Sunday 18 December 2011

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo review

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (18, 158 mins)
Director: David Fincher
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Though it would be nice to think that this English language remake of the hit Swedish thriller has been made for any reason other than financial, with over 60 million books sold there’s a very sizable audience out there of people who couldn’t be bothered to read subtitles when the original trilogy was released in cinemas last year, so that plainly isn’t the case.

The basics are identical, so it’s in the details that the justification of whether or not this ought to exist lies. The addition of demented title credits that play out like an oil-slicked Bond sequence to a cover of Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song is an interesting start.

It even retains the Swedish setting, which throws up the daft situation of having Swedish characters being played by Americans, Canadians, Swedes and Brits, speaking to each other in English with Swedish accents, expect star Daniel Craig, who more or less stays English.

Craig plays Mikael Blomkvist, a journalist for the acclaimed Millennium magazine (which lent its name to the title of Stieg Larsson’s original trilogy of books), who is tasked by an elderly, and very wealthy, businessman (Christopher Plummer) to look into the mystery surrounding his niece, who was murdered on the family’s private island 40 years before.

He believes someone in the family killed her but no one has ever been convicted, and he would like one more investigation of the events while he’s still around. But Blomkvist was only hired after a report by investigator and computer hacker Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara) confirmed he was right for the job.

Lisbeth has her own problems; with her guardian gravely ill and her finances held in trust, she is brutally assaulted by the man controlling her money. By the time she and Mikael come together, with Lisbeth as his research assistant, we know exactly what she’s capable of.

Like the Swedish version, it’s all about the sensational character of Salander, an avenging punk angel brought to life in a startling performance by the relatively unknown Mara. Craig, so often solid but boring, is very good too, straight talking but not physically intimidating or able, which lends him some vulnerability.

A quietly insistent score twists the tension of what is, in the main, a talky affair, as Mikael interviews a sprawling collection of shady family members on the search for clues. As he does so, it takes on the dimensions of a classic murder mystery, full of files, photos and puzzle solving, ground that director David Fincher has been over before in his meticulous Zodiac.

It gets its point across without hanging about, though you could also never accuse it of rattling along, not with that running time. Yet it’s never dry or dull, done with enough grit and visual style to ensure it holds the attention. It’s on a more ambitious scale than its forebear, and though a little less scuzzily graphic than first time round, no punches are pulled.

In the credit column is a streamlining of all the Millennium shenanigans, meaning we don’t have to sit through a lot of office politics or the fact that Mikael is due to go to prison. But like the original film, it’s guilty of trundling on way too long once it seems to have peaked, and there’s also a curious switch in the timeline in the latter stages that dampens the impact of Lisbeth’s characterisation.

And if you’ve seen the original you’ll know every bend on the road, meaning this lands somewhere between workable and pointless. Though it’s the same film, it’s still a fine one, and you can probably add a star if you haven’t seen the Swedish version.

Tuesday 13 December 2011

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows review

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (12A/PG-13, 128 mins)
Director: Guy Ritchie
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Surprising for all the right reasons, 2009’s Sherlock Holmes brought Arthur Conan Doyle’s legendary sleuth to a whole new generation of fans, and cemented the comeback of Robert Downey Jr. as a smooth-talking, all-brawling Holmes.

It was more than enough of a financial success to beget this sequel, one that more or less replicates the first movie in terms of spotty and sporadic enjoyment to accompany its storytelling inadequacies.

Downey Jr. returns as Holmes, as does Jude Law as his associate Dr. Watson, and their banter and interplay remains the heart of the piece, with Holmes less than happy about Watson’s impending marriage, although this does develop into a rather wet and distracting subplot.

But the big news here is the appearance of Professor James Moriarty, arch-enemy to Holmes, who was merely seen in shadows in the first film. Played with a cool detachment by Jared Harris, it’s the scheme of the so-called Napoleon of Crime that drives a convoluted plot.

Set in 1891, there’s anarchy across Europe, and a series of bombings that Holmes, consulting detective, martial arts expert and amateur alchemist, is trying to get to the bottom of. Rachel McAdams pops up ever so briefly, reprising her role as the treacherous Irene Adler, working for Moriarty not entirely of her own choice.

But she’s soon replaced by the original Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Swede Noomi Rapace, given a rather thankless role as a fortune teller roped into the whole business thanks to the involvement of her brother with Moriarty’s plans.

It’s here the film takes a bit of time to settle into its main story, rounding up all the supporting players including Stephen Fry, who puts in an appearance, essentially as Stephen Fry, playing Holmes’ brother Mycroft.

There doesn’t seem to be a great deal of logic or flow to the mechanics of the plot, more a sense that certain characters need to be in a certain place, and then the next sequence can begin. The result is disorganised, yet consistently fun enough almost to overlook the weaknesses.

Holmes soon has his first brief meeting with Moriarty, one which provides a promise of great machinations to come, so it’s a shame they only have a couple more opportunities to play their intellectual chess game that ultimately becomes a literal one.

Holmes thrives on having a nemesis in Moriarty worthy of him and their scenes together are when they're both at their most interesting, when the game is afoot. Moriarty is seemingly always a step ahead, with an early reference to Reichenbach Falls tipping off Holmes fans as to where it all might be heading.

And yet their mutual antagonism fails to sizzle quite as much as may have been hoped, with Moriarty never quite as dangerous and menacing as he ought to be, and the actual details of his plan to start a major Europe-wide war little more than window dressing.

The rest is robust fights that too often descend into shootouts, but with so much fisticuffs and gunplay it leaves little time for any real sleuthing, surely the driving force behind why Holmes exists at all. Still, the meticulous pre-planning of everything that will transpire when he’s about to pull off one of his ingenious plans is still something to marvel at.

Also worth marvelling at is a level of production value that amazingly makes this look even better than the already gorgeous first movie did, albeit a shade darker and grimier. Though it’s a shame almost all of it takes place outside of London, it remains firmly rooted in a late Victorian aesthetic, yet with a modern sheen that steers clear of steam-punk anachronism.

Director Guy Ritchie once again plays out the fights in super slow motion, a highly stylised approach that renders the movie exciting because it’s boisterous and noisy, not because it’s especially imaginative or clever. And, crucially, it lacks that that one intricate sequence that isn’t just a lot of bang-bang.

It’s not disappointing then by most standards, just likely to leave a nagging sense that it could, and should, all be so much better.

Thursday 8 December 2011

Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked review

Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked (U, 87 mins)
Director: Mike Mitchell
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

Alvin and his brothers Theodore and Simon are computer generated rock star chipmunks whose two movie outings thus far have set box office tills worldwide ringing to the tune of $800m, all the while offering barely a moment’s entertainment. This inevitable second sequel sees them, along with their ‘dad’ Dave (Jason Lee) and girl group the Chipettes on a cruise ship, where what Dave has planned as a relaxing vacation turns into a nightmare thanks to Alvin being more mischievous than ever. A hang-gliding stunt ends up with them lost at sea, where sadly they don’t drown but end up on a desert island where sadly they're not eaten by foxes. Once again, an actual plot is not on the minds of the filmmakers, though the island setting does keep it focussed and there is real threat and stakes. Still, there are many inexplicable elements, with once again the Chipettes voiced by Anna Faris and Christina Applegate when they could be anyone, and really the film is just mostly a tired parade of dance routines and cover songs. There’s no faulting the CGI used to realise the rodents, and there are a couple of nice Cast Away gags, but largely it’s pratfalls and pop culture references, and to say it’s an improvement on the brain-piercing atrocity that was the second Alvin movie, The Squeakquel, is damning with very faint praise indeed.

Tuesday 6 December 2011

New Year’s Eve review

New Year’s Eve (12A/PG-13, 118 mins)
Director: Garry Marshall
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

An in-concept only follow up to Valentine’s Day, this hideous romantic comedy tracks what appears to be several thousand different characters on a New York New Year’s Eve, taking in births, deaths and marriages, with many of them orbiting Jon Bon Jovi’s rock star, due to play a gig at Times Square where most of them end up gathering. Returning players such as Jessica Biel and Ashton Kutcher take on entirely different characters from those in Valentine’s Day, while the likes of Robert De Niro, Halle Berry and Sarah Jessica Parker get roped into feeble situations constructed with the most flat and uninspired direction and acting imaginable. With an alarming dearth of laughs when it’s not being cloying and obvious, it soon progresses from just being bad to active incompetence, made with a complete lack of care and attention. The only remotely tolerable thread involves Zac Efron helping out Michelle Pfeiffer’s dowdy office worker, but they're forced too frequently to make way for the rest of a catastrophe that makes Valentine’s Day look like His Girl Friday.

Thursday 24 November 2011

DVD Prizes To Be Won

Win Rare Exports on DVD

This competition is now closed.

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Friday 18 November 2011

Win a subscription to The Dark Side

Win a year's digital subscription to The Dark Side.

The UK’s number one specialist horror genre magazine The Dark Side has just turned 21 years old and to celebrate this momentous anniversary in style, along with the help and support of sponsors Network DVD, The Dark Side is offering all its readers, both old and new, the chance to enjoy the magazine’s first four rare collectors’ editions totally free of charge at No longer available to buy as back issues, these archive volumes have been recreated as brand new digital editions allowing readers to take a chilling journey down the dark alleyways of horror history.

If you want to catch up with The Dark Side now then do visit their website for print and digital subscriptions but we're offering one lucky reader a chance to win a digital subscription for a whole year!

To be in with a chance of winning, simply send an email with your name and address to by Friday December 2nd.

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Monday 14 November 2011

Justice review

Justice (15, 104 mins)
Director: Roger Donaldson
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

The original title of this batty thriller was The Hungry Rabbit Jumps, a coded phrase that crops up early as we open on a man being secretly filmed while being questioned by persons unknown.

Moments later he’s in his car and being pushed off the roof of a car-park by another vehicle, and how these events are connected with husband and wife Will and Laura (Nicolas Cage and January Jones) soon becomes clear.

He’s a New Orleans teacher and she a musician whose lives are turned upside down when Laura is brutally assaulted. Will is approached by someone calling himself Simon (Guy Pearce) who says he’s with an organisation who will “take care” of the problem. After a bit of thought, it’s an offer Will accepts, and sure enough, Laura’s attacker ends up dead, killed by the husband of a previous victim of crime.

But, just like in The Godfather, Will may be called upon by Simon to provide a service, which starts out innocuously enough, just deliveries and observation. But soon he’s being asked to murder a suspected criminal as payback for the service provided for him, and if he refuses, things are likely to turn very nasty indeed for Laura and him.

Vigilantism always makes for an interesting and provocative subject matter, though one that’s rarely treated well by modern movies. But Justice doesn’t really ask any moral questions of the audience, preferring to quickly turn into the usual innocent man wronged tropes.

It also doesn’t take very long at all to go from silly to preposterous. It’s one of those daft thrillers where practically everyone in it is part of a network of operatives, a springboard for moronic twists that provide absolutely no clue just whose side Xander Berkeley’s cop is supposed to be on.

It’s cheap looking and over-egged when it’s being serious, and twee and unconvincing when it’s trying to be a bit lighter, and all you really get in the way of excitement is shady guys watching and doing things unseen and some extremely low rent chases.

Cage in normal guy mode is like Fun Bobby from Friends when he’s sober – just not enjoyable for anyone to be around, and you realise you miss the wacky, off the wall Cage, who at least brings a certain manic energy to films that are invariably rubbish anyway.

Tuesday 8 November 2011

Arthur Christmas review

Arthur Christmas (U, 97 mins)
Director: Sarah Smith
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Arthur Christmas (voiced by James McAvoy) lives at the North Pole with his family, and mostly spends his time reading letters that have been sent to Santa. His dad Malcolm (Jim Broadbent) is the current Father Christmas, but big brother Steve (Hugh Laurie) yearns to take over, and orchestrates the present delivery like a military operation, shown in an ingenious sequence that reveals how the elves manage to deliver to every child in the world in a single night. But when one child is missed out and Steve doesn’t seem to care, it’s up to Arthur and his Grandsanta (Bill Nighy) to get that little girl her bike no matter what. This breezy computer animation from Aardman can only dip after such a fantastic start, and for a while the plot starts to wander as much as Arthur does, as his world tour to deliver the errant present takes him from Mexico to Africa, though with enough wit and imagination to make the journey a pleasant one, and only a bit of steam lost. It remains engaging throughout thanks to cheery voices, the show stolen by Ashley Jensen as Bryony, an elf with very impressive present-wrapping skills, and it’s certainly heartwarming enough to get by.

Wednesday 2 November 2011

Tower Heist review

Tower Heist (12A, 104 mins)
Director: Brett Ratner
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

Ben Stiller is the manager of a New York apartment building for the super-rich, keeping the place ticking. When one of the residents (Alan Alda) is arrested in a billion dollar fraud scandal, all the staff find their pensions are gone, so Stiller and a bunch of disgruntled employees hatch a scheme to relieve Alda of the $20m in cash they believe he’s hidden in his home. With no skills between them, and Stiller forced to enlist the help of his jailbird neighbour (Eddie Murphy), it should play like a low-rent Ocean’s Eleven, with all the opportunity for breezy caper antics that should afford, and which ought to be the basis for a few undemanding laughs. In its defence, it's the best thing Murphy has been attached to in years, and his performance has an edge that's been missing since his heyday, meaning that what few chuckles there are come from him. But the rest is flabby, with plot holes that aren’t so much gaping as offensive, and entirely lacking in sparkle or surprises.

Thursday 27 October 2011

Win Straw Dogs on Blu-ray

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Entrants must be UK residents and aged 18 or over.
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Monday 24 October 2011

The Adventures of Tintin review

The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn (PG, 107 mins)
Director: Steven Spielberg
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Steven Spielberg’s first film since the much lamented Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull arrives as a huge, multi-million dollar gamble for many reasons.

First off, it’s an adaptation of what is a fairly niche property, Hergé’s 80 year old Belgian comic book. And, unknown for a film of this scale from the world’s most famous and successful filmmaker, it’s out in Europe now but won’t hit cinemas in the States until Christmas, the reason given that its Euro-ancestry makes it only right that it should play here first.

More to the point, the financiers will be praying it already has some hundreds of millions in the bank from its worldwide run before it arrives Stateside. That’s because the other massive gamble is that this is a motion capture animation, much like that notorious disaster from earlier this year, Mars Needs Moms, which was one of, if not the, biggest flops in box office history.

But it will sell on Spielberg’s name, and hopefully it will sell based on the fact that it’s really very good indeed, a rollicking adventure that contains several moments of unrivalled cinematic exhilaration from a director whom we’d thought had forgotten how to have fun.

We meet our hero, young reporter Tintin (voiced and performance captured by Jamie Bell) as he buys a model ship in a market, one which a lot of people seem keen to get their hands on, including the devious Sakharine (Daniel Craig).

The ship is the Unicorn, a replica of a real boat lost since the 17th century, and thought to have gone down with its secret treasure. Kidnapped by Sakharine, Tintin meets Captain Haddock, whose ancestor was captain of the Unicorn, and is played as a drunken Scotsman with a mostly agreeable but occasionally fishy accent by Andy Serkis.

It’s a blend of intrigue and action that spends much of the first half introducing plenty of engaging supporting characters, like Tintin’s dog Snowy, who frequently appears to be smarter than he is, and the useless detectives Thomson and Thompson (Nick Frost and Simon Pegg).

But it hits its stride during a marvellously inventive biplane sequence which takes Tintin and Haddock to Africa and the meat of the adventure, and an equally impressive flashback featuring the original Unicorn captain and his pirate encounter.

It’s at this point the action barely pauses for breath and when it most begins to resemble an Indy flick. The centrepiece, a chase through a Moroccan town, is truly breathtaking, although this does make it seem like the film peaks early.

A pertinent question might have been why it’s been filmed as an animation at all, and not simply live action. The answer to that lies in an astonishingly detailed level of richness and opulence in the design that would have been hard to achieve on any budget, and action sequences so fluid and imaginative that they would have been impossible as live action without the need for so much CGI that it would look like a cartoon anyway.

The issue of dead eyes and waxy features that has blighted so many mo-cap efforts also seems to have been addressed, with faces full of life and expression, although every once in a while the characters do move like they're on strings.

But that’s a tiny flaw, and let’s hope the gamble pays off, so that in a couple of years from now we’ll be enjoying the proposed Peter Jackson sequel, followed by many more Tintin adventures to come.

Sunday 9 October 2011

First Night review

First Night (15, 116 mins)
Director: Christopher Menaul
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

A group of opera singers are brought together by Richard E. Grant’s wealthy industrialist to stage a production of Cosi fan Tutte in the grounds of his country estate. As they plod through their rehearsals, punctuated by the goings on in and out of the bedrooms during the downtime, we’re forced to suffer through a barely competent am-dram car crash, and the most clumsily directed, misbegotten tosh you’re likely to see all year. It’s acted out by a bunch of dreadful old hams who can’t seem to perform the most basic lines or actions, with not a single moment that rings true and many that would be hilarious if they weren’t so painfully embarrassing. This really is appalling on every level, a desperate pudding that not even Mozart can save.

The Three Musketeers review

The Three Musketeers (12A/PG-13, 110 mins)
Director: Paul W.S. Anderson
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

This umpteenth version of Alexandre Dumas’ novel announces itself from the off as a Pirates of the Caribbean style fantasy, much too interested in delivering 21st century thrills even though it’s set in the early 1600s.

We meet the three musketeers, the king’s elite guards, who are introduced to us as spies and assassins, and young D’Artagnan (Logan Lerman) who longs to join up with them, even though they're all washed up.

Young king Louis XIII is on the throne of France, but Cardinal Richelieu (Christoph Waltz) is plotting to start a war with England so that he can take over the running of the country, with only the musketeers able to foil his scheme.

A surfeit of baddies certainly doesn’t help to keep matters manageable. As well as Richelieu, there’s Mila Jovovich as M’lady, here turned into a super-assassin, Orlando Bloom’s Buckingham and Mads Mikkelsen’s Rochefort, each of them given a centre stage turn as the musketeers disappear for long stretches, leaving behind a useless teen angst subplot about the king and his bride.

All this takes place against truly lavish, opulent sets and magnificent computer generated recreations of Paris and beyond. No expense has been spared and every moment on screen looks glorious. But with the niceties out of the way, let’s take a look at what doesn’t work, which is pretty much the rest of it.

First things first, get some fun, charismatic actors to play your musketeers. Matthew Macfadyen, Ray Stevenson and Luke Evans are solid enough, but no one’s idea of star attractions, while Lerman fluctuates wildly between an American accent and various parts of Europe.

Next, get a director with the first clue about staging action. It’s a movie full of swordfights and explosions and therefore mildly diverting as it goes, but the action scenes are modelled after 300 and Resident Evil, only without the benefit of sane editing.

The numerous fancy booby traps and devices give it a certain pizzazz, no question, but it becomes all about the whizz-bang, with the anachronistic weaponry and gadgetry an attempt to turn it into a shiny confection rather than a period piece.

Dismal dialogue means it starts out silly and only gets sillier still by the time James Corden rocks up as Planchet with the sole purpose of having a bird shit on his head, and his attempts at comic relief are painful.

And though it’s marginally better than the Peter Hyams swing at the story from a decade ago, The Musketeer, that really isn’t saying a great deal.

Tuesday 27 September 2011

Kevin Smith Red State Interview

Kevin Smith interviewed by Paul Greenwood, Glasgow, September 14th, 2011

Red State seems like a film made by someone with a lot to say....

Early in my career I had a lot to say and then in the middle of my career I didn’t have too much to say and now I've decided to end the career, and once you know there’s not much time to say anything, you start saying everything. It came from a place of not having had much on my mind for the last few years. I love Zack and Miri, but no one was crying for the story of that, and certainly not Cop Out, to be told, but this feels for the first time in a while I get to make a flick where there’s some real meat, some layers, and you get to enjoy it on several levels, and it’s got a bunch to say while saying nothing at all. I like the trappings of the exploitation film because it downplays what could be a very medicine-y message movie. You wrap it up in the gunfights and the fun of the chase and who’s going to get killed next, I think that takes the medicine-y edge off, and then you forget maybe it has something on its mind.

What was the catalyst for wanting to tell this story?

In the States we have to deal with the Westboro Baptist Church all the time in the media. You guys know them over here from the Louis Theroux doc, The Most Hated Family in America, these people wasting everybody’s time. They usually show up on the worst day of a person’s life, as they're putting a child in the ground and holding up their ridiculous signs and making lives miserable, and when you see that enough over the years you wish you could stop it, but you can’t stop free speech, particularly in my country, so your hands are tied to some degree. But you hate watching bullies of any kind, particularly bullies that run rampant in the name of God. So the movie is kind of my version of holding up a sign like they do, just to make their lives a little less pleasant, just irritate them a little bit. They’re monsters in real life and Red State kind of makes them cartoons, takes the idea of something like WBC and gun-toting religious nuts and throws them up on the screen - you take the monster, pull their teeth out, paint them up like clowns, and say look at these idiots. And that’s my version of them holding up a ‘God hates whatever’ sign.

If you do it all heavy handed it doesn’t work nearly as well, so you wrap it up in some entertainment at the same time. Bruce Willis said to me one time on set, ’It’s a movie, we should be moving’. And that stuck with me, so this is constantly moving forward, even when it’s not talking about issues, it’s designed to not let you get ahead of it. When I was writing it, every time I felt like I knew where it was going I just switched, jumped over to something else. I knew that if I knew where it was going, the audience would as well, so in order to make it fun for everybody you jump around and do genre mash-ups where it’s three different movies at once. That’s a great way to throw the audience, suddenly dropping one movie and picking up another. I've seen far better filmmakers than me do it for years, like the Coen brothers in Fargo - what a wonderful magic trick where it’s 30 minutes into the movie before the heroine finally joins; if you can pull that off I always thought it would be neat to have that kind of talent. And that’s kind of what Red State is, it’s me trying to do someone else’s movie, Quentin Tarantino by way of the Coens, with just enough of my sensibility in there so that people know it’s still me.

Do you want people to be surprised it’s a Kevin Smith film?

The highest compliment you can get is when some says to me ‘You didn’t direct this’. Every once in a while as an artist you should reinvent and give them something new, because once they get used to your bag of tricks, it’s so easy for everyone to go across the street and start looking for something else. If you want to maintain an audience or stay relevant or keep fresh, you’ve got to do something different every once in a while. And this was pretty drastic, I really feel like I took a nice chainsaw to the career of Kevin Smith, I took it down and then rebuilt it. But that’s a good thing, it’s not like ‘Oh, I hate my old career’, it’s just that I've done it and in order to step to the next place you obliterate the old and build something new. This is part of it, all the podcasts on the Smodcast network are part of it, and it feels neat. For the first time in a long time I feel on fire, and art should feel like if you don’t make it you’ll die, which is how I felt with Clerks and Chasing Amy and now Red State. With most of the stuff in the middle, it was more like ‘If I don’t make this movie, I'll just make another movie’.

So it’s nice to feel the desperation again, it makes you feel young. I just turned 41, so the notion of being involved in punk rock filmmaking in any shape of form, as we did with Red State, it makes you feel vital, just kind of gasses you up, and gives you enough energy to get through what will be the last flick I'll do after this, Hit Somebody. And then I'll be able to close it down. I'm kind of in love with the idea of completing a career, being able to say this was my movie period, for 20 years I made flicks, started with Clerks and ended with Hit Somebody, and there it is. That way the work never really gets a chance to start sucking, go out strong. I’d rather do that than sit around and collect a cheque. Some movies work, some don’t, but if I don’t have the fire in my belly for it, you make stuff like Cop Out and Zack and Miri, just movies. They can be fun and I love them, but they're not screaming to be made. There’s a lot of me in them but it’s not me opening up my mind and my heart and pouring it onto celluloid. When someone asks what my favourites were, it’s easy to point to the cheap ones. Clerks, $27,000, Chasing Amy $250,000, Clerks II $5m and now Red State $4m – the less money we had, the more creative we got, the riskier we could be. Jersey Girl was $35m and you can’t take any risks. The less money we had, there’s a sense of, fuck it, we can’t get in trouble, let’s go for it.

Will you pay much attention to the film’s critical response?

I got into a thing with critics after Cop Out where I had a real weird relationship with them and I’d started paying them too much attention. Even from day one with Clerks, I was always told I had to love and respect and kiss the ass of the critical community because they're the conduit between you and the audience, particularly if you’re a weird filmmaker. We’re talking pre-internet in 1994 where if you're making indie flicks, that’s the only way anyone is going to hear about it. And then the world changed, and I can now get in touch with the audience directly. I don’t have to rely on the opinions of a few people who’ve been canonised as people who can tell you whether your movie is good or bad, I can literally ask someone who bought a ticket, I can hear from anyone with an internet connection. So for years I played the game all filmmakers play where you smile through the bad reviews and engage when the reviews are good, and I got kind of sick of it. How can anyone tell me that I failed at self-expression? Art is subjective, when someone self-expresses, there’s no failure, there’s no wrong way. It got to a point where I thought ‘I'm done with this backwards nonsense’. I realised with Red State that I had to cut ties with the critical community, there’s no way I could have been as free as I was making this movie if I was worried about what people would think about it afterwards.

What were some of your horror influences going into Red State?

Rosemary’s Baby was a huge influence, because the creepiness of that flick is how normal everyone comes across. Ruth Gordon and all those senior citizens in that movie, they come across so sickeningly normal that it makes it even more terrifying. There’s also an exploitation film from the 70s I was always scared of called Race with the Devil, with Warren Oates and Peter Fonda camped out in the desert and they discover a Satanist cult who chase them across the desert in their Winnebago. So those devil worship movies really captured my imagination.

The distribution of the film in the States was unusual, where you took it on the road one city at a time. What was your thinking behind that?

The conventional wisdom is you got to spend money to make money, but I thought if I could just take this movie out there, we could make the money back without spending any more. My philosophy was we already spent the money, we made the fucking movie, but spending more than that to reach the audience in a world where I could tweet them or do a podcast or a radio or TV show for free, why are we spending all this money to get to the same place? So I then took the philosophy of less is more to the next degree in terms of marketing, just go after the audience. I've been through the release of a movie nine times prior to this, so I pretty much know what to expect. But the nice thing about Red State is it’s being going on now for almost a year since we found out we were in Sundance, so for a year without spending a dime I've just been stoking fires, showing it places, showing it over here in the UK, which brings it back to life again while it’s still live in the States. My hope is it never totally goes to sleep, like a conventional film with its theatrical run, home video and then that’s it. I want to see if, let’s say two years from now, I can still take Red State out, sell out a 500 seat venue and still charge a premium for it, even though the movie will be on DVD. I could literally go anywhere in the States or the UK and throw a screening of Red State on, I'll do a Q&A after it, 20 bucks, and people will still come out. And you put that money into a box office chart every month and that movie is still alive, generally you don’t see a two year old movie in the box office chart. I'm not doing it for financial gain, I just want to see if it can be done, and that’s the very essence of art.

Sunday 25 September 2011

Melancholia review

Melancholia (15, 135 mins)
Director: Lars von Trier
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Like Danish director Lars von Trier’s previous film, Antichrist, Melancholia begins with a dreamy super slo-mo prologue, presenting seemingly random shots of Kirsten Dunst on a golf course in a wedding dress, intercut with images of the cosmos and the earth crashing into another planet. This takes us into a lengthy wedding sequence in which Dunst’s depressive bride and her loathsome family are revealed, as their bickering takes its toll on her fragile mental state. Though this goes on much too long, and is frequently deeply pretentious, it contains many moments of merit, not least a fine performance by Dunst. Meanwhile, a planet called Melancholia is due to pass by earth, and this is where the film becomes something remarkable, an existential sci-fi where Deep Impact meets The Tree of Life. It wouldn’t be a von Trier film if it didn’t go bananas at some point, and there’s a grim fascination to see just where it will go. And as an examination of depression, desperation and how people deal with death, it’s really quite distressing despite its indulgences.

Red State review

Red State (18/R, 88 mins)
Director: Kevin Smith
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Burned by the subpar box office and critical mauling of his Bruce Willis-starring action comedy from last year, Cop Out, Kevin Smith has gone back to his edgy, low budget roots with his latest, Red State, which is being actively marketed as something unexpected from the director.

To say it’s his best film in years might be damning with faint praise, like calling each new Woody Allen film a return to form, but the fact remains Smith hasn’t made something this interesting since Dogma over a decade ago.

But though ambitious and bold, it ultimately tries to be too many things. It achieves a fair level of success in its early stages as a backwoods horror, the kind we’ve seen a thousand times, where a bunch of unsuspecting teens get lost in a remote area and are preyed upon by nasty types.

The remote area in question here is Cooper’s Dell, home to the Five Points, a fundamentalist church group given to staging protests at the funerals of gay teenagers, and who are so right wing that even the neo-Nazis distance themselves from them.

Three high school friends have driven to Cooper’s Dell, seemingly by the lure of a girl on the internet. But this was a setup by the Five Points, and the boys end up drugged and held captive, possibly to be sacrificed for their wickedness.

By the time John Goodman turns up as the FBI agent in charge of what has become a hostage situation, some of the good work gets undone when events take a turn into a lengthy gun battle, lacking the sense of space and geography necessary to make a decent action film work.

The boys’ dialogue is foulmouthed and perfunctory, making it difficult for us to warm to them, though the three young actors are fine. But as Abin Cooper, the sect leader, Tarantino regular Michael Parks is sensational, leading his outwardly happy family in prayer as they declare their hatred for sinners and revel in their biblical literalism.

It’s paced at a lick and skilfully constructed, and Smith knows how to create suspense through visual storytelling and uncomfortably oppressive violence. He’s adept at pushing the right buttons, mercilessly lampooning the gun-toting Christian far right, piling on the anger and rage for the audience, albeit with a very easy target and no hint of subtlety.

Which takes us on to the next object of Smith’s ire, and what really drags the film out in its disappointing later stages. As well as having a pop at the real-life events in Waco, the Patriot Act comes under detailed scrutiny, so that what could have a tight and effective horror becomes a political diatribe full of indignation that might have been better saved for another day.

Thursday 22 September 2011

Blu-ray prizes to be won

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What’s Your Number? review

What’s Your Number? (15/R, 106 mins)
Director: Mark Mylod
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

Recently fired Ally (Anna Faris) doesn’t have a boyfriend, but has no trouble finding someone to spend the night with. After reading a magazine article, she becomes concerned about the number of guys she’s slept with, and vows to marry the next one so that her number of sexual partners doesn’t go above 20. But to achieve this, she needs to find a husband from one of her exes, and enlists the help of her neighbour (Chris Evans) to track them down. It’s a dopey and arbitrary setup, initially a wasteland, so that a couple of reels in we’re still none the wiser as to what it’s actually about, and it’s further held back by a black-hole subplot that takes in Ally’s sister’s wedding. It warms up to an extent when the stars share screen-time, and Faris is game while Evans encroaches on Ryan Reynolds’ charming cad territory to reasonable effect, but they're mostly working with dregs here. Out of nowhere it pulls a couple of silly laughs out of the bag, such as Ally flashing back to some of her exes, particularly when she pretended she was British to impress Martin Freeman, but like most recent comedies, it prefers to deal in crudity in lieu of wit.

Sunday 11 September 2011

Tomboy review

Tomboy (U, 82 mins)
Director: Celine Sciamma
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Young Michael has just moved to a new Paris neighbourhood, and he quickly goes about making a bunch of new friends. But Michael is really Laure, and the longer she goes without revealing the truth, the more difficult it will be for them to accept her as a girl. It’s a simple setup for a wafer-thin but endearing drama, during which not a great deal actually happens, as the kids play and fight and do all the things that children do. But every one of them is a fully realised and very well drawn character, and it’s held together by the naturalistic work of all the fine young cast, though special mention should go to the quite wonderful film debut performance of Zoé Héran as Michael/Laure.

You Instead review

You Instead (15, 80 mins)
Director: David Mackenzie
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

Filmed entirely at the T in the Park festival in 2010, this underwhelming drama breaks into a story of sorts when a member of an American band ends up handcuffed to a British girl for a night of incidents and arguments that follows rom-com conventions. It’s a plot device you might see on a children’s TV drama, and one that lends itself to little of interest. The sheer scale of the endeavour makes it visually arresting, and it has a certain grungy charm and a couple of moments of spontaneous fun, but mostly it’s just a bunch of annoying people in the mud and rain. It’s not a film, it’s a companion piece for festivalgoers, an experiment to see if a movie can be shot in a couple of days. In that regard, at least it’s been proven that it can’t.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy review

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (15, 127 mins)
Director: Tomas Alfredson 
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ 

John Le Carre’s 1974 espionage novel Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, set among the big players in the British Intelligence Service, met with great success when it was made into a 1979 television adaptation starring Alec Guinness.

Retaining the 70s setting, this big screen updating begins with Mark Strong’s spy sent to Budapest by John Hurt’s controller to meet the person who knows the identity of the double agent working for the Russians who holds a powerful position within British intelligence.

But he gets himself shot, and in flashback the blanks are filled in as George Smiley (Gary Oldman) is brought out of retirement to find, as Hurt says, the mole right at the top of the circus. He’s known to be one of several high ranking agents, among them Colin Firth, Ciaran Hinds and Toby Jones, who have been designated Tinker, Tailor, Soldier and so on.

When this is good it can be very good, and it’s such an overwhelmingly strong group of actors that the attention is held even when events on screen are, shall we say, minimalist. And what’s best about it are the performances, none more so than Oldman, who for the first 15 minutes or so of the film, doesn’t say a word.

Everything is in his body language, his gestures and glances, and though when he does finally speak there’s a hint that he’s doing a Guinness impression, it’s certainly not a distraction from a riveting portrayal.

Subtlety is the key in everything here, but as a consequence it suffers as a thriller, lacking the flair and cinematic pizzazz that may have been expected from the director of Let the Right One In. It’s full of interesting conversations and enigmatic phrases, but so deliberately paced that patience can be tested, and as far removed from a typical spy caper as you can get.

It’s more of a museum piece than a thriller, a stuffy parade of dull, shabby little men in grey suits, dedicated to paperwork and one-upmanship, largely focussing on how empty and pathetic their lives have become. But as the layers of the puzzle are added, it does gain traction and grips steadily without ever coming close to actually providing any excitement.

Monday 29 August 2011

DVD Prizes to be Won

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Entrants must be UK residents and aged 18 or over.
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Thursday 25 August 2011

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Wednesday 17 August 2011

The Inbetweeners Movie review

The Inbetweeners Movie (15, 97 mins)
Director: Ben Palmer
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

With the television series having come to an end, one of the best British comedies of recent years makes the journey from small screen to big, a leap that has historically proved disastrous for most. Taking the route beloved by many, from Are You Being Served to Sex and the City, it sends its four late-teen leads (sensible but odd Will, pining Simon, dopey Neil, and deluded Jay), who are somewhere between leaving school and adulthood, on a roustabout holiday to Greece. There’s no plot as such, as the boys bumble from one humiliating experience to the next, chasing girls but finding themselves seriously out of their depth. It’s uncontrollably crude, but extremely funny, thanks to an endless supply of first rate lines and terrific performances, and for all their faults and idiocy, they’re tremendously likeable lads who might even have grown up a little bit by the end.

Wednesday 10 August 2011

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The judge's decision is final and no correspondence will be entered into.

Tuesday 2 August 2011

Blu-ray Prizes to be Won

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Entrants must be UK residents and aged 18 or over.
The judge's decision is final and no correspondence will be entered into.

Friday 8 July 2011

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 review

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (12A, 130 mins)
Director: David Yates
★ ★ ★ ★ ★

It’s been ten years, with eight films from four directors, over six billion dollars in the bank so far, and another billion to come with this one. But the Harry Potter saga finally draws to a close, and it’s been some ride, with frequent highs (Prisoner of Azkaban, Half-Blood Prince) and only the very occasional lows.

Has it been worth the journey, the investment? This majestic final chapter proves that the answer is an unequivocal yes, and we’ve been left with an octology the likes of which cinema has never seen, and never will again.

It opens with a very swift recap of how Part 1 ended, as Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) gets his hands on the Elder Wand, one of the three components of the Deathly Hallows that will grant him unstoppable power. But that’s your lot in terms of backstory, and if you haven’t seen every film up until this point, well then you really ought to remedy that before coming anywhere near this, because you’re going to be lost.

Following on from Part 1, Harry, Ron and Hermione (Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson) are still searching for the remaining Horcruxes, the objects that contain pieces of Voldemort’s soul, and destroying them is the only way to kill him.

One such is thought to be in a vault at the goblin bank, the starting point for a first rate early action sequence involving mine carts and a very angry dragon. To find the others, they need to get into Hogwarts, which is on lockdown, surrounded by Deatheaters and Dementors, with the treacherous Snape (Alan Rickman) now installed as headmaster.

All hope is almost gone, the Order of the Phoenix has been disbanded, and it’s all incredibly grey and mournful. Everyone is putting their faith and life in the hands of Harry Potter, who has grown from a frightened boy to a powerful wizard, attaining an almost messianic status in the process.

The fear was that the ball was dropped in the first part of Deathly Hallows last year, which was all talk and little forward momentum. But with all the moping out of the way in the first part, we’re left with an action extravaganza.

School’s out forever, and this is the final all-out battle between good and evil. Clashes between characters that have been a long time coming prove to be awe-inspiring, and there are consequences and copious amounts of death in a colossal adventure that simply rattles along.

And yet amid all the explosions and wand battles, somewhere in the middle we manage to find time for what will come to live in legend as the signature sequence of the entire series. Giving too much away would be grossly unfair for those who don’t know what’s coming, but just know that it involves Snape, some flashbacks and some home truths, as twists and revelations hit like hammer blows.

What we don’t get too much of is the byplay between the three young leads, but then we’ve had seven films of that and there’s very little left that needs to be said between them, though Radcliffe, Grint and Watson are still terrific. More pleasingly, the great actors who missed out in some of the previous instalments get to show what they’re really made of here, particularly Maggie Smith and the miraculous Alan Rickman.

Spending a decade and almost 20 hours of screen time with these characters has made them part of our lives, a theme that filters into the film itself. The saga has grown in depth and richness from colourful cartoons for children to parables of the bonds of friendship, family and love, until eventually it gets to a point where you realise you don’t want it to end.

And unlike Lord of the Rings, it doesn’t get bogged down in a dozen different finales that feel the need to give everyone a closing monologue. Instead there’s dignity, a quiet grace and a few tears. It’s a fitting culmination to a monumental achievement and everyone involved should feel immensely proud.