Out Now – 30th November 2012

Rise of the Guardians
“When the evil spirit Pitch launches an assault on Earth, the Immortal Guardians team up to protect the innocence of children all around the world.” There is something slightly creepy about any film for kids about protecting children’s innocence. I can’t tell if Pitch is going to do something sinister and sexual or just tell them that Father Christmas isn’t real.

Great Expectations
Great Expectations is the not particularly interesting story of young Pip who comes into some money and maybe falls in love with a girl who seems like a bit of a bitch from what I can remember. The BBC did their own adaptation about a year ago and I don’t think we need another.

Alex Cross
“A homicide detective is pushed to the brink of his moral and physical limits as he tangles with a ferociously skilled serial killer who specializes in torture and pain.” Sounds intriguing until you realise that the serial killer is played by Matthew Fox; one of the world’s blandest men to ever wander round a TV island for year after year. Also, Fox has become a little too sinewy for my taste.

Trouble with the Curve
Fancy watching Amy Adams and Clint Eastwood play a father and daughter (not respectively) who bond while watching baseball? I know I don’t but then I have issue with Amy Adams (post 2005), baseball, and any movies with titles I don’t quite understand.

Electric Man (limited release)
British comedy about comic shop owners who come across a rare comic book. One actor plays “Death / Conference Organiser” which raises so many questions. Are these two separate characters? Does Death organise conferences? Does one character organise both death and a conference?

Laurence Anyways (limited release)
Exploring the relationship of a Frenchman and his girlfriend over ten years as he becomes a Frenchwoman.

Sightseers (limited release)
Fantastic comedy about a couple who go on a killing spree in the Lake District. A great film that reminded me of childhood holidays but with more death.

The Hunt (limited release)
A Danish teacher is fighting for custody of his son when a small lie shatters his life and finds him the target of mass hysteria.

Talaash (limited release)
“A cop, a housewife and a prostitute get entangled in a mystery that links their lives in unexpected ways.” This is precisely the reason that I try not to get entangled in mysteries; I hate finding my life linked to prostitutes’ in unexpected ways.

Opinion – Why I Don’t Like Digital Film Projection But If You Do I’m Cool With That

Last week I saw the new Kevin James film, Here Comes The Boom and experienced something unprecedented. It wasn’t the film that amazed me (Staple sports film. Predictable, entertaining, worth ticket price.) but the digital projection itself. As the adverts and trailers “rolled” I noticed that the quality of the visuals was abnormally bad. I assumed that this was just a pre-film thing (surely no one would ever screen a film in this bad a quality…) but when the film began I couldn’t help but be distracted by the stupidly pixelated imagery that persisted throughout the entire thing – Kevin James meets Minecraft. Okay, it wasn’t Youtube circa 2006 but it was bad enough that I felt reasonably cheated out of my money.

After the film I brought this up with my friend, thinking it to be a pretty big issue with him too but he was mostly unfazed and claimed to not really notice it that much. After discussing, we came to the conclusion that as the “online generation”, we are so used to streaming and downloading pixelated entertainment from the internet that our tolerance of such things is quite high. But should it be? Especially for something we paid for?

This isn’t my first run in with digital projection either. Twice in the last 15-ish months I have had to postpone seeing two films (Real Steel and Moneyball for those interested) because for one reason or another there were “technical difficulties” with the digital copy of the film or projector itself.

Surely three disgruntlements with digital projections in my many years of cinema-going shouldn’t irritate me enough to write a 700-word article bemoaning the tech though, right? Maybe not, but then I have – so far – had zero bad experiences with a traditionally projected film so moan I shall.

My Here Comes The Boom experience probably isn’t an isolated incident either. There are many money-strapped cinemas in the UK, and whilst I haven’t had the chance to experience all of them it probably wouldn’t be unreasonable to assume that there are other projections like this all over the country.

To be clear, I am not saying that all digital projection is bad. However, with great technological advancement comes great responsibility: the same day I saw Here Comes The Boom I saw Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part II on my own (a story for another time) in the same cinema. This was also a digital screening. Breaking Dawn Part II actually spends half of its run-time zooming into things and showing off super high quality detail (because Bella’s a vampire now!) and this second projection was just fine – impressive, actually. So why was there such a huge difference in quality in two screens at the same cinema? Surely there should just be one standard? I paid the same price for both films.

We are constantly harassed by anti-piracy adverts that refute the ever-bettering quality of downloads yet I can go to the cinema and pay for something equally “bad”?*

*- I understand that the point of those adverts is to highlight the illegality of downloading but they rely heavily on promoting the quality of the real product too.

