Sunday 30 June 2013

Harry Brown (2009)

Daniel Barber's first full-length feature could, at a casual glance, be seen as a lazy way to fast-track him into the growing collection of great UK film-makers such as Shane Meadows, Danny Boyle, Christopher Smith, Neil Marshall, Guy Ritchie (YES, I said Guy Ritchie), Michael Winterbottom and others. It's a crime movie, it's done with a measured amount of gritty realism and it's got Michael Caine in it. So far so seen-it-all-before. But Harry Brown brings a bit more to the mix than just that.

Michael Caine IS Harry Brown, an old man living on a rather dilapidated council estate, spending his time either visiting his ill wife, playing chess with his friend Leonard (David Bradley) or simply filling the lonely, bleak hours in between such little moments of pleasure while, around him, the local area is going to ruin thanks to local teenagers playing with knives, guns and drugs and terrorising those who try to get on with their daily lives. When things happen that directly affect Harry he is then forced into making a decision he never thought he would make . . . . . . and to start cleaning up the estate. But it's not long before one good policewoman (Emily Mortimer) starts to suspect Harry's hand in the latest, bizarre events.

Michael Caine is an icon, an untouchable living British legend who can get by simply by being Michael Caine nowadays. Which is why it's been all the more impressive to see him put in damn fine performances in recent years and his portrayal of Harry Brown is one of his very best. Vulnerable and weak one moment, tough and dangerous the next, it's all believable thanks to Caine's performance. It helps that he's surrounded by the likes of Emily Mortimer, Liam Cunningham, Sean Harris and a group of young actors who all put in excellent acts, even while playing people you hope to never, ever meet in your life.

The character motivation feels real enough, the twists and turns don't leave you feeling cheated and the script stays truthful (sometimes disturbingly so) within the environment created for the movie so that's a success for writer Gary Young and director Daniel Barber that goes beyond any that a mix of standard crime antics and flashes of style could have provided.

The overall experience may be a little bit cold and bleak for some viewers but this is still a movie worth seeing, one that both entertains and makes you wince while also raising a number of moral questions as events move towards the climax.


Saturday 29 June 2013

Arthur (2011)

A remake of the much-loved 1981 movie, this time around drunken, childish Arthur is played by Russell Brand, Hobson is played by Helen Mirren and the love interest has become Naomi (played by Greta Gerwig). Luis Guzman is the chauffeur, Jennifer Garner is Susan Johnson and Nick Nolte is her scary father.
A quick reminder of the plot. Arthur is a drunk but a very, VERY rich drunk so that’s fine. The fact that he’s always in the news isn’t so fine and so his mother (played by Geraldine James) tells him that he must marry Susan Johnson or be cut off from the money. This happens, annoyingly enough, just as he meets and falls for the lovely Naomi.

Written by Peter Baynham (with plenty of lines and spirit, pun intended, lifted from the original) and directed by Jason Winer, Arthur could have been something really enjoyable. Russell Brand can do an eccentric drunk in his sleep so everything else should have fallen into place, right? Wrong. For some reason it was decided to make Arthur less of a staggering drunkard (though he’s drunk a lot of the time) and more of an outright man-child in this version, meaning that we have to suffer through an appalling performance from Brand that has him putting on a very childish voice and acting just like someone who’s been doped up with drugs. I’m sure this choice was made so that the film wouldn’t be seen to be deriving fun from alcoholism in these PC-infested times but it’s a bad choice and throws off the whole film. 

Everyone else is good and that’s a great shame because it simply highlights the poor performance from Brand, someone who I have so far always enjoyed in movie roles. Mirren makes a more than adequate replacement for John Gielgud and the bond between Arthur and Hobson is more obvious and easier to understand this time around. Gerwig does just fine as Naomi and Garner certainly does well as Susan Johnson, who is a colder and more calculating character in the remake than she was in either of the 80s movies. Guzman is very funny and Nolte is believably fear-inducing.

There are individual moments of fun, and a nice selection of movie cars, and the main character eventually gains your sympathy as the movie winds towards a predictable finale but this is inferior to the original and inferior to many other comedies released this year. 


Friday 28 June 2013

Arthur 2: On The Rocks (1988)

As is the way of many a sequel, the follow up to Arthur comes with a longer runtime and less worthy content.

Arthur (Dudley Moore once again) is now living happily with Linda (Liza Minnelli) and the two are planning to adopt a child, despite Arthur’s ongoing enjoyment of anything containing alcohol. Things take a turn for the worse when Burt Johnson (a returning Stephen Elliott), who harbours a grudge like you wouldn’t believe, finds a way to cut off Arthur’s income and uses the situation as leverage to force the man into marrying his daughter, Susan (played this time by Cynthia Sikes).

