Thursday, September 30, 2010


WINTER'S BONE arrived in the UK from Sundance and Berlin covered in praise for its strong central performances and gritty portrayal of middle-American rural poverty.

The heroine of the film is seventeen-year old Ree Dolly played with impressive authority and conviction by Jennifer Lawrence. Ree is the daughter of an absent felon father and mentally ill mother, and has been forced to take on the parenting of her younger brother and sister. This involves a delicate balance of learning how to live on scraps and handouts without losing a sense of pride. This fragile existence is put under threat when bail bondsmen threaten to seize Ree’s house and woods unless she can find her father and bring him to jail. One could almost regard the search for the father as a MacGuffin – an excuse for the Ree to take us on a journey into the wider community. Because that’s what this film ultimately is – an excuse to explore a community full of adults that have responded to the lack of economic opportunity in the Ozarks, and turned to drug-using, drug-dealing and violence. Every single adult Ree turns to for help refuses to take the responsibility befitting an adult. And while, to spoil the ending, she does ultimately keep her house – and there is palpable relief that she won’t be separated from her brother and sister – that relief is ultimately false. Because we leave Ree in exactly the same position that we found her in at the start of the movie – living in poverty, forced into maturity before her time, and martyring herself for her family. We’ve basically just seen a young girl literally beaten to a pulp in her fight to stand still – just maintain.

So, WINTER'S BONE is no pleasure-ride, but it is an impressively made and well-acted movie, and that gives a certain pleasure of its own. By persuading the people from Ozarks to let her use their houses, and to appear as extras and minor characters, director Debra Granik imbues her film with a rarely seen sense of authenticity and sympathy. To be crude, even when viewed from the comparative luxury of your art-house cinema seat, this film never feels like poverty-porn. Is the movie flawless? No. I found the black-and-white animated dream sequence gauche and what should have played as a grimly horrific scene on a river was so over-the-top I laughed. Nonetheless, this is a powerful film – a film that creates and sustains a menacing tone, and that contains fleeting glimpses of genuine familial tenderness in the most unforgiving of circumstances.

WINTER'S BONE played Berlin 2010 where it won the CICAE Award and the Reader Jury Prize of hte Tagesspiegel. It also played Sundance 2010 where it won the Grand Jury Prize - Dramatic and the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award. It was released earlier this year in the US and is currently on release in the UK. It opens in France on November 3rd.

Sunday, September 26, 2010


Andy Tennant (FOOL'S GOLD, HITCH, SWEET HOME ALABAMA) is a seeming one-man factory in churning out romantic-comedies pinned on an implausible central conceit. In this risible flick, the conceit is that Gerard Butler is a bail bonds-man with a gambling habit, charged to bring his ex-wife (Jennifer Aniston) to jail. She's been had up on a fender-bender charge, but was too busy to turn up to court because she's a hard-nosed investigative journalist. ((rolls eyes)). The resulting "comedy" should play as a screwball caper with two wise-cracking stars wheeling their way through organised crime and driving through America. What actually happens is that the two romantic leads have zero chemistry and the creaky, paper-thin plot can't compensate. The only way to watch this flick is on fast-forward - and if I tell you I watched the whole thing in the "flight-safe" window of a fifty minute AMS-LCY flight, you'll get what I mean.

Additional tags: Sarah Thorp, Oliver Bokelberg

THE BOUNTY HUNTER was released in Spring 2010 and is available to rent/buy.

Random DVD Round-Up 4 - LEAP YEAR

LEAP YEAR is a piss-poor, predictable, charmless romantic comedy penned by serial offenders, Deborah Kaplan and Harry Elfont, and directed by Anand Tucker (HILLARY AND JACKIE) who should know better. Amy Adams plays an uptight realtor who is so tired of waiting for her medic boyfriend to propose that she follows him to Ireland to propose to him on Leap Day. This being a romantic "comedy", bad weather and other mishaps conspire to keep her away from him and in the company of a good-looking local lad (Matthew Goode - passable Irish accent). He's obviously a huge cynic, having been cruelly dumped by his ex- but traipsing around in the Irish countryside results in the two leads falling in love. There is nothing in the film that moves beyond cliche and predictability. Indeed, it is deeply ironic that Goode's character teases Amy's character for being "diddly-i" about such a cheesy tradition as girls proposing on a Leap Year, when this movie is peddling exactly that same vision of the Emerald Isle as a place of wide old yokels and crumbling castles. Not even Amy Adams intrinsic charm can save this thing. Avoid at all costs.

