably arrives so early in cinemas in order to avoid the glut of markedly un-festive animated sequels and spin-offs next month.

Putting yet another spin on the question of how Santa Claus gets presents to all the houses around the world in just one night, we see the North Pole as the hub for a militarised gift-delivering operation on Christmas Eve. Santa has two sons who oversee the operation- heir apparent Steve, the lieutenant who runs Christmas from ground control, and Arthur, whose boundless enthusiasm for the festive season sees him relegated to answering chidren's letters. However, the high-tech operation suffers an infinitesimal margin of error when one child in Cornwall doesn't receive a present, and Arthur is determined to make things right.

12 November 2011

BlogalongaBond- MOONRAKER Review

As you might imagine, there's no shortage of contenders for the dumbest moment in Moonraker. However, it's actually quite impressive to see that so many of them are actually dumber than "James Bond goes to space." As ridiculous as the final credits' insistence that the movie was shot on location in "OUTER SPACE!" really is, let's not forget the animal reaction shots, the platoon of space rangers, and Jaws' flipping girlfriend.

And so, Fleming's novel, in which the villainous Hugo Drax is a Nazi pretending to be an English gent, somehow transmorphs into Moonraker, with sci-fi, lasers and a metric fuckton of camp. It's also a pretty straight structural remake of You Only Live Twice, which was already rehashed in the previous, much superior adventure, The Spy Who Loved Me. Basically, Drax is an industrialist who provokes a diplomatic incident when he steals back one of his own Moonraker shuttles, while it's supposed to be under British control. Bond is dispatched to find out where the missing Moonraker got to, but instead finds a plot to create a new master race.

11 November 2011

Four Of My Favourite Things About TRESPASS

If you want a thought-out and reasoned analysis of Joel Schumacher's Trespass, starring Nicolas Cage and Nicole Kidman, you can read my review over at Movie Reviews now. If you're of the "tl;dr" browsing clan, then who am I to act contrary to the demand for easily digestible and visually friendly movie critiques, especially for a movie as awfully good as Trespass? I mean, it's shit, but there are a host of fun moments.

The plot, as far as it goes, finds a wealthy estate agent and his family under siege at their swanky and fortified mansion. Kyle Miller has recently signed for a million dollars' worth of diamonds, and armed men bust through his security to take him and his wife Sarah hostage. His daughter, Avery, becomes swept up in the hostage situation too, as secrets and lies are revealed, and the whole thing becomes terribly convoluted. Here are my four favourite things about the movie.

10 November 2011

MACHINE GUN PREACHER- Review

Despite my prejudice against screen biopics, I found a fair bit to admire in this adaptation of Sam Childers' memoirs, Another Man's War. Of course, it's amped up to the extent that Childers is played by Gerard Butler, who doesn't so much throw his arms around the world, as exercise his right to bear arms around the world. Most importantly though, its tone is dramatic first, and action-packed afterwards.

So, with the slightly less serviceable title of Machine Gun Preacher, Another Man's War is brought to the screen, beginning with Sam being released from prison. He's an alcoholic criminal who rides around on his motorbike, robbing places and neglecting his family. However, his wife Lynn has found Jesus while he was behind bars, and a pivotal event leads him to convert too. Sam's new-found conscience is prickled, when he learns of how civil war in the Sudan is affecting children, and he ships over there to join in with aid workers, and eventually winds up having a go in the war, too.

7 November 2011

TOWER HEIST- Review

Brett Ratner is one of those directors who is widely considered to be a hack filmmaker. If the studio likes someone that much, he must be bad, right? Aside from driving the X-Men franchise into the first of two successive brick walls when he took over from director Matthew Vaughn at the last minute, he's the mastermind behind the increasingly crap Rush Hour trilogy. In fact, he dropped out of remaking Ocean's Eleven back at the beginning of the Noughties, in order to make Rush Hour 2.

In Tower Heist, Ratner seems to have found a channel through which he can expend any Ocean's-related energy that may still be troubling him. Set in and around a high-rise apartment complex in New York City, Josh Kovacs is a building manager who is stung when the tower's wealthiest resident, Arthur Shaw, is implicated in a Ponzi scheme. Shaw was responsible for the staff's pension fund, which now seems to have disappeared without a trace. When they discover that Shaw keeps an as-yet unseized $20 million emergency fund in his apartment, Kovacs and his motley crew of outraged victims plot to get their own back.

