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  • Horrible Bosses 2
    Mark Walters30-03-2015

    Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis, and Charlie Day are all back for round two in Horrible Bosses 2, a huge favourite of mine from last year. The first film was brilliant, and this raised the bar even further. A hilarious sequel that's a real must for fans of the original movie.

    Having removed themselves from their bosses last time, the three amigos strike it out on their own, trying to live out the modern-day American Dream and become their own bosses. But things end up taking a turn for the worse when their sole investor backs out to leave them hopelessly in debt and facing bankruptcy. Struggling to come up with any better ideas, they hatch a plan to kidnap the wealthy guy's son and ransom him for enough money to turn their lives back around, but things don't exactly go according to plan.

    Christoph Waltz and Chris Pine are great additions to the cast, and with Jamie Foxx, Jennifer Aniston, Kevin Spacey & Lindsay Sloane all back from the first film, there's loads of laughs for newcomers and those that loved the original.

  • The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
    James Broadbent26-03-2015

    Before going to see The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, I thought I'd probably better see what all the fuss was about with the original and finally got around to seeing The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. To my surprise, I really enjoyed it.

    John Madden directs his finest film since Proof (a rather little-known gem of a film that I recommend looking into), a wonderful sort of reverse-coming-of-age comedy drama that centres on a group of octogenarians finding life and happiness in the face of impending and inevitable death.

    This group of retired British people, predominantly half couples and half singles, all make their way to the hotel of the title, a kind of retirement home-cum-hotel that has been set up for the elderly in India. A great quote from the sequel comes to mind - 'Why die here, when I can die there?'

    Dev Patel stars as the upstart young hotel manager, with Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, and Maggie Smith leading the older cast.

    The dialogue of the film really reminded me of all those classic British rom-coms of decades long gone by, like Notting Hill, etc. There've only been a couple to speak of since then (Love Actually, Wimbledon and About Time, for example), and now we can fortunately add The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel to that list. And I shall be keeping my fingers crossed that its sequel lives up to the bar this film has set as well.

  • The Grandmaster
    James Broadbent26-03-2015

    Apparently there's nothing that Wong Kar-Wai can't do. Over his long career, he's done romance, drama, sci-fi, a little action, and even ventured to Western waters for his English-language debut, My Blueberry Nights. Now he turns his sights to traditional martial arts, and the result is so impressive. The Grandmaster is visually striking and stunning, a real gem of a martial arts film that enthusiasts of the genre need to seek out.

    The story is one many martial arts fans will be familiar with already - that of Ip Man, the renowned teacher of Bruce Lee. Tony Leung Chiu-Wai stars as Ip Man (I believe also known as Yip Man), who is the Grandmaster of the title, a master of the Wing Chun way of martial arts.

    Based on a true story, it looks at his life from the 1930s, a time that was peaceful for him in his relative youth. That peace, however, is an unstable one and does not last long when the time comes for an aging martial arts master to announce his retirement and call for an heir to be found to take his place. Naturally, Ip is put forward as a contender, which leads to a series of fights in the struggle for a new leader.

    Wong Kar-Wai's eye for beauty is unmistakable. Even in the most heated of action sequences with these fighters, he manages to find stunning moments that will amaze even the most seasoned fans of the genre. That takes a lot of skill. I've seen many a martial arts movie in my day, but I was still blown away by the action.

    There are a few moments that I might have cut, things that slow the film down a little more than I'd like, maybe. But on the whole, the film is really, really good. The action is amazing, there are touches of romance I wasn't quite expecting, and above all, the story is compelling. An excellent new entry into the numerous films that surround Ip Man, a man worthy of such attention.

  • Third Person
    Claire Milne-Smith26-03-2015

    This romantic drama from Paul Haggis (Crash) had so much going for it. It's a real shame that it doesn't quite live up to expectations.

    The A-list cast is led by Liam Neeson, Olivia Wilde, Kim Basinger, Adrien Brody, James Franco, Mila Kunis, and Maria Bello. So you can understand why I was so hopeful that it would be a hit. Their acting is great, no question about that. But the script is missing that special ingredient that would have really made this film jump off the screen.

    Neeson stars as Michael, a writer who's recently left his wife (Kim Basinger) and has started up an affair with an enchanting young woman (Olivia Wilde) in Paris. Kunis stars as Julia, a washed-up actress fighting to have visitation rights with her young son, given a shot at convincing her ex (James Franco) that she is stable enough to be a part of their child's life. And Brody stars as Scott, an American in Rome looking for a little human connection.

