Monday 31 August 2009

Nicole Kidman: When she's good, she's really good

The imminent release of Dead Calm on Blu-ray as well as some new photos today from John Cameron Mitchell's Rabbit Hole got me thinking about Nicole Kidman who I first noticed, somewhat predictably, in Phillip Noyce's aforementioned high seas thriller and was completely bowled over by. (What can I say, I've always had a thing for redheads.)

After Dead Calm, Kidman went Hollywood (and blonde), married Tom, did a bunch of movies, divorced Tom, won an Oscar (for The Hours) and has amassed an interesting CV of variable quality. There have been some great performances (including To Die For, Birth, Dogville, The Others, Eyes Wide Shut, and Moulin Rouge) and some less than stellar turns. (For the record, I gave up on The Hours after 30 minutes and so can't comment on that particular one, I haven't seen Australia and I wasn't a fan of Cold Mountain.) I interviewed her many years ago in Cannes for To Die For and found her witty and very personable, and thought she was fantastic in that movie.

Rabbit Hole, which is adapted by David Lindsay-Abaire from his Pulitzer Prize winning play, stars Kidman, who also produces, and Aaron Eckhart as a couple coming to terms with the death of their young son.

“It was about grief, which fascinates me,” reveals Kidman of her attraction to the material. “Loss and love seem to be themes that run through my work. [This film is about] a marriage and the way that people fuse through pain, that you can either be pulled apart or you can come together. In the same way that Birth was about loss of the loved one who’s your partner in life, this is the most profound loss, and it’s the worst place to tread. And so my nature tends to be to explore something that I’m terrified of."

Disney to buy Marvel for $4 billion

That's what Variety is reporting. How that will affect Marvel's future plans for properties already set up at rival studios such as Paramount (home of Iron Man 2, Captain America and The Avengers) and Fox (X Men spin offs like Magneto) has, I'm sure, been worked out, although for now Variety isn't saying. Disney will now own Marvel and the rights to its portfolio of in excess of 5000 characters, including Spiderman and the Hulk.

So who's for a Mickey Mouse Vs Wolverine movie? Oh, just me then...

DVD review: Shifty (*****)

“It’s 24 hours in the life of a Muslim crack cocaine dealer,” says Shifty’s writer-director Eran Creevy, “but that’s not what it’s really about.” Listen to the man. The pitch may make it sound like your run of the mill British gangster flick, but this is, first and foremost, a film about friendship, as Chris (Daniel Mays) returns to Dudlowe (subbing for Creevy’s home town of Harlow) after four years in Manchester, to visit his old mate Shifty (Riz Ahmed), now a successful drug dealer. Dismayed at his friend’s career choice, Chris tags along for the day as Shifty does his rounds, selling crack to a stuffed cat-obsessed OAP (Francesca Annis in a hilarious cameo), evading a desperate client (Jay Simpson), and finding himself double-crossed by his duplicitous junkie supplier, Glen (Jason Flemyng). As Shifty’s world begins to spiral out of control, and the tragic circumstances behind Chris’ sudden departure north gradually reveal themselves, the two men undergo a tense journey of the rediscovery that offers both a second chance at a better life.

Made for a miniscule £100,000 as part of Film London’s Microwave scheme, Shifty belies its budget in both ambition and execution. Resolutely cinematic, with a brace of subtle performances and a low-key tone, Creevy’s frank and honest debut is, thankfully, more concerned with character and dialogue than gunplay and violence. Quite how autobiographical the film is, Creevy reveals during the course of a 54-minute interview that’s part of an impressive extras package, detailing the script’s genesis from the time he ran into the real-life Shifty, a former college friend turned crack dealer. “Daniel Mays looks a bit like me,” he laughs of his identification with Chris. “But I’m better looking.”

While Creevy and Ahmed’s commentary track wasn’t available for review, the former’s lengthy interview is pretty comprehensive, covering everything from the difficulties of working with so little time and money, to casting, to how his first draft was much more Napoleon Dynamite in tone. Three Behind The Scenes features offer valuable insight into his working methods, visual ideas, and his collaboration with Mays and Ahmed, the camera eavesdropping as they rehearsal a pivotal argument between Chris and Shifty, a kitchen scene involving Shifty’s devout older brother (Nitin Ganatra), and, lastly, the introduction of Glen’s character. There’s some repetition in material between the brief Making Of and Creevy’s interview, but it’s a small issue. Filling out the two-disc set are deleted scenes, a trailer and several of Creevy’s pop videos and commercials, including a beautifully shot ad for Nike. An energetic, convincing, wholly satisfying, sensitively handled first feature, Shifty marks the arrival of a major filmmaking talent. Remember the name: Eran Creevy. You’ll be hearing it a lot.

* Originally published in DVD & Blu-ray Review.

Twilight: New Moon photo!

