Sunday, March 31, 2013


Antoine Fuqua's OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN is glorious trash and the true heir to the DIE HARD franchise. Instead of a tired reworking of the Bruce Willis underdog saves the day action blockbuster we get its transmutation into a hackneyed but convincingly tense thriller. The secret of its success? Like all pastiche, you have to play it with a completely straight face. And by casting actors of the calibre of Morgan Freeman, Melissa Leo and Angela Bassett that's what this movie does. In addition, with its high gloss tech package, the movie looks as convincing as it feels. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that the sequence in which the White House is taken by enemy agents is as convincing, gripping and terrifying as the plane malfunction sequence that opens FLIGHT.  Perhaps the biggest surprise is, however, how well Gerard "This Is Spaaaaarta!" Butler does as the action hero.  He's an actor whose personal life seems as feckless as his career choices - and this loserdom nicely carries over into perceptions of his character, Banning, a disgraced and guilt-ridden former Secret Service agent who manages to get inside the White House during the raid and leads a single-handed fight back against the North Koreans.

So what's it all about Alfie?  In the prologue, we see Secret Service agent Banning (Butler) involved in the tragic death of the First Lady (Ashley Judd), leaving her picture perfect husband, President Asher a widower and their cute little son Connor motherless.  As we move into the main body of the film, we see the White House come under aerial and ground assault from North Korean terrorists, and the President and his key staff (Leo, Freeman, Bassett etc) quickly moved into the underground bunker. Crucially, the President being a clean-cut, all-American, wonderful guy, he chooses to take the South Korean premier with him, allowing the treacherous Kang (Rick Yune - THE MAN WITH THE IRON FIST) to penetrate the bunker too.  The only good news is that Banning, since demoted, has made his way inside the White House and makes contact with his former boss (Bassett) allowing all kinds of heroic derring do and kiddie rescuing. 

You can predict how the plot's going to unfold from the trailer. There's nothing new here but the familiar story is so well-done, so enjoyable to watch, so comforting in its predictability that you can't help but have a good time.  Gerard Butler may well have resuscitated his ailing career, and director Antoine Fuqua certainly makes his most accomplished film since TRAINING DAY, even if it's far less radical in its content. 

OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN is on release in the USA, France, Bahrain, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Greece, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Israel, Kuwait, Macedonia, Serbia, Canada, India, Pakistan, Taiwan, Iceland and Estonia. It opens on April 4th in Australia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Hungary, Russia, Slovenia, Lithuania and Romania. It opens on April 12th in Singapore and Mexico; on April 18th in the UK, Belgium, Italy, New Zealand and Finland; on May 3rd in Sweden; on May 10th in the Netherlands and Norway; on May 16th in Argentina and on June 8th in Japan. 

OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN has a running time of 120 minutes and is rated R in the USA.

Friday, March 22, 2013


Brad Anderson, the director behind the surreal, bleak, stunning THE MACHINIST, descends into genre features for THE CALL - a thriller starring Halle Berry that starts off brilliantly but descends into implausibility.  In some ways, the movie is set up in the same way as OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN. In a thrilling prologue, 911 operator Jordan (Halle Berry) has to listen while a creep (Michael Eklund) offs a young caller.  Move to the main body of the film, and Jordan, like Gerard Butler's Banning, is a guilt-ridden specialist trying to redeem herself.  In this case, she's called in when the same creep abducts a young girl called Casey (Abigail Breslin) and puts her in the trunk of a car. The majority of the movie sees Jordan guiding Casey through tricksy attempts to alert passing drivers and the tension is palpable,thanks partly to DP Tom Yatsko's superb digital lensing, but mostly to the strong performances by Breslin and Berry.  The problem is that in the final act, the movie gets into Scooby Doo territory with the standard stupid chase in the spooky cabin in the woods that Whedon spoofed so brilliantly. 

THE CALL is on release in the USA, Russia, Canada and Lithuania. It opens on April 5th in Brazil; on April 18th in Argentina; on May 3rd in Sweden; on May 9th in Greece and on July 5th in Turkey.

