31 December 2012

End of 2012 Round-Up

While the 2012 catch-up has been going well, I haven't had time to see absolutely everything, and give it the usual review treatment. Before we get into all of that end of the year review stuff, with 2013 just around the corner, I thought I'd do a post with a number of short reviews of films that I haven't covered yet, including Cosmopolis, DetentionJack Reacher, Safety Not Guaranteed and Sound Of My Voice.

28 December 2012

PITCH PERFECT- Review

While I'm playing catch-up, I might as well cover Pitch Perfect. I know I cover spurious marketing quite a lot in my reviews, but this one has been lumbered with a critical pull-quote that's almost as dumb as The Adjustment Bureau's "Bourne Meets Inception". Because Pitch Perfect isn't "Ted meets Bridesmaids", or at least no more than its tenuous connection of having gross-out humour and female characters- instead, it's a solid entry into the recent resurgence of the teen movie genre.

It's also a vehicle for the wonderful Anna Kendrick, who plays Beca, a young woman whose life's ambition is to go to LA and produce music. Her dad, a lecturer at Barden University, gets her enrolled cheaply, and offers to help with this ambition, on the proviso that she tries the college for a year to see if it changes her mind. By way of "getting involved", she's press-ganged into an all-female a capella singing group called the Bellas, who are locked in a fierce rivalry with mouth-music sensations, the Treble Makers.

27 December 2012

GRABBERS- Review

As 2012 draws to a close, the saturation releases in this last week of the year aren't much more impressive than another exercise for Tom Cruise's short man syndrome, and a movie that appears to have escaped from the 1990s. Still, there are a couple of interesting releases to close out the year- one of them is Safety Not Guaranteed (more on which soon), and the other is Grabbers, an Irish horror comedy that can most easily be compared to Attack The Block and Father Ted, which means those things will surely fill the requisite gaps in the "blank meets blank" poster pull-quotes.

Garda Lisa Nolan is deployed on Erin Island, a remote Irish idyll where not a lot happens, for a fortnight of police work. She doesn't expect a hard time, but she's first frustrated by an alcoholic partner, Ciarán, and then menaced by the entirely unexpected arrival of bloodsucking alien creatures. The Grabbers, christened by those few unimaginative locals who encounter the creatures and live to tell the tale, start to gain a tentacled strangehold on the island, when a marine ecologist discovers that the invaders are allergic to alcohol. Together, Ciarán and Lisa rally the locals in a united front against the Grabbers, which naturally involves getting absolutely shit-faced.

20 December 2012

LIFE OF PI- Review

Yann Martel's best-selling novel, Life of Pi, has flummoxed attempts at big-screen adaptation from directors as varied as Jean-Pierre Jeunet, M. Night Shyamalan and Alfonso Cuarón. But in the age of The Lord of the Rings, Watchmen and the upcoming Cloud Atlas, there's no longer any such thing as an "unfilmable" novel. Now, having patiently waited for the level of effects technology to catch up, director Ang Lee has brought the film to the screen.

Life of Pi centres around a man called Piscine Molitor Patel, (Pi, for short) who is seen telling the extraordinary story of his life to a writer who is struggling for inspiration. Once, Pi's family had a zoo, and decided to relocate from India to the United States. After a terrible shipwreck, the only survivors left were Pi and a handful of the zoo's animals. Before long, it comes down to just the boy and a Bengal tiger called Richard Parker, all alone on a raft in the middle of the Pacific ocean. The story of his survival, Pi promises, will make the writer believe in God.

18 December 2012

THE ANGELS' SHARE- Review

Next up, in my catch-up with 2012's unseen movies, is The Angels' Share, the latest film from director Ken Loach. Although Loach's films are usually worth seeing, they don't lose anything if you miss them in the cinema, so the benefits of not having reviewed this at the time is that I didn't have to travel miles out of my way to see it, and I've already heard all of the whisky puns, so I know to avoid them. Well, I'll try, anyway.

A group of Glaswegian young offenders befriend their kindly foreman while undertaking community service, and are introduced to an unexpected interest in whisky, and its production. One of them, Robbie, is particularly keen to reform, as his girlfriend has just had a baby boy, but sees no way out of the grudge match that keeps getting him in trouble. However, when a priceless cask of whisky is discovered, he and three of his fellow offenders launch a hare-brained scheme to liberate the rare single malt.

17 December 2012

A ROYAL AFFAIR- Review

It's close to the end of the year, and seeing as how most of the week's cinema-going will surely be given over to Bilbo Baggins and his mates, it seems as good a time as any to catch up with watching and reviewing new films that I missed in the cinema in 2012. I'll squeeze these in this week, around my review of Life Of Pi, (come back on Wednesday) and A Royal Affair is first up.

Based on both historical events and the novel A Visit From The Royal Physician, the film begins with Caroline Matilda of Great Britain, looking back on her arranged marriage with King Christian VII of Denmark. The king is mentally ill, and his immaturity and attention-seeking nature are deeply frustrating to both Caroline and, presumably, his impoverished people. As a lowly doctor and man of the Enlightenment, Johann Struensee gets a lucky break when he wangles the cushy job of royal physician, and becomes the king's most trusted friend, as well as Caroline's secret lover.

14 December 2012

THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY- Review

So, I saw The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey in good old-fashioned 24fps 2D. Not 3D, IMAX 3D, HFR 3D, WTF 3D, or OMGSTFU 3D. I'm not saying that this makes more qualified to talk about the film than others, and I'll certainly be checking out the HFR format, after I've written a review that discusses the relative qualities and demerits of Peter Jackson's first prequel to his Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Adapting J.R.R. Tolkien's earlier chronicle of Middle-Earth, the film begins with Ian Holm's Bilbo transcribing the story of his greatest adventure, on the day of his eleventy-first birthday party. From there, we flash back 60 years to a younger, more Martin Freeman-looking version of Bilbo, as he's press-ganged into that very quest by Gandalf the Grey and a motley crew of thirteen dwarves, led by ousted royal Thorin Oakenshield, in a bid to reclaim the dwarvish homeland of Erebor from a fearsome dragon. Elsewhere, a dark power has returned to Middle-Earth from an exile that has lasted centuries, and Bilbo's introduction to the wider world may only be the beginning of his problems.