There have, admittedly, been very few mentions of Twilight on this here blog, mainly because a) I'm not "the target audience", and b) I haven't seen the film or even read the book it was based on. However, this photo of Dakota Fanning's red-eyed bloodsucker from the Chris Weitz-directed sequel, Twilight: New Moon, actually has me intrigued to see it. Don't ask me why.

Best of British

Yesterday's Observer Film Magazine polled 60 "experts" to find the 25 Best British Films Of The Last 25 Years and Trainspotting came out number one. No surprise there, then. Shame the main paper put a photo of Ewan McGregor's Renton on the front to advertise it, thereby spoiling any potential anticipation the reader might have had...

Here's the top ten

1) Trainspotting (Dir. Danny Boyle, 1996)

2) Withnail & I (Dir. Bruce Robinson, 1987)

3) Secrets & Lies (Dir. Mike Leigh, 1996)

4) Distant Voices Still Lives (Dir. Terence Davies, 1988)

5) My Beautiful Laundrette (Dir. Stephen Frears, 1985)

6) Nil By Mouth (Dir. Gary Oldman, 1997)

7) Sexy Beast (Dir. Jonathan Glazer, 2000)

8) Ratcatcher (Dir. Lynne Ramsay, 1999)

9) Slumdog Millionaire (Dir. Danny Boyle, 2008)

10) Four Weddings And A Funeral (Dir. Mike Newell, 1994)

Saturday 29 August 2009

Even more Avatar

Empire has the exclusive on James Cameron´s Avatar and I look forward to reading it upon my return.

While I missed out on the Avatar Day fun (as well as the internet post mortem), I have watched the trailer a few times and have to say that I feel much more positive about the movie than before.

The Men Who Stare At Goats trailer

Seeing this in Venice. Looks a hoot.

A recommendation

Didn´t have time to post a review of Kathryn Bigelow´s The Hurt Locker before embarking on my holiday and don´t have the inclination to post one now (I´m on holiday, after all) but may I take this brief opportunity to kindly suggest UK readers seek it out this weekend and prove to yourself that great films are still being made. And have no doubt, The Hurt Locker is a great film. One of the very best I´ve seen this year. And because I´ve recently been inclined to include star ratings here at RWM, I would have given it ****1/2, if I´d reviewed it. Just so we´re clear.

Tuesday 25 August 2009

Inception trailer

Still on holiday but just had post this.

Thought The Wolfman trailer was damn good too but can´t seem to find a youtube version at this moment in time.

Thursday 20 August 2009

Summer break

reel world matters will be taking a battery-charging trip for the next week or so. Feel free to talk amongst yourself about anything movie related that matters to you while I'm gone. I may well drop in from time to time, depending on how the mood takes me, but will be back pre-Venice. Bye for now...

Wednesday 19 August 2009

Film review: Inglourious Basterds (**1/2)

I wish I still loved Quentin Tarantino's movies. I really do. At the very least, I wish I liked them more than I seem to these days. Maybe, I'm missing something. Who knows. But not since Jackie Brown have I walked out of a Tarantino film feeling dazzled or blown away by his invention and wit. Certainly there were moments during Kill Bill where I was thrilled, or amazed, exhilarated even, but, unlike his first three films, I felt it was over-long, self-indulgent and despite some wonderful dialogue and glorious set pieces, lacking in a commanding narrative that held it all together. It was as if I was watching a greatest hits reel loosely stitched to make a whole film (or two, in this case).

Now, I hated Death Proof, so let's skip past that, and move onto Inglourious Basterds which opens this week and which I liked more than either Kill Bill. And yet many of the same problems I had with those films Kill Bill, I had here, too. I'd read numerous people's thoughts on Basterds both prior to seeing it and since, many more positive than negative. Most recently, I had ingested those of my former Premiere colleague Glenn Kenny who outlined exactly what had been in my mind immediately upon leaving the film, that it's a two-and-a-half-hour movie made up of a very small number of scenes. Glenn puts it at around 16 "proper" scenes. I'd argue it's even less. Then again, he's seen it twice.

The film's divided into five chapters, the first, "Once Upon A Time... In Nazi Occupied France", runs 20 minutes and is a quite brilliant piece of cinema, astonishingly tense and well directed, influenced in no small measure by Sergio Leone's Once Upon A Time In The West, and which introduces the film's main villain "Jew Hunter" Colonel Hans Landa, deliciously played by Christoph Waltz. It's an audacious opening, one Hitchcock would have been proud of, but then the film goes off on its merry way, changing style and tone from chapter to chapter, some time following the Basterds of the title, led by Brad Pitt's scenery chewing Aldo Raine, other times debating the merits of German cinema and concentrating on the owner of a French movie theatre.