THE CALL has a running time of 94 minutes and is rated R in the USA.


Dreamworks' latest kids animated feature, THE CROODS, is a major disappointment. It has basically the same story as the wonderful HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA, but without the visual style, the wit, the poignancy and the gentle homage to its cinematic antecedents. 

Emma Stone voices Eep, a teenage Neanderthal rebelling against her father Grug's fear of all things new.  This extends to her new more advanced Homo Sapiens boycrush Guy (Ryan Reynolds) - the kid who knows how to make fire, and shoes and whatnot.  After a nasty attack on the family cave, the Croods head off on a road trip to "tomorrow" (I kid you not) with Grug (Nic Cage) and Guy increasingly at odds until, this being a kids film, it all ends happily.

Director Kirk DeMicco (SPACE CHIMPS) and Chris Sanders (HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON) have fashioned a script so completely ham-fisted and devoid of humour as to give their starry cast little to work with. Stone and Reynolds are utterly wasted. The visuals are polished, but in a manner we have come to take for granted from CGI animation. There's none of the layered comedy that filled TRANSYLVANIA, or even PARANORMAN - and none of the teary-eyed family moments that made those two movies adorable and memorable.  The whole thing was just banal and derivative. 

THE CROODS played Berlin 2013 and is currently on release in the USA, Mexico, Indonesia, Argentina, Bahrain, Bolivia, Chile, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Germany, Hungary, Israel, Italy, Kuwait, Portugal, Puerto Rico, Macedonia, Russia, Serbia, Singapore, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Estonia, Guatemala, Honduras, India, Ireland, Lithuania, Nicaragua, Norway, Panama, the Philippines, Romania, Spain, Sweden,  the UK, Uruguay, Venezuela, Belgium, Iceland, the Netherlands, Australia, Hong Kong,  Slovenia, Bulgaria and Finland, It opens on April 4th in Thailand; April 5th in Poland; April 10th in France; April 11th in New Zealand and April 18th in Greece.

THE CROODS has a running time of 98 minutes and is rated PG in the USA.

Thursday, March 14, 2013


THE PAPERBOY is a superbly trashy tawdry movie in the best tradition of the Southern Gothic. Set in a late 60s bumblefuck town in Florida, the movie opens with a racist obese cop having his guts eviscerated in a parking lot and closes with a sunkissed teen ferrying brutalised bodies over an alligator swamp. In between, we're going to see a convicted murderer command his infatuated fiancée to simulate oral sex in front of the journalists trying to prove him innocent. We're going to see that same fiancée pee on the sunkised teen lashed by a jellyfish.  We're going to see his elder brother brutalised in a sadomasochistic act in which he might have been complicit. And we're going to see a man rip the guts out of a gator as if it ain't no thang. 

In all this craziness, it's questionable where our focus is really meant to be?  Are we really meant to care about proving the innocence of creepy Hillary van Wetter (John Cusack)? To be sure, reporters Ward (Matthew McConaughey) and Yardley (David Oyewolo) do some investigating but I never really got a hold of what they were meant to be uncovering and how it got him released, or even why Ward was so convinced of his innocence after the way he talked to his fiancée Charlotte (Nicole Kidman).  (I figured Yardley never cared one way or another, just so long as he got to publish something.)

No, the focus of the movie seemed to be far more on kid brother Jack (Zac Efron), his infatuation with Charlotte (so slippery for the narrator to keep calling it love), and his unending loyalty to his brother, despite everything that he saw in that plastic sheeted motel room.  There are moments between Ward and Jack, amid the garish grotesquery, that are so intimate and authentic they make you realise how rare it is to see true sibling love on screen. I'm thinking of a snatched conversation on the banks of a swamp - and the way in which Ward cradles a drunken Jack as they sail out to see Charlotte in the movie's final act. And let's be honest, the flash of anger in which Jack uses the N-word in front of his beloved housemaid, Anita (Macy Gray) and then makes up with her says so much more about the reality of race relations in that period than THE HELP ever could. 

