Thursday, 28 February 2013

Nil by Mouth

Nil by Mouth is acclaimed actor Gary Oldman’s debut as writer/director and is set in deepest, darkest, scariest South London. The film follows a single family and various friends as they struggle with drugs, alcohol, poverty and violence. Never an easy watch, Nil by Mouth features a grounded and gritty script and some accomplished directing and won numerous awards on its release in 1997.

Raymond (Ray Winstone) is a wheeler-dealer type who gets by with various scams and small time crimes. His wife Valerie (Kathy Burke) is pregnant with their second child and her brother Billy (Charlie Creed-Miles) scrounges off the pair and his mother Janet (Laila Morse) to feed his heroin habit. During the two hour, ten minute run time the various family members are attacked, beaten and arrested in what is a thoroughly depressing tale of abuse; both the abuse of substances and of each other.

About three minutes into Nil by Mouth my girlfriend, who was only half watching, turned to me and said “This is a naughty film, isn’t it?” That is putting it incredibly mildly. According to IMDb the film holds the record for the most uses of the word “cunt” which is uttered 82 times in total, mostly by Ray Winstone. The language itself is terrifying but is nothing compared with the violence. In the film’s most shocking scene a pregnant woman is beaten senseless by her husband. It makes for excruciating viewing and isn’t easy to watch. The film brings to the screen a side of London which is never seen by tourists or indeed the vast majority of its eight million residents but it remains recognisable due to its recognisable setting and naturalistic acting.


A few years ago I saw a film called Love Exposure by Japanese Director Sion Sono. I’ve seen that film three times now and even though it is over four hours long it has become one of my all time favourites. I’d been on the look out for other films from the Director and came across Himizu, a film set in the aftermath of the 2011 earthquake that caused the Tsunami and Fukushima nuclear disaster.

A fourteen year old boy runs a boat renting business. He is surrounded by an unusual bunch of adult friends who live vagrant lives near his house having been made homeless by the earthquake. With an absent mother and mostly absent and violent father, the boy has constant thoughts of suicide. A girl from his school becomes infatuated with him and attempts to bring his life into focus but struggles against the boy’s violence and depression.

Wednesday, 27 February 2013


Lore (pronounced Laura) is an Australian-German co production set in the Spring of 1945. As World War Two comes to an end, a young woman finds her world turned upside down as everything she believed to be true, turns out to be false. Lore (Saskia Rosendahl) is the teenage daughter of hard-line Nazis whose parents leave to go into hiding as the Allies tighten their net around Germany. Lore is left to look after herself and four younger siblings in a Germany in which their Aryan superiority is now a handicap. As the children set out for the weeks long walk towards their Grandmother’s house in Hamburg they are followed by a young man called Thomas (Kai Malina) who occasionally helps them but turns out to be a Jew, recently freed from a camp.

I’d never heard of this film until two nights ago when I was watching last week’s Film 2013 and it got a glowing review. Knowing my girlfriend and I were heading into the city centre the next day we decided to see it at our local art house cinema on the recommendation of the TV critics. I’m glad that we did. I found Lore to be a compelling coming of age drama and a fresh story set in a micro world around a much farmed era of film making.

Monday, 25 February 2013

A Royal Affair

In Eighteenth Century Denmark a new Queen (Alicia Vikander) arrives from her native England to meet her new King, Christian VII (Mikkel Følsgaard) for the first time. The King instantly fails to live up to his reputation and the Queen is shunned by him and infuriated by his temperament and apparent madness. What’s worse is that Denmark’s outdated censorship bans many of her favourite Enlightenment era books which are returned to England. In a small Danish colony in Germany, two ex Court favourites persuade a local Doctor to apply to be the King’s physician in the hope that they will once again gain favour with the Court. The Doctor (Mads Mikkelsen) is an instant hit with the King but with few others. The Queen slowly learns of their like-mindedness and they begin a slow seizure of power from the lame duck Monarch as well as embarking on a risky sexual affair.

It always annoys me when I miss a critically successful overseas film at the cinema but I simply couldn’t find anywhere showing A Royal Affair on its theatrical release. The film has since been Oscar Nominated and just the other day won a couple of converted Kermode Awards so I was thrilled when my online DVD rental service sent me the film. A Royal Affair is pretty much all I was expecting of it. It’s a lavish and pretty costume drama with a political heart and save for a run time I would happily shorten, I really enjoyed it.

Sunday, 24 February 2013


I knew nothing of this film before entering the cinema except that it starred Jessica Chastain (Yes!) and was directed by Guillermo del Toro (Yes!). One of those facts of course turned out to be false. As is often the case with modern horror this film was not directed by but rather ‘presented by’ del Toro who was in fact the executive producer. Mama is a fairly conventional modern horror film which I admit I’m going to find difficult to review. If you want a review of the film as seen from behind my girlfriend’s shoulder or a review of the sound you can hear when your eyes are closed then you’ve come to the right place. I am a total horror wuss and as usual for a film featuring ghosts, it scared the shit out of me.

Following the 2008 financial crash a businessman murders his partners and wife before abducting his two young children. He crashes his car in a forest and ends up in a creepy cabin from where he is mysteriously taken. Five years later his twin brother (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) is still searching for the girls when two men happen upon them in the same cabin they entered five years earlier. The girls now eight and six are half wild, move about on all fours and have an imaginary friend called Mama. They go to live with their uncle and his girlfriend (Jessica Chastain) where things start to go freaky weird.

Saturday, 23 February 2013

United 93

I saw United 93 about three years ago and was well and truly shaken by it. I hadn’t seen such an emotional and harrowing film since Schindler’s List and wasn’t prepared for just how realistic and terrifying it was. I think I was expecting a sort of Independence Day-esque USA! USA! Saves the day! type film but what I got was a beautifully made, onslaught on my emotions. I watched it again last night to introduce it to my girlfriend. The film had the exact same impact on her and bought a tear to her eye. I found it just as traumatic the second time around and the fact that we are flying to Newark with United in a couple of weeks probably didn’t help our emotional state. The film left us both feeling drained and depressed.

United 93 tells the real story of the forth ill fated aircraft on 9/11. Almost brushed aside or forgotten about on that day and in the years afterwards, the plane was hijacked by four terrorists and heading for Washington (the film suggests The Capitol) when news of the attacks on the World Trade Centre and Pentagon reached the passengers. Realising that this was a suicide mission, some of the passengers got together to try and force their way into the cockpit and a single engine pilot volunteered to attempt to land the place safely. History tells us this was unsuccessful.

Friday, 22 February 2013

The Birds

The Birds arrived towards the end of one of the most fruitful periods of Alfred Hitchcock’s career, at a time when he was still riding the waves of Vertigo, North by Northwest and Psycho. The movie, like Psycho is a horror film and to me is a clear influence on much that followed it. Young socialite Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren) meets the suave lawyer Mitch Brenner (Rod Taylor) in a pet shop in San Francisco. She becomes a little infatuated with him after a brief game of cat and mouse and decides to track him down. She finds him in the small hamlet of Bodega Bay and leaves a present of two love birds on his door step. Melanie and Mitch strike up a coy friendship much to the disliking of Mitch’s protective mother Lydia (Jessica Tandy). While Melanie is in Bodega Bay birds begin to attack people, occasionally at first but soon they have the town under siege and there is no explanation as to why.

The Birds was probably the first Hitchcock film I ever saw but I remembered little of it besides the stand out set piece scenes. It is also one of Hitch’s most parodied films (this is brilliant) and I recently saw TV movie The Girl which was based on the relationship between the film’s Director and lead actress. Now I’ve seen it again I can see that the movie has a lot going for it but I preferred Hitchcock’s earlier, tenser thrillers.

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Run Out Groove - A Short Story

As Kina opened the bathroom door, steam flooded into the living room, rising sharply as it met the cooler air. Despite the large bathroom window being opened there was still more than enough steam from her long, indulgent shower to reach the high ceiling of her small apartment’s central room. As she walked over to her record player her light, satin gown hung loosely around her quickly drying body and a drop of cool water ran from her hair down the back of her neck.

Lifting the lid of her record player she gently placed the needle close to the edge of the 7”, letting go when she heard the satisfying scratch of needle on vinyl. Following a short, quiet, gratifying hiss, the first few bars of Parliament’s Agony of Defeet sprung to life and George Clinton’s smooth voice rang out. Kina slowly began to shake her hips as she walked the few feet towards her TV. She turned it on but kept the volume on mute. Kina enjoyed the company of a flickering TV late at night and it left light, fuzzy shadows all over the apartment. Briefly looking at the screen she half recognized an old John Wayne Western but wasn’t sure of its name. Turning to the drinks cabinet behind her sofa she continued her slow groove across the room. She stopped half way and turned as she heard a dull thud coming from the bathroom. Angry at herself for not hanging up her towel properly again she continued to her cabinet, poured herself a small scotch and used a set of polished silver tongs to pick out a warm slice of lemon which had seen better days. Heading to the kitchen in search of ice, Kina once more strut a funky walk across the room in front of the closed drapes and towards the open kitchen.


The first of Dutch Director Paul Verhoeven’s three English language cult sci-fi films, Robocop is a movie that owes a great debt to the comic book character Judge Dredd and was inspired by Blade Runner. In the near future Detroit is a city on the verge of collapse. There are no jobs and criminal gangs run the streets. The mega-corporation OCP runs the battered up police force and hopes to create a new super-city in the ruins of Detroit. To clean up the streets they design an automated robot cop but when tests go badly they return to the drawing board. Veteran cop Alex Murphy (Peter Weller) is out on patrol with his new partner Officer Ann Lewis (Nancy Allen) when he encounters a criminal gang. The cops chase the gang to an abandoned mill where Murphy is brutally killed. OCP use what is left of Murphy’s body to create a new version of their robotic policeman – Robocop.

I saw Robocop when I was in my early teens at remember thinking it was pretty violent and cool. Now aged twenty-six and twenty-five years after the movie’s initial release, I found the film had aged very badly and wasn’t anywhere near as fun as I remembered. The violence though, remains.

Monday, 18 February 2013

This is 40

This is 40 is being described as the sort of sequel to 2007’s Knocked Up in that the central characters first appeared in that movie. Besides that there is little to connect the stories of the two films although the early mid life crisis that Debbie (Leslie Mann) and Pete (Paul Rudd) found themselves entering five years ago are now fully formed. Debbie and Paul are a married couple on the cusp of their fortieth birthdays. Their two children (played by Mann’s and Writer/Director Judd Apatow’s real children Maude and Iris) are finding it difficult to get along and both parents are in turn having problems with their own fathers. In the background is a financial noose which threatens to envelop their necks at any time.

I believe that This is 40 contains some of Judd Apatow’s best writing to date. This might not sound like much of a compliment considering his writing credits have included You Don’t Mess with the Zohan and Funny People but in amongst the poorer stuff, Apatow has written some very good comedy. This is 40 is not only very funny but also sweet and contains a lot of realistic relationship talk, arguments and situations.

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Kill Bill Volume 2

Kill Bill Volume 2 is the second part of Quentin Tarantino’s female led revenge thriller and was released six months after its predecessor KillBill Volume 1. The film follows the continuing vengeful rampage of The Bride (Uma Thurman) who we discover in this film is actually named Beatrix Kiddo. Her name remained secret in the first movie. Having dispatched of two of her former assailants in the first film, Kiddo here hunts down the remaining three; trailer residing, titty bar bouncer Bud (Michael Madsen), one eyed jealous blonde Elle Driver (Daryl Hannah) and the eponymous Bill (David Carradine).

The film opens with a Hitchcockian style pre title sequence in which The Bride is driving to her final destination while giving a brief outline of the plot so far. This sequence is shot in black and white and uses rear projection to give it the look of a Hitchcock thriller. Even the title font and score are Hitchcockian. The remainder of the film is much more conventional and more settled than the first Kill Bill movie as Tarantino keeps his genre mashing directorial tricks mostly in his pocket. There are occasional switches to black and white and one chapter resembles a Hong Kong Kung Fu movie but for the most part the film is more unadventurous than the first movie. There is much less violence too with only two onscreen deaths in the entire movie.


Lars von Trier’s censor terrorising, award winning 2009 horror film Antichrist was the first film I saw from the Danish art house Director and its beauty, graphic violence and almost pornographic visuals left me stunned for days. For the last couple of years I’ve been trying to get my girlfriend (who disliked Melancholia more than I did) to watch it, in part because I knew it would disgust her. Much to my relief it did. Antichrist is one of the most violent and certainly the most sexually explicit film I’ve ever seen but it isn’t simply a trashy exploitation Tits & Guts horror, it is a well crafted, beautifully made and deeply traumatic horror film.

Antichrist begins with a prologue featuring a married couple who are never named (Willem Defoe & Charlotte Gainsbourg) making love in super slow motion. The scene is filmed in black and white and using a camera capable of capturing a thousand frames a second. While the couple pound away their young son climbs out of his cot and heads towards an open window before falling to his death. The couple enter into the grieving process in very different ways with the husband taking a clinical approach while the wife spirals deeper and deeper into depression. The film is divided into chapters which mirror Gainsbourg’s emotional state with Grief being followed by Pain and Despair. The couple make the decision to relocate to a cabin in the woods but the wife’s emotional state takes a dark and bloody turn for the worst.

Saturday, 16 February 2013

The Help

It’s rare that I watch a film and want to hurt the cast but I deeply disliked about 60% of the characters in The Help and wanted to punch about 20% of them in the face. The Oscar winning 2011 film tells the story of disenfranchised maids living in early 1960s Jackson, Mississippi. Eugenia "Skeeter" Phelan (Emma Stone) returns from college with the world at her feet but realises that her family and friends expect very specific things of her. She is to act and dress in a certain way, not think too hard and settle down with a husband as soon as possible. Skeeter goes against what is expected and gets a job at the local paper. Desperate for something worthwhile to write about she asks her friend’s maid Aibileen (Viola Davis) if she can write about life from the help’s perspective. Although weary at first, Aibileen soon opens up to Skeeter and soon fellow maid Minny (Octavia Spencer) is telling her story too.

I never saw The Help on its initial release and is in fact a rare example of a recent Best Picture candidate I’ve missed. Something about the movie didn’t appeal to me and my early hatred of the bad guy characters coupled with finding Emma Stone’s character annoying got me off to a bad start. By the end though I was wishing the film wouldn’t end and would have watched another act. I grew to respect and love certain characters but still want to punch others and the story is a remarkable example of bravery, courage and setting right what is wrong.

Sexy Beast

Gary Dove (Ray Winstone) is an ex safe cracker now living in retirement in Spain. He and his best friend Aitch (Cavan Kendall) live idyllic lives in the Spanish sun but their relaxed lives are interrupted by the arrival of terrifying London gangster Don Logan (Ben Kingsley) who tries to forcefully persuade Gary to do another job back in the UK. Despite his protestations Don won’t take no for an answer and an uneasy standoff develops between the two men.

I’ve never been a fan of the Guy Ritchie style London based gangster films and get annoyed that British films are generally divided into costume drama or East End Gangster flicks. Sexy Beast feels very different from the Gut Ritchie style of film and reminded me more of a Nicholas Winding Refn film. The colour saturation, violence and electro, bass heavy soundtrack are all signatures of his work and had I been told this was one of his films I wouldn’t have doubted it. The film is actually the debut feature of Director Jonathan Glazer who is better known as a Director of adverts and music videos. He brings his easy on the eye style to the big screen and here creates a memorable film which also has one of the best Ben Kingsley performances I’ve seen.

A Good Day to Die Hard

Twenty-five years since the beginning of the terrific Die Hard trilogy and nearly six years after the quite frankly terrible Die Hard 4.0 (you know, like computers) John McLane (Bruce Willis) is back for a fifth instalment of Dying Hard but not actually ever dying ever. As with a lot of tired, out of ideas sequels, Die Hard 5 takes place outside the US and finds our hero in MosCOW on the trail of his wayward son Jack (Jai Courtney) who he learns is due in a Russian Court on a murder charge. What John doesn’t realise however is that Jack is in fact a CIA Agent, working undercover to protect a political prisoner (Sebastian Koch) who has a highly sensitive file on a high ranking Russian Politician.

A Good Day to Die Hard tries its best to construct a story worthy of the original trilogy and even springs a surprise twist but nothing can mask that fact that this movie is boring. Dull, dull, stare, drive, BOOM!, guns, dull, talk, father-son, dull, driving, radiation, BOOM! BOOM! Hahaha, end. There is an incredibly tortured father-son relationship thing which gets dragged out for far too long and some stuff about Uranium but for the most part Die Hard 5 is just another run of the mill action shooter with far too much money to play with and not enough inventiveness.

Friday, 15 February 2013

Kill Bill Volume 1

Kill Bill Volume 1 will always have a special place in my heart for two reasons. Firstly it was the first 18 Certificate film I ever saw at the cinema and as a result it was the first Tarantino film I saw at the cinema too. Thinking back, it might have been the first Tarantino film I saw at all although I can’t quite remember if I bought my VHS copy of Pulp Fiction a little earlier. As a seventeen year old who at the time had little interest in movies beyond the latest American Pie I was awe struck by Kill Bill and I’ve seen it several times since. The movie, as it makes clear during the opening credits was the forth film from Quentin Tarantino and followed a six year break since Directing his third film, Jackie Brown. Although originally intended as one feature the movie was split into two separate films due to a four hour run time and Kill Bill Volume 2 followed six months after Volume 1 in 2004.

This is perhaps Tarantino’s most highly stylised film to date and takes in an assortment of styles, genres and techniques. The Director and story weave from genre to genre, picking up pieces of revenge, Hong Kong martial arts, exploitation and Japanese samurai movies as it progresses in a non linear manner through its plot. The film is separated into chapters which themselves often feel like short films. Each chapter takes from a different style, genre or era and occasionally the style will change mid chapter. The plot focuses on the character of The Bride (Uma Thurman), a former member of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad who is beaten and shot in the head by her former colleagues. She wakes up four years later to discover her fiancé and unborn daughter are dead and sets about reaping her revenge on those who attacked her and killed her family. Each chapter tells a portion of her revenge tale.

Thursday, 14 February 2013

All Quiet on the Western Front

All Quiet on the Western Front is over eighty years old now but remains one of the greatest anti-war war movies ever made. The film won both a Best Picture and Best Director Oscar in 1930 at the 3rd Academy Awards and its reputation has grown steadily ever since. The film has found a place in the AFI’s Top 100 Movies list and on IMDb’s Top 250 and probably deserves those honours as well as the many other plaudits which are thrown its way. For me the film has aged extremely well in general and apart from some sound problems and the occasional bad acting it is amongst the best films I’ve seen from the period and one of the best war movies ever.

At the outbreak of the First World War a German professor is delivering an impassioned speech to his students about the honour of serving ones country in battle. As his students listen on in awe they enthusiastically enlist en masse as many schools, universities and factories did. After a brief training camp where they soon discover that army life isn’t all fun and games the men head into battle on the Western Front. Over the four years of the war their number dwindles until the film begins to focus on the story of just a couple as well as the veterans they join. It becomes apparent to those who last long enough that they are fighting for nothing and all who survive become disheartened by the war as well as the attitude from home.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Beasts of the Southern Wild

Beasts of the Southern Wild is a fantasy drama set in the Louisiana bayou. Five year old Hushpuppy (Quvenzhane Wallis) is a young resident of The Bathtub, a small community cut off from the rest of the world by a levee. She lives there with her father Wink (Dwight Henry) a man who is desperately trying to teach his daughter self sufficiency due to the difficult nature of their home and a hidden illness. With a storm approaching The Bathtub many of the residents decide to leave but Hushpuppy and Wink stay to ride it out.

Beasts is a film that I’d heard a lot about and it has garnered several high profile awards and nominations including Best Picture, Best Actress and Best Director at the Oscars. I personally think that only the Best Actress nominee is justified but think that Beasts of the Southern Wild is a compelling and interesting film that takes poetic licence with a realistic setting.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013


Oldboy is one of those films which I’d heard was excellent but luckily knew nothing more. About three years ago I finally sat down and watched it. I then had to watch it the next day as well. Since those first two watches and subsequent two or three, Oldboy has become one of my favourite films of all time and opened up a now longstanding love affair with Korean cinema. Beginning with Director Park Chan-wook’s other films I began to discover incredible actors such as Song Kang-ho (The Host, Thirst, J.S.A.) which in turn lead me to discover more fantastic Director’s like Lee Jeong-beom (TheMan from Nowhere), Chul-soo Jang (Bedevilled) and Kim Ji-woon (I Saw the Devil, The Good, the Bad, The Weird). In essence, Oldboy for me was a small crack of light which opened the door to a bright world of film discovery and in the four years since I first saw it, it remains not only one of the best Korean movies I’ve seen but one of the best full stop.

A drunken man called Oh Dae-su (Choi Min-sik) is awaiting collection from a Police Station. His friend arrives to take him home to his young daughter whose birthday it is. While the friend makes a quick call from a payphone, Dae-su disappears and isn’t heard of again for nearly fifteen years. During those fifteen years he is locked up in a small room without an explanation or any idea of when or if he will get out. While locked up he is framed for his wife’s murder and his daughter is adopted in Sweden. A decade and a half later Dae-su is released, again without explanation but is told he has until July 5th to work out why he was locked up or his new friend Mi-do (Kang Hye-jung) will be killed.

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Dial M for Murder

A classic Hitchcock mystery thriller, Dial M for Murder was released in the same year as Rear Window but isn’t as well known and didn’t make as much money as the latter film. The movie threads themes of mystery, betrayal and most notably the search for the perfect murder, a theme which permeates much of Hitchcock’s work but most notably Rope, Strangers on a Train and Shadow of a Doubt. The plot centres around a London flat where a husband, Tony Wendice (Ray Milland) blackmails a former college acquaintance (Anthony Dawson) into murdering his Wife (Grace Kelly) who he believes is having an affair with an American crime novelist (Robert Cummings). Wendice plans the perfect murder but when things go wrong he is quick to think and finds another way of dispatching of his wife.

Like the majority of the dozen or so Hitchcock films I’ve seen so far, Dial M for Murder is very good. Although it is no Psycho or Rope it is a well above average mystery film which features a terrific plot and some decent performances.

Despicable Me

This will be just a very quick review and I’ll be honest from the start, I didn’t give the movie my full attention. After no interest or excitement from the first half an hour I did something I never do and let the film continue in the background while I caught up on reading some of my favourite blogs. As a result there is a good chance that I missed things in Despicable Me. The film centres on an evil super villain called Gru (Steve Carell) who adopts three young girls in order to help him steal the Moon and win the approval of his mother.

I found there was little to laugh at during the film and I wasn’t able to engage with the story. I’d heard that the little minions were good fun and have since been given their own spin off but they did nothing for me. There was little inventiveness in the story despite the inventions of the various villains. The voice acting was fine and the animation was good although I didn’t like its style. Overall Despicable Me wasn’t a film I enjoyed but don’t feel qualified to give it a rating out of 10 as I didn’t pay enough attention to it. I wish I hadn’t started watching it because it was a waste of 90 minutes. 

Knocked Up

After young up and coming TV reporter Allison Scott (Katherine Heigl) gets promoted she heads out to celebrate with her sister Debbie (Leslie Mann). She ends up having a drunken one night stand with an unemployed, pot smoking; man child called Ben (Seth Rogan) and a few weeks later discovers that she is pregnant. Knocked Up follows the nine months of pregnancy and the difficulties faced by unprepared soon to be parents Ben and Allison and married couple Debbie and Pete (Paul Rudd).

I saw Knocked Up on a transatlantic flight a few years ago and remembered enjoying it but remembered little of it. With a sort of sequel This is 40 released this month I thought I’d go back and give the film a second watch. For me it is average in terms of laughs for a Judd Apatow produced film but considering his films can be very hit and miss this is one of the most entertaining and also sweetest.

Warm Bodies

Warm Bodies is a loose retelling of Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet but with a twist. Romeo or R (Nicholas Hoult) is a zombie, living in a post apocalyptic world. He spends his days shuffling around a long abandoned airport, looking for food and grunting. One day while out searching for brains he comes across a group of young survivors and despite his condition, falls in love with one of them, a girl called Julie (Teresa Palmer). Going against his nature R saves Julie and takes her to a safe place. Something about his love for Julie triggers a reaction inside R’s heart and he slowly becomes more human but with armed militia out to kill zombies, will anyone believe him?

Warm Bodies begins with a fantastic idea. The film is mostly told from a zombie’s perspective which I found really interesting. He has an internal monologue which is deep, thoughtful and funny but outwardly is only able to produce a few groans. Unfortunately the interest soon wears off in favour of the romantic elements. While this is fine the film plays fast and loose with the zombie concept and purists will struggle to engage with a fast moving, talking, sentient zombie.

Saturday, 9 February 2013


Hitchcock is a behind the scenes telling of the making of Psycho (1960) and the relationship between its Director Alfred Hitchcock (Anthony Hopkins) and his wife and long time collaborator Alma Reville (Helen Mirren). The plot encompasses Hitchcock’s search for a follow up to the hugely successful North by Northwest and then the difficult production of Psycho, ending at its Premier. Although Psycho and its production provide the backdrop, the plot is really about love, jealousy and aging. Hitch and Alma had been married for almost thirty-five years by 1960 and one of the avenues the film explores is the fractious relationship which they share. Hitch’s obsessions with his leading ladies, here Janet Leigh (Scarlett Johansson) is something which Alma has put up with for decades but when the writer Whitfield Cook (Danny Huston) takes an interest in Alma, Hitch’s jealousy effects their relationship and his work.

