Superman: Man Of Steel

Superman #1The trouble with big industries like the music industry and Hollywood studios is that they stick with what works. This lack of adaptation is their Achilles heal. And what’s worse is their stubbornness to believe that they may not always be right. Anyone with a computer can have a crack at making a film or producing music these days. And these people are less dependant on formula as the studios. In other words, their ideas are often original.

The latest in the Superman franchise, this time an offering from Watchmen director Zack Snyder, fails to offer anything original in it’s production. For what is a 3D film, the scenes are often filled to the brim with explosions and fast paced editing that is so intense, it doesn’t permit any form of self orientation which is essential for the viewer to enjoy the 3D aspect. There are too many explosions. There are too many buildings collapsing. There are too many fast-paced edits in the film. It’s as if, since 9/11 and the rise of portable media, movies are desperately trying to reclaim the crown that reality has stolen from them. The onyl time the camera is still is for the headshot dialogue, scripted with the usual trite cliches.

Superman #2This low quality screenplay by David Goyer (with story by him and Batman veteran Christopher Nolan) is presumably why they cast someone like Henry Cavill. He looks amazing which is fine as the acting agenda in this film takes a low priority thanks to every second being interupted by yet another CG special effect. I can see the studio producers sat there with their cigars saying “Give me more explosions, more CG, more, more, more…!” with all the artistic panache of a 60 year old banker bursting into tears whilst singing “All by myself” on the X-Factor! (though the latter would be more fun to watch)

Give me the Richard Donner film any day! At least Terence Stamp’s General Zod didn’t look like Buzz Lightyear on crack!


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Star Trek: Into Darkness

Vue Cinema LogoI am still reeling about how one ticket, a drink and popcorn could cost me £24.85 and I still have to sit through half an hour of advertising but that’s exactly what happened this afternoon at the Vue Cinema (formerly Apollo) on Piccadilly Circus. I had considered the venue the best in London last year, but the change of ownership since Vue purchased the chain in May 2012 has had a significantly negative impact on the venue. I for one will think twice before returning.

Star Trek Into Darkness #3I’d gone to see the new JJ Abrams Star Trek:Into Darkness in 3D. And being a hot day found myself alone in the air conditioned cinema. Nice (though not £25 worth of nice!!) This is Abrams second ST film. He’s quite a one for taking on old franchises and making them his own whilst respecting their essence so as not to disappoint a huge core of die hard fans (Unlike the latest Die Hard offering which disappointed a huge core of Die Hard fans – seriously, what were they thinking.) This task is going to get even more difficult for Abrams who has recently been tasked with the next Star Wars instalments after their purchase from Lucas by Disney. Yes Disney. I know!

This film is good but given the money spent on it, it would have been a scandal of epic proportions had it not been. The story is pre “5 year mission” and all the corny cliches are there. Bones McCoy saying “I’m a doctor not a torpedo technician, dammit!” and the ubiquitous cameo from one of the original cast! The 3D aspect is ok with a few arrows coming out of the screen at ya and some rather nice space shots. But there is some rather cringeworthy aspects too. Simon Pegg’s Scotty and Anton Yelchin’s Chekov had disappointingly dreadful accents. Not quite Dick Van Dyke bad! But nevertheless a bit off and I expected better from them! There are some awful domestic couple comedy between Uhura and Spock and Karl Urban’s Bones McCoy was pretty 2 dimensional.

Star Trek Into Darkness #1We all like a baddy and Benedict Cumberbatch is excellent and beautifully measured as Khan and Peter Weller as Marcus is pretty good too. And stay to the end, as the end credits offers some of the best 3D effects zooming through a library of planets and moons. But if your local cinema is charging high prices to see it in 3d, then skip it till the DVD comes out. It’s not integral to the film and this technology is doomed to fail if they continue to treat loyal cinema goers in this appalling and greedy way! Shame on you Vue!