    These three stories interlock and weave together nicely, but the writing and the moments at which they cross just don't really live up to the film's potential. There is a mystery element to it that helps it rise above some other romantic dramas, but on the whole, there's not quite enough to make it truly memorable. Probably worthwhile if you're a fan of the cast, but not much more beyond that.

  • Silicon Valley - Season 1
    Claire Milne-Smith26-03-2015

    Mike Judge has done some of my favourite TV shows and films over the years. He created Beavis & Butt-head and King of the Hill back in the 90s, as well as writing and directing the brilliant office comedy film Office Space, and more recently Extract.

    Last year, he came back to TV with a brand new comedy - Silicon Valley. The show is Judge's first ever go at a live-action series, switching out his animated characters for real-life people, and the result is absolutely brilliant. Probably the funniest new series of last year, and also one of the best.

    The show revolves around a group of young tech-savvy guys in their 20s who find themselves suddenly hitting the big time in California's renowned hub for tech companies, Silicon Valley. They soon have hugely lucrative competing offers on the table from people who want to work with them or buy them out.

    The premise of the show is strong as it is, but it's the characters that really make it worthwhile viewing. T.J. Miller (who recently appeared in Transformers: Age of Extinction) is a real stand-out, absolutely hilarious in pretty much every scene. And Martin Starr, of Freaks and Geeks fame, is great as a fleshed-out adult character (something he's usually not given a chance to do). And the lesser-known Thomas Middleditch really does well as the lead, Richard, who essentially serves as the founder of this new company.

    The writing and directing is really sharp, bringing out the comedy in a great way. And it just goes to show that HBO is willing to commit to series that go outside mainstream programming - The Big Bang Theory is popular, of course, but this is really different and, personally, much better. You wouldn't likely find a show like this on any of the major American networks.

    You find yourself wanting more, with only eight episodes in the season. Fortunately, HBO's given the second season an extra two episodes, starting in America in a few weeks in April. So now is the perfect time to catch up if you haven't seen it yet.

  • Godzilla
    George Orton13-03-2015

    Bigger isn't always better. That seems to be the philosophy of Gareth Edwards' Godzilla, a new take on the classic Japanese city-destroying-monster franchise that adopts a slightly more personal angle on the story than we've seen before, with far less of a focus on endless large-scale action than we saw in the previous (1998) American version.

    That's not to say that there isn't a decent amount of skyscraper-smashing here - but director Edwards doles it out sparingly, preferring to build tension for the final climactic action scene, rather than blow all of Godzilla's grandeur on earlier clashes with the movie's other monsters.

    That's right, there are more weird creatures here than just the eponymous giant lizard. A pair of other strange beasties soon rear their heads, and the movie becomes something of a showdown between the three of them - with Godzilla acting as a sort of hero figure, which makes for a fun twist. And after a couple of initial clashes (during which Edwards teases us with brief glimpses of action so as not to steal the thunder of the last act of the movie), the stage is set for a final blowout battle that doesn't disappoint.

    As I said, though, that action - while enjoyable - is not really where the heart of this version of Godzilla lays. Instead, it's more concerned with telling us a story about the people who get involved in the action, which helps to ground the plot in something that we can relate to.

    Godzilla's human cast includes an underused Bryan Cranston - fresh from his TV success with Breaking Bad, who takes a far more sympathetic role here as the classic archetypal scientist-who-saw-it-all-coming - as well as an even more underused Juliette Binoche, who makes the most of an ultimately pretty thankless and two-dimensional role that amounts to little more than a glorified cameo.

    A younger pair of protagonists, played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen, get more of the spotlight as the film rolls on - but for my money, I would have much preferred more of the dramatic weight to have been carried by the frankly far more accomplished Cranston and Binoche. Still, there's a decent amount of human drama here to enjoy, even if it's not of the kind of calibre that's going to win any Oscars.

    As well as the character-based aspects of the story, there's also a certain amount of thoughtfulness and intelligence put into creating Godzilla's backstory. The Japanese origins of the franchise are heavily alluded to - including some elements involving a nuclear meltdown that are uncomfortably reminiscent of the real-life Fukushima disaster of just a couple of years ago - while other aspects of the film reference other modern preoccupations, such as the militarised reaction to the 9/11-esque urban terror that's caused by the monsters' rampages, or the giant waves caused by the beasties that evoke the recent tsunamis seen in Asia.

