UK Cinema Releases: Friday 27th March 2009

UK Cinema Releases 27-03-09


The Damned United (S0ny Pictures): The film adaptation of David Peace‘s bestselling novel about Brian Clough and his turbulent spell as manager of Leeds United sees Michael Sheen in the central role.

Adapted by Peter Morgan and directed Tom Hooper (best known for his TV miniseries work on Longford and John Adams) it lacks the dark, interior qualities that made the book so riveting but features some excellent performances.

Sheen does a fantastic job in the title role, bringing the same kind of charm and authenticity that featured in his previous portrayals of Tony Blair and David Frost.

There are also some excellent supporting turns from Colm Meaney as Don Revie and Jim Broadbent as Sam Longson.

It is unusual for Sony to do a British film like this but they have done an excellent job in marketing as a film as something football and non-football fans can enjoy.

Given the competition this week, it stands a chance of claiming the top spot given the good reviews and positive word of mouth.   

Knowing (E1 Films): The current number 1 film at the US box office stars Nicolas Cage as a scientist who comes across a set of numbers that appear to predict disasters.

Directed by Alex Proyas, it mixes drama, action and sci-fi and whilst plodding for the most part, does actually contain three excellent set-pieces and an ending that may surprise people with its ambition. 

E1 Films were a little reluctant to screen it for critics and actually released it early on Wednesday to bump up the opening weekend’s figures.

Given that Cage is still quite a big draw in the action genre (despite his incessant frowning in films like this) it should crack the top two and depending on how well The Damned United does, looks like the marginal favourite to claim the top spot.    

The Haunting in Connecticut (Entertainment): Another horror film hits UK cinemas and this one is about the allegedly true story (which almost certainly means its total bollocks) of the Snedeker family’s encounter with the paranormal in Southington, Connecticut.

This is one of those films with plenty of posters and billboards and virtually no real buzz.


Given that the most well-known actors in it are Virginia Madsen and Elias Koteas, Entertainment will be hoping that horror fans will be up for it and that all those billboards have had some impact. 

I’m guessing that it will have a short cinema life and will make most of its money on DVD. [Cert 15 / Vue West End & Nationwide]



UK Selected Releases 27-03-09

Two Lovers (Lionsgate):  A romantic drama film, very loosely based on Dostoevsky‘s “White Nights”  which stars Joaquin Phoenix as a troubled young man living in Brighton Beach in New York, who falls in love with two very different women (Gwyneth Paltrow and Vinessa Shaw).

Directed by James Gray, who has made films such as The Yards and We Own the Night, it is a pleasingly old fashioned and charming film with Phoenix excellent in the central role (easily his best since Walk The Line in 2005) and good work from Paltrow and Shaw.

The technical work (notice the lack of sets) and cinematography by Joaquin Baca-Asay are all first rate and although it is getting a limited release, is well worth seeking out. [Cert 15 / Apollo Picc Circus, C’World Haymarket, Curzon Mayfair & Key Cities]

Genova (Metrodome): Another film from the festival circuit last year is the story of two American girls and their British father (Colin Firth) who move to Italy after their mother dies.

Directed by the prolific Michael Winterbottom, it also stars Catherine Keener and Hope Davis.

It was filmed in the titular city of Genoa (Genova in Italian) during the summer of 2007. [Cert 15 / Curzon Soho, Ritzy Clapham, Odeon Swiss Cottage, Barbican & Key Cities]

The Life Before Her Eyes (Paramount): A thriller directed by Vadim Perelman adapted from the Laura Kasischke novel of the same name starring Uma Thurman and Evan Rachel Wood. [Cert 12A / Key Cities]

Traitor (Momentum Pictures): A political thriller about an FBI agent (Guy Pearce) who heads up the investigation into a dangerous international conspiracy, which seems to lead back to a former U.S. Special Operations officer, Samir Horn (Don Cheadle). [Cert 12A / Empire Leicester Square & Key Cities]

Tyson (Revolver Entertainment): A dcoumentary about boxer Mike Tyson directed by James Toback and produced by Nicholas Jarecki. [Cert 15 / Curzon Soho, Ritzy & selected Key Cities]

Aa Dekhen Zara (Eros): A Bollywood romantic sci-fi action thriller (yes, you did read that right), starring Neil Mukesh and Bipasha Basu. [C’Worlds Feltham, Ilford, S’bury Ave., Odeon Greenwich, Vue O2 & Key Cities]

Afghan Star (Roast Beef Prod): A documentary exploring how contestants on Pop Idol in Afghanistan risk their lives to appear on the show. [ICA Cinema]

Martyrs (Optimum Releasing): A French mysteryhorror film written and directed by Pascal Laugier. [ICA Cinema]


See what other films came out in March 2009
Check out our latest DVD picks (W/C Monday 23rd March)

Cinema Thoughts

Knowing when to screen a film for critics

Nicolas Cage in Knowing

Last night I went a long to my local cinema to catch Knowing , a new film starring Nicolas Cage as a scientist who comes across a set of numbers that appear to predict disasters.

