Reviews Thoughts

Post Christmas Wrap Up

Even though it’s the middle of January, here is a quick rundown of the films that I saw over Christmas but didn’t post about until now.

I’ll almost certainly write more about Brokeback Mountain and Match Point (especially as they are certain to feature during the upcoming awards season) and I humbly promise that I’ll write more this year.

The Producers (12A): This is a film based on a play based on a film about a play (confused yet). When Mel Brooks revived his original 1968 film on Broadway in 2001 the result was a sensation with audiences and critics. But despite recruiting Susan Stroman (the director and choreographer of the original production) and Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick (the two leads) the result is entertaining but a tad underwhelming. There are some impressive recreations of numbers like the immortal ‘Springtime for Hitler’ and two good supporting turns from Will Ferrell and Uma Thurman, but the whole enterprise is fairly stagy and reminded me too much of what I liked about the original film – namely no songs every 10 minutes. (Opened on Dec 26th and still showing at cinemas nationwide)

Brokeback Mountain (15): Ang Lee’s adaptation of E Annie Proulx’s 1997 short story about two cowboys who form a lasting connection over a 20 year period is a bold and beautifully made drama. Forget whatever lazy pre-conceptions you have heard about a “gay western” or some of the narrow minded sarcasm that has accompanied its release in the US. This is one of the most thoughtful and impressive films to come out in the last 12 months. Heath Ledger gives a truly revelatory performance as the gruff and restrained Ennis Del Mar, a sheepherder who meets – and eventually falls for – the more extrovert Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal) one summer in 1963. Worthy of the hype and award nominations it is currently getting, expect it to feature prominently at the Oscars. (Opened in London on Jan 6th and goes nationwide today)

Match Point (15): Chris (Myers) is a tennis coach in London who befriends one of his upper class students, Tom (Matthew Goode) and ends up falling for his US girlfriend Nola (Scarlett Johansson). Even though he eventually marries Tom’s sister Chloe (Emily Mortimer), he continues his affair with Nola and his life soon starts to become very difficult, driving him to drastic measures. Woody Allen’s latest film left me with mixed feelings. There is no doubt that making a film in London has revitalised him as a director and it contains many good things – notably the quietly scathing depiction of British upper class twits and an interesting central theme. However, all the good work is let down by a shaky central performance from Jonathan Rhys Myers, some odd shifts in tone and ultimately the whole thing comes across as an inferior version of Allen’s last truly great film, Crimes and Misdemeanours. (Opened on Jan 6th and still showing at cinemas nationwide)


The Best (and Worst) Films Released In The UK In 2005

Here is my end of year list of the best and worst films released in the UK this year.

As usual I’ve kept it limited to films only released in the UK this year as we are a UK based site (which means films opening in the New Year like Grizzly Man or The New World will probably feature in next year’s list) and they are listed in alphabetical order.

N.B. They aren’t in the ‘Top 10’ format as a) I don’t like squeezing quality films into a limited number of places and b) it’s critical opinion, not a maths exercise.

A History of Violence (David Cronenberg, 2005): A thoughtful drama mixed with a smart thriller, David Cronenberg’s exploration of violence in a small town was a welcome return to the mainstream for the Canadian director. Viggo Mortensen is terrific as the family man who may or may not have a criminal past and the creepy atmosphere is superbly sustained throughout.

A Very Long Engagement (Jean Pierre Jeunet, 2004): Although some tagged Jean Pierre Jeunet’s film as “Amelie goes to war”, this love story set amidst the horrors of World War One drama was much more than just a retread of his previous film with Audrey Tatou. Arguably his most visually ambitious film to date, it was also one of the most moving.

Downfall (Oliver Hirschbiegel, 2004): A riveting and disturbingly examination of the final days of the Third Reich, Downfall also gave us the most memorable screen portrayal of Hitler from Swiss actor Bruno Ganz. Although it drew (largely bogus) criticism in Germany for how it portrayed the Nazi leader, the documentary-style depiction of his last days made for gripping viewing.

Howl’s Moving Castle (Hayao Miyazaki, 2004): 2001’s Spirited Away is rightly regarded by many as an animated masterpiece but Miyazaki’s latest effort seemed to get a cooler reception from critics. Mixing childlike wonder with more adult melancholy, it tells the story of a young girl – transformed into an old woman after being cast under a spell – who has to track down the mysterious wizard Howl, who happens to live in a moving castle. Although not quite as good as his previous film it was still a magical and inventive work.

King Kong (Peter Jackson, 2005): Jackson’s follow up to The Lord of the Ring’s trilogy was an awesome spectacle that took visual effects to another level. Contrary to what some say, the first hour isn’t too slow (it’s actually pretty good) and the last two hours contain some of the most exhilarating action I’ve ever seen on a cinema screen. Andy Serkis and Naomi Watts helped give the film a surprisingly emotional core whilst the climax on top of the Empire State building was stunning. (P.S. If you want to complain about the three hour running time, stop reading this now and hang your head in shame).

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (Shane Black, 2005): One of the surprises of the year for me was this delightful comedy thriller from writer-director Shane Black – a homage and simultaneous deconstruction of the kind of film he used to write (Lethal Weapon, The Last Boy Scout). It starred Robert Downey Jr as a petty thief, mistaken for an actor who ends up in Hollywood in the middle of a murder mystery with a private eye played by Val Kilmer. Funny and smart in equal measure, for various reasons it didn’t set the box office alight (plus I always get an odd look when I recommend it) but this is probably the most overlooked film of the year and well worth tracking down on DVD.

Sideways (Alexander Payne, 2004): Outstanding comedy/drama set amidst the vineyards of California from director Alexander Payne. Filled with bittersweet insights into human relationships and some hilarious moments, it featured two of the year’s best performances from Paul Giamatti and Thomas Hayden Church (both shamefully overlooked at the Oscars).

The Constant Gardener (Fernando Meirelles, 2005): Fernando Mereilles choice to follow up 2002’s stunning City of God with a John Le Carre adaptation seemed to be an odd one. But it turned out to be inspired, as this tale of corruption in Africa rightly garnered rave reviews. Ralph Fiennes and Rachel Weisz were superb as the diplomat and his activist wife who get caught up in the intrigue and the fractured narrative enhanced the wrenching emotional content of the film.

The Sea Inside (Alejandro Amen�bar, 2004): The deserving winner of the Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars, featured a towering central performance from Javier Bardem as Ramon Sampedro – the Spanish paraplegic who fought a 30 year campaign to end his life with dignity. Although less showy than Amenabar’s previous efforts like Abres Los Ojos or The Others it was probably his most assured work to date.

Vera Drake (Mike Leigh, 2004): Mike Leigh made arguably his best film with this haunting drama about a backstreet abortionist in 1950s London. In a film full of impeccable acting Imelda Staunton was outstanding in the title role.

Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbitt (Steve Box & Nick Park, 2005): Ever since seeing Wallace and Gromit in A Grand Day Out on Channel 4 many moons ago I’ve been a fan of Nick Park’s wonderful animated creations. Expanding the characters into a mainstream feature film could have been problematic but Steve Box and Park created one of the year’s funniest and inventive films. Crammed full of quality gags (my favourite: “Beware the moon!”) and two excellent voiceovers from Ralph Fiennes and Helena Bonham Carter.


Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
(Tim Burton, 2005): A surreal and worthy adaptation of the much loved children’s book, this was something Tim Burton was born to direct. Johnny Depp made a fine Willy Wonka the scene with the squirrels was great (if you’ve seen it, you’ll know what I mean). 
(Paul Haggis, 2005): Perhaps this film has been a tad over praised by critics who were seemingly unaware that LA had some racial divisions, but for a large chunk of its running time Crash is worthy of the praise dished out to it. Good performances and a memorable score from Mark Isham also helped, but I’m still trying to banish the ill-considered use of a Stereophonics song from my memory.

Kinsey (Bill Condon, 2004): An intelligent drama with Liam Neeson as the famous (or infamous depending on your perspective) sex researcher Alfred Kinsey, Bill Condon’s film contained solid acting all-round and contained some memorable moments of light relief.

Kung Fu Hustle (Steven Chow, 2005): An energetic alternative to the likes of Hero or Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, this action/comedy srt during  1930s China from actor/director Steven Chow was (literally) a riot and despite the slapstick contained some of the most imaginative set pieces seen at the cinema this year (Hollywood, please note).

Sin City (Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller, 2005): Although it contained some truly gruesome (albeit stylised) violence, this adaptation of Frank Miller’s comic books was a remarkable visual achievement laced with some dark wit. The three interlocking crime stories varied in quality but the one involving Mickey Rourke’s Marv (a stunning return to form for the actor) was the highlight.

The Door in the Floor (Todd Williams, 2004): Overlooked drama with two fine performances from Jeff Bridges and Kim Basinger as a couple struggling to come to terms with the death of their two children. Despite bombing at US box office, it is well worth hunting down on DVD.

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (Wes Anderson, 2004): A stylish and quirky comedy with Bill Murray as a Jacques Cousteau-like marine explorer. Judging by the mixed critical reaction it got, perhaps it is an acquired taste but the music, visuals and deadpan performances were all spot on.


Alexander (Oliver Stone, 2004): Oliver Stone has made some brilliant films. But this historical train wreck – complete with comedy Irish accents – wasn’t one of them.
Son of the Mask
(Lawrence Guterman, 2005): Did we need a sequel to The Mask? No, I thought not.
Miss Congeniality 2: Armed & Fabulous
(John Pasquin, 2005): Wretched and desperately unfunny sequel.
Be Cool (F Gary Gray, 2005): See above.
Amityville Horror
(Andrew Douglas, 2005): Awful remake of a film that wasn’t that great to begin with.
(Rob Cohen, 2005): Mediocre action film that stunk up the summer box office.
Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo (Mike Bigelow, 2005): Tedious and thoroughly unfunny sequel starring SNL ‘funnyman’ Rob Schneider.

Revolver (Guy Ritchie, 2005): Baffling, incoherent nonsense from Madonna’s husband.

> Movie City News Big List of Critic’s Top Tens of the year
> The Reeler’s Top Ten List of Top Tens
> Xan Brooks of The Guardian picks the films ‘you really out to have seen this year’
> Wikipedia on 2005 in film

Useful Links

Double Feature

I’m not advocating anyone sneak into cinemas but Double Feature is an interesting little tool. Can we get one for the UK?


A Christmas Story from those Thirty Second Bunnies

If you are a fan of Angry Alien Productions (they do thirty second versions of films with animated bunnies) then they have a special version of A Christmas Story up for the festive season. They also have It’s A Wonderful Life on their site aswell if you want to indulge in another Christmas favourite.

> Angry Alien version of Star Wars
> Angry Alien version of The Exorcist
> Angry Alien version of Pulp Fiction
> Angry Alien Version of The Shining


The Family Stone vs Love Actually

The UK poster for The Family Stone seems remarkably similar to the one for Love Actually.

Note the:

– Similar fonts 
– The use of red and black to highlight the actors first and last names
– The gratuitous sprinkling of red wrapping paper highlighting the fact its a Christmas film.


Family Stone Poster 

Is there a designer who specialises in posters for the Christmas period? The US one sheet for The Family Stone was much better but as JoBlo points out even that poster is remarkably similar to a Spanish film called Novios. Strange…

> The forum at DigitalSpy notice the similarities too
Classic Film Posters at
> Movie Posters at


The Friday Review 16.12.05

Here is the weekly rundown of the latest cinema and DVD releases:


King Kong (12A): What more is there to say? Peter Jackson’s remake is simply awesome. Great acting (Watts and Serkis via CGI are the standouts), some incredible action set pieces (the sequences on Skull Island and the Empire State building are as good as anything I’ve seen on a cinema screen) and Jackson’s love for the material make this the best blockbuster of the year. I hope its disappointing opening day at the US box office isn’t a sign of things to come because this is as good as mainstream cinema gets. (Click here for our full review)
(Now showing at cinemas all over the world)

The Family Stone (PG): A weird mix of the conventional and subversive this comedy/drama misfires more than it hits. When Everett Stone (Dermot Mulroney) brings his uptight girlfriend Meredith (Sarah Jessica Parker) home for the holidays she finds that she mixes with the family like oil and water. Some good moments but mostly an uneasy mix of half-laughs and sentiment.
(Now showing at cinemas nationwide) 

Merry Christmas (Joyeux Noel) (12A): French drama set on Christmas Eve during World War I, based on the real life truce when Germans, French, and Scottish soliders decided to play football instead of killing each other. Diane Kruger, Guillaume Canet, Gary Lewis and Daniel Brühl star in a polished and watchable period piece.
(Now showing at cinemas nationwide)  

Lassie (PG): A new version of the story about a couple (John Lynch and Samantha Morton) forced to sell Lassie to a Duke (Peter O’Toole) only for their beloeved dog to try and find its way home. Harmless but unecessary remake. An impressive cast also includes Peter Dinklage (probably best know for his role in The Station Agent).
(Now showing at cinemas nationwide) 

Films also out this week that we haven’t seen yet but might be worth checking out:
Screaming Masterpiece (12A): Apparently this film "captures all the energy of the world’s hottest indie music scene in Iceland’s cool capital city of Reykjavik". Sounds interesting, despite
(Now showing at the Curzon Soho in London)


1. King Kong
2. The Constant Gardener
3. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
4. March of the Penguins
5. Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit

> Check out showtimes courtesy of The Guardian
> Find out showtimes via Google UK (very handy indeed)


King Kong Collector’s Box Set: Check out the 1933 original (groundbreaking although it looks a little hokey compared to Jackson’s version), a colourised version (maybe not such a good idea), the 1976 remake (not quite as bad as I remembered it and the climax on the World Trade Centre is now quite eerie in retrospect), the documentary "It Was Beauty Killed the Beast" and "King Kong Vs. Godzilla (1963)" and "King Kong Escapes" (1968).

News Useful Links

More on King Kong

King Kong opens today in the UK and here are some interesting links on the film to celebrate the release of one of the year’s best films.

> Composer Howard Shore left the project late on, so his replacement James Newton Howard had a tight schedule to keep to – SoundtrackNet has a great article on how it was all done.
> Worth1000 has some amusing photoshops of King Kong (my favourites are "Primates of the Caribbean" and the Kong iPod)
> Get King Kong showtimes for your local cinema
> Get the latest Kong news from
> Some video of "The Making of Kong" (via vfxblog)
> Get the latest reviews of the film on Metacritic

If you have seen it then do leave a comment on what you thought of it.