    Overall, there's a strong sense that Edwards is making a definite attempt to shackle the ridiculousness of Godzilla's giant-lizard concept to examples of disasters we can all relate to, and it helps to make the threat feel serious and immediate. This, combined with a decent stab at a character-based story to go along with the action, makes for a film that's more compelling and interesting than you might expect.

    This might not be a big all-out action film in the same way that the 1998 version was, but it shows you that a less noisy, more focused and more thoughtful approach to these big tentpole franchises can sometimes be more effective than two hours of noise and bluster.

  • Fury
    Mrs Patricia Mckinven01-03-2015

    Have just watched this film, and to my mind one of the most real life factual films i have ever watched..
    Life inside a tank is not as clean living as seen in other films.My dad was in a tank regiment in the war, and the little he said about there life inside a tank .They were often dirty ,smelly and untidy, because of the little room they had inside the tank.
    The actors were 1st rate in the portrayal of life.

  • About Time
    Kashif Ahmed11-02-2015

    There's a scene in this film where one character informs another that ".you can travel back in time but only to a place you've already been to before".

    I wonder if writer / director Richard Curtis (Four Weddings and A Funeral, Notting Hill) wrote that line with a knowing smirk, well aware of the fact that About Time is just like every other film he's ever written and a welcome throwback to the type of gentle, British Rom-Coms that were so popular in the 90s.

    The story revolves around Tim, whose informed by his father (the always brilliant Bill Nighy) that all the men in their family have the ability to travel back in time, and so he uses this gift to woo Rachel McAdams (who seems to have cornered the market on the romantic time-travel genre). Relative newcomer; Domhnall Gleeson, memorably described as ".openly ginger", is our affable lead, he's quite a good actor, trouble is, this role was so obviously written with Hugh Grant in mind, that its hard not to imagine how he would've played it.

    Now we've got some of the standard issues that come with both Richard Curtis and time travel movies: About Time breaks its own rules with regards to time travel and you will, on occasion, wince at some of the glaring oversights and narrative contradictions: Without giving anything away; there's a scene where Tim travels back and returns only to discover a slight change in the past to someone else's life has erased something from existence in his own. Now it was difficult to get back into a light and fluffy mood after that revelation, I mean surely making that kind of a judgement poses a metaphysical, moral dilemma wrought with deep rooted trauma and anxiety, nope, apparently not; its done and dusted in five minutes. Davids Lynch and Cronenberg would've crafted an entire movie based on that one concept but no, Richard Curtis is more interested in Rachel McAdams's wardrobe and shooting a schmaltzy wedding scene in the rain.

    About Time isn't on a par with Curtis's best (Notting Hill) nor will it revive the genre like Four Weddings did but it is, as expected, an eminently watchable, reasonably well written, generally pleasant film.

  • Deep Blue Sea
    Kashif Ahmed11-02-2015

    1999 was a good year in film: The Matrix, Fight Club, The 13th Warrior, Office Space, Go, Star Wars, Toy Story 2, Dogma, American Beauty, Eyes Wide Shut, The Sixth Sense and a few other movies that only I enjoyed like Entrapment, The Mummy and, of course, Deep Blue Sea.

    Renny Harlin's entertaining suspense thriller is one of the best examples of the shark attack sub-genre, in fact, I stand by what I said 16 years ago, that Deep Blue Sea is ".better than Jaws". Now that might seem like sacrilege to some, but scene-for-scene, I just found this more enjoyable: The brilliantly absurd plot sees doctor Saffron Burrows, harvest brain tissue from GM sharks in a bid to cure Alzheimers. Informed by corporate suits that they're shutting her project down, she invites a bunch of scientists and moneymen aboard the remote, oceanic facility, to convince them otherwise. Things don't quite go according to plan and it's only a matter of time before Burrows, working-class hero Thomas Jane, wisecracking chef LL Cool J, Samuel L. Jackson, Stellan Skarsgard et al are on the menu and fighting for their lives against a ruthless gam of smart sharks.

    Deep Blue Sea is by-the-numbers action done right, yes they're clichés aplenty but each character is fleshed out to a certain degree and there are moments of genuine tension created by the unexpected order in which some of the protagonists are taken out (you'll know what I mean when you see it). A well-directed, reasonably well-acted and thoroughly entertaining movie; Deep Blue Sea didn't revolutionize cinema, received mostly negative reviews and was quickly forgotten in that crowded year of modern classics. But its' everything you'd want from a shark-attack film and its still as good today as it was back then. Underrated.

