Cinema Reviews Thoughts

Win Win

It contains familiar ingredients but the third film from writer-director Thomas McCarthy is a satisfying comedy-drama with brains and heart.

Set in New Jersey, it explores the ethical dilemmas of local attorney Mike Flaherty (Paul Giamatti), who also coaches a high-school wrestling team.

With his law practice struggling due to the recession, Mike keeps his worries from his wife (Amy Ryan) and two young daughters.

When an opportunity arises involving an elderly client (Burt Young) and his teenage grandson Kyle (Alex Shaffer), Mike sees a potential solution to his problems.

Similar in tone to McCarthy’s previous efforts – The Station Agent (2003) and The Visitor (2008) – the film explores the bittersweet comedy that lies under the surface of everyday life.

The main draw here is Giamatti and the actor fits the material perfectly, managing to convey the light and shade of a good man caught in a bad situation.

It is perhaps his most significant role since Sideways (2004) and it’s a relief to see him in a lead role after the usual supporting turns he gets burdened with in bigger budget films.

The other stand out is Shaffer, a non-actor making his screen debut, who is note-perfect as an awkward teenage wrestling prodigy.

Solid support comes from Amy Ryan as his tough but supportive wife, Jeffrey Tambor and Bobby Canavale as Mike’s friends and fellow wrestling coaches, and Melanie Lynskey as Kyle’s absent mother.

McCarthy has a wonderful eye for character and he skillfully wrings out the comedy and drama, demonstrating without cliché or bombast how Mike’s actions gradually affect everyone around him.

The humour of Mike’s interaction with his friends and family is wrapped up with an unusual empathy for regular, small town life that is rare in the indie or mainstream realm.

Although the plot takes a while to get going in the conventional sense, but the slow-burn build up pays off well as it reaches its latter stages.

Contemporary New Jersey is evoked with impressive attention to detail: the legal office, gyms and houses are all convincingly realised.

Perhaps most impressively, Win Win does the simple things (acting, writing and direction) so well that you don’t really notice them until after the story has reached its surprising climax and payoff.

It may have the familiar tropes of a US indie movie made inside the studio system after premiering at Sundance, Fox Searchlight are releasing it.

But with the avalanche of sequels, remakes and empty romantic comedies currently hitting cinemas, a film like Win Win feels like an especially rare treat.

Listen out too for ‘Think You Can Win’, a moving song by The National which the US band wrote especially for the film.

Win Win opens in the UK on Friday 30th May

> Official site
> Reviews of Win Win at Metacritic
> Thomas McCarthy at Wikipedia

Cinema Reviews

Attack the Block

Combining genres with considerable confidence and skill, this anarchic alien-invasion film marks a highly promising directorial debut for Joe Cornish.

Set during the course of one night on a South London council estate, Attack the Block begins when a gang of youths – Moses (John Boyega), Pest (Alex Esmail), Dennis (Franz Drameh), Jerome (Leeon Jones) and Biggz (Simon Howard) come across an alien creature falling from the sky.

After killing it, they realise it is the start of a bigger invasion and retreat to their tower block, where they fend off their attackers along with the local pot dealer (Nick Frost), a posh neighbour (Luke Treadaway), a nurse they previously mugged (Jodie Whitaker) and the local drug lord (Jumayn Hunter), who is out for revenge.

What’s immediately apparent about the film is the pacing and movement, as it plunges the audience straight into the action and doesn’t let up for the lean, 87 minute running time.

The main influences seem to be the genre films that Cornish grew up watching: Assault on Precinct 13 (1976), The Warriors (1979), Escape from New York (1981), An American Werewolf in London (1981), The Thing (1982), Gremlins (1984) and Aliens (1986).

But these films are funnelled into something lighter and uniquely British, without getting bogged down by the ponderous clichés that can often infect filmmaking from these shores.

Whereas some British directors shy away from excitement and humour, here they are ramped to the max and the end result not only features some memorable set-pieces but is genuinely thrilling and funny.

In particular, the excellent night-time cinematography by Tom Townend and fluid editing by Jonathan Amos give everything the sheen of a much bigger movie, which is all the more impressive for a modestly-budgeted UK production.

The young actors who play the gang, especially John Boyega as the ringleader Moses, are perfectly cast and wisely there isn’t any clumsy attempt made to sandpaper down their actions or characters as they try to survive the night.

Some moments feel like a mammoth piss take of recent UK urban dramas such as Kidulthood (2006) and Adulthood (2008), with frequent use of urban slang (especially the term ‘fam’, which seems like it gets used over 200 times).

But overall it manages to poke good-natured fun at all the characters who reside in the tower block as they unite against a common enemy.

The aliens themselves are an interesting creation, coming across as dark ape-like creatures with radioactive teeth, and the practical and CG effects (by Mike Elizalde and Double Negative respectively) are highly effective for the most part.

Steven Price’s electronic score, with contributions from Felix Buxton and Simon Ratcliffe of Basement Jaxx, fits the setting well and ramps up the tension during the action set-pieces.

Given the pacing and genre trappings, it has major potential for a mainstream crossover success, although I suspect that the local slang used by the gang will prove impenetrable to mainstream US – and maybe some UK – audiences.

Despite this, it has a visual panache and sense of movement that could speak to audiences on a deeper, more visceral level and it could end up as a fan favourite in years to come.

Edgar Wright is a friend and collaborator of Cornish (even serving as producer on this film) and Attack the Block takes John Carpenter to South London in the same way that Shaun of the Dead (2004) took George A Romero to the North.

Both wear their influences firmly on their sleeve, but mash them up to create something vibrant, cinematic and funny.

> Official site
> More on Joe Cornish at Wikipedia
> Reviews of Attack the Block at IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes

Cinema Reviews Thoughts


One of Marvel’s most famous characters is brought to the screen with energy and charm, even though certain elements don’t quite work.

How do you adapt a character like Thor for the big screen?

One of the mainstays of Marvel comics since the 1960s, he isn’t just a man with special powers but a god from another realm.

With his costume and magical hammer he might strike younger audiences – familiar with Spider-Man, Iron Man and Batman – as an eccentric extra from the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

But Marvel Studios and director Kenneth Branagh have managed to find a way of crafting a satisfying story which not only introduces the character to a wider cinema audience, but please those who grew up reading the comics.

Opening in the New Mexico desert, astrophysicist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), her assistant (Kat Dennings) and scientist mentor (Stellan Skarsgard) discover a stranger named Thor (Chris Hemsworth) after a mysterious storm.

In an extended flashback on the heavenly realm of Asgard, we see Thor’s ruling father Odin (Anthony Hopkins) banish his eldest son to Earth, along with his magical hammer Mjolnir (yes, it actually has a name and even a detailed Wikipedia entry).

Stranded on Earth he must deal with a curious government agent (Clark Gregg) and agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and learn to free his hammer by being more humble.

In addition, there is also a group of his warrior friends (Jaimie Alexander, Ray Stevenson, Josh Dallas and Tadanobu Asano), the Frost Giant leader (Colm Feore) and a gatekeeper to both worlds (Idris Elba).

There is even a cameo from Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), preparing audiences for next year’s film version of The Avengers, where various Marvel characters (including Thor) team up.

Whilst at times it feels overcrowded with characters – a problem which wrecked Marvel’s Iron Man 2 – this is agreeable superhero stuff, which cuts between convincingly staged action on Earth and the fantastical realms of Asgard.

Branagh might seem an unusual choice to direct this kind of material, but his background in Shakespeare proves useful in humanising and even gently satirising the grandiose nature of the central character and the battles he fights.

He has also got decent performances from his cast: Hemsworth has presence as Thor, playing him with a nice blend of authority and humour; Hopkins and Hiddleston are solid; and the rest of the cast do their best with fairly thin roles.

There is plenty of fish-out-of-water comedy as Thor struggles with contemporary life on Earth and his chemistry with the scientists is well done, even if Portman’s role isn’t as significant as you might expect.

His fantastical battles are also well staged, with some effective sound work augmenting the CGI and lending a certain weight to scenes which could have been ridiculous.

The visual effects work must have presented a major challenge and most impressive is the magical, mechanical portal through which the characters venture from Asgard to Earth.

Less successful are the landscape shots, which – like a lot of CGI-reliant films – blend into a digital background mush, reminiscent of the Star Wars prequels.

Despite this, the overall production design by Bo Welch and the costumes by Alexandra Byrne are impressive, giving detail and believability to both realms.

An added bonus is Patrick Doyle’s rousing score which suits the mood and themes of the film perfectly, even if at times it is reminiscent of Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard’s work on the recent Batman films.

This is also the first Marvel film in 3D and although the post-conversion is better than other mainstream releases (such as Clash of the Titans) it doesn’t really add a whole lot to the action.

After a decade of superhero films, it increasingly feels that Hollywood is reaching the bottom of its comic book barrel.

A list of the major summer releases already feels like an overloaded Comic-Con schedule, with Green Lantern, Captain America and X-Men: First Class continuing what seems to be a never-ending cycle of superhero titles.

Despite this, Thor is actually a pleasant surprise. Although not on the same level as Marvel’s Iron Man or Nolan’s Batman films, but there is something pleasantly old fashioned about the way in which the Nordic god has been brought to the big screen.

> Official site
> Reviews of Thor at Metacritic
> Find out more about the Thor character at Wikipedia

DVD & Blu-ray Reviews

Blu-ray: The Man Who Fell To Earth

Nicolas Roeg‘s stylish sci-fi film looks terrific on the new Blu-ray release from Optimum.

Loosely adapted from the novel by Walter Tevis, it depicts the arrival of enigmatic stranger Thomas Jerome Newton (David Bowie) as he quickly makes a fortune by securing advanced industrial patents with the help of a New York lawyer (Buck Henry).

Retreating to New Mexico he falls in love with a hotel chambermaid (Candy Clark) and recruits a disillusioned chemistry professor (Rip Torn) to build a spaceship so he can save his dying planet.

Director Nicolas Roeg and screenwriter Paul Mayersberg opted for a different brand of sci-fi, with an elliptical story highlighting the emptiness of existence on earth rather than depicting the mysteries of the cosmos.

It baffled a lot of audiences who would soon be thrilled by more mainstream fare such as Star Wars (1977), Alien (1979) and E.T. (1982), but unlike those films, this is much stranger affair that touches upon deeper themes of corporate greed, solitude and the passage of time.

Over the years it has become something of a cult classic and not just for Bowie fans.

Roeg’s trademark editing style and skill behind the camera is evident and DP Tony Richmond captures the beauty of the New Mexico locations.

Although rough around the edges as an actor, Bowie was perfectly cast as the enigmatic Newton and, living like a Howard Hughes-style recluse, he remains distant and ageless whilst bringing a touching sadness to his part.

Incidentally, Bowie was so taken with May Routh’s costumes that he used them on his subsequent tour and stills from the film would be used for the covers of his albums Station to Station (1976) and Low (1977).

The supporting performances are excellent: Henry brings a wistful quality to his lawyer role; Candy Clark makes for an engagingly innocent emotional partner to Bowie; and Rip Torn is good value as the academic who finds himself fascinated by the life opened up by his new boss.

Like much of Roeg’s work it is a film that repays repeated viewing, containing a lot thematic material to chew on beneath its stylish surface.

Momentous events happen in the background: Newton’s company becomes so big that it distorts the US economy and he becomes a major celebrity figure, but the primary focus is always kept on the individuals surrounding him.

Is he an alien Howard Hughes or Charles Foster Kane unhappy with his wealth and power? Do earthly pleasures corrupt him? Is he even an alien at all?

The enigmatic Newton personifies the film: he’s fascinating, mysterious and rewarding once you get to know him.

Part of what makes the film so effective is that we see 1970s America though alien eyes.

The corrupt business and political elites and the addictive qualities of television, alcohol and sex are things that affect the central characters.

Its effectiveness as a social satire lies in the way these themes are allowed to quietly brew in the background and they still have a resonance even today.

This subtlety is also present in the film’s approach to time as the chronological shifts gradually creep up on the viewer.

Like some of the characters, we are left a little disorientated as the years pass by, which is like the ageing process itself.

Modern viewers may note that one of Newton’s inventions is eerily similar to what would eventually become the modern digital camera.

This version is the longer 140 minute cut, with the more explicit – though never gratuitous – sex scenes that censorious US distributors trimmed.

This Blu-ray release is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1, and the transfer is excellent.


Whilst not as extensive as the now deleted 2008 Criterion Blu-ray, this version has a substantial amount of extras including:

  • Watching the Alien documentary (24:30): The most substantial feature is this making of documentary which includes interviews with Roeg, executive producer Si Litvinoff, actress Candy Clark, production designer Brian Eatwell, DP Tony Richmond and editor Graeme Clifford. Although Bowie’s absence is disappointing, it covers various interesting aspects of the production such as the all British crew (unusual for a film shot in the US), Bowie’s performance, the costumes, the non-linear style of editing, the use of music (the temp score used during the edit was Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon) and the legacy of the film.
  • Interview with director Nic Roeg (33:27): This lengthy interview sees Roeg discuss various issues related to the film including: how he ‘fell’ into his career in the film industry; the speed of technological change; how he came across the Walter Tevis novel and why the sci-fi genre appealed; the political relevance of the issues in the film and the casting of Bowie.
  • Interview with cinematographer Tony Richmond (21:48): The cinematographer talks about working with Roeg (he also shot Don’t Look Now and Bad Timing), the novel, shooting on location in New Mexico and the influence of the film.
  • Interview with screenwriter Paul Mayersberg (31:33): The writer goes in to some detail about how he got involved in the production; how he kept to the structure of the novel but changed various elements (such as the political subplot); trying to predict the futuristic gadgets Newton develops; the emotional triangle at the heart of the film; the theme of betrayal and playing around with the notion of time.
  • Interview with Candy Clark (27:46): The actress who plays Mary Lou talks about how she got introduced to Roeg by producer Si Litvinoff; the immediate appeal of the script; the physical challenges of the role; the significant differences between the novel and the film; and working with Bowie.
  • Radio interview with Walter Tevis from 1984 (4:08): The author of the novel talks on a New York radio show about his upbringing, how he got into writing, his first novel The Hustler (later made into the film starring Paul Newman) and how he only quit teaching in the late 1970s.
  • Theatrical Trailer (2:18): The original trailer comes in its original aspect ratio and plays up the fact that this was Bowie’s first film role and features a ridiculously heavy voiceover.

The Man Who Fell to Earth is released on Blu-ray by Optimum Home Releasing on Monday 4th April

> Buy The Man Who Fell to Earth on Blu-ray from Amazon UK
> IMDb entry
Criterion Collection essay by Graham Fuller

Cinema Reviews Thoughts

Sucker Punch

A gaudy, adolescent fantasy riddled with mindless slow motion set-pieces marks a creative low-point for director Zack Snyder.

Opening with a young girl named Babydoll (Emily Browning) being sent to an asylum, Sucker Punch explores how she tries to escape her grim reality by imagining another world of an underworld bordello where she and her fellow inmates (Abbie Cornish, Jena Malone, Vanessa Hudgens) dance for various men.

This then develops into another imaginary world every time she dances, which features various combat missions against fantastical enemies (which include giant samurais, zombie Nazis and fire-breathing dragons) whilst a wise man (Scott Glenn) offers her guidance.

(Incidentally, there are some striking similarities to John Carpenter’s The Ward, a little seen horror from last year about a young woman sent to an asylum.)

All of this plays like a low-rent version of Inception, as various characters traverse different levels that affect one other, mixed with the camp theatricality of Burlesque, with the female characters dressed in increasingly over the top costumes.

Incorporating a variety of influences, including graphic novels, manga and first-person shooter video games, it appears that Snyder has attempted a major homage to his own passions.

Like his previous film 300 (2007), this is a world heavily reliant on stylised CGI landscapes, and armed with a sizeable budget (reportedly $80m), he has created what is essentially a hyperactive console game for the big screen.

The fundamental flaw is that none of it really matters.

Despite the sword fights, gun battles and attempts to escape the asylum, nothing is ever at truly at stake and there is zero tension as the film plays out like a deranged firework.

Snyder’s trademark use of slow-motion is especially tiresome, especially in addition to the use of songs (including sacrilegious covers of tracks by The Beatles, The Smiths and The Pixies) which make long stretches feel like a Britney Spears video.

It is hard to talk about the effectiveness of the performances, as Snyder’s script (co-written by Steve Shibuya) only allows his leading actresses to be the most puerile of fantasy figures.

Their names – Babydoll, Sweet Pea and Blondie – and increasingly icky attire reduce them to ciphers and the unreal set-pieces play out like a Charlie’s Angels episode on acid.

Actors in supporting roles don’t fair much better: Carla Gugino is memorable only for a bad Russian accent; Jon Hamm barely has any screen time at all; and Scott Glenn is on auto-pilot as a fatherly figure spouting words of advice.

In order to get commercial-friendly ratings (PG-13 in the US and 12A in the UK), Snyder has removed a sex scene and cleverly cut around the violence, so we don’t actually see anything too graphic.

Despite this, an uneasy air of sleaze still hangs over the production, especially given the fetish gear costume designer Michael Wilkinson has designed for the female leads.

The persistent threat of rape and violence towards young women – usually from sleazy, overweight men – also pervades the film like a bad smell and feels vaguely creepy in a film aimed squarely at younger-leaning audiences.

It isn’t often that you get a brothel, lobotomies, shootings to the head and attempted sexual assault in a 12A film, but I guess its all fantasy, so who cares anyway?

Sucker Punch is an original story in the sense that it wasn’t adapted from an existing property, but it is pretty unoriginal in processing existing films and games in this genre.

But to what end?

There’s no heart, emotion or tension here and all the sequences seem to have been designed solely to make a certain kind of fantasy nerd go ‘awesome!’. It also tries to capture a younger female audience who might like the idea of girls in kick-ass action roles.

But this film shows the danger inherent in giving an audience ‘what they want’ (or what the studios think they want) as it has already largely failed to appeal to either crowd.

The tidal wave of negative reviews, plus the fact that finished up behind Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules on its opening weekend, suggest it alienated mainstream audiences and the very geeks it was supposed to indulge.

Snyder’s stock as a director is considerably diminished after this, but as he heads off to prepare for his upcoming Superman film one hopes he can put this relentless, vapid exercise behind him and make something worthwhile.