Golden Globe nominations announced

The Golden Globe nominations have been announced and includes some surprises. Although they have been discredited in recent years they can be a useful marker for what films will win at the Oscars. But this year the Globes seem to be all over the shop. David Poland over at The Hot Blog thinks its a mess. I think he may be right – just look at the disparity between the nominees for Best Drama and Best Director category. What to draw from all of this? Steve Pond of the LA Times reminds us that there are years when the Globe nominations differ considerably from the Oscars. Brokeback Mountain with its nominations across 7 categories looks like an early favourite but I still feel Munich and King Kong have some considerable awards steam left in them. But a lot can happen over the next couple of months…

Anyway here are the nominations in full:

Best motion picture – Drama
Brokeback Mountain
The Constant Gardener
A History of Violence
Match Point
Good Night, and Good Luck

Best performance by an actress in a motion picture – Drama
Maria Bello – A History of Violence
Felicity Huffman – Transamerica
Gwyneth Paltrow – Proof
Charlize Theron – North Country
Ziyi Zhang – Memoirs of a Geisha

Best performance by an actor in a motion picture – Drama
Russell Crowe – Cinderella Man
Philip Seymour Hoffman – Capote
Terrence Howard – Hustle and Flow
Heath Ledger – Brokeback Mountain
David Strathairn – Good Night and Good Luck

Best motion picture – Musical Or Comedy
Mrs Henderson Presents
Pride & Prejudice
The Producers
The Squid and the Whale
Walk the Line

Best performance by an actress in a motion picture – Musical or Comedy
Judi Dench – Mrs Henderson Presents
Keira Knightley – Pride & Prejudice
Laura Linney – The Squid and the Whale
Sarah Jessica Parker – The Family Stone
Reese Witherspoon – Walk the Line

Best performance by an actor in a motion picture – Musical Or Comedy
Pierce Brosnan – The Matador
Jeff Daniels – The Squid and the Whale
Johnny Depp – Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Nathan Lane – The Producers
Cillian Murphy – Breakfast on Pluto
Joaquin Phoenix – Walk the Line

Best performance by an actress in a supporting role in a motion picture
Scarlett Johansson – Match Point
Shirley MacLaine – In Her Shoes
Frances McDormand – North Country
Rachel Weisz – The Constant Gardener
Michelle Williams – Brokeback Mountain

Best performance by an actor in a supporting role in a motion picture
George Clooney – Syriana
Matt Dillon – Crash
Will Ferrell – The Producers
Paul Giamatti – Cinderella Man
Bob Hoskins – Mrs Henderson Presents

Best director – Motion Picture
Woody Allen – Match Point
George Clooney – Good Night and Good Luck
Peter Jackson – King Kong
Steven Spielberg – Munich
Ang Lee – Brokeback Mountain
Fernando Meirelles – The Constant Gardener

Best foreign language film
Kung Fu Hustle (China)
Master of Crimson Armor (China)
Merry Christmas (France)
Tsotsi (South Africa)
Paradise Now (Palestine)

Best original score – Motion Picture
King Kong
Brokeback Mountain
The Chronicles of Narnia
Memoirs of a Geisha

Best television series – Drama
Commander and Chief
Grey’s Anatomy
Prison Break

Best performance by an actress in a television series – Drama
Patricia Arquette – Medium
Glenn Close – The Shield
Geena Davis – Commander and Chief
Kyra Sedgewick – The Closer
Polly Walker – Rome

Best performance by an actor in a television series – Drama
Patrick Dempsey – Grey’s Anatomy
Matthew Fox – Lost
Wentworth Miller – Prison Break
Hugh Laurie – House
Keifer Sutherland – 24

Best television series – Musical Or Comedy
Curb Your Enthusiasm
Desperate Housewives
Everybody Hates Chris
My Name is Earl

Best performance by an actress in a television series – Musical Or Comedy
Marcia Cross – Desperate Housewives
Terry Hatcher – Desperate Housewives
Felicity Huffman – Desperate Housewives
Eva Longoria – Desperate Housewives
Mary Louise Parker – Weeds

Best performance by an actor in a television series – Musical Or Comedy
Zach Braff – Scrubs
Steve Carrell – The Office
Larry David – Curb Your Enthusiasm
Jason Lee – My Name is Earl
Charlie Sheen – Two-and-a-Half Men

Best Screenplay – Motion Picture
Woody Allen – Match Point
George Clooney and Grant Heslove – Good Night, and Good Luck
Paul Haggis and Bobby Moresco – Crash
Tony Kushner and Eric Roth – Munich
Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana – Brokeback Mountain

Best original song – Motion Picture
A Love that will Never Grow Old – Brokeback Mountain
Christmas in Love – Christmas in Love
There’s Nothing Like A Show on Broadway – The Producers
Travelin’ Thru – Transamerica
Wunderkind – The Chronicles of Narnia

Best original score – Motion Picture
Alexandre Desplat – Syriana
James Newton Howard – King Kong
Gustavo Santaolalla – Brokeback Mountain
Harry Gregson – The Chronicles of Narnia
John Williams – Memoirs of a Geisha

Best mini-series or motion picture made for television
Empire Falls
Into the West
Lackawanna Blues
Sleeper Cell
Viva Blackpool
Warm Springs

Best performance by an actress in a mini-series or motion picture made for television
Halle Berry – Their Eyes Were Watching Me
Kelly MacDonald – The Girl in the Cafe
S Epatha Merkerson – Lackawanna Blues
Cynthia Nixon – Warm Springs
Mira Sorvino – Human Trafficking

Best performance by an actor in a mini-series or motion picture made for television
Kenneth Branagh – Warm Springs
Ed Harris – Empire Falls
Jonathan Rhys Meyers – Elvis
Bill Nighy – The Girl in the caf�
Donald Sutherland – Human Trafficking

Best performance by an actress in a supporting role in a series, mini-series or motion picture made for television
Candice Bergen – Boston Legal
Camryn Manheim – Elvis
Sandra Oh – Grey’s Anatomy
Elizabeth Perkins – Weeds
Joanne Woodward – Empire Falls

Best performance by an actor in a supporting role in a series, mini-series or motion picture made for television
Naveen Andrews – Lost
Paul Newman – Empire Falls
Jeremy Piven – Entourage
Randy Quaid – Elvis
Donald Sutherland – Commander in Chief

Cecil B DeMille award
Sir Anthony Hopkins

> The Official Nominations site of the HFPA – the organisation that dishes out the Globes
> An AP story (via CNN) that ran a couple of years ago highlighting the criticisms of the Globes & the HFPA
> Wikipedia on the Golden Globes


King Kong

Peter Jackson’s remake of his favourite film is a marvel to behold that breaks new ground in visual effects and further enhances his reputation as one of the best filmmakers of his generation.

I must confess I had a few doubts about this project when it was first announced. Was it too soon after the critical and commercial success of the Lord of the Rings trilogy? Was the original film worth remaking on this scale? Wasn’t the previous remake in 1976 a disaster? The initial teaser trailer was intriguing but it didn’t fill me with awe and anticipation of the Rings films. After viewing a short preview of the film and the more recent trailers I was more excited. However, nothing fully prepared me for the awesome spectacle Jackson and his collaborators have created. It is no exaggeration to say that this film takes visual effects in to a new era and leaves us with the year’s best blockbuster.