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Hitchcock #2For me he’s probably one of the best film directors that ever lived. Why? Because he knew how to tell a story. Not just script but camera angle, lens, music, casting etc etc…  In an industry which can often resemble a conveyor belt production line, often at the insistence of the producers (who , despite their own opinion, rarely have an artisitic bone in their body) it is a rare moment when a director has not only the auteured vision for his project, but the balls to stand up and get his way, regardless of what the producers think. And in this film, despite being at the top of his game, Hitchcock even has to put his money where his mouth is and fund the new film, Psycho, himself. And that’s to say nothing of the headaches he receives from the censors!

Psycho, of course, became arguably his seminal work which, as you can imagine given his legendary repertoire of work, is no mean achievement. The film stars Anthony Hopkins as Hitchcock and Helen Mirren as his wife Alma. It chronicles the making of Psycho and the ‘soap-opera’ behind the scenes life. The movie also contains a parallel, psychological theme as Hitchcock “hangs out” (albeit symbolically rather than literally) with the tormented mind of serial-killer Ed Gein (Michael Wincott) the real-life inspiration for the original book. It also depicts how personal parts of his life may have contributed to the film, such as the peephole used by Norman Bates and using his fresh temper (thinking his wife was having an affair) to help frighten Janet Leigh in the shower scene. And was it just me or did Janet Leighs dressing room resemble the films notorious motel room?

Hitchcock #3The make-up department surely deserve a mention for Hopkins transformation. However, Hopkins’ voice lets him down occasionally – some scenes he nails it but there are moments when it’s Hopkins not Hitch speaking, which is a shame. Mirren is good in her role, but the whole film is fairly mild and never really permeates the dark depths that one would imagine making a film such as Psycho. Personally, I can forgive this and when half the film is set on a the movie set it’s like the dream-back-stage-pass! Bernard Hermann’s eerie themes makes a cameo appearance in the underscore and at one point one can hear the haunting echo of the word…”McGuffin!” For a Hitch fan like myself, it’s heaven!


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Moonrise Kingdom

Moonrise Kingdom #1This beautiful coming-of-age comedy is about a pair of young lovers Sam Shakusky and Suzy Bishop. After sparking a penpal relationship, they arrange to run away from home on their remote New England island, though only for 10 days. Armed with his scouting enquipment and she with her pet cat and a record player they cope remarkably well and fall in love. Their parents and guardians however are at their witsend and as a hurricane reportedly approaches the island, concern grows for their safety.

Directed by Wes Anderson and cowritten by him and Roman Coppola, this film is sumptuous to watch. The cinematography is beautiful. At first it looks slightly two dimensional like South Park, but it is an acquired taste that quickly grows on you. Every shot tells a story and were this thirty years ago when stills from the film were on show outside the cinema, you’d be hard pushed to whittle it down to a shortlist.

Moonrise Kingdom #2Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward both make a fantastic debut with support from quite an impressive cast including Bill Murray & Francis McDormand as Suzy’s attorney parents, Bruce Willis as the local policeman Captain Sharp, Tilda Swinton as the Social Services and Harvey Keitel, quirkily dapper in scout-leader uniform, as Commander Pierce! My favourite character, however, was the sharp, officious yet slightly tragic figure portrayed by Edward Norton as Scoutmaster Ward. And Lucas Hedges deserves a mention as the bullies heroic leader!

It’s a shame that this movie has only been nominated for writing as I am hard pushed to not be impressed by the whole package. It was reminiscent of Richard Ayoade’s debut film Submarine – if you enjoyed that, you’ll love this. [rating=5]

Posted in 2012, BAFTA's 2013, Oscar's 2013 | Leave a comment

Zero Dark Thirty

Zero Dark Thirty #1Maybe some considered it tempting fate to produce National Security drama whilst Americas public enemy number one terrorist, Osama bin Laden, was still at large. But since his death, there seems to have been closure in America that’s been counterbalanced with the birth of dramas about the nations security, the war on terror and other things that “changed the world” after the events of 11th September 2001. Homeland has just completed it’s second season whilst recently collecting an armful of Golden Globes. And this film from Hurt Locker director Kathryn Bigelow is ten times as powerful and compelling to watch. But it’s also quite controversial.