  • 22 Jump Street
    Jordan Robson09-02-2015

    "I didn't have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead."

    Substitute "review" for "letter" in Mark Twain's famous quote, and you'll come close to my opinion on much of today's overly-wordy film criticism. So with this in mind, so as not to waste your time, I'll endeavour to craft a review of 22 Jump Street that's short and to the point.

    This sequel to 21 Jump Street is both funny and smart, and will give you plenty of laughs even if it doesn't quite reach the comedic heights of its predecessor. There are plenty of chuckles-per-minute, a reasonably broad variety of jokes, and it actually manages to add to the inherent humour of the concept (in which adult cops transparently masquerade as high school/college kids to bust drugs gangs) by introducing a whole new strain of self-effacing humour that makes fun of the repetitive, predictable nature of film sequels.

    Throughout the film, there are lots of gags about how Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum are simply repeating their steps from the first movie - which helps to give 22 Jump Street a knowing, ironic sensibility that makes it very difficult to dislike. An elaborate opening sequence ends on a killer punchline that makes it clear that Hill and Tatum's characters are only good for one thing: the same thing they did in the first movie. And more of the same is what fans of 21 Jump Street will want to see anyway, so why be coy about it?

    Add in some inspired comedy setpieces (including a fantastic twist involving the pair's boss, played by Ice Cube, that gives him a wonderful opportunity to cut loose in anger), a fun cameo or two, and some tight action sequences that deliver on both excitement and slapstick farce, and you have a recipe for a fantastic follow-up to the hugely successful original.

    Just like my opening quote suggests, it would have been a lot quicker and easier for directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller to go bigger and more elaborate with this movie - but would it have been any funnier, or better? I don't think so.

    By sticking to the tried and tested premise and keeping things succinct and snappy - not to mention introducing a running gag of self-mockery that culminates in an inspired closing credits sequence that will make it very difficult to watch any future instalments with a straight face - the two directors have managed to do the seemingly impossible, and capture 21 Jump Street's lightning in a bottle for a second time.

  • Arrow - Season 2
    George Storey09-02-2015

    Arrow is personally one of my favorite TV shows as it features action and adventure and each episode leaves you wanting to see more...

    During Arrow season 2 Oliver Queen (Arrow) resorts to non-violence after his best friend Tommy Merlyn dies in the end of season 2, you will also see the rise of Deathstroke (Slade Wilson) as he develops his super strength and he also develops his hate for Oliver Queen leading up to an epic end of season finale.

  • 12 Angry Men
    Arshad Mahmood04-02-2015

    In light of recent court trials and judicial rulings that have taken place around me and some shown on the news, such as the Oscar Pistorius trial in South Africa without a jury that was judge-led, or the numerous Death Row convictions based on contaminated evidence as well as the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, USA, I felt compelled to view Twelve Angry Men to perhaps discover and remind myself about how, despite many obstacles to overcome such as our prejudices and emotions and differing viewpoints, we can bring about change, justice, equality and fairness in our world. It was, though, with a sense of trepidation that I bought this film since the title in itself did not exactly promote equality as there wasn't a single jury member that was female. Nonetheless I still felt it would be worth a watch if I just thought of the twelve angry men as twelve debating human minds.

    Twelve Angry Men is a courtroom drama and yet just about the entire film takes place in a jury room and we see none of the trial. The only time we're outside the jury room is for a brief set-up and an even briefer epilogue. The real essence of the film is about the American constitution's promise that a defendant receives a fair trial and the presumption of innocence until proven otherwise- a principle of reasonable doubt. Twelve men are given the unenviable though extremely necessary task - just my opinion - of debating the fate of a young Puerto Rican American defendant charged with murdering his father. From the set-up involving the judge's perfunctory, almost bored, charge to the jury, and his tone of voice, we can infer that the verdict is a foregone conclusion which makes a mockery out of the justice system in 50s America.

    We are drip-fed the evidence only second-hand, as the twelve jurors debate it. That gives the story a rather convenient and contrived feel. To add to these two notions, the jury member who holds out, played by the iconic Henry Fonda, gradually sets about trying to overcome the rather less-than-democratic prejudices of the other eleven members of the jury with predictable consequences. Yet the tense, lucid, and admirably economical treatment of the story, it's stark simplicity, feeling as if I'd seen these types of people before, with their various prejudices and conditioned reasoning, made me expect a far more challenging outcome, albeit one with a vague hope, which would show that although the principle of reasonable doubt is one of the most enlightened elements of the American constitution, it is also sadly the one that many Americans have had difficulty in accepting.