10 December 2012

SIGHTSEERS- Review

Even though this one came out after Seven Psychopaths at the local multiplex, it remains that we've gotten two pitch black comedies, about writers in search of inspiration, which both feature cute little dogs in pivotal roles, within the space of a week. Sightseers has garnered the most praise thus far, with director Ben Wheatley, hot off of last year's Kill List (which I personally found overrated) collaborating with executive producer Edgar Wright to create something more agreeably fucked-up than his other recent film.

Tina lives with her manipulative mother, but at the beginning of the film, she's thoroughly smitten with Chris, a manful, ginger-faced journeyman, who's going to show her the world from his caravan. Through the course of their holiday, the Brummie couple are drawn to such wonders as the Crich Tramway Museum and the Keswick Pencil Museum, but things soon take an unexpected and homicidal turn. With Tina as his muse, Chris blazes a violent trail across the countryside in the name of bringing obnoxious knobheads down a notch, while unintentionally bringing out a new side of his girlfriend.

6 December 2012

SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS- Review

It's inevitable that reviewers will compare Martin McDonagh's latest film to In Bruges. That film was a masterpiece, and there's always going to be pressure for a filmmaker to top a masterpiece on the next feature, when their body of work really shouldn't be quantified in such terms. I've even seen some confused souls compare it to The Guard, which was actually made by his younger brother, John Michael McDonagh. The elder McDonagh has a recognisable style of writing and storytelling, between his two feature films thus far, and it's almost as if Seven Psychopaths was organically cultivated from the development of that style.

In a possible case of art reflecting life, the film centres around a screenwriter called Marty, who's suffering from writer's block. His current project, titled "Seven Psychopaths", isn't much more than a title, and he finds it difficult to work, due to his alcoholism and the constant distraction of his unhinged, dog-napping buddy, Billy. In a moment of desperation, he agrees to collaborate with Billy in generating stories about psychopaths, little realising that his friend's criminal enterprise has crossed into the territory of mobster Charles Costello, with the abduction of his beloved Shih-Tzu, Bonny.

5 December 2012

BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD- Review

The first time I saw Beasts of the Southern Wild, I was slightly bushed from the 40-mile round trip that took me to see Holy Motors earlier in the same day, and this film is just so delightful. What I'm saying is, I fell asleep while watching it, and not because I was bored. I've since watched it again, at Stockton's ARC cinema, but I'm reminded of another film that I comfortably fell asleep while watching- Where The Wild Things Are, which was a similarly wonderful little fantasy film.

In a part of Louisiana that appears to have been flooded, the Bathtub is a walled-off community that is mostly underwater. The community that lives there seems to be managing just fine- they might even be better off. Amongst them is Hushpuppy, a six-year-old girl who lives in her own house, opposite her dad, Wink. With Wink's health deteriorating, the "threat" of aid from the world outside the Bathtub, and the approach of giant mythical beasts called aurochs, Hushpuppy must build and safeguard her own independence.

4 December 2012

GREAT EXPECTATIONS- Review

Boring films tend to make for boring reviews. The latest version of Great Expectations, directed by Mike Newell, isn't boring, but it's uninteresting in one very important aspect- it doesn't take any risks with the material. The novel ranks among the most frequently adapted Charles Dickens tales, and so those in the know will, by now, be aware of all of the particulars.

For those who aren't in the know, Great Expectations is the story of Pip, a humble orphan who is brought up in the country by his sister and brother-in-law, and becomes something of a plaything for the eccentric and deranged Miss Havisham. While Pip falls for her ward, Estella, Miss Havisham herself seems eager to mould the children to her own design. Years later, Pip is propelled into high society, by the whims of a mysterious benefactor, and taught to be a gentleman, giving him some scant hope that he might win Estella's cold heart.

3 December 2012

RISE OF THE GUARDIANS- Review

Due to inexplicable scheduling foolishness, DreamWorks held back the release of Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted in the UK from summer until the October half-term holiday. Coincidentally, this means that Rise of the Guardians, which has arrived much sooner, is playing at the same time as the studio's other 2012 offering. While one of them seemed remarkably unfettered by the usual safe tactics, the other seems to have been made with producers watching over its shoulder. Still, if one of your producers is Guillermo del Toro, that doesn't mean it's a bad thing.

Based on William Joyce's popular series of children's books, Guardians of Childhood, the latter offering explores the idea that Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy and the Sandman are part of an elite group of mythological protectors, who are collectively responsible for safe-guarding the children of Earth. Jack Frost is the newest recruit, and although he initially refuses the call, he becomes instrumental to the battle against Pitch Black, an ancient boogeyman who is determined to make as much of a mark upon the world's children as the beloved Guardians.

30 November 2012

NATIVITY 2: DANGER IN THE MANGER! Review

Back when I was young(er) and stupid(er), I swerved a cinema viewing of Nativity! for reasons involving Alan Carr acting. A mustachioed Alan Carr, no less. One year later, the family watched it on demand, despite my protests, and I actually quite enjoyed it. There's definitely a gap in the market for Christmas films that aren't entirely secular and commercialised, which aren't bug-nut insane. And so, as unconcerned with the commercial side of Christmas as it was, they've now made a sequel!