Directed by Alex Proyas, it mixes drama, action and sci-fi whilst sprinkling them with well-worn clichés.

That said there are some highly effective moments that stand out from the routine nature of the overall story.

It also marks another entry into the puzzling career of Cage, still an A-list star who in recent years has mixed quality projects (Adaptation., Lord of War) with some real junk (The Wicker Man, Next) and the blockbuster success of the National Treasure franchise.

However, I have to confess I was intrigued to see Knowing, not because of its star but because it was (in the UK at least) one of those films that was ‘shielded’ from critics before its release.

What happens with most releases is that the distributor arranges for different types of critics to see it at different times.

Print, TV, radio and online outlets all get invited to preview screenings in advance of running their review or feature on the film.

The last screening is is usually for the national press in the week of release, although if a film company is wary of critics not liking a film, they will not even screen it for them.

For example, in recent years the Saw films have not been screened at all before their UK release, partly because the distributors know that critics will hate them and they don’t want bad reviews affecting the opening weekend gross.

As far as I understand, the UK distributor (E1 Films) of Knowing wasn’t keen on screening it before the national press show and I can see why as it is the sort of film that most critics here will dislike (I may be wrong but check the national papers tomorrow and see if I was right or not).

As E1 didn’t respond to my emails about it, I was thinking of just leaving it out of my regular weekly radio review.

However, they actually released it nationwide yesterday on a Wednesday so I decided to go along and check it out with a paying audience.

Some critics, who have the privilege of seeing films for free (lest we forget), resent this but I usually get a kick out of paying to see a film in a cinema that isn’t one of the London screening rooms I spend a lot of time in.

The thing I like most is that you get to see how a film actually plays with a paying audience, who probably see 2 or 3 films a month rather than critics who often squeeze in about 5 or 6 a week.

My excitement though, was tempered a little bit by one of my pet hates with mutiplex cinemas – poor projection.

It was a little blurry and although not bad enough for people to complain, was still not up to scratch.

Generally speaking screenings for critics have a dedicated projectionist who knows what he is doing whilst multiplexes (in trying to cut costs) have the opposite.

I remember seeing Oceans Thirteen in the multiplex cinema at the 02 arena complex in Greenwich and being shocked at how bad the image on screen was.

Sadly, cinemas get away with this because I’m guessing most audiences can’t tell when it is bad enough to complain.

On my way in I took a glance at the poster in the foyer and was struck by how closely it resembled the artwork for Steven Spielberg’s 2005 War of the Worlds remake:

Knowing and WOTW

I’m tempted here to mention more similarites but I’ll hold back for now.

Anyway, the film started and most of it consists of Cage (playing a recently widowed scientist) and his young son trying to figure out what a set of numbers scribbled down on a piece of paper 50 years ago actually mean.

A lot of the time Cage wears the perpetual frown that has become a hallmark of his recent performances and the whole thing mostly plays like a vintage X-Files episode on steroids.

There were some ironic laughs from the audience at some of the lamer moments, especially the pedestrian dialogue, but I think they were mostly in to it.

Despite a plodding narrative, the set pieces – especially ones involving various forms of transport – and the epic climax are very well handled indeed.

Overall, it doesn’t really work but there are some interesting themes and some strong visual ideas that you might not expect in a film like this.

That said, the lead actors (Cage and Rose Byrne) are let down by a script that seems to see dialogue as incidental to the bigger issues of the film.

So, you may ask, why were E1 Films reluctant to screen to most UK critics?

I think that they felt by opening it on a Wednesday they could not only bump up the opening week’s gross by getting in two extra day’s business (and the cinema I was in was surprisingly busy) but also steal a march on the anticipated weak reviews.

It is a strategy that Fox recently adopted for Marley and Me, another film critics reviled but still proved a hit with audiences. Does this mean that critics don’t matter?

My take is that critics do matter to varying degrees, but it also depends on the film.

Major studio blockbusters are almost critic proof as they have enormous marketing budgets but films on a slightly smaller scale like Knowing, with an estimated budget of $50 million, are vulnerable to bad word of mouth.

If critics universally pan a movie at this level then it will, generally speaking, affect the opening and overall box office prospects. For films released during Oscar season, decent reviews and buzz are almost essential to launching them successfully.

Then of course, there are films that got great reviews (The Insider and The Diving Bell and the Butterfly) and still struggle to make an impact at the box office.

There is a much quoted maxim in Hollywood coined by writer William Goldman that says:

“Nobody knows anything”

But I don’t think that’s quite true.

After all, if you know that nobody knows anything, then you actually do know something (even if it is just the fact that nobody else knows anything).

In the case of films like Knowing, studios get wary of screening them for critics precisely because they do ‘know’ how it will go down.

> Knowing at the IMDb
> Reviews for Knowing at Metacritic

[Image copyright © Summit Entertainment / E1 Films]