1 November 2011

ANONYMOUS- Review

It's funny for a film about dubious authorship, that Anonymous so little resembles a film by disaster-movie hackmeister Roland Emmerich. It's almost suspicious, as if the act of watching the film invites you to wonder how it could possibly have come from Emmerich. Silly, isn't it? But not nearly as silly as this well-made academic pantomime, which adapts the Oxfordian theory of Shakespearean authorship into a bombastic period drama.

Anonymous is basically a hypothetical biopic of Edward de Vere, the Earl of Oxford, as he seeks to have his plays performed by proxy. Noted playwright Ben Jonson refuses to become his pseudonym, but he leaves the Earl's manuscripts lying around to be claimed by an illiterate actor, Will Shakespeare. It is Edward's hope that the inflammatory satire in his works will allow him to influence the masses without being outwardly treasonous. In particular, he aims to unseat Queen Elizabeth's sinister advisers, William and Robert Cecil, with whom he has been in a pitched battle of wills for decades.

31 October 2011

TUCKER AND DALE VS. EVIL- Review

Happy Halloween! This time last year, I was advocating a frightful double bill of the Halloween anthology film Trick 'R' Treat and the bizarre, Snicket-infused scares of Burning Bright, and it's time once again for me to give a shout out to a film you can enjoy watching as October dwindles to a close. As with last year, it's more fun than frightening- a little film called Tucker and Dale vs. Evil.

In the vein of rubbishy mainstream horror films, this is a film in which a group of teens go camping in the woods, and meet grisly fates after encountering a pair of hillbillies in a rundown shack. However, Tucker and Dale vs. Evil actually takes place from the hillbillies' perspective. Tucker and Dale are renovating their holiday home in the woods, when they rescue an unconscious high school student, Allison, from drowning. This leads Chad, the prejudiced dickhead of the group, to mount a full-on rescue attempt, and our heroes are terrified by the sudden onslaught of seemingly suicidal kids.

28 October 2011

THE HELP- Review

Looking at this week's new releases, Tintin doesn't really have any female characters, to speak of, and in The Ides of March, (review coming next week) Evan Rachel Wood is essentially the only woman involved, and she's a victim. So while it's nice to see a "women's picture" like The Help comes along, it's also nice to see that people have gotten over this year's bout of Bridesmaids syndrome, whereby films are good cos they have women with brains and stuff. Just because mainstream Hollywood is only just realising this, doesn't mean it's anything new. Then again, this film probably broaches race issues more prominently than gender issues.

Based on the bestselling novel by Kathryn Stockett, The Help begins with a budding writer, Skeeter, returning from college to her hometown of Jackson, Mississippi. She's distressed to find that her family's maid, Constantine, has seemingly quit, and even more perturbed to find the white women of Jackson spearheading a movement to make separate toilet arrangements mandatory for black people. Skeeter decides to compile a book of the servants' stories, collaborating with maids Aibileen and Minny to gather interviews about their working conditions.

26 October 2011

THE SECRET OF THE UNICORN- Tintin Review

Not for nothing, but I feel it's worth mentioning once again that my favourite film of all time is Raiders of the Lost Ark. Back in 1981, Steven Spielberg discovered the works of Belgian author Hergé, while doing press duties for the first Indiana Jones film, and reading a review that favourably compared the two. Spielberg has been trying to bring Tintin to the big screen ever since, and the result is The Adventures of Tintin- The Secret of the Unicorn.

Like other Spielberg projects I could mention, from this year in particular, the project is a veritable melting pot of creative talents, and so the plot comes from merging three of Hergé's stories. Tintin is a renowned journalist (of indeterminate age) who stumbles into the midst of an ancient feud when he buys a model ship in a Parisian market. The ship is one of three identical models of the Unicorn, which lies on the ocean floor somewhere, packed with sunken treasure. Allying himself with a sozzled old sea-dog, Captain Haddock, Tintin and his dog Snowy are swept into a treasure hunt against the sinister Sakharine.

24 October 2011

PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 3- Spoiler Review

This review contains SPOILERS. If you haven't seen Paranormal Activity 3 yet, you'll want to wait before reading this. In the meantime, my spoiler-free review can be found over at Movie Reviews.

Having really enjoyed Paranormal Activity 2 last Halloween, seeing Paranormal Activity 3 at the cinema, on opening night, was a must for me. But while I found the first two films in the series to be about equal in terms of quality, the advantage of the third instalment isn't merely the experience of seeing it with an audience- it's also really fucking good.