Additional tags: Randy Edelman, Adam Scott, Deborah Kaplan, Harry Elfont, Anand Tucker.

LEAP YEAR was released in Spring 2010 and is available to rent/buy.

Random DVD Round-Up 3 - DATE NIGHT

There's something almost impressive about the fact that director Shawn Levy has taken two of the funniest comedians working today - Steve Carell and Tina Fey - and create a romantic comedy so utterly joyless and inauthentic. I honestly would not have believed it possible. This movie misses the mark so badly it's like the PEARL HARBOUR of romantic-comedies. Fey and Carell play a happily married but tired couple whose regular date night turns into a caper movie when they are mistaken for a couple that's blackmailing a local politician. Chased by organised crime and some bent coppers, it just so handily happens that Mrs Suburbs was a realtor to a super-buff Mission Impossible type special agent. Whenever I get mistakenly chased down by gansters, I am definitely going to ensure that I too can call on my friendly neighbourhood James Bond type. Anyways, there are shenanigans, and the couple turn out to be far more plucky and ingenious than is plausible, and it all ends with Tina Fey in a strip club. The only reason you might possibly watch this flick is for the James Franco-Mila Kunis scene in which they show the grown-ups how to do it. Presumably you can just you-tube that clip.

DATE NIGHT was released in April 2010. It is available on DVD and on iTunes.

Additional tags: Jimmi Simpson, Josh Klausner, Leighton Meester


PRINCE OF PERSIA: SANDS OF TIME is a movie that is easy to mock. It's based on a video game; features a bunch of Western actors bronzed up to play medieval Persian warlords; is full of hoky CGI and time-travel; and basically is about as credible as Ed Balls candidature for the Labour leadership. Think ALADDIN on steroids. But I have to say that it's not entirely unwatchable.

A newly buff Jake Gyllenhaal plays Dastan, a street urchin (the very need to use such a ridiculous word as urchin should clue you into the basic nonsense-level here) plucked from poverty to become a Prince by the kindly king. Years later and Dastan is framed for the murder of his father, leaving two genuinely princely brothers and uncle rule in his stead. The rest of the film sees him try to find out who was really out to power-grab, although the casting of Ben Kingsley as the moustache-twirling Uncle is a give-away. The task is made easier by the fact that he's found a mysterious Macguffin whose sand can turn back time. Handily, this plot device comes complete with stuck-up but beautiful Princess-guardian, as played by Gemma Arterton.

Essentially, this is all hokum but enlivened by some really odd casting. Toby Kebbell turns up as a royal brother, for instance, and Alfred Molina is hillarious as an ostrich-race-running medieval gangsta. And what on earth is Mike Newell, of FOUR WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL fame, doing directing this thing? Anyway, I have nothing to say in my defence. This movie is rubbish, but I enjoyed it, albeit fast forwarding through the action scenes. There's something almost touching about how earnestly Gyllenhaal et al play their scenes, and Alfred Molina is worth the price of the DVD rental alone.

PRINCE OF PERSIA: THE SANDS OF TIME was released in May 2010 and is now available on DVD and on iTunes.

