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!

Monday, 16 February 2009


THERE is one thing that a remake like Friday the 13th means for producers and that’s money - lots of it.

Forget about decent characters, an intricate storyline and a new way to bring a cult classic to a new generation. These minute details seem unnecessary.

Instead, we have a lacklustre tale of a bunch of college kids who come across the abandoned Camp Crystal Lake while partying in a nearby wood cabin.

And before they can put their clothes on and sober up, you’ve guessed it, they have fallen victim to Jason Voorhees - a deranged WWE-lookalike with machete and hockey mask.

For those unfamiliar with the original - Jason Voorhees was a teenage boy who drowned in Camp Crystal Lake twenty-years previously.

This was because two sex-crazed camp workers couldn’t be bothered to look after him and, as you can imagine, his mother, unlike the workers, didn’t take the news lying down.

She decided to reek revenge on anyone who visited the site and in the process resurrected her dead son.

But don’t worry I haven’t spoiled anything because director Marcus Nispel didn’t want to tell you this anyway.

Instead, he just wants to show you Jason hacking up as many good-looking young people as possible in the most uninventive ways imaginable.

In fact, there are very few things to like about this film apart from a screaming woman burning in a sleeping bag and the end credits.

The script by Damian Shannon and Mark Swift (of the excellent Freddy vs. Jason) has more holes than Jason’s inflicted knife wounds - with characters both wooden and stereotypical and a plot which is downright predictable.

I just hope that Hollywood learns its lesson and stops resurrecting these cult characters solely for profit purposes.

I somehow doubt it. With a remake of Nightmare On Elm Street in the pipeline, I somehow feel that this can only get worse. Much worse.

Unrated: Unworthy of a single star.

Saturday, 14 February 2009


IF this was the film version of Extreme Makeover then it would certainly score five out of five.

Unfortunately, this is meant to be a serious and compelling drama about a man, who instead of growing older, grows younger by the years.

The problem with The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is not the acting, direction or even the sentimental script. In fact, all three are reasonably executed. The problem is the concept.

It is hard to buy into a story about a child born old, abandoned by his father and bought up in a old peoples' home.

It is even harder to buy into the relationship between Button (Brad Pitt) and Daisy (Cate Blanchett) who struggle to find a time where their relationship can exist without one of them being arrested.

At times, it feels like writer Eric Roth (Forest Gump), wants to squeeze as much emotion out of the audience as he can racking up around ten deaths in the first 90mins.

There is very little humour, in fact none at all, and while Roth’s Gump lived an exciting and endearing life, Button’s is simply dull as dishwater.

A brief spell in the Navy and the inheritance of a button factory, the only really unique quality about Button is, yes, you’ve got it, he keeps getting younger.

In fact, throughout the tiresomely long 166min film, no one seems to pull Button to one side and say: ‘Look mate, what’s this all about? You’re getting younger.’ Instead, it becomes fully accepted by everyone as if his condition was as common as measles.

And it seems as if director David Fincher (Se7en, Zodiac and The Game) left his dark side on the pillow when he went to work on this sentimental piece of drivel. In fact, it is hard to understand what drew him to this particular project in the first place.

But, for me, there was one defining moment when I realised Button was not going to pull at my heartstrings, or even gently flick them for that matter.

It is a moment when Button and Daisy are lying together in bed. Daisy says to Button: “Will you still love me when my skin goes saggy?” Button replies: “Will you still love me when I wet the bed?”

This is one ridiculously absurd movie, totally unworthy of the 13 Oscars it has been nominated for. And if this is the best film Hollywood’s got on offer, then maybe Extreme Makeover the movie isn’t such a bad idea.

Rating: *

Wednesday, 11 February 2009


IF YOU’RE intending to spend this Valentine’s Day snuggled up on the sofa to the latest romantic comedy you may want to think again.

Researchers say watching romantic scenes like Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts cavorting in the aisle of a London book shop may actually have a serious impact on your own love life.

Researchers at Heriot-Way University in Edinburgh watched 40 of the country’s top-grossing rom-coms.