Wisely fleshing out and expanding the 1933 original it starts off with some surprisingly gritty but superbly realised scenes in Depression hit New York. By chance the recently unemployed actress Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts) and under pressure director Carl Denham (Jack Black) meet outside a theatre. He desperately needs a female lead for his latest project and she needs the work. Enticed by the offer of shooting on an exotic island she sets sail along with Denham’s beleaguered colleagues, a screenwriter (Adrien Brody) and the ships crew.

When they reach the island they are attacked by hostile natives and Ann is eventually kidnapped and offered as sacrifice to a giant gorilla named Kong (‘played’ via CG technology by Andy Serkis). The crew embark on a rescue mission and eventually manage to capture Kong, intending to make money from him as a theatre attraction. But the plan proves unwise as he unleashes havoc on downtown New York in search of the woman he forged a connection with on the island.

The first and most striking thing about this King Kong is the extraordinary attention to detail up on screen. From the desolate streets of Depression era New York to the exotic mystery of Skull Island and finally back to a wintry Manhattan the film is a marvel of production design and digitally rendered landscapes. More than that, the film integrates its characters into these environments with such verve that the more fantastical elements of the story appear believable. Added to this the pacing and editing makes the three hour running time breeze by as it moves from one well executed set piece to the next.

Some may find the first hour drags a little in comparison to the last two, but the build up helps ground the films characters in a more believable setting. It might not seem believable but once you are inside the film, the fantastical creatures on the island seem all too plausible. All this is aided by the shrewd casting that makes the leads more rounded and interesting individuals. Naomi Watts further demonstrates her considerable acting presence in a role that could have just descended into a lot of running and screaming. Instead we get a deeper and more soulful Ann Darrow than previous screen incarnations, one which makes her interaction with Kong all the more touching.

Jack Black is more of a surprise as he is less comedic here than in previous roles. He has some funny lines but mostly gives an assured and serious performance of a maverick filmmaker living by a grey moral compass. Adrien Brody gives solid support as the film’s screenwriter, although his would be romance with Ann is overshadowed somewhat by all the action. The other supporting roles are also capably filled out, without ever being truly outstanding, but are largely overshadowed by the films true star – Kong himself.

Which brings us to Kong himself. When WETA Digital created Gollum for The Two Towers and Return of the King it felt like a landmark moment in CGI, along with the T100 in Terminator 2 and the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park. But this is something else altogether. Andy Serkis provided the acting muscle beneath Gollum and he returns here to provide Kong’s movements underneath WETA’s incredible visual costume. The giant gorilla feels like a truly believable character – his fights with the dinosaurs on the island and his interaction with Ann are superbly realised, as are the revolting creatures that attack the crew. At times you can see some joins but mostly the effects are first rate and in the final third of the film Jackson and his team pull out all the stops.

Kong in New York is simply one of the best action sequences in recent memory, a triumph of pacing, emotion and eye popping visuals that have raised the bar to a new level. The recreation of the Empire State building and the landscape of New York are executed with remarkable precision  and they add weight to the relationship between Kong and Anne – one that is much more emotional than I had expected. Where Jackson and his team go after this will certainly be interesting. He is slated to adapt Alice Sebold’s novel The Lovely Bones, which is likely to be a much smaller scale project, but until then he be proud at having created two of the most remarkable film projects in recent memory. 

> Official Site
> Kong is King – The main site for news on this production with video diaries featuring Peter Jackson and the cast and crew. A must visit. 
> Wired Magazine with a story of the Kong is King site and the making of the film
> Watch the trailers
> IMDb Link
> Wikipedia on the character of King Kong
> Dark Horizons talks to Peter Jackson about the film
> Andy Serkis talks to Coming Soon about his role(s) in the film
> The Observer profile Jack Black
> Also in The Observer Peter Conrad muses on the appeal of Kong
> Gauge the critical reaction to the film at Metacritic
> BBC News took some pictures at the London premiere
> King Kong Tag on Flickr
> Kong drunk in Times Square 😉


The Friday Review 09.12.05

Here is this week’s guide to the latest releases on cinema and DVD…


The Chronicles of Narnia (PG): Faithful but ultimately uninspiring version of C.S. Lewis novel that has a) got some mystifyingly good reviews and b) upset some people with it’s pro-Christian undertones. Neither are worth worrying about but who cares anyway with King Kong opening next week?
March of the Penguins (U): This documentary about the incredible journey Emperor Penguins take in order to pro-create is directed by Luc Jacquet and narrated by Morgan Freeman. It’s an eye catching and interesting look at an animal rarely seen on the silver screen but not quite as riveting as it’s US box office success might suggest. Still worth seeing though. [Now showing at cinemas nationwide]
N.B. King Kong is out next Thursday and a review will be posted here on Monday.
Other films out this week that we haven’t seen yet but might be worth checking out:

After Midnight (15)
Now showing at selected cinemas nationwide
Calvaire (18)
Now showing at the Odeon Panton St in London
Crying Fist (15)
Now showing at selected cinemas nationwide
Scorched (12A)
Now showing at selected cinemas nationwide
33 X Around The Sun
Now showing at the ICA Cinema in London

The Wild Parrots Of Telegraph Hill
Also showing at the ICA Cinema in London

> Get cinema show times in your area via Google
> Check out the top films at the UK Box Office


As there isn’t much out this week other than Quantum Leap – Season 3 (“Ziggy!, Ziggy!”) and Saving Face, we thought we’d list some of the weirder DVD releases listed on Amazon:
John Wilson – Float Fishing: “Join John as he demonstrates the techniques of Float Fishing”.

The Moomins: “Featuring the 1980s puppets and a series of adventures including ‘Magic Cloud’, ‘Ant Lion’, ‘The Voyage’, ‘Island Treasures’, ‘The Great Search’, ‘Emma The Theatre Rat’, ‘The Lady Of The Cold’, ‘The Rockfall’ and ‘The Giant Eagle’”.

The Eye – Mark Wallinger: An interview with the contemporary artist, Mark Wallinger, featuring film footage of his work.

Dulwich Picture Gallery: There doesn’t appear to be a description for this but I’m intrigued that a picture gallery has it’s own DVD

> Browse some DVD releases on Play
> Check out the latest DVD news and reviews at DVD Times


The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe

It might be a competent and intermittently engaging adaptation of C.S. Lewis’ much loved children’s book, but for the most part this is an average Christmas blockbuster.

The massive box office success of the Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter franchises obviously alerted Hollywood executives to the fact that there was money to be made in children’s fantasy books and the Christian audiences who lapped up The Passion of the Christ. After reportedly turning down the chance to make Lord of the Rings, Disney (in a co-production with Walden Media) have now invested a considerable amount in bringing The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe to the screen, the first of Lewis’ seven books set in the magical land of Narnia.