There's a brilliant sequence in a basement bar, involving a hilarious turn from Michael Fassbender as Archie Hicox, a film critic-cum-British officer, and a conflagration at the end featuring an image that will remain forever seared on my retinas. But again, to my mind, those moments, as great as they are, are missing a narrative spine worthy of them. Nevertheless, Inglourious Basterds should be seen — although I wish it had been more of The Dirty Dozen style romp Tarantino had spent the best part of a decade talking up — if only for two stellar performances. First, that of Waltz, the deserved winner of the Best Actor Award at Cannes, and, secondly, of Mélanie Laurent whose character, Shosanna, escapes Landa's hands at the beginning of the film only to find he and the entire leadership of the Third Reich filling the aisles of her cinema. And boy is she pissed.

Tuesday 18 August 2009

My Top 20 Horror Films Of The Last 20 Years

A couple of weeks ago I expressed my disbelief at Entertainment Weekly critic Owen Gleiberman's choice of the best 20 horror films of the last 20 years. I said then I would come up with my own list and here it is, a little later than I'd originally planned, but here nevertheless.

I decided not to put the titles in any order of preference — too difficult — so the list runs alphabetically.

Please feel free to chime in and agree or disagree, your comments are always welcome and positively encouraged. I'm sure there will be some disagreement, certainly over what constitutes a horror film, since some of my choices probably wouldn't fit everybody's idea of horror, but I'd argue that every single one is, to some degree or other, horrific and scary.

So, here you have it, reel world matters' Top 20 Horror Films Of The Last 20 Years:

Audition (Dir. Takashi Miike) Man's worst nightmare.

Battle Royale (Dir. Kinji Fukasaku) Kids with guns. And knives.

The Blair Witch Project (Dirs. Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez ) Gets me every time.

Candyman (Dir. Bernard Rose) Chilling urban horror.

The Descent (Dir. Neil Marshall) With the UK ending, obviously.

The Devil's Backbone (Dir. Guillermo Del Toro) Poetic and horrific in equal measure.

Ginger Snaps (Dir. John Fawcett) Puberty + werewolves.

Irreversible (Dir. Gasper Noe) Every woman's (and man's) worst nightmare.

Jacob's Ladder (Dir. Adrian Lyne) Paranoia and demons, a winning combination.

Let The Right One In (Dir. Tomas Alfredson) Best vampire film in an age.

Lost Highway (Dir. David Lynch) Freaky deaky scary.

May (Dir. Lucky McKee) Odd. And crazy.

Oldboy (Dir. Park Chan-wook) Crazy Koreans.

Ravenous (Dir. Antonia Bird) Robert Carlyle's cannibal. Nuff said.

[REC] (Dirs. Jaume Balaguero and Paco Plazo) Scary as hell.

Ringu (Dir. Hideo Nakata) The original and best.

A Simple Plan (Dir. Sam Raimi) What greed can do.

Se7en (Dir. David Fincher) A mind fuck, pure and simple.

28 Days Later (Dir. Danny Boyle) The best zombie (ok, infected) movie since Dawn Of The Dead. And they run.

Wolf Creek (Dir. Greg Mclean) Throughly nasty villain.

Two from Clooney

First, the poster for Jason Reitman's latest, Up In The Air...

... and a shot from The Men Who Stare At Goats which is showing in Venice.

My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done trailer

While Werner Herzog's Bad Lieutenant remake is showing in Venice, this David Lynch presentation is premiering at Toronto. It looks, dare I say it, freaky. Then again, what does one expect from a Lynch and Herzog teamup.

William Castle DVD box set

This October, Sony Home Entertainment will be releasing a five-disc DVD set featuring eight films from William Castle, the legendary director/producer/showman that inspired the John Goodman character in Joe Dante's excellent Matinee, including three that have never been previously released on DVD. The eights films are Frightened Girls, 13 Ghosts, Homicidal, Strait-Jacket, The Old Dark House, Mr Sardonicus, The Tingler and Zotz!. The set will also include Jeffrey Schwarz’s award-winning documentary Spine Tingler! The William Castle Story, with a commentary from Schwarz and Castle's daughter Terry, two episodes of the Castle-produced Ghost Story TV series, and a host of other extras. If you've never enjoyed Castle's unique brand of showmanship, now's your chance.

And to get you in the mood, here's Castle's introduction to The Tingler...

and 13 Ghosts.

Monday 17 August 2009

Tarantino's Top 20 films since Dogs came out

I've seen this all over the place this morning but if you haven't yet watched it, it's worth a look. Don't agree with all the choices — In The Mood For Love would definitely have made my list, for starters — but the man sure loves movies.