Additional tags: John Seale, Harry Gregson-Williams, Boaz Yaking, Doug Miro, Carlo Bernard, Jordan Mechner, Steve Toussaint, Richard Coyle, Ronald Picckup, Reece Ritchie


One-trick pony mockumentary in which notorious street-artist Banksy sends up the modern art world by showcasing nutty video-voyeuer turned artist Thierry Guetta. Guetta starts out behind the camera, documenting the early days of street art in LA, creating a mammoth collection of unedited tapes. He then morphs into an artist, apparently on Banksy's urging, creating works of suspiciously derivative quality and creating an art-world hoop-la in the process. Presumably this has all been faked, and Banksy is trying to make a point about how credulous the punters will be when faced with the latest fashion. Which is all very plausible, but hardly a radical thought, and certainly not enough to sustain a feature length film.

Additional tags: Banksy, tom fulford, chris king,

EXIT THROUGH THE GIFTSHOP played Sundance and Berlin 2010. It opened in the UK, US and Russia earlier this year and opens in Germany on October 2010. It is also available on DVD and on iTunes.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Overlooked DVD of the month - DOGTOOTH

George Orwell believed that the first step toward tyranny was to brutalise language. If the prisoner-citizen cannot articulate his needs he will be more docile. DOGTOOTH opens with such a brutalisation. Three teenagers are kept prisoner by their parents in a gated house. They are taught false meanings for words; to fear vicious monsters in the outside world; and to sublimate their desires. There is no reason given for their imprisonment. Just as in 1984, power is exercised simply because it can be. The logical consequences of absolute parental control are both tragic and absurd. The teenagers are so naive they cannot recognise sexual abuse. When presented with an opportunity of escape, they cannot take initiative. But there is dark comedy too. The father asks if they would like to hear grandfather sing. He puts on a record by Frank Sinatra. The children are in doubt that this is the voice of their grandfather and nod in agreement as the father “translates” their grandfather’s words, exhorting the children to be obedient, from English into Greek.

Giorgos Lanthimos’ film is beautifully shot, logically argued, and deeply, deeply sinister. That is not to say that it is enjoyable, or that I would recommend it for everyone. I went through three phases watching the film. At first, I was intrigued by the concept but turned off by its refusal to explain and bored by watching teenagers effectively do nothing all day. And then, as the logic built upon itself and the situations became more perverse and tragic, I became hypnotised by the film. And finally, I gave in to the absurdity and found it all bleakly funny.

DOGTOOTH played Cannes 2009 where it won the Un Certain Regard award. It also played Toronto, Sitges and London 2009. It opened in Greece and France last year and in Belgium, the Netherlands, the UK, Russia, Norway, Portugal and the US earlier this year. It is now available on DVD and on iTunes.

Saturday, September 11, 2010


Stephen Frears has an odd body of work. He started off with spiky costume drama (DANGEROUS LIASONS), moved to equally spiky contemporary British drama (DIRTY PRETTY THINGS) but then segued into what can only be described as English heritage drama, with the banal MRS HENDERSON PRESENTS and the over-hyped TV drama THE QUEEN. His latest flick - an adaptation of Posy Simmonds Grauniad strip, continues his run of diminishing returns. It's a movie that, for all its lush location work and occasional stabs at spiky social commentary, is dangerously structurally imbalanced.

As far as I can tell, the problems stem from the source material - you can read it all online at the newspaper's site in about an hour. It's apparently based on Hardy's Far From the Madding Crowd, but other than the fact that the central character is sexy and has three lovers, there are very few parallels. Not least because Tamara Drewe simply doesn't hold the centre of our attention in the way any eponymous heroine should.  In the strip, the centre of the story isn't Tamara Drewe at all - but Beth Hardiman, wife of an Ian Rankin-type crime novelist called Nicholas. She's fat, cheated-upon, taken-for-granted and generally quite bitchy. Essentially, she's as much as fault as her lecherous, narcissistic husband for the pitiful state of their marriage, insofar as she enables his shitty behaviour. She likes that he's dependent on her, and smothers him with baked goods and motherly attentions, rather than being his wife. The Hardimans are classic English middle-class yuppies, who've made money, buy a nice run-down farm in the country, and then fill it with Cath Kidston and Waitrose shopping, much to the ire of the locals who are bid out from the local housing market. (I aspire to being such a "banker-wanker"). The farm also serves as a writer's retreat, which suits them both just fine. Nicholas gets fawning acolytes - Beth has more people to mother and feel indispensable for. So basically, the two protagonists at the heart of the strip are pretty unlikeable, but at least you get what makes them tick.