If you started out being scared shitless of the first film, then perhaps this series has a limited shelf-life. But if, like me, you saw room for improvement from the beginning, the imagination necessary to keep the ball rolling on this series is actually what makes the whole endeavour worthwhile. After the cliffhanger ending of part 2's parallel prequel, Paranormal Activity 3 is a fully-fledged flashback to the childhood of sisters Katie and Kristi, filling in backstory that enlightens the demonic activity previously seen. Specifically, it seems to centre around Kristi's imaginary friend, Toby...

21 October 2011

BlogalongaBond- THE SPY WHO LOVED ME Review

"Blimey, that fall goes on for longer than I remembered." That was one of the first thoughts I had, after watching the excellent pre-credits sequence from The Spy Who Loved Me. It culminates with stuntman Rick Sylvester leaping off a cliff, into film history, and the often praised Union Jack parachute reveal. It cements the sequence as the best opener of the entire series, and it's immediately followed by the series' very best theme song.

After the surreal shittiness of The Man With The Golden Gun, this one comes as a breath of fresh air, and possibly the peak of Moore's tenure as Bond. Unusually, the insane plot of the film's villain, Stromberg, is actually the backdrop for a story about espionage. An entente between MI6 and the KGB is formed when a submarine tracking system is put on the market, and James Bond is paired with Anya Amasova, whose lover, one of her colleagues in the service, has recently been killed in action. Three guesses which British agent killed him?

17 October 2011

REAL STEEL- Review

Why should the necessity for commercial, blockbuster films, packed with product placement and "toyetic" characters, get in the way of making a good movie? Surprisingly, that question is answered by Real Steel, a film that is essentially a formulaic sports movie about family and robots hitting each other, which still manages to be both entertaining and winsome.

The sci-fi inflection involves robot boxing, of the variety once seen on Futurama. As the lucrative promotion business transfers its money from human boxing to mechanoids, boxers like Charlie Kenton become obsolete. And so, Charlie wanders America in a van, piling up astronomical debts as a rubbish robot operator. When an ex-girlfriend passes away, and the son he has never met is placed into his custody, Charlie sells the kid, Max, to his in-laws, and grudgingly agrees to look after him until the end of the summer. The pair eventually bond over an interest in robot boxing, and Atom, a sparring robot that they restore together.

14 October 2011

THE THREE MUSKETEERS- Review

One of the most memorable articles I've seen on Cracked is a speculative look at what it might be like if Michael Bay adapted The Great Gatsby into a movie. And as it turns out, Fitzgerald's novel is coming to the screen in the only slightly less ludicrous form of a 3D Baz Luhrmann version next year. But a juxtaposition that's just as ludicrous as Bay tackling Gatsby, is appointing Paul W.S. Anderson, hack director of the Resident Evil movies and Alien vs. Predator, to adapt Alexandre Dumas' The Three Musketeers.

Desperate to mimic Pirates of the Caribbean with a grand sense of adventure and a bombastic score, the film winds up unintentionally closer to Blackadder, with illogical steampunk additions, like airships and booby traps. However, the plot is more faithful to the novel than, say, the 1993 Disney version. D'Artagnan comes to Paris from a small town, raised on tales of the King's Musketeers. Upon his arrival, he encounters Athos, Porthos and Aramis, and becomes involved with saving France from the dastardly warmongering of Cardinal Richelieu.

12 October 2011

DON'T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK- Review

Since hitching himself to runaway, studio-worrying properties such as The Hobbit and At The Mountains Of Madness, Guillermo Del Toro hasn't been in the director's chair for a while. His first film since 2008's Hellboy II- The Golden Army is Pacific Rim, which isn't due out for another couple of years, but he remains one of the most consistently hard-working filmmakers today, just for the sheer volume of projects he's attached to in some way or another.

Amongst his numerous horror movie projects, he provided the screenplay for Don't Be Afraid Of The Dark, a remake of a 1970s TV movie that has a cult following, and an outspoken appreciation from directors of a certain age, including del Toro himself. The film is about Sally, a young girl who goes to live with her estranged dad and his new girlfriend in a house that the couple are restoring. The discovery of a hidden basement unleashes a whole bunch of mythical creatures that have been languishing in a sealed fireplace, and they want Sally all to themselves.