Nativity 2: Danger In The Manger! brings back demented manchild-cum-teaching assistant Mr. Poppy and his beloved primary school class, as they attempt a last minute entry for the prestigious Song For Christmas contest. After much trouble in securing a replacement for Martin Freeman's Mr. Madden, the headteacher manages to get David Tennant's Mr. Peterson to look after Class 7. He's not on board with the Song For Christmas plan, so Mr. Poppy and the children kidnap him and begin a quest to Castle Llewyn in Wales.

29 November 2012

END OF WATCH- Review

David Ayer is a screenwriter who's best known for a succession of films set in South Central Los Angeles, focusing on either criminals, police officers, or the relationship between them. From Harsh Times to Dark Blue, from the Oscar calibre success of Training Day to the franchise-launching success of The Fast and the Furious, the man loves his LA crime movies. And yet it's his latest, End of Watch, which has been described as the best cop movie ever made.

Set apart from the duality and corruption exhibited by cops in Ayer's previous films, this one centres around a couple of straight-up good guys, Brian Taylor and Mike "Zee" Zavala, as their patrol is reassigned from one district of South Central to another, more dangerous one. Brian is undertaking a filmmaking course to earn credits for his pre-law degree, and decides to film their working lives as a project, meaning that the film switches between an objective view, and the view of cameras belonging to the characters. Over a number of months, Brian and Zee manage to antagonise a powerful drugs cartel, and they just might be in over their heads.

28 November 2012

HOLY MOTORS- Review

Holy Motors is the kind of film you need to watch more than once. It's not because it's esoteric, and it's not because it's tough to understand, or inaccessible. It's because you'll really, really want to see it again, for all of its subtle lunacy. For the central performance, for the story, (such as it is) or simply for the truth that's woven into the very soul of the thing- they seldom make 'em like this any more.

All of this is my high-faluting, but honest way of saying that Holy Motors is pretty damn good. In a film with multiple interpretations, we follow Monsieur Oscar from his home, into a white stretch limousine, as he goes about his day of appointments. Using the wardrobe and make-up in the back of the car, he transforms himself into an elderly woman and, for his first appointment, begs for money on a crowded bridge. He changes his appearance and persona for each and every one of his subsequent appointments too, and over the course of the day, we're shown something of the effect that Oscar's unusual job has upon the world, and upon himself.

25 November 2012

SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK- Review

Most of Silver Linings Playbook seems to take place on a Sunday, standing in the middle of the road, and both of these things serve to make points about the film itself. You could almost have mistaken the different days depicted in the film for one single Sunday, if it weren't for the progression of time from Halloween to Christmas, and it's just the kind of movie that might be best watched on a Sunday afternoon.

The themes and subject matter wouldn't necessarily point to that conclusion, but then the charm of the piece lies in its unsophisticated manner. Pat Solitano Jr is a disgraced high-school teacher, who's spent time in a mental institution after nearly beating his ex-wife's lover to death. He has an undiagnosed bi-polar disorder, and so when he's released from the institution, he moves back in with his mother and father, and sets about trying to save his marriage. With a restraining order between himself and that silver lining, he tries to set things right by befriending Tiffany, a young widow who is something of a kindred spirit.

21 November 2012

GAMBIT- Review

Producer Mike Lobell has been slaving away on a remake of the 1966 crime caper Gambit for some time now. Through 15 years of development, it attracted multple directors, from Alexander Payne to Robert Altman, stars like Hugh Grant and Reese Witherspoon, and, most pertinently, a script by Joel and Ethan Coen. Reading around the film's imperilled journey to fruition, I'm not sure if they've touched it since their initial rewrite in 2003, but it's their names that grace the poster all the same.

So, Gambit reinvents conman Harry Dean as a long-suffering art curator, who hates his boss, a billionaire shitbag called Lionel Shabandar. Planning to exploit Shabandar's obsession with acquiring a Monet painting and completing his art collection, Harry enlists the help of a master forger known only as the Major, and P.J, a cowgirl whose G.I. grandfather was amongst the Americans who liberated Haystacks from the Nazis. The plan seems foolproof, but the world doesn't always look the way that Harry sees it, and the longer it goes on, the caper does more and more damage to Harry's bank balance, to say nothing of his dignity.

19 November 2012

THE MASTER- Review

When properly executed, counter-programming makes my job that much easier. With Breaking Dawn Part 2 swallowing up seven screens in my nearest megaplex, (and possibly even more in yours!) some genius at Entertainment Film Distributors decided to capitalise on the widespread indifference of threatened fanboys by expanding the latest Paul Thomas Anderson film beyond the capital, where it's been playing for the last fortnight, in order to serve those who haven't the slightest interest in seeing how that old saga wraps up. Either way, you're going to see Rami Malek.

Other than that, it should go without saying that The Master could not possibly be more different to Breaking Dawn Part 2, and it's certainly not as driven by narrative obligations. Seaman Freddie Quell returns from naval service during the Second World War, traumatised and grappling with major alcoholism. Trampling his way through a number of post-war careers, he eventually encounters Lancaster Dodd, a writer and scientist who leads a group of devout followers in pursuing The Cause, a remedy for psychiatric conditions that apparently encompasses a trillion years of life on Earth.

16 November 2012

BREAKING DAWN PART 2- Spoiler Review

This review contains SPOILERS for all five of the Twilight films. You can read my spoiler-free review of Breaking Dawn Part 2 on Den of Geek.

Even with the final, batshit crazy book of Stephenie Meyer's Twilight saga getting cleft in twain by studios who wanted to give the more surreal elements some room to breathe, and pocket double the box office returns along the way, the film adaptations have had a remarkably quick turnaround. The annual rate of release means that we've had five films out since 2008, culminating in this "epic conclusion that will live forever."