Perhaps the most relevant anti-piracy advert to this argument is the one with the poor fellow who loses his friends for having a mildly bad quality download as a voiceover barks “Don’t be a downloady Brian! Nobody likes the guy with the bad quality illegal DVDs!” This is true, but as the quality of downloaded material increases, the line between the real deal and the ‘knock-off’ is quickly blurring, and if there are enough people in enough cinemas frequently receiving the same quality for something they could have got for free at home cinema could soon be in trouble.

Of course, this argument boils down to speculation and opinion; after all, my friend said he wasn’t that bothered by the quality of Here Comes The Boom and enjoyed the film nonetheless (a variable  in this opinion could be that I paid for his ticket, though). Maybe I only feel this way because I – perhaps ironically – already miss the imperfections, cigarette burns and old feel of real film being projected. Those things were a sign that I was at the cinema: they were experiences I couldn’t get anywhere else. I am all for paying for digital projection if it can maintain a high quality everywhere and have a smaller chance of mishaps, but as it stands, to me the score is at 3-0 to traditional film projection.

How about you? Have you had bad experiences with either type of projection, or do you reckon I am just talking a load of crock? Contribute!

Out Now – 23rd November 2012

Wacky fun with Firth, Diaz, Rickman, and Tucci in a caper about art forgery. Despite the long list of big names and a Coen brothers screenplay the critics don’t seem to enjoy the film. 13% on Rotten Tomatoes – I expect better from you these days Mr Firth.

Silver Linings Playbook
A romantic comedy about crazy, sexy, and crazy sexy people who help one another sort their lives out in a film with a title that makes little to no sense but it doesn’t really matter when you have Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper beaming out from the poster.

Nativity 2: Danger In The Manger!
Family film about a school competing in the National ‘Song for Christmas’ Competition. Factors in the film’s favour are a Coventry (my home town) setting and the involvement of the great David Tennant. Sadly I absolutely loathed the original film so don’t hold up much hope for this sequel.

End of Watch
Found footage cop drama in which both the police and the criminals happen to be filming themselves. Everyone does this in LA though right?

Starbuck (limited release)
A man in his forties struggles to deal with his lover’s pregnancy while being sued by the 142 children he has fathered via artificial insemination.

Lawrence of Arabia (limited release)
Fifty years after its original release this classic film I haven’t seen is back in cinemas. If you fancy seeing Peter O’Toole bobbing around a desert for over three hours there’s no better film.

The House I Live In (limited release)
Documentary about… erm… “From the dealer to the narcotics officer, the inmate to the federal judge, a penetrating look inside America’s criminal justice system, revealing the profound human rights implications of U.S. drug policy.”

Cinema Komunisto (limited release)
I have no freaking clue: “When history has a different script from the one in your films, who wouldn’t invent a country to fool themselves? The collapsing sets of Tito’s Hollywood of the East take us on a journey through the rise and fall of the illusion called Yugoslavia. Exploring the ruins of the forgotten film sets and talking to directors, producers, policemen and Tito’s protectionist about the state-run film studios and Tito’s personal love for cinema and it’s stars, ‘Cinema Komunisto’ uses film clips to go back to the film when ‘His story’ became the official history.”

First (limited release)
“The Official Film of the XXXth Olympic Games to be held in London, following the stories of twelve first-time Olympians from around the world.” Is that this years Olympics? What does XXXth mean? Is this a sex thing? EDIT: I’ve checked and this year’s Olympic Games was the XXX Olympiad. Why were more porn jokes not made?

Ninja Scroll (limited release)
With a name like this you are either already going to see this film or never will. You don’t need me to tell you that it is about a “ninja-for-hire … forced into fighting an old nemesis who is bent on overthrowing the Japanese government. His nemesis is also the leader of a group of demons each with superhuman powers.” Oh you do? Good job I did then. Idiot.

The Jeffrey Dahmer Files – LFF Review

Jeffrey Dahmer was a quiet, unassuming man who kept to himself, was polite to his neighbours and didn’t cause trouble for anyone. Naturally his apartment was found to be filled with the body parts from dozens of missing persons on whom Dahmer had practised rape, dismemberment, necrophilia and cannibalism. The Jeffrey Dahmer Files is a documentary focussing on the summer of Dahmer’s arrest consisting of archive footage, interviews, and vague re-enactments.