> Official website
> Reviews of Sucker Punch at Metacritic

Cinema Reviews Thoughts

Source Code

The second film from director Duncan Jones is a satisfying sci-fi thriller which manages to pack invention and emotion into a neat 95 minutes.

Laying out the plot of Source Code is tricky as much of the pleasure of the film lies in how it gradually reveals its hand.

The basic set up is this: US soldier Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) wakes up to find himself on a Chicago bound train, sitting opposite a woman (Michelle Monaghan) who appears to know him.

After a short time, the train explodes and he realises he is part of a futuristic military program which allows him to continually experience the last 8 minutes of a commuter’s life in order to discover who planted the bomb.

Supervised via video link by a military scientist (Jeffrey Wright) and a fellow soldier (Vera Farmiga), Colter finds out more about the suspected bomber on each ‘pass’ and why he was selected for this mission.

To the film’s credit, it manages to add a few more layers and twists without ever getting lost in complications, despite the nagging feeling that there are gaping logic holes with regard to the ‘science’ in the film.

What exactly is the source code? How can people communicate in the way they do in the film?

But we are basically in an extended, upscale episode of The Twilight Zone where none of that really matters when you are actually watching the film (although a post-screening discussion might be a different matter).

It moves quickly and efficiently as Gyllenhaal’s character gradually uncovers the truth and Ben Ripley’s script combines elements from films such as Groundhog Day (1993) and Déjà Vu (2006) as it explores the tensions and mysteries of a fantastical situation in a particular location.

This is familiar territory for Duncan Jones, as his debut feature Moon (2009) explored similar areas (although in a different context) and he handles the bigger budget and action sequences with an impressive ease.

Generally, the exterior locations of the train are blended well with the interior set of the train, although there are moments when the CGI and green screen aren’t fully convincing (a dramatic jump from a train is jarring).

But DOP Don Burgess and Jones manage to explore the location of the train well, getting across the claustrophobia and drama packed inside the carriages before visually opening out the film as it gets nearer the climax.

The performances suit the material well: Gyllenhaal is a solid lead, playing a more likeable version of his soldier in Jarhead (2005); Monaghan is a charming foil, whilst Farmiga and Wright bring a convincing level of military authority to their roles.

Chris Bacon’s score also adds a nice touch of urgency, effectively channelling Bernard Herrmann, and there is more than a dash of Hitchcock to the film as it centres around a MacGuffin (in this case a bomb) and the plot is a lean affair in which one sequence propels into another.

Although a mid-budget movie, reportedly made for around $35m, it could do better than expected as various elements combine in satisfying ways.

The action and suspense gives it across the board appeal; the central character is an honourable soldier who may strike a chord with flyover states; the twisty narrative will be a talking point among movie fans; and the surprising emotional chemistry could snare the date movie crowd.

Even if it doesn’t make a huge impact theatrically there seems an assured shelf life for Source Code as a sci-fi thriller with brains and ideas, even if some of them don’t seem to fully add up when the film is over.

> Official site
> Source Code at the IMDb
> Reviews of Source Code at Metacritic

Cinema Reviews Thoughts


A smart and beautifully crafted coming-of-age story marks an auspicious directorial debut for Richard Ayoade.

Set in Swansea and based on Joe Dunthorne’s novel, it explores the growing pains of 15-year old Oliver (Craig Roberts) as he falls in love with classmate Jordana (Yasmin Paige) and also struggles to prevent a new-age neighbour (Paddy Considine) from splitting up his father and (Noah Taylor) and mother (Sally Hawkins).

The time period is elusive as the lack of mobiles and computers hint that it could be the late 1980s (at one point a character mentions going to see Crocodile Dundee) or early 1990s, although presumably it has been left deliberately vague to emphasise the universal nature of the story.

It contains many familiar genre elements (articulate protagonist, voiceover, teen problems) but Ayoade manages to bring a fresh visual approach and combines it with just the right levels of comedy and emotion.

Roberts makes for a highly agreeable lead, with his articulate wit undercut by a natural insecurity about people and the world, whilst Paige manages to be both elusive and down-to-earth.

Together they make a charming pair as they go for walks on the beach, watch small fires outside industrial estates and struggle to deal with the stuff of teenage life.

The supporting roles are perfectly cast: Hawkins is a dowdy but humane presence, Taylor is a quietly withdrawn but affectionate patriarch and Considine is hilarious as spiritual guru (almost like a British version of Tom Cruise’s character in Magnolia).

At one point Oliver says that he imagines his own life as a movie and what really elevates this above most home grown British films is its obvious love for cinema.

Not only are there playful visual references to zooms but there is a real visual style here as it leaves behind the clichés that litter home grown films (council estates, cockney gangsters, country houses) and instead takes its cues from US and French directors.

Some have already observed Wes Anderson as a stylistic influence (Rushmore being the obvious touchstone) and there are numerous visual hat-tips to French new wave directors such as Truffaut and Godard with the use of jump-cuts and hand-held camera work.

The world of British comprehensive schools is also vividly depicted: the frustrated teachers, playground taunts and unreasonable peer pressure are all evoked with hilarious accuracy.

DOP Erik Alexander Wilson and Ayoade create a world filled with interesting compositions and use of colour, giving the local British settings an unusual richness.

There are also lots of impressive little touches, such as the recreation of Open University TV programs, the way in which characters speak (Considine is especially good in this regard) and even a brief cameo from executive producer Ben Stiller.

Gary Williamson’s impressive production design and Charlotte Walter’s costumes also help shape the world of the film and give it an extra visual lift.

Andrew Hewitt’s atmospheric score and the specially-composed songs by Alex Turner add to the melancholy vibe without ever descending into mawkish sentimentality or overpowering the story.

Mainstream audiences might not initially embrace the quirky style of Submarine but over time it could become a firm cult favourite as its common themes and inventive approach hit home with viewers.

On paper this is a film that contains many familiar elements but the execution is really something special and marks Ayoade as a director to watch.

Submarine opens at selected UK cinemas from Friday 18th March

> Official site
> Reviews from the IMDb
> Find out more about the novel at Joe Dunthorne’s site

Cinema Reviews Thoughts

The Company Men

It didn’t find an audience in the US but this drama is a thoughtful depiction of the American workplace during the current recession.

Exploring the contemporary economic malaise through the lens of a fictional Massachusetts company GTX, the story focuses on various employees as they gradually feel the effects of corporate downsizing.

The principle focus is on a cocksure sales guy (Ben Affleck) in his late 30s; his veteran colleague (Chris Cooper) and the company’s co-founder (Tommy Lee Jones) as they all try to deal with the pressures applied by their cost-cutting CEO (Craig T Nelson).

As they have to deal with the soul destroying effects of losing their white-collar livelihoods, they all struggle to cope with unemployment and its impact on their personal and professional lives.

Director John Wells has had an illustrious career in television with megahits like ER and The West Wing, and like those shows his debut feature deals with white-collar workers and contemporary social issues.

Some will criticise the film for not dealing with those lower down the economic food chain, but it is arguably more daring to examine the soured dreams of the American middle class.

Although by no means perfect, it is a restrained but compelling portrait of people coming to terms with the uncertainty and despair following the financial collapse of 2008.

Wells has assembled an excellent ensemble cast: Affleck convincingly displays the arc of a complacent man gradually humbled by circumstance; Rosemary DeWitt is an effective voice of reason and love as his wife; Jones brings a wise, grizzled anger to his part whilst Cooper paints a haunting portrait of an older worker in despair.

The supporting turns are also of a high standard: Nelson makes for a ruthlessly logical boss; Maria Bello is his conflicted hatchet woman; whilst Kevin Costner has his best role in some time as Affleck’s blue-collar brother-in-law who offers him work.

Set in sterile corporate offices or suburban houses, the hiring Roger Deakins as cinematographer was a master stroke: not only does he light these environments with his customary skill and taste, but he also brings a visual elegance to the film which is so well executed you barely notice it.

This is not a film with especially earth shattering revelations, as anyone with a brain can deduce that unemployment leads to misery and despair.

But the screenplay, based on extensive interviews and research, is filled with painfully accurate touches: the outplacement seminars designed to help laid off workers; the corporate obsession with the stock market; the quiet agony of trying to get re-employed, the effects on loved ones and the struggle to re-establish an identity defined by a job.

Coming at time when America and Europe is only just coming to terms with the scope of the late 2000s recession, the film is powerful reminder of the Capitalism gone horribly wrong.

No doubt that is why audiences have largely stayed away from the film, as this is a raw subject, perhaps too close to home for many individuals and families affected by job losses.

There are times when the screenplay and guitar-inflected score reach for sentimental uplift, but overall the message throughout is fairly subversive for a mainstream American film.

Not only does it point out the callow nature of corporate America but also highlights the emptiness of material possessions and shallow thinking that played a part in inflating the sub-prime mortgage bubble.

An unusually bold film, it deserves credit for confronting an issue that will unfortunately be around for some time to come.

> Official site
> Reviews of The Company Men at Metacritic
> Find out more about the late-2000s recession at Wikipedia

Cinema Reviews Thoughts

Fair Game

Although it barely made a dent at the US box office, the story of ex-CIA agent Valerie Plame makes for an impressive political drama.

Despite being one of the key world events of the last decade, the Iraq War has proved to be box office poison for films attempting to deal with it.

Films such as In the Valley of Elah (2007), Body of Lies (2008), Stop-Loss (2008) and Green Zone (2010) have all shunned by mainstream US audiences who presumably don’t want to dwell on the painful consequences of a politically divisive conflict.

So it proved with Fair Game, which explores how the Bush White House leaked the identity of CIA agent Valerie Plame (Naomi Watts) in retaliation for an article her diplomat husband Joe Wilson (Sean Penn) had criticised the justification for war in 2003.

But despite the lack of interest from US audiences it is an expertly assembled piece of work and easily director Doug Liman’s best film in years.

After an opening which establishes Plame’s background as an undercover operative the drama begins when Wilson is asked to travel to Niger in order to ascertain whether they have sold uranium to Iraq.

After concluding that there’s no substance to the claim, he is enraged when the White House use his report as part of their justification for war, prompting him to write an angry counter-blast in the New York Times.

This then triggers a rebuttal by syndicated columnist Robert Novak which outs Plame and triggers not only the end of her career but a political scandal involving Vice President Cheney’s chief of staff, Scooter Libby (David Andrews) and undercover operatives endangered by the leak.

Some will have issues with the details of the script by Jez Butterworth and John Butterworth, which is largely based on the Wilson’s two memoirs.

But whatever the interpretations it weaves reporting, details and anecdotes to powerfully evoke the heady rush to war in 2003 when the Bush White House was keen to steamroller any dissent regarding the invasion.

It is also a powerful depiction of a marriage thrown into turmoil as many in the media establishment initially side with the White House having swallowed the justifications for war.

Watts is convincing as a working CIA agent, conveying her frustrations with agency politics and the consequences for her life and career.

Penn inhabits his role effectively, as one might expect, even if his performance does involve a fair bit of scenery chewing as he seeks to defend his wife and principles.

In small but significant supporting roles, Sam Shepard, Noah Emmerich, Michael Kelly and Bruce McGill are all good value as Washington insiders.

The real star though is Doug Liman and the film represents a new creative lease of life for him after making studio fare such as Mr and Mrs Smith (2005) and Jumper (2008).

Serving as his own cinematographer for the first time since Go (1999), the visuals have a compelling immediacy and the narrative moves at a decent pace despite cramming in a lot of material into the 105 minute running time.

The world of Washington circa 2003 is also effectively evoked by Jess Gonchor’s production design.

It may be some years before mainstream US culture is ready to digest the Iraq War – it took a decade before films like Platoon (1986) revisited the deep scars of Vietnam – but Fair Game is an honourable and well made reminder of the nature of the government who engineered the conflict.

Fair Game opens at UK cinemas on Friday 11th March

> Official site
> Reviews of Fair Game at Metacritic
> Find out more about the Plame Afair at Wikipedia

Cinema Reviews Thoughts

The Adjustment Bureau

An uneven hybrid of drama, romance and sci-fi turns out to be a good deal less than the sum of its parts.

Loosely based on a Philip K. Dick short story called ‘Adjustment Team‘, it involves the chance meeting of a New York politician, David Norris (Matt Damon) and a dancer named Elise (Emily Blunt) as they deal with various mysterious men who have an interest in keeping them apart.

As the film develops we gradually learn more about these shadowy figures, which include Anthony Mackie, John Slattery and Terence Stamp, why they wear Trilby hats and how they mysteriously appear at random.

To say more them would venture too far into spoiler territory but parts of it cover similar ground to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004), Dark City (1998) and Wings of Desire (1987).

Written and directed by George Nolfi (better known until now as the screenwriter of Ocean’s Twelve) it has an intriguing setup that quickly morphs into a bizarre science-fiction romance.

Despite its problems, there are certain elements which resonate: Damon is highly convincing as an aspiring politician, with scenes of him on the campaign trail featuring expertly woven in cameos from the likes of Mayor Bloomberg, Jon Stewart and James Carville, whilst Blunt makes for a charming romantic foil.

Contemporary New York is also shot in a distinctive way with several real life locations effectively blended into Kevin Thompson’s production design, even though they opted for a drab, wintry feel.

It also deals with some intriguing themes such as fate and the role of chance in our lives and Thomas Newman has a typically polished score with his trademark hanging strings and tasteful electronic flourishes.

Unfortunately the overall film is undermined by a shaky approach to the subject matter as it seems Nolfi was unsure as to what kind of story he was trying to tell.

By playing around with so many different genres, it ends up with an unsatisfactory mix of them: the thrills aren’t exciting enough, the romance is underdeveloped and ultimately the story just doesn’t engage as it should.

The men in suits seem to personify the film’s problems. Crucial to the narrative, they are never satisfactorily explained and their funny hats and flashing notebooks come across as unintentionally funny.

Furthermore, actors who play these mysterious agents, such as John Slattery, Anthony Mackie and Terence Stamp are wasted in one-note roles with lame, expository dialogue. Slattery in particular is a mere clone of his character in Mad Men.

The central concept is also never fully realised on screen. Mostly Nolfi and DP John Toll have gone for a naturalistic look but – apart from some slick use of green screen near the end – there aren’t enough compelling visual ideas, compared to films exploring similar territory like Inception (2010) or The Matrix (1999).

Much of the action is explained away as soon as it happens and the climax to which it builds is underwhelming, to say the least. You know there is a major problem when a key scene feels like a cheap copy from Monster’s Inc (2001).

To be fair, the film deserves credit for trying something different from the usual Hollywood formula (it was funded independently by Media Rights Capital and only distributed by Universal) but Dick’s provocative ideas have been lost in this underwhelming adaptation.

The Adjustment Bureau opens in the UK and the US on Friday 4th March

> Official site
> Reviews of The Adjustment Bureau at Metacritic and MUBi
> More on the Philip K Dick story at Wikipedia

Cinema Reviews

Cave of Forgotten Dreams

Werner Herzog’s latest documentary is an awe-inspiring 3D exploration of the ancient Chauvet cave in France.

Almost working as a companion piece to Encounters at the End of the World (2007), which explored the vastness exteriors of the South Pole, this film takes an interior look at a truly remarkable place.

The Chauvet-Pont-d’Arc Cave in southern France was discovered in 1994 and contains paintings and markings dating back thousands of years to the Paleolithic era.

Enter Herzog, a filmmaker with a knack of unearthing the poetic in nature, who became interested in filming inside the carefully preserved caves, which the public are not allowed to enter.

Unlike his documentaries about eccentric individuals (e.g. Grizzly Man or The White Diamond), this is more about a place and the dream-like feelings which it inspires.

Filled with stalactites, pawprints and the bones of extinct animals, the interior of the caves are hypnotic, filled with charcoal drawings which suggest Paleolithic people were practising an early form of visual entertainment, or ‘proto-cinema’ as Herzog calls it.

After receiving special permission from the French government to film inside – albeit with some heavy restrictions – the German director and his small crew used specially modified 3D cameras and lights to capture the extraordinary images inside.

This adds another layer to the project as it becomes about the actual filming, as well as what the images captured might mean, and the crew and their equipment become part of the action, giving the whole thing a vérité feel.

We see Herzog and regular DP Peter Zeitlinger navigate the metal walkways inside the caves and some of the artwork is fascinating, providing glimpses of another era.

As experts talk about what’s inside, this is intercut with footage of academics talking about their findings.

The German auteur brings his probing curiosity to the interviews, discovering that a scientist used to be a circus juggler and also finding some gentle comedy in how hunting with spears might have worked thousands of years ago.

Using graphics and computer models, the film also details the relative flurry of activity that has taken place since the mid-90s as scientists have mapped the dimensions of the cave and the nature of the rock inside.

What prevents the film from being just another nature programme is Herzog’s unique presence, as his distinctive voice and working methods lend a quirky gravity to proceedings.

He seems equally absorbed by the challenges of filming outside and inside the caves, at one point using a prototype remote controlled drone (operated by Jonathan Watts) to capture shots of the local landscape.

For such a veteran director, the use of 3D cameras might seem a radical departure but it is far removed from the CGI spectacle of mainstream features using the format and enhances the claustrophobic beauty of the caves.

When the film ventures outside, the effect is less dramatic although a scene where someone literally pokes a spear towards the camera may suggest Herzog is having a laugh at Hollywood’s current adoption of the format (he has since stated that he will never use 3D again).

The atmosphere is enhanced considerably by Ernst Reijseger‘s score, which fuses strings and choral singing to compelling effect and helps create the sense of awe the film reaches for.

Cave of Forgotten Dreams is more restrained than Herzog’s previous documentaries, even though he still crams in a segment involving a radioactive albino crocodile, but the awe-inspiring subject matter and the maverick sensibilities of the director make for a perfect match.

Cave of Forgotten Dreams opens in the UK on March 25th

> Official site
> More reviews and links about Cave of Forgotten Dreams at MUBi
> Find out more about Werner Herzog and the Chauvet Cave at Wikipedia
> Find out what UK cinemas are showing the film at Picturehouse and Find Any Film
> Facebook group
> Details of a live Q&A with Herzog (via satellite) on March 22nd

Cinema Reviews Thoughts

Animal Kingdom

A superbly crafted Australian crime drama filled with excellent performances marks a stunning debut feature for director David Michôd.

Set in Melbourne, and loosely based on real events, it tells the story of Joshua Cody (James Frecheville), a teenager who joins a crime family headed by his grandmother, Janine ‘Smurf’ Cody (Jacki Weaver).