10 October 2011

MIDNIGHT IN PARIS- Review

Woody Allen is one of those filmmakers whose shape forms an embarrassing gap in my cinematic knowledge. I'm 21 years old- I've just not been into good movies long enough to have caught up on every single one. What I can tell you is that Midnight in Paris is Allen's first new movie in a while where the premise hasn't put me off making an effort to see it. Of his recent oeuvre, I've caught Match Point (urgh) and Vicky Cristina Barcelona (eh), both by accident.

Happily, Midnight in Paris lives up to its high concept premise and is plenty of fun to boot. Screenwriting hack Gil Pender is on holiday in Paris with his fiancee, Inez, and her Republican parents, battling their maddening indifference to the beauty of the city in order to try and enjoy it himself. Gil lacks confidence in his breakaway project, a novel about a nostalgia shop. But when the witching hour arrives, Gil is picked up by an old-timey car that whisks him away to the Paris of the 1920s, populated by legendary celebrities of art and literature.

7 October 2011

The Zero Room #11- Back To The Shadows

The end of Doctor Who's sixth series played out in a way that is now typical of Steven Moffat's run as head writer, which is to say, it was unabashedly un-typical. But before The Wedding of River Song, Toby Whithouse turned in a Shining-inflected chiller, The God Complex and Gareth Roberts brought the series back to terra firma with a sequel to his Series 5 story, Closing Time.

Reviews will contain spoilers, so if you haven't seen the episodes yet, toddle over to the iPlayer, or watch BBC Three at some point in the next century's worth of repeats.

5 October 2011

THE DEBT- Review

The script for The Debt comes from writers who've written scripts with similar themes to this film, but scripts that are completely different from one another. The dynamic duo of Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman, who brought Erik Lensherr's Nazi-hunting pursuits to the screen in X-Men: First Class, are credited, but so is Peter Straughan, who wrote the new adaptation of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, with all of its classy espionage suspense.And on top of being an adaptation of previous material, this film also extrapolates the best parts of each.

Set in 1997, the daughter of former Mossad agent Rachel Singer is releasing a book about her mother's famous mission, during which she captured and killed Dieter Vogel, a Nazi war criminal known as "the Surgeon of Birkenau". Along with her two colleagues, Rachel was praised as a hero. But all these years, the three agents have been keeping a terrible secret, and as the film unfolds, the real events that took place in 1966 makes the truth of their situation apparent, and crucial to their later lives too.

3 October 2011

RED STATE- Video Review

None of the critical brou-ha-ha surrounding Kevin Smith and Red State is anywhere near as interesting as the film itself, and so I'll waste no time recounting it. Red State is nominally a horror film, but it's also more complex than it appears in the trailers. Either way, for a director who's primarily known for Jay and Silent Bob, and the "View Askewniverse", it's a marked change of pace.

Jarod, Travis and Billy Ray are horny teens living in King's County, a mid-American town that's noted for its proximity to Cooper's Dell, home of the Five Points Trinity Church. The Catholic fundamentalist sect is led by pastor Abin Cooper, and is comprised of bigoted gun nuts who ritually execute homosexuals in their private church services. The three boys are ensnared by the Coopers, when they go out into the woods on the promise of a foursome with a hot housewife online, leading to a confrontation of biblical proportions.

30 September 2011

ABDUCTION- Review

Now that the Harry Potter series is over, how do we think its young stars will do in the wide world of film? Daniel Radcliffe seems to be doing fine, Emma Watson has a great career in modelling to fall back on, and I'm still lobbying hard for Rupert Grint to be the first ginger Doctor somewhere down the line. Tom Felton, who showed so much promise in Half-Blood Prince, already seems to have defaulted to making terrible music.

Elsewhere, the cast of Twilight won't find themselves at such a loose end until next November's Breaking Dawn- Part 2, which is just as well for Taylor Lautner, whose first not-Twilight vehicle turned out to be Abduction. Lautner is Nathan Harper, a fun-loving high-schooler who's subjected to martial arts training and pop-quiz beatings by his parents. When assigned a school project on missing children, Nathan discovers his own picture has been put on the Internet, and that his parents are not his own. It's not long before an assassin busts down his door, and chase Nathan across America for some crucial information about the CIA.

27 September 2011

CRAZY, STUPID, LOVE- Review

Remember Blue Valentine, earlier this year? When Ryan Gosling played a husband so hopelessly depressed and love-sick that his hair was falling out? Like Tom Hardy, he's an actor whose recent films have exercised his considerable range as an actor, and the second of his two roles released last week are just as different from one another as they are from Blue Valentine. Good for him. Right, now let's talk about the other stuff in Crazy, Stupid, Love.