Movie-Con II thoughts

I didn't do the full two days at Movie-Con, but saw more than enough great stuff to make my visits to the BFI Southbank on Saturday and Sunday definitely worth it, although I wished I'd seen the Iron Man 2 footage that Robert Downey Jr introduced on Sunday morning. It was Downey Jr's second appearance at Movie-Con, he and Guy Ritchie having stepped on stage on Saturday afternoon to raptuous applause to introduce an extended trailer for Sherlock Holmes that was part of a big Warner Brothers' presentation. The crowd went nuts, especially when Downey Jr mentioned that Ritchie "blew off Comic-Con, big mistake". The footage I must say looked fast-paced and action-packed, and, for the most part, fun. It's not your typical Holmes film. I did like Rachel McAdams crack about Holmes and Watson's constant flirting. Not sure what Conan Doyle would have made of it all, though.

The rest of the Warners' presentation went down a storm too. Extended peaks at the A Nightmare On Elm Street reboot which looks more serious than before, Jonah Hex, (which looked very cool), Ninja Assassin (ditto) and Where The Wild Things Are. We saw the behind the scenes featurette that I linked to a while back, plus the trailer and a complete scene which was so delightful and gorgeous I can't begin to tell you...

For me Saturday had begun with the screening of several scenes from Kick-Ass, most of which I'd seen before but not on a big screen and not with an audience who reacted exactly the way the filmmakers would have wanted, ie. they went completely bonkers. As they did when the afternoon's secret screening was unveiled and the title card "Peter Jackson Presents..." came up, meaning it was District 9. (I'd already seen it, so I went to the bar instead.)

Saturday also saw a Triangle presentation and a brief Q&A from its writer-director Christopher Smith (Severance, Creep). The clipped looked intriguing (and gory) but the twisty nature of the plot made talking about the film a tad difficult.

I was back on Sunday afternoon for Disney's 3D presentation. But before that, British writer-director Stuart Hazeldine showed a clip from his debut feature Exam which he described as "The Apprentice in purgatory". All set in one room, it was remarkably tense if short. I want to see the rest of it. Now.

Disney's presentation featured A Christmas Carol (impressive but I don't think they've totally eradicated that dead eye thing that mo-cap throws up, although the ghost of Jacob Marley was really spooky), Up (glorious), the trailers for Alice In Wonderland (great to see on a big screen and even better for it) and Toy Story 3 plus the Tron Legacy clip that I previously posted here.

And finally there was Avatar. Well, two scenes to be precise, about three minutes in total, which they showed twice. Plus a video intro from James Cameron. We got to see some blue-skinned aliens and some strange beasties on Pandora that looked like they'd escaped from an intergalactic Jurassic Park. The CGI was pretty cool, as was the 3D, but is it the revolution in filmmaking that everyone's claiming? Who the hell knows...

Sunday 16 August 2009

Only in the UK...

... would Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds be advertised on television as "Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious" while the London Underground posters (see photo) don't even have the title in case, you know, it might cause offense.

Clearly people who travel on the bus or by car or walk are made of sterner stuff, since the outdoor advertising has the title in full.

Saturday 15 August 2009

Movie-Con II

Off to Movie-Con later. Last year I interviewed Dave Gibbons on stage as part of the Watchmen coverage. This time I'm going as a movie lover. Particularly keen to see the Kick-Ass footage they're showing, as well as the Warners' preview reel with Where The Wild Things, Ninja Assassin and Sherlock Holmes and, of course, Disney's which features several 3D presentations, including the Alice In Wonderland trailer which I haven't seen on a big screen or in 3D.

Film review: Ponyo On The Cliff By The Sea (****1/2)

With Hayao Miyaksaki's latest arriving in US cinemas this weekend, I thought I'd repost my Venice review for anyone who didn't read it first time around.

There aren't enough superlatives to adequately describe Hayao Miyasaki's latest masterpiece, a delightfully sweet, extraordinarily imaginative Little Mermaid-esque children's fantasy that begins as it means to go on with a sequence of such astonishing colour and spectacle and creativity that it affixes a smile to one's face that remains firmly in place for the duration of its 101-minute running time.

Five year old Susoko lives by the sea with his mother Lisa who works in the local old people's centre. (His father is a ship's captain who seems permanently at sea.) One day, while playing by the shore, Susoko discovers a small goldfish whom he names Ponyo. But Ponyo isn't just any fish. Having escaped from her sorcerer father's underwater lair and after sampling a few drops of Susoko's blood from a cut on a finger, some ham, and a dose of his love, Ponyo decides to become human, the consequences of which put not only her life at risk but those of Susoko's entire community.

Armed with such a simple narrative, Miyasaki orchestrates a riot of bright colour and unbridled imagination, populating his triumphant, idiosyncratic vision with a plethora of charming characters and whimsical sea creatures that appear to have sprung wholly into existence from the mind of a five-year-old with a particular fondness for prehistorical monsters. There are nods too to environmental issues and a sly, subversive streak, plus a peculiarly Japanese sense of morality (Susoko's mother drives her car way too fast, often putting herself and her son in jeopardy, and has a fondness for cracking open a can of beer when stressed) but this is another memorable and wondrous film from an animation master who, aged 67, is at the peak of his game.