Hitchcock isn’t a bad film and it’s always nice to see behind the scenes of a Hollywood production but even if it had been great there would still be one problem and that is that it isn’t Psycho. All the way through I thought to myself that I wish I was watching Psycho and the underwhelming central performance and flabby plot just made me think back to what is in my opinion one of the greatest films in history.

The Black Dahlia

The Black Dahlia is a neo-Noir film Directed by Brian De Palma and based on the book of the same name by James Ellroy (L.A. Confidential). The film was a critical and commercial failure on its release in 2005 and I first saw it on DVD in about 2007 but on a really small TV in my girlfriend’s university flat. We both fell asleep so didn’t remember much about it. There were two reasons why I wanted to see the movie again. The first was that it was featured in a fantastic Sight & Sound article about post 2000 Noir and the second was Scarlett Johansson. Any excuse to watch one of her films. Having seen it properly now I’ve come to the conclusion that I probably didn’t need to see it again and there’s a reason I didn’t remember much of it. The Black Dahlia is overly confusing and the time I spent trying to piece things together took me away from the plot and the excellent period world that the film created.

Placed shortly after the Second World War in Los Angeles the movie is set around a real life murder case but everything else is fictional. Former boxers turned cops Dwight 'Bucky' Bleichert (Josh Hartnett) and Lee Blanchard (Aaron Eckhart) take part in a fixed fight which earns everyone in the Department an 8% pay rise. They soon end up as partners and following the grizzly murder of a young wannabe starlet (Mia Kershner) Blanchard begins to obsess about catching the killer, leaving the rest of their work and his girl (Scarlett Johansson) on the outside looking in.

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Safe House

I don’t know what I was hoping for with Safe House but I certainly wasn’t expecting so little. With films like Taken setting the bar very low these days for the action genre it seems that a whole parade of films are following in its ridiculous wake and Safe House is but one of these movies. Matt Weston (Ryan Reynolds) is a CIA Safe House Operative in Cape Town. His role involves waiting around a secure house in case the CIA ever needs to move a criminal, terrorist etc. Twelve months into the posting Matt’s first house guest arrives in the shape of Tobin Frost (Denzel Washington) a highly skilled rogue CIA Agent who is being chased by a menagerie of vaguely foreign looking killers. Frost repeatedly ditches Weston but he never stops hunting the rogue agent down and more nonsense I’m bored.

Safe House was more full of holes than holy water from the holy land and had the most obvious twist since Rock ‘n’ Roll. It is such a stupid movie that I can barely bring myself to discuss it. It is never exciting or interesting and beside solid but unspectacular central performances there is literally nothing of merit in the entire 110 minutes.

Wednesday, 6 February 2013


Prime Oscar bait Flight is Director Robert Zemeckis’ return to live action following more than a decade producing animated and computer generated movies. The movie tells the story of a crashed aircraft and the following weeks for its functioning alcoholic pilot (Whip Whitaker) Denzel Washington. Whip is a well trained and long serving pilot who has got by all throughout his adult life despite being drunk and stoned everyday. On the morning of the fated flight he is seen drinking beer and vodka and snorting cocaine and even drinks vodka during the fifty minute flight. Despite some miraculous instinct and skill which manages to save many lives Whip is due in front of a tribunal with a failed toxicology report hanging over his head.

It’s fair to say that Flight is one of the weaker of the Oscar season films and the intense crash and admirable Washington performance are all that separate it from mediocrity. The movie is full of religious babble, poorly chosen music and a code era ending which make the excellent opening instantly forgettable and sets up an hour and a half which passes the time but does little to induce much of an emotional response past the odd laugh and one tense moment.

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Strangers on a Train

Alfred Hitchcock’s tale of doubles, murder, light and dark, Strangers on a Train is a film with a lot of deep and hidden subtext which sits underneath a nicely woven story. Amateur tennis player and wannabe Politician Guy Haines (Farley Granger) is on a train when he meets a chatty and confident man named Bruno Anthony (Robert Walker). Bruno recognises the tennis ace and begins talking about stories of Guy’s private life that he has read about in the newspapers. Guy is uncomfortable but humours the strange man who soon begins to talk of murder and how they could pull off the perfect murder by each murdering the other’s problem person. Guy is on the way to speak with his wife about a divorce and Bruno suggests murder. A few days later Guy’s wife is found murdered and Guy is stalked by the shady Bruno who says that it is Guy’s turn to commit the crime.