The main plot in this tangled ensemble flick finds poor, cuckolded Cal Weaver bemoaning the fact that his wife of 25 years, Emily, wants a divorce, after cheating on him with a co-worker. Wallowing in his own misery at a bar that's far too trendy for him, he encounters Jacob, a womaniser who vows to re-masculate Cal, by sprucing up his appearance and self-image. But Jacob's own game is changed when he falls for a young lawyer, Hannah. Meanwhile, Cal tries to recapture the affections of his wife and family.

26 September 2011

DRIVE- Review

Drive is a film so close to the pinnacle of cool, cinemas should really impose a height restriction on the door. The 18 certificate should rule out some of the popcorn-gobbling mouth-breathers, but I still had the misfortune to be sat in the row in front of a couple of idiotholes who snorted and chuckled through most of the film's quieter moments. The film is generally a quiet one, so they were pretty much laughing at nothing- no wonder Kevin James has a career.

On a generic level, it's an existential, neo-noirish crime thriller, with an obvious affection for similar pulp films of the 1980s. And yet it also won Nicolas Winding Refn a prize for Best Director in Cannes, so there's something else going on behind the eyes there. Ryan Gosling stars as a prodigiously talented Hollywood stunt driver, who moonlights as the best getaway driver in town. But his precise driving and organisation can't get him out of trouble when he grows close to his neighbour Irene, and her young son, and takes on the one wrong job going in LA.

23 September 2011

WARRIOR- Review

If you've seen the trailer for Warrior, then this reviews holds no spoilers whatsoever. If you're completely unaware of this film, proceed with caution.

As this is the week when the whole UK has seemingly gone Gay For Gosling, it's entirely incidental that I'm talking about Warrior, as it previewed on Wednesday. I've yet to see Drive or Crazy, Stupid, Love, but I feel it's just as important, if not more so, to talk about a film whose central sport has been getting far more flak in the course of the national conversation than the film itself would want or deserve.

It's also an mixed martial arts film that takes place in the context of a worthy and awards-friendly film, which draws natural comparisons to The Fighter, a sports drama from earlier this year. Like David O. Russell's film, Warrior centres around the family dynamic of two estranged brothers, Brendan and Tommy, who wind up competing in the same MMA world championship tournament through a series of fortuitous but separate coincidences. The Conlons are on a collision course in the cage, but is their relationship beyond repair?

21 September 2011

THE CHANGE-UP- Review

This is even creepier than it looks once you have the context of having seen the film. But don't see the film.
The other big comedy release of the week is 30 Minutes Or Less, which I've covered over at Movie Reviews. It came in at number 10 in the UK box office chart this week, which is OK, because I think it's going to have a better life on DVD anyway. The fact that I'm covering The Change-Up on here and not that does not signal that 30 Minutes Or Less is less worthy of your time.

In fact, if I weren't super-conditioned for shitty movies by now, 30 Minutes Or Less is how long into The Change-Up I would have lasted before walking the fuck out. This is the Jason Bateman and Ryan Reynolds body-swap comedy you've been seeing on bus stops around the country. Bateman is Dave, family man and hardworking lawyer, and Reynolds is Mitch, a layabout manchild who's still inordinately privileged. And then, courtesy of a toilet trip in a magic fountain, it's vice versa.

19 September 2011

TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY- Review

After watching The Man With The Golden Gun for BlogalongaBond, I was happy to receive something that puts itself a million miles from the frippery of the James Bond franchise. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is based on the novel by John le Carré, and as an espionage thriller, it's much less cool than it is cold.

It centres around the upper echelons of MI6, or, as it's called in-house, "the Circus". After a botched operation in Hungary, it's discovered that there is a Soviet mole within the Circus leadership. Retired agent George Smiley is tasked with rooting out the mole, although he is one of the five suspects himself. He must carry out his investigation without the knowledge of his former colleagues- Alleline, Bland, Esterhase and Haydon- all of whom are hiding one thing or another.

16 September 2011

BlogalongaBond- THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN Review

"He has a powerful weapon", Lulu warbles, at the beginning of The Man With The Golden Gun, and what follows is another three minutes of misfiring double entendres. The lyrics are shit, the melody is unmemorable, and it's probably amongst the worst theme songs the series ever had, barring Madonna's atrocity. It's not a good start, but it's an accurate omen of what's to come.