And so the story goes, until Tamara Drewe turns up in hot pants, newly beautified by a nose job, baring all in her self-referential newspaper column. She decides to move into her late mother's house at Winnard's Farm, and write a novel - just like that. In the strip, we read her columns, but never read drafts of her book. We're meant to think she's not much cop at writing, but there's really not much else there. I have no idea what makes the girl tick - and maybe that's deliberate - maybe she's just meant to be a sex object - but that seems a weird authorial choice. Shouldn't we care about, and understand, the eponymous heroine of the strip? Anyways, following Hardy, Tamara has three potential suitors. First up is local gardener, Andy Cobb - earnest, nice, dull - presumably in the Gabriel Oak mould. We have no real understanding why he should be so interested in Tamara or vice versa - they seem entirely unsuited. But maybe I'm wrong - as neither is fleshed out as a character, who knows? Second is minor rock star, Ben aka Sergeant Troy. Except that he's not really a love-rat, and actually an okay guy, and basically, Tamara's never really at risk from him. Third up is Nicholas Hardiman - old, oleaginous author - who is never really at risk from Tamara in the way that Boldwood was at risk from Bathsheba. Yes, after a few quick shags he wants to finally leave Beth, but there's no subterranean violence. And without that deep sexual tension the motive of the plot can't be sexual violence - rather a couple of bored teenage chavs who send a few prank emails, and a herd of bored cows. Deus ex machina have never been as bizarre - okay - maybe Hardy's stampede, and then that odd scene of puncturing sheep's bellies - but the final strips - with two acts of violence that have no build-up, no foreboding atmosphere in the preceding columns - just seem random and insufficiently dealt with.

And so, now, we get the movie. This is, in essence, a very faithful adaptation. All the key characters are locations are there. The houses and farms look exactly like the script, and all of the better, spikier one-liners are kept in. The underlying tension between impoverished locals and wealthy second-home-owners is still there. And the most authentic part of the script - the insecurity and narcissism of writing - and the jealousy between writers - is translated wholesale. But screen-writer Moira Buffini has made several improvements - in particular, several of the characters are more convincingly drawn. Roger Allam's Nicholas Hardiman is far more sinister and slippery and real than in the strip and Tamsin Greig's Beth is less bitchy and more put-upon - in her portrayal of Beth you can see a million failed marriages where the wife has simply lost the ability to conceive of herself alone. Moira Buffini also does a good job in beefing up the role of writers-retreat-ee Glen McGreavey (Bill Camp). In the strip, he's just a contra-Nicholas - an academic, writing obscure books that no-one reads, utterly appreciative of Beth's nurturing - whereas Nicholas writes commercially successful nonsense and takes Beth for granted. In the movie, Glen becomes perhaps the most interesting character of all - standing for integrity and appreciation, but ultimately becoming just as slippery as Nicholas himself. Moreover, he proves once and for all that Beth is a co-dependent - looking for someone to mother and be used by, even when Nicholas is out of the picture.

But the biggest breakthrough - for better and worse - is in the characters of teenage chavs Jody (Jessica Barden) and Casey (Charlotte Christie). In the strip, they serve as a counter-point to the middle class angst at the farm and as a means to the Hardy-esque email that triggers Tamara's affair with Nicholas. They are bored, smoke in bus shelters, and are utterly obsessed with celebrity. But in the movie, partly because of the higher proportion of screen-time they get, and partly because of the quite superb performance by Jessica Barden, they completely steal the show. The angst of being stuck in a small town, knowing that nothing will ever happen unless you back yourself, and then realising that in the real world there are consequences - now that's an interesting story. Jody's journey from fantasist to realist is superbly essayed and deeply engaging.