Yes, Breaking Dawn Part 2 takes on a burden that none of your more serious movies had to deal with this year- it has to deal with the fallout of the previous movie, which ended on a werewolf falling in love with a baby. More importantly to the main plot, however, Bella Swan is a new vampire, as well as a new mum. Beyond the issues of finally getting everything she wanted, she and the Cullen family are once again pitted against the Volturi, when a vengeful and jealous vampire reports their new arrival. Creating an immortal child is a great sacrilege, and it seems like vampire king Aro is done with the Cullens' bullshit.

13 November 2012

BlogalongaBond- SKYFALL Review

Over the previous 22 months, I've evaluated each Bond film in spoiler-iffic detail, and so it's only fitting that Skyfall gets the same treatment. Even though the film looks set to break all sorts of records at the UK box office, it's only fair to assume that some of you might not have seen it- I know my dad is still dying to see it for instance- so if that's the case, maybe you want to wait before reading this instalment of BlogalongaBond.

To reiterate the conclusions of my original, spoiler-free review, the most impressive thing about Skyfall is that it manages to move towards the past, while retaining the modern momentum of Daniel Craig's tenure thus far, and yet covers equal ground in both directions without ever feeling torn. It's a rollicking and dramatic adventure film, more fun than Casino Royale and more comprehensible than Quantum of Solace, but I still have problems with the film that I couldn't have gone into with a spoiler-free review. With that in mind, SPOILERS will commence after the jump...

9 November 2012

THE SAPPHIRES- Review

The Weinstein Company starts its annual run-up to awards season before most have got out of bed in the morning. One of their big acquisitions at Cannes this year was The Sapphires, an Australian dramedy upon which they have clearly pinned their hopes for a feel-good contender for the Oscars. But then again, I find myself in a holding pattern at this time of year, where I keep saying in my reviews that it doesn't matter, but having to mention it in order to do that. Away with you, awards bullshit!

Of the film itself, which was clearly made without such preoccupations, there is much more to enjoy. Adapted from a popular play, The Sapphires follows four Aboriginal girls on their journey to become famous singers. The girls are all related, and their roots are in the Outback town of Cummeraganja. Alcoholic Irish musician Dave Lovelace washes up in the town and sees them perform country and Western music for an indifferent white audience, and persuades them to have a bash at American soul music instead. He also volunteers to manage them, as he gets them a gig performing for the American troops in Vietnam.

7 November 2012

ARGO- Review

Along with "for your consideration" and "the winner is...", there's one phrase that you won't hear the end of until the coming awards season is done with, and that's "based on a true story". The artistic licence that can be taken with material from real life events is certainly apparent in Argo, the latest directorial outing for Ben Affleck, but it also helps that the details of the mission that inspired the film, which were declassified by President Clinton's government in 1997, are already interesting.

Set during the Iran hostage crisis, Affleck also stars in the film, as CIA extraction specialist Tony Mendez. He becomes instrumental in a frantic mission to rescue six diplomats, who have avoided being captured at the American embassy, only to become stranded in Tehran. Inspired by the popularity of Star Wars, Tony enlists an Oscar-winning make-up artist and a veteran movie producer to construct a cover that will allow them to rescue the diplomats without alerting the militants or the Iranian authorities- a fake sci-fi movie that is undertaking a foreign location shoot.

6 November 2012

RUST AND BONE- Review

Having decided to avoid reading reviews of films before seeing them, I'd have hoped to avoid a plot spoiler about Rust and Bone that several critics have given away. Alas, I knew about Marion Cotillard's character in this latest film from Jacques Audiard, before going in. Perhaps because the plot development happens so early in the film, some feel justified in writing about it, but I'm not going to get into the details here, especially when the concentration on her character overlooks something of the film's essence.

The protagonist is actually Ali, the shiftless father of an estranged 5-year-old son called Sam, who's forced to move in with his sister for support when he's left bringing up the kid on his own. As he searches for work, he goes through a stint as a bouncer at a nightclub, and meets Stephanie, a whale trainer. He looks out for her, in an act that she does not forget when tragedy strikes, shortly after. Their friendship draws her out of isolation, but Ali's lack of responsibility doesn't make for a smooth romance.

31 October 2012

COCKNEYS VS. ZOMBIES- Review

As with last Halloween, I've caught up on a recent horror comedy release for this most spooktacular of occasions. Nobody's called me on this, but I did find myself wondering if it might have been better to dig out a really, properly scary horror flick and chat about it, but then great horror, like great comedy, doesn't lend itself to recommendations that explain all that's good about it. However, good horror comedies are hard to find, and I reckon Halloween viewing should be more fun.

Cockneys vs. Zombies fits the bill, and shortly after a shamefully limited release in cinemas at the end of August, it's arrived on DVD and Blu-ray in time for Halloween. Co-written by James Moran, who gave us some gritty thrills in the recent Tower Block, it's a cheeky and clever romp through the East End of London, which has a nasty infestation of zombies. The rise of the living dead actually helps brothers Andy and Terry to make a clean getaway, after robbing a bank for the funds to save the care home where their beloved granddad, Ray, is living. But while these aren't sprinting zombies, not everyone can outrun them, and the brothers set about trying to rescue Ray and his elderly mates.

26 October 2012

SKYFALL- Review

This review isn't going to contain any spoilers- that comes next week, when I write up my BlogalongaBond entry, and I've had a little more time to let Skyfall settle. I wouldn't dream of spoiling any of its myriad surprises anyway, but as I'm writing this shortly after my first viewing, the thing that strikes me about the film, which is released in the film series' 50th anniversary year, is that it's a film about the old world versus the new, that seamlessly and joyfully integrates both.