Friday 14 August 2009

Freakin' Avatar photo

Isn't that how one is meant to introduce what's just popped up online as the "first official Avatar photo" courtesy of slashfilm. That's Sam Worthington with the severe haircut but there's also an alien behind him in that there tank.

Still Burning?

It was just under a year ago that I reviewed Mexican screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga's impressive directorial debut The Burning Plain when it premiered at the Venice Film Festival, noting that it "packs a sizeable punch" and highlighting the performances of Charleze Theron, Kim Basinger and, in particular, newcomer Jennifer Lawrence, "all of whom should, by rights, find themselves nominated". Alas, that never happened.

The film was given a cursory release in the UK back in March, earning a paltry £7349 according to The Daily Telegraph's David Gritten, and is out next week on DVD. It's fate Stateside looked uncertain for a while but is set for a September release through Magnolia. Who knows, perhaps the trio of leading might finally get their due.

Deja vu all over again

Like many others I loved Woody Allen's earlier, funnier films. Of the recent ones (and by recent I mean the last decade or so) I have liked Melinda & Melinda and Vicky Christina Barcelona and that's about it. If you thought Cassandra's Dream was bad, it's a bloody masterpiece compared to the abysmal Hollywood Ending which I saw at Cannes seven years ago, a film so bad and so embarrassing you wonder what Allen was thinking when he made it. In fact, the scene between Allen's blind movie director (don't ask) and Tiffani Thiessen's starlet in her dressing room still makes me cringe.

Allen's currently shooting his latest untitled movie in London and from the look of this picture — featuring stars Anthony Hopkins and Lucy Punch, a talented British comedic actress who replaced Nicole Kidman — the May-December relationship schtick that Allen's so fond of in his movies is back. Then again, they could be playing father and granddaughter, but I somehow doubt it.

The Fourth Kind

I'm a sucker for alien abduction stories and I've actually heard good things about this, so we'll see. The trailer looks damn creepy, though.

Amazing stories

A US judge has awarded the family of Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel even more rights to Siegel's most successful and enduring creation, a deliberation that could well have implications on any new Superman movie. According to Variety, the family has "successfully recaptured" rights to additional works, including the first two weeks of the daily Superman newspaper comic-strips, as well as portions of early Action Comics and Superman comic books. All of which means the Siegels now control depictions of Superman's origins on Krypton, his parents Jor-El and Lora, Superman as an infant and the launching of Kal-El into space.

In 2013, the estates of Siegel and co-creator Jerry Schuster will own the copyright to Action Comics No.1 which, says Variety, will give them the chance to set up Superman movies, TV series and other projects at other studios.

In other comic book-related news, The Usual Suspects' Oscar-winning screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie has been hired to write the Wolverine sequel. Thereby increasing the chances I'll actually see this one.

Thursday 13 August 2009

Worship the Dude

Parnassus close to securing a US distributor

It's news that will please the faithful. And it means I might finally get to write up my set visit.

Wednesday 12 August 2009

Brian Cox: When he's good, he's really good

Yesterday, watching Lucky McKee and Trygve Allister Diesen's compelling adaptation of Jack Ketchum's novel Red, I was reminded of just how fantastic an actor Brian Cox can be.

For me, Cox will always be the best Hannibal Lecter. I prefer his precise, chilling performance in Michael Mann's Manhunter to Anthony Hopkins' more mannered, more obvious portrayal. Since then, he's rarely been off our screens, and, without wishing to be uncharitable, can chew the scenery with the best of them. However, given the right material and the right role, Cox truly, truly shines, be it in L.I.E, Rushmore, The Escapist and a fair few others. Not that he's ever bad. He's too good an actor for that.

In Red, which premiered at Sundance 2008 but which went straight to DVD in the UK, Cox plays Avery Dudlow, a small town general store owner whose dog, the eponymous Red, is killed by a trio of teens for no other reason than they're bored and pissed off. The benign, elderly Dudlow wants retribution for the senseless slaughter of the mutt that had been a 50th birthday present from his now dead wife, but, initially, is prepared to settle for an apology. After tracking down the teen who pulled the trigger, Dudlow, a former soldier with a tragic past, confronts his father (Tom Sizemore), a redneck trucker made good, who choses to believe his no good son, thereby setting in motion a chain of events that escalate out of control, until even more blood is shed.

A simple story effectively told, Red offers a masterclass in Cox's talents, around which the film is constructed. The gentle, contemplative Dudlow tries first to do the right thing, but when the law fails him, and even the intervention of a sympathetic TV reporter leads nowhere, years of pent up anger and pain burst forth. But Dudlow is no mere vigilante. Cox, who's rarely offscreen for the entire movie, brings dignity, introspection and real emotion to his character. What's even more remarkable about Cox's performance is that the shared directing credit hints at behind-the-scenes trouble, with Diesen having apparently picked up six months after McKee left off.