Now here comes the problem with the movie. Tamara Drewe (Gemma Arterton) and Andy Cobb (Luke Evans) are as thinly sketched in the movie as in the strip. But Jody is far, far more interesting. And so, you end up with a movie wherein the supposed heroine is almost irrelevant, and certainly not the centre of the viewer's attention. No amount of witty one-liners, or glossy location photography, can offset that fundamental structural weakness.

Additional tags: Ben Davis, Mick Audsley, Leo Davis, Bill Camp, Luke Evans, Tamsin Greig, Jessica Barden, Charlotte Christie, James Naughtie, John Bett, Josie Taylor, Bronagh Gallagher, Zahra Ahmadi

TAMARA DREW played Cannes 2010 and plays Toronto 2010. It was released in France in July and is currently on release in the UK. It is released next week in Belgium, in the USA on October 8th and in Germany on December 30th.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Random DVD Round-Up - WHIP IT

WHIP IT is a pretty conventional, but charming, coming-of-age flick directed by Drew Barrymore and starring JUNO's Ellen Page. It feels old fashioned - in the way the sports movies and coming-of-age dramas used to be, before they got satirised in movies like DODGEBALL. The kitsch feel stems partly from the deliberately down-at-heel suburban production design, and from the fact that the heroine is torn between her mother's obsession with beauty pageants and her own attraction to Roller Derby - and both seem anachronistic. But it also stems a little from the straightforward narrative arc, the fact that the happy ending is never really in doubt and the rather simplistic shooting style. The fact that this is Barrymore's debut directorial feature shows in her rather unimaginative handling of the Roller Derby scenes in particular.

Ellen Page plays seventeen-year old, suburban, Bliss Cavendar. Her mother, seeing it as a route out of town, makes her enter beauty pageants where she has to extol traditional feminine virtues. But Bliss decides to rebel by lying about her age and joining a Roller Derby league. She meets tough women with real lives, learns to be aggressive, and gets her first boyfriend. But, as in the way of these three act coming of age flick (see WAYNE'S WORLD, even), Bliss ends up pissing off everyone who loves her - her best friend, her mum, her dad, and potentially her team. Of course, in the movies, as opposed to real life, when you have a bratty teen "coming of age", everyone is remarkably forgiving and loving.

So, all in all, you have to ask what really is the point of WHIP IT? A movie so familiar it feels like a US version of BEND IT LIKE BECKHAM subbing roller debry for soccer.

Additional tags: Robert Yeoman, Dylan Tichenor, The Section Quartet, Juliette Lewis, Andrew Wilson, Landon Pigg, Alia Shawkat, Zoe Bell, Ari Graynor, Carlo Alban, Daniel Stern, Shauna Cross

WHIP IT played Toronto 2009 and was released in 2009/2010. It is available on DVD and on iTunes.

Monday, September 06, 2010

CERTIFIED COPY - A noble failure

Reknowned Iranian auteur, Abbas Kiarostami, has made his first non-Farsi feature, CERTIFIED COPY. The movie plays as a two-hander between Juliette Binoche, who won an award at Cannes for her performance in the film, and opera-singer William Shimmel, who makes his feature debut. He plays an English author called James Miller, in Italy to promote his book. Its central idea is that copies are as valuable as originals - and indeed, that all originals, in art, are essentially copies of the real-life model anyway. Pulled away from his lecture, Binoche's character leaves a note inviting him to meet the next day. She is a fan - he has to sign many copies of his book for her - but then again, she doesn't seem to agree with his central thesis. The opening half hour sees them argue of the nature of worth and beauty. She is fan - nervous, following his direction - and he seems irritated, spending time with her merely to pass time. The movie is hard to engage with - the conversation is too dry, too stilted - maybe a fault of the translation? The only thing that held my attention was the recognition of familiar Kiarostami tropes - conversations in cars, mobile phones interrupting conversations, the inability to communicate. The movie seems strange, disconcerting, and rather boring - but was this deliberate - the calm before the storm?