M pulls Bond off of a mission involving the current energy crisis, because he's been marked for death by the eponymous Francisco Scaramanga. Scaramanga is so good, he charges a million dollars per kill, and appears to have sent a warning to 007. M implicitly authorises Bond to hunt down and assassinate him, in order to restore his suitability as a field agent. Scaramanga appears to be more than a match for Bond, and a game of cat and mouse ensues, as the assassin searches for the means to power his solar cannon.

14 September 2011

The Zero Room #10- Springtime for Hitler

"You've had all summer. Have you found Melody yet?" As Amy says in the opening moments of Doctor Who series 6.5, the summer's gone comparatively quickly, and the Doctor's back on our screens. Steven Moffat answered some long-standing questions in the beguiling Let's Kill Hitler, Mark Gatiss plays it RTD in the council-estate chiller Night Terrors, and Tom Macrae spins a surprisingly touching tale in The Girl Who Waited.

Reviews will contain spoilers, so if you haven't seen the episodes yet, toddle over to the iPlayer, or watch BBC Three at some point in the next century's worth of repeats.

12 September 2011

TROLL HUNTER- Review

The found-footage trend shows no sign of decline, with Paranormal Activity seemingly becoming the heir apparent to Saw as a multiplex fixture around Halloween time, and two new releases in the sub-genre in the last two weeks. While Apollo 18 disappointed, Troll Hunter arrives in the UK with so much positive, it's practically a fan favourite already.

As is the manner of found-footage films, our heroes are student filmmakers from the University of Vorda. They're making a documentary in rural Norway, with all of the country's licenced bear hunters mystified by the sudden spate of illegal bear-killings. They suspect a poacher, and the mysterious Hans seems to fit the bill. Following him into the woods at the middle of the night, they catch him in the act of hunting trolls, whose existence is covered up by the Norwegian government.

9 September 2011

FRIENDS WITH BENEFITS- Review

Remember that rivalry between Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis in Black Swan? And that feeling that anything Nina could do, Lily could do better, and dirtier? That shit just got real, but it also became quite tepid in the process. After Portman came out with No Strings Attached in February, Kunis stars alongside Justin Timberlake in Friends with Benefits, and the two films are predictably interchangeable.

Timberlake plays Dylan, who is head-hunted by Kunis' character, Jamie, and moves to New York to work at GQ. Both have recently broken up with their respective partners, and the two become firm friends as Dylan acclimatises himself to the Big Apple. The status quo is altered when they decide to have casual sex with one another. The terms of their relationship are firmly set out- it's just about the sex and there should be no emotional attachment. But then-- hey, this sounds familiar...

8 September 2011

THE SKIN I LIVE IN- Review

On Tuesday, I went along to the Tyneside Cinema for a double bill of films in limited UK distribution. One of them was Kill List, and as it's the hot topic of the moment, let me quickly explain why I'm not reviewing it yet. I found it overrated, but that's not why- I'm going to give it a second viewing before I write about it, and even in that case, there's nothing I can say about it that won't spoil it. Worth a look, because it's one of the most interesting British films of the year, although not one of the best.

The other film I saw, the Spanish melodrama The Skin I Live In, is similarly at spoiler risk, but it's considerably easier to talk about without giving too much away. As it begins, we find ourselves in the home of Robert Ledgard, a widowed plastic surgeon who lives a reclusive life in his mansion in Toledo. Upstairs, he keeps a young woman called Vera under lock and key, secluded from the outside world, as Robert experiments with synthetic skin. Only from their dreams do we begin to realise the full extent of their unusual relationship.

6 September 2011

FRIGHT NIGHT- Review

It's almost inevitable that Fright Night has that trendy moment of disparaging Twilight, which has unfortunately been exaggerated in some of the marketing I've seen to the point where it has alienated part of its target audience. It's also bombed at the box office accordingly. Happily though, this remake still puts its money where its mouth is, and delivers hugely enjoyable vampire action.

It starts inauspiciously enough, in the suburbs near Las Vegas, where Charley Brewster is enjoying the tenets of his new-found popularity, and his unspeakably gorgeous girlfriend, Amy. Left behind, his nerdy best mate Ed begins to investigate a series of disappearances, and links them back to Charley's neighbour, Jerry Dandridge, who is actually a vampire. With the reluctant help of Vegas showman Peter Vincent, Charley fights to protect the women in his life from an ancient and seemingly unstoppable predator.