The aim - to discover if some of our pre-conceived views on love and relationships are built around popular culture, such as romantic films like Notting Hill, You’ve Got Mail and While You Were Sleeping.

Dr Bjarne Holmes, social psychologist who led the research, told the Echo: “I think there is a connection between movies and peoples views on relationships.”

Dr Holmes found that many couples in film have “qualities and bonds” which take years to develop and that trust and committed love exist from the moment they meet.

He says this uncovers an uncomfortable truth - that people maybe taking these ideas and implying them to their own relationships.

He added: “There is some re-occurring themes especially behind peoples’ beliefs about how relationships should function.

“Some of these include, ‘if your partner truly loves you, you should understand what they need in life without having to communicate it.’

“Another is people say love is pre-destined. Couples will say ‘well, we are either meant to be together or not’ and then give up too early.”

But surely people are not building their lives around the actions of Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan in You‘ve Got Mail?

“We don’t know how vulnerable certain personalities are to this information,” Dr Holmes added.

“But what is damaging is more people see relationships through the media than they do in everyday life. It’s how they define romance. It’s how they define cheating. It’s how they define forgiveness.”

Judith Stevenson, relationship counsellor for Relate in Leicestershire, who sees hundreds of couples stuck in difficult or loveless relationships, says there is some truth in the research.

She told me: “People expect relationships to be wonderful and fun and when they are not, they begin to think this relationship can’t be right for me.

“I think people just don’t know how to deal with things when they go wrong, because they don’t see that in films. They don’t see disagreement. Disagreement in films is always funny.”

Judith believes that the only relationship we learn from is our parents and that we may look to popular culture to get some of our answers.

She stressed: “The problem is we don’t see what goes on behind closed doors in relationships. We don’t see how people work things out and when they really go wrong.”

Whether we are heavily influenced by the romantic films we watch is debatable.

Surely the same opinion could be applied to the debate on if horror movies and real-life violence are related.

In the same way as people watching Friday 13th don’t have the urge to pick up a machete and a hockey mask, the same must be true for anyone watching You’ve Got Mail and hoping to find Meg Ryan through Facebook.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

Tuesday, 10 February 2009


HOW many people wake up in the morning and hope that half of their work force is dead?

Of course, I don’t, but this is the concept behind Frank Capello’s deranged black comedy about an office worker who is pushed too far by the corporate snobs who run his place of work.

Christian Slater plays Bob Maconel - a bored and schizophrenic office worker who takes a gun to work only to discover another fellow colleague has beaten him to it.

Instead of joining him, Bob turns his gun on the shooter and becomes the unlikely office hero, even managing to save the shot office totty Venessa (Elisa Cuthbert) in the process.

But is life at the top any better than at the bottom as Bob struggles to cope with his newfound fame, looking after the now paraplegic Cuthbert and coping with the delusional prospect that he may have to finish the job his predecessor started.

This is a truly independent picture, shot on a shoestring, but with a cast and script which is worth much more.

In fact, one of the films authentic qualities is its frequent change in mood - switching from raw comedy to heartfelt drama faster than one of Slater’s speeding bullets.

Much of this is down to Capello’s writing and direction.

Capello’s camerawork is dreamy and crisp, floating through office lifts and colourful corridors, but with a dreaded sense, that, at any time, madness could persist.

Even some of Capello’s characters feel artificial, caricature-like and detached from reality. Whether this is deliberate, it certainly works, pushing the emotionally-charged Bob closer to the edge.

And all this from the same writer of Hulk Hogan’s Suburban Commando!

But it would be unfair not to pay homage to Slater - who brings nerdy Bob, accompanied with granddaddy glasses, a fake wig and rotten teeth, to life.

Scenes between Slater and Cuthbert are both deeply tragic and comedy gold. But it is Slater's constant battle with his mind in the form of an animated talking goldfish, which is the real screen stealer of the film.

This is Fight Club with a fish. The Truman Show meets American Psycho. This is an edgy, raw and wonderfully worded piece of comedy drama, well worthy of cult status. Rent it now!

Rating: * * * * *

He Was A Quiet Man is now available on DVD.