In a typically vigorous opening sequence, M makes a judgement call that sees Bond become a victim of friendly fire. He's missing, presumed dead, and M is in deep shit over the information that was lost in this incident- a hard drive packed with details that could endanger undercover operatives all over the world. Three months later, with M and MI6 under scrutiny from the government, and under attack from their enemies, Bond re-surfaces. Unaccustomed to action, he struggles to find the knack again, as he's pitched against the fearsome Raoul Silva.

24 October 2012

MADAGASCAR 3: EUROPE'S MOST WANTED- Review

Nobody could reproach you if Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted didn't place strongly on your must-see list. With a whole bunch of interesting family-friendly animated movies still showing, and Skyfall imminent, you needn't have anticipated this third instalment even half as much as the army of young fans who've been watching the first two films on repeat for the last six years or so. Still, what I had failed to anticipate myself is that it would be so surreal.

Up to this point, the series has followed four escaped zoo animals- Alex the lion, Marty the zebra, Melman the giraffe and Gloria the hippo- on their misadventures around the world, and this new sequel finds them still trying to get home to New York, from Africa. Chasing down the penguins at a casino in Monte Carlo, they come to the attention of DuBois, a fearsome and unnaturally resilient animal control officer who gives chase across the whole of Europe. The gang try to hide out amongst circus animals, and find themselves trying to turn the circus' ill fortunes around by coming up with a new show.

22 October 2012

FRANKENWEENIE- Review

It took a couple of years, but we finally found a reason for Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland to exist. When you make a hit that big, the studio who benefits from it the most will likely reward you with a passion project, just as Warner Bros did with Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Corpse Bride in 2005. As Alice was a much bigger hit than Charlie, Frankenweenie is proportionately even stranger, as a black-and-white stop-motion movie about resurrecting the dead.

Young Victor Frankenstein lives in the small town of New Holland, more interested in science than making friends. His only real friend is his trusty dog, Sparky, but during a disastrous attempt to appease his dad by playing baseball, Sparky is ran over and killed. Initially devastated, Victor is inspired by the lessons of his eccentric science teacher, and sets about trying to revive his beloved dog with electricity. When the experiment succeeds, it's harder to keep his experiment secret, especially with his jealous classmates sniffing around.

19 October 2012

BlogalongaBond- QUANTUM OF SOLACE Review

It seems that this is one of the least-regarded films of the whole BlogalongaBond marathon, which seems absurd when compared to Die Another Day, Thunderball or A View To A Kill. Then again, Quantum of Solace just goes to show that you can only get so far on having one of the few Bond portrayals in which the character is allowed to develop, and that the rest of it needs to make some kind of sense too. It should at least be more memorable than this turned out, anyway.

This series had never seen such a direct sequel, and is unlikely to ever join up separate instalments in such a manner again, as we begin the film about ten minutes after Casino Royale. Bond is still wounded by Vesper's betrayal, and a disastrous early encounter with Mr. White reveals MI6's ignorance of Quantum, a criminal organisation who operate on a global scale, both within governments and outside of their knowledge. As he investigates, he encounters Camille, a Bolivian secret service agent, who is involved with Dominic Greene, a member of Quantum who is aiding in a coup.

18 October 2012

PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4- Review

This review will contain SPOILERS for the first three Paranormal Activity films. Obviously.

The marketing for Paranormal Activity 4 promises that "All the activity has led to this." Since the original film, which took place in 2006, we've had a film that took place simultaneously, and a prequel set in the 1980s, so the setting of the fourth instalment in 2011 would seem to move things forward. Now, having seen the film, it turns out to be a truism as obvious and anti-climactic as "Today will lead to tomorrow", or "Slamming your dick in a car door is not ideal."

2011 marks five years since Katie Featherston murdered her boyfriend and her sister's family, and abducted her baby nephew, Hunter, as seen at the end of the second film and recapped at the start of this one. This time around, teenage Alex and her boyfriend Ben start filming, when her parents agree to look after a young boy who lives across the street, while his mother is in the hospital. There is something off about little Robbie, and Alex is disturbed, both by his relationship with her younger brother, Wyatt, and his tendency to creep around the house at night.

17 October 2012

RUBY SPARKS- Review

Six years after their Oscar-winning success with Little Miss Sunshine, directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris have made a follow-up that is somewhat darker than their first film, and yet several shades lighter than it should be, at times. Ruby Sparks is a film conceived by the actress who plays the title character and provided the screenplay, Zoe Kazan, and the project was developed with Dayton and Faris after their collaboration with Paul Dano, who stars in the lead role, on Little Miss Sunshine.

He plays Calvin Weir-Fields, an author who penned a future American classic at the age of 19, and although this has set him up for life, financially speaking, he has since grappled with writer's block and other psychological issues, as he feels the pressure to validate himself with a follow-up. As a homework exercise from his therapist, he writes a story about a girl who likes his dog, with the dog essentially serving as an avatar for Calvin's own anxieties, and suddenly can't stop writing. He even begins to fall in love with the character, which doesn't seem so crazy, once a very real Ruby suddenly manifests in his life.

15 October 2012

HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA- Review

Hotel Transylvania doesn't have the Happy Madison banner above the title, but it's more bearable than anything else that Adam Sandler and his troupe of mates have churned out in live-action in the last decade or so. It's a project that's been around since 2006, but perhaps what makes it so endearing is not that it's actually an Adam Sandler film at all, but that it's wound up being the debut feature of Genndy Tartakovsky, who brought us such strange and brilliant stuff as Dexter's Laboratory.

The premise is pretty simple, arriving just after ParaNorman and just before this week's Frankenweenie. Its horror genre literacy is largely based on the iconic monsters that starred in the classic Universal monster movies, and a resort setting in which they can hide from their dreaded human persecutors. So, as he prepares to celebrate his daughter Mavis' impending 118th birthday, Count Dracula welcomes his old buddies, (Frankenstein, the Wolfman et al) and their families to his hotel. But the unexpected arrival of a backpacker called Jonathan sends him into a tizzy, especially when Mavis hits it off with the young human.

