UK Cinema Releases: Friday 6th November 2009

UK Cinema Releases 06-11-09



A Christmas Carol (Walt Disney): An animated retelling of the Charles Dickens novel about a Victorian-era miser (Jim Carrey) taken on a journey of self-redemption, courtesy of several mysterious Christmas apparitions. Written and directed by Robert Zemeckis, it stars Carrey in a variety of roles, including Ebenezer Scrooge and the three ghosts who haunt him.

It was filmed using the performance capture techniques Zemeckis previously used in The Polar Express (2004) and Beowulf (2007). Disney will be expecting healthy box office after a big marketing push and audience familiarity with the story. [BFI IMAX, Empire Leicester Sq., Trocadero Picc Circus & Nationwide / PG]

The Men Who Stare At Goats (Momentum Pictures): Loosely adapted from Jon Ronson’s non-fiction book about a secret Army unit founded in 1979 called the ‘First Earth Battalion’ who conducted paranormal experiments, which included staring at goats in order to kill them.

The film uses a fictional framing narrative of an Ann Arbor journalist (Ewan McGregor) who hears about these strange practices when he covers the Iraq war in 2003 and encounters a former member of the unit (George Clooney).

An excellent supporting cast includes Jeff Bridges, Kevin Spacey and Stephen Lang. Although director Grant Heslov doesn’t always get the mix right between comedy and drama, there are enough funny set pieces here to chew on. Read my full thoughts on the film here.

Momentum will be hoping the starry cast will boost ticket sales but the oddness of the story and heavy competition might dent its grosses. [Coronet Notting Hill, Screen On The Green, Vue West End & Nationwide / 12A]

Bright Star (Warner Bros./Pathe): Director Jane Campion returns with this lush period drama based on the three-year romance between 19th century poet John Keats (Ben Wishaw) and Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish), which was cut short by Keats’ untimely death at age 25.

It has screened to some acclaim on the festival circuit since premièring at Cannes back in May and many are tipping it for Oscar recognition. Critical buzz and word of mouth amongst discerning audiences could help it achieve decent art house business, with multiplex crossover in some areas. [Nationwide / PG]

Jennifer’s Body (20th Century Fox): A comedy horror about a newly possessed cheerleader (Megan Fox) who turns into a killer who specializes in offing her male classmates, much to the dismay of her best friend (Amanda Seyfried).

A massive creative misfire all-round, despite the talents of screenwriter Diablo Cody (Juno) and director Karyn Kusama (Girlfight). Fox will be hoping to snare gullible teens but audiences will be disappointed when they see what a bad film it is. [Nationwide / 15]

The Fourth Kind (Entertainment): ‘Fact’ based thriller involving an ongoing unsolved mystery in Alaska, where one town has seen an extraordinary number of unexplained disappearances during the past 40 years and there are accusations of a federal cover up [Nationwide / 18]



UK Cinema Limited Releases 06-11-09

Paper Heart (Anchor Bay UK): Charlyne Yi embarks on a quest across America to make a documentary about love.

Directed by Nicholas Jasenovec, it is a drama/documentary hybrid starring Charlyne Yi and Michael Cera as themselves. Sort of. [Odeon Panton Street & Key Cities / PG]

1 Day (Vertigo Films): The first ever British hip hop musical about a hustler named Flash set amongst young rappers in Birmingham. It should be noted that it is directed by Penny Woolcock who has made two of the worst films of all time (The Principles of Lust and Mischief Night). [Nationwide / 15]

Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Inferno (Park Circus): A part documentary and part reconstruction of the 1964 film Henri-Georges Clouzot never made. [Cine Lumiere, ICA Cinema & Key Cities / 15]

Welcome (Cinefile): Drama about a Kurdish boy from Iraq who sets off on a journey across Europe. [Curzon Renoir & selected Key Cities/ 15]

> UK cinema releases for November 2009
> DVD & Blu-ray picks for this week including Wallace and Gromit: The Complete Collection, It’s A Wonderful Life, The Proposition and The Wizard of Oz (W/C Monday 2nd November 2009)

Cinema Festivals London Film Festival Thoughts

LFF 2009: The Men Who Stare at Goats

George Clooney in The Men Who Stare at Goats

Loosely adapted from Jon Ronson’s non-fiction book about bizarre US military practices, The Men Who Stare at Goats mostly hits the spot as a satire.