Something changes in the movie when the protagonists drive to a Tuscan hill-town and take a coffee. James describes the inspiration for the book - having observed a scene with a mother and son in Florence. He does not finish describing it, but it has a deep emotional impact on Binoche's character. Was she the mother? Why is she crying? Why does he callously get up to take a call regardless of her distress? We will never know - this just isn't that kind of film. The second occurrence in the cafe that shifts the gears of the film is that the proprietress mistakes them to be a married couple. Binoche's character falls in with the mistake, and soon James does too. The tension increases - the disquiet increases. By playing husband and wife without ever discussing why or whether too, they don't just flirt, or have moments of tenderness, but bicker and disagree. Binoche's character resents her husbands long absences and neglect of their teenage son. Using the man in front of her as a proxy - a copy - she vents her frustration and he responds in kind. The intensity of the exchange makes us wonder if they are really acting or if they were acting in the first part of the film - are they really husband and wife?

The film is hard to read - or rather there are many ways in which to read it. But what troubles me is that I can't read its success because even the performances are hard to pin down. Is William Shimmel a wooden actor - outclassed by Binoche? Or is he playing a character that's meant to be wooden, callous, emotionally avoidant? Is Binoche's performance bad because it occasionally veers into hamminess? Or is she playing a woman who is melodramatic, emotionally unstable, needy?

Overall, I found CERTIFIED COPY intellectually interesting but ultimately unsatisfying. I admired it more than enjoying it. It raised interesting questions about proxies and originals, and the difficulty of communication. But it also raised too many questions about the essential quality of the performances - and I suspect the answers would not be forgiving to either actor. So, overall, a noble failure, but far better to fail at something provocative and slipper than mundane.

CERTIFIED COPY played Cannes 2010 and was released in France, Italy and the Netherlands earlier this year. It is currently on release in the UK.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

SALT - Ain't nothing wrong with thrills and spills

An  ex-KGB goon walks into a CIA building in DC and outs an alleged Soviet mole, who is planning to assassinate the Russian President in New York in 24 hours time. For the rest of the movie, that mole has to rush to New York; infiltrate the Russian renegades who are trying to trigger a nuclear war; protect the US president; and all the while avoid the clutches of CIA Counter-Intell. Is this a job for Kiefer Sutherland in 24? Or Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible? Nope, in a nice piece of counter-programming, it's a job for Angelina Jolie, as Eveline Salt.

I had a lot of fun watching SALT. It's not a particularly clever film, and certainly not memorable, but for two hours it held my attention with great action set-pieces and better than typical acting for a genre movie. Note, for example, a scene in which Salt is on a boat, surrounded by KGB goons who have apparently done something she should feel upset about. Jolie has to play woman who is deeply upset, but pretending not to be - all the while giving the audience enough ambiguity that they wander who's side she's really on. Added to that, you get a supporting cast of the calibre of Liev Schreiber as her CIA boss, and Chiwetel Ejiofor as the Counter-Intell chief. So, all in all, two enthusiastic thumbs up. Not every movie needs to be Bergman. And while we're waiting for MGM to restructure its debt and push put another Bond flick, this will do very nicely.

Additional tags: Stuart Baird, John Gilroy, Daniel Olbrychski, Daniel Pearce, Hunt Block, Andre Braugher, Olex Krupa

SALT is on global release.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

SCOTT PILGRIM vs. THE WORLD - Heart-stripped Part Deux

So, I want to state that I DO think I have a sense of humour and I'm not some kind of kill-joy. It's not that I hate all things comic book or gamer or hipster, although lately Michael Cera has started to annoy me with his one-note, "hey I'm so geeky, but in a sort of superior way to you", schtick. I think what gets me with these hipsters is the fact that they're all making so much damn mainstream money out of trying to be counter-cultural. Like you can be counter-culture when your interviewed in Interview magazine. Anyways, despite my hipster-fatigue, I was REALLY looking forward to SCOTT PILGRIM vs THE WORLD for the simple fact that I think its director and co-adapter, Edgar Wright, is some kind of comedy genius. This is the man who, with SHAUN OF THE DEAD and the absolutely amazing HOT FUZZ made movies that combined a post-modern, slippery playfulness take on genre-cinema with real heart. And, boys and girls, you gotta have heart. Without heart - without characters that we emotionally engage with - no movie, no matter how clever and witty and inventive, is worth my time. And SCOTT PILGRIM really wasn't worth my time.