It’s Bud Yorkin in the director’s chair this time around, working from Andy Breckman’s screenplay, and he does okay while being ill-served by material that was barely able to fill out one whole movie, let alone justify a sequel.

Moore acts the perfect loveable drunkard yet again, Minnelli somehow tolerates his behaviour, Stephen Elliott is not onscreen for long but a great hardass when he is, Cynthia Sikes portrays Susan as someone so appealing that you begin to wonder why Arthur doesn’t just go along with the forced marriage and Paul Benedict has the unenviable task of replacing John Gielgud as the new butler, living in the large shadow cast his predecessor. There’s also an appearance by Kathy Bates, playing a woman trying to help Arthur and Linda adopt a baby as if the two were Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.

The film is passable enough, certainly for those who enjoyed spending time with the character of Arthur the first time around, but it’s not something I really enjoyed considering how I rated the first film as just above average anyway. This gets a generous . . . . . . . . . . 


Thursday 27 June 2013

Arthur (1981)

A 1980s comedy that relies very much on the charm of its leading man, Dudley Moore, Arthur is a fun film that just about holds up today though it comes very close to overstaying it’s welcome. If you dislike Dudley Moore then you’ll dislike this movie so bear that in mind (it begins with the sound of his laughter and that’s the most common noise throughout the entire film).

Arthur (Moore) is a man who refuses to grow up and take responsibility in life. That’s okay though, he’s also the heir to a fortune of about $750 million. His best relationship is with his butler, Hobson (a scene-stealing John Gielgud), unless you count his warm, ongoing friendship with anything alcoholic. Things come to a crunch after one embarrassment too many and Arthur is given an ultimatum by his family – marry a girl deemed a good choice for him (Susan, played by Jill Eikenberry) or be cut off from the money. A difficult decision is made even more difficult after Arthur bumps into, and falls for, Linda (Liza Minnelli).

Much like the main character, Arthur bumbles and stumbles along merrily enough, for the most part, but also tries your patience on occasion. Moore can act well as a loveable drunkard, Minnelli is sassy and quite cute and Sir Gielgud invests his every scene with a presence and nobility they don’t necessarily deserve. Barney Martin is also very enjoyable as Linda’s father.

Writer-director Steve Gordon gets a lot right but also seems to be overstretching the lightweight material at times. Perhaps that’s simply due to the inherent problems you always have when in the company of a full-time drunkard, things start to get a little less humorous and patience is worn down.

It’s hard to sympathise with a main character who has had such an enjoyable free ride through life and rarely shows anything other than selfishness and cowardice so it’s to Gordon and Moore’s credit that audiences warmed to Arthur as much as they did.

Add a memorable and Oscar-winning, though overused to the point of irritation, song by Christopher Cross (The Best That You Can Do AKA Arthur’s Theme) and you have a film that many will retain a nostalgic affection for, despite the  mis-steps.


Layer Cake (2004)

Layer Cake is an important movie for a number of reasons. Firstly, it's the film that saw the hugely talented Matthew Vaughn step out from the shadow of Guy Ritchie (he'd previously been producer on Ritchie's movies). Secondly, it showed Daniel Craig's leading man potential and even, yes, gives him a Bond moment. Third, it showed that British crime movies could still be fresh and entertaining without coming across as some pale Lock, Stock-wannabe. Fourth . . . . okay, I'm not sure if there are any more reasons so I'll stop there. But Layer Cake is certainly more, thanks to what it achieved, than just another UK gangster movie.

The story revolves all around Daniel Craig's smart drug dealer, a man who wants to make his million and get out of the business. Of course, anyone who makes the big shots a lot of money will always struggle to extricate themselves from the criminal lifestyle and that's exactly the case here. Avoiding the police, trying to stay alive and setting up a deal involving a million stolen pills, Craig really has his work cut out for him.

Mixing a smart script with great performances (Craig is superb but he's more than capably supported by the likes of Kenneth Cranham, Colm Meaney, Michael Gambon and everyone else who appears alongside him), cool visuals and an ideal soundtrack this film may not cover any new ground but it gives everything a fresh coat of paint with it's easygoing, effortless air of . . . . cool. This film has style in abundance. That's not to say that it glorifies the lifestyles shown or any of the violence we see, hell no. There are people here we'd never want to meet in real life and when things erupt into violence they do so with absolute brutality, impacting on the lives of those involved. There are no consequence-free, thoughtless actions here. Everything is weighed up and accounted for, even if it's after the fact.