    This film is not about getting to a clear-cut verdict. It's really about the need to listen to each other, and differentiate between fact and truth. Throughout the film you are constantly reminded that a man's life is at stake in the hands of these twelve men and it's an uncomfortable and at times despicable feeling to witness the bigotry displayed by some of the jury members as well as their reasoning on how they came to their conclusions. You feel that because the jury members don't know the defendant, that seeing him die doesn't mean very much to some. There's a jury member who like the defendant is a product of the "streets," and hopes that his guilty vote will distance himself from his past. Another member had a severe falling out with his own young son and therefore holds a grudge against all young people. Thus each of the eleven jury members has voted to convict for reasons of his own. None of the twelve initially appears to have influenced the other which seems to show the strength and individuality in each character although having said that, one or two jury members do appear to go with the flow and don't want to upset the others.

    What's really surprising about Twelve Angry Men is that despite being almost entirely set in a single location, the consistently taut, sweltering, claustrophobic atmosphere created largely by Boris Kaufman's excellent camerawork results in a highly realistic thriller. The film is devoid of action and yet, despite being set over the best part of an entire day, it flies by and you feel as if the events happened in real time. The tension comes from personality conflicts, dialogue that makes you think and body language, and there are a great many of these of course, with twelve people! To avoid sentimentality, the film very cleverly avoids even giving us much of a look at the defendant. We only glimpse him very briefly and that makes us focus our judgement upon the character of each of the jury members.

    Twelve Angry Men is interested in looking at logic, emotion and prejudice as major forces that struggle to control the field. Ultimately the jurors are all defined in terms of their personalities, backgrounds, occupations, prejudices and emotional tilts. Evidence is debated so completely that despite not being witness to the trial itself, you feel as if you know as much as the jury does. The film balances one piece of evidence against another that seems contradictory. Twelve Angry Men is as meticulous as the summation of an Agatha Christie novel. It's worth reminding potential viewers that the film isn't concerned with solving the crime as much as it is about sending the wrong man to die.

    It's also worth bearing in mind that though eleven jury members start out thinking the defendant is guilty, not all those voting in this direction are portrayed negatively. There are those jurors who are so certain of the infallibility of the Law and therefore assume that if the boy was arrested, he must be guilty which is another wonderful issue raised in the film.

    Henry Fonda comes across as he always did in his films; like a guy who doesn't know how to fake it. Though typecast as the bastion of liberalism, his performance feels extremely important, necessary and is also nicely underplayed. He is that rare barometer of truth against which to measure not only the other characters in his films but yourself too. He's not only a beacon of hope but a tower of strength, standing alone as a voice of doubt about the accused's guilt. "We're talking about somebody's life here," says Fonda early on in the film. "We can't decide in five minutes. Supposing we're wrong?" This sets the tone for the rest of the film. His simple task in the picture is to persuade the weary jurors to re-examine the evidence and separate it from the backstory of each man. Fonda drags deliberations from the hot day into the heat of the night, chipping away at the guilty verdict.

    Whilst all the other jury members are excellent, as they smoke, sweat, swear, sprawl, stalk and get angry, the standouts in particular are Lee J Cobb, E.G. Marshall and Ed Begley who plays a racist and ignorant man full of stereotypical assumptions. To tempt you with the potential conflicts that arise in the film, Begley delivers a racist rant as follows; "You know how these people lie. It's born in them. They don't know what the truth is. And let me tell you, they don't need any real big reason to kill someone, either."

    Clearly, the director Sidney Lumet turned filming in one room to his advantage. He creates this sense of entrapment that the jury members must have felt in that room. As the film unfolds, the room appears to get smaller and smaller and this effect was created by the use of longer lenses towards the latter half of the film. Lumet also shot the early part of the film above eye level and by the end of the movie, the camera was well below eye level so you could see the ceiling in the final shots. This gives you the illusion that not only are the walls closing in but so is the ceiling, thus increasing the sense of claustrophobia, suffocation and tension. This film is a master-class in how lens choices affect mood. As we look down on the characters in the beginning with the high camera angle, it suggests that they can be comprehended and mastered. Towards the climax of the film, the high angle creates the impression that the characters loom over us and it makes you feel overwhelmed by the force of their passion. For me, Sidney Lumet is one of the greatest directors I've ever come across. The evidence of this lies in the fact that I have more of his movies in my collection than any other director. His range of film subjects is so broad that he cannot be categorised. Twelve Angry Men is as relevant today as it was when first released. In many ways, it validates that the jury system is an important check against state power.