Friday, 6 February 2009


There are very few films which complement the plays in which they are based on – A Few Good Men, On Golden Pond and Sleuth to name a few. It is with sad regret that the Oscar-nominated Streep and Hoffman show is not among them.

Set in 1964, in St Nicholas Church and School, the story centres around Father Flynn (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and the iron-gloved principal Sister Aloysius (Meryl Streep).

Following the acceptance of the first black boy in the school, suspicions become seasoned when naive Sister James (Amy Adams) drops a hint that Flynn maybe spending too much time with the new kid.

And so begins a personal crusade to unearth the truth – is Flynn a paedophile? Is Sister Aloysius power-hungry? Has Sister James a motive of her own?

Of course, the story has all the ingredients of an Oscar contender – two of America’s finest character actors (Streep and Hoffman), based on a Pulitzer and Tony Award winning play and layered with a filthy dose of political tension, religion, suspicion and child molestation.

So, why doesn’t it work? Simple – it’s not good film material.

Scenes can last up to fifteen minutes at a time, dialogue is overplayed and by the end, your only doubt is why you didn’t decide to watch something else.

Maybe it needed a fresh pair of eyes on John Patrick Shanley’s award-winning play rather than Shanley taking the role of both screenwriter and director on this particular project.

Acting, as you can imagine, is first rate with Amy Adams (The Wedding Date, Talladega Nights) ditching popcorn comedy for arguably one of her most serious and exciting roles.

Unfortunately, it is not enough to save the film – Doubt is undoubtedly dull.

Rating: * *


Love him or hate him, Woody Allen is back!

It has been a depressing couple of years for the odd man with black-rimmed glasses following a catalogue of disappointing movies, such as Anything Else, Melinda and Melinda and the critically acclaimed although critically tedious Match Point - where Allen took a shot at being serious. And missed. Hopelessly.

However, thanks to a bit of Spanish sunshine, it seems the neurotic New Yorker has managed to strike gold with his 45th feature, Vicky Christina Barcelona.

Vicky (Rebecca Hall) and Christina (Scarlett Johansson) are two American women spending their summer in Barcelona - soaking up all the art, culture and wine the city has to offer.

Vicky is realistic, sensible, ready to start the rest of her life with a man she supposedly loves and wants to marry. Christina is the opposite, spontaneous, sexually adventeous, using each experience in some brazen attempt to discover her creative self.

However, a chance meeting with seductive and impulsive Spanish painter, Juan Antonio (Javier Barden) brings their holiday to an immediate halt when he offers the pair a trip on his private jet to Oviedo where he intends to bed them both.

Throw in Antonia’s jealous ex-wife, Maria (Penelope Cruz) and a cast of other Woody Allen primed characters and you have the making of a great comedy drama.

Hailed by some critics as the Spainish version of Manhantan, Vicky Christina Barcelona stands on its own as part romantic comedy, part observational drama.

Barden is perfectly cast as the suave Antonia – bridges apart from his role as psychopathic hitman Anton Chigurh in the Coen Brothers No Country for Old Men, which deservedly won him an Oscar.

But it’s Cruz (nominated for Best Supporting Actress at this year’s Oscars) who steals the show as the jilted lover – frustrated by her ex-husband’s inability to make her happy but unable to cope without him.

The only criticism, similar to other Allen movies, is the film raises more questions than answers and while each character is wonderful to watch, the final result is abrupt and rather poorly planned.

Rating: * * * *


Repo! The Genetic Opera is a rock, shock, horror musical – loaded with enough blood and guts to fill a swimming pool and enough black leather to host a Dominatrix party.

Set in the not-too-distant future, America has been hit by a terrible epidemic – organ failures.

Residents turn to GeneCo, a biotech company, who provide transplants, but at a high and deadly price.

Those who fail to keep up with their payments must face The Repo Man – a masked assassin appointed by the company to repossess their insides.

Directed by Darren Lynn Bousman (Saw II, III and IV) and based on an underground musical play of the same name, this is the kind of film that stinks of originality.