This is the concept. Scott Pilgrim is a loser, hipster, geek who plays in a band. He has no money but he can still afford cool trainers. (See video above.) He's dating a psycho-stalker high school chick called Knives Chau who is NOT as cool as her name would suggest and definitely needs to get to a SLAA meeting. But he really wants to be dating a hipster chick called Ramona Flowers, who has outlandishly coloured hair and Seven Evil Ex-es. I have yet to fathom why either girl would want to date Scott - let alone his ex-es, band-mate Kim, and now-successful rock-star, Natalie/Envy. He's a scrawny, incompetent, infantile guy who looks pre-pubescent. I mean, I know some girls like unthreatening, but this is unreal. Anyway, back to the movie. By quasi-dating Ramona, Scott unleashes the Seven Evil Ex-es who he has to fight, video-game stylee, in order to be with her; or gain self-respect; or discover who he really wants to be with; or something. Honestly, by about fight number three I was seriously losing interest. A mock video-game fight HAS NO STAKES. If you lose you don't die - you just click for your second life. If you win, there's just another stupid fight around the corner. And who cares who these characters end up with anyways? Yes the visual tricks are fun - the little knowing comments editorialising the action - and yes, it IS funny to take the piss out of Vegans and pretentious record producers but COME ON! This movie is a one-trick pony. Clever for the first ten minutes, but then repetitive, trite and superficial. I want and expect more from Edgar Wright. I want to see real friendship on screen - friendship like that shared between Simon Pegg and Nick Frost in SHAUN and HOT FUZZ. Not this heart-stripped clever-clever nonsense.

Additional tags: Michael Bacall, Bryan Lee O'Malley, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Ellen Wong, Kieran Culkin, Anna Kendrick, Ben Lewis, Aubrey Plaza, Nigel Godrich

SCOTT PILGRIM vs. THE WORLD is currently on release in the US, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Russia, Kazakhstan, Ireland, the UK and Iceland. It opens in late September in Croatia, Estonia, Sweden and Israel. It opens in October in Finland, Norway, Turkey, Greece, Brazil, Argentina and Singapore. It opens in November in Malaysia and Italy and in December in Greece and Spain. It opens in January 2011 in Germany and the Netherlands.

Friday, September 03, 2010

The Fast Jimmy Memorial DVD Review - DEFENDOR

Trailing in the shadow of KICK-ASS comes a low-budget flick called DEFENDOR - the directorial debut of writer/actor Peter Stebbings - that got a limited release in the US and goes straight to DVD in much of Europe next Monday. Woody Harrelson stars as a sweet guy suffering from the delusion that he is a super-hero called Defendor, who can fight evil villains a jar of angry wasps and a baseball bat. Naturally, he gets the shit kicked out of him, but not before he is rescued by/rescues a crack-whore called Kat (Kat Dennings - NICK AND NORAH'S INFINITE PLAYLIST). Before the inevitable third-act redemption, Kat plays to Defendor's delusions by making him think that her ex-boss/pimp is his arch-enemy, and the rest of the movie shows how Arthur/Defendor tries to navigate real-life crime-busting. This is inter-cut with footage of him going through therapy with his psychiatrist, played by an amused by sympathetic Sandra Oh (GREY'S ANATOMY).