  • Sword Of The Stranger

    This is quite possibly the greatest anime of all time. About a boy and his dog in danger of those in the west, he is rescued by a stranger and the two embark on a journey that will transform the two into brothers and tug at heart strings. The excellency of the motion picture is tripled with that of the soundtrack, forcing you to route for Kotaru, Tobimaru and Nanashi (No Name).

    This anime deserves a lot more recognition than it already has, because it's a real shame that it's next to impossible to buy this in the UK, English Dubbed and everything

  • Blindness
    Jeanette Hardy01-02-2015

    Blindness is a powerful, but ultimately flawed film that uses a global epidemic of sudden, unexplained and contagious blindness as the jumping-off point for a serious and downbeat examination of human nature at its worst. At the film's centre is a group of unnamed individuals - a doctor (Mark Ruffalo) and his wife (Julianne Moore), a thief, a child, a businessman, an older man who was already blind in one eye, and several others - who are forced into isolation in an internment camp as part of the government response to the outbreak of the illness, and who form their own microcosm of society that quickly degenerates into in-fighting over living conditions and food.

    The film begins with a relatively interesting premise: what would we do if everyone suddenly went blind? Unfortunately, however, the answers it provides are too divorced from reality for us to really be able to invest in the subsequent fallout - even though the character relationships and commentary on social ills that the film provides are all very interesting in their own right.

    Only one of the main characters retains her sight - the doctor's wife - and while her presence as the blind community's only sighted member is kept secret for most of the story, it hangs heavy over every development. As the doctor becomes increasingly reliant on her, their relationship changes from husband and wife to something more akin to a nurse and her patient; and as they grow apart, the doctor gradually finds himself having more in common with one of the other, blind, female inmates.

    Elsewhere in the story, we see a group of violent thugs take over a section of the internment camp, initially forcing other inmates to trade valuables for food - and later, forcing them into sex-slavery in a disturbing and graphic sequence that comes close to rivalling Irreversible for depicting one of the most difficult-to-watch scenes of sexual abuse that you'll ever see on film. It's at this point that you realise that Blindness isn't going to be a film about redemption - it's just about surviving the worst that humanity can throw at you.

    While there are more uplifting moments in the movie - especially towards the end - Blindness is for the most part a gruelling journey that throws its characters from one bad place to another, with very little in the way of respite. But that's not why I've given it an average score: in fact, those hard-to-watch scenes are some of the most gripping and compelling parts of the movie.

    No, Blindness earns a three-star review because it fails to tether its events to a logical plot, and forces its characters to go through their hellish experiences without adequately convincing the audience that there would be no alternative. A good example is the nature of the internment camp. It's a basic, functional place with only the bare minimum of eating and cleaning facilities - but we're never given an explanation as to why the government of the unidentified country in which the film takes place would see fit to house a large group of suddenly-blinded people in such a place in the early stages of the epidemic, especially with minimial supervision (they appear to only be overseen by soldiers, who seem ready to shoot the inmates at the slightest sign of trouble)

    Also, while the doctor's wife chooses to conceal the fact that she hasn't gone blind (which itself is never explained) from many of the inmates, there are plenty of difficult situations in which her ability to see would give her a huge advantage over the other prisoners, and would enable her to overcome problems far more easily than the way in which they eventually play out - especially when matters of life or death are at stake. There's never any convincing reason given why this doesn't happen, so I can only assume it's because director Fernando Meirelles and writer Don McKellar wanted certain things to occur in the movie and tried to fit them into the story as best they could, regardless of the characters' abilities or motivation. It just feels like lazy filmmaking, when just a few extra scenes to explain these discrepancies would have smoothed things over far more convincingly.

    After watching this movie, I couldn't help but think how great it could have been: a cautionary, Lord Of The Flies type story for adults, set in the modern world, with some interesting visual representations of blindness (which is shown here as being like a milky whiteness obscuring the field of vision) and an uncompromising approach to its most brutal and depraved moments. As it is, though, it's merely an okay film that explores some interesting ideas but has too many holes in the story to simply overlook. Nevertheless - and if you'll forgive the pun - Blindness is definitely something that is worth seeing, flaws and all.