Stuff I read today...

Frank Darabont is developing a TV show of Robert Kirkman's brilliant zombie comic book The Walking Dead.

Hollywood Elsewhere's Jeff Wells really, really doesn't like Inglourious Basterds.

The New Times' A.O. Scott appraises John Hughes.

Plans are afoot for Lego: The Movie.

Tuesday 11 August 2009

More Lovely Bones

Here's a behind-the-scenes peak at The Lovely Bones which is essentially the trailer with some B roll and EPK interviews sliced in. Even so, it's worth a look.

Monday 10 August 2009

True Blood

I've read Bram Stoker's Dracula, own every episode of Buffy on DVD, and couldn't get enough of the Lee/Cushing Hammer Dracula films growing up. But I refuse to see Twilight. Even when it comes to vampires, one has to have standards. Thus far I've only watched the first four episodes of True Blood which is showing in the UK on the FX Channel, but it's already become a firm favourite in my household. I suppose I could order the season one box set and gorge myself on Six Feet Under creator Alan Ball's latest, and yet there's something to be said for rationing myself to an episode a week.

In The Loop

Finally caught up with Armando Iannucci's In The Loop on DVD the other night and if there's a funnier, more profane and acerbic comedy released this year I'll gladly eat my (metaphorical) hat. I haven't laughed out load so many times since I don't know when. (Yes, I know, I hooted throughout Superbad, but that was so base compared to this scathing political satire.) Brilliantly played by Peter Capaldi, Labour spin doctor Malcolm Tucker is a monster with a potty mouth and bite worse than anything in the animal kingdom. Now I know swearing isn't funny (okay, sometimes it is) but Tucker's colourful and imaginative use of coarse language is close to poetic. In The Loop is available in the US as a VOD as well as on a limited theatrical run. Find it. Watch it.

DVD review: Friday The 13th: The Extended Cut (**)

The Friday The 13th series remains, outside of James Bond and Harry Potter, one of the most successful movie franchises. Released in 1980, the Sean S. Cunningham-directed original, together with John Carpenter's Halloween, begat the template for every slasher film made since then — a group of drag-taking, sexually promiscuous teens being slaughtered by a mask-wearing maniac in as gruesome and gory a manner as possible — although the series' iconic villain — Jason Voorhees — didn't really appear until Part 2, and only donned the now infamous hockey mask in Part 3D. The sequels inevitably fell foul of the law of diminishing returns, so by the time Jason Took Manhattan, travelled to outer space, before duking it out with Freddy Krueger, the series had lost whatever USP it once had.

Here we have a new, though not necessarily improved Jason from the savvy if creatively unoriginal folk at Platinum Dunes who have already brought us reboots of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Hitcher and have another A Nightmare On Elm Street in the pipeline. Directed by Marcus Nipsel, responsible for the surprisingly okay Texas Chainsaw remake, this dismal, unimaginative slasher is, ironically, less a reboot than reworking of parts 1-4 incorporating Mrs Voorhees and a sack-wearing Jason into a storyline as formulaic and banal as before, as a group of teenagers looking for a marijuana crop in the woods near the abandoned Crystal Lake are butchered in a 20-minute pre-credits sequence. Flash forward another six weeks, as the brother (Jared Padalecki) of a missing girl (Amanda Righetti) and another group of high and/or horny kids wash up, ready to be dispatched by Jason's machete, bow and arrow...

While this has got everything one could possibly expect in a Friday The 13th flick — nubile teens engaging in pre-marital sex, zero character development, reasonably gruesome deaths — there's nothing new or novel here — unless one counts topless wake boarding — to warrant another go round, other than the obvious financial considerations. Production values are much improved, and the new Jason (stuntman Derek Mears) is more agile and faster of foot, but he ain't the intelligent, tragic victim the filmmakers hilariously claim on the run of the mill extras which feature the usual mix of hype and hyperbole, the pick being the "7 Best Kills" which detail the film's, ahem, 7 best kills. The three alternative scenes, meanwhile, include a different take on how this Jason got his hockey mask, while the contributors to the "Hacking Back/Slashing Forward" retrospective discuss Cunningham's original like it's Citizen Kane.

* A version of this review originally appeared in DVD & Blu-Ray Review

Stuff I read today...

One in the eye for the critics, GI Joe: Rise Of The Cobra makes $100m worldwide at the weekend.

Hurt Locker director Kathryn Bigelow and writer Mark Boal are reuniting for Triple Frontier.

District 9 director Neill Blomkapp talks aliens and metaphors.

Terrence Malick's The Tree Of Life has a distributor.

