Wednesday 30 May 2012

Snow White and the Huntsman review

Snow White and the Huntsman (12A/PG-13, 127 mins)
Director: Rupert Sanders
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

The second Snow White movie of the spring transforms the fairytale into an outstanding fantasy adventure, taking a Lord of the Rings approach in action and scale, and playing it completely straight to fine effect. The basics of the story are still there, as young princess Snow White’s mother dies and her father re-marries the beautiful Ravenna (Charlize Theron). But she kills him and takes over the kingdom, imprisoning Snow and plunging the kingdom into darkness. Theron gives it everything in a fiery performance that kicks the campy Julia Roberts in Mirror Mirror into touch with a properly threatening turn, as she reveals herself to be a soul-sucking demon obsessed with being the fairest of them all. But when she discovers the grown up Snow (Kristen Stewart) is now fairest, the princess escapes and Ravenna dispatches a huntsman (Chris Hemsworth with a thick Scottish brogue) to bring her back. Where it goes from there offers rousing thrills, surprises and an unusually strong emotional core. It looks fantastic, but the sumptuousness is not just a sideshow to the story, instead creating a genuine atmosphere of darkness and oppression, particularly in a first half that’s so good, you keep waiting for it to come apart. Yet it continues to add elements of thematic richness, visual originality (which is tough in this genre) and plain old great action. The addition of the dwarfs is an ingenious touch of casting, even the sometimes dull Stewart has a spark to her, and everything is brought together with verve in one of the best films of its type in an age.

Monday 28 May 2012

Blu-ray prizes to be won

This competition is now closed.

Terms and Conditions

Only one entry will be accepted per person.
Entrants must be UK residents and aged 18 or over.
The judge's decision is final and no correspondence will be entered into.

Prizes to be won

This competition is now closed.

Terms and Conditions

Only one entry will be accepted per person.
Entrants must be UK residents and aged 18 or over.
The judge's decision is final and no correspondence will be entered into.

Sunday 27 May 2012

The Angels’ Share review

The Angels’ Share (15, 101 mins)
Director: Ken Loach
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Fresh from picking up one of the top prizes at the Cannes Film Festival, Ken Loach’s latest collaboration with Scottish screenwriter Paul Laverty is a raw, sparky and grimly funny comedy drama filmed and set in Glasgow.

It opens with a variety of reprobates up in court being sentenced, who are then brought together to paint halls and clean up graveyards as part of their community payback. One young man, Robbie (Paul Brannigan), has been spared jail by the skin of his teeth, and is required to do 300 hours of service.

He’s also about to become a father, though his girlfriend’s father has other ideas about his involvement, her family of thugs making it clear they want Robbie to have nothing to do with the baby.

We’re presented with an intriguing character in Robbie, one whom we’re asked to side with despite his criminal past. His violent temper is something he needs to learn to control, and in one particularly harrowing scene he’s shown the consequences of his actions, as the victim he assaulted describes the senseless attack.

It could have been easy for the audience to lose its sympathy for Robbie at this point, but this is a film about first impressions and second chances, and that chance is given to Robbie by Harry (John Henshaw), his community service coordinator.

Harry is mad keen on whisky, and when Robbie demonstrates a quick knack and knowledge for the water of life, Harry takes him and his pals on a tour of a distillery, the movie’s title referring to the amount of spirit, about 2%, that evaporates each year from the casks.

With fatherhood offering Robbie his last chance to pull his life together, the question is whether he can he use his whisky skills to make a better life for himself and his new family, or if his past will catch up to him.

Though it can sometimes seem like two different films, the chummy whisky comedy on one hand, and a dark and dangerous life of violence on the other, both elements come together successfully thanks to Laverty’s trademark salty and realistic dialogue that pulls no punches with its language, and Loach’s unfussy direction that allows the action to flow freely and naturally.

The authenticity of his casting also helps, with the roles filled largely by newcomers with lived-in faces. Truth be told, some of the actors do more convincing work when they're being asked to be their rough and ready selves, than when they're given lines of plot to recite, but for the most part everyone impresses.

The result is many fine moments, but perhaps just a hint of corner-cutting in the writing. It’s a bit of a leap for Robbie to go from ned to whisky loving expert, and it all gets wrapped up a bit too neatly and conveniently, which might be a problem if this were one of Loach’s more gritty dramas.

But it’s essentially a fairytale, a rather fanciful blend that succeeds partly because it’s so funny, but mostly because of the filmmaking skill brought to it by its director and writer.

Tuesday 22 May 2012

Moonrise Kingdom review

Moonrise Kingdom (12A/PG-13, 94 mins)
Director: Wes Anderson
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

The films of director Wes Anderson can be very much an acquired taste, and are either delightfully quirky or painfully arch depending on your point of view. His latest, a comedy about the perils and pains of young love is certainly no departure from his unique style, but for once his idiosyncrasy is not off-putting. Set in 1965 on the island of New Penzance, a young boy goes missing from his scout troop led by Ed Norton and the scouts lead the search, aided by Bruce Willis as the local police chief. In fact the boy has run away with the daughter of Bill Murray and Frances McDormand and what follows is a visually alluring and deftly witty confection, bursting with Anderson’s bright pastel aesthetic and kooky to an unhinged degree. Non-fans of the director will not be persuaded, but it’s so weird it works, with the cute visual gags and larger than life characters adding to the off-kilter zip of it all. Moonrise Kingdom is Anderson’s best live action film since The Royal Tenenbaums, and if there’s one thing you can say with certainty about his movies, it’s that you’ll have no idea what will happen next.

Friday 18 May 2012

The Raid goodies to be won

This competition is now closed.

Terms and Conditions

Only one entry will be accepted per person.
Entrants must be UK residents and aged 18 or over.
The judge's decision is final and no correspondence will be entered into.

Sunday 13 May 2012

The Dictator review

The Dictator (15/R, 83 mins)
Director: Larry Charles
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
With the moc-doc shenanigans of Borat and Bruno having run their natural course, Sacha Baron Cohen here turns to straight narrative comedy with limited success. Cohen gives an uneven performance as the dictator of the title, General Aladeen of the North African Republic of Wadiya, who is suspected of developing WMDs and travels to America facing UN sanctions. There he’s set up and cut loose in the city, and forced to work in a health food store run by Anna Faris while trying to get his identity back. It’s not the most sophisticated setup ever but the stunning bad taste means there are a fair few vulgar laughs to be had. But it’s sloppily constructed and as likely to provoke gasps for its sheer outrageousness as anything, with a dearth of genuinely clever jokes as it races to the next envelope-pushing situation. The many heinous things Aladeen does as an untouchable despot raise chuckles, but it’s simply not sustained, and its satirical pops are obvious and small scale. It’s not unfunny, it’s just not funny enough.

Wednesday 9 May 2012

How I Spent My Summer Vacation review

How I Spent My Summer Vacation (15, 96 mins)
Director: Adrian Grunberg
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Ever more shunned by Hollywood, Mel Gibson’s latest didn’t even get a cinema release in the States. That’s a slap in the face for what’s actually a fairly decent action comedy that starts with Gibson’s unnamed thief on the run from the police and forced to jump the border wall into Mexico where he ends up in a bizarre prison cum village. The early stages take a while to manoeuvre, setting up the villains who run the prison and the gangsters and corrupt cops who’re after Gibson and the money he stole, but the action heats up in a second half that also gets a bit bogged down in plot convolutions and too many side players. Gibson’s character is well suited to his style, a tough and colourful wise-ass anti-hero who knows how to play the angles to his advantage. So it’s a shame he’s in, or possibly beyond, the last chance saloon because on form like this, it’s clear why he used to be a star.

Dark Shadows review

Dark Shadows (12A/PG-13, 113 mins)
Director: Tim Burton
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

Dark Shadows was a daytime soap opera that ran on American television from 1966 to 1971. But it was a soap with a difference, one populated with vampires, werewolves and witches, that achieved something of a cult status.

Now Johnny Depp and director Tim Burton reteam for what feels like the 257th time to bring it to the big screen, and the hope was it wouldn’t be just another in their conveyor belt of kooky fantasies that favour lavish production design and silly accents over a well told story.

While it’s undeniable that Burton has entered the most financially lucrative period of his career (Alice in Wonderland made a stupid amount of money), it’s coincided with him churning out his most vacuous and incoherent films. And, sadly, Dark Shadows is no different.

In a prologue set in 18th century Maine that recalls Coppola’s Dracula, we learn that the Collins family moved from England to America where they became rich through their fishing empire, and built the town of Collinsport. But when Barnabas Collins (Depp) spurned the advances of a witch named Angelique (Eva Green), she cursed him to be a vampire and buried him alive.

Now, in 1972, the Collins family still live in their sprawling mansion, Collinwood, Michelle Pfeiffer and Helena Bonham Carter among them, but their stock has dwindled because Angelique now runs the fishing industry in Collinsport. Meanwhile Barnabas is accidentally exhumed, and returns to Collinwood vowing to restore the family fortune.

As has so often been the case with Burton recently, glorious production values and a moderately spooky atmosphere can only take you so far. The makeup is splendid, and Depp does one of his patented English voices, his olde speake and confusion at modern ways the only source of amusement.

But everything else about Dark Shadows is nothing like funny enough, just half-baked ideas and an arid space in between the fish-out-of-time gags, and it’s an absolute dog’s dinner when it comes to coherence and consistency. None of the sorely underdeveloped characters serve the story, flitting in and out at random, Pfeiffer in particular disappearing for long stretches only to turn up when required.

It’s quite simply a badly directed mess, with flat, lazy performances, and reversals and relationships that are pulled from out of nowhere. There’s no threat, no build up of tensions, and Angelique is the only person in the entire debacle with clear motivations and goals. At some point everyone involved just threw up their hands and decided they’d just make a gothic sketch show instead. Except, you know, without the laughs.

Absent of narrative or memorable characters, it’s a series of barely connected skits with no plot to speak of, made without a jot of care or attention, but with an eye only on how the promise of Depp and some supernatural chuckles can grab enough unsuspecting punters in before audiences start to smell what they're being shovelled. The ropey special effects are just the final nail in the coffin.

If you want to see what Depp and Burton are really capable of together, revisit Edward Scissorhands and Ed Wood. This is simply not good enough.

Monday 7 May 2012

DVD Prizes to be won

This competition is now closed

Terms and Conditions

Only one entry will be accepted per person.
Entrants must be UK residents and aged 18 or over.
The judge's decision is final and no correspondence will be entered into.