We gradually realise that his new suburban home is a snake pit of illegality featuring a sinister eldest son Pope (Ben Mendelsohn), his business partner Baz (Joel Edgerton), the livewire drug dealer Craig (Sullivan Stapleton) and the quiet Darren (Luke Ford).

When a local police officer (Guy Pearce) engaged in a lengthy battle with the family tries to tempt Joshua to help him bring down the Cody family, things start to escalate.

Skilfully avoiding crime movie clichés, Animal Kingdom has a distinctive, brooding menace that you rarely see in modern cinema, let alone the crime genre.

This is a claustrophobic and unpredictable world in which hardly anyone can be trusted and where slow burning tensions instantly explode.

Interestingly, the focus is kept mostly on the Cody clan and the police form a shadowy background presence, popping up like eagles snatching eggs from the family nest.

It works more as a riveting character study than a conventional crime film and features some brilliant ensemble acting: Frecheville is quietly brilliant as the protagonist; Weaver is wonderfully charismatic as the Lady Macbeth matriarch and Mendelsohn is hypnotic as one of the creepiest villains in recent film history.

Michôd must be given huge credit for the fact that this is a crime movie with no obvious influences. At times it appears to be channelling Michael Mann and Michael Haneke, but it has its own unique flavour.

Part of what makes the film so effective is that terror can lurk in the most everyday places, so the audience – like the protagonist – is always kept on edge and doesn’t quite know who to trust.

One scene in which a car reverses out of a suburban garage is masterfully wrought with dread and tension.

The confident, widescreen visuals by DP Adam Arkapaw are highly effective, contrasting the shadowy, interior worlds of bungalows and offices with the harsh exterior light of Southern Australia.

A distinctive score by Antony Partos adds to the atmosphere of dread and overall Michôd has crafted one of the most accomplished films to come out of Australia in recent years.

> Official site
> Reviews of Animal Kingdom at Metacritic and MUBi
> David Michôd at the IMDb

DVD & Blu-ray Reviews

DVD & Blu-ray: The Social Network

One of the best films of 2010 gets a solid array of features including an excellent making of documentary.

The Social Network begins with Harvard student Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) getting dumped by a girl (Rooney Mara) which prompts him to hack in to the campus computer network as revenge, whilst blogging about his reasons for doing so.

This brings him to the attention of Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss (played by Armie Hammer) and Divya Narendra (Max Minghella), who approach him with the idea of a social network site, but Zuckerberg opts to create his own version with the help of his friend Eduardo Severin (Andrew Garfield).

Originally called TheFacebook it is an instant success at Harvard and campuses across the US, which leads Zuckerberg to California where entrepreneur and Napster co-founder Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake) helps him approach investors.

The narrative is intercut with flashforwards to various legal depositions, in which characters explain the conflicts which would later arise, with the Winklevoss twins and Narenda claiming Zuckerberg stole their idea, whilst Severin (who initially bankrolled the site) falls out with Zuckerberg over Parker’s influence.

Aaron Sorkin’s sculpted rat-a-tat dialogue provides a mixture of humour, pathos and insight in presenting what Facebook did to the founders, as well as the overall ironies for them and the wider culture that embraced it.

David Fincher might also seem a counter-intuitive choice, but aside from directing with his customary skill and taste, he manages to ramp up the drama by keeping things simple and focused. Compared to his previous work it moves quickly and the editing and structure all ground the information in a tight and engrossing package.

The director’s customary dark visual palette is on display again, but the balanced compositions from cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth nicely dovetail the crispness of the digital images, which were shot on the Red One digital camera.

Building on the visual look of the film, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross provide a wonderfully discordant score which not only complements the action but feels like a groundbreaking use of music in a mainstream film.

The performances are excellent across the board: Eisenberg hits the right notes as a brilliant and surprisingly sympathetic anti-hero, Garfield depicts the dry wit and regret of the forgotten man in Facebook’s creation; Armie Hammer (with the help of SFX wizardy) is terrific in the dual role of the ‘Winklevii’ and Justin Timberlake is surprisingly strong as the rebellious entrepreneur Sean Parker.

Like Fincher’s Zodiac (2007)  is a densely constructed film that plays very well on repeated viewings.

For some it will be the cautionary parable of a website which connected over 500 million virtual friends which also broke up the actual friends that created it.

For others Mark Zuckerberg could become like Gordon Gekko, an unlikely figure of inspiration to a generation who use technology to change old assumptions and beliefs.

With its mix of potent ideas and impeccable craft, it is a likely Oscar contender and deserves the recognition and kudos, as it paints a fascinating picture of age old tensions at the heart of new technology.

Sony have done an excellent job with the Blu-ray and the audio and visual transfer is outstanding.

The extra features in the 2-disc special edition are extensive and provide a lot of insight into the filmmaking process.

Disc One

  • Director’s Audio Commentary: Director David Fincher discusses the tone, casting process, the performances, adapting the film from the source materials, mixing drama and realism, visual effects and more.
  • Writer and Cast Audio Commentary: Aaron Sorkin and the main cast – Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Justin Timberlake, Armie Hammer, and Josh Pence – discuss working with Fincher, what it was like on set, the score and give their take on the events depicted in the story.
  • BD-Live.

Disc Two

  • How Did They Ever Make a Movie of Facebook? (1080p, 1:32:43): This four-part documentary, split in to sections called Commencement, Boston, Los Angeles, and The Lot, mixes a lot of on-set footage with cast and crew interviews, covering the the pre-production and shooting in some depth.
  • Jeff Cronenweth and David Fincher on the Visuals (1080p, 7:48): The DOP and director discuss how the visual look of the film and the challenges of shooting digitally.
  • Angus Wall, Kirk Baxter, and Ren Klyce on Post (1080p, 17:24): Fascinating look at how the 268 hours of footage were edited down to the final cut, exploring the editing and sound design.
  • Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross, and David Fincher on the Score (1080p, 18:55): Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross discuss how they came up with the film’s groundbreaking score.
  • In the Hall of the Mountain King: Music Exploration (1080p): An early, discarded version of the music for  the Henley Regatta sequence compared with what we seen in the final film.
  • Swarmatron (1080p, 4:28): Trent Reznor describes an instrument that featured heavily in the film’s score.
  • Ruby Skye VIP Room: Multi-Angle Scene Breakdown (1080p): An interactive feature in which allows you to watch the Ruby Skye nightclub sequence from four different perspectives: rehearsal, interviews, tech scout and principal photography.

> Buy The Social Network on Blu-ray or DVD from Amazon UK
Official site
The Social Network at the IMDb
Find out more about Facebook at Wikipedia

DVD & Blu-ray Reviews

DVD & Blu-ray: Winter’s Bone

One of the genuine indie breakout hits of the past year, Debra Granik’s compelling drama provided a star-making role for Jennifer Lawrence and was a reminder that darker, intelligent films outside of the studio system can make an impact.

Set in the Ozarks and adapted from Daniel Woodrel’s novel, it is the story of 17 year-old Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence), who has to find her missing father after he has used the family house as a way of securing his bail.

Faced with losing her home, Ree challenges the local community for answers and gradually uncovers a web of deceit in an area blighted by crime, drugs and poverty.

Shot with a keen eye for detail, writer-director Granik managed to skilfully combine the tropes of a serious drama within the framework of a thriller, as the central character gradually uncovers the mystery surrounding her missing father.

Along the way we see all manner of shifty characters, ranging from relatives (John Hawkes), friends (Sheryl Lee) and witch-like locals (Dale Dickey) who might hold the key to finding Ree’s father.

In addition it is also a powerful study in courage, as the female protagonist not only has to provide for her family but also venture into the a darker world run of local crime, which largely revolves around the buying and selling of crystal meth.

In a remarkably mature performance, Jennifer Lawrence conveys just the right amounts of determination, anger and intelligence, without ever resorting to cliché.

It has been accurately described as a star making turn, but the fact that there are precious few roles like this for any actresses, even in more high-profile films, is still a depressing sign of the times.

However, the supporting cast is also excellent with John Hawkes especially good as the ambiguous uncle who may or may not be an ally, and the blend of non-actors with the main cast is faultless, but never showy.

Granik immersed herself in the area and shot much of the film in the houses of local residents, many of whom appear in the film, and there is a harsh authenticity to the film which is startling, even for an independent film like this.

The wintry landscape of the Ozarks is superbly evoked and the rich atmosphere is enhanced by the use of local songs and music, some of which are performed on camera by locals.

It deservedly reaped a lot of acclaim at Sundance 2010, where it won the Grand Jury Prize as well as the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award for Granik and her co-writer Anne Rosellini.

Despite the grim rural setting and the unflinching depiction of the crystal meth problem in the rural South, distributor Roadside Attractions helped it become one of the major indie success stories of the year, as it grossed over $7m worldwide and landed 4 Oscar nominations.

All the success must have been gratifying for Granik after her previous film, the addiction drama Down to the Bone (2004), struggled to get distributed due to its downbeat subject matter.

The DVD & Blu-ray release comes of the back of last week’s Oscar nominations, which should provide a good word-of-mouth boost and the chance for discerning audiences to catch the film.

Shot digitally on the Red One camera, the film looks especially good on Blu-ray with its cold and semi-monochromatic look.

The UK disc unfortunately omits the director’s commentary, but features the following extras:

  • The Making of ‘Winter’s Bone’ (46:38): A slow but fascinating assembly of behind the scenes footage, featuring sequences being set up and some revealing B-roll footage.
  • Four Deleted Scenes (10:07): The deleted scenes are shown alongside Granik giving notes and preparing her actors.
  • Hardscrabble Elegy (2:59): This musical segment is taken from Dickon Hinchliffe’s distinctive score and set to wintry locations featured in the film.
  • Alternate Opening
  • Theatrical Trailer

Winter’s Bone is out on Monday 31st January from Artificial Eye

> Buy Winter’s Bone on Blu-ray and DVD from Amazon UK
> Review of Winter’s Bone at Metacritic
> Find out more about the Ozarks at Wikipedia

Cinema Reviews Thoughts


Three parallel stories connected by life after death make for an ambitious but disappointing drama.

Clint Eastwood’s directing career over the last few years has encompassed diverse subject matter, including female boxing (Million Dollar Baby), World War II (Falgs of Our Fathers, Letters From Iwo Jima), retired car workers (Gran Torino), missing children (Changeling) and the 1995 Rugby World Cup (Invictus).

But even by his eclectic standards Hereafter is something of a curveball, exploring how three characters across the globe are affected by the afterlife in different ways.

There is a French TV presenter (Cécile de France) obsessed with death after narrowly surviving the 2004 Asian Tsunami; a former psychic (Matt Damon) in San Francisco who feels cursed by his ability to communicate with the dead; and a London schoolboy (Frankie McLaren) struggling to cope after losing his twin brother.

Scripted by Peter Morgan, best known for political dramas The Queen (2006) and Frost/Nixon (2008), the material boldly dives in to big themes but as it progresses feels curiously disjointed and more like an early draft of something more profound.

The intercutting of the three stories at first feels like a bold move but soon becomes wearying and as the film enters into the final act, the curious lack of tension or revelation for a subject as big as death feels oddly underwhelming.

All this is exacerbated by Eastwood’s signature pared down directing style which (with the exception of the opening) keeps things low key and distant.

This gave his better films of recent years (Mystic River, Letters From Iwo Jima) a slow burning power and richness, but here it works against the material, muting the themes and emotions of the lead characters.

There are parts of the film that show promise: the San Francisco section handles the potentially laughable subject of psychics with an elegant restraint and Damon conveys the loneliness of a decent man haunted by a strange gift.

In a similar way, Cécile de France is convincing as a career woman profoundly touched by death and a scene where she visits a clinic, hints at a more interesting film about humans can briefly experience the afterlife.

Instead the afterlife is presented through the cliché of quick cuts, sound effects and glowing white CGI which is both disappointing and underwhelming.

This is compounded by the London section, which not only bungles key details of the 2005 London bombings (getting the tube stations wrong) but suffers from a dramatic inertia, compounded by a bizarre final section in the city which is lacking in tension.

Morgan’s initial script may have stood out in Hollywood because he wrote it on spec – rather than be commissioned by a studio – and the unusual elements might have piqued Eastwood’s interest because they weren’t chasing an industry trend.

(Strangely, films dealing with death and loss suddenly now appear to be more common, with Never Let Me Go, Biutiful, Enter the Void and Inception all exploring these themes in different ways.)

To be fair to the veteran director, his handling of the locations and interior scenes is impressive, with Tom Stern’s lean and clean cinematography featuring a little more movement than their previous collaborations.

Eastwood’s score is also a plus, with the guitar and piano providing a nice counterpoint to the struggle of the different characters struggling to comprehend their situations.

Some scenes hint at what might have been: such as a quietly disturbing psychic reading on a first date; the startling opening sequence and a brief discussion about the commonality of near-death experiences.

The film deals with the subject of death without the loud bombast favoured by mainstream cinema and moves at a reasonable, if fractured, pace but the story never really digs deep or rises to be anything special.

A set of underdeveloped ideas and a patchwork, dislocated narrative provide a weak foundation, which means that by the curiously uninvolving climax you might have forgotten it is about arguably the biggest subject of all.

Ultimately Hereafter is a film which chooses not to stare death in the face, but give it a distracted, passing glance.

> Official site
> Reviews of Hereafter at Metacritic
> Clint Eastwood at the IMDb

Cinema Reviews Thoughts

True Grit

This beautifully crafted Western from the Coen Brothers is a much richer adaptation of the Charles Portis novel than the 1969 film version.

It begins in Arkansas during the 1870s with a young girl named Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) hiring grizzled US Marshal Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) to track down her father’s killer (Josh Brolin).

A Texas Ranger named Le Beouf (Matt Damon), who is also after Chaney, joins them as they head out into Indian Territory (present day Oklahoma) and, despite their differences in age and temperament, gradually form a close bond.

Although regarded by some as a remake of the film that finally won John Wayne his first Oscar, this is actually more faithful to the original novel, preserving the point of view of Mattie and its distinctive depiction of the Wild West.

Both the town of Fort Smith and the rugged surrounding landscape are recreated with consummate skill: regular cinematographer Roger Deakins shoots the terrain with a harsh beauty and Jess Gonchor’s production design helps create a detailed, but never romanticised, world.

The wintry setting makes for palette which emphasizes blacks, browns and greys, which is in stark contrast to the garish Technicolor of the Henry Hathaway film.

Aspects of the setting such as the rough way of life and the violence also mark this out from the previous version.

Not only does this help make the current film distinctive but also provides a convincing backdrop for the actors to shine, although it might surprise some audiences how much of a presence Steinfeld has in the film.

In what is effectively the lead role, she anchors the narrative and acts as a surrogate for the audience, as we see much of the action through her perspective.

A precocious performance, it is amongst the best any child actor has given in recent years and bodes well for her future career.

As Cogburn, Bridges banishes any lingering memories of Wayne in the role, mixing the grizzled, boozy charm of his country singer in Crazy Heart with the believable tough streak of a hardened lawman.

Damon has the slightly lighter role of Le Beouf (pronounced ‘Le Beef’), but his comic timing is impeccable and provides an excellent foil for Bridges and Steinfeld.

All three main actors cope well with the affected dialogue, which the Coens have gleefully taken straight from the novel, and this is mirrored by quirky ‘Coenesque’ behaviour, which involves characters shooting at cornbread and arguing about Confederate guerrillas.

With less screen time, actors such as Brolin and Barry Pepper (as ‘Lucky’ Ned Pepper) make a strong impression and there are the usual array of distinctive, odd-looking minor characters that often crop up in the work of the Coens.

Carter Burwell’s plaintive score is moving without ever being sentimental and provides a highly satisfying mix of hymns, strings and piano to augment the action.

Despite featuring the ironic tone so beloved of the Coen Brothers, there is a pleasing sincerity to Mattie’s quest, as her scripture-fuelled journey captures her determination and spirit, which rubs off on the men around her.

This is something that is movingly depicted as the film reaches its latter stages.

Certain memorable sequences, such as a group hanging or the climax, skilfully weave humour in with genuine tension, showing the light and shade of the West as originally imagined by Charles Portis.

Since the book and previous film came out in the cultural tumult of the late 1960s, the image of John Wayne cast a long shadow over the source material, obscuring the way in which Portis slyly undercut the very traditions of the Western that ‘Duke’ embodied.

The Coens have translated this humour and pathos for a time of similar cultural transition, making a Western that both celebrates and wryly debunks the genre.

A reminder of their prodigious filmmaking talent, it is also an evocation of a distant time and place that feels strangely radical in the current era of Hollywood.

True Grit is out in the US and opens in the UK on Friday 11th February

> Official site
> Reviews of True Grit at Metacritic
> More on the Charles Portis novel at Wikipedia
> The Coen Brothers at the IMDb
> NY Times profile of Charles Portis

Cinema Reviews

The Green Hornet

A flat take on minor comic book character is a curious waste of all the talents involved.

This story featuring the masked vigilante, who previously appeared in radio serials, comic books and a TV series, updates the action to modern day Los Angeles.

When Britt Reid (Seth Rogen), inherits his father’s media empire, he decides to turn his life around and become a crime fighter with the help of a mysterious employee named Kato (Jay Chou).

After recruiting a new secretary (Cameron Diaz), Britt (aka The Green Hornet) takes on a Russian crime boss (Christoph Waltz) who is controlling the city’s underworld operations.

Unlike more recent superhero adaptations, the tone here is closer to an irreverent 1980s action-comedy, with the script by Rogen and Evan Goldberg showing glimpses of their work on Superbad (2007) and Pineapple Express (2008).

There are some amusing moments, mainly between Rogen and Chou as they get to know each other, but mostly this is formulaic stuff.

One dimensional characters, explosions, Matrix-style fight sequences and a general feel of creative auto-pilot make you wonder if Michel Gondry actually directed this.

After all, he is the man behind a flurry of inventive music videos and one of the great films of the last decade in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004).

The only trace of his considerable visual talents is a trippy ‘explanation’ sequence towards the end – that feels weirdly out of place – and some action shots designed for 3D.

Which brings us on to another problem with the film, which was the decision to post-convert the film into 3D.

Technically it looks quite sharp (although it wasn’t shot on dedicated 3D cameras) but it is used in a gimmicky way and overall was my first experience of a 3D-induced headache.