Repo! centres around Nathan Wallace (Anthony Head), a loving but overprotective father, desperately seeking a miracle cure for his 17-year-old daughter, Shilo, who suffers from a rare blood disease.

But Nathan has a dark secret.

At night he is The Repo Man – a masked avenger who stalks the darkened streets, slashing his way through dozens of GeneCo’s customers failing to keep up with their organ payments.

Throw in a few subplots, a bit of Shakespearian tragedy, some brilliant industrial rock songs and Paul Sorvino (Goodfellas) as the devilish director of GeneCo and you have a winning formula.

Granted, at times, it shamelessly pinches from Blade Runner, The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Phantom of the Opera, but Repo! is still guts ahead of other modern horror movies – creating a truly alternative slant on a lack lustre genre, which is rapidly becoming more repetitive by the year.

And mixing horror with music really works, especially on songs, such as, Thankless Job, which sees a frustrated Repo Man tearing out a client’s intestines while mournfully singing: ‘It’s a Thankless Job, but somebody has got to do it.’ Nice!

Fans of Mamma Mia, this is not for you. But for those willing to open their heart, lungs and other bodily organs to Repo! The Genetic Opera will not be disappointed. This is a horror treat, you would be gutted to miss!

Rating: * * * *

Now available on DVD and Blu-Ray

Monday, 2 February 2009


JUST when you thought the clichéd tale of the couple who get lost, stranded and stalked in the woods was dead and buried along comes Eden Lake to provide a fresh and welcomed return to the aged formula.

Penned by James Watkins (The Descent, My Little Eye), Eden Lake tells the tale of Jenny and Steve, a typical, boring English couple, who are confronted by a bunch of obnoxious and knife-loving yobs on their getaway camping trip to the countryside.

When Steve, visibly lacking in strength or authority, confronts the youths over the sound of their stereo, he triggers off a series of events, which lead to a deadly cat-and-mouse chase in the woods.

Of course, this formula has been played out a hundred times before, with its origins probably lying in the sickly hands of Wes Craven (The Last House on the Left) and Sam Peckinpah (Straw Dogs) in the 1970s.

But what makes Eden Lake a gem among the stones is its truly modern and very British twist - replacing the American hillbilly with the young hoodie - where bravado is shown and respect is earned by the size of your blade.

In fact, the star of the show is Watkins - capturing a frightening, if somewhat over-exaggerated, picture of youth crime in Britain.

From the opening credits of a car radio blaring out the latest knife crime news to one gang member capturing a torture scene on her mobile phone, the sense of dread feels undoubtedly real and close to home.

Eden Lake is a disturbing and nasty tale - far more entertaining and shocking than recent stalk and slash horror movies, such as, The Strangers and Timber Falls - with an ending that will have even the most hardened of hearts reaching for a bucket.

Yes, this film is not for everyone, but for horror fans Eden Lake is a destination well worth the visit.

Rating: * * * *

Eden Lake is now available on DVD and Blu-Ray.

Friday, 30 January 2009


In 1997, Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet wooed audiences across the globe when they played two young lovers torn apart by class, moral obligations and of course the sinking of a 46,000 tonne ocean liner known as the Titanic.

The film went on to break Oscar history – claiming 14 awards, including Best Film and Director. In Revolutionary Road – the pair are back although not even an iceberg is going to help forge the pieces of their broken and complicated relationship.

In a nutshell, the story is about Frank (DiCaprio) and April Wheeler (Winslet) - a married couple who move to an American suburb in Connecticut to raise their two children.

But not everything is perfect behind the manicured lawns and white picket fences - April is a failed actress, struggling to accept her role as mother and fixated on moving to Paris. Frank, on the other hand, is just as gravely disappointed with life. Working for the same computer firm as his late father and unfulfilled by the simplicity of suburban living, like April, he struggles to find his identity.

This is familiar territory for American Beauty director Sam Mendes – who has almost created a 1950s version of his 1999 breakthrough movie, even using Thomas Newman again to pen a haunting musical score.