During the Blitz, the children of the Pevensie family are sent off to a large country house. There they amuse themselves by playing hide and seek and the youngest, Lucy (Georgie Henley), decides to hide in a large wardrobe. She finds that it is a magical portal to the world of Narnia, a land of permanent frost and snow. After meeting a kindly faun named Mr Tumnus (James McAvoy) who tells her about where she has found herself, she goes back through the wardrobe to her sceptical siblings. Eventually they too discover Narnia and find themselves drawn into a battle between the evil witch (Tilda Swinton) who controls the kingdom and the forces of good led by the lion Aslan (voiced by Liam Neeson).

For fans of the original book, there is initially much to chew on here. It is faithful to the source material, the production design is technically impressive and the CGI used to bring animals such as Aslan to life is (for the most part) convincing. The young actors in the lead roles all do a decent enough job and Tilda Swinton brings an icy gravitas to the role of the White Witch. But despite the qualities that will no doubt make this one of the most popular films over the Christmas period, there was too much here that left me deflated. The central problem is that none of the elements really gel into a memorable whole. Although director Andrew Adamson has taken some care to ensure that the details of the book have been translated on screen, there is little here to truly inspire or excite.

The world of Narnia is recreated with an solid attention to detail and the CGI used to create the animal characters is mostly good (without ever being outstanding). However, there is lack of cohesion between the characters and their surroundings that makes Narnia less magical than it should be. When we fist come across Tumnus and the famous lamp post it feels too much like a set and the final battle scenes are nowhere near the standards set by Peter Jackson in the Lord of the Rings films.

Given the way this film has been marketed to religious audiences in the States, one might expect the Christian themes to have been laid on quite heavily. But in truth it’s not an explicitly religious film, certainly no more than the book. If you object to the metaphors in Lewis’ original (Aslan is essentially a Christ-like figure) then, you will probably object to them here as it reproduces the tone of the story quite faithfully. But the problem with this adaptation is not religion, it is the lack of wonder and magic needed to make a film like this truly memorable.

> Official Site
> IMDb Link
> Watch the trailer
> See what the critics think of the film at Metacritic
> Wikipedia on the original books
> Detailed bio of C.S. Lewis
> The Economist with an article profiling Philip Anschutz – the man behind Walden Media, co-financiers of the film along with Disney – who wants to make films without sex and violence (you mean all the good stuff? – Ed)
> The Village Voice with an interesting article on the way ‘Christian values’ are finding their way into Hollywood films
> Polly Toynbee in The Guardian is upset by the Christian elements in the book and film

Useful Links

Google Showtimes

Want to know what films are on in your area? Have a look at Google’s new showtimes funtion.

Just enter your postcode or location and it brings up the relevant cinema listings.

> Google UK – Cinema Showtimes
> For those across the pond here is the US version


Alternative ‘Big’ Trailer

Maybe not quite as good as the alternative trailer for ‘The Shining’ but this remixed trailer for Penny Marshall’s 1988 film starring Tom Hanks is still pretty funny.


The Friday Review 02.12.05

A rundown of the latest cinema and DVD releases…


Doom (15): Lame adaptation of the computer game which sees a group of marines (led by The Rock) take a trip to Mars, where something in the deep, dark innards of a lab has been killing scientists. Like Aliens only without the excitement, good acting and class. (Open now at cinemas nationwide)

Keeping Mum (15): Rowan Atkinson plays a priest in a sleepy village whose frustrated wife (Kristin Scott Thomas) is having an affair with her American golf teacher (Patrick Swayze). When an elderly housekeeper (Maggie Smith) arrives to help out mysterious things start to happen. Gently amusing although it won’t win any awards for originality. (Open now at cinemas nationwide)

Where The Truth Lies (18): When a hotel maid turns up naked and dead in the room of popular ’50s double-act Lanny Morris (Kevin Bacon) and Vince Collins (Colin Firth), it signals the end of their partnership. Fifteen years later, a young journalist (Alison Lohman) meets them to uncover the truth. Not up to the standards of Atom Egoyan’s best work, but still an intelligent drama with solid performances. (Open now at cinemas nationwide)

Other films out this week that we haven’t seen yet but might be worth checking out:
> Lower City
> Steamboy
> The Hidden Blade
> 2 Young


Crash (15): Set over the course of two nights and one day, this multi-stranded ensemble drama dissects the turbulent state of race relations in LA. Starring Don Cheadle, Matt Dillon, Thandie Newton, Sandra Bullock, Ryan Phillippe and Brendan Fraser it is bold and absorbing stuff, despite sagging in a few places. (Out on Monday 5th)

The 40 Year Old Virgin (15): Unassuming, toy-collecting electrical-store worker Andy (Steve Carell) is goaded by his workmates into admitting that he’s never had sex. Surprisingly funny for a broad commercial comedy, Carrell (best known for his work in the US version of The Office) displays a nice comic touch. (Out on Monday 5th)

Browse for other UK DVD releases this week over at Amazon

> UK and US Box Office Stats at The Z Review
> UK Film release schedule at the Film Distributor’s Association
> Check out what the critics are saying about the latest cinema and DVD releases at Metacritic


Firefox 1.5 released

The latest version of Firefox came out yesterday and if you still use IE then it’s certainly worth a look.

The main reasons for upgrading to 1.5 are:

  • The the ability to move tabs across the screen
  • An improved pop-up blocker
  • A new search engine list
  • Quicker navigation (especially the back and forward buttons)
  • RSS discovery (a little orange box appears in your address bar and by clicking on it adds the RSS  feed to your bookmarks)
  • OS X support for all you Mac users.
  • Automated updates

I’ve only just installed today but I’ve been using Firefox as my default browser for a while now. The extensions are useful and the live bookmarks are great. Some of the older plugins aren’t fully compatible with 1.5 yet but the ever useful Lifehacker has pointed out there is a way around this.

> Official site for Firefox
> Wikipedia on Mozilla Firefox
> The Better Browser with reasons to switch to Firefox
> CNET on the new release



Phone numbers in films

Having just come out of Woody Allen’s latest film (a full review will be posted soon) I couldn’t help but notice something strange and interesting.

No matter how much movies try to be realistic there are always certain things that have to be unrealistic. One of the most obvious is phone numbers. In American films any phone number in a film usually starts with the fictious 555 code, although Bruce Almighty cheekily flaunted this convention in 2003.

However, in Matchpoint (which opens in the UK on January 6th) one character clearly states a London number. I don’t remember it exactly but it starts 0207, the code for Inner London, where the bulk of the film is set. Off the top of my head I can’t recall something like this happening before. My gut feeling is that they have added an extra digit to make it fictious but if you get a weird phone call after January 6th it could just be a Woody Allen fan…

> Official Site for Matchpoint
> CBS News on the Bruce Almighty phone number shenanigans
> A "Mind-numbingly comprehensive" list of 555 phone numbers in TV and Film 
> Wikipedia on the 555 tradition
> The Guardian’s Notes and Queries section on the subject


Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

The fourth Potter is an improvement on the first two it lacks the invention and charm of last year’s The Prisoner of Azkaban.

I have a confession to make. I am puzzled by the success of Harry Potter. Whilst it’s heartwarming to see the printed word triumph so spectacularly in an age where kids are expected to play computer games I have never been fully bowled over by the whole Potter phenomenon. Maybe its beacuse the films have failed to really spark my imagination or perhaps its because I’m too old. When people ask me if I have read the books and my honest reply is that I prefer to read adult books and anyway I can catch up on the adventures of the boy wizard when the next film comes out, which at the moment is nearly one a year. The film franchise has now made over a billion dollars worldwide and no doubt the accountants at Warner Bros will be very happy, particularly with three more films on the way.