Strangers on a Train is far from my favourite Hitchcock film but it features some stunning cinematography and a vast array of visual motifs which help to spell out the plot and themes. The performance of Robert Walker is also noteworthy but I rarely felt fully engaged with the story. It is perhaps a movie that would benefit from a second viewing but like pretty much all of Hitchcock’s movies is still worth watching.

Black Dynamite

Black Dynamite is a 2009 blaxploitation action/comedy spoof written by and starring Michael Jai White. Although my knowledge of blaxploitation cinema extends to what little I’ve picked up during some light reading and watching Jackie Brown, Black Dynamite is one of the funniest and most enjoyable films I’ve seen in recent years and I’ve now seen it five times. Black Dynamite is a pitch perfect pastiche of the genre that it imitates and takes special care in making sure that the look, direction, acting and mistakes are done just right. It is a film that I’ve recommended to several people, all of whom have laughed their way from start to finish and I’d recommend it to anyone, regardless of age, race or gender.

Black Dynamite (Michael Jai White) is an ex-CIA Agent/Kung Fu expert who leaves a trail of satisfied women and battered crooks in his wake. When his brother Jimmy is killed by the mob Black Dynamite goes back into service to catch his brother’s killers, clean up the streets and generally kick ass, ya dig? Along the way Black Dynamite gets the help of several members of the community from Pimps to Black Panther members, seducing and reducing as he goes.

The Pilgrim

Charlie Chaplin’s shortest feature or longest short, depending on which way you’d like to view it, is important for a number of reasons. Not only was it his final short film before moving to features permanently but it was also his last film to co star Edna Purviance. Purviance stared in over thirty of Chaplin’s films and was his leading lady for eight years but The Pilgrim was her final major onscreen appearance with Chaplin*. The movie also bought to an end a fruitful relationship with The First National Film Company. Following this film Chaplin would produce his final films with United Artists, the company he founded with D. W. Griffith, Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks. Those films would go on to define Chaplin’s long career.

Besides the above reasons there is little worth remembering about The Pilgrim and for me it is a bit of a blot on an otherwise successful era for Chaplin. The Pilgrim begins slowly and never kicks into a high gear. There is very little humour or comedy of any sort and the story, while occasionally attention-grabbing, didn’t do anything for me. The ending was nice but The Pilgrim isn’t a film I’ll be returning to in a hurry. In a typical case of mistaken identity an escaped convict (Charlie Chaplin) dresses as a preacher and takes a train to Texas where he is immediately taken for a small town’s new Church leader. His past comes back to haunt him though as an old friend makes a surprise appearance.

Saturday, 2 February 2013

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest

Following on directly from the second film in the Millennium trilogy, the final part of the series deals with the aftermath of the events that took place during the previous film. Both the central protagonist Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace) and her father Zalachenko (Georgi Staykov) lie seriously injured in hospital while journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) tries desperately to clear Salander’s name and discover the links between the state’s poor treatment of her and a shady underground police organisation known as The Section.

After the disappointment of the Girl Who Played with Fire I was glad to see a partial return to form in this film. The poor end to that film is partially explained as this one picks up seconds after the climax of the second. Although never reaching the heights of The Girl with the DragonTattoo, this movie is interesting but rarely tense. The story is more reminiscent of the original film and ties the series together nicely.

Friday, 1 February 2013

Jackie Brown

Quentin Tarantino’s third feature and his homage to the blaxploitation and heist films of the 1970s, Jackie Brown has been for a long time the Tarantino film I’ve told people was my favourite. On my first round of watching his oeuvre when I was in my mid to late teens, something about Jackie Brown made it my favourite Tarantino to date. Recently I’ve re-watched Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction as well as the Director’s latest Django Unchained and the film is no longer at the top of my list but it remains perhaps Tarantino’s most restrained and focussed film to date and features a great story and top cast on fine form.

When middle aged air stewardess Jackie Brown (Pam Grier) is caught smuggling $10,000 and a couple of ounces of cocaine through customs she is picked up and charged. Facing a stretch in jail or a bullet to the head from her arms dealing employer Ordell Robbie (Samuel L. Jackson), Brown attempts to play one side off against the other and pull of an epic but dangerous heist.