  • The Boxtrolls (Blu-ray 3D)
    Chris Harley01-02-2015

    The Boxtrolls marks the third film from the relatively young animation house, Laika. The studio is behind past successful hits Coraline and ParaNorman, and we are very much indebted to their immense efforts in producing this kind of stop-motion animation, so rarely seen today.

    In an age where computers have completely changed the face of animation, it's lovely to see artists still working with their hands in such a pain-staking process, knowing the end result will pay off handsomely. Fortunately, it has, with the Academy giving The Boxtrolls well-deserved recognition in the Best Animated Feature race at next month's Oscars.

    Graham Annable and Anthony Stacchi earn their first feature-length credit as directors, adapting the best-selling novel by Alan Snow, 'Here Be Monsters!' The film revolves around a young human boy called Eggs, who is raised by a delightfully unique race of trolls that collect rubbish, known as the Boxtrolls.

    Rumours in the local town are spread that these creatures are known to kidnap young children, and so an evil pest exterminator, Archibald Snatcher, strikes a deal to rid the town of this supposed problem. In reality, of course, the Boxtrolls are nothing but peace-loving creatures, and it's up to Eggs to save them from extermination.

    Best known for his role in HBO's Game of Thrones, the young Isaac Hempstead-Wright leads the voice cast as Eggs, and he's surrounded by an amazing array of talent. The children will love the story, and adults have the added bonus of recognising the voices of Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Sir Ben Kingsley, Elle Fanning, Jared Harris, Toni Collette, Tracy Morgan, and Richard Ayoade. Whilst the story and the voice cast are undeniably a lot of fun, it's really the animation itself that is worthy of so much praise.

    The work that must have gone into developing such a brilliant look is almost unthinkable. The level of detail is beyond impressive, to the point of sheer jaw-dropping disbelief.

    Very young children might find a few of the scenes a little on the scary side, which might be a little unfortunate for some parents - I'd recommend either watching it first to decide for yourself, or at least watching it with your children so you can see how they react before letting them watch it again by themselves. But for the vast majority, it's suitable for all ages, and is a thoroughly entertaining family-friendly film.

  • Greatful Dead
    Chris Harley01-02-2015

    Here in the UK, distributor Third Window Films has made a name for itself as a champion of Asian cinema. The label has released some of the biggest titles from the continent, including Tetsuya Nakashima's Confessions, Takashi Miike's Lesson of the Evil, Shin Su-won's Pluto, and perhaps most famous of all, Shion Sono's The Land of Hope.

    Their latest release sees them partnering with rising Japanese director Eiji Uchida, until now best known for films like The Last Days of the World and Black Angels. In Greatful Dead, Uchida brings together some of the genres he's previously worked in for his most bloody and dark work yet.

    Newcomer Kumi Takiuchi earned one of her first credits as the young lead in the film, Nami. Takiuchi gives a fantastic performance, able to switch almost instantaneously between moments of comedy and moments of darkness.

    Growing up largely abandoned by her parents and her sister, the young Nami takes up the hobby of watching loners, which she dubs 'Solitarians'. She tracks them from a distance, watching as they slowly descend into madness and eventually death, and then she takes a selfie beside their rotting corpse. Needless to say, this is not for the faint-hearted.

    Much of the film takes place once she's turned 20, the age of adulthood in Japan, and is living on her own. Her hobby soon takes an even darker turn when she finds that one of her favourite Solitarians has been given the gift of hope, and she takes it upon herself to rectify this in as bloody a way as possible.

    The DVD and Blu-ray releases feature subtitled versions of the film, rather than dubbed, which is very much to Third Windows' credit. The subtitled approach allows viewers to enjoy the experience just as Uchida intended, and I can't begin to imagine how a voiceover actress would have handled the young Takiuchi's skilled delivery.

    Greatful Dead begins as a biting critique of some of the problems Japan's current society faces, and is utterly unflinching in its descent into the blood and gore of Nami's later actions. Fans of the darker side of Japanese cinema are definitely recommended to seek this title out, and it's sure to be an instant crowd-pleaser.