The Goblet of Fire sees young wizard Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) and his two friends Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint) enter their final year at Hogwarts and after seeing the Quidditch World Cup disrupted by the followers of Lord Voldemort. The start of term sees the Triwizard Tournament take place where pupils are selected by having their names drawn out of the magical ‘goblet of fire’. When Harry’s name is drawn out he is surprised as he isn’t officially old enough to participate but after some consideration he is selected. Also causing Harry some concern is the new teacher "Mad Eye Moody" (Brendan Gleeson). As Harry takes part in the arduous tasks of the tournament he discovers more about what is going on at Hogwarts and the truth about the death of his parents at the hands of the evil Lord Voldemort.

If the previous paragraph made no sense then I assume you haven’t been yet experienced the adventures of the boy wizard. My advice to people coming to this film new is to either a) stay away or b) watch the previous 3. We are now so deep into the Potter series that I defy anyone who hasn’t experienced the books or films to understand what’s going on here. The book of The Goblet of Fire ran much longer than it’s predecessors and contains a lot more plot. Some of this has been compressed for the film, but it still is a lot to take in for those who aren’t Potter afficionados. This film is certainly darker and more exciting than the first two, but as a whole it lacks the sense of invention and playful quality that director Alfonso Cuar�n brought to the last film.

Mikle Newell had a tricky job in compressing all the book’s action into this film, although to his credit the action set pieces are as good as any in the series. The Triwizard challenges in particular are handled with a deft assurance. Brendan Gleeson is also a highlight as the new teacher on the block. As his character’s name might suggest he has one eye that seems to have a life of it’s own. As you might expect from a film of this scale and size the production design and technical contributions are all impressive, but one aspect that left me a little underwhelmed was tha ttention paid to the three main characters.

In this film Harry, Ron and Hermione all go through the traditional problems teenagers face growing up. We see some of these in brief, Ron and Harry fall out over the competition and Hermione is upset when she isn’t asked to the school ball. But these moments feel few and far between and given that the film is filled to bursting with plot developments it would have been nice for a change of pace with more character based drama to contrast with all the action and special effects. It is no coincidence that one of the best sequences in the film – when we finally get to see the infamous Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) – is slower and more considered.

It is rare that franchises go past a fourth film but with the books in danger of outselling the Bible it seems like the Potter films will continue till the seventh and final installment. Despite their popularity I don’t think they will ever compare favourably to the Lord of the Rings trilogy,  the other blockbuster fantasy franchise of recent years. Those films had a scale and intensity that the Potters have so far not matched but they have improved on the first two films which often seemed to be coasting on the coat tails of the books and the charming world Rowling had created. Here Mike Newell has passed on the baton well but if the series is to be remembered for more than just box office receipts the next films need to be more daring.


> Official Site
> IMDb Link
> Watch the trailer
> Brush up on your Harry Potter knowledge with the help of Wikipedia
> Go even further with the Harry Potter Wiki
> JK Rowling’s official site
> Confused by all the Potter jargon? Struggling to understand what a Muggle is? Then the Harry Potter Lexicon can help you out
> One of JK Rowling’s favourite fansites is The Leaky Cauldron. Full of the latest news on all things Potter


Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang

A wonderfully smart and cocky pastiche of the kind of films that writer-director Shane Black used to pen himself in the late 80s.

Throughout its 102 minute running time Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang treads a tightrope.

Any film with a heavy use of voice over and a plethora of self reflexive gags stands in grave danger of being a self indulgent piece of crap.

But despite all this, Shane Black has managed to craft a supremely witty and inventive film that contains two sparkling lead performances from actors whose talents had been submerged by showbiz nonsense in recent years.

The film is narrated by Harry Lockhart (Robert Downey Jr.), a petty thief who stumbles across an audition in New York whilst on the run from police.

Flustered and desperate he manages to impress a producer who mistakenly believes he is some kind of intense method actor. Flash forward to LA and Harry is at a Hollywood party ready for his breakthrough role, when he meets the aptly named private detective Gay Perry (Kilmer).

Together they get involved in a complex noir murder plot that involves – amongst other things – an old high school sweetheart (Michelle Monaghan) and a dead body.

Back in the 80s Shane Black struck gold by creating the Lethal Weapon franchise and influenced countless action films with a weary wisecracking protagonist.

After Warner Brothers bid a then record amount for The Last Boy Scout and were reportedly less than thrilled with its dark edge and underwhelming box office performance Shane Black withdrew from the Hollywood mainstream.

After 1996’s The Long Kiss Goodnight his last writing credit was 1999’s A.W.O.L – a film whose title was all too prophetic, at least as far as his career was concerned.

Six years on Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang feels like the first Lethal Weapon film with a script polish from Charlie Kaufman.

We have the stock Shane Black ingredients: mismatched partners, witty one liners, a feisty love interest, kidnappings and well orchestrated mayhem. But what we also get is a slick narrative, laced with some irresistible self reflexive humour.

At times the gags are too centred on Hollywood and film making but given the setting that is entirely excusable. All of this is enhanced by some winning lead performances.

Downey Jr. has long been touted as a next big thing but his off screen activities prevented him from the best roles (as well as for a time his actual freedom). Here he shows how good a comic actor he can be and his interplay with Monaghan is always good value.

Even better is his chemistry with Kilmer, whose deadpan delivery and languid charm is an unexpected delight. Together they are reminiscent of Gibson and Glover in the Lethal Weapon films only here we get more comic confusion and less macho posturizing.

Screenwriting gurus might tell you that voiceovers are lazy narrative devices but in the right hands they can work a treat.

The voiceover is one of the best in recent memory, managing to elicit plenty of laughs through Downey Jnr.’s pitch perfect delivery and the wonderfully subversive way it refutes many of the conventions of Hollywood storytelling.

As the plot of Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang jumps through ever more complex hoops, Downey’s voice over becomes a welcome relief, reminding you of the absurdities of most thrillers whilst revelling in them at the same time.

Some may not like the smarty-pants tone of Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang and complain that it is all surface, but ultimately that is what is so fun about the film.

If only more films had a surface as delectable as the one Black has constructed here.

Is it shallow? Absolutely. Does it matter? To be honest, most of the time I was too busy laughing to care.


> Official Site
> IMDb Link
> Watch the trailer
> Jonathan Bernstein in The Guardian with an excellent article on the film and the buddy movie in general
Culturepulp have an extra long ‘directors cut’ Q&A interview with Shane Black
> Screentalk discuss the script with Shane Black



The Constant Gardener

A gripping thriller that also functions as an intelligent and moving drama, The Constant Gardener is easily one of the year’s best films.

Fernando Meirelles’ last film, City of God, was a stunning look at crime in the slums of Rio De Janeiro. He may have been a surprising choice to tackle the intrigue of John Le Carr�’s 2001 novel, but he turns out to have been an inspired choice, bringing an unexpected energy and power to the material. This is very different from the refined world of previous Le Carr� adaptations like The Russia House and The Tailor of Panama.