The film either had a laser-like focus or a limited number of willing participants as a grand total of just three interviewees feature in the film. We hear from a medical examiner, Dahmer’s neighbour, and the police officer who arrested and subsequently interviewed him. Their testimony is interspersed with archive news and police footage from the day Dahmer’s flat was raided alongside images from the police files on what was found inside. Perhaps the most interesting inclusion in this documentary is what I described as vague reconstructions. These are not always reconstructions of specific events or murders but often simply show Dahmer just pottering around town leading an ordinary life. The scenes are shot in such a way that they resemble an indie film – one presumably starring Ryan Gosling.

The indie film footage is an odd inclusion but in many ways is what grounds the documentary and allows us the see Dahmer as a real human being who once actually existed. Without it the film would simply be three people talking about a monstrous individual, only giving a partial picture of the man in question.

While my other murder-centric documentary of the festival West of Memphis interviewed literally everyone involved in the case and covered so much detail I felt there was little more to say on the matter The Jeffrey Dahmer Files is a much more lightweight documentary. Plenty of stones are left unturned and while I now have an idea of Dahmer and the crimes he committed I was left wanting to seek out more information on his case.

An intriguing documentary with a unique approach The Jeffrey Dahmer Files will please anyone with an interest in true crime but will merely whet your appetite as far as the Jeffrey Dahmer case is concerned.

The Road: A Story of Life and Death – LFF Review

Ever wondered about the people who live along the A5 in London? Their hopes? Their dreams? Their bitter disappointments? If so then The Road: A Story of Life and Death will be right up your street. For me the film literally was right up my street living as I do just off Kilburn High Road (which is part of the A5 in case you weren’t aware of the geography within 1 mile of my flat). The Road is a documentary dipping into the lives of people who have moved to London from foreign locales and now find themselves residing somewhere between Marble Arch and Cricklewood. An intriguingly niche subject but one ripe for human stories.

With nothing linking the various subjects beyond a stretch of tarmac and their previous relocation the stories told are varied and documentarian Marc Isaacs has a knack for making his subjects open up more than they potentially intended to. As a result we have a documentary filled with diverse and revealing stories. An elderly lady reveals the relief she feels now her husband is dead while a former air stewardess describes her husband’s infidelity and an Irish immigrant displays the extreme extent of his alcoholism. The Road is not a glossy documentary but shows its subjects with all their flaws and eccentricities.

Intriguing though it may be The Road is lacking something. Lasting for little over an hour the documentary is too lean to get properly in-depth with any of the interviewees. We see a small snapshot into the lives on display without ever getting far enough into their lives to really connect with their stories.

Coming soon to a TV screen near you The Road is an interesting if unsatisfying film about people who have moved to London and found themselves living on or around the A5. Maybe I’m just bitter that I wasn’t asked to be in the film (and that one of the film’s subjects sat in front of me at the showing and filmed the screen on her mobile phone).

Out Now – 16th November 2012

Twilight family

For some strange reason, there aren’t many films going out on general release this week. If you don’t want to see the sparkly bloodsuckers, you’re most likely going to have to commit to subtitles or a music documentary.

UPDATE: I completely forgot that critically acclaimed Paul Thomas Anderson film The Master gets its nationwide screenings today as well. This is what happens when distributors confuse me with staggered release dates.

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2
And finally, we are done! Bella and Edward are safely married and have had their possibly vampiric baby, which means further sexiness is now permissible. I assume that if you’ve stuck with the previous four films, you’ll probably want to round them off with this one. If not, just carry on – nothing to see here.

Shirley, mother of five daughters all convinced they have mental illnesses, cracks herself and is sent to an asylum. In a fit of brilliant parenting, her husband employs a terrifying hitch-hiker (played by Toni Collette) as their new nanny.

Son of Sardar (limited release)
Bollywood action film about a family feud, including brothers who’ve sworn off ice-cream and cold drinks until they avenge their father’s death.

Amour (limited release)
Retired music teacher grandparents, Georges and Anne, have their elderly love tested when Anne suffers a stroke. Probably not a first date movie.

Happy Happy (limited release)
Kaja is happy despite a disinterested husband, at least until the perfect couple moves in next door. Uh oh!

Jason Becker: Not Dead Yet (limited release)
Documentary about Jason Becker. Who’s not dead yet. However, he does have the paralysing Lou Gehrig’s disease yet still manages to make music with his eyes. Yes, yes, very impressive, although is it really as much of a show of fortitude as me typing this post after burning my hand on my mushroom soup yesterday? It is? And I’m trivialising such achievement with my flippant remarks? Ah. Sorry about that.