I’m unsure why this was the case, but it may have something to do with the amounts of quickly cut, meaningless action on display and the way in which it has been shot with even the most perfunctory scenes adapted for the third dimension.

Rogen and Chou have an agreeable chemistry together but nearly every other actor is given little to chew on.

Waltz seems to have been asked to repeat his creepy-but-funny Nazi routine from Inglourious Basterds and Diaz has a depressingly thin role as an obligatory love interest.

After a decade of superhero movies, it feels like major studios are scraping the bottom of the barrel when it comes to characters.

The Green Hornet seems like a depressing portent of things to come, as B-list superheroes are reycled for the Comic-Con generation.

Like 3D, it seems like there are a lot more of these films to come.

> Official website
> Reviews of The Green Hornet at Metacritic
> More about The Green Hornet character at Wikipedia

Cinema Reviews

Blue Valentine

The changes in a long-term relationship are examined with rare intimacy in this second feature from writer-director Derek Cianfrance.

Over the course of several years we see how a young couple, Dean (Ryan Gosling) and Cindy (Michelle Williams), fall in and out of love over a number of years.

Juxtaposing their initial, youthful courtship (shot on super 16mm) with their marital struggles (filmed on the Red One digital camera), it employs clever framing along side the contrasting visual palettes to convey how their lives have changed.

The narrative and visual design is impressive, conveying the passage of time and providing a highly effective counterpoint for the two stages of their relationship.

Co-written by Cianfrance, Cami Delavigne and Joey Curtis, the script manages to avoid the clunking clichés that can haunt mainstream relationship movies.

Not only does it contain telling details that reveal much about the characters, it also significantly leaves room for speculation as to what happened in the intervening years.

Cianfrance and DP Andrij Parekh also shoot scenes with a vivid sense of being in the room with these characters. At times the effect can be claustrophobic, but it heightens the drama without resorting to cheap theatrics.

But what really gives Blue Valentine added kick is the two lead performances: Gosling is a convincing as a genuinely decent man, whose lack of ambition and devotion to his young daughter (Faith Wladyka), make him a bad husband but a good father.

Williams in some ways has the harder role, as a frustrated wife pushing for change but finding herself increasingly isolated in her wants and desires. Together, they form a completely believable couple in both sections of the film.

The almost total lack of false beats in their scenes together seems like a product of Cianfrance giving his actors room to improvise and feel like awkward, real people instead of puppets controlled by a screenwriter.

One of the most astute elements of the film is the way in which it depicts the snowballing conflicts in a crumbling relationship, when innocent words and actions quickly become weapons seized upon by the frustrated parties.

There are other aspects to admire: an atmospheric score from Grizzly Bear, solid – if fleeting – supporting performances from John Doman, Mike Vogel and Ben Shenkman; and an exploration of class, which is rare in most American movies.

The considered pace and often raw emotions might prevent Blue Valentine from breaking out of the indie realm, but it has already garnered deserved praise on the festival circuit at Sundance and Cannes.

Coupled with strong awards season buzz, it marks a remarkable turnaround for Derek Cianfrance, who has persevered for years to follow up his first feature Brother Tied (1998).

The independent film world is currently in a state of crisis, with many films outside the studio ecosystem struggling to be financed or distributed, but the existence of this film is a heartening reminder that the indie flame can still burn brightly.

Blue Valentine opens in the UK on January 14th and is currently on limited release in the US.

> Official site
> Blue Valentine reviews at Metacritic
> Derek Cianfrance at the IMDb

Cinema Reviews Thoughts

The Way Back

An epic escape from a Russian gulag during World War II forms the backdrop for Peter Weir’s first film in seven years.

Loosely based on Slavomir Rawicz’s book “The Long Walk: The True Story of a Trek to Freedom” (more of which later), The Way Back begins with an soldier named Janusz (Jim Sturgess) being sent to a remote Siberian prison camp on trumped up charges of spying.

After enlisting the help of inmates to escape, including an ex-pat American (Ed Harris) and a tough gang member (Colin Farrell), the group venture on a massive trek across Asia where they meet an orphan (Saoirse Ronan), struggle to survive and attempt to reach the safety of India.

Weir shoots everything with convincing detail: the prison camp is believably hellish and the landscapes form a frequently stunning backdrop as the prisoners venture across sub-zero Russia, the Gobi Desert and the Himalayas on their way to India.

Visually, the film feels grittier than one might expect, with D.P. Russell Boyd appearing to use a lot of natural light and the splendour of the landscapes are frequently intercut with shots of blisters and the physical cost of the journey.

The performances all round are solid: Sturgess and Harris stand out as the two lynchpins of the group; Farrell is charmingly gruff; Ronan has presence and depth and Mark Strong is believably seductive as a prison camp veteran with his own agenda.

As a narrative experience, the initial tension of the prison break quickly becomes a fight for survival as the group struggle to eat, stay warm and avoid all manner of hardships involving the harsh landscape.

This means that it lacks conventional tension, but there is a certain pleasure in the gruelling sprawl of the story as they keep moving across a bewildering variety of landscapes and adverse weather conditions on their 4,000-mile trek.

Sequences that particularly stand out are the initial prison break in a blizzard, a lake infested with mosquitoes, a harsh desert which drives them to the brink and the latter stages which involve some famous Asian landmarks.

For the most part it is absorbing and features well drawn characters, even though it occasionally suffers from the problem of mixing English and native dialogue, which in the modern era diminishes the overall authenticity of the film.

The film hinges on the central character’s desire to get back home (hence the title) to see his wife, which we see in a recurring vision, and it is hard not to be moved by the climactic depiction of the personal set against the historical.

But although The Way Back is an undeniably powerful experience, there is a problem at the very heart of the adaptation which directly relates to the original book that inspired it.

Although Rawicz’s account was acclaimed for a number of years, in 2006 the BBC discovered records that essentially debunked his version of events, even though there is evidence to suggest that the journey may have been undertaken by other people.

Peter Weir was fully aware of the controversy surrounding the book when he made the film, hence certain key changes, and overall it demonstrates the taste, tact and intelligence that has informed his career.

But given the extraordinary nature of the journey there is something dispiriting about finding out the truth about Rawicz, even if the actual trek may have been done by someone else.

It remains a powerful and handsomely constructed piece of cinema but also suffers from the shady origins of its source material.

> Official site
> The Way Back at the IMDb
> BBC News story on the controversy surrounding the book and its road to the screen

Cinema Reviews Thoughts


An increasingly mysterious online relationship forms the backdrop for a compelling documentary.

The first thing to say about Catfish is that you should know as little as possible before seeing it.

This was a common refrain when it premièred to buzz and acclaim at Sundance back in January, but it really is true.

So, even though this review won’t reveal full spoilers, if you haven’t seen the film I’d highly recommend you stop reading this right now and come back after watching it.

It begins when Nev, a 24-year-old photographer based in New York, is contacted online by Abby, an 8-year-old girl from Michigan, who wants permission to paint one of his photos.

An online correspondence develops with Abby’s family and things get stranger when Nev also virtually befriends Abby’s older sister, Megan, who appears to be a musician and model.

Up to this point everything we see has been filmed by Nev’s brother Ariel Schulman along with their friend Henry Joost, and in a pivotal scene Ariel persuades his sibling to actually meet Abby and Megan in the real world.

This is when things get really interesting, with the gradually unfolding mystery playing like a suspense thriller.

Except this is arguably more exciting, as fictional films can often be predictable and this is anything but that, as we share the curiosity and excitement of the three young men on screen.

It also explores the impact of modern technology and how the web has gradually embedded itself into the rituals of everyday life, through mobile devices, email, social networking sites and video.

These issues are reflected in the form of the film, which was co-directed by Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost. The raw footage was shot handheld on consumer digital cameras and the online elements are cleverly integrated into the overall look.

When they set off on a journey we see it through a Google Maps graphic; we see close-ups of the central characters using Facebook and the visual look of the film reflects a generation who don’t think twice about filming their everyday lives.

The titles and graphics are tastefully rendered and the editing is especially noteworthy, managing to build and maintain the raw suspense whilst never letting the basic story drag.

Watching it with an audience at the London Film Festival was fascinating: they audibly gasped at certain moments and it seemed to tap right in to contemporary questions and fears about how people connect online.

Unsurprisingly, it made a big impact at Sundance and was the subject of a bidding war before being acquired by Rogue Pictures and Universal, who gave it a limited US release last October.

But it was also at Sundance that some viewers began to ask questions about the film and doubt its veracity as a documentary.

This is where the story gets even more interesting: does the film have a ‘truth problem’? Was it manipulated for effect? Is it even a documentary?

In a year that has seen ‘fake’ documentaries like Exit Through The Gift Shop and I’m Still Here, such questions seem to reflect a wider ambiguity about the genre itself.

As for Catfish, there are nagging doubts that creep in retrospectively.

Was it always their intention to make a film? Would a group of savvy New Yorkers really be this naïve about strangers online? Are the events that unfold too structurally perfect?

There is also one scene where they look at videos on YouTube which seems like the audio has been altered in post-production, although this may not be the case.

Charges that the film is a fake documentary have been vigorously denied by the filmmakers ever since the likes of Morgan Spurlock and Zach Galifianakis cast doubt on it at Sundance.

Unless there is compelling evidence to suggest otherwise, proving whether the film was real or not is possibly a rabbit hole from which no definitive conclusion can be drawn.

As for my own take, it seems that the film is basically real but polished in post-production to the point where people began to have nagging doubts about its presentation of events.

Whatever the truth, it seems fitting that a film which depicts the uncertainty of online identities should have its own personality crisis.

Despite, or possibly because of this, Catfish is still a notable achievement.

It captures a cultural mood, inspires instant debate and stretches the documentary form in new and imaginative ways.

Catfish opens at selected UK cinemas on Friday 17th December and is also available to watch on various VOD platforms including iTunes, Lovefilm and Sky Box Office

> Official site
> My strange Catfish experience at the London Film Festival
> Reviews at Metacritic
> Movieline and Moviefone on the ‘truth’ of Catfish (Spoilers)
> Guardian article on Catfish (Major spoilers so don’t read unless you’ve seen the film)

Cinema Reviews Thoughts

Tron: Legacy

After 28 years, the Tron franchise is resurrected with a visually stunning but emotionally hollow update to the original film.

The first film was about a brilliant software engineer, Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges), who enters into a virtual world whilst this sequel picks up many years later as his son Sam (Garrett Hedlund) tries to solve the disappearance of his father.

Responding to a mysterious message he finds himself pulled into the world where Kevin has been trapped.

Aided by a female warrior Quorra (Olivia Wilde), father and son have to escape the new digital universe and the clutches of those who now rule it.

The original film was by no means a huge hit, but it was a pioneering film that used computer graphics and live action in a way that foreshadowed the revolution in CGI over the last 30 years.

Disney’s decision to reboot Tron for a new generation, seems to be an attempt to engage audiences who remember it and to adapt the technology driven story for the current digital age, utilising cutting edge 3D and digital effects.

On a purely technical level, the film largely succeeds.

Director Joseph Kosinski has a background in architecture and commercials and the look of the film is remarkable.

Not only are the individual visual effects impressive, but the alternate digital world of ‘The Grid’ is brilliantly realised by the effects team from Digital Domain.

The dark, neon lit landscape is a dazzling upgrade from the first film and the stylised costumes, light cycles, discs and various vehicles all provide a feast for the eyes in both the action sequences and calmer moments.

Utilising a similar 3D camera system on which Avatar was shot has paid off, using the frame in an immersive, considered way which contrasts with recent productions which unwisely opted for retrofitted 3D in post-production.

The one visual misstep involves a digital version of Bridges, which only serves to highlight the difficulty in crossing the ‘uncanny valley‘ when using motion capture characters on screen.

But there is a deeper problem at the heart of Tron: Legacy, which is the chasm between the pioneering visuals and the writing.

The script by Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis feels clunky and episodic, like episodes of TV show cobbled together in a rush or levels on a computer game that are just there to be completed.

This leads to an inherent lack of drama and consequence to the material, despite the visual pyrotechnics that make it so captivating to look at. It also means the performances suffer, as the characters are often just cogs in a wheel.

Hedlund is a generic young lead who lacks charisma; in contrast, Bridges has presence and gravitas as the elder Flynn, whilst these qualities are absent in his younger alter-ego C.L.U.; Wilde looks and feels right for her part, but has little to do except kick some obligatory butt.

In supporting roles Michael Sheen seems to be doing a camper version of David Frost as a mysterious club owner and actors such as James Frain and Beau Garrett also feel like elaborate props rather than actual characters.

Despite these fundamental drawbacks, the score by Daft Punk is absolutely epic: a wonderful mixture of their trademark electronica with a full orchestra that gives the whole film an extra kick.

It is curious to predict how audiences will react to Tron: Legacy as it references a lot of the original film and yet at the same time feels quite different.

Disney have opted not to re-release the original, so its presence lingers over this sequel in a strange way: are they worried about it looking dated in comparison or just planning for releasing both films on Blu-ray and DVD at a later date?

Certainly the original, whilst groundbreaking, wasn’t a huge hit and there has to be a concern that a new generation might be a little confused as to why this new film exists and why it took nearly thirty years to warrant a sequel.

If you look closely at the end credits you’ll see the filmmakers thank the fans of Hall H at Comic-Con, the annual convention which has held such a sway over Hollywood in recent years.

This film has been a fixture there since 2008 when Joseph Kosinski and producer Sean Bailey gauged interest for the project with test footage and even earlier this year where they recorded audio from the crowd, presumably for the arena sequence.

But is there a danger of Hollywood pandering to the geek-fuelled fantasies of Comic-Con?

Given that Disney has spent a rumoured $200 million on this film, they will be anxiously hoping that mainstream audiences are as passionate as fans in Hall H.

The finished film reflects the strange journey it has had to the screen, as it is both technically dazzling and structurally disjointed.

Although Disney can expect a big opening, the film’s shortcomings as a drama and possible confusion as to what it actually is (a sequel to a semi-cult 1982 film) could mean it struggles to have an impact on the wider culture.

> Official site
> Reviews of Tron Legacy at Metacritic
> Find out more about Tron at Wikipedia
> Details on the Daft Punk score


Blu-ray: Inception

Christopher Nolan’s ambitious heist film was one of the most talked about blockbusters of the year and Warner Bros have given it a worthy Blu-ray release.

The story revolves around a gang of hi-tech thieves led by international fugitive Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio), who steals valuable information from people’s dreams.

After a job on a Japanese businessman (Ken Watanabe) goes wrong, he is faced with the daunting challenge of ‘inception’: instead of stealing information, he must secretly plant some inside the mind of an wealthy tycoon (Cillian Murphy).

Assembling a team of experts (which includes Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page and Tom Hardy) who can help him execute the mission, he must also deal with his own troubled past, which endangers his ability to do the job at hand.

For writer-director Nolan, this is a return to the territory of previous films such as Memento (2000) and The Prestige (2006), where he explores the themes of illusion and reality whilst playing an imaginative game with the audience.

We are firmly in the realm of science-fiction here, but interestingly the settings are very real world: imagine if Michael Mann had decided to mash up The Matrix with Ocean’s Eleven and you’ll get some idea of the terrain here.

With some concessions, the subconscious dream worlds appear as realistic as the conscious waking world, creating a persistent question as to which is real: a clever conceit, given that cinema itself is arguably the closest art form to a dream.

There are many stylistic nods to action films of the 1960s: a team of experts assembled for a job; glamorous locations; vivid production design and costumes; and a sense of mystery and wonder.

The Bond films of that decade seem a particular touchstone – one sequence plays like a homage to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969) – and there are echoes of TV series from that era, such as Mission: Impossible and The Prisoner.

The huge success of The Dark Knight has allowed Nolan a particularly large canvas on which to paint, and he has filled it with gleeful abandon, mixing the traditions of the spy thriller and heist movie inside a surreal, shifting dreamscape.

Cutting between the real and virtual worlds bears similarities to The Matrix (minus the bleak, sci-fi dystopia) and Avatar (minus the alien planet) and Inception appears to be drawing from the same cultural well as those films.

Their success appears to be how they tap into the virtual nature of modern existence (through social networks and the web) as well as the escapist nature of watching a film, as a reality unfolds before us on screen.

All this is helped by being presented in an intriguing story on a grand scale, with the technical aspects especially outstanding.

The production design by Guy Hendrix Dyas is stunning, using real world locations to marvellous effect; Wally Pfister’s cinematography (utilising several formats including 35mm, 65mm and Vista Vision) captures intense emotions and epic action beautifully.

The visual effects (by Double Negative and Plowman Craven) are stunning and augment the in-camera action so well that they never feel like conventional CGI.

In addition, there are some highly imaginative sets overseen by special effects supervisor Chris Corbould, especially one amazing sequence involving a hotel, which bears comparison to similar scenes in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001.

A special mention must also go to editor Lee Smith, as the third act involves some inventive warping of time and space, which must have proved a particular challenge in the edit suite.

Much of Nolan’s previous work rewards repeated viewing, revealing a meticulous attention to detail and subtleties not always apparent first time around.

The same is true for this film and viewers will be pleased that it is up to very high technical standards of Nolan’s recent films on Blu-ray (The Prestige and The Dark Knight), arguably surpassing them.

Nolan and his D.P. Wally Pfister are take great care in how they shoot and master their films and visually Inception looks stunning in HD, with the varied landscapes of the film and all the action sequences depicted with amazing clarity and detail.

The audio is equally impressive and, if you have the right sound system, the powerful DTS HD Master Audio Track is crisp and powerful, especially in the action sequences.


Warner Brothers have released this in a three-disc version: Disc One includes the film with a special ‘Extraction Mode’ feature which allows viewers to access making of footage; Disc Two is dedicated solely to special features; and Disc Three contains the DVD and Digital Copy data.