It's an absolute corker of a film that has grown on me with each subsequent viewing. I'm sure that many others will still simply cast it aside as "yet another British gangster flick" but that's not the case and I hope that others give it a chance and end up enjoying it as much as I do.


Wednesday 26 June 2013

Lust For A Vampire (1971)

Ahhhhhhhhh Yutte Stensgaard. Lovely, lovely Yutte Stensgaard.

Aaaahhhh Yutte. Yutte, Yutte, Yutte.

A Hammer vampire movie directed by Jimmy Sangster, and written by Tudor Gates (is that name real? I'm not sure, but I'll assume that it is), let me get through this proper bit of the review as quickly as possible before getting to the main reason I love this movie and rate it so highly. Though you might have already guessed what, or who, that main reason is.

Lust For A Vampire is not the best Hammer movie, not by a long shot. The tale, all about an infernal clan who can avoid death and then feed off the blood of the living, is nothing unique. Young women wander around at the wrong time, and/or in the wrong place, and start to turn up dead and rather pale. The setting (an all-girl school) is enjoyable enough for male viewers and the cast, for its time, even throws in something to keep the ladies happy in the form of dapper Michael Johnson. Others appearing include Ralph Bates, Barbara Jefford, Helen Christie and the very pretty Suzanna Leigh.

There ARE other people in this movie, but they're not Yutte Stensgaard.

But they are not the reason for me wanting to see this movie for years and years. Oh no, not at all. That dubious honour belongs to the one and only Yutte Stensgaard. A woman so beautiful that I pined for her long before my young mind knew quite what I was pining for (having only seen her in pictures - in The Dark Side Magazine, my only real source of all things horror when I was about 15 years old - and never managing to have caught her on screen). Her acting skills are quite bad, and she doesn't have much in the way of actual personality, but Yutte remains one of the loveliest women I have ever lusted after in movie form and is absolutely the right choice for a film with this title. Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, but it's my eye and my decision to rate this particular Hammer horror a 7/10 based on little more than my enjoyment of the woman I have been smitten with for many, many years.


Room for one more picture of Yutte? Of course there is.

Tuesday 25 June 2013

Lady In The Water (2006)

Lady In The Water is, in so many ways, a film that is hard to take in while watching. It's so ridiculous, so self-indulgent and so messy that it's mesmerising in that way that bad cinema can be. The easy joy of mocking the film is tinged with a slight sadness that some aspects (some of the cast, the production design) are good. The biggest problem with the film is writer-director-star M. Night Shyamalan, who decided to crash and burn in a display of arrogance that should never have been indulged.

Bryce Dallas Howard plays the titular character, named Story, encountered one evening by an apartment building superintendent, Cleveland Heep, played by Paul Giamatti. She is in danger and needs to get home, but she also has something very important to tell at least one of the tenants living in the building. One man in particular, played by M. Night Shyamalan, may be the most important person among them. He may be the man destined to write a story that will change the world.

Yes, that's correct. M. Night Shyamalan wrote and directed a movie in which someone is destined to write one of the most important works of the 21st century, and decided that he would be the best person to put in that role. Never mind the fact that he has a supporting cast that includes Bob Balaban, Jared Harris, Jeffrey Wright, Freddy Rodriguez and other contenders. It's all down to him. I didn't mention the actresses - Cindy Cheung, Sarita Choudhury, Mary Beth Hurt, etc. - because, sadly, they are all stuck in roles that are either purely expositional or just support for the men all jostling for position as the best person to help Story. At least, that's how it seemed to me.

Created as a modern fairytale, the movie actually works, almost, when fully committing to that approach. There are fantastical creatures (both good and bad), there is an opening narration, there are some nice, magical touches here and there. Unfortunately, everything else is designed to make the whole thing seem up to date and cool, which has the exact opposite effect.

The cast, for the most part, do well with what they're given. The weakest person onscreen is, you guessed it, M. Night Shyamalan. He'd already proven why he developed a career behind the camera as opposed to in front of it with cameo roles in his earlier movies, but he suddenly believes that he's a worthwhile addition to a pretty solid ensemble cast. No. No, he isn't.

I could say more about the movie. There are more small things worth praising and more minor criticisms that could be written here, but the shadow of Shyamalan's ego blocks out everything else. Giving more time over to the movie almost feels like giving too much attention to a toddler having a major shit fit in the middle of a supermarket. The movie came out, it was suitably chastised and now we should all just move along and stop staring.