10 October 2012

The Zero Room #13- Bye Bye Ponds!

I haven't been doing these episode by episode, as is usual, even though Steven Moffat's approach to the most recent run of Doctor Who has been along the lines of a "mini-blockbuster" each week. Given how completely separate they are, I realised that it would be more interesting to review the first half of the seventh series in terms of themes, and looking into what unifies these five episodes.

Most obviously, these episodes- Asylum of the Daleks, Dinosaurs on a Spaceship, A Town Called Mercy, The Power Of Three and The Angels Take Manhattan- are about bidding farewell to the outgoing companions, Amy and Rory, but hey, there's more to this recap than that. Reviews will obviously 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.

8 October 2012

SINISTER- Review

In the past couple of years, I've enjoyed the ghost train brand of horror that comes from cinema experiences like Insidious, The Woman In Black, and the superior Paranormal Activity 3. At the same time, none of those films really put story first, except maybe PA3, as a mythology-building prequel to the first two films. Sinister, co-written by director Scott Derrickson and film critic-turned-screenwriter C. Robert Cargill, succeeds by putting the "story" part of "horror story" first and foremost.

Ellison Oswalt is a true crime novelist who's spent a decade trying to replicate the success of his breakout hit, and has dragged his family through move after move in pursuit of grisly crime scenes. Without telling his wife, their latest move puts them in the house where the previous residents were hung from a tree in the backyard. In the course of his research, Ellison finds a box of old super-8 reels, which show not only the hanging, but the murders of several other families, all connected by the presence of a mysterious figure.

5 October 2012

TAKEN 2- Review

Taken was one of the biggest surprises of its year, delivering a tour-de-force PR campaign that completely reversed the film's fortunes, after an early online leak ensured that even Liam Neeson's nephews had seen the film illegally, ahead of its allotted release date. It's a grimy little B-movie, elevated by a world-class actor whose deadpan performance fired him into the action movie A-list, and it reaped the rewards of the good word of mouth at the box office.

Inevitably, Fox set a thousand monkeys to work on a thousand typewriters, in the hope of recreating a similar thrill. While Taken 2 is certainly more anticipated, it's not necessarily a better film than the original. A year after going to Europe to rescue his daughter Kim, and killing or torturing everyone he encountered along the way, Bryan Mills is now faced with the reality of his little girl growing up, learning to drive and even getting a boyfriend. But it seems that he didn't kill enough people in the first one, because a family holiday in Istanbul is derailed by the vengeance of Murad and his men- how can the same shit happen to the same guy on a different continent?

4 October 2012

THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER- Review

When I'm out and about, as my mild-mannered, non-blogging alter-ego, I'm occasionally picked up on being "that film guy" by folks who are out on the town at the same time as me. The two most common discussion points of the last fortnight have been "What did you think of the new film with Gandolfini in it?" (I've seen it, but haven't reviewed because I haven't had the opportunity to see it a second time) and "Why have they ruined Perks by changing Sam into Hermione?"

The Perks of Being A Wallflower, the novel, was apparently a big hit with teens and adults, and it should hopefully come as some solace for readers that the film is written and directed by the author, Stephen Chbosky. Despite having not read the book myself, I'd still imagine that means it's faithfully adapted. In the early 1990s, Charlie is a deeply troubled teen who's just starting his freshman year at high school. He looks set to bury his head in classic literature, and remain alienated from his schoolmates, until his imagination is captured by step-siblings Patrick, a flamboyant performer who, in another, less kind world, might have taken up archery, and Sam, who is, mercifully, not the kind of Manic Pixie Dream Girl that populates lesser films than this.

3 October 2012

SAVAGES- Review

Just because I'm talking about this film now, it doesn't mean I'm going to like it at the end of the review. It's that kind of review. This one has taken a while to write, considering that I finally saw Savages on Monday, and it's been out for a good week or so before that. The question of whether or not it's any good is based on whether or not you go to the cinema to enjoy yourself, or to react to whatever it is you watch.

Oliver Stone's directorial career has been built upon provocative films, and here's another one to add to the list. It's narrated and book-ended by Ophelia, (she prefers "O") who's in a blissful menage a trois with Ben and Chon, California's most successful independent distributors of marijuana. Their idyllic lives are threatened by a Mexican drug cartel that is moving up north. They want to work with Ben and Chon's business, but when they refuse to co-operate, a violent stand-off begins, with O caught right in the middle.

1 October 2012

THE CAMPAIGN- Review

I've been interested in politics on both sides of the Atlantic since my college days, and the time seems ripe for a political satire that centres on the dick-measuring and oneupmanship that surrounds elections in the United States. There's a presidential election coming up in November, and from the 49% of Americans who apparently don't pay taxes, to the debacle that saw Clint Eastwood arguing with an imaginary Barack Obama, there's plenty for a smart, funny film to pick over.

Regrettably, The Campaign isn't that film, but can we hold that against it? The premise would seem to be well-constructed. Congressman Cam Brady has reigned in the 14th district of North Carolina for eight years, unopposed, until a series of scandals leaves him on shaky ground. Unfortunately, at the very same time, a corrupt pair of sibling industrialists bring in a local stooge, Marty Huggins, to challenge Brady, leading to an absurd contest to try and win over the electorate.

27 September 2012

TOWER BLOCK- Review

What the hell is it with this year and awesome high-rise siege movies? Whatever it is, I like it- after The Raid and Dredd comes the first movie of the year that actually takes place from the perspective of the beseiged inhabitants of the location, and it's called Tower Block. Hopefully, it will play for longer than a week in some cinemas, or the timing of this review will give you only a little time to check it out for yourself.

