UK Cinema Releases: Saturday 26th December 2009



Sherlock Holmes (Warner Bros.): After the copyright expired on the famous detective, Hollywood studios scrambled to make a big screen adaptation and this version sees Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.) and his stalwart partner Watson (Jude Law) engage in a battle of wits and brawn with a nemesis (Mark Strong) whose has a fiendish plot.

Although the words ‘directed by Guy Ritchie’ can strike fear into the heart of any self-respecting film lover, box office prospects for this look pretty good, despite competition from Avatar and mixed reviews. [Nationwide / 12A]

Nowhere Boy (Icon): The feature film debut of artist Sam Taylor Wood explores the teenage years of John Lennon (Aaron Johnson) and how they laid the groundwork for his future career as one of The Beatles.

Although by no means flawless, the film does a good job of laying out the drama in Lennon’s early life and Johnson does a decent job filling the daunting shoes of Lennon. Supporting performances (especially Kristin Scott-Thomas and Anne Marie-Duff) are very good and the period detail is nicely evoked. [Nationwide / 15]

Alvin & The Chipmunks: The Squeakuel (20th Century Fox): The sequel to the 2007 live-action/CGI comedy and featurs the voices of Zachary LeviDavid CrossWendie Malick, and Jason Lee. This film features Alvin and the Chipmunks and their female counterparts, The Chipettes.

Directed by Betty Thomas, it should take a healthy bite out of the Christmas box office as it was released a few days ago and is one of the most family friendly films on release. [Nationwide / PG]



My Father My Lord (Artificial Eye): A belated UK release for this 2007 Israeli film about a rabbi, his wife and their child. Directed by David Volach, it stars Nitsam Bar, Assi Dayan and IIan Griff. [Renoir & selected Key Cities / PG]

The Queen Of Spades (Optimum Releasing/ICO): A digital reissue for this classic supernatural drama directed by Thorold Dickinson (best known for directing Gaslight). Not seen in British cinemas since its original release in 1949, it is a theatrical taster for its release on DVD in the new year. [Curzon Mayfair, Phoenix East Finchley & Key Cities / PG]

Dogging: A Love Story (Vertigo Films): A British drama about Geordies having anonymous sex in car parks. Directed by Simon Ellis, it stars Luke Treadaway and Kate Heppell.  [Key Cities / 18]

3 Idiots (Reliance MediaWorks): An Indian Bollywood film directed by Rajkumar Hirani, starring Aamir KhanR. MadhavanSharman JoshiKareena Kapoor, and Boman Irani. Intriguingly it will also get released on YouTube three months after its theatrical release. [Cineworlds Feltham, Shaftesbury Ave, Vue G / 12A]

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UK cinema releases for December 2009
UK DVD & Blu-ray picks for 2009

Cinema Festivals London Film Festival

LFF 2009: Nowhere Boy

Aaron Johnson in Nowhere Boy

Despite a plethora of potential pitfalls this drama about the early
years of John Lennon is a stylish and engaging biopic.

Nowhere Boy explores the teenage years of Lennon (Aaron Johnson) and the two important women in his youth: his aunt Mimi Smith (Kristin Scott Thomas) who raised him and his mother Julia (Anne Marie Duff). It also charts his early forays into music as he forms The Quarrymen with a younger guitarist named Paul McCartney (Thomas Sangster).

Bringing a cultural icon like John Lennon to the big screen was always going to be a tricky affair but director Sam Taylor Wood (making her feature debut) has wisely focused on the intriguing family dynamics of Lennon’s childhood and how they fed into his career.

But perhaps most importantly there is a craft and intelligence here that pays tribute to Lennon’s art without indulging in histrionics or clichés.

The opening of a film can nearly always reveal something about its quality and the nice use of a famous Beatles chord to kick everything off indicated to me that things were going to be OK.

It is inevitable that most of the attention and focus of the film would fall on Aaron Johnson, as filling the role of Lennon is perhaps one of the more daunting tasks faced by an actor in recent times.

But he does a good job at capturing the youthful intensity of the young songwriter and although it is a little rough around the edges, that feels appropriate given the emotional tumult of his home life.

Part of the strong bedrock of the film is an admirably tight script by Matt Greenhalgh (who wrote the 2007 Ian Curtis biopic Control) which treats Mimi and Julia as central characters rather than just peripheral support.

Based on the memoir ‘Imagine This: Growing Up With My Brother John Lennon‘ by Lennon’s half sister Julia Baird, it focuses quite tightly on their influence on Lennon’s formative years and his burgeoning friendship with McCartney.

Scott Thomas nicely captures the stern but ultimately loving adoptive parent whilst Duff is excellent as the energetic and erratic soul mate Beatles fans have long read about in various biographies.

Wisely the film – unlike some British efforts – looks properly cinematic by being shot in 2:35 widescreen and cinematographer Seamus McGarvey (who has a considerable experience of music vidoes) shoots with taste, tact and intelligence.

The locations have a richness and vibrancy to them that is similar in some ways to Control and the recreation of 1950s Liverpool is entirely convincing. It is also a relief to see parts of the UK (specifically the North West) presented with a touch of class.

Taylor-Wood might have seemed an odd choice to direct a film like this
but if Steve McQueen’s Hunger proved anything last year, it is that artists from different disciplines (she came to prominence in the 1990s as a conceptual artist) can give cinema something of a creative kick up the arse.

Her artistic background doesn’t always leap at you from the screen, apart from one time-lapse sequence of Lennon learning the banjo, and in general this shows admirable restraint as the style rarely overpowers the emotional content.

In any musical biopic, be it The Buddy Holly Story, The Doors or Walk The Line, there is usually that moment where the principal characters play ‘that song you know’.

Here the equivalent moments are when John first meets Paul and when they first play together with The Quarrymen at a local fete (Shea Stadium was still a while off).

Although this could have been cheesy, but it says a lot about the strengths of the film that it feels natural and convincing. My first reaction on seeing Paul was ‘doesn’t he look young?’ but given that he was 15 at this point, he probably did look young.

There is one moment towards the end when a certain character is about to say the phrase ‘The Beatles’ and doesn’t, which was the moment when it occurred to me that it hadn’t been said at all.

It’s a shrewd move and emblematic of the film, which fills in the emotional gaps whilst not retreading the well worn images of the early Fab Four.

The audience I saw it with was an early morning press and industry crowd and it would be fair to say they didn’t applaud or go for it in the way they did for last year’s LFF closing film Slumdog Millionaire.

Whilst there will always be doses of cynicism and schadenfreude amongst these kind of crowds I was surprised they didn’t go for it a bit more. (I overheard one person sitting in front of me profess dislike for Sam Taylor-Wood’s 2008 short film Love You More despite being “very well made”.)

Maybe this is me being optimistic but if this is marketed well then I can see some very healthy box office ahead for Icon (the UK distributors) and The Weinstein Company (who have the US rights).

After all it is a film about the adolescent pain which fuelled some of the most popular songs of the 20th century.

Nowhere Boy closes the London Film Festival tonight and opens in the UK on December 26th