So, while THE PAPERBOY might fail as a conventional investigative procedural, while it's focus might be fuzzy, it succeeds like no film I know in holding us rapt - just waiting to see what on earth could happen next to these characters that, after all, we have come to care about. Because, yes, I did want the oversexed trailer trash prison groupie to be happy. And I did care about Jack and Ward, and wince every time someone mistreated Anita. 

I love the way that Lee Daniels (PRECIOUS) and DP Roberto Schaeffer's Super 16mm photography and impeccable production design make the movie jump off the screen. I love the way we can feel the sweat, and the taste the dirt and smell the filth.  And I have to say that as much as Nicole Kidman got a lot of award season glory this really is an ensemble cast that has no shame, no pride and every willingness to look trashy in service of the story.  I guess we've come to expect this from Matthew McConaughey who's reinvented himself as the king of sleaze, but I was shocked at John Cusack's transformation.  Macy Gray is also wonderful as Anita, in one of the rare examples of a narration that really works. 

THE PAPERBOY played Cannes and Toronto 2012 and was released last year in Croatia, the USA, Belgium, France, Canada, Israel, Russia, Bulgaria, Greece and Portugal. It opened earlier this year in Poland, Lebanon, Finland and Australia. It opens this weekend in the UK and Ireland, in Chile on April 4th, in Mexico on April 5th, in Turkey on April 12th and in Argentina on May 9th. 

THE PAPERBOY has a running time of 107 minutes and is rated R in the USA. 

Sunday, March 10, 2013


WELCOME TO THE PUNCH is a risibly poor attempt at a Michael-Mann style cop thriller from British writer-director Eran Creevy.  Abandoning the social-realist style that gave his first film, SHIFTY, such authenticity and weight, Creevy creates a film that he believes is a hommage, but which reads as cheap pastiche - all slick surfaces, piss-poor Norf London accents, cliche-ridden dialogue and surreal unintentional humour.  The slightly built James McAvoy is woefully miscast as gifted but cynical cop, Max Lewinsky, still suffering from a gunshot wound inflicted by criminal mastermind Jacob Sternwood (Mark Strong).  Years later, Lewinsky is paired with an admiring and ambitious cop called Sarah (Andrea Riseborough) and is once again brought into conflict with Sternwood when his teenage son is shot, and he comes back from hiding in Iceland.  The plot, such as it is, plays as a conspiracy thriller in which politicians and senior policeman are implicated.  The only problem is that for the cine-literate, as soon as you introduce a wily campaign manager (Natasha Little) and any senior character played by David Morrissey, we can figure out the entire plot from minute 15 of the film.  This  kills any potential suspense or engagement with the characters. The fact that they speak in pat dialogue in predictable tab A into slot B scenes doesn't help either.  Still, the slick look and feel of the movie is kind of interesting, and you can just about keep entertained until the movie totally jumps the shark in its final act. There's a scene involving gunmen and  grandmother that had the audience laughing out loud at the surreal combination - laughing at rather than with. No movie can survive that. 

WELCOME TO THE PUNCH will be released in the UK and Ireland on March 15th; in the USA on March 27th; in Portugal on April 4th; in the Netherlands and Russia on April 18th; in Japan on May 8th and in Australia and Belgium on May 9th. 

Saturday, March 09, 2013


Sam Raimi's prequel to the WIZARD OF OZ is a movie in which I can see so much to admire but which bored me for all of its overlong two hour ten minute runtime.  

I loved the visual design of the black and white prologue in a turn of the century Kansas carnival, where our anti-hero conman, conjurer and lothario, Oz, escapes an angry husband by taking off in a hot air balloon that will whisk him to a land of his subconscious that he has narcissistically called Oz.  I love the riot of CGI colour and subversive naughtiness by which Oz immediately romances the credulous witch Theodora (Mila Kunis), before breaking her heart and turning her to the Dark Side. I love the costume design that sees Rachel Weisz wicked with Evanora in luscious dark green ballgowns and Michelle Williams' good witch Glenda in gorgeous shimmering white. I love the casting of James Franco - who has always been almost too handsome, and painfully wooden and uncomfortable with that beauty.  His too wide smile and slightly hammy acting perfectly suits the conman role.  Most of all, I love the idea that despite all his petty cunning, Oz is really an idealist, who is full of admiration for Edison's inventions, and wonder at the power of cinema. In fact, OZ can be read as a movie about how cinema saves lives, much like ARGO.