The film, written by Severance screenwriter James Moran, begins with a murder on the top floor of Serenity House, a tower block that has been marked for redevelopment. Nobody, except ballsy resident Becky, does anything to try and save the victim, and absolutely nobody talks to the police afterwards. Three months later, only the inhabitants of the flats on the top floor remain in the block, as they await re-housing by the council. However, one Saturday, an unseen sniper in another building begins to pick them off one by one, forcing them to rely on one another to survive the weekend.

26 September 2012

LOOPER- Review

Off the back of last week's sorely underappreciated Premium Rush, Joseph Gordon-Levitt's latest, Looper, arrives with much more fanfare. Whether the wide release, or the participation of Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis and Emily Blunt, undoes its indie cred to some extent, it remains that Rian Johnson's film is getting the bump it deserves in cinemas, as an American science-fiction film with a mid-range budget and tonnes of imagination.

In the latter half of the 21st century, it has become all but impossible to dispose of bodies, and so, using illegal time travel technology, the mobs send their hits back in time, to the mid-2000s, for disposal. Loopers are the personnel in charge of this disposal, contracted on the condition that their loop will be closed when their own future self is sent back for assassination. One Looper, Joe, comes face to face with himself, from 30 years in the future, and fails to finish the job. The older Joe has some other ideas about how the last three decades should pan out, while his present day counterpart runs for his life.

25 September 2012

HOUSE AT THE END OF THE STREET- Spoiler Review

This review contains some SPOILERS. If you're planning on seeing House At The End Of The Street, er... don't, but also don't read on just yet.

Jennifer Lawrence is one of the biggest rising stars of the last few years. She has a few of those major milestones for a young actress under her belt already, having garnered an Oscar nomination, and starred in a comic book movie, but now she's also done the low-rent teen thriller. House At The End Of The Street was pegged for an April release in the US, but there was a delay and a fundamentally altered marketing campaign after its star killed a load of kids in a movie that made over $400 million.

Make no mistake, whatever this once was, it's now an opportunity to cash in on the popularity of Katniss Everdeen. It's being marketed as a supernatural horror film, but it's really much closer to a teen thriller. Elissa and her mother move to rural, small-town America, having caught a bargain on a house that happens to be next door to the scene of an infamous crime. There, Elissa becomes intrigued by their sole remaining neighbour, Ryan Jacobson, whose parents were murdered by his younger sister. Despite her mother's protests, she grows closer and closer to him, and almost comes too close to realise the terrible truth.

24 September 2012

BlogalongaBond- CASINO ROYALE Review

Back when all of this began, when I still thought that Connery didn't have a bad Bond movie to his name, and I knew that Dalton was great in the role, but didn't realise how great he really was, I admitted that Casino Royale was not just my favourite Bond film, but one of my favourite films of all time. As a result of following the rules of BlogalongaBond, I've held off rewatching this for almost two years, and now finally, we're here.

Although I've actually covered many reboots in the course of this marathon, Daniel Craig signals the first outright version of James Bond's origins, as he's first promoted to 00 status, and secondly faces off against a private banker, Le Chiffre. A hedge fund for terrorists is up for grabs in a high-stakes poker game at the titular casino in Montenegro, and MI5 sends in Bond, their best player, to clean out Le Chiffre and bring him in for information. Along the way, he's teamed with Vesper Lynd, a beautiful Treasury agent who begins to make Bond think twice about the life he has chosen.

21 September 2012

THE SWEENEY- Review

This is how Nick Love actually sees London.
With the news that The Sweeney hit the #1 spot at the UK box office last weekend, I thought it was time to brave Nick Love's latest, a reboot of the popular ITV cop drama. As bad as A Touch Of Cloth, the truly brilliant, Police Squad-style spoof of prime-time police procedural dramas from the minds of Charlie Brooker and Daniel Maier, is going to be for any prime-time police procedural drama that hits the small screen in the near future, it's all the worse for this distinctly uncinematic tosh.

In terms of tone, it's The Sweeney in name only. Flying Squad detectives Jack Regan and George Carter operate an elite team of shouty, corrupt coppers from a preposterously swanky high-rise office, which actually appears to be set in The Apprentice, going by the establishing shots. With their M.O. of acting like criminals to catch criminals, they pretty much come across as criminals, and so they also have internal affairs breathing down their necks. Elsewhere, an old enemy of Regan's is taking the piss, and the Sweeney will stop at nothing to sort him out.

20 September 2012

PARANORMAN- Review

Between reviews of Doctor Who and the spate of horror films aimed at children in recent years, I think that this blog has made it abundantly clear that there should be more daring and scary films for a family audience, so I shan't stress the point. Plus, ParaNorman shows that we're clearly getting that kind of film anyway, especially when it comes to the output of animation studio Laika, who previously had a big hit with Coraline.

While that film drew from Neil Gaiman's novel, this one is based on an original script, but with more homage to horror movies and the gruesome pre-occupations of children, than actual horror. I'll explain how this is a good thing in due course, but I mean to say that the film's hero, Norman Babcock has the ability to communicate with the dead, and is alienated by his friends, his family and just about everyone else in his small town, Blithe Hollow. The town is famous for a witch hunt that happened three centuries prior, and Norman is suddenly bequeathed with the duty of protecting the village from the witch's ancient curse.

17 September 2012

PREMIUM RUSH- Review

David Koepp is a screenwriter whose name should probably be better known. In the last twenty years or so, his name has been attached to such films as Jurassic Park, Spider-Man and, yes, alright, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. His work as a director, particularly on his previous film, Ghost Town, has demonstrated that he's no hack, but a stalwart writer who reall gets story structure.