The region-free Bluray is here -

Monday 24 June 2013

Skyline (2010)

Skyline is a fantastic movie, absolutely superb, very possibly the top of its kind. For those wanting a movie to point at and use as an example of everything that's wrong with over-reliance on special effects. Going by more traditional criteria, Skyline is pretty terrible.

Eric Balfour and Scottie Thompson star in this sci-fi alien invasion movie that takes a few attractive young things (including Donald Faison and the gorgeous woman who was my motivation for watching this rubbish, Brittany Daniel) and then surrounds them with lots and lots of VFX in an attempt to stretch what should have been a decent 20-minute short film into a 90-minute feature.

Written by Joshua Cordes and Liam O'Donnell (a first-time script from two men who have more of a background in VFX work) and directed by the Strause brothers (Colin and Greg, two men who have more of a background in VFX work), this movie is astoundingly inept in a number of ways. It's impressive that the brothers managed, apparently, to get the film financed without assistance from any of the major studios, but maybe having someone else heavily invested in the thing would have stopped it from feeling quite so self-indulgent and silly.

The acting is okay, I suppose, but all of the characters are too lightly sketched out and pretty unlikable. Balfour and Thompson do their best, but they're not given anything decent to work with and so end up flailing around, waiting for the next barrage of special effects to take over. Faison and Daniel fare even worse, sadly, but even they get treated better than poor Crystal Reed, who is saddled with a character who does absolutely nothing of use at any stage. At least David Zayas gets one good moment, I can only imagine that he campaigned hard for it.

I was going to end on a charitable note here and say that there were one or two good ideas and it's just a shame that the rest of the film was such a disappointment. I can't even do that. There weren't one or two good ideas, with the notable exception of the final few minutes (which has, I'll begrudgingly admit, ONE good idea). The special effects are often well done, but that's all the movie has going for it. Which is not enough to make it worth watching.


Sunday 23 June 2013

Hoodwinked! (2005)

The classic tale of Little Red Riding Hood gets twisted to good comedic effect in this animated movie, written and directed by Cory and Todd Edwards (with some assistance from Tony Leech in the writing department).

The film begins with 'Red' (Anne Hathaway) visiting her granny (Glenn Close), only to find that it's a wolf (Patrick Warburton) trying to pass himself off as the grey-haired relative. Then a screaming woodsman (James Belushi) smashes his way into the cottage. The whole situation is one big mess. Although it would seem that the wolf is the main baddie, Nicky Flippers (David Ogden Stiers) is determined to unravel the whole thing and hear the different tales from everyone in order to get to the truth.

Despite the rather crude animation style (well, it's not awful but it's no PIXAR), Hoodwinked does enough to make for an entertaining viewing. The twisted fairy tale may have been played out over the past decade or so, but it can still be fun, especially when made into the form of a whodunnit.

The voice cast all do a good job (I could listen to Patrick Warburton read a phone book and I'd be laughing my ass off), and as well as the main players already mentioned there are roles for Andy Dick, Anthony Anderson, Xzibit and Chazz Palminteri, but the script never feels quite sharp or funny enough to make the most of them.

Of course, Hoodwinked! is aimed at kids and it does a lot right for the target demographic. The bright colours and larger than life characters all appeal (especially a mountain goat cursed to sing constantly instead of talk), everything is cute without being too sickly and there are plenty of easy laughs.

It's not that Hoodwinked! is bad, it's just not great. It's not that clever, it's not hilarious and it's not as technically polished as twenty other animated movies I could name off the top of my head. But stick the DVD on and the little ones will be happy from start to finish, which means that it has succeeded in its main aim.


Saturday 22 June 2013

Kind Hearts And Coronets (1949)

Oh, how embarrassing it is when the chance comes along to finally view a movie recommended by many, many others over the years and it turns out to be an easy favourite because, guess what, everyone has been recommending it with good reason. Kind Hearts And Coronets is that film for today and I am that person who put off viewing this masterpiece for far too long. Shame on me.

Dennis Price stars as Louis Mazzini, the child of a woman who was deemed by her family to have married beneath her. Due to the judgment made by the rest of the family, Louis and his mother are left to make their own way in life and when his mother dies with no display of remorse or warmth from her estranged family, Louis decides to take matters into his own hands. He sets out to take his rightful place in the family tree and to pull himself up to the higher strata of society. This will involve killing every one of his main relatives (all played by Alec Guinness) until he is left, the sole heir to the family fortune and title.

I'd heard SO much about Kind Hearts And Coronets over the years that I must admit to being a little worried when I didn't love it from the very opening second. People had praised it sky high and I may have been expecting too much.