  • Wish I Was Here
    Chris Harley27-01-2015

    In 2004, Zach Braff made his feature directorial debut with Garden State, one of the most celebrated indie productions of the 21st century. Written and directed by Braff, the film is a wonderful exploration of themes like love, young adulthood, and finding yourself amongst a sea of people swimming with the current.

    Ten years later, Braff returns with his long-awaited second film, Wish I Was Here, and the result is spectacular. The characters may be separate, but Braff picks up many of the same threads he explored a decade ago and takes them even further. His characters are now more grown up, with children of their own. He and his brother, co-writer Adam Braff, explore what life is like for adults in their 30s who don't necessarily know who they are, and don't always want to conform to what society demands and expects of them.

    Zach Braff stars as Aidan Bloom, an actor who struggles to find work in the competitive industry in Los Angeles. When his father, Gabe (Mandy Patinkin), reveals that his cancer has returned and that he will no longer be able to provide for his grandchildren's education, Aidan withdraws his children from their private school and takes on the challenge of teaching them himself.

    It's this premise that gives the Braff brothers a perfect chance to explore the same kind of themes Garden State did ten years earlier, but with a current story and taking on current issues. The world that exists today is in many ways a far cry from the one that existed just ten years ago, and Wish I Was Here navigates those changes perfectly. It's pretty rare for an independent film to do so many things with such little time and in such a powerful way. More and more we turn to television to get to know characters and watch how they develop. It's all the more impressive when an independent film can do it in a fraction of the running time, and often with a fraction of the budget.

    Braff put up some of his own money to get the film made, and turned to the fanbase he's built up over his length career, most notably anchoring the TV comedy, Scrubs. He asked them to give him their hard-earned money in exchange for making the film he wanted to make, and he didn't disappoint. I was one of the thousands of people who supported him in that endeavour, and I am so glad that I did, because the result is one of the finest feats of filmmaking we've seen in a long, long time.

    Kate Hudson gives a superb performance as Braff's on-screen wife, Sarah, who supports him through thick and thin, and who is the rock he turns to when he is facing his hardest times. Patinkin, perhaps best known for his role in recent hit Homeland, is every bit as impressive as Braff's ailing father, with Josh Gad delivering a hilarious performance as Aidan's brother, Noah. And arguably more impressive than anyone are the two young children, Joey King and Pierce Gagnon. Braff asks a lot of them as both a writer and a director, and they never fail to light up the screen in every scene they're in. Joey King, in particular, gives a wonderfully nuanced performance as Aidan and Sarah's slightly troubled adolescent daughter, Grace, who is struggling with the same kinds of identity issues her father is going through.

    The message is a powerful one. No matter what age we are, or what upbringing we had, our paths to find ourselves can at times be a struggle, seemingly insurmountable. But these characters are never without hope. They lean on each other in times of need, and their trials and tribulations are all the more affecting and moving for it.

    The Braff brothers' script is wonderful, wearing its heart on its sleeve, and much credit goes to Braff's work as a director behind the camera, drawing these terrific performances from the entire leading cast. All we can do now is hope that it won't be another ten years before we see him get back behind the camera and direct his third film.

  • Cold In July
    Jon Meakin26-01-2015

    I want to talk about Cold In July, mainly because not enough people already are and it's a cracking thriller, probably my favourite film released in 2014. That's not to say it was the "best" film of the last year; nor the most action packed, the funniest or scariest, but we spend too long judging films as if it were a competition especially at this time of year. I'm a sucker for the awards season, but when you take a step back many titles are conspicuous by their absence. Despite some initial attention on the festival circuit, Cold In July is one such gem.

    The story has a deceptively simple premise, based on one of a series of novels by Joe R. Lansdale and adapted by Nick Damici with director Jim Mickle. Richard Dane (Dexter's Michael C. Hall) is woken in the night by a burglar in his home. His first thought is to protect his wife (Vinessa Shaw) and infant son. Following a brief, tense confrontation with the intruder, Dane shoots him dead. The police arrive and the scene is quickly cleared up as they know this particular villain and assure Dane that he did the right thing. He won't face prosecution, in fact, he's a hero.

    He doesn't feel like a hero. Dane is one of life's normal guys, with a reputation to match. So normal that Hall found playing him cathartic after several seasons of Dexter. Well known in the local town, no-one would ever have expected Dane to have killed another man and the praise he receives makes him feel awkward. Plus he now has to deal with the ominous, simmering threat posed by the intruder's father Ben Russell (played with considerable style by Sam Shepherd), recently released from prison and a far more substantial opