Thursday, 16 December 2010


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Wednesday, 29 July 2009


Director Lars Von Trier has always had a knack for breaking cinematic conventions and this sordid little affair shows no signs of him changing.

But what the Danish director managed to sustain in movies such as the brilliant Dogville and Manderlay, he seems to revoke for a more vulgar and pretentious piece of cinema.

The story centres around a nameless couple played by Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg. As they frivolously copulate in their bedroom, the pair fail to stop their baby son jumping accidentally to his death from an open window.

Gainsbourg doesn’t take the news well while Dafoe, a therapist by trade, almost becomes obsessed by his wife’s grief and peculiar nature.

It isn’t long before he sees his own wife like a patient, a subject worth analysing, and believes an extended trip to a remote cabin in the woods will break the cycle of pain.

Told in four chapters with a prologue and epilogue, the film details their trip into self-destruction and mutilation while confronting the strange goings-on that seem to be occurring in their natural surroundings.

This could have been an excellent film - and near the end it almost gives one hope - but there is far too much ambiguity that it’s hard to tell what Lars Von Trier is trying to communicate.

It isn’t quite horror. It isn’t quite drama. In fact, at times, it verges on pornography with a sadistic edge.

Too much time is spent visually trying to impress, such as, slow-motion shots of falling objects and microscopic close-ups of dismembered animals like an X-rated version of Planet Earth.

The violence is also both graphic and unnecessary - and although these scenes are left for the last fifteen minutes, it is bound to leave any cinema-goer slightly unhinged as they stumble away from the screen.

This really is unsettling viewing - vaguely reminiscent of Colin Eggleston's 1978 hit Long Weekend and Claire Denis's ultra violent Trouble Every Day.

Confusing, tasteless and rather boring, this is pretentious cinema-making at its most sickening.

And while it certainly deserves a one star rating, its complexities and ambiguity can’t help but persuade you there is more at work than meets the eye.

But what that might be, who knows?

Rating: * *

Thursday, 23 July 2009


Iceland has hardly been at the epicentre of movie chit-chat, but that could all change thanks to the writer and director of this atmospheric and icy little thriller.

Laced with gloomy cinematography, unscrupulous characters, and a story structure which interweaves two supposedly disparate tales at the same time - it is hard not to get sucked into the small world director Baltasar Kormakur has created.

The film opens with Orn - a man mourning the death of his only daughter to a rare genetic disease. No sooner have the titles rolled and the audience are lambasted into something completely unconnected or so we are led to believe.

A loner is dead in a pool of blood, killed by a strong blow to the head, and tough-talking, chain-smoking Detective Erlendur (Iceland’s answer to Cracker) is called in to investigate.

But this is island-life where bad news travels faster than the icy wind and community secrets, which had lay buried for years are about to rise morbidly to the surface.

Of course, like many murder mysteries of this kind, the proof is in the finale.

And Jar City certainly delivers - creating a taunting tale, which throws the audience line after line only to happily snap them before you get a chance of figuring it out.

It also has a strong message - one that will leave you stirring in your seat long after the credits have rolled.

Rating: * * * *

Wednesday, 15 July 2009


A LOUGHBOROUGH man who grew up watching movies at the town’s cinema is now about to see his own work on the big screen after securing a £3m investment to shoot his first full-length movie.

James Berry, 28, a former pupil from Loughborough Grammar School, started his career as a runner on EastEnders before taking a job for a production company in Los Angeles.

Perfecting his craft on a number of short films, James has finally been given the chance to shoot his first full-length coming-of-age drama Running on Empty in the UK in 2010.

The £3m independent picture tells the story of a talented young rugby player stuck in one of the country’s worst teams and promises to be a “Billy Elliott meets Good Will Hunting” type of movie.

James, who wrote the script and is directing the feature, told the Echo: “I am not a huge sports fan but I love capturing the drama of sport on screen and I really like the coming-of-age drama. It’s funny where watching movies at the Curzon on a Saturday afternoon will take you.

“I don’t think we have seen a good coming-of-age drama looking at the 18 to 20-year-olds for a long time. The last was probably Billy Elliott.

“The story is about a man stuck in a really bad team who finally gets the chance to play for a great team but has to live up to his family’s expectations of him. It’s about how do you stay true to yourself and at the same time your background.”

The movie is due to be released in cinemas by 2011.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009


A blue glove left in the snow. A dog wearing a porcelain mask. A discarded foetus under brambles and bushes.

For the first five minutes, The Unborn is a peculiar mix of The Nightmare on Elm Street style dream sequences and something you might find in a Dali painting.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t last long and when we realise what all this means, the next 85 minutes are one hell of a struggle.

Odette Yustman is a young college student who still mourning the death of her mother some years previously starts to have strange dreams about a blue-eyed child.

It soon emerges the child was Odette’s twin her mother lost at birth and now for no reason really than cheap thrills and lashings of gore, it has decided to come back and haunt her.

This wouldn’t be so bad if director David S. Goyer (writer of Jumper and The Dark Knight) wasn’t so transfixed with trying to scare the audience at every given turn rather than trying to tell a relatively good horror tale.

Characters are as thin as breadsticks, the dialogue is appalling and one wonders how talent as masterful as Gary Oldman managed to find his way into this story.

Of course, the film makes a fantastic trailer - something which certainly makes this forgettable tale look rather less trashy than it is.

But nothing can disguise the fact The Unborn should never have been born.

Rating: *

Tuesday, 7 April 2009


Americans have been churning out movies about sports stars and those behind the lines for more than a decade.

Remember the Titans - based around legendary American football coach, Herman Boone, a man who led an integrated team during a time of racial hatred and extreme prejudice.

Also, The Rookie, the real-life story about injured baseball coach Jim Morris who tries to lead a bunch of college kids to the Major League but in the process finds himself playing for the Texas Rangers.

So, it seems rather strange that, until now, British cinema has ditched its usually premise of tanked-up footie yobs (Football Factory and Green Street) for a story which represents the football we all know and love.

This is The Damned United - a human, whimsical and thought-provoking masterpiece about the legendary football manager, Brian Clough and what some call the greatest manager England never had.

Shifting between the 1960s and 70s, writer Peter Morgan (The Queen, Frost/Nixon), charts the 44-day managerial disaster Clough encountered while in charge of once bitter rival, Leeds United compared to his hard won glory days at Derby County.

It also shows the destruction of his relationships with assistant Peter Taylor, chairman of the club, Sam Longson and his fixation with ex-Leeds boss Don Revie.

But this isn’t a football film despite its premise - it is a story about one man’s ambition, flair, obsession and ultimately an arrogance which led to his own self-destruction.

Michael Sheen (Frost/Nixon) effortlessly plays Clough with aplomb, grace and delivers enough one-liners to keep the audience cackling. Timothy Spall (Secrets and Lies) is also top drawer as Clough’s right-hand man, the overshadowed Peter Taylor.

Clough once said to Michael Parkinson in a television interview: “I certainly wouldn't say I'm the best manager in the business, but I'm in the top one."

The same can be said for this sports movie. Top class!

Rating: * * * * *

Friday, 3 April 2009


IF you enjoyed the action packed and dry humour of Shrek, the eye watering and majestic animation of Walle and the charmingly thought-provoking Toy Story...then fantastic, watch them all again and wipe the fact this animated tinpot story ever found itself onto the big screen.

Monsters Vs Aliens is about as exciting as waiting for Shrek 4 without Donkey. The story centres around Susan Murphy (Reese Witherspoon) who, just before she is to tie the knot to her anchorman boyfriend, Derek gets hit by a meteorite and turns into the 50ft woman.

Of course, she is stunned by helicopters, captured by the army and locked up in a secret government compound where other strange and boring monsters live.

The best of which is B.O.B. (Seth Rogan), a former tomato who has been transformed into a blue jelly-shaped blob after scientists tried to create a ranch dressing-flavour out of him. Ouch!

The rest are not even worth mentioning because their characters are so undefined and unlovable its hard to care what happens to them.

So, where was I? The story. Well just when Susan thinks her life couldn’t get any worse, the world is attacked by aliens and the President of the USA decides to send out the ragtag group in the attempt of beating them, and of course, saving the world.

Brought to the screen by Dreamworks Animation (Shrek, Kung-Fu Panda and Madagascar) and written and directed by Rob Letterman (Shark Tale), the problem isn’t animation, it’s the plot.

More time seems to have been invested in action scenes and the art of animating buildings and characters rather than the age-old art of storytelling.

In fact one thing Dreamworks have failed to master compared to rival Pixar (Toy Story, Monsters Inc and Walle) is making audiences care about their creations.

The story also fails, unlike Shrek, to appeal to both adults and children and starts to look like a post-it note idea left at the back of Dreamworks creative cupboard for a long, long time.

There are moments of humour, most delivered by Stephen Colbert’s President Hathaway.

Unfortunately, it is not enough to save a story where if the monsters were Pixar and the aliens were Dreamworks, I’m pretty sure I know who I’d be routing for.

Rating: * *


THERE are very few horror films which can make you scream like a terrified schoolgirl – The Haunting in Connecticut is certainly one of them.

Loosely based on the true story of the Snedeker family and the Discovery Channel documentary of the same name, it tells the story of a family who relocate to the suburbs after their teenage son, Matt Campbell is diagnosed with cancer.

No sooner have they moved in when lights start to flicker, secret books and photographs are discovered under the floorboards and their ill son begins to see strange apparitions in his basement bedroom. Yes, their home is a former mortuary, which holds a deep dark secret.

For many, I am sure, this sounds like every other haunted house horror movie of the last 30 years, but what makes The Haunting in Connecticut different is the characters – a family struggling to come to terms with their son’s ill health while being perplexed by the strange goings-on in their home.

The acting also carries the plot, especially from Virginia Madsen as Matt’s mum and Kyle Gallner as the ill son, unsure of whether the haunting in his basement room is supernatural or just the side-effects of his radiotherapy.

The true story is slightly different, in fact, American reports suggest that the paranormal investigators who examined the Connecticut home felt the filmmakers had spoilt the authenticity of the case in favour of a more Hollywood style story line.

However, it works and while the original Discovery Channel documentary is perhaps a more accurate account, The Haunting in Connecticut is certainly a haunting experience worthy of any horror fans attention.

Rating: * * * *

Friday, 20 February 2009


IF you thought you had seen it all before, wait until you meet Mum and Dad.

This is independent cinema at its finest - breaking every horror taboo in the book to create one unnerving 80min ride into the ultra perverse.

Lena is a young Polish immigrant who works as a night cleaner at Heathrow Airport.
When she misses the last bus home, she is offered shelter by two co-workers, Birdie and her mute brother, Elbie.

But a roof for the night comes at a cost - becoming the new member of Mum and Dad’s sadomasochistic and cannibalistic family.

Funded by Nottingham’s EM Media and Film London’s Microwave Scheme, first-time feature director Steven Sheil shot the entire film for under £100,000.

But do not be fooled by the budget, this is one unnerving and grossly perverse movie - Britain’s answer to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre but with tea and toast.

And although the movie aims to shock again and again with lashings of brutal torture and decapitated bodies, it’s the relationship between Mum and Dad, which is the most intriguing part of the film.

Mum (Dido Miles) and Dad (Perry Benson - the quiet, specky one in This is England), are perhaps two of the most deranged characters to ever embrace indie cinema.

In fact, the most perverse yet comic part of the film is the constant shift from ‘happy family’ to the macabre.

In one scene the family comfortably sit around the breakfast table eating toast, laughing and talking trivia oblivious to the unsettling fact hardcore pornography is playing on the TV. In another, Mum is interrupted while torturing Lena for a quick tea and chocolate biscuit break. Hilarious!

It might not be original but Mum and Dad sets a new precedent for the perverse dysfunctional family.

And once you’ve seen this, it will be hard to look at The Texas Chainsaw Massacre in the same light again.

Rating: * * * *

Tuesday, 17 February 2009


Ladies and gentlemen, Quentin Tarantino is back!

Inglourious Basterds is set during World War II and centres around a group of Jewish-American soldiers, led by Brad Pitt, who must spread fear throughout the Nazi party by scalping and killing the enemy.

The full plot is being kept ‘hush, hush,’ but from watching the trailer it seems as if IB has all the ingredients of a typical Tarantino film - plenty of violence, a razorsharp script and a diehard cast.

Actors onboard include, Diane Kruger (The Hunting Party), Eli Roth (writer/director of Hostel), Mike Myers (Austin Powers) and Samuel L. Jackson as narrator.

It’s out in August so watch this space!