Hit So Hard (limited release)
Speaking of trivialising musical achievements, another documentary but this time following Patty Schemel, who drummed with Hole, and her struggles with fame and addiction. Apparently she walks dogs now.

The Pool (limited release)
In Goa, a boy living in poverty becomes obsessed with a private swimming pool and the family who own it.

Up There (limited release)
Martin is fed up with his job welcoming the newly deceased into the afterlife, until he loses someone. So instead of going “up there” he has to come “down here” to track them down.

I Carried You Home – LFF Review

I Carried You Home - Padang Besar

Pann (Apinya Sakuljaroensuk), a high school student in Bangkok, lives with her aunt and frequently skips lessons with her best friend. Her older sister, Pinn (Akumsiri Suwannasuk), previously moved to Singapore under mysterious circumstances and the two are virtually estranged from each other. Their mother lives in Padang Besar, a border town in the south (also the film’s original name) at least until one less than auspicious day when she visits her youngest daughter in Bangkok – a visit Pann is very reluctant to receive. However, while Pann pretends she has extra classes to attend in order to escape, her mother collapses after singing karaoke and dies in hospital. Pann and Pinn must then transport her body back home to Padang Besar, driven by Tor (Torpong Kul-on) a.k.a. the comedy relief.

And comedy relief is certainly welcome as otherwise this is an extremely slow film. Engrossing and beautiful, but very slow. There are actually more laughs than you might expect but this is no comedy but a slow (did I already mention the slow?) moving relationship-based road trip drama. With minimal dialogue, there’s a lot of inferring and reading between the lines to be done, as you try to figure out just what pushed the three women of this family apart. Director, Tongpong Chantarangkul, makes good use of reflective surfaces and distant framing to capture the mood of his characters (if perhaps too often, rather hammering the point home).

Despite the rather morbid circumstances, this is not a film about death but about family, and how disconnected its closest members can become. Despite her stroppy teenager-ness, Pann can still evoke sympathy, as she seems so lost and anchorless; while Pinn’s apparently strong sense of duty and responsibility seems at odds with her decision to disappear to another country. It isn’t until a rather expositional rush towards the end of the film that you actually discover why she decided to make the move in the first place.

There’s currently no expected UK release date for I Carried You Home, which is a shame but not very surprising. At most, I’d say it’s a candidate for limited release at the ICA if ever I saw one.

Out Now – 9th November 2012

We have actually seen three of the films out this week!

Somehow Ben Affleck has managed to make a film about the 1979 Iran hostage crisis into a funny Hollywood satire that doesn’t make light of the serious drama of a real-life international incident. It’s a strange beast but good.

The Sapphires
Three country song-singing Aboriginal sisters and their cousin get turned into a soul group by a bar worker, before travelling to Vietnam to entertain the troops. It might not be Stephen Colbert getting a buzzcut in Iraq on Obama’s orders but it is a joyful watch.

People Like Us
After his estranged father dies, a salesman discovers he has a half-sister he knew nothing about. It possibly gets a tiny bit incestuous. Now is that a story that’s going to make it into the Christmas newsletter?

Here Comes the Boom
To make money for extra curricular activities at his school, a biology teacher becomes a mixed martial arts fighter. Hang on, isn’t this a sillier version of Warrior?

Love Bite
In fictional Rainmouth, a werewolf is eating virgins. This may be the one time an orgy is declared as a public service.

Alps (limited release)
To help people with the grieving process, a business offers a service where people impersonate recently deceased loved ones and recreate classic scenes from their past life. Tim says that if Charlie Kaufman were to make a Greek film, it would look a lot like this.

Grassroots (limited release)
This is the perfect time to release a film about a grassroots campaign to get someone elected to the Seattle City Council. It’s not like anyone’s got American politics fatigue and is relieved the Presidential election circus is over or anything. Hello Cobie Smulders!

The Joy of Six (limited release)
A set of half a dozen (see what they did there?) short films out of Soda’s New British Cinema programme. Some bright new directors, including Romola Garai, and some established acting talent. Hello Judi Dench!

Mother’s Milk (limited release)
The combined power of Jack Davenport and Tom Hollander star in this drama about the troubled relationships within an English family. Stiff upper lips at the ready please.

My Brother The Devil (limited release)
Yet more gritty drama from the East End – this time British Egyptian teenage brothers have to survive the streets of “gangland London”. It sounds familiar but this might be the one to see: at the time of writing, 16 critics have given it a 100% fresh rating.