The film tells the story of CIA operative Maya who commits her life to hunting down Osama bin Laden (referred to as UBL in the film, presumably to avoid the whole Obama/Osama mix up) We start with no picture but sounds from 9/11 including the distressful conversation where a victim screams in tears from the top of the WTC over the phone to an emergency operator that she is terrified she is about to die, only for the operator to loose the connection to her after the towers collapse. Harrowing stuff, but blatantly warning us to have no illusions of what is to come. What does follow is the decade post 9/11 including the Khobar massacre in 2004, London 7/7 bombings in 2005 and the Mumbai attacks in 2008, though for some reason, unlike 9/11, Bigelow chose to illustrate these attacks quite vividly in the film. There are also light references to America/Britain’s appalling intelligence to WMD in Iraq, though Bigelow steers clear of any political shortcomings regarding that issue.

Zero Dark Thirty #3Most controversial is the depiction of torture used by the Americans to gain information about UBL and al Quada. The use of water boarding and extraordinary rendition (where prisoners are extradited to a country where certain forms of torture aren’t illegal so they can be tortured there) is bluntly portrayed in the first half of the film. However much of this is already heavily documented by the media, so whilst it makes for shocking “in your face” film making, I was left wondering whether dramatising it would bring any fresher angle on the subject. I’m not sure it did, though I imagine it may help with “closure” for many potential audience members.

It’s hardly a spoiler if I tell you UBL dies in the end. Yup, the “good guys win” – yay! For that reason alone, this film will be a hit amongst patriotic conservative Americans! But Bigelow’s ending is curious and a little confusing. Throughout the film there have been mentions, almost like a tiny subplot, that Maya leads quite a lonely existence. And the film ends with her feeling quite lonely, empty and isolated on a massive aircraft carrier, now her task is complete. Not sure I understood it. Odd choice.

Any other criticism, however, would be nit-picking (if I’ve not done so already). Prepare yourself for a heavy duty, two and a half hour epic that documents a chapter in history that has left many dead and many non the wiser. Whether you call it Jihad or the War on Terror, there will never be winners. There will only be those deluded enough to think that violence and killing makes the world a better place!


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Lincoln #2Heavily nominated by both the Academy of Motion Pictures and BAFTA, this biopic from Steven Spielberg focuses primarily on Lincoln’s last four months and his attempts to emancipate the black population starting with his campaign to pass the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution which outlawed slavery, still a problem in many southern, Confederate states. To many, myself included the film will be quite educational. With the title role played by twice Oscar winning Daniel Day Lewis, supported by the likes of Tommy Lee Jones and directed by Steven Spielberg there can be no doubt, on the surface at least, why this has been heavily nominated.

I was concerned at first that my ignorance to this part of history would leave me behind but, as it soon became apparent that the finale would be the build up to the vote in the Senate chamber, the journey was more smooth if a little predictable. As you would expect with a movie of this calibre everything from costume to a mid-19th century Capitol building (Richmond VA, not Washington). Scenes of the American Civil War are quite detailed and a little graphic. One shot shows a gasping man’s face pressed deeper and deeper into the mud by a boot. But whilst period details have been painfully recreated, the historical account itself remains a little dubious. For example, Lincoln is seen pressing on with the amendment with urgency as he feels if he leaves it too late, the imminent resolution of the American Civil War anticipated later that year would dilute his support to get the amendment passed. But some have suggested he used the amendment to cripple the economy of the southern states that were heavily supported by slavery. Rather a contrast of accounts and ammunition for those who argue that Hollywood often sentimenalises and idealises historical events at the expense of truth and fact. God bless America!

Lincoln #1Performances worthy of a mention is James Spader as W.N. Bilbo and Tommy Lee Jones as Thaddeus Stephens. Surprisingly a majority of the scenes are straight forward dialogue, almost static and theatrical. If the film is a hit of epic proportions, then I wouldn’t be surprised if a play version popped up on Broadway. But only Broadway, I imagine, because surely this film can only be of any real interest to those who are interested in American, historical, political dramas. And beyond America, that’s a pretty niche market. Maybe West Wing fans and those who avidly watch History Channel reconstructions. It ticks all the boxes for things like the BAFTA’s and Oscars, yes Day-Lewis’s performance is great and it will remain as iconic film as Ghandi maybe! But, as I’m realising the older I get, that is little reflection to what Joe Public aka ‘The Box Office’ think. The very fact that Skyfall (released in October and STILL going strong) has eluded all of the major nominations from both institutes epitomises this point.


