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: * * * *