East End Babylon (limited release)
A “rockumentary” that tells the history of London’s East End over the past 100 years, leading to the formation of local band The Cockney Rejects, which seems more than a little self-important. They apparently united their joint passions for music and West Ham and released a punk cover of West Ham’s song “I’m forever blowing bubbles”, one of the more unlikely choices for a football terrace chant.

Aurora (limited release)
A 42 year old man, “troubled by obscure thoughts, drives across the city to a destination known only to him”. I am no more enlightened by this than you.

Ray Harryhausen: Special Effects Titan (limited release)
Documentary about stop-motion king Ray Harryhausen, who is now 92 years old.

Argo – LFF Review

In 1979 the American Embassy in Tehran was invaded by Iranian students and militants. For more than a year the American civil servants who worked in the Embassy are held hostage in the building in which they used to work. Just as the Embassy was invaded six diplomats managed to escape. Initially taken in by the Canadian ambassador the escapees become the subjects of a bizarre and fantastical rescue mission by the CIA.

Argo is a strange beast. The film opens with the American Embassy being stormed and six characters with bad haircuts escape amidst panic and violence. The tone is set for a serious drama about a serious international political event. As we are introduced to the CIA, and most importantly Ben Affleck as CIA specialist Tony Mendez, the tone remains serious – the six escapees must be rescued or all manner of unpleasant things might happen. However the minute John Goodman as John Chambers, Hollywood make-up expert and CIA… make-up artist, enters the film alongside Alan Arkin as film producer Lester Siegel the films starts to mix its tense drama with tongue-in-cheek Hollywood satire.

The plan that Mendez is pushing is one in which he, Chambers, and Siegel fake the production of a Sci-Fi adventure filming in Iran so that the six fugitives can be smuggled out of the country. As events in Iran are treated with a po-faced frown the parallel exploits of the characters (and I do mean characters!), are a light-hearted sideways look at Hollywood hype and many a line is delivered in such a way that Goodman and Arkin may as well turn to camera and give a knowing nod and wink.

With this odd mix of tones Affleck (taking on directing duties too) risks making a film that jars and fails to fully convey the seriousness of the real-life drama at its heart. Somehow Affleck actually makes this work with the silly Hollywood segments serving as a light relief to the endless angst and worrying from the characters (this time with no distinct personalities at all) in Iran. Argo is the perfect mix of humour and drama; it gives you a dramatic situation to keep you hooked but keeps you genuinely entertained as events unfold.

One place Argo does misjudge things (ignoring some historical inaccuracies) are in its climax. As the plan reaches fruition and the motley crew finally try to leave Iran we are presented with a seemingly endless stream of near miss disasters. Absolutely nothing happens until the absolutely last possible second. Even their plane tickets home aren’t confirmed until the woman checking them in has searched the bookings once. The film is tense enough without every “will they make it?” moment being followed by another five.

Argo is a rare example of the fun historical/political drama and is in UK cinemas 7th November 2012.

Foster – DVD Review

Years after the death of their son a couple, Zooey (Toni Collette) and Alec (Ioan Gruffudd), want another child but are unable to conceive. After visiting an adoption agency a 7-year-old boy called Eli (Maurice Cole) turns up on their doorstep claiming to have been sent by the adoption agency. Eli is a precocious child filled with wise words and always seen wearing a tailored suit. With Eli in their lives Zooey and Alec learn to enjoy each other again and try to rescue Alec’s ailing toy company.

Foster is unfamiliar territory for me with its feet planted firmly in the family comedy drama category. This is more Stuart Little than About a Boy. An incredibly sweet story of love and loss Foster is for the most part familiar and predictable but has at least one surprise in its ninety minute runtime. The film’s pace and plotting are very gentle and the films bobs along without too much turbulence. Drama-wise this is akin to taking a pedalo out on the local pond; there are no waves, no real threat, but occasionally it veers slightly to the left.

With the combination of precocious young Eli, a toy factory in crisis, and Richard E. Grant as a wise tramp Foster takes on quite a whimsical feel. This is a film preaching the importance of family and the need for decent Christmas presents in the same breath. There are also references to faith and religion but only in the most bizarre way such that the Christmas scenes are the only time you are guaranteed not to hear God referred to.

Foster is a little clumsy, and Toni Collette’s Scottish accent a little jarring, but on the whole is a perfectly harmless and charming drama that can be watched by the whole family. With a story of love and consumerism without any real peril Foster would make for a gentle watch on Christmas Day when you’ve run out of presents to open.

Foster is available on DVD from today.