Posted in 2013, BAFTA's 2013, Oscar's 2013 | Leave a comment


Happy-Go-Lucky #1Poppy Cross (Sally Hawkins) is a primary school teacher. She loves her job, she loves her best friend (Alexis Zegerman), she loves her home, she loves one of her sisters (though later we find she’s not so close to the other) and she loves life. She’ll happily talk to strangers, rarely gets riled by misfortune (she moans when her bike is stolen that she didn’t get to say goodbye to the bike) and she’s the first to see the glass is half full in those she encounters. This is just as well as many of the people whom she does encounter seem tightly wound with the stresses of life, none more so than her driving instructor, Scott (Eddie Marsan).

I began Mike Leigh’s film by being annoyed by the lead character. Her desire to help and cheer all whom she meets at first appears naive, whilst her dippy behaviour left me in no doubt that, like someone who had gotten raucously drunk at your office party, they would ultimately embarrass themselves and it would be their own fault. Little had I realised that this was almost a mirror glass technique to demonstrate how positive emotion can leave one exasperated. Maybe I was one of the stiffs of life whom she would target to cheer up? Evidently placed for contrasting effect, the various characters she encounters (including flamenco lessons with a feisty spaniard who instructs her class to feel the pain, a late night encounter with a mad tramp and the driving lessons from hell) display all the opposite emotions to her; knots of hate, anger, regret, bitterness and aggression. Her reaction to these people is to open up and help, which leaves her incredibly vulnerable. So much so, you’re left waiting for the worst to happen. Before you know it, you feel protective of the character. Fie my fickle mood!

Happy-Go-Lucky #2So all in all there is a gamut of emotions swirling about, not just for the characters but audience too. The film lacks an actual story which for someone like me leaves me floating aimlessly wondering what it’s all for. It’s much more of an episodic study of a character, rather than a significant emotional journey. There are some great performances, though at times I felt the dialogue quite stilted which surprised me for a Mike Leigh film. Great cinematography (especially the end shot) and a feel good factor reminiscent of Life is Beautiful.


Buy “Happy-Go-Lucky” on DVD

Posted in 2000 - 2009, DVD | Leave a comment


Beetlejuice #2There is a simple rule to this website. One can only review a film within a week of watching it for the very first time. So yes, given the right reviewer, it would be possible to read a review for Star Wars Episode 4. Indeed amongst my work colleagues are those who have never seen Die Hard, Back To The Future or Withnail & I.  And yet it would seem, according to them, that I too am a heathen for I have never seen Tim Burtons’ classic from 1988 until today!

I guess my main concern would be that it too childish. Michael Keaton is not my favourite actor and sure enough he hams up this part like he were Jim Carey’s drama teacher. But mercifully (and surprisingly) his character does not dominate the film as heavily as its title may suggest. Instead Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis play a recently deceased couple tasked with the seemingly impossible job of haunting away the new residents to their former property. Their journey and experiences on the other side are precisely what you’d expect from Tim Burton’s imagination though sadly the production is not as polished as, say, Terry Gilliam.

Beetlejuice #1The new owner intruders are headed up by matriarch Delia Deetz, played by Catherine O’Hara and eerily reminiscent of Madeleine Khan. Her husband Charles Deetz, played by 80’s favourite Jeffrey Jones (he of Ferris Bueller fame) is sadly too nice and likeable. I want my character actors to play their typecast! Their goth daughter (Winona Ryder) plays a pivotal role in the story. I’m sure the fact that she was a goth is hilarious in the 80’s. Bit anodyne now.

For parents everywhere, I imagine this film will shut their children up for an hour or so. It’s as harmless as Casper the friendly ghost and suitable for 6 to 12 year olds. Cos the film is quite childish! Though with films like Men in Black doing similar effects only better, I doubt it needs to feature too highly on your list.