This experience is an enormous benefit to Premium Rush, a breathlessly paced B-movie that recalls the kind of exhilaratingly brief thrill ride that we seldom see in modern filmmaking. It centres around Wiley, an adrenaline junkie bike messenger whose fearless pedalling through all manner of potential traffic calamities makes him one of the best working in Manhattan. One eventful evening, he's called upon to deliver an envelope to Chinatown by 7pm, and winds up being chased all over by a hapless cop, Bobby Monday, who's also interested in Wiley's cargo.

14 September 2012

LAWLESS- Review

John Hillcoat's previous two collaborations with Nick Cave, on The Proposition and The Road, were pretty flipping bleak, and I hadn't thought that there would be much reason to expect any different of Lawless. However, as compared to fraternal tensions in the Outback and the torment of Viggo Mortensen in having to drag his whiny kid about a post-apocalyptic landscape, it's practically a comedy.

Based on The Wettest County In The World, the film follows the true story of the Bondurant brothers, a trio of bootleggers from Franklin County in Virginia at the height of Prohibition in the US, focusing particularly on the youngest brother, Jack. He's  the runt of the litter, left to drive for brothers Howard and Forrest on their moonshine runs, but he starts to get in on the racket when he agrees to supply big-city gangster Floyd Banner. But when Franklin is visited by a new deputy, Special Agent Charlie Rakes, Jack runs the risk of bringing trouble down on his whole family.

12 September 2012

DREDD- Review

Unfortunately delayed from last December, Dredd has finally hit cinemas a couple of months after The Raid, a film with which it shares some narrative similarities. I say that the timing is unfortunate, not for Dredd, but for people who, like me, are going to be intensely irritated by people who insist that it ripped off The Raid whenever it's brought up. And I'm going to be bringing it up a lot- this is really a great sci-fi action movie, and a rock-solid reboot.

In a post-apocalyptic landscape, 800 million citizens of Mega-City One, a huge, concrete metropolis that spans from what used to be Boston to what used to be Washington DC, are on the brink of anarchy. This particular film follows one of the city's law enforcers, Judge Dredd, through a day in his working life. But on this day, he's tasked with assessing Anderson, a rookie Judge with psychic abilities, shortly before a routine investigation leaves both him and the rookie trapped inside Peach Trees, an immense residential high-rise that is ruled by the murderous Ma Ma clan.

6 September 2012

THE POSSESSION- Review

I've included a section of the poster for The Possession above, because it demonstrates how something can be less scary as a still image than it might be in the context of a live action movie. Certainly, this extreme version of a facepalm made me giggle when I first saw it, and with the involvement of Sam Raimi, and his Ghost House Pictures, I had assumed that it was going to be more than the standard demonic possession film, and something more along the lines of the howling, hysterical horror comedy, Drag Me to Hell.

Director Ole Bornedal's film is far more straight-faced than the type of film that Raimi puts out, but neither is it a bog-standard addition to an over-stuffed sub-genre. Whether it is, as it purports, based on true events or not, makes about as much difference as it does in any other horror film that claims that inspiration. Clyde Brenek is a high-school basketball coach who's planning to move for work, away from his estranged family, when his youngest daughter Emily becomes infatuated with a wooden box that he buys for her at a yard sale. It transpires that she has a friend, who lives in the box, and that friend is a dybbuk.

4 September 2012

TOTAL RECALL- Review

Looking at Sony's output this summer, disappointments like Men In Black 3 and The Amazing Spider-Man aren't going to do their bank balance any harm, grossing hundreds of millions of dollars all around the world. Their big flop of the summer, Total Recall, also happens to be creatively disappointing, and also suffers as a diminishing return to material that has previously been realised very well on the big screen.

Though taking the title of Paul Verhoeven's 1990 film, this version purports to be a more faithful adaptation of Phillip K. Dick's We Can Remember It For You Wholesale. Aside from the fact that Colin Farrell gets his ass to Britain, instead of Mars, it does seem like a lot of the beats have come from Verhoeven's film. Factory worker Douglas Quaid spends his days discontentedly assembling the robot police force that keeps the poorest of society in check. One day, he decides to splash out on some memory adjustment at a company called Rekall, planning to be implanted with memories of an action-packed life of adventure, but things don't quite go according to plan.

30 August 2012

SHADOW DANCER- Review

Right, enough of all that comedy bunkum for one week- it's time for something a bit more worthy. And indeed, after a summer of bangs, crashes, wallops and frankly inferior reboots, it's definitely not unwelcome. Shadow Dancer is set in Northern Ireland during the 1990s, and comes from screenwriter Tom Bradby's own 1998 novel, itself based on his experience as ITN's Ireland correspondent during that time.

But principally, it centres around one character- Colette McVeigh, a single mother who lives at home with her own mum, raising her son with her family's help. She's also a volunteer for the IRA, whose squeamishness about committing terrorist acts gets her caught by Mac, an MI5 operative who's hoping to recruit an informant. The McVeighs are amongst the key players in the IRA, and when faced with jail, Colette agrees to cooperate with Mac, putting herself in even greater danger.

29 August 2012

THE THREE STOOGES- Review

After one or two comedic disasters this week, I hope it's time for me to possibly make a change. While I believe that if you'd already decided to see those movies before I reviewed them, nothing I said could have changed your mind, here's one that you might have dismissed out of hand, and yet turned out a damn sight better than the more popular choices.

Bobby and Peter Farrelly are behind this revamp of the vaudeville comedy short films, but retain many of the same sensibilities in the transfer to the 21st century. So, The Three Stooges are Moe, Larry and Curly, now played by Chris Diamontopoulos, Sean Hayes and Will Sasso, respectively, and they still live in the orphanage where they were abandoned as babies. With all the injuries and accidents they cause with their hijinks, the orphanage has ran up an insurance bill of $830,000, and faces imminent closure. The Stooges go into the city to try and save their home and get into further misadventures.