Coming from a writer-director as talented as Cameron Crowe, Elizabethtown can only rank as a major disappointment.

With films like Say Anything, Jerry Maguire and Almost Famous, Cameron Crowe carved a niche as a film maker who could blend heart felt emotions with a nice comic touch. His last film, Vanilla Sky (a remake of Spanish thriller Abre Los Ojos, was brave yet flawed departure from his usual style. His latest goes back to the themes of his earlier films but is almost unrecognisable in terms of quality and execution.


The Brothers Grimm

Although it has some interesting touches The Brothers Grimm is not the film it should have been.

Terry Gilliam’s first film in 7 years sounded almost too good to be true. One of the most inventive film makers of his generation making a film about the Brothers Grimm had the potential to be a dazzling visual and storytelling feast. Unfortunatley, it wasn’t to be. Judging from recent interviews with Gilliam it seems that creative differences with the films backers (Miramax, making the film through their Dimension arm) wrecked the project almost before it had started filming.

Things got so bad that production was even shut down for several months � a hiatus during which Gilliam even shot another film � only before compromises were finally reached. Compromised is probably the best way to describe the final result. Gilliam�s ideas are visible but they are too often stifled by a confusing and uneven narrative.

News Thoughts

Goodfellas tops Total Film Poll

Choosing a “greatest film of all time” is nearly always a tricky – and perhaps impossible – task but Total Film’s nomination of Goodfellas is interesting. It avoids the perenial favourite (Citizen Kane), the popular choice (Star Wars) and the IMDb favourites (The Godfather and The Shawshank Redemption). As often with these lists though, it is the patterns that are interesting and not the “winner”. The inclusion of Magnolia, Sideways and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind in the top 100 were entries that caught my eye as recent classics that could have been overlooked but weren’t.


> Total Film on their list
> The IMDb Top 250
> Sight and Sound’s ‘Greatest’ Film Polls
> – Web application that allows you to manage which of the IMDb’s top 250 films you have seen


London Film Festival 2005

The London Film Festival starts today and for those aiming to go and see something here are some films I’m looking forward to seeing.

A Cock and Bull Story: How do you film an unfilmable novel like Lawrence Sterne’s ‘The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy‘? Director Michael Winterbottom is incredibly versatile and despite the disappointment of 9 Songs this could be very good, especially with Steve Coogan in the title role.

Good Night, and Good Luck: George Clooney’s second outing as a director looks at the the real-life conflict in the 1950s between television anchorman Edward R Murrow and Senator Joseph McCarthy. Shot in black and white and making veiled references to today’s US media this closes the festival and looks like it could well feature in the end of year award nominations.

Hidden: Another Cannes favourite, Michael Haneke’s latest stars Juliette Binoche and Daniel Auteuil as a couple who’s comfortable life is disrupted by anonymous videotapes of their lives sent through the mail. Haneke’s last film (Time of the Wolf) was disappointing but this promises to something much more substantial.

L’enfant: This year’s Palme D’or winner at Cannes from The Dardenne brothers’ is a story of a young couple struggling with a baby in Liege. Looks like it could be a gritty delight.

Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang: Remember Lethal Weapon and The Last Boy Scout? They both came from the pen of Shane Black who makes his directorial debut with this thriller pairing Robert Downey Jr. and Val Kilmer. Could be fun.

March of the Penguins: This documentary about the migration of emperor penguins in Antartica was an unexpected hit this summer in the US. Narrated by Morgan Freeman it looks like it could have similar success over here.

Separate Lies: After winning an Oscar with Gosford Park, Julian Fellowes makes his directorial debut with this drama starring Tom Wilkinson and Emily Watson. Based on the novel by Nigel Balchin it looks like an intriguingly serious turn for Fellowes.

The Brothers Grimm: The fact that Miramax have kept this on the shelf for so long doesn’t bode well, but any new film by Terry Gilliam is worth checking out. Here Matt Damon and Heath Ledger play the eponymous brothers attempting to rid the Napoleonic countryside of monsters and demons.

The Constant Gardener: The festival curtain raiser has already attracted rave reviews Stateside. It will be very interesting to see Fernando Meirelles’ take on John Le Carre’s novel of murder and intrigue in Kenya after his last outing in 2002, the stunning City of God.

The Proposition: John Hillcoat’s Australian western, written by Nick Cave. Yes, thatNick Cave. It has to be worth seeing for that alone and the fact that it stars Guy Pearce and Danny Houston.

Walk the Line: Any bio-pic of Johnny Cash would be worth seeing out of sheer curiousity value but Joaquin Phoenix has already garnered strong word of mouth for his portrayal of the ‘Man in black’ and James Mangold is an intelligent director. Reese Witherspoon co-stars as one of his wives.

I’ll post some reviews and reactions as the festival goes on. It ends on November 3rd.

> Official site – Packed with information on films, events and how to book tickets.
> The festival’s Artistic Director Sandra Hebron speaks to The Times
> A selection of directors with films at the festival choose their picks in The Guardian
> Doug Bolton questions the point of the festival, again in The Guardian


Happy Birthday IMDb

One of the web’s most useful sites turns 15 today. It is hard to think it has been around that long…

> IMDb’s history of itself
> IMDb staff with their picks from the last 15 years
> Wikipedia entry on IMDb
> JoBlo wishes them a happy birthday



Tony Scott�s semi-autobiographical take on the life of Lawrence Harvey�s daughter is a strange mix of the entertaining and the uneven.

The real life of Domino Harvey is as surreal as any fiction Hollywood has come up with in recent years. The daughter of actor Laurence Harvey, she was initially raised in Britain and educated at private schools before moving to LA with her mother. There she proceeded to rebel against her privileged upbringing by becoming a bounty hunter and finding criminals who had jumped bail. An already intriguing story took a tragic real life twist when Harvey was found dead earlier this summer, some months after principal photography on the film was finished. The end result is an entertaining – if not entirely successful – action film that showcases Tony Scott�s kinetic shooting styles.


Lord of War

Despite a few missteps, Andrew Niccol�s latest film is a diverting tale set amidst the arms business.

The bravura opening sequence of Lord of War sets the darkly comic tone of the film. Playing like a twisted variation on Forrest Gump, we see the journey of a bullet (instead of a feather) as it is created in a factory, loaded into several crates, shipped, loaded into rifle and finally shot into a young man�s head with a sickening thud. In telling the story of a Ukrainian immigrant who finds his fortune by becoming a global gun runner, Niccol has created an interesting and intelligent look at the bleak logic of the arms trade. Whilst it never fully lives up to it�s potential, the central premise, of how the world�s �peace keepers� fuel global violence by selling weapons to poorer countries, is an engaging one.


Oliver Twist

Roman Polanski�s new adaptation of the famous Dickens novel is technically accomplished and well acted, but never really lives up to its promise.

Every so often a film comes along in which there is much to admire but ultimately leaves you feeling unsatisfied. Polanski�s new version of Oliver Twist is just such a film. Despite the impressive production design, some solid performances and a gritty evocation of the Victorian era the film left me feeling like young Oliver in wanting more. After their Oscar wins for The Pianist, it seems odd that Polanski and screenwriter Ronald Harwood would choose to make such a conventional adaptation of an already famous work.