Posted in 1980's


This odd dark comedy is the creation of it’s principle performers Alice Lowe and Steve Oram. A socially dysfunctional couple (Tina & Chris) head out on their dream caravanning holiday in Britain but their itinerary of museums, beauty spots and heritage sites is interspersed with their newly found appetite to kill those who annoy them! Whilst this gives extra pep to their sex life, it does leave them a little disillusioned about their relationship with each other and the world that surrounds them.

I found this film a delicate balance of priceless moments and disappointment. The idea is certainly fresh and original. The chemistry between Oram and Lowe is reminiscent of  Rob Brydon and Julia Davis in Human Remains. Eileen Davies is hilarious as Tina’s mother Carol and also worth a mention is Chris’ friend in plastics, Martin (Richard Glover) And great original music, though sparse especially at the beginning, from Jim Williams.

Then on the negative side, I was disappointed by the hit and miss photography. It could have been more sublime and inspiring, but there was little Wordsworth about it, more Hoseasons holiday brochure – which was a poor choice as the characters are plain enough. However there were some hits with the editing with a few strange montages/dream sequences including quite a vivid sunrise murder on a tor mixed with a ritual chicken killing by some Shamen on a campsite nearby (as you do!)

Packed with a strong 80’s soundtrack this film tells the story of a modern, youthful mid-life crisis. Ambitions, dreams, expectations and life journeys that are never really fulfilled with a mix of despair and resentment at modern life. And these characters aren’t objects of ridicule. I’m ashamed to admit but I too have visited the Pencil Museum in Cumberland on my holiday! And I visited the cinema in my weatherproof anorak (it’s sensible, it keeps out the cold and wet!!!) and National Trust hat! Tina and Chris are just normal people who find themselves annoyed by those who drop litter! Who doesn’t? Because they are normal, we relate to them. We don’t judge or condemn them, despite their murderous shortcomings. We empathise with them and laugh at them because they’re reminiscent of ourselves (except for the murdering of course) In that respect, this comedy is very British!


Posted in 2012 | Leave a comment


Widely tipped by many to be a contender for 2013’s Best Film at the Academy, this story (based on true events) tells of an audacious plan to rescue 6 diplomats from a recently revolutionised and dangerous Iran. Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) was a real-life CIA operative who was tasked with exfiltrating the six, who had escaped from the US Tehran embassy when it was attacked by militants of the Ayatollah Khomeini (Fifty other embassy staff weren’t so lucky and were held prisoner for over 400 days) Mendez arrives in Tehran to find them hiding in the Canadian Embassy. He comes with a plan to disguise them as movie makers on a location scout for a sci-fi movie like Star Wars, but called Argo.

This is your typical nail-biting thriller not too dissimilar to any cold war drama, where a good half an hour of the drama is spent at the country’s passport control. Plenty of forged documents, need to know secrets and people at the very, very top be they Presidents or Ayatollahs. And it’s 1979 so expect 1979 imagery to feature heavily – smoking on a plane, ridiculously thick and square glasses, awful facial hair and haircuts, terrible decor. Also Star Wars merchandise and even a shot of Manhattan, looking like the promised land on the wall of the embassy, complete with Twin Towers. “Poignant” I sigh.

The film is a marvellous piece of work from Affleck who not only stars as the lead character but directs, no mean task. I’d recommend you watch it. By the end of the film, I couldn’t help reflect on the strong patriotism of the movie. I wondered how much of the story had been embellished and whether that was for dramatic effect or whether it was because it was an American movie. But as the credits roll, a montage of parallel images taken from the movie and from it’s real life historical counterpart are played, leaving you in no doubt as to the attention to detail. And if I wanted a documentary then I’d be foolish to think this film would do. All in all, I think the production side should definitely see a nomination, if nothing else. If it does get a best film nomination from the Academy, it’ll be because “the movie business” helped save the hostages! But that’s more a comment on Hollywood’s mawkishness.


Posted in 2012