For anyone who hasn’t read Ronson’s book, the title comes from a secret Army unit founded in 1979 called the ‘First Earth Battalion’ who conducted paranormal experiments which included staring at goats in order to kill them.

Why was US taxpayer money being used in this way? After the trauma of Vietnam and Cold War paranoia still in the air, it seems that the military brass were willing to allow a unit to pursue paranormal experiments and all kinds of New Age ideas.

With names changed and details tweaked, the film uses a fictional framing narrative of an Ann Arbor journalist (Ewan McGregor) who hears about these strange practices and when he goes to cover the Iraq war in 2003 he encounters  a former member of the unit (George Clooney) who provides him with more stories.

In flashback we learn the history of  the unit created under Bill Django (Jeff Bridges) at Fort Bragg which trained soldiers to be ‘Jedi Warriors’ with special powers. (Note the irony of McGregor not playing a ‘Jedi’ here despite the fact that he played the most famous Jedi of all in the Star Wars prequels).

Amongst these are Lynn Cassady (Clooney), Larry Hooper (Kevin Spacey) and General Hopgood (Stephen Lang). As McGregor’s journalist slowly uncovers their history he begins to see how their methods connect to George W Bush‘s war on terror.

Fans of the book should be prepared for something a little different from the film but credit should go screenwriter Peter Straughan who has done a clever job in incorporating the details into a narrative framework and weaving many of the best details into certain scenes. There is quite a lot of voiceover from McGregor, but the fact that he’s a journalist helps soften what can sometimes be a clunky storytelling device.

The tone here is somewhat similar to the dry, knowing slapstick of the Coen Brothers (such as Burn After Reading or The Big Lebowski) and director Grant Heslov manages to mine the source material for plenty of laughs.

The theme of the film seems to be how the US military will embrace any idea – no matter how whacky – in the pursuit of its goals and how the insanity of Cold War simply fermented such thinking. As the film reminds us, Ronald Regan was a big fan of Star Wars (one of his missile programmes was nicknamed after it) and even had a wife who believed in astrological readings.

The logic in creating a unit of ‘Jedi warriors’ during the Cold War seemed to come out of paranoia that they had to do it before the Russians did – even if was crazy.

But much of the satire comes from the inherent absurdity of war itself, which is why the training camp sections and modern day sequences in Iraq dovetail more neatly than you think. Lest we forget, US troops blasted Iraqi prisoners-of-war with the theme tune to Barney the Purple Dinosaur and played Eminem to detainees at Gauantanamo Bay.

Heslov and Straughn seem to be channelling the spirit of such films as Dr Strangelove, Three Kings and Catch 22 for the War on Terror generation. The cast is uniformly good with the standout performance coming from Clooney (who is perfectly deadpan throughout), although why directors seem hell-bent on casting McGregor as an American is a mystery given his wonky US accent.

The Men Who Stare at Goats (poster at the Vue after LFF press screening)

However, the chemistry between Clooney and McGregor works well in their extended sequences together and the film is consistently funny, if not flat out hilarious or possessing the political savvy of the films that inspired it. Impressively, the events of the book are compressed neatly into a highly watchable 93 minutes, with precious little fat or waste.

On the tech side, the visuals look impressive for a mid-budget movie, whilst special praise must go to cinematographer Robert Elswit (one of the best currently working in Hollywood) who shoots some of the locations superbly with New Mexico doubling for Iraq and Puerto Rico standing in for Vietnam and other places.

Quite how this will do at the box office remains an open question. Despite being very accessible and featuring a stellar cast, the fact that it is effectively an indie (made by Overture Films and BBC Films) might mean it lacks the marketing power of bigger funded studio rivals.

The surreal nature of the story might baffle people – as an opening title says: “More of this is true than you would believe” – which leaves the question as to how much you do actually believe. That said, I can see it playing well with audiences and UK distributor Momentum Pictures can expect it to do well if enough buzz is created.

The Men Who Stare at Goats screened tonight at the LFF and goes on general release in the UK on November 6


Trailer: The Men Who Stare At Goats

The trailer for The Men Who Stare At Goats, the new film based on Jon Ronson’s book about bizarre (but true) US military experiments and training exercises reactivated under the Bush regime.

Directed by Grant Heslov, it stars Ewan McGregor, George Clooney, Jeff Bridges and Kevin Spacey.

It opens in the US on November 6th and in the UK on January 22nd 2010.

By the way you can also follow Jon Ronson on Twitter (@jonronson)