This remixed trailer for Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 horror film is pure genius. I don’t know what Kubrick himself would make of it but it’s funny as hell.


> The New York Times on the man behind it
> The video at (should play in QT and WM)
> The Tattered Coat has more on the story


A History of Violence

David Cronenberg’s latest film is a dark and intelligent look at the violence that lurks in small town America.

Like his previous film Spider it is more low key and restrained work than previous efforts like The Fly or Crash but it still packs a considerable punch, even though the latter stages have an uneasy, almost comic tone. It is as arresting and disturbing as his early films, but moves at a deceptively slower pace, making the violence – when it happens – all the more shocking.



Guy Ritchie’s return to the gangster genre is a confusing, incoherent mess.

What should have been a return to the kind of films that made his name after the embarrassment of Swept Away is actually something equally bad. Although it bears the hallmarks of Lock, Stock… and Snatch (flashy editing, cockney geezers, stone faced hard men) it features a plot so tortuous and confusing you have to wonder if the whole project is some kind of elaborate new-age joke.


Cinderella Man

Although it bombed unexpectedly at the US box office this Depression era boxing drama is an accomplished and moving depiction of James Braddock’s extraordinary career.

The story of US boxer James J Braddock reads like a fairy tale. During the Great Depression in New York he was forced into a series of menial jobs and struggled to hold his family together in the face of terrible poverty. However, chance and opportunity combined to give him a chance to return to the ring and get his life back on track, even leading him to a shot at the world title.


“US cops swoop on Star Wars stormtrooper”

Is it just me or are the cops in Wisconsin being a little heavy handed?

(Link via The Register)

General Thoughts

Enough of the TV adaptations

The Dukes of Hazzard is just the latest in a long line of lame TV adaptations from the major studios – surely its time for them to look elesewhere for decent ideas.

If you’re a Hollywood exuctive in charge of greenlighting films then the allure of remaking a TV show is fairly simple. There is a built in awareness from the audiences who caught the show first time around (so less marketing costs) and there is the opportunity to build a franchise from the material already laid out in the show’s many episodes. To be fair, some adaptations have been reasonably entertaining. The Fugitive was a solid thriller and Mission: Impossible was pleasingly slick but it is hard to really come up with something truly outstanding that had it’s origins in TV.


Charlie & The Chocolate Factory

Tim Burton�s adaptation of Roald Dahl�s much loved children�s book is a surreal delight.

For all of its enduring popularity as a book, Charlie & the Chocolate Factory has never really received a satisfactory adaptation on TV or film. Until now, the darker edges of Dahl�s imagination have probably put off studios but with the success of the Harry Potter films, children�s books seem to be back in vogue. Step forward Warner Brothers and the director who was born to make this film – Tim Burton. Add in Johnny Depp, the actor who has collaborated with him on his best work (Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood), and you have an extremely tempting prospect aswell as a chance to finally lay to rest the problems that dogged the over praised 1971 adaptation that Dahl reportedly hated.


War of the Worlds

The biggest blockbuster of the summer is a thrilling but surprisingly bleak affair filled with post 9/11 angst.

Nearly 30 years on from depicting aliens as friendly visitors in Close Encounters of the Third Kind Steven Spielberg has fashioned a very different alien invasion movie. Despite all the negative pre-release publicity surrounding its star Tom Cruise and an embargo on reviews till the release date suggesting something bad was afoot, it is a surprisingly lean and subversive summer blockbuster. Adapting the themes of H.G. Wells’s original novel to contemporary America, Spielberg and screenwriters David Koepp and Josh Friedman explore the fears of the most powerful nation on the planet whilst also crafting an exciting and absorbing drama.


Batman Begins

The big budget resurrection of the Batman movie franchise is a smarter than average comic book adaptation but despite the gritty feel and some heavyweight acting talent it doesn�t quite match up to the recent X-Men and Spiderman films.

The recent glut of Marvel comic book adaptations makes it easy to forget that the two trailblazing superhero films of the modern era were both from the DC Comics stable. In 1978 Superman showed that the character could be believable on a big screen, whilst Batman in 1989 was similarly successful. But after director Joel Schumacher took over from Tim Burton in the 90s the films descended into campy fiasco of 1997�s execrable Batman & Robin. That effectively killed off the franchise but with Warner Bros keen to cash in on the current superhero frenzy they opted to refresh the Batman story with a new approach and a different kind of director. Their choice was Christopher Nolan who made his name with the brilliant Memento in 2000 and he brings a refreshing approach to the Batman character.


Mr & Mrs. Smith

Despite the relentless tabloid gossip and negative buzz that has surrounded it, Mr & Mrs Smith is actually smarter and more entertaining than you might have been led to believe.

In a summer dominated by films like Revenge of the Sith and War of the Worlds, Mr and Mrs Smith was clearly designed to be a low tech alternative to the special effects driven blockbusters that usually dominate the season. The concept of the film is to mix a smart romantic comedy with a spy caper and despite the media gossip about whether the two leads did or didn�t fall in love during filming, it is a surprisingly smart and enjoyable ride. Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie display enough chemistry to keep us interested in the romantic side of the film and Doug Liman brings the same leftfield sensibilities to the action genre that made his name with films like Swingers and Go.


Star Wars Episode III Revenge of the Sith

The final film of the Star Wars saga is the best of the recent prequels but still lacks the charm and wonder of the original films.

Since George Lucas decided to make the three prequels to his original Star Wars trilogy, critical opinion has been divided and fans of the first three films have had much to fret over. It would be fair to say that the The Phantom Menace was one of the most eagerly awaited films in recent times in 1999 but the flat story line and annoying CGI sidekicks disappointed many despite the film�s commercial success. Attack of the Clones in 2002 was an improvement with more engaging action sequences but it still suffered the same problems. Revenge of the Sith still has the same problems as it�s predecessors but nonetheless provides an agreeable bridge between the two Star Wars trilogies.


Kingdom of Heaven

Despite the obvious pedigree behind the camera and some impressively staged battle scenes, Ridley Scott�s latest epic lacks the human drama and visual invention of his previous work.

The critical and commercial success of Gladiator in 2000 kick started the recent revival of �sword and sandal� epics. Now things come full circle with the same director helming the latest in the genre, an epic tale of a blacksmith who is drawn into the Crusades and the battle for Jerusalem in the 12th century. To make a large scale film about Christians invading the Middle East might seem a provocative move given current world events, but in truth the film is a fairly routine example of the epic genre. Like Gladiator we see a mournful protagonist drawn into a wider conflict in which he emerges a heroic warrior. But unlike that film Kingdom of Heaven tries to encompass so many points of view that it ends up being a diluted and underwhelming experience.


The Assassination of Richard Nixon

Despite some impressive acting and a fascinating subject matter this drama isn�t quite as powerful or involving as it should be.

Sometimes real life events are more extraordinary than anything dreamt up by screenwriters. The real life events that form the basis for The Assassination of Richard Nixon are as extraordinary as the fact that it actually got made. In the aftermath of 9/11 it seemed inconceivable that a film about a man planning to hijack an airliner and fly it into the White House would make it to cinema screens. However, time and the support some major Hollywood talent have made the film a reality. But whilst the material is undeniably intriguing and benefits from a fine central performance, it never quite becomes the gripping drama it promises to be.