But while American Beauty enjoyed exploiting human perversity among its central characters, Revolutionary Road is more subtle – with explosive arguments and unassuming gestures leaving viewers to stir on the ‘whys’ behind the two characters actions.

It is a sad, disturbing film, with very little humour, and runs similar to a play with the majority of scenes taking place inside the home and away from the two children.

Kathy Bates and Michael Shannon (nominated for best supporting actor) provide excellent supporting roles as the idealistic but deluded all-American mother and the slightly psychotic but completely honest son.

Unfortunately, unlike Titanic, the period in which it is set seems to spoil the film as many of its themes are outdated and would fail to shock an audience in the same way it would have done when the 1961 book in which it was based was released.

Undoubtedly, DiCaprio and Winslet give powerhouse performances and Mendes direction veers the story away from just plain, simple melodrama.

But Revolutionary Road is far from revolutionary – with a story likely to move you but certainly not on a titanic scale.

Rating: * * *


Lovesick Nick (played by Juno’s Michael Cera) is struggling to come to terms with the loss of his long-term girlfriend, Tris.

In some desperate attempt to win her back, he continues to plague her answering phone with messages and send her mix tapes of their favourite bands. Sick already?

During a gig with his band, The Jerk Offs, Norah (Kat Dennings) slaps a sloppy one on Nick's bewildered lips to prove she has a boyfriend – little beknown to her that Nick is Tris’s ex and the same guy whose discarded mix tapes she’s secretly been collecting. Still not vomitting?

United by music and an awkward kiss, the pair spend the night ‘getting to know each other’ as they search the city for ‘Where’s Fluffy?’ – an underground indie band who are performing a one-off secret gig.

This is the type of slushy love story you probably picked up in your school library at age 10 – the characters are basic and underdeveloped, the direction is messy and the script fails to drive the story anywhere but downhill.

In fact, having your dentures removed with a claw hammer might be less painful than watching these characters shamefully interact with one another.

Cera sticks to familiar terriority as the fluffy and harmless nerd while Dennings makes the most of a limp script.

Sadly, ‘Sick and Bored By Her’ is utterly charmless, with little in terms of intelligence or comical capability to compete with such ‘one day/one night’ comedy favourites as Before Sunset, Blind Date or Dazed and Confused.

The only redeeming feature is the soundtrack, but not even that will drone out the sound of a truly, awful movie.

Rating: *

Thursday, 29 January 2009


There is a lot riding on Christopher McQuarrie and Bryan Singer’s new movie.

The last time the pair joined forces one of the most complex and intelligent crime capers of all time, The Usual Suspects was born – a film, which 15 years after its release date, still has movie fans debating the identity of Keyser Söze.

Valkyrie certainly won’t have that lasting effect, but it certainly is a good attempt at bringing a true-life story to the big screen.

Set in Germany during WW2, the story centres around Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg (Tom Cruise), a proud and loyal officer, who after losing his right arm, an eye and two left fingers in an air attack at a camp in Africa joins the German resistance to overthrow Hitler – the final of 15 attempts on the dictator’s life.

Armed with a cunning strategy to use Hitler’s own emergency plan – known as Operation Valkyrie – the men plot to assassinate the Fuehrer, overthrow the Nazi Government and take control of Berlin.

Valkyrie is a slow movie, at times, tedious, but when the action arrives and the assassination plan is hatched, then it’s hard not to warm to this courageous story.

The cast are just as impressive with performances by Kenneth Branagh, Bill Nighy, Terence Stamp and most notably Tom Wilkinson keeping the plot ticking along at an amicable speed.

Critics have blasted the lack of German accents – with all but one cast member, David Bamber as Hitler, using their native tongues.

But this is certainly not the film’s main concern.

The real concern lies in the script – not enough time is spent establishing characters, especially Stauffenberg. All we get is a snapshot of his family life and a truly wasted performance by Carice van Houten as Cruise’s wife.

The plot is also very one dimensional - with little time spent showing the state of Germany during 1944 or the brutality that Hitler inflicted.

Nevertheless, it is a great tale bought to life by Singer’s atmospheric direction, Newton Thomas Sigel’s cinematography and some top-notch British performances.