  • Extraction Mode (Disc 1, HD): This allows viewers to access over 45 minutes of behind-the-scenes featurettes alongside with Nolan and his crew as they discuss the ideas, characters, performances, and visual effects. Rather than use the traditional Picture-in-Picture mode it goes between the main film and Warner’s making-of materials. (An added bonus is that the individual behind-the-scenes featurettes can also be accessed from the main menu.)
  • 5.1 Inception Soundtrack (Disc 2, HD, 39 minutes): Hans Zimmer’s epic score is presented in 5.1 surround sound via a DTS-HD Master Audio mix and the only negative here is that the screen remains empty during all of them.
  • Dreams: Cinema of the Subconscious (Disc 2, HD, 44 minutes): Joseph Gordon Levitt hosts this documentary about dreams which features doctors, psychologists, scientists and other experts to discuss the science of sleep.
  • Inception: The Cobol Job (Disc 2, HD, 15 minutes): This was released on the website to tie in with the theatrical release and is a Motion Comic, explaining the backstory of how Cobb, Arthur and Nash were enlisted by Cobol Engineering.
  • Project Somnacin: Confidential Files (Disc 2, HD): This allows you to access the secret tech files for Inception’s dream-share technology through a BD-Live portal.
  • Conceptual Art Gallery (Disc 2, HD): Over thirty pieces of concept art and pre-production images.
  • Promotional Art Archive (Disc 2, HD): A collection of the US and international posters for the film.
  • Trailers and TV Spots (Disc 2, HD, 16 minutes): A theatrical teaser, two full trailers and thirteen TV spots.

There is also a Limited Edition Briefcase edition that consists of a briefcase containing the Triple play pack (Blu-ray/DVD/Digital Copy), a spinning top, theatrical Dream Machine leaflet and four art cards showing the main key art.

Inception is out on Blu-ray and DVD on Monday 6th December from Warner Home Video

> Buy Inception on Blu-ray or DVD from Amazon UK
> Official site
> Inception at the IMDb
> Reviews of Inception at Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes
> Various Inception links at MUBI
> Find out more about Christopher Nolan at Wikipedia

Cinema Reviews Thoughts


A low budget monster movie fused with a mumblecore romance is a refreshing change for the genre even if excitement is lost at the expense of mood.

Set a few years after mysterious alien creatures have landed in Mexico, a photojournalist (Scoot McNairy) is ordered to escort his publisher’s daughter (Whitney Able) to the safety of the US.

However, due to various circumstances it becomes a difficult task as they venture through the ‘infected zone’, which contains various giant monsters which can harm humans and property.

Although it begins with a dramatic opening sequence, director Gareth Edwards has opted to invert the traditional monster action movie with a greater focus on personal relationships, as creatures for part of the background atmosphere.

Shot on a low budget and relying heavily on improvisation, the film paints a convincing picture of life during a social crisis, as the characters are forced to improvise and travel with a constant threat lurking in the background.

Technically the film duplicates the look of much bigger budget rivals with clever use of digital cameras and also uses the landscapes of Guatemala, Mexico and Texas to full effect.

A special effects professional, Edwards utilises his skills to augment the natural landscapes with digitally created objects including helicopters, enormous barriers and various fantastical creatures.

For the most part this creates a highly believable setting, further heightened by the naturalistic performances from his two leads and the non-actors who populate the supporting cast.

McNairy and Able have a chemistry and a believable awkwardness which provides a solid foundation for what is essentially a road movie as they journey with bodyguards and mercenaries to the US border.

Shot guerrilla-style, the film has an impressively convincing feel which stands out because it eschews many of the conventions of the monster movie, even though the setup has many similarities to Cloverfield (2008) and District 9 (2009).

It could be argued that it is too successful in sacrificing adrenaline for realism. Apart from a couple of sequences, especially the climax, audiences might be surprised at the lack of excitement on screen.

More of a relationship movie than one might, for a film called Monsters there isn’t actually a lot of monster action in it.

This paradox means it lacks the traditional excitement of the genre, but it still has a unique flavour as a kind of mumblecore sci-fi drama and a clever, narrative twist should provide audiences with a talking point as they leave the cinema.

Technically it punches well above its weight, with Edwards combining several roles with impressive aplomb: in addition to directing he also served as D.O.P and visual effects artist.

But this is an accomplished film across the board: the effective use of sound, Colin Goudie’s editing and an ambient electronic score by Jon Hopkins are also crucial in giving the film a convincing feel and atmosphere.

Monsters is a striking debut and, although probably costlier more than some reports have suggested, bodes well for Edwards’ future efforts as a director.

> Official site
> Monsters at the IMDb

Cinema Reviews Thoughts

The Fighter

Although it follows the well worn traditions of a boxing drama, this tale of fighter ‘Irish’ Micky Ward is elevated by some fine acting and energetic direction.

Based on real events, it is the story of two very different fighters from Lowell, Massachusetts: Micky (Mark Wahlberg), a welterweight hoping to establish himself as a prize fighter; and Dickie Eklund (Christian Bale), his half-brother and trainer, whose own boxing career fizzled out into crack addiction.

It is also explores the wider tensions within their large Irish family, which include his tough mother-manager (Melissa Leo), father (Jack McGee) and several sisters.

The central drama is powered by Micky’s inner conflicts as he is forced to choose between his increasingly unstable family setup or opt for a new trainer and management on the advice of others, including his bartender girlfriend (Amy Adams).

Viewers will find little new in the general framework of this film: a fighter has to overcome obstacles, juggle professional needs and personal relationships and suffer setbacks before getting a chance at redemption through a climactic fight.

So far, so familiar, but what elevates The Fighter above the sub-genre are some brilliant performances and canny direction: the cast is uniformly excellent and O’Russell digs deep into these characters rather than just coasting on genre tropes.

Wahlberg is restrained but sympathetic in the title role (reminiscent of his breakout role in Boogie Nights) and he physically convinces as a professional boxer.

Bale is sensational as his brilliant but flawed mentor.

He admittedly has the showier part but, like his turns in American Psycho (2000) and The Machinist (2004), his physical transformation is remarkable and he injects Dicky with an intoxicating charm.

In key supporting roles, Leo is tough and brilliantly overbearing as the mother whilst Adams matches her, giving her potentially clichéd ‘girlfriend role’ a lot more substance than is usual for films in this genre.

Working from a screenplay by Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy and Eric Johnson, director David O’Russell uses his considerable skills to transcend the limitations of the conventional boxing movie.

Part of this involves some brilliant camerawork from Hoyte Van Hoytema, which makes great use of handheld and Steadicam, drawing us in to the world of the characters and infusing the film a restless, raw energy.

Another clever element is the visual look of the boxing sequences, shot on video to duplicate the TV look of HBO pay-per-view fights in the 1990s, with ringside reactions, instant-replays and image pixilation.

This has a parallel in the HBO crew that follow Dicky around for a documentary about his struggles and it could be argued that the title may refer to both brothers.

Like his best films, O’Russell seems to inspire technical excellence across the board: the acting, cinematography, Pamela Martin’s editing, and the convincing period detail are all stellar and they combine to create a convincing portrait of the boxing world.

It is hard not to sense parallels between Dicky and O’Russell, as the director has gained a reputation as a maverick: he scuffled with George Clooney on Three Kings (1999); screamed at Lily Tomlin on I Heart Huckabees (2004) and reportedly put Christopher Nolan in a headlock (!) at a Hollywood party.

His most recent film Nailed was shut down after financial problems, and may not even be released, but like Dicky he is a brilliant talent with a loyal champion in Mark Wahlberg, who was instrumental in getting this film made.

It is a shame that since Three Kings, one of the best and most subversive films released by a major studio, that he has struggled to make more inside the Hollywood system.

The Fighter is a compelling comeback story, not just of a boxer and his trainer, but also of its director.

The Fighter is released in the US on December 18th and in the UK on February 4th 2011

> Official site
> The Fighter at the IMDb
> Find out more about Micky Ward and Dicky Eklund at Wikipedia

Cinema Reviews Thoughts

The American

Anton Corbijn’s second film as a director is a stylish, existential drama about an enigmatic American hiding out in a remote Italian town.

Beginning with a prologue in wintry Sweden, we first see the titular character, Jack (George Clooney), as circumstances force him to relocate to the Abruzzo region in Italy.

There we slowly learn more about him: he makes a rifle for an assassin (Thekla Reuten) under the orders of his handler (Johan Leysen), befriends a priest (Paolo Bonacelli) and falls for a local prostitute (Violante Placido), as he begins to think about changing his life.

Although The American appears to be channelling the minimalist crime dramas of Jean-Pierre Melville (especially Le Samouraï), the form and structure resemble a Sergio Leone western, with its story of a stranger arriving in a new town, extended silences and widescreen visuals.

Careful viewers may note that Leone’s Once Upon A Time in The West can be seen on a television in one sequence and that some of his westerns were shot in the same region back in the 1960s.

Despite the crime elements, this is not an action movie and is essentially a suspense drama revolving around Jack’s gradual construction of a gun and his relationships with various characters, who may or may not be trusted.

It is also deliberately ambiguous about various elements: Jack is a gunsmith but could also be a hit man; a group of characters are simply referred to as ‘the Swedes’; and there is the mystery of why the gun is being constructed.

As a vehicle for Clooney, this is an unusually European film – despite being a US/UK production – and the slow burn pacing and gradual revelations will probably limit its appeal to a mass audience.

The trailer and TV spots have misleadingly sold it as an action thriller (Corbijn recently said that he directed the film ‘but not the trailer’) but its respectable opening in the US probably meant the box office ends were justified by the marketing means.

But there is much to appreciate and right from the opening sequence Corbijn and his cinematographer Martin Ruhe, working together again after Control, demonstrate their considerable visual abilities.

The snowy landscapes of Sweden and the misty, old world charms of rural Italy are captured with exquisite clarity and the artful compositions are often stunning.

Rowan Joffe’s screenplay appears to have some key differences with the novel it’s based on (A Very Private Gentleman by Martin Booth), but the sparse dialogue provides a neat fit for Corbijn’s visual approach.

Clooney is in downbeat mode, but like his performances in Michael Clayton and Syriana it plays against his usual charming screen persona and he convincingly conveys the weary solitude of the central character.

The supporting characters tend to fit in to types: the impossibly soulful and glamorous prostitute, the wise old priest and the impatient boss, but the actors who play them are convincing.

Their chemistry with Clooney also works well, be it in the unusually frank sex scenes, chats in the graveyard, gun tests in the forest or sinister conversations in a restaurant.

Another captivating aspect is how the rifle is actually constructed. Corbijn depicts Jack’s handiwork in detail as each part is assembled with a loving care that contrasts with its ultimate use as an instrument of death.

There is also an effective sense of unease that is gradually teased throughout the film, as everyday events gain a sinister edge due to the danger and mistrust involved in the business of killing people.

This atmosphere is enhanced by Herbert Gronemeyer‘s minimal, atmospheric piano-and-percussion score which, like the poster, evokes the tone of similar films from the 1970s.

As with his debut feature, Corbijn has crafted another considered and tasteful film.

Although the cool, European flavour won’t be for everyone, it bodes very well for his future career as a director.

The American opens in the UK on Friday 26th November

> Official site
> The American at the IMDb
> Reviews of The American at Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes
> Interview with Violante Placido about The American

DVD & Blu-ray Reviews

Blu-ray: Toy Story 3

The third film in the Toy Story series sees Andy leaving for college and donating his beloved toys – including Woody (Tom Hanks) and Buzz (Tim Allen) – to a daycare centre, where they soon realise things aren’t what they seem.

Directed by Lee Unkrich, it was a richly deserved critical and commercial triumph for Pixar, which managed maintain the high standards of the first two films and concluded the trilogy with wit, emotion and technical brilliance.

Continuing to explore the comedic conceit of toys who come alive whilst humans aren’t looking, this film reaches into more reflective territory as characters age and start to consider mortality.

The fact that it can convincingly do this whilst laying on lots of layered gags about new toys is part of the genius of Pixar, who have become so skilled at this kind of film making that a generation of viewers probably doesn’t realise how lucky they have been to witness these films first time around.

As with previous films transferred to Blu-ray, the digital source material helps make for a highly impressive transfer, as good as those of Cars, Ratatouille, Wall-E and Up.

The colours are especially vibrant and the world of Sunnyside Daycare has been rendered with marvellous attention to detail.

Given that this is the most successful film of the year, we could expect a decent presentation from Disney and the overall image quality is absolutely pristine.

The extra features on the Blu-ray include the following:

Disc 1 – Blu-ray:

  • “Day & Night” Theatrical Short
  • Buzz Lightyear Mission Logs: The Science Of Adventure

Disc 2 – Blu-ray:

  • Toy Story Trivia Dash – Interactive Game
  • Cine-Explore With Director Lee Unkrich & Producer Darla Anderson
  • Beginnings: Setting A Story In Motion
  • Bonnie’s Playtime – A Story Roundtable With Director Lee Unkrich
  • Roundin’ Up A Western Opening
  • Beyond The Toy Box: An Alternative Commentary Track
  • Paths To Pixar: Editorial
  • 3 Studio Stories

Disc 3 – DVD:

  • “Day & Night” Theatrical Short
  • Buzz Lightyear Mission Logs: The Science Of Adventure
  • The Gang’s All Here – A Look At Returning Voice Talent
  • 3 Studio Stories

Toy Story 3D is out now on DVD and Blu-ray from Walt Disney Home Entertainment

> Buy Toy Story 3 on Blu-ray or DVD from Amazon UK
> Find out more about the Toy Story series at Wikipedia

DVD & Blu-ray Reviews

Blu-ray: Metropolis (Restored and Reconstructed)

Fritz Lang’s 1927 silent film about a sprawling, futuristic city, remains one of the most influential in early cinema and this newly restored version adds 25 minutes of footage never seen before.

Set in a society divided into two classes, with workers toiling underground and rich bosses living high above them in skyscrapers, it depicts the class struggles in capitalism.

When the son of a boss notices a beautiful woman one day, he discovers the underground world of workers who keep the city running and sets in motion a drama which involves the founder of the city, an inventor and scores of workers.

A gargantuan production, it was one of the most expensive film ever made at Germany’s UFA, consuming more than half the studio’s annual production budget.

Metropolis was adapted from a novel and drew on previous science fiction sources – notably H.G. Wells, who disliked the film – and Lang’s own experiences of seeing the Manhattan skyline at night for the first time.

Initially, it was not a financial success and nearly bankrupted the studio, but over time its dystopian vision and indelible images have proved enormously influential on films such Bride of Frankenstein, Blade Runner and Dark City (as well as David Fincher’s 1989 video for Madonna’s Express Yourself which is a direct homage).

Like a lot of silent films, it can be difficult for modern viewers to adjust to the older visual grammar and cutting styles of the time, but the images are still remarkable and this is as good as the film has ever looked.

Eureka have done an excellent job with the transfer, given the materials they had to work with, and the restored footage cuts in well with the pre-existing material.

The quality of the print unearthed in 2008 means that there are still stains and damage (even after the digital cleanup) and a black bar is noticeable whenever it cuts to the newer stuff.

Of particular note is a 55 minute documentary that explores the restoration process and the painstaking archival work of the Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnau-Stiftung after the missing 25 minutes of footage were found in Buenos Aires.

The audio commentary by David Kalat and Jonathan Rosenbaum is also highly informative.

Here are the extras in full:

  • 150-minute reconstructed and restored 2010 version (including 25 minutes of footage previously thought lost to the world)
  • Separate DVD and BD editions with wraparound embossed sleeve, or Ltd Ed Steelbook Dual Format edition
  • Pristine new HD transfer (1080p on Blu-ray)
  • New 2010 symphony orchestra studio recording of the original 1927 Gottfried Huppertz score in 5.1
  • Newly translated optional English subtitles as well as the original German intertitles
  • Full-length audio commentary by David Kalat and Jonathan Rosenbaum
  • Die Reise nach Metropolis (2010, 53 minutes), a documentary about the film
  • 2010 re-release trailer
  • 56-page booklet featuring archival interviews with Fritz Lang, a 1927 review by Luis Buñuel, articles by Jonathan Rosenbaum and Karen Naundorf, and restoration notes by Martin Koerber

Metropolis (Reconstructed & Restored) is released today by Eureka as part of their Masters of Cinema Series

> Buy Metropolis (Reconstructed & Restored) on Blu-ray or DVD from Amazon UK
> Find out more about the film at Wikipedia and IMDb

DVD & Blu-ray Reviews

Blu-ray: Avatar Extended Collector’s Edition

James Cameron’s sci-fi blockbuster finally gets the special edition treatment with the Avatar: Collector’s Extended Edition (20th Century Fox Home Entertainment) after a barebones release back in the Spring.

In case you didn’t catch what is now the most financially successful film in history at cinemas, the story involves an ex-Marine (Sam Worthington) who to an exotic alien planet where is caught between a battle between the natives and the human colonists.

The image quality of the original Blu-ray transfer was stunning. Even without the 3D aspect, which helped bump up ticket sales in cinemas, the quality of the visuals is exemplary with the live action and visual effects shots integrating wonderfully.

With this extended edition the major selling point is that this package contains three different cuts: the original theatrical release, the special edition re-release, and the exclusive extended cut not shown in theaters.

Added to this are around eight hours of bonus features that exhaustively detail the production of the film.

The three discs break down as follows:

Disc 1: Three Movie Versions

  • Original Theatrical Edition (includes family audio track with objectionable language removed)
  • Special Edition Re-Release (includes family audio track with objectionable language removed)
  • Collector’s Extended Cut with 16 additional minutes, including alternate opening on earth

Disc 2: Filmmaker’s Journey

  • Over 45 minutes of never-before-seen deleted scenes
  • Screen tests, on-set footage, and visual-effects reels
  • Capturing Avatar: Feature-length documentary covering the 16-year filmmakers’ journey, including interviews with James Cameron, Jon Landau, cast and crew
  • A Message from Pandora: James Cameron’s visit to the Amazon rainforest
  • The 2006 art reel: Original pitch of the Avatar vision
  • Brother termite test: Original motion capture test
  • The ILM prototype: Visual effects reel
  • Screen tests: Sam Worthington, Zoë Saldana
  • Zoë’s life cast: Makeup session footage
  • On-set footage as live-action filming begins
  • VFX progressions
  • Crew film: The Volume

Disc 3: Pandora’s Box

  • Interactive scene deconstruction: Explore the stages of production of 17 different scenes through three viewing modes: capture level, template level, and final level with picture-in-picture reference
  • Production featurettes: Sculpting Avatar, Creating the Banshee, Creating the Thanator, The AMP Suit, Flying Vehicles, Na’vi Costumes, Speaking Na’vi, Pandora Flora, Stunts, Performance Capture, Virtual Camera, The 3D Fusion Camera, The Simul-Cam, Editing Avatar, Scoring Avatar, Sound Design, The Haka: The Spirit of New Zealand
  • Avatar original script
  • Avatar screenplay by James Cameron
  • Pandorapedia: Comprehensive guide to Pandora
  • Lyrics from five songs by James Cameron
  • The art of Avatar: Over 1,850 images in 16 themed galleries (The World of Pandora, The Creatures, Pandora Flora, Pandora Bioluminescence, The Na’vi, The Avatars, Maquettes, Na’vi Weapons, Na’vi Props, Na’vi Musical Instruments, RDA Designs, Flying Vehicles, AMP Suit, Human Weapons, Land Vehicles, One-Sheet Concepts)
  • BD-Live extras (requires BD-Live-enabled player and Internet connection–may be available a limited-time only): Crew Short: The Night Before Avatar; additional screen tests, including Stephen Lang, Giovanni Ribisi, Joel David Moore, CCH Pounder, and Laz Alonso; speaking Na’vi rehearsal footage; Weta Workshop: walk-and-talk presentation

Avatar Collector’s Extended Edition is out today from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

> Buy it on Blu-ray or DVD from Amazon UK
> IMDb entry

DVD & Blu-ray Reviews

Blu-ray: The Karate Kid

The remake of the 1984 film about a teenager who uses martial arts to defeat bullies is surprisingly good given the potential pitfalls that surrounded the project.