Sunday 9 August 2009

"Are movies too small for me?"

I'll be posting my thoughts on Inglourious Basterds in the near future but for now The Observer's Sean O'Hagan has interviewed Quentin Tarantino and raised many of the issues I had with the film. That's not to say it's not, at times, terrifically entertaining and inordinately suspenseful, but O'Hagan is with me in pinning the lost of the filmmaker who made Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown.

Inglorious Basterds has been ten years in gestation and was originally planned as the follow-up to 1997's Jackie Brown which is now generally regarded as the last truly great Tarantino movie. "Back then I had all the same characters but a different story," Tarantino says. "I followed the story and it just grew and grew. I guess I was a little precious about it because it was my first original script since Pulp Fiction. Then it just got bigger and bigger in my head. It became about the words on the page rather than the film."

So he didn't have writer's block so much as writer's overload? "Yeah! If anything I was, like, too inspired, right?: He laughs a frantic chuckle. "I couldn't turn my brain off. I couldn't stop coming up with new avenues, new ideas. Suddenly it was like, what the fuck? Am I too big for movies now? Are movies too small for me? I mean, what's that about?"

Tarantino thinks it would be impossible to make The Dirty Dozen now. "We just don't have those kind of actors anymore. Ernest Borgnine. Charles Bronson. Those guys were real men. They were a different breed. Many of them had been to war. Today's young actors are soft."

Does he accept that the plot tends in places towards the implausible? "No, I've set it up as a kind of fairy tale, but that's not where I'm coming from. Where I'm coming from is that my characters changed the course of history. Now, the characters didn't exist so that didn't happen. But if they had existed, what happens in the movie is plausible." The problem here though is not so much the sliver of plausibility that the plot rests on, but the whole tone of the movie. It never seems to have entered Tarantino's mind that the notion of a bunch of psychopathic American Jews who set out to main, mutilate and kill German soldiers might, in itself, be offensive, not least to Jewish-American soldiers and the entire French Resistance.

"Well, if people are offended by it, I don't care," he snaps. "I'm going to do what I do." The implication being that this is a Quentin Tarantino film, it's going to have violence, be tasteless and offensive. What the hell do you expect? Like Kill Bill volumes 1 and 2, Inglourious Basterds may indeed deliver enough gore, ultra-stylised violence and clever pop culture references to satisfy his hardcore fan base, but for the rest of us, it is further evidence that he former enfant terrible of American cinema has waylaid his mojo.

Saturday 8 August 2009

The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus trailer

Terry Gilliam's long-awaited and much-delayed The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus finally opens in the UK on October 16, although it still doesn't have a US distributor. You may recall, I was very impressed with the film. Here's the UK trailer.

Friday 7 August 2009

Film review: GI Joe: The Rise Of The Cobra (***)

Where did they get all those wonderful toys?

Accelerator suits. Nanomite warheads. Laser crossbows. Robot fish. Secret bases under the polar ice cap and the Egyptian desert.

Oh yeah, that's right, they are toys.

After months of terrible press, rumours of edit room battles and studio interference, as well as the recent bickering of the "you-screened-it-for-them-but-not-for-us" variety, GI Joe: The Rise Of The Cobra arrives in cinemas and you know what, it's actually not bad. No, I'll go further. It's really rather fun. And noisy. And absurd. And cheesy. But it's so much better and more palatable an experience than Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen. I paid my money and left satisfied. Sometimes it's good to have low expectations.

Don't get me wrong, this isn't a great film. It's not even a particularly good one. What it is, however, is hugely entertaining, a daft, unpretentious, brash blockbuster, full of ridiculous spectacle, loud explosions, and impossible action. Sommers evidently likes blowing things up as much as Michael Bay but doesn't feel the need to beat the audience into submission. The flimsy if passable plot revolves around a crack team of super elite soldiers (the Joes) and their battle against Christopher Eccleston's sneering villain McCullen, throws in some okay gags and a few too many flashbacks, but skips along like a stone on water, never pausing for breathe or logic. And yet for some reason I didn't mind in the way I did with, say, Star Trek. Maybe because they weren't characters I knew or cared about. Sure, I'd played with Action Man as a kid but I know next to nothing about the Hasbro toyline or the GI Joe mythology as laid out in Marvel Comics.

To be honest, I'd been looking forward to this one from the very first trailer despite my aversion to director Stephen Sommers' usual CGI-bloated output. Perhaps it was the presence of Sienna Miller (as the Baroness) and Rachel Nichols (as Scarlett) in tight black leather outfits that helped tip the scale, but it was more than that. The movie tapped into my inner seven-year-old (all those cool toys) and I was swept up in the ludicrous heroics and pre-teen mayhem and would happily watch another one should this be a big enough hit.

That said, the Team America analogies are spot-on, Eccleston's Scottish accent was surprisingly variable, and some of the CGI looked rushed and unfinished.

The ending paves the way for a sequel. And for once that idea doesn't fill me with dread...


Last night I saw a great film. A really exciting, thrilling film. Only I can't tell you what it is. Or anything about it. Until nearer release. But take my word for it, it's great. And you're going to love it. And no, it's not Where The Wild Things Are, in case you were wondering.

Oh. My. Gawd.

I love it. I love it. I love it.

John Hughes, 1950-2009

John Hughes may not have directed a movie for 18 years but he was still a legend in my book, thanks to Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, Pretty In Pink, Planes Trains & Automobiles, and my personal favourites, Ferris Bueller's Day Off and Some Kind Of Wonderful.

By the time Hughes had left the teenage arena and moved into kiddie fare with Curly Sue and the Home Alone series, I'd pretty much moved on. But Ferris Bueller's Day Off is a movie I can and do watch repeatedly and never grow bored of.

And 59 is way too young to die. Rest In Peace.

UPDATE: Roger Ebert shares his memories.

Film review: Orphan (**)

Sometimes a two-star movie can be both more rewarding and more enjoyable than a four-star film. A case in point being the ridiculously silly and decidedly over the top horror-thriller Orphan.

Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra (House Of Wax remake) and written by David Leslie Johnson, this schlocky and overlong reworking of The Bad Seed spends a little too much time trying to give the characters "character" before moving on to the gory, nasty stuff, yet it demands to be seen on a big screen with an audience caught up in the carnage and cheering for blood.

When nine-year-old Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman), an oddly old-fashioned Russian orphan with impeccable manners, is adopted by architect Peter Sarsgaard and his troubled piano teacher wife Vera Farmiga, everything looks rosy but all is, inevitably, not what it seems. Cue murder and mayhem and one very disturbing scene in which Esther, as manipulative and creepy a villain as you're likely to see, comes on to Sarsgaard. (Although the twist ending puts an altogether different spin on it.)

Quite how Farmiga's former alcoholic who, while drunk, allowed her daughter to fall into a pond thus rendering her permanently deaf, would be allowed to adopt is, I suppose, something of a moot point. But the adults are, largely, such idiots, that you're almost tempted to side with the deranged Esther, although it's deeply unpleasant and downright disturbing when she turns her malevolent attentions to Sarsgaard and Farmiga's two other kids, insisting the youngest, Max (Aryana Engineer) play a spot of Russian roulette.

It's clichéd, exploitative rubbish, but entertaining rubbish nonetheless.

Thursday 6 August 2009

Budd Schulberg, 1914-2009

Budd Schulberg, the Oscar-winning screenwriter of On The Waterfront and author of What Makes Sammy Run has gone. He was 95. RIP.

Wednesday 5 August 2009

When you're hot...

The New York Times hangs with the dynamic duo of Alex Kurtzman and Robert Orci at Comic-Con.

Avatar poster

I have faith in James Cameron but I'm not sure what to make of this teaser image.

The Lovely Bones trailer

From the Peter Jackson who directed Heavenly Creatures and it's great to have him back. I was a fan of the Alice Sebold book it's adapted from and my instincts are telling me I'm going to like this a lot. Can't help but wonder what Lynne Ramsey's version would have been like, though. Very different, I suspect.

Tuesday 4 August 2009

What the f*%*?

Entertainment Weekly's Owen Gleiberman has compiled his list of 20 Top Horror Films of The Past 20 Years to which I say "You clearly haven't seen many horror films in the past 20 years mate because otherwise you wouldn't have included half the titles you have." Okay, so he's got Audition at number one which is an intriguing, left field choice, but to have included Drag Me To Hell, Hostel II and Planet Terror over any number of better, scarier titles is, frankly, insane. As is picking 28 Weeks Later over 28 Days Later. Just saying...

Monday 3 August 2009

Nowhere Boy to close LFF

News of this leaked out last week so it wasn't much of a surprise when it was officially announced today that Nowhere Boy would close the 53rd BFI London Film Festival on October 29. Directed by artist Sam Taylor Wood from a script by Matt Greenhalgh (Control), Nowhere Boy stars Aaron (Kick Ass) Johnson as the 15-year-old John Lennon who finds a kindred spirit in the teenage Paul McCartney (Thomas Sangster).

"We're delighted to be closing our festival with the world premiere of this first feature by Sam Taylor Wood, who brings her customary sensitivity and visual flair to this story of the formative years of one of the UK's cultural icons," said Sandra Hebron, the LFF's artistic director. "Less a biopic and more a love story, Nowhere Boy is as accomplished as it is moving and will ensure the festival ends on a high note."

Saturday 1 August 2009

When Jack met Jan

January Jones was the best thing about Mad Men this year. Jack Nicholson's still the Man. Interview put them together and the result makes entertaining copy.