It is just unfortunate that the same writer and director behind The Usual Suspects chose Valkyrie as their reunion project.

Rating: * * *

Tuesday, 27 January 2009


In 1972, in the early hours of the morning, five men were caught breaking into the Democratic Government headquarters in Washington – each armed with photographic equipment and bugging devices.

Following an intense investigation by two Washington Post reporters, the men were linked back to none other than Republican leader and President of the United States – Richard Nixon.

It was named the Watergate scandal – a scandal which revealed cover ups, slush funds, illegal taping and a cascade of dirty tricks within the White House – forcing the 37th President of the United States, and only President to date, to resign from office.

It was a story which deeply disturbed American people, tore a dagger through the heart of democracy and trust and made a mockery out of America’s political system. But Nixon never apologised for his wrongdoings or showed an admission of guilt – much to the annoyance of the American press who wanted to give the pardoned President their own trial by media.

Strange then that it was British talk show host, politically inexperienced and satirical clown, David Frost who bagged the ‘no holds barred’ interview of all time – an interview which becomes the setting of director Ron Howard’s political thriller.

Frost (Michael Sheen) and Nixon (Frank Langella) are no strangers to these roles having both played the same characters previously in Peter Morgan’s play of the same name. Langella sounds and looks uncannily like Nixon – playing the former president as a battling, frustrated rogue who sees Frost as easy prey. Sheen, on the other hand, plays Frost with an air of vulnerability – a presenter caught in a confidence crisis and, at times immensely futile under Nixon’s giant personality.

In fact, it is these moments, as both wrestle to take control of the interview – one to gain back his political power, the other to be seen as a serious journalist - which makes the most interesting viewing . Howard’s Rocky-like structure is also incredibly gripping as each character prepares for the Watergate showdown.

This is a dynamite story and while it may not have the same impact on Oscar night as Alan J. Pakula’s All The President's Men, based on the two Washington Post reporters who cracked the story, this gripping little thriller isn’t far behind.

Rating: * * * * *

Friday, 23 January 2009


Mickey Rourke has lived an interesting life – former boxer, dysfunctional actor and plastic surgery that would make Jackie Stallone weep in the morning and Sloth from The Goonies quite proud.

It is not surprising then that an actor who has spent around 20 years hiding from big roles choosing character-based drama ‘The Wrestler’ as his comeback project.

Set in present day New Jersey, Rourke plays Randy ‘The Ram’ Robinson – a former professional Wrestler who has fallen into the grimy, low-paid weekend wrestling circuit. Can you see the comparison? Double Team anyone?

To make matters worse, a sudden heart attack threatens his chances of a comeback career fighting his most notable opponent to date The Ayatollah – whose previous match in the 80s sold out Madison Square Garden.

So, what does every wrestler do with a bit of spare time on their hands? Well Ram decides to build bridges with his teenage daughter Stephanie (played by Thirteen’s Evan Rachel Wood) and woo sexy stripper, Cassidy (Marisa Tomei) while he figures out if the fight is really worth it.

Directed by Requiem of a Dream’s Darren Aronofsky, it becomes evident pretty clear that this film is not going to be for the faint-hearted. Instead, it is a dark, deep look at the world behind the wrestler – not too dissimilar from the 1999 documentary Beyond the Mat – with Aronofsky capturing the authenticity by following Rourke with a hand-held camera.

There is no doubt that Rourke has created an unbelievable character with the help of Robert D. Siegel’s fine script. Rourke plays a character while tough and controlled on the outside, is a lost and sensitive soul drawn back to the love and acceptance he receives from the crowd compared to that in his real life.

But Rourke (nominated for Best Actor at this year’s Oscars) is far from the film’s main talking point. Marisa Tomei (My Cousin Vinny, In the Bedroom) is more than worthy of her Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress as a tough-talking stripper afraid to get too close to anyone, especially Ram.

Fans of wrestling will probably hate it – the fights are brutal but limited - but for those willing to open their heart to The Wrestler will not be disappointed. It is a gritty tale guaranteed to rope you in.

Rating: * * * *