Within minutes I was relishing each and every perfectly formed line of dialogue (written for the screen by director Robert Hamer and John Dighton, from the book by Roy Horniman) and dying to find out just what would happen to each character populating the movie.

Dennis Price is superb in the lead role and he's able to play off two very different women, one being the ambitious and manipulative Sibella Holland, played by Joan Greenwood, and the other being the beautiful and gracious Edith D'Ascoyne, played by Valerie Hobson. Audrey Fildes, Clive Morton, Miles Malleson and John Penrose all do fine work in their roles, small or large, but everyone on-screen plays second fiddle to the versatile and hilarious Alec Guinness. Whether he's playing an arrogant cad, a priest with a love for an occasional tipple or even a female heavily involved in the suffragette movement, Guinness is never less than absolutely brilliant.

Hamer, in his directorial role, keeps everything mixed just perfectly. Most importantly, he manages to keep the black comedy throughout without it ever feeling too mean-spirited or just downright grim. This is helped by the casting - despite Guinness doing such sterling work, let's not deny how likable Price is in the lead role - but it's really the result of every single component being put together perfectly.

If you haven't seen Kind Hearts And Coronets then reschedule whatever you had planned and watch it right now. Don't make the same mistake of leaving it as long as I did.


Friday 21 June 2013

Taking back cinema for film-lovers.

The following screenshots have been cropped to fit in with the best image format here in blogland. Nothing else has been changed.

Have you seen this before? Tweets from a friend or someone else that you know is watching a film in the cinema?

It's pretty shitty. The worst thing about this person doing it is that they just had the cheek to pimp out their review of The Complex after saying this:

Well, that's okay then. As long as there are less than a dozen other people present and it's a boring film. But IS The Complex a boring film? Apparently not, according to this trusted critic.


Well, I guess it's okay if there was a scary bit and she was looking away.

Wait, now she was touch typing? There was me thinking that you would have to look at your phone to have the screen on and Tweet. Now it turns out that she was touch typing, which is so much better in the cinema (of course), and the film is her favourite of the festival, so far. Wow, just wow!

What I love/hate the most is the absolute unrepentance. This person doesn't only NOT consider her actions rude or inappropriate, but she then can't keep her own opinion straight in time for her review to appear on Hi! Magazine.

Let me be very clear about this. I have been sitting in a cinema, three rows from the back, and have seen the light from someone in the front row, halfway along the opposite aisle from me. It happens, and it shouldn't. When in the darkness of a movie screen, a phone light is like a fucking beacon and the only beacon I ever want interrupting my movie viewing is the Bat-signal if we're suddenly overrun by henchmen and I find myself in some bizarre, parallel universe after watching too many superhero movies and knocking myself on the head.

Unless you're the leading neurosurgeon in the country and you're on call, you don't need your phone on in the cinema. If you're waiting for a reply about a job, they will leave a voicemail. Or maybe you just won't be able to go to the cinema. If you're worried about the babysitter, maybe you need to get a new babysitter. Or maybe you just won't be able to go to the cinema. An ill relative at death's door? Sorry, but maybe it's NOT the best time for you to go and see Man Of Steel. Critics/reviewers sometimes feel that they need to be available 24/7, they may be waiting on a very important interview op, and I get that. I do. I feel the same way. Which is why I check my phone as much as possible IN BETWEEN movie screenings.

The biggest bugbear I have with this particular incident, however, is that this person has a press pass for a major film festival. That pass is like a golden ticket from the Willy Wonka factory. Believe me, I have been attending with pass clutched to my bosom for four years now, and the elation and happiness hasn't worn out yet. I've spent time in the past rushing out of films to tweet about their greatness, checking emails to see if an interview opportunity is available with certain talent. I have never, and will never, tweeted during a film.

If you see anyone doing so then take back the cinema, reclaim the experience. Ask them politely to either leave the screen to deal with their obvious emergency or save their tweeting for later. Tell them that you notice the light, even if it's in the very peripheral of your vision. If the person tells you that they're not bothering anyone, there are very few audience members and it's a boring film anyway . . . . . . . . perhaps offer a suitable compromise, like asking them not to audibly complain if you masturbate when you head back to your own chair. After all, it's not bothering anyone, there's hardly anyone around and you won't even need a light.

If I head into the cinema with friends and I know they have phones on them, I make damn sure they all get them off as the trailers begin (I think that's fair). Airplane Mode is a wonderful thing. Make use of it, encourage others to do the same. You never know, one of them may be writing a review for the movie, so you wouln't want them to get tangled up in a load of lies just to defend their tweeting addiction. Would you?

About the only correct statement in her whole talk of tweeting during films