In this version a 12-year old kid named Dre (Jaden Smith) and his mother (Taraji P. Henson) move to Beijing from Detroit to start a new life.

Once there he falls for a young violinist (Wen Wen Han) which leads to bullying from the local kung-fu prodigy (Zhenwei Wang) until an enigmatic maintenance man Mr. Han (Jackie Chan) comes to his aid by teaching him how to defend himself.

When producer Jerry Weintraub was approached with the idea of remaking the original he was understandably sceptical, as not only was it going to be relocated to China, but instead of Karate the main character would learn Kung-Fu.

A quick screenplay fix helped solve the glaring contradiction of the title, but the finished result is an entertaining affair whose only sin is that it goes on about 30 mins too long.

Smith is an agreeable lead, precociously charming throughout and convincing in the fighting sequences whilst Chan steals the show as the Chinese successor to Mr Miyagi, displaying the charm and physicality of his earlier career.

Director Harald Zwart makes this a more visually expansive film than the original, using the landscapes of China to full effect be it the Great Wall, the Wudang Mountains or Beijing itself.

A US-Chinese co-production, the filmmakers presumably got a lot of visual bang for their buck by filming it in China and it makes for a refreshing family-friendly drama in an era of CG-driven blockbusters based on comics.

Whilst a remake with more than a few nods to the original, it stands on its own as a drama and its success at the US box office (where it convincingly beat The A-Team remake on its opening weekend in June) was testament to the across-the-board appeal.

The Blu-ray transfer is particularly pristine 1080p transfer that conveys colours, details and depth with unusual clarity and the historical backdrops come across beautifully with the extensive use of crane shots giving it an added epic feel.

  • On Location: The Karate Kid Interactive Map of China
  • Alternate Ending
  • Play All Hosted by Jackie Chan
  • Production Diaries Hosted by Jackie Chan
  • Chinese Lessons – Learn Chinese!
  • Music Video: Justin Bieber Featuring Jaden Smith “Never Say Never”
  • Just for Kicks: The Making of The Karate Kid
  • movieIQ+sync
  • PS3 Wallpaper Theme
  • Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC
  • Video resolution: 1080p
  • Aspect ratio: 2.40:1
  • Original aspect ratio: 2.39:1
  • English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
  • French: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
  • Subtitles: English, English SDH, French
  • 50GB Blu-ray Disc
  • Two-disc set (1 BD, 1 DVD)
  • Digital copy (on disc)
  • Digital copy PSP (on disc)
  • DVD copy
  • BD-Live
  • movieIQ

The Karate Kid is out today from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

> Buy The Karate Kid on Blu-ray or DVD from Amazon UK
> Reviews at Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes
> IMDb entry

Cinema Reviews Thoughts

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1

The penultimate Harry Potter film is a darker affair as the teenage wizard and his friends go on the run from the forces of Lord Voldemort.

Given that this is the last stretch of the series, it is worth a brief recap of the film series so far, just in case you aren’t a devoted fan of the books.

  • Philosopher’s Stone (2001): Harry enrols at Hogwarts, a school for wizards headed by Professor Dumbledore, where he makes friends with Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger. We learn Harry’s parents were killed by the evil Lord Voldemort, who wants to become human and kill him too.
  • Chamber of Secrets (2002): Returning to Hogwarts, Harry learns about a series of attacks on students and a secret chamber where he has to kill a large serpent and defeat Lord Voldemort’s ‘memory’, which is in an enchanted diary.
  • Prisoner of Azkaban (2003): Harry hears an escaped murderer named Sirius Black is after him but realises Black was framed and is actually his godfather.
  • Goblet of Fire (2005): Harry enters the Triwizard Tournament at Hogwarts and witnesses the return of Lord Voldemort to human form.
  • Order of the Phoenix (2007): Harry forms a secret student group after Hogwarts comes under the influence of a new teacher and ends up having to fight Voldemort’s followers (Death Eaters) at the Ministry of Magic.
  • Half-Blood Prince (2009): Harry learns how Voldemort has been using special artefacts (‘Horcruxes’) to become immortal and sees his mentor Dumbledore killed by Severus Snape, a teacher at Hogwarts who Harry has had suspicions about.

With The Deathly Hallows, Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) leave Hogwarts and – following clues left by the late Dumbledore – go in search of Horcruxes which will help them kill Voldemort, whilst avoiding the clutches of his followers.

Although there were financial benefits gained by splitting the final book into two films, given its length and sprawling nature, it also allows the filmmakers to do it justice.

But if you are planning on catching the latest film without having seen all the others, don’t even bother: director David Yates and screenwriter Steve Kloves have constructed this so that knowledge of the series (either book or film) is a pre-requisite.

This is also considerably darker in tone as the threat of Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) lurks around every corner, forcing Harry and his friends to go on the run as they search for the elusive Horcuxes across the land.

Danger and threat are a constant and the impressively staged set-pieces include an opening mission to escort Harry to safety; a wedding that gets horribly interrupted; an audacious raid on the Ministry of Magic and lengthy stretches in the countryside, where the characters grapple with their various frustrations.

The huge fanbase and family audiences around the world are going to lap this up and there is no doubt that another Potter-fuelled box office bonanza is on the cards, even though the climactic Part 2 next summer will probably be the bigger hit.

Like the more recent films it is proficiently made, with handsome production values and another addition to what is now the most profitable franchise in film history.

But at this point, the series represents an intriguing paradox.

Their colossal success has meant they have become longer and potentially more of a slog for those who aren’t committed Potter fans.

At the same time they have become technically more interesting as the production resources have grown and allowed the directors greater creative scope.

It was a trend that kicked in on the third film (which was visually a step up from the first two) and the last two directed by David Yates, which have employed more adventurous visuals and production values.

Yates has demonstrated his ease with the material and it will be interesting to see where he goes post-Potter: these films with their mix of character and spectacle suggest he could make CGI-driven blockbusters or smart, upscale dramas.

For this kind of film, audiences automatically expect the special effects, production design and costumes to be of a high standard and this doesn’t disappoint, blending them seamlessly in with the drama.

Despite this, the most memorable sequences involve some old fashioned trickery: a Mission Impossible-style break-in to the Ministry of Magic provides laughs and tension through clever use of actors and sound, whilst old-school animation powers a striking episode explaining the Deathly Hallows of the title.

Eduardo Serra’s cinematography is especially impressive in the outdoor sequences, which includes an exciting chase in the woods and some neat matching of real life environments with CGI backdrops.

Another interesting aspect, which clearly came from the source material, is the allusions to a totalitarian state, racism (the oppression of Muggles), the media (is The Daily Prophet some kind of Daily Mail clone?) and even torture.

J.K. Rowling has been vocal about her dislike of right-wing governments, but is this final instalment some kind of masked parable about the might-is-right mantra of the Bush and Blair years?

Clearly this isn’t going to register with large chunks of the audience just there for some wizard action, but it may be something older viewers chew on when they reconsider the series.

But as someone who has never read the books and only experienced the stories at a cinema, coming out of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 raised questions about the longevity of these films.

Will they be as beloved in years to come, or will they be seen as creatures of this decade which just happened to cast a spell on audiences at a particular moment in time?

> Official site
> Find out more about the Harry Potter series at Wikipedia
> Reviews at Metacritic

Cinema Reviews Thoughts


Tony Scott’s latest film is stimulating mainstream fare that may strike an unexpected chord with American audiences.

After last year’s remake of The Taking of Pelham 123, Scott has returned with another film involving a train starring Denzel Washington.

The setting this time is rural Pennsylvania and, inspired by true events, it deals with two railway engineers (Denzel Washington and Chris Pine) who must stop a runaway train which is loaded with toxic chemicals.

The supporting characters include a plucky yardmaster co-ordinating the rescue (Rosario Dawson); a weasly corporate boss (Kevin Dunn); a visiting safety inspector (Kevin Corrigan); and a persistent railroad welder (Lew Temple).

Like much of Scott’s work, this is a nakedly commercial project executed with considerable technical skill, utilising his stylistic palette: multiple cameras, desaturated images, whip-pans, crash zooms and frenzied editing.

Whilst not as visually hyperactive as recent films like Man on Fire (2004) or Déjà vu (2006), it still retains the director’s trademark energy.

Perhaps the most welcome aspect is how quickly we are plunged into the drama, as the train is let loose before the opening credits have even finished.

What follows is essentially an extended chase, filled with the hallmarks of a traditional action film: set pieces, explanatory dialogue, characters gradually learning to respect one another and a grand finale which involves frequent cutaways to crowd cheering crowd in a bar.

In the wrong hands this could be deeply average and clichéd, but under Scott’s direction there is an invigorating professionalism to the whole film that elevates it above most studio fare.

The likeable lead and supporting performances help, whilst the script does a taut and efficient job of making them seem believable people coping with extraordinary events.

But it’s in the action sequences that the film really earns its money, as Ben Seresin’s camerawork and some dramatic sound design all expertly crank up the tension.

One thing Hollywood often gets wrong is the depiction of news TV coverage, but here the graphics and presentation are highly believable and form another perspective to the action as relatives and viewers tune in via television.

The setting of the film might well have been influenced by the tax incentives afforded by shooting in Pennsylvania, but it captures the wintry vibe of rural, working class America very well for what is ostensibly an action drama.

Given the current state of the U.S. economy and the devastation wrought on rust-belt states like Pennsylvania and Ohio, the film might have an unexpected resonance with mainstream audiences affected by the recession.

Throughout the film, the heroics and stoicism of Washington and Pine are contrasted with corporate types that care more about their company’s profits than their employees.

Clocking in at an agreeably lean 98 minutes, Fox might have a bigger hit on their hands than they initially thought.

The central concept easily sells itself and in an age of CGI fantasies and films pandering to nerds, Unstoppable might hit a nerve amongst audiences looking for traditional, expertly crafted drama involving real people.

Unstoppable opens in the US on Friday 12th November and in the UK on Friday 26th November

> Official site
> CNN on the 2001 incident that inspired the film
> Reviews of Unstoppable at Metacritic

DVD & Blu-ray Reviews

Blu-ray: Carlos

Carlos (Optimum Home Entertainment): An epic project from director Olivier Assayas, who has brilliantly recreated the life and times of the Venezualan revolutionary terrorist known as ‘Carlos the Jackal’ (Eduardo Ramierez).

It charts his early years as a violent revolutionary in Europe as he proves his worth to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP); missions for states such as Iraq, Libya and East Germany; an infamous kidnapping of OPEC oil ministers in Vienna in 1975 and his gradual decline as he sought refuge in Eastern Europe, Syria and Sudan as he struggled to cope with the end of the Cold War before finally being caught by French agents in 1994, where he currently resides in jail under a life sentence.

An ambitious French TV project, it got two kinds of theatrical release: a three part five and a half hour cut and a shortened 165 minute version. Now the DVD and Blu-ray versions are out there isn’t much excuse feasting on the full version.

The extras include:

  • Making-of featurette
  • Interview with Edgar Ramírez
  • Interview with Olivier Assayas (BD-exclusive)

The specs are:

  • Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC
  • Video resolution: 1080p
  • Aspect ratio: 2.35:1
  • Original aspect ratio: 2.39:1
  • French: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
  • French: DTS 2.0
  • Subtitles
  • English
  • 50GB Blu-ray Disc
  • Three-disc set (3 BDs)

* Read my full review of Carlos from the LFF *

> Buy Carlos on Blu-ray or DVD from Amazon UK
> IMDb entry

DVD & Blu-ray Reviews

Blu-ray: Three Kings

Three Kings (Warner Bros.): Set during Operation Desert Storm this brilliant 1999 drama  is the story of four US soldiers (George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, Ice Cube and Spike Jonze) who loot $23 million in gold hijacked from Kuwait by Saddam Hussein’s army.

The third film from director David O’Russell (after Spanking the Monkey and Flirting With Disaster) was one of the best films of its year, a daring hybrid of Kelly’s Heroes and M*A*S*H featuring some dazzling visuals, fine performances and manages to entertain whilst also making pointed commentary about US foreign policy.

The special features include:

  • Two audio commentaries: The first is a highly informative track by director David O. Russell who discussing various elements in detail. The second by producers Charles Roven and Edward L. McDonnell and
  • On the Set of ‘Three Kings’ (21:32)
  • On the Set of ‘Three Kings’ with Production Designer Catherine Hardwicke (10:15)
  • The Cinematography of ‘Three Kings:’ An Interview with Director of Photography Newton Thomas Sigel (7:06)
  • Director David O. Russell’s ‘Three Kings’ Video Journal (13:37)
  • An Intimate Look Inside the Acting Process with Ice Cube (2:21)
  • Deleted Scenes (6:37)
  • Trailer (2:10)

> Buy it on Blu-ray or DVD from Amazon UK
> Three Kings at the IMDb

Documentaries Festivals London Film Festival Reviews

LFF 2010: Inside Job

Charles Ferguson’s documentary explores the global financial crisis with devastating clarity and paints a deeply troubling picture of the relationship between financial and political elites.

Within the space of just two hours, using interviews, graphics, impressive editing and a sober narration from Matt Damon, Inside Job takes us through the causes of the current economic meltdown.

Beginning with a startling prologue examining how Iceland’s economy was essentially ruined by big finance, it sets up in microcosm the the wider story of how, over a period of 30 years, successive governments have allowed large financial institutions to inflate an economic system until it eventually burst in the autumn of 2008.

Interviewing a variety of experts and policy makers including Nouriel RoubiniGeorge Soros, Eliot Spitzer, Barney Frank and Christine Lagarde it takes us step-by-step through the deregulation of the financial industry under successive presidents from Regan onwards.

We are presented with a non-partisan examination of how Republicans and Democrats were seduced by financial sector: the Reagan-era deregulation of Wall Street, which led to the Savings and loan crisis; the Clinton administration’s numerous mistakes in repealing key laws designed to minimize risk in the financial sector; the lack of regulation under Bushthe rise in derivatives (increasingly complex and dangerous financial ‘innovations’); and finally the Obama administration, which made the mistake of employing Clinton-era officials who were part of the original problem.

Although a lot of the information presented here has been explored in other books and TV programmes (such as the BBC’s The Love of Money), to see it presented in a single film is both constructive and chilling.

Ferguson himself cross-examines a number of government and private sector officials – though many of the key culprits refused to be interviewed – and his probing questions elicit some revealing requests to stop filming when they appear unexpectedly thrown by certain questions.

One startling aspect of the film is how much academics, supposedly independent from Wall Street banks, are actually paid by them for opinions or even serve on their boards – a clear conflict of interest which several of them appear oblivious to.

Using a sober tone throughout, the narration, interview footage and graphics all collate and explain the financial jargon of CDOs, credit default swaps and the policies which left much of the public scratching their head as they tried to process the full extent of what happened.

But this is more than just an academic primer: featuring widescreen lensing, aerial shots of New York and some appropriate music (the opening credits feature Peter Gabriel’s ‘Big Time’) it is a cinematic experience, which visually reflects the gravity of the subject.

The relentless approach is both appropriate and effective, although it also reveals some ghoulish comedy when exploring the widespread use of cocaine and prostitutes on Wall St and the stuttering angst of interviewees caught out by Ferguson’s well-researched questions.

One of the most damning aspects to arise from Inside Job is the incestuous nature of the relationship between Washington and Wall Street.

The revolving door connecting the political and financial worlds, along with figures such as Henry Paulson, Lawrence Summers and Robert Rubin, has effectively shielded large banks from any effective regulation.

The result of this has been the largest financial crash in history, which almost brought down the whole banking system in 2008 and resulted in millions of people losing their jobs and homes.

The only thing that prevented a full scale collapse was the bailout of the banks at the taxpayers expense.

But this was essentially socialism for the rich, in which the public paid the price for the irresponsible actions of political and financial elites.

Inside Job might appear to be an incendiary title, but it is wholly appropriate: two years on from the averted meltdown, there appears to be no meaningful financial reform and the governments appear to have little taste for prosecuting those who helped cause the crisis.

Partly this is down to the power and influence of the large banks, whose ex-employees litter government and shape policy, as well as pay for political campaigns.

Could the embattled Obama administration, currently suffering because of the economic collapse, find renewed energy in restoring the financial regulations lost over the last thirty years?

Bringing those responsible for the fraud that triggered trillions of dollars in losses would certainly be a vote winner, even if the Wall Street backlash was severe.

That may or may not happen, but in the mean time this documentary is a worthy call to arms: in examining the root causes of the crisis and emphasising the importance of restoring honesty to the global financial system, it is one of the most important films of the year.

Inside Job screened tonight (Oct 27th) and plays tomorrow (October 28th) at the London Film Festival.

It is currently out in the US in limited release and opens in the UK on February 18th February 2011

> Inside Job at the LFF
> Official site
> Detailed press notes for the film (essential reading)
> Reviews of the film at Cannes from MUBi

Cinema Festivals London Film Festival Reviews

LFF 2010: The Kids Are Alright

A perfectly pitched comedy-drama about family tensions, director Lisa Cholodenko’s third film is also a showcase for some stellar acting.

When a Los Angeles lesbian couple, Nic (Annette Bening) and Jules (Julianne Moore), discover their two teenage kids, Joni (Mia Wasikowska) and Laser (Josh Hutcherson), have got in touch with their biological father (Mark Ruffalo) it causes various complications.

As with Chodolenko’s previous films, this is very much a character piece exploring the intricacies and complications of human relationships.

But it is a step up from her last two films, applying a light touch to potentially heavy issues, and much of the enjoyment comes from the actors fitting snugly into their roles, especially the two leads who have their best parts in years.

Bening is excellent as the career-orientated matriarch. As an uptight, wine-loving physician she manages to convey a genuine warmth and affection for her family that often seems hidden beneath her surface anxieties.

Moore gets to explore a more vulnerable side, as someone less interested in a career and who strays of the beaten track in looking for someone to spice up her domestic routine.

The chemistry between the two is striking and they paint a convincing picture of a genuinely loving couple who are nonetheless susceptible to the insecurities and problems of everyday life.

Already attracting awards season buzz, it will be interesting to see which categories both actresses are submitted for. At the moment the smart money is for Bening, but it seemed to me that Moore had slightly more screen time.

In the key supporting roles, Wasikowska and Hutcherson provide a nice contrast to their parents with their charming levelheadedness, whilst Ruffalo exudes a relaxing, easy charm as the man who is a catalyst for unexpected change.

The screenplay, by Cholodenko and Stuart Blumberg, manages to flesh out the characters and impressively depicts underlying tensions, be they of gender, sexuality or background.

Perhaps the most striking aspect of the film is how purely enjoyable it is to watch, moving from scene-to-scene with witty dialogue and organic humour generated from the interaction of the well-drawn characters.

This has the added bonus of dramatic moments arriving with unexpected force and when they do, it is with a lack of bombast unusual for films dealing with relationship problems.

For an independent film, albeit an upscale one, the look and feel of the production is convincing and special credit must go to editor Jeffrey M. Werner who helps move scenes along with an understated ease and fluency.

Added to this is an excellent soundtrack, which seems to reflect the different tastes of the family: for the parents there is David Bowie, Joni Mitchell and The Who, whilst for the kids, we get tracks from Vampire Weekend and MGMT.

Comedy-dramas (or dramatic comedies) can often be a hellish thing to get right, but here Chodolenko strikes just the right balance, with a tone that never takes its characters too seriously, whilst still treating them with respect.

Although the issue of gay marriage is still a contentious one in America, this film goes a long way in putting forward the idea that a happy family doesn’t have to be a conventional one.

Without resorting to grandstanding polemic and instead just showing the bittersweet ups and downs of a loving family, Chodolenko has made a convincing case that the kids will indeed be alright.

The Kids Are Alright screens at the London Film Festival (Monday 25th, Tues 26th and Weds 27th) and opens in the UK on Friday 30th October

> The Kids Are Alright at the LFF
> IMDb entry
> Reviews at Metacritic

DVD & Blu-ray Reviews

Blu-ray: Alien Anthology

Alien Anthology (20th Century Fox): Although essentially a Blu-ray upgrade from the previous Alien Quadrilogy boxset, that was one of the best in living memory, so the added extras make this one worthwhile.

The dilema with purchasing the Alien series in one package is that the first two films are outstanding and the next two are, for different reasons, interesting failures (the less said about the AVP films, the better).

However, the HD transfers for Alien (1979) and Aliens (1986) have been done with considerable care and attention and there is extra material which will be of interest to fans of the series.

James Cameron personally oversaw the new transfer of Aliens, the audio for Alien 3 has been upgraded with Charles Dance and Lance Henriksen recording new dialogue and there is a previously unreleased ‘Alien 3’ documentary which features visual evidence of the nightmare David Fincher had on the set of his directorial debut.

A lot of the interviews are new and extended and Mark Kermode’s excellent ‘Alien Evolution’ documentary is included in an uncut, complete version.

There is also the interactive MU-TH-UR mode, which lets you tag and bookmark topics across the discs and access them later.

The full features breakdown like this:


  • 4 film discs
  • Two versions of each movie (Directors Cut or Special Edition & Theatrical Version) in High Definition, plus commentaries
  • 2 discs of Bonus Material
  • Over 60 hours of extra features, including every piece of bonus material ever released
  • Including over 4 hours of NEVER BEFORE SEEN content
  • New MU-TH-UR Mode, a fully interactive companion takes the extensive materials in the ALIEN ANTHOLOGY and puts them in the user’s hand – connecting fans to special features on all six discs and instantly providing an index of all available ALIEN content.



  • 1979 Theatrical Version
  • 2003 Director’s Cut with Ridley Scott Introduction
  • Audio Commentary by Director Ridley Scott, Writer Dan O’Bannon, Executive Producer Ronald Shusett, Editor Terry Rawlings, Actors Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skerritt, Veronica Cartwright, Harry Dean Stanton and John Hurt
  • Audio Commentary (for Theatrical Cut only) by Ridley Scott
  • Final Theatrical Isolated Score by Jerry Goldsmith
  • Composer’s Original Isolated Score by Jerry Goldsmith
  • Deleted and Extended Scenes
  • MU-TH-UR Mode Interactive Experience with Weyland-Yutani Datastream


  • 1986 Theatrical Version
  • 1991 Special Edition with James Cameron Introduction
  • Audio Commentary by Director James Cameron, Producer Gale Anne Hurd, Alien Effects Creator Stan Winston, Visual Effects Supervisors Robert Skotak and Dennis Skotak, Miniature Effects Supervisor Pat McClung, Actors Michael Biehn, Bill Paxton, Lance Henriksen, Jenette Goldstein, Carrie Henn and Christopher Henn
  • Final Theatrical Isolated Score by James Horner
  • Composer’s Original Isolated Score by James Horner
  • Deleted and Extended Scenes
  • MU-TH-UR Mode Interactive Experience with Weyland-Yutani Datastream


  • 1992 Theatrical Version
  • 2003 Special Edition (Restored Workprint Version)
  • Audio Commentary by Cinematographer Alex Thomson, B.S.C., Editor Terry Rawlings, Alien Effects Designers Alec Gillis and Tom Woodruff, Jr., Visual Effects Producer Richard Edlund, A.S.C., Actors Paul McGann and Lance Henriksen
  • Final Theatrical Isolated Score by Elliot Goldenthal
  • Deleted and Extended Scenes
  • MU-TH-UR Mode Interactive Experience with Weyland-Yutani Datastream


  • 1997 Theatrical Version
  • 2003 Special Edition with Jean-Pierre Jeunet Introduction
  • Audio Commentary by Director Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Editor Hervé Schneid, A.C.E., Alien Effects Creators Alec Gillis and Tom Woodruff, Jr., Visual Effects Supervisor Pitof, Conceptual Artist Sylvain Despretz, Actors Ron Perlman, Dominique Pinon and Leland Orser
  • Final Theatrical Isolated Score by John Frizzell
  • Deleted and Extended Scenes
  • MU-TH-UR Mode Interactive Experience with Weyland-Yutani Datastream


In addition to over 12 hours of in-depth documentaries, these Blu-ray box set has nearly five hours of additional video ‘Enhancement Pods’, presenting behind-the-scenes footage, raw dailies and interview outtakes from all four films. At topical points in the documentaries, you can access these pods to enhance your experience, or watch them on their own from the separate Enhancement Pod index.

The Beast Within: Making ALIEN

  • Star Beast: Developing the Story
  • The Visualists: Direction and Design
  • Truckers in Space: Casting
  • Fear of the Unknown: Shepperton Studios, 1978
  • The Darkest Reaches: Nostromo and Alien Planet
  • The Eighth Passenger: Creature Design
  • Future Tense: Editing and Music
  • Outward Bound: Visual Effects
  • A Nightmare Fulfilled: Reaction to the Film
  • Enhancement Pods

Superior Firepower: Making ALIENS

  • 57 Years Later: Continuing the Story
  • Building Better Worlds: From Concept to Construction
  • Preparing for Battle: Casting and Characterization
  • This Time It’s War: Pinewood Studios, 1985
  • The Risk Always Lives: Weapons and Action
  • Bug Hunt: Creature Design
  • Beauty and the Bitch: Power Loader vs. Queen Alien
  • Two Orphans: Sigourney Weaver and Carrie Henn • The Final Countdown: Music, Editing and Sound
  • The Power of Real Tech: Visual Effects
  • Aliens Unleashed: Reaction to the Film
  • Enhancement Pods

Wreckage and Rage: Making ALIEN3

  • Development Hell: Concluding the Story
  • Tales of the Wooden Planet: Vincent Ward’s Vision
  • Stasis Interrupted: David Fincher’s Vision
  • Xeno-Erotic: H.R. Giger’s Redesign
  • The Color of Blood: Pinewood Studios, 1991
  • Adaptive Organism: Creature Design
  • The Downward Spiral: Creative Differences
  • Where the Sun Burns Cold: Fox Studios, L.A. 1992
  • Optical Fury: Visual Effects
  • Requiem for a Scream: Music, Editing and Sound
  • Post-Mortem: Reaction to the Film
  • Enhancement Pods

One Step Beyond: Making ALIEN RESURRECTION

  • From the Ashes: Reviving the Story
  • French Twist: Direction and Design
  • Under the Skin: Casting and Characterization
  • Death from Below: Fox Studios, Los Angeles, 1996
  • In the Zone: The Basketball Scene
  • Unnatural Mutation: Creature Design
  • Genetic Composition: Music
  • Virtual Aliens: Computer Generated Imagery
  • A Matter of Scale: Miniature Photography
  • Critical Juncture: Reaction to the Film
  • Enhancement Pods
  • MU-TH-UR Mode Interactive Experience to Access and Control Enhancement Pods



  • Pre-Production
  • First Draft Screenplay by Dan O’Bannon
  • Ridleygrams: Original Thumbnails and Notes
  • Storyboard Archive
  • The Art of Alien: Conceptual Art Portfolio
  • Sigourney Weaver Screen Tests with Select Director Commentary
  • Cast Portrait Gallery
  • Production
  • The Chestbuster: Multi-Angle Sequence with Commentary
  • Video Graphics Gallery
  • Production Image Galleries
  • Continuity Polaroids
  • The Sets of Alien
  • H.R. Giger’s Workshop Gallery
  • Post-Production and Aftermath
  • Additional Deleted Scenes
  • Image & Poster Galleries
  • Experience in Terror
  • Special Collector’s Edition LaserDisc Archive
  • The Alien Legacy
  • American Cinematheque: Ridley Scott Q&A
  • Trailers & TV Spots


  • Pre-Production
  • Original Treatment by James Cameron
  • Pre-Visualizations: Multi-Angle Videomatics with Commentary
  • Storyboard Archive
  • The Art of Aliens: Image Galleries
  • Cast Portrait Gallery
  • Production
  • Production Image Galleries
  • Continuity Polaroids
  • Weapons and Vehicles
  • Stan Winston’s Workshop
  • Colonial Marine Helmet Cameras
  • Video Graphics Gallery
  • Weyland-Yutani Inquest: Nostromo Dossiers
  • Post-Production and Aftermath
  • Deleted Scene: Burke Cocooned
  • Deleted Scene Montage
  • Image Galleries
  • Special Collector’s Edition LaserDisc Archive
  • Main Title Exploration
  • Aliens: Ride at the Speed of Fright
  • Trailers & TV Spots


  • Pre-Production
  • Storyboard Archive
  • The Art of Arceon
  • The Art of Fiorina
  • Production
  • Furnace Construction: Time-Lapse Sequence
  • EEV Bioscan: Multi-Angle Vignette with Commentary
  • Production Image Galleries
  • A.D.I.’s Workshop
  • Post-Production and Aftermath
  • Visual Effects Gallery
  • Special Shoot: Promotional Photo Archive
  • Alien3 Advance Featurette
  • The Making of Alien3 Promotional Featurette
  • Trailers & TV Spots


  • Pre-Production
  • First Draft Screenplay by Joss Whedon
  • Test Footage: A.D.I. Creature Shop with Commentary
  • Test Footage: Costumes, Hair and Makeup
  • Pre-Visualizations: Multi-Angle Rehearsals
  • Storyboard Archive
  • The Marc Caro Portfolio: Character Designs
  • The Art of Resurrection: Image Galleries
  • Production
  • Production Image Galleries
  • A.D.I.’s Workshop
  • Post-Production and Aftermath
  • Visual Effects Gallery
  • Special Shoot: Promotional Photo Archive
  • HBO First Look: The Making of Alien Resurrection
  • Alien Resurrection Promotional Featurette
  • Trailers & TV Spots


  • Two Versions of Alien Evolution
  • The Alien Saga
  • Patches and Logos Gallery
  • Aliens 3D Attraction Scripts and Gallery
  • Aliens in the Basement: The Bob Burns Collection
  • Parodies
  • Dark Horse Cover Gallery
  • Patches and Logos Gallery
  • MU-TH-UR Mode Interactive Experience



  • Theatrical Audio: English 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio, English 4.1 Dolby Surround, English 2.0 Dolby Surround, Brazilian Portuguese 5.1 Dolby Digital, French 5.1 DTS, German 5.1 DTS, Latin Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital
  • Theatrical Subtitles: English for the hearing impaired, Brazilian Portuguese, Danish, Finnish, French, German, Latin Spanish, Dutch, Norwegian, Swedish
  • Extended Audio: English 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio, English 2.0 Dolby Surround, Brazilian Portuguese 5.1 Dolby Digital, French 5.1 DTS, German 5.1 DTS, Latin Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital
  • Extended Subtitles: English for the hearing impaired, Brazilian Portuguese, Danish, Finnish, French, German, Latin Spanish, Dutch, Norwegian, Swedish


  • Theatrical Audio: English 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio, English 4.1 Dolby Surround, English 2.0 Dolby Surround, Brazilian Portuguese 5.1 Dolby Digital, French 5.1 DTS, German 5.1 DTS, Latin Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital
  • Theatrical Subtitles: English for the hearing impaired, Brazilian Portuguese, Danish, Finnish, French, German, Latin Spanish, Dutch, Norwegian, Swedish
  • Extended Audio: English 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio, English 2.0 Dolby Surround, Brazilian Portuguese 5.1 Dolby Digital, French 5.1 DTS, German 5.1 DTS, Latin Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital
  • Extended Subtitles: English for the hearing impaired, Brazilian Portuguese, Danish, Finnish, French, German, Latin Spanish, Dutch, Norwegian, Swedish

Alien 3

  • Theatrical Audio: English 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio, Brazilian Portuguese 5.1 Dolby Digital, French 5.1 DTS, German 5.1 DTS, Latin Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital
  • Theatrical Subtitles: English for the hearing impaired, Brazilian Portuguese, Danish, Finnish, French, German, Latin Spanish, Dutch, Norwegian, Swedish
  • Restored Work Print Version Audio: English 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio, Brazilian Portuguese 5.1 Dolby Digital, French 5.1 DTS, German 5.1 DTS, Latin Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital
  • Restored Work Print Version Subtitles: English for the hearing impaired, Brazilian Portuguese, Danish, Finnish, French, German, Latin Spanish, Dutch, Norwegian, Swedish

Alien Resurrection

  • Theatrical Audio: English 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio, Brazilian Portuguese 5.1 Dolby Digital, French 5.1 DTS, German 5.1 DTS, Latin Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital
  • Theatrical Subtitles: English for the hearing impaired, Brazilian Portuguese, Danish, Finnish, French, German, Latin Spanish, Dutch, Norwegian, Swedish
  • Extended Audio: English 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio, Brazilian Portuguese 5.1 Dolby Digital, French 5.1 DTS, German 5.1 DTS, Latin Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital
  • Extended Subtitles: English for the hearing impaired, Brazilian Portuguese, Danish, Finnish, French, German, Latin Spanish, Dutch, Norwegian, Swedish

Alien Anthology is out now from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

> Buy Alien Anthology on Blu-ray from Amazon UK
> Find out more about the Alien series at Wikipedia

DVD & Blu-ray Reviews

Blu-ray: Back to the Future Trilogy

Back to the Future Trilogy (Universal): The time-travel comedy trilogy gets released on Blu-ray for the first time and Universal have put together a package which does full justice to these inventive and much loved films.

Directed by Robert Zemeckis, the first film was the tale of high school student Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) who accidentally travels back 30 years in time after an eccentric scientist (Christopher Lloyd) builds a time machine which strands him in 1955.

There he inadvertently interferes with the romance of his then teenage parents: nerdy father (Crispin Glover) and mother (Lea Thompson), whilst also having to deal with Biff (Thomas F. Wilson), Marty’s dad’s bullying supervisor.

The story, written by Zemeckis and Bob Gale, then becomes a race to reunite his parents-to-be and find a way of getting back to 1985.

An instant critical and commercial hit on its release in the summer of 1985, it launched Fox as a movie star and established Zemeckis as an A-list director.

The inventive premise, smart humour and excellent performances still shine and it has aged remarkably well, appealing to a new generation of audiences.

In retrospect, some of the comedy is surprisingly daring: it is difficult to imagine a studio comedy today featuring gags about terrorists (“the Libyans!”), potential incest (“are you telling me that my mom …has the hots for me?!”) and Ronald Regan (“who is the Vice-president in 1985? Jerry Lewis?).

Despite those more daring undercurrents, it is one of those rare mainstream films that genuinely appeals to audiences of all ages, combining innocence, invention and a great central premise which makes older and younger audiences think whilst they laugh.

The sequels, shot back-to-back, were not as good as the original but certainly had their moments.

The second film, which picked up precisely where they left off, saw Marty and Doc Brown travel to 2015 to fine-tune the future, only to cause havoc with the space time continuum, which they have to repair by going back to 1955 again.

One can only imagine the hoops Zemeckis and Gale had to jump through in writing the follow up – they hadn’t initially planned one – and their screenplay ingeniously interacts with the events of the first film.

Another impressive aspect, sometimes overlooked, is the visual effects, which are used to create multiple characters from the same actor, as well as painting a detailed picture of the future.

Made in 1989 on the cusp of the CGI revolution ushered in by The Abyss, Terminator and Jurassic Park, the visual effects still hold up well.

The third film, released in 1990 saw Marty (Michael J. Fox) travel back to 1885 in order to rescue Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd) before he becomes smitten with a schoolteacher (Mary Steenburgen).

Cleverly referencing the first two films, it doesn’t quite match up to them but is still an amiable and entertaining end to the series.

A lot of viewers will be pleasantly surprised how good a job Universal has done with the audio and visual transfer (screenshots can be seen here) and it certainly gives them an added kick if you haven’t seen them in a while.

But for most people the reason for getting this box set will be the huge array of extras detailing the production.

The supplements duplicate all the extras from the previous DVD releases, including commentaries, but also feature a lot of brand new material, principally Tales from the Future, a 6 part, 2 hour documentary in HD.

The whole package is spread over 3 Blu-ray discs and there are brand new interviews with Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson, director Robert Zemeckis, producers Bob Gale and Neil Canton, plus executive producer Steven Spielberg.

There is also a digital copy of each film for playback on a portable device.


(*Denotes new footage debuting on the 25th Anniversary Trilogy Blu-ray)

  • Tales from the Future: New six-part retrospective documentary featuring interviews with Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson, Director Robert Zemeckis, Producers Bob Gale and Neil Canton, plus Executive Producer Steven Spielberg.*
  • In the Beginning . . .: Delve into the genesis of the project, casting, re-casting, the DeLorean, sets and overall pre-production.
  • Time to Go: Production stories through the release of the first film.
  • Keeping Time: The score and the songs of the Back to the Future Trilogy.
  • Time Flies: Learn more about how the sequel came about, the futuristic look, the special and visual effects, recreating 1955 and more.
  • Third Time’s the Charm: Learn about building a western town, Doc Brown’s love story, the casting of Mary Steenburgen, the train sequence and completing the Trilogy.
  • The Test of Time: Back to the Future becomes a phenomenon! President Reagan quotes the film, the Back to the Future ride opens at Universal Studios theme park and fans rebuild the iconic DeLorean. The film’s cast and crew take a look back and discuss why these beloved movies live on.
  • The Physics of Back To The Future: A discussion with celebrity best-selling author and physicist Dr. Michio Kaku about the overall appreciation of the science in the Back to the Future Trilogy*
  • Nuclear Test Site Ending Storyboard Sequence: Storyboard sequence of the original proposed ending of the film.*
  • 16 Deleted Scenes
  • Michael J. Fox Q&A
  • Q&A Commentaries with Director Robert Zemeckis and Producer Bob Gale
  • Feature Commentaries with Producers Bob Gale and Neil Canton
  • Making the Trilogy: Chapters One, Two & Three: Original 2002 DVD documentary that takes a look back in time.The Making Of Back to the Future Part I, II & III: Provides a vintage and historic look at the making of all three films.
  • The Secrets of the Back to the Future Trilogy: a televised special hosted by Kirk Cameron addressing fans unanswered Back to the Future questions.
  • Back to the Future Night: Hosted by Leslie Nielsen, this original 30-minute special aired on NBC prior to the first television screening of the Back to the Future.
  • Behind-the-Scenes Outtakes
  • Original Makeup Tests
  • Production Design
  • Storyboarding
  • Designing the DeLorean
  • Designing Time Travel
  • Hoverboard Test
  • Designing Hill Valley
  • Designing the Campaign
  • Back to the Future: The Ride
  • Music Videos: Huey Lewis and the News “Power of Love” / ZZ Top “DoubleBack”
  • Photo Galleries, Including Production Art, Additional Storyboards, Photographs, Marketing Materials and Character Portraits
  • Theatrical Trailers

* There is also a Special Collector’s Edition featuring a Delorean blueprint, Outtatime number plate, Sports Almanac, Save The Clocktower poster, and a Lenticular photo of Marty’s family 8


  • U-CONTROL: Universal’s exclusive feature allows viewers to learn more about their favorite film without ever leaving the movie.
  • Setups & Payoffs: As you watch each of the three films, each “set up” showcases items in the scene that prepare you for a future plot point. When you get to that moment in the film, the “payoff” is shown.
  • Storyboard Comparison: Compare key scenes in the movie with the original storyboards.
  • Trivia Track: Get inside trivia and facts while you watch the movies.
  • BD-LIVE: Access the BD-LiveTM Centre through your Internet-connected player to get even more content, watch the latest trailers and more!
  • My Scenes: Bookmark your favourite scenes from the movies.
  • pocket BLU™: Universal’s groundbreaking pocket BLU app uses iPhone®, iPod® touch, iPad®, Blackberry®, Android™, Windows and Macintosh computers and more to work seamlessly with a network-connected Blu-rayTM player and offers advanced features such as: o Advanced Remote Control: A sleek, elegant new way to operate your Blu-ray™ player. Users can navigate through menus, playback and BD-Live™ functions with ease.
  • Video Timeline: Users can easily bring up the video timeline, allowing them to instantly access any point in their favorite episode.
  • Mobile-To-Go: Users can unlock a selection of bonus content with their Blu-ray™ discs to save to their device or to stream from anywhere there’s a Wi-Fi network, enabling them to enjoy exclusive content on the go, anytime, anywhere.
  • Browse Titles: Users will have access to a complete list of pocket BLU™-enabled titles available and coming to Blu-ray™. They can view free previews and see what additional content is available to unlock on their device.
  • Keyboard: Enter data into a Blu-ray™ player with your device’s easy and intuitive keyboard.

The Back to the Future Trilogy is out on Monday 25th October from Universal Home Entertainment

> Buy the Back to the Future Trilogy from Amazon UK
> Find out more about the series at Wikipedia

Cinema Reviews

The Social Network

David Fincher’s latest film is an absorbing drama about the battles amongst the founders of social networking website Facebook.

It begins with Harvard student Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) getting dumped by a girl (Rooney Mara) which prompts him to hack in to the campus computer network as revenge, whilst blogging about his reasons for doing so.

This brings him to the attention of Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss (played by Armie Hammer) and Divya Narendra (Max Minghella), who approach him with the idea of a social network site, but Zuckerberg opts to create his own version with the help of his friend Eduardo Severin (Andrew Garfield).

Originally called TheFacebook it is an instant success at Harvard and campuses across the US, which leads Zuckerberg to California where entrepreneur and Napster co-founder Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake) helps him approach investors.

The narrative is intercut with flashforwards to various legal depositions, in which characters explain the conflicts which would later arise, with the Winklevoss twins and Narenda claiming Zuckerberg stole their idea, whilst Severin (who initially bankrolled the site) falls out with Zuckerberg over Parker’s influence.

This might not initially sound like the most exciting or dynamic material for a film, but with an A-list roster of talent behind the camera – director Fincher, screenwriter Aaron Sorkin and producer Scott Rudin – the end result is a stimulating tale of human relationships gone wrong.

It is also a very interior film, with much of the action taking place inside dorm rooms and legal offices, but Sorkin’s script does an excellent job at rattling through the events and digging out some juicy drama.

His sculpted rat-a-tat dialogue provides a mixture of humour, pathos and insight in presenting what Facebook did to the founders, plus the overall ironies for them and the wider culture that embraced it.

Whilst he has expressed doubts about the web and new technology, Sorkin is perfectly suited to this material.

As a more traditional writer, he mines the old fashioned themes of envy, jealousy and ambition inherent in the story, but from a distance which allows him to probe the social cost of relationships online.

David Fincher might also seem a counter-intuitive choice, but aside from directing with his customary skill and taste, he manages to ramp up the drama by keeping things simple and focused.

Compared to his previous work it moves quickly and the editing and structure all ground the information in a tight and engrossing package.

Fincher’s customary dark visual palette is on display again, but the balanced compositions from cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth nicely dovetail the crispness of the digital images (which were shot on the Red One digital camera).

Building on the visual look of the film, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross provide a wonderfully discordant score.

Their compelling soundscape of samples and beats gives the film a distant and offset mood, which may or may not be a reflection of Zuckerberg’s personality.

In a film filled with fine performances, Jesse Eisenberg is the stand out with a focused and at times mesmerising portrait of Zuckerberg as an awkward, brilliant and driven individual.

It might not be as accurate as some have claimed but it captures the restless energy and intelligence that drove Facebook in its messy early years and kept it from being sold off (and ruined) too soon.

Garfield paints a convincing picture of a wronged friend unable to keep up with events, whilst Timberlake is charming as the one person who appreciates Zuckerberg’s idea of how big Facebook can actually be.

The Winklevoss twins – or “Winklevii” as Zuckerberg dismisses them at one point – are actually played by one actor, a feat achieved with considerable technical aplomb by both Armie Hammer and Fincher’s visual effects team.

Representing old school privilege, they also feature in a perfectly executed scene when they try to convince the then Harvard president Lawrence Summers (Douglas Urbanski) that Zuckerberg has stolen the site from them.

The dialogue, acting and direction frequently paint a telling clash between the traditional world unable to comprehend the new paradigm represented by upstarts in Silicon Valley.

Whatever the veracity of the sources used to inspire the film, and Ben Mezrich’s book on which it was based has been criticised, it is structured so that the audience can draw their own conclusions from the various perspectives offered by the Winklevoss twins, Severin and Zuckerberg.

Who comes out best will clearly be a debating point for audiences, but the portrait of Zuckerberg as a social outsider driven by something other than just money is not as unflattering as one might think.

A lot of the debate surrounding the film is the portrayal of Zuckerberg himself.

Although it paints a picture of an intense and potentially haunted individual, you can also see him as an irreverent visionary battling against negativity to build something millions of people use.

There are thematic parallels to Citizen Kane: a young wunderkind creates an empire, has huge ambitions, women issues, breaks up with a friend and collaborator, is left seemingly alone despite creating over millions of virtual connections for other people. (For Rosebud, substitute an ex-girlfriend).

In a sense The Social Network is the cinematic equivalent of a Facebook profile: it uses selected facts to present a portrait of an individual; features potentially embarrassing information; and harvests personal data that will be seen all around the world.

For tech journalists a little too concerned with the details, let’s remember this is a representation of the facts and not a definitive statement.

But like Facebook, it has been assembled with considerable technical skill and may strike a deep chord with audiences hungry to find out more about an online phenomenon so embedded in contemporary life.

How future viewers will judge it is hard to predict, but I suspect two very different perspectives could emerge.

For some it will be the cautionary parable of a website which connected over 500 million virtual friends which also broke up the actual friends that created it.

For others Mark Zuckerberg could become like Gordon Gekko, an unlikely figure of inspiration to a generation who use technology to change old assumptions and beliefs.

With its mix of potent ideas and impeccable craft, it is a likely Oscar contender and deserves the recognition and kudos, as it paints a fascinating picture of age old tensions at the heart of new technology.

The Social Network is out in the UK on Friday 15th October

> Official site
> The Social Network at the IMDb
> Find out more about Facebook at Wikipedia

DVD & Blu-ray Reviews

Blu-ray: The Exorcist

William Friedkin’s classic 1973 film finally gets the Blu-ray treatment from Warner Bros with a disc filled with features.

One of the truly great films of the 1970s, it was adapted by William Peter Blatty from his bestselling novel about a young girl (Linda Blair) in Washington D.C. possessed by an evil spirit.

When her distraught mother (Ellen Burstyn) can find no answers from the medical profession, she turns to a local catholic priest (Jason Miller) and an ageing exorcist (Max Von Sydow).

A box office sensation at the time, it scored several Oscar nominations and became something of a pop-culture phenomenon.

In the UK it has a special aura, as Warner Bros decided to stop releasing it on home video after the ‘video nasties’ scare of the mid-1980s and it only got a re-issued years later in 1999.

A further special edition followed in 2000, with 11 minutes of extra footage trimmed from the original theatrical release.

The film is a victim of its own success, as some modern audiences find certain effects (notably the pea soup vomit) dated and that it doesn’t quite live up to its considerable reputation.

However, The Exorcist is much more than just a horror film. A disturbing drama about the breakdown of a family, the loss of faith and the presence of evil, it taps in to deep, universal fears which even the very best horrors don’t even touch.

Coming off the Oscar winning success of The French Connection, Friedkin was at his creative peak and the realistic approach to the material made for a visceral and riveting experience.

The lead performances are uniformly excellent: Burstyn embodies parental anguish; Blair is remarkable as the possessed youngster; Miller gives a quiet dignity to a priest haunted by guilt; and Van Sydow has tremendous presence in the title role.

For the Blu-ray, Warner Bros have included both versions in a two disc set.

I prefer the original theatrical cut, which feels tighter and more polished, but the additional sequences are interesting to compare.

The image quality of the transfer is excellent and certain scenes looks stunning for a film that is thirty-seven years old.

Friedkin attracted some serious criticism for the Blu-ray of The French Connection, where he altered the colour of the film, even prompting cinematographer Owen Roizman to label it as ‘atrocious’.

Here they seem to have made up and in the liner notes Friedkin states that this Blu-ray was:

”color-timed by the cinematographer Owen Roizman and myself and represents the very best print ever made of ‘The Exorcist”.

Certain sequences have a pristine clarity to them and it is a great showcase for Roizman’s cinematography, which is filled with memorable compositions and images.

Warner Bros Home Entertainment has been forging a reputation as the best studio when it comes to re-releasing classic films and the extras on this disc are plentiful.

It includes all the material from previous DVD versions, such as the audio commentaries and 1998 documentary The Fear of God: The Making of The Exorcist.

The most notable addition is the a 3-part documentary on the film’s production and legacy, featuring on-set footage shot by Owen Roizman, along with as ‘personal message statement’ from Friedkin and a 40-page digi-book with photos and essays.

The full list of extras breaks down like this:

Disc 1: – Extended Director’s Cut (2000) plus Special Features

  • Commentary by William Friedkin
  • Raising Hell: Filming the Exorcist – set footage produced and photographed by Owen Roizman, camera and makeup tests, and interviews with director William Friedkin, actress Linda Blair, author/screenwriter/producer William Peter Blatty and Owen Roizman (new; Blu-ray exclusive)
  • The Exorcist Locations: Georgetown Then and Now – Featuring a tour of the iconic locations where the film was shot (new; Blu-ray exclusive)
  • Faces of Evil: The Different Versions of The Exorcist – with director William Friedkin and author/screenwriter/producer William Peter Blatty discussing the different versions of the film and featuring outtakes from the film (new; Blu-ray exclusive)
  • Trailers, TV spots & radio spots from the film’s 2000 release

Disc 2 – Theatrical Cut (1973) plus Special Features

  • Introduction by William Friedkin
  • Commentaries: William Friedkin / William Peter Blatty with Special Sound Effects Tests
  • The Fear of God: 25 Years of The Exorcist [1998 BBC documentary]
  • Additional interviews with William Friedkin and William Peter Blatty
  • The Original Cut
  • Stairway to Heaven
  • The Final Reckoning
  • Original ending
  • Sketches & storyboards
  • Trailers & TV spots from the 1973 version

The Exorcist is out on Blu-ray from Warner Bros Home Entertainment on Monday 11th October

> The Exorcist at the IMDb
> Buy The Exorcist on Blu-ray from Amazon UK

DVD & Blu-ray Reviews

Blu-ray: The Evil Dead

Sam Raimi’s low budget horror debut The Evil Dead is getting re-released on DVD and Blu-ray in the UK.

Shot on 16mm in the backwoods of Tennessee for just $350,000, it established the young director and led to a slew of imitators down the years (e.g Cabin Fever) which never matched the original’s energy and style.

The story involves five students on a break from college – Ash (Bruce Campbell), his girlfriend Linda (Betsy Baker), and their classmates Scott (Hal Delrich), Shelly (Sarah York) and Cheryl (Ellen Sandweiss) – who spend the night at a remote mountain cabin.

After discovering a strange looking book and a reel-to-reel tape recorder, the group starts getting possessed by evil spirits, which leads to a frantic and blood-filled evening.

Despite the low budget production values, the energy and pace of the film are striking reminders of Raimi’s early talent as a director, with the wild camera work and clever sound design adding to the atmosphere.

The unsettling mix of genuine scares and black humour is also something many lesser horror directors have since failed to emulate.

After considerable word of mouth (and an endorsement from horror author Stephen King), the film became a major cult hit on home video, especially after it was banned in Britain during the hysteria of the “Video Nasties” campaign.

Compared to the jokier sequels, it remains one for the genuine horror purist, and apart from one notorious scene involving trees, is relatively restrained by today’s standards.

If you are already a fan, you will be wondering if it is worth the upgrade to Blu-ray from DVD.

The answer to that is yes, mainly because of the improved picture and sound, along with some new extras (alongside several others included on previous DVD releases of the film).

The additional features break down like this:

  • 1080P 1.85:1 Widescreen: The original film was shot on 16mm, which means that the picture quality has some limitations despite being remastered for Blu-ray. Despite that the image still holds pretty well throughout.
  • All New Commentary with Sam Raimi, Rob Tapert and Bruce Campbell: This commentary was recorded in 2009 and is a highly imformative discussion of the production as they discuss a wide range of things from casting, make-up, effects and how the film was distributed. It is one of those commentaries that tends not to directly discuss what we are seeing on screen, but for anyone new to the film, it is a great introduction.
  • Picture-in-Picture: Join us! The Undying Legacy of The Evil Dead: This is the visual equivalent of an audio commentary and allows you to watch the film as different directors (including David Slade, Alexandre Aja and Brian Yuzna) comment on the film and specific scenes.
  • One By One We Will Take You: The Untold Saga of the Evil Dead (54 mins): An excellent making of documentary from the previous DVD version, featuring interviews with key cast and crew about how the film got made and its influence.
  • Treasures from the Cutting Room Floor (59 mins): A lengthy deleted scenes reel that includes a lot of alternate takes and shots.
  • At the Drive-In (12 mins): A Q & A featuring Tilly, Sandweiss, Baker, DeManincor, Campbell, Ted Raimi and Tom Sullivan from August 2005 at a drive-in presentation in Chicago.
  • Discovering Evil Dead (13 mins): A short featurette which Stephen Woolley and Nik Powell talking about how they discovered The Evil Dead and were instrumental in distributing it in the UK, where they released it simultaneously in cinemas and on video. Bill Warren, author of The Evil Dead Companion, also talks about the background to the release.
  • Make-Up Test (1 min): Short make up test featuring the fake blood and make up of a face melting.

The film still holds up well today and along with being a key horror of the 1980s, also ranks as one the most influential low-budget productions in the history of cinema.

The Evil Dead is out on DVD and Blu-ray from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment on Monday 11th October

> Buy The Evil Dead on Blu-ray or DVD from Amazon UK
> The Evil Dead at the IMDb
> Find out more about Sam Raimi at Wikipedia