Overall, the movie is an interesting watch because Woody Harrelson commits to the role and brings a sort of goofy charm to it that he hasn't had on screen since back in the days of CHEERS. The supporting cast is generally strong - particularly Elias Koteas as undercover cop Chuck Dooney. And the tech credits are particularly impressive for a low-budget venture: props to DP David Greene. But there are problems with the flick. In front of the camera, I had a tough time buying into Kat Dennings portrayal of the hooker with a heart of gold. In every film she makes she carries herself and speaks like a wise-ass hipster. This is fine for a film like  NICK AND NORAH but really jars in DEFENDOR. She just doesn't sound convincing as a girl who lives on the streets. The second problem is on the page - the script is too uneven in tone. Does Peter Stebbings want this to be a goofy comedy, poking gentle fun at Defendor? Or does he want this to be an emotional drama about too damaged and unlikely people finding a connection? Neither was committed to.

So, would I recommend DEFENDOR? Yes, it's good enough for DVD night and has an interesting approach to superhero movies. But for my money, if you really want to see a sensitive and beautifully acted examination of super-hero as delusion, check out SPECIAL.

Additional tags: Peter Stebbings, Clark Johnson, Lisa Ray, A C Peterson, Kristin Booth, Charlotte Sullivan, John Rowley, David Greene, Geoff Ashenhurst

DEFENDOR played Toronto and Whistler 2009 and went on limited released in the US and Brazil earlier this year. It is straight to DVD in the UK on September 9th.

Thursday, September 02, 2010


Lisbeth Salander, a young, rebellious, autistic computer hacker, returns to Stockholm to enforce her revenge on her sexually abusive state-appointed guardian, Nils Bjurman. But, soon after, Bjurman is murdered, along with two young investigators who were about to expose a sex-trafficking scandal, in which he was implicated. The police think Lisbeth is the murderer and she goes on the run. Only her old lover and friend, Mikke Blomkvist; her current lover Miriam; her old boxing buddy (real-life star) Paolo Roberto, and her kindly first guardian, Holger Palmgren, believe she innocent. But they can't track her down to help her. As it so happens, it was Blomkvist's magazine that was going to be publishing the sex-trafficking expose, and as he picks up the trail of the gangster Zala, he is led back to Lisbeth, who also believes that Zala was involved in her scandalous abuse as a child. So unfolds the true story of Lisbeth's god-awful childhood, and the reality of the complicity of the Swedish state in her abuse.

I loved Daniel Alfredson's faithful adaptation of Swedish thriller, THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO. It was a well-acted, competently-made crime drama with a convincing relationship at its heart - that between campaigning journalist, Mikke Blomkvist; and his sometime researcher and lover, Lisbeth Salander. Salander's character - emotionally avoidant, scrupulously fair, kick-ass - is the most sale-able thing about these books. But it also makes them hard to access at an emotional level, without the reader being able to experience her through the softer focus of her friendship with Mikke, her loyalty to her lover Miriam, and her respect for her old guardian, Holger Palmgren. The problem with the sequel, THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE, is that we don't get enough of the relationships - we simply don't see Lisbeth on screen together with Mikke, or Holger or Miriam, long enough to engage emotionally. And without that, the movie just becomes a crime procedural. Worst of all, because most people who watch this film will be fans of the book, a crime procedural to which we already know the answer. To be fair, partly this is unavoidable. The film-makers have to stick to the broad outline of the book, and to that end, they have no choice but to keep Mikke and Lisbeth apart. But, Stieg Larson gave us compensation in the novel. He gave us the reunion of Lisbeth and Palmgren, something which is skated over very quickly in the film - and most importantly, he gave us the intriguing character of the cop, Jan Bublanski - charged with tracking "murderer" Lisbeth down, but a man who instinctively knows something far more murky has been going down. With only a small role for Jan, and a resultingly small role for the police in the investigation, the movie seemed to have no centre, no momentum, and no interest for me. I was actually bored by it, and was really very disappointed indeed.

THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE was released in the Nordics, Italy and Spain last year, and was released earlier this year in Greece, the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Estonia, Portugal, France, the US and Argentina. It is currently on release in the UK and opens in September in Japan and Singapore.