Tuesday, January 31, 2012


EXTREMELY LOUD AND INCREDIBLY CLOSE is an offensive film based on a faithful adaptation of an offensive novel. To that end, the blame for this exploitative, incredible (literally) movie lies with Jonathan Safran Foer - the novelist who exploited 9-11 to further his narcissistic fictional stylings.  It's hard to see how screenwriter Eric Roth could've adapted the film while minimises the absurd central conceit that powers the film.  And as for Stephen Daldry - once again, is it his poor judgement or his inability to disentangle himself from the mawkishness and self-indulgence that pollutes the novel?

The Big Idea is that a kid called Oskar Schell (Thomas Horn), borderline autistic, is so traumatised by his father's death in 9-11 that he obsesses over the idea that his father might have left him one last puzzle - a key with the name "black".  So he roams Manhattan interviewing every black, looking for the lock that his key will fit - some of the time, accompanied by a mute old man call The Renter (Max von Sydow) who turns out to be his grandfather (no real spoiler there).  Eventually, he finds the lock, and we discover why his mother is being so apparently irresponsible, but none of it really feels credible.  And, as with all high concept films, the incredible nature of the premise truly undermines our empathy with the characters. That said, even without the ludicrous concept, EXTREMELY LOUD & INCREDIBLY CLOSE would stretch any viewers patience.  The characters either fall between the downright irritating (Oskar Schell and his mother) or the unbelievably good-hearted (Oskar's father - surely the most attentive screen dad in history).  One can only assume that it's the presence of Hanks and Bullocks - Oscar sweethearts - that got this film nominated.  Max von Sydow is sympathetic - sure - but his nomination looks like an end-of-career pat-on-the-back rather than a specific acclamation.   

All I can say is that this is hands down the most irritating, exploitative film I have seen in quite some time. I discard it.

EXTREMELY LOUD AND INCREDIBLY CLOSE is already on release in the USA and Canada. It will play Berlin 2012. It opens on February 16th in Germany, Portugal, Ireland, Norway, Sweden, the UK and Japan. It opens on February 24th in Argentina, Australia, Chile and Finland. It opens on February 29th in Belgium, France, Singapore and Brazil. It opens on March 8th in the Czech Republic and the Netherlands; on March 16th in Italy, Spain and Turkey; and on March 22nd in Slovenia.  EXTREMELY LOUD AND INCREDIBLY CLOSE has been nominated for the Best Picture Oscar and Max von Sydow has been nominated for Best Supporting Actor. 

Monday, January 30, 2012


RED TAILS is George Lucas' earnest but unwatchable vanity project about the real-life Tuskegee Airmen - the valiant African-American WW2 air-pilots who had to overcome discrimination just to get inside an airplane, let alone fight the Luftwaffe.  This could've been the set-up for an epic war movie threaded with brutal political drama, the writing team either isn't up to the task, or isn't interested. Rather, this is a film full of thinly drawn characters, heavy-handed politics and dog-fights lifted straight from Star Wars Episode IV.    You could learn more about the Tuskegee programme in a quarter of the time by looking at Wikipedia. 

The movie takes place at an American airbase in World War Two, where the USAF's first all-black air group is picking off German planes in shitty hand-me-down aircraft, miles from the real action.  After some  lobbying from their Colonel (Terrence Howard) the boys finally get some new planes and a genuinely important mission - protecting the bomber groups mass-bombing Berlin.  The mission is selfless - passing up kills to protect the B-52s - much to the chagrin of some of the corps - but nonetheless covers the group in glory. End of. 

In front of the camera, we have a cast peopled with once-Oscar winners turned C-list actors (Cuba Gooding Junior), rap stars, a bunch of cast-members from THE WIRE, and David Oyelowo (RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES).  None of them do a great job - not even Andre Royo - but it just isn't their fault.  This is simply a badly put-together movie. Anthony Hemingway's direction is workmanlike -  John B Aronson's cinematography makes no attempt to show the reality of aerial combat - and John Ridley (THREE KINGS) and Boondocks creater Aaron Macgruder's script is as ham-fisted as anything every penned by George Lucas. 

I particularly hated the way in which the racial material was handled.  Time and again we see cardboard cut-out evil white people discriminate against our valiant lads before changing their minds because hey! they did a good job! rather than because hey! they deserve to be judged on their merits, and not have to work twice as hard for acceptance.  The love story between Oyelowo and his white Italian sweetheart is also absurd - as if she could've dated a black airman without her family seriously kicking off.

The only thing of merit in this entire film is Terrence Blanchard's score. The rest can safely be ignored. 

RED TAILS is on release in the US and Canada.

Sunday, January 29, 2012


Joe Carnahan (THE A-TEAM, SMOKIN' ACES, NARC) delivers a raw, pure, man versus nature thriller that delivers on every level - empathetic, tense, emotionally affecting, beautiful, brutal. Based on a short story by Ian Mackenzie Jeffers, the movie follows a group of workers in the arse-end of Alaska. Their plane home crashes into the snowbound wildnerness, leaving the handful of "survivors" to battle against extreme cold and some hard-core mean wolves. Against such extreme stakes, we learn a little about their past lives, and a lot about their characters. We start to care about them just as it becomes clear that the Joe Carnahan is not going to pull any punches. A lot has been said about how this is a classic "man versus nature" epic, wrestling back Hollywood from the pretty boys. But to me, it played more like a character study set against some awesome landscapes and with a lot of genuine scares. Particular kudos to the cast of "B-listers" who add real pathos to the film - Joe Anderson, Dermot Mulroney, Frank Grillo, Nonso Anozie, and in particular Dallas Roberts (Alicia's brother in THE GOOD WIFE.) But no-one's going to deny that this is really Liam Neeson's film. His transformation from Irish character actor to Hollywood action hero is surprising until you see him in action. There is no actor who drips more integrity, competence, and - in a stunning final scene that drips into a post-credit shot - more bad-assery. I loved every minute of it. 

THE GREY was released this weekend in the USA, UK, Canada, Ireland and Turkey. It opens on February 3rd in Lithuania; on February 16th in Australia and Poland; on February 23rd in Belgium, Denmark, Singapore, Romania and Spain; on February 29th in France; on March 8th in the Netherlands; on March 20th in Norway; and on April 12th in Argentina and Germany.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

iPad Round-Up 1 - THE CHANGE-UP

THE CHANGE-UP is a piss-poor reworking of the FREAKY FRIDAY/BIG body-switch movie genre.  In this instance, Jason Bateman's weary lawyer-father switches with Ryan Reynold's playboy soft-porn actor.  Despite the frequent cursing and references to explicit sex acts, this is basically a deeply conservative movie in which the father learns to appreciate his wife and children and the playboy learns to grow up and start acting like a responsible member of society.  The script, by Jon Lucas Scott Moore (THE HANGOVER) contains very few genuine moments of humour, but a lot of cursing and physical gross out humour that fails to fly. The direction from David Dobkin (WEDDING CRASHERS) is workmanlike. Reynolds and Bateman are actually quite good at mimicking each other's speech styles but in service of a weak script it's all for nothing.  Avoid. 

THE CHANGE-UP was released in late summer and autumn 2011. It is available to rent and own.

Thursday, January 26, 2012


The new muppet movie is, in the manner of THE BLUES BROTHERS, all about putting the band back together to play a benefit concert for a worthy cause - in this case, saving the old theatre from which the old beloved TV show used to be broadcast.  The movie drips with an earnest nostalgia for the days when kids TV was about gentle humour, song-and-dance acts, with a healthy dollop of liberal "rainbow" politics thrown in.  The Muppets was all about trying your best; accepting yourself for what you are; pulling together; and putting your friends first.  

It's obvious from the goofy smile on his face, that Jason Segel - the star and key instigator of the movie - totally buys into the Muppet ethos.  In a sense, he really is Walter, his character's muppet kid brother.  How sad then, that instead of trusting to that earnest charm, Segel and screenwriter Nick Stoller (GULLIVER'S TRAVELS) decided NOT to play it straight.  Rather, THE MUPPETS is a movie that constantly winks at the audience - it drips with post-modern ironic commentary on its core story and characters - knowingly pointing out through sight-gags and one-liners the hokiness of the genre.   

The result is a movie that wants us to believe that the world hasn't changed so much - that kids would still fall in love with the plain vanilla muppets franchise.  On the other hand, it clearly doesn't believe this to be the case, and feels it has to go for a post-modern snarky "SHREK" style of children's movie-making.  It rather smacks of trying to have it both ways. 

For all that, I still had a good time watching the flick. For sure, the first half is far too knowing - far too slow to build - far too reliant on commenting on its own montages and Chris Cooper saying "maniacal laugh" rather than actually laughing.  But by the time you get to the telethon and we focus on the old fashioned muppet vaudeville show, the movie settles down.  It's hard for anyone who grew up with the muppets not to enjoy seeing that famous intro, hearing the "rainbow connection" or just seeing Animal play the drums!  And yes, you do leave the cinema singing "Am I am man or a muppet".

That brings me to another point - the use of Brett McKenzie of FLIGHT OF THE CONCHORDS fame to write the songs.  I'm a huge fan of CONCHORDS but I found the use of McKenzie distracting.   Because as fun as it was to see Chris Cooper doing a rap pastiche; or Amy Adams doing a 70s disco pastiche; I just couldn't help but feel that it wasn't as fun as seeing McKenzie or Jermaine Clement doing the numbers. In particular, Clement should definitely have played the Cooper part. 

Anyway, all this griping is definitely not in the spirit of the muppets.  Problem is, neither was this film half the time.  Still, happy to see the old gang back on our screens. Let's hope the franchise gets reinvigorated - but hopefully on TV - it's proper and fitting format.

THE MUPPETS was released last year in the USA, Canada, India, Mexico, Brazil, Israel, Singapore, Kuwait, Chile and Estonia. It was released earlier this year in New Zealand, Slovenia, Panama, Argentina, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Germany, Hong Kong, Bulgaria and Poland.  IT goes on release on February 3rd in Italy, Spain and Portugal; on February 10th in the Netherlands, Denmark, Ireland and the UK; on February 17th in Belgium, Lithuania and Turkey; on March 16th in Sweden; on March 29th in Ukraine and on April 11th in France. 

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

On the narcissism of the Academy.....

Winning an academy award is no different from winning an election in any mature democracy. You have to a) appeal to an electorate that skews old and is conservative with a small “c” and b)  spend a ton of money on advertising.  And, just as in a normal election, the best man (read integrity, vision, talent) rarely wins.  Rather, the film that wins is typically the most banal, the least offensive, that harkens back to some mythical golden age – with Harvey Weinstein taking the role of Karl Rove, blanket-bombing DVD screeners and arranging friendly articles in the trade mags.  How else do you explain DR STRANGELOVE losing to MY FAIR LADY? The triumph of SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE and DRIVING MISS DAISY? Or BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN being snubbed?

Still, for all that, the Oscars do matter, just not as arbiters of taste. Rather, they matter because an Oscar nomination, let alone a win, undoubtedly boosts the box office of the winning films, and adds a million or so to the salary of the individual winners.  And as we here at Movie Reviews for Greedy Capitalist Bastards are all about the phat cash, it would be hypocritical not to admire someone like Harvey Weinstein who so brilliantly games the system.  Any investment banking analyst looking to corner the bonus pool could do worse than study his playbook.

Bearing all this in mind, it comes as no surprise that the Academy has narcissistically and indulgently nominated movies that are nostalgic for the history of cinema – HUGO (11 nominations); THE ARTIST (10 nominations) and MY WEEK WITH MARILYN (2 nominations) – the latter two also pimped out by Harvey.  HUGO is a particularly commercial pick, as the movie involved a respected auteur using 3D, a technology that badly needs reinvigorating and upon which the studios are depending to stymie piracy and boost ticket prices. 

It also comes as no surprise to see the Academy overlook provocative, daring, pioneering movies such as SHAME, DRIVE and TYRANOSSAUR, not to mention compelling performances from Michael Fassbender in SHAME, Albert Brooks and Ryan Gosling in DRIVE, Olivia Colman in TYRANOSSAUR, Tilda Swinton in WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN, Vanessa Redgrave in CORIOLANUS...  And in the documentary category, where is SENNA?

The full list of nominations is below. I have underlined those that I think will win. I suspect THE ARTIST will pip HUGO at the post in the major categories, but that as with THE AVIATOR, Scorsese will be fobbed off with all the technical awards, except for a couple handed out as “end of series” commemorations to HARRY POTTER.

I haven’t bothered indicating who I think should win, as so few of the nominees would make my final cut.   Most of the people and films here are harmless. But I do find the nominations for THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, THE DESCENDENTS, WAR HORSE and MONEY BALL particularly wrong-headed.  In terms of positive surprises, it was good to see Woody Allen get a directing and Best Picture nom for MIDNIGHT IN PARIS.

Overall though, one can but think this is a pretty mediocre list coloured by the Academy’s nostalgia and narcissism.  In twenty years time, I suspect the only three films that people will still be watching will be SHAME, TREE OF LIFE and A SEPARATION. The rest is just food for worms.

Best Actress in a supporting role: Bérénice Bejo, The Artist; Jessica Chastain, The Help; Melissa McCarthy, Bridesmaids; Janet McTeer, Albert Nobbs*; Octavia Spencer, The Help

Best actor in a supporting role:  Kenneth Branagh, My Week with Marilyn; Jonah Hill, Moneyball; Nick Nolte, Warrior; Christopher Plummer, Beginners*; Max Von Sydow, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Best actress in a leading role:  Glenn Close, Albert Nobbs; Viola Davis, The Help; Rooney Mara, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo; Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady; Michelle Williams, My Week with Marilyn

Best actor in a leading role: Demián Bichir, A Better Life; George Clooney, The Descendants; Jean Dujardin, The Artist; Gary Oldman, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy; Brad Pitt, Moneyball

Best director: Michel Hazavanicius, The Artist; Alexander Payne, The Descendants; Martin Scorsese, Hugo; Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris; Terrence Malick, The Tree of Life

Best original Screenplay: The Artist; Bridesmaids; Margin Call; Midnight in Paris; A Separation

Best adapted screenplay: The Descendants; Hugo; Ides of March; Moneyball; Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Best foreign language film: Bullhead; Footnote; In Darkness; Monsieur Lazhar; A Separation

Best animated film: A Cat in Paris; Chico And Rita; Kung Fu Panda 2; Rango; Puss in Boots

Best picture: War Horse; The Artist; Moneyball; The Descendants; The Tree of Life; Midnight in Paris; The Help; Hugo; Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Art direction: The Artist; Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2; Hugo; Midnight in Paris; War Horse

Cinematography; The Artist; The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo; Hugo; The Tree of Life; War Horse

Costume design: Anonymous; The Artist; Hugo; Jane Eyre; W.E.

Documentary feature: Hell and Back Again; If A Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front; Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory; Pina; Undefeated

Documentary short subject: The Barber of Birmingham: Foot Soldier of the Civil Rights Movement; God is the Bigger Elvis; Incident in New Baghdad; Saving Face; The Tsumani and the Cherry Blossom

Film editing:  The Artist; The Descendants; The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo; Hugo; Moneyball

Sound editing: Drive; The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo; Hugo; Transformers: Dark of the Moon; War Horse

Sound mixing:  The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo; Hugo; Moneyball; Transformers: Dark of the Moon; War Horse

Visual effects: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2; Hugo; Real Steel; Rise of the Planet of the Apes; Transformers: Dark of the Moon

Make up: Albert Nobbs; Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2; The Iron Lady

Music (original score): The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn; The Artist; Hugo; Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy; War Horse

Music (original song): The Muppets; Rio

Short film (animated): Dimanche / Sunday; The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr Morris Lessmore; La Luna; A Morning Stroll; Wild Life

Short film (live action):  Pentecost; Raju; The Shore; Time Freak; Tuba Atlantic

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

MARGIN CALL - the best film to date on the Great Crash

MARGIN CALL may well be the first Hollywood movie that doesn't elevate investment bankers into glamorous devils. It comes as close as any movie I can think of to depicting the reality of working in financial services. The key concept that behind the gravity-defying numbers are a bunch of normal people, with the same frailties and smallness of vision. People want to believe that Wall Street is run by a bunch of cackling, Mr-Burns-like speculators. But in reality, it's just a bunch of insecure kids who are good at maths. Sure, there are tails of mega-bonuses and luxurious off-sites. But what the movies never got until now was the dreary drudgery of the trading floor, the long hours, the self-aware sacrifice of family-time, the awful truth that no matter what you earn, you'll always be made to feel that it isn't enough. That there's always a bigger house, that isn't quite as big as the senior partner's. The absurd fact that you can earn millions at thirty and still feel stretched for cash. You never feel like you have a choice at the time, you probably don't even realise how much you've sacrificed until it's too late. These aren't Machiavellian geniuses but prisoners of the Game as much as the poor schmuck consumers who loaded up on cheap debt and are now trapped in negative equity. We were all conned into living a lifestyle that, in our hearts, we knew we weren't earning - we couldn't afford. 

Debut feature director J C Chandor depicts this pathetic and soul-destroying world with an authenticity that is breath-taking. There are some minor slip-ups - no security guard would allow a sacked employee to pass a USB key to a retained employee in plain sight; there is no killer margin call made in the film. But the crumpled messy trading floor, the tired crumpled traders, the coded conversations in which workers fearful for their jobs jockey for position - these things are actually pitch perfect. There are no Gordon Gekko grand-standing speeches in defence of capitalism. No adrenaline-fuelled boardroom shouting matches. Decisions are taken by tired men in boardrooms at three am. Dialogue is measured, non-actionable. But in a few short sentences, laden with unspoken meaning, a career can be an ended - a business shut down.

The movie takes place over a 48 hour period on the commercial mortgage backed securities trading floor of a Lehman Brothers type investment bank. The first day starts with the brutal sacking of half the floor - eerily similar to what you'll see in any FS firm in a down-turn. The relief, the guilt of the survivors - the repressed anger, acceptance of the shafted. After work, a talented young analyst (Zachary Quinto) figures out that the wild gyrations in the market have pushed the bank to the point of bankruptcy. He escalates the matter up the scale, through his direct line manager (Paul Bettany) to his boss (Kevin Spacey) to his boss (Simon Baker) until we get to a 3am board meeting where the super-boss (Jeremy Irons) decides to offload the toxic assets before the rest of Wall Street figures out that the party has ended. This of course means shafting everyone the bank has every traded with, doing it quickly, and for the people actually executing the trades, an end to their jobs. 

The second half of the film shows each character dealing with the ramifications of this decision. The senior trader (Kevin Spacey) has to trade-off loyalty to his firm with decency toward the street. The had of risk management (Demi Moore) has to come to terms with the end of her career. And in a superbly written and executed scene with Stanley Tucci's sacked risk analyst, where she asks if he has kids, you realise that she really has nothing now. Tucci's character has his dignity, his family, but is going to lose his house. Penn Badgley's young trader, the guy who bought the Wall Street mythos, has to come to terms with the fact that he's going to be sacked, and that The Street is dead. Only Paul Bettany's character seems to emerge unscathed. He had no illusions about The Street or his own lifestyle - he's been through market crashes before - and he's unsurprised by the super-boss' ruthless self-preservation.

Paul Bettany's character also has the best, most insightful, most lucid speech about the nature of the credit bubble and the ensuing popular backlash against bankers - the 99 percent who want fair pay and fair reward but still took three holidays a year and had a flat screen TV in each room on credit. "I take my hand off and then the whole world gets really fuckin' fair really fuckin' quickly and nobody actually wants that. They say they do but they don't. They want what we have to give them but they also wanna, you know, play innocent and pretend they have know idea where it came from. Well, thats more hypocrisy than I'm willing to swallow, so fuck em. Fuck normal people."

I love that speech. I believe it. Problem is, it's the best and worst thing about this movie. Because the only serious flaw with this film is the editorialising. I'm sure that many a sacked Lehman Brothers employee, many a current investment banker, has thought the same things, but in the months and years that followed the collapse of Lehman Brothers - not in the moments when it was actually happening. That kind of soul-searching happens when the dust has settled. It feels too prescient to have those speeches while the bank is still alive. 

Still, for all that, this is an amazingly well written and perfectly acted film. It explains, empathises, never glamourises Wall Street. It has tension and stakes, without ever using cheap tricks, grandstanding, flashy trading scenes. Jeremy Irons and Demi Moore are easily worth Best Supporting Actor nods. But I guess the lack of pyrotechnics means this film never really had a chance. 

MARGIN CALL played Sundance and Berlin 2011 and was released last year in Germany, Russia, Estonia, Spain, the USA, Romania, the Netherlands, Canada, Hong Kong, Lithuania, Turkey, Brazil, Greece, Poland and Singapore. It is currently on release in the UK and Ireland. It opens on January 19th in Israel; on January 25th in Belgium and Portugal; on March 16th in Sweden and on April 4th in France. It is available to rent and own in the US.

Sunday, January 15, 2012


I have neither read Michael Morpurgo's children's novel nor seen the acclaimed National Theatre production of War Horse. I came to the material fresh, though wary of Steven Spielberg's attachment to it.  To my mind, Spielberg is a supremely flawed director, for whom story is subservient to sentiment.  His films are peopled with father-less children; heroic underdogs; and they have a quite risible tendency to refocus history on the few good acts rather than the wider evil. I find this inability to look bleak truth in the eye somehow insulting to those that lived through those times - a slippery fiction - and sadly, WAR HORSE is no exception.  For Spielberg has created a drama about a war in which millions died that continually cuts away from tragedy and focuses on sun-dappled scenes of goodness. It is emotional manipulation of the most vulgar kind, despicable, and dishonest. 

The story is meant to be one of the triumph of the underdog, and the triumph of love and loyalty.  Ted Narracott (Peter Mullan) is a poor farmer who buys a beautiful thoroughbred rather than a plough-horse to spite his landlord (David Thewlis) and palliate the pain of surviving the Boer War. His son Albert (Jeremy Irvine) turns "Joey" into a working horse against everyone's expectations, but the pony is requisitioned by Captain Nicholls (Tom Hiddleston) and taken to war.  As the cavalry is decimated by German mechanised units, the horse passes into the hands of a deserting German boy (David Kross, THE READER), then into the hands of a sweet French farm-girl and her grandfather (Niels Arestup) before being captured by the Germans to pull artillery.  It is thus fully a hundred minutes before our War Horse finally makes it to the front line, stranded in no-man's land, and cut free by a German and a Geordie (Toby Kebbell) in a scene clearly meant to evoke the common plight of the honest soldier. Finally, she is reunited with Albert, in an ending as endless as THE RETURN OF THE KING - first a reprieve from the doctor (Liam Cunningham), then a reprieve from an auction, and finally a ludicrously over-coloured reunion with mother (Emily Watson) and father back in Devon.  

This film is technically accomplished, particularly in its depiction of the front line. But its substance is confused and contradictory - the fault of Spielberg and his screenwriters Lee Hall (BILLY ELLIOT) and Richard Curtis (of all those awful fantasy-London films such as NOTTING HILL and LOVE ACTUALLY).   On the one hand, Spielberg wants us to sympathise with honest working folk - Ned Narracott and the Grandfather in France who bid in auctions against evil capitalist materialists.  Then again, he has an almost Downton-esque deference towards descent upper-class chaps who promise "man to man" to take care of horses.   No-one is really evil here.  Ned Narracott isn't really a feckless drunk.  Grand-pere isn't a coward but a principled pacifist. Even the German generals just have a job to do.  No-one is killed on screen. And of course, we never believe a major character is really in peril.

There are two scenes in this drawn-out farce that are worth a damn. The first is a scene where Major Jamie Stewart (Benedict Cumberbatch) - a gentleman cavalry officer of the old school - is unhorsed by a German artillery attack and mocked by his opposing officer. This moment - Major Stewart's resignation and realisation - sums up the tragedy and stupidity of the Great War. A generation that had been bred to gallantry - that should have learned from Crimea - finally had their illusions shattered by the first mechanised war.  The second scene is the depiction of going over the top at the Somme and the aerial pull-back showing body upon body impaled on barbed-wire wooden fences and trampled into the mud.  There is the horror of the war.  One doesn't need the deliberate emotional manipulation of a stranded horse to provoke the audience's pity.

WAR HORSE is on release in the US, Canada, UK, Australia, Singapore, Thailand, Brazil, Hong Kong, Israel, Ireland, Malta, Poland and Spain. It is released on the 19th January in Greece; on January 26th in Denmark, Kazakhstan, Russia, Slovenia, Estonia and Lithuania. It is released on February 2nd in Belgium, Hong Kong, the Netherlands, Norway and Turkey; on February 9th in Argentina, Hungary and Romania; on February 17th in Germany and Italy; on February 23rd in France, Portugal, Finland and Sweden; and on  March 2nd in Japan. 

Thursday, January 12, 2012


I neither know nor care about ice hockey, but I loved GOON!  It's a wonderfully warm-hearted, foul-mouthed comedy, apparently based on the true story of a polite, sweet kid who couldn't really skate but could really fuck people up with fists.  This is apparently a totally acknowledged and accepted part of hockey -  a sport which is, according to this flick, as much to do with taking a pounding as mad skills with a stick and puck.  If only 10% of the violence on screen happens in real matches, I have new found respect for the mad bastards playing it.  Our particular mad bastard - the goon of the title - is Doug Glatt (Seann William Scott aka Stifler).  Patronised by his college-educated family, Doug stumbles into minor league hockey and discovers that, for once, he's needed and praised for doing what he does best. To be sure, he needs to come to terms with the fact that his parents will never really get it, and conquer the anger of his burnt out, mad-skilled room-mate, Laflamme (Marc-Andre Grondin), not to mention beat the crap out of retiring Goon Emeritus, Ross Rhea (Liev Schrieber).  But through it all, he remains the same sweet lunk he always was.

I love the script for its perfect balance of insane violence and right-on liberal intolerance for fag jokes. I love the way the sweet romance is balanced by plenty of gritty observations about life in working-class snow-bound towns and piss-stained tour buses.  Most of all, I love the counter-casting in almost every role.  Jay Baruchel, typically the sweet geek, becomes the wise-cracking, R-rated best friend.  Seann William Scott, typically the R-rated best friend, becomes the sweet-hearted hero.  Liev Schrieber - I mean, serious thespian Liev Schreiber - becomes the muscle-headed retiree.  And best of all, we have Alison Pill - who invests so much messed-up good-hearted flakiness into her role as Eva, that we can't but help routing for her and Doug.

Kudos to director Michael Dowse (IT'S ALL GONE PETE TONG) and screenwriters Jay Baruchel (TROPIC THUNDER) and Evan Goldberg (50/50, PINEAPPLE EXPRESS).  This movies was totally unexpectedly hilarious and heart-warming!

GOON played Toronto 2011 and is currently on release in the UK and Ireland. It goes on release in Canada on January 24th.  It is available on VOD in the US on February 24th and goes on limited released on March 30th.

Monday, January 09, 2012


Cards on the table. I grew up in Thatcher's Britain and I am a Thatcherite.  To my mind, she transformed a country that was bankrupt (the IMF had been called in) and crippled by the unions, hamstrung by high inflation and generally down on its heels.  She created an environment in which the ambitious could work hard and prosper, revitalised industry, and won so many of the ideological battles that are now taken for granted in a political system where even the left acknowledges the victory of capitalism over socialism.  That is not to say that Thatcher was faultless.  She also created an atmosphere in the UK which was absolutely poisonous - the early 80s were a godawful time to live in Britain where political battles spilled out onto the streets.  Those of who grew up against a background of the Brixton Riots and the Miners Strike can only look at last summer's riots and find them quaint.  Moreover, the fighting qualities that enabled her to triumph over vested interests in her party and in the country, when fuelled by the adrenaline of her third election victory, led to a kind of hubristic, roughshod rule that allowed the massive miscalculation of the Poll Tax.  And if she was right in criticising the wets, and that treacherous little shit, Geoffrey Howe, she was wrong in underestimating their desire to unseat her.  Still, for all that, Thatcher remains a Prime Minister undefeated in a General Election; a woman who did what she thought was right, not what the focus groups said would be popular; and who left the country prosperous rather than bankrupt.   

What was her record as a wife and mother? Frankly I didn't care.  Nor did I view it as something upon which any outsider should be invited to pass judgement. I suppose that, when forced to take a stance, my view of Denis Thatcher is that, much like Prince Philip, he was probably a lot smarter than the Private Eye spoof "Dear Bill" would have him.  And I think the tragically risible public persona of Carol Thatcher, and the nefarious but incompetent activities of Mark Thatcher, say more than anything how neglected and coddled they were respectively. But in all honesty, why does any of this matter?  I was on holiday in Dubai recently and saw an advert for a news programme on BBC World. It roughly went along the lines of "Uprisings in some far away place - George Aligayah will explain what it means to YOU!"  The implication was that in this new post-modern world of "feelings" rather than "thinking" the news only had merit and relevance if it had an impact on MY life. Whatever happened to the idea that great events deserved my attention because they are important, irrespective of whether they affect ME?  When did narcissism and solipsism become the only virtues? 

Now, if you've seen the movie THE IRON LADY, and trawled through the previous two paragraphs, you'll see why I despise and discard it.  Screenwriter Abi Morgan (SHAME, BRICK LANE) and director Phyllida Lloyd (MAMMA MIA!) have utterly squandered their opportunity to use Meryl Streep's pitch-perfect impersonation of Thatcher in a movie that shows us "feelings" where it could have given us "ideas" - a movie that shows us a rather anonymous picture of an old lady struggling against senile dementia, when it could've given us a hard-nosed political biography. Whether or  not you love or hate Margaret Thatcher's politics, you cannot but admit that she radically altered the face of Britain, nor that she deserves a serious, cogent and considered evaluation.  But this is a movie about a politician that seems oddly uninterested in her politics. That, of course, is the charitable reading.  One could argue that the movie is too stupid to make an evaluation - too gutless to come down in favour or against - too commercially minded to risk alienating any part of the audience.  As a result, it condemns itself to an alternative purpose - to show the tragedy of an old woman losing her grasp on reality - an altogether more banal enterprise, and one that hardly needs the services of Meryl Streep.

Let me essay briefly how the politics is betrayed. There is no real Edward Heath.  There is no Neil Kinnock. No Gorbachev.  No Nigel Lawson!  Heseltine is a caricature pantomime villain - Richard E Grant is only allowed enough room to characterise him with a badly dyed blonde haircut.  Howe (Anthony Head) is seen as a victim of Thatcher's brutality - but one doesn't come away understanding that it was policy toward Europe that did for him and her - a policy which contemporary events show us was exactly right!  Major events - the Brixton riots, the Falklands, the poll tax - are shown as video montages - there is no colour, no insight.  And the Brighton bombing is used as a tool to show us that Thatcher loved Denis - not as a tool to show us Thatcher's particular reaction to terrorism.  What politics is shown, is the politics of feminism. Again and again, the film wants us to see Thatcher succeeding despite her sex and class. But this is a complete misreading. Thatcher was no feminist.  She did not promote women and far preferred the company of men.  She succeeded because she was talented and expected other women to do the same. 

Can one make a good film about Thatcher that has nothing to do with politics? Should one allow for a film to be entertaining even if it utterly betrays the politics of its purported subject? Perhaps. Meryl Streep certainly does a good impression of Margaret, and her ability to convey the younger and older Thatcher is impressive.  Oscar-worthy? Maybe not. I very much liked Alexandra Roach and Harry Lloyd (Viserys in GAME OF THRONES) as the young Margaret and Denis.  And in the later years, Olivia Colman is sympathetic as Carol Thatcher. But these good performances are under-cut by utterly ham-fisted direction. Phyllida Lloyd betrays her origin in directing musicals and opera in how she arranges her characters on screen and where she places her camera.  There are too many shots of people shuffling into parliament, or walking down stairs in parliament, or walking into ornate dining halls, with Thatcher the only woman among a sea of dark suits. Yes, we get it.  Now, move on.  Even better, jog on.  Make room for a better director, one who has the balls to grasp Thatcher's legacy by the throat, and give us the movie we, and she, deserves.

THE IRON LADY is on release in the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Spain, Ireland and in New York and LA. It goes on wide release in the US on January 13th, as well as in Greece, the Netherlands, Canada and Turkey. It opens on January 27th in Finland and Italy; on February 3rd in Hungary, Sweden and Norway; on February 10th in Portugal and Poland; on February 16th in Belgium, France, Singapore and Lithuania; on March 1st in Germany and on March 8th in Denmark and Hong Kong.

Friday, January 06, 2012


HORRIBLE BOSSES has a simple concept.  Three likeable guys have three heinous bosses. One is a coke-head arse; one is a nympho; and the other is an egomaniacal dick. And so, they hire a hit man to despatch them.  Of course it goes horribly wrong - cue capers, shenanigans and laughs. Only problem is, HORRIBLE BOSSES isn't funny - just embarrassing.  Directed by documentarian Seth Gordon (THE KING OF KONG, SHUT UP & SING) from a script by Michael Markowitz, John Francis Daley and Jonathan M Goldstein (all of whom have a background in sitcoms), the movie just never takes off.  And I'm not really sure why. After all, we know that the three likeable guys can be funny - Charlie Day (IT'S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA), Jason Sudeikis (HALL PASS) and Jason Bateman (THE SWITCH).   I guess maybe it's the way the horrible bosses have been drawn and cast that lets the movie down.  Jennifer Aniston is a talented comedienne, as her time in FRIENDS proves, but by now her media personality as the dumped and slightly desperate ex-wife has started to colour how she comes across in film, and her performance as an aggressive nympho is just plain embarrassing. Kevin Spacey, serious man of the London stage, just can't do broad comedy as written in this film. And Colin Farrell as the cokehead just isn't given enough comedic material to work with. It's as though the writers thought that just giving him a comb-over was enough. 

HORRIBLE BOSSES was released in summer 2011 and is now available to rent and own.

Thursday, January 05, 2012


Steve James' (HOOP DREAMS) documentary, THE INTERRUPTERS, is an absolutely fascinating, compelling and politically incisive film about tackling gang-related crime in contemporary Chicago. He shadows volunteers working for a project called CeaseFire - a programme that takes former gang-members and has them "interrupt" violent situations before they happen, trying to talk  kids down from dangerous situations.  Sounds simple enough. But within this simple format comes a nuanced, emotionally affecting exposition of life in deprived inner cities - a film that is as incisive and unblinking as David Simons' superb THE WIRE, but without that show's defeatist message. If there is a "star" in this documentary, then it has to be Ameena Matthews, a former gang-member in the same mode as THE WIRE's real-life Snoop. She has turned her life around, become a committed muslim, but still has that same scary authority that she must have had as a gang leader. She speaks so much sense, so straightforwardly, that you wish her influence were greater, that there were more people like her working the streets. Few Hollywood starts speak with such charisma and authority, and it's her presence that transforms this film from being earnest and didactical into being a genuinely fascinating watch.  

THE INTERRUPTERS played Sundance 2011 and went on limited release in the US and UK in summer 2011. 

Wednesday, January 04, 2012


The original Arnold Schwarzenegger CONAN movies, based on Robert E Howard's pulp fiction, were given a kind of grandiose Nietzchean purity of purpose and bleakness of vision by director John Milius. This meant that however ridiculous Schwarzenegger's physique, no matter how absurd the dialogue, they were hard to laugh at, and have become as cult-ish and praised as the source novels.  By contrast, Marcus Nispel's (FRIDAY THE 13th) risible remake is a critical and commercial failure - a movie that is superficial and mindless and hammy.  Most of all, it shows us how much charisma Schwarzenegger had - that while we may have seen him as ridiculous, he never did.  He could stand there, covered in furs with a ridiculous helmet on, and just own the space of Conan. Jason Mamoa, in this new Conan, has the muscles, but not the self-belief. Shorn of Howard's philosophy and Arnie's charisma, the resulting movie becomes a stupid, flaccid piece of sword and sorcery buffoonery - not well thought out enough to be accuses of misogyny - mindless to the point of coma.

The story is simple enough (no excuse, however, for making a mindless film).  Young Conan (Leo Howard) lives with his wise father (Ron Perlman) in a kind of magic-induced pre-medieval Europe of rampaging hordes and fierce warlords.  His family is butchered by Khalar Zym (Stephen Lang), an evil warlord trying to gather the pieces of the Mask of Acheron in order to resurrect his wife, a powerful witch, and rule Hyborea.   Years later, an adult Conan (Momoa) journeys through Hyborea with his friend Artus (Nonso Anozie) and finds himself helping a beautiful princess called Tamara (Rachel Nichols) whose blood is needed for the ritual that will activate the mask.  Thus setting up a final conflict between Conan and Zym, his weird-ass daughter Marique (Rose McGowan). 

This film was in development purgatory for nearly a decade, and it shows. It's the unloved ginger stepkid, with directors like the Wachoskis, Robert Rodriguez and Brett Ratner attached. You can see the sliding quality as the film was passed round, and eventually the movie ended up with a relatively unknown horror director and a former music video DP (Thomas Kloss).  Is it any wonder then that the resulting film feels so cheap, so superficial, so ridiculous?  Producers might think that you don't need a great director for pulp material. But I would argue that the more pulpy the material, the harder the director needs to work, the better he needs to be, to prevent the film descending into nonsense.  One can only wonder what voice-over artist, Morgan Freeman, felt when the finished movie was released.

CONAN THE BARBARIAN was released in summer 2011 and is now available to rent and own.

Monday, January 02, 2012


THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO is a perfectly well made movie that has absolutely no reason to exist.  It adds nothing to the Swedish original, despite being directed by the spiky, visually astute director David Fincher (THE SOCIAL NETWORK).  It feels like just another faithful retelling of Stieg Larsson's best-selling thriller (whose plot I won't bother to recount), albeit with a bigger budget and better production values.  Fincher's fingerprints were too subtly felt.  Let's be honest, if all we'd been given were a music video for Karen O singing Trent Resznor and Atticus Ross' reworking of The Immigrant Song with the wicked cool opening credits, we'd have gone home as happy as if we'd sat through the entire three hour movie. 

If I wanted to get more granular I'd point out the following - two positives and two negative.  I prefer Rooney Mara's Lisbeth Salander to Noomi Rapace, not because there was anything wrong with Rapace's performance, but because Rapace feels more like a woman, and Mara really does look like a girl (although I concede that in the novel she's 23).  That makes her victimisation worse, her toughness more impressive, her being a ward of the state more credible.  Second, I really liked Jeff Cronenweth's digital lensing using the Red One.

The first negative is a bugbear I have with many English language movies set in a non-English speaking countries.  Simply put, I want the director to decide what he wants to do with the accent in the film and then stick to it consistently.  I don't care if the Yanks and Brits are speaking English with some undefined mittel-europische accent, or some approximation at it, but I don't want half doing straight English and half doing cod-Swedish.   There's nothing that draws me out of a scene more than seeing Daniel Craig speaking straight English to Rooney Mara trying to do a Swedish accent complete with "hey hey"s and whatnot.

My second bugbear is the perfunctory manner in which the relationship between Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist is handled in the remake. In the original movie, the genuine chemistry between Michael Nyqvist and Rapace really did centre the film and make us hungry for the next movie.  But in Fincher's take it's all too superficial, and betrays what's meant to be a deeply emotional moment at the end of the flick.  In fact, the movie has a wider problem, which is the very dull, slightly bizarre (plot points changed for no real reason) ending, that drags on for 30 minutes.

Overall, a pretty banal retelling once the opening credits are done. Looks like Fincher did it for the paycheck and directed with a very light hand.

THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO is on release in the UK, USA, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden, Ireland, Israel and Slovenia. It is released on January 6th in Hong Kong, Russia, Singapore, Bulgaria, Estonia, India and Australia. It is released on January 12th in Australia, the Czech Republic, Germany, Greece, Poland, Spain and Turkey. It is released on January 19th in Belgium, France, Hungary, the Netherlands and Portugal. It opens on January 27th in Brazil; on February 3rd in Italy and later in February in Japan.

Rooney Mara won Best Breakthrough Performer, tied with Felicity Jones for LIKE CRAZY, at the National Board of Review awards 2011.