The problem is that the movie just takes too long to motor through its various machinations to finally get Oz into his confrontation with the newly wicked Evanora and Theodora.  It also seems too adult for kids and too kiddie for adults - in sharp contrast to Pixar who seem to be able to entertain both groups simultaneously.  How much of the target kiddie audience really get why Evanora turned wicked, and why Oz' final victory is rather ambiguous? And how many adults were squirming with boredom during the whole munchkin, quadling city scene - in fact, for much of the final 90 minutes?

OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL has a running time of 130 minutes and is rated PG in the USA.  The movie opens this weekend in Argentina, Australia, Chile, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Hungary, Israel, Italy, Kuwait, Malaysia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Portugal, Macedonia  Russia, Serbia, Singapore, Slovenia, Thailand, the Ukraine, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Iceland, India, Ireland, Japan, Lithuania, Mexico, Mongolia, the Philippines, Poland, Romania, Spain, Turkey, the UK and the USA.  It opens next week in Belgium, France, the Netherlands, Estonia, Finland, Norway, Sweden and Taiwan.

Friday, March 08, 2013


SIDE EFFECTS reads as one half New York Review of Books essay on the insidious pharmaceuticals industry and one half John Grisham knock-off.  Both halves sit uneasily alongside each other, and while well-enough done, never quite cohere. Moreover, they aren't satisfying in the conventional sense.

To my mind, the first half of the film is by far the strongest. The NYRB lecture on the complicity of Wall Street, psychiatrists and Big Pharma is elegant and concise. What's unnverving for a British audience, where medications is, if perhaps less common, certainly less overt, is how little surprise everyone evinces when the protagonist, Emily (Rooney Mara) tries to commit suicide.  As she returns to work and socialising with her ex-convict financier husband (Channing Tatum), everyone she comes into contact with has their own use of anti-depressants to relate. There is no sense of enquiry. It's taken for granted that everyone has periods where they need medication - whether for depression or just a sharpener before a job interview.  Of course, the first half of the film isn't really a film in a conventional sense. There's no sense of drama  - no tension.  Emily's family and friends are so understanding that it turns into a pharma-procedural - we are literally just being educated on what it is to be within modern psychiatry. 

The second half of the film is far less satisfying. It plays as a kind of sub John Grisham thriller in which a wronged man is reduced to nothing and then, with nothing but self-belief and his own intelligence, double-crosses all those who did him wrong.  Jude Law, as Emily's pyschiatrist Dr Banks,  is thus the avatar of Michael Douglas, using and abusing his ability to institutionalise and medicate his opponent. This part of the film works as a finely tuned clockwork toy.  You know precisely what the outcome is - it follows its genre conventions precisely.  There's no tension - no surprise.  I found myself marvelling at the interior design of Jude Law's apartment and the shockingly trashy ombre hair colour on Rooney Mara's hair extensions. 

So here's the deal, you can watch SIDE EFFECTS and have an okay time learning about stuff you already know and watching a thriller where every plot twist is expected. The performances are good enough, and the soundtrack by Thomas Newman is particularly good.  But let's not kid ourselves that this is a work of art.

SIDE EFFECTS has a running time of 106 minutes and is rated R in the USA.

SIDE EFFECTS was released earlier this year in the USA, Canada, Romania, Australia, Russia, the Ukraine and Lithuania. It is currently on release in Greece, Portugal, Ireland and the UK. It opens next weekend in the Czech Republic, Hong Kong, Kuwait and the Netherlands; on March 21st in Argentina, Singapore and Mexico; on March 28th in Chile, Estonia and Latvia; on April 3rd in France; on April 10th in Belgium; on April 19th in Poland and Sweden; on April 25th in Germany; on May 2nd in Denmark; on May 9th in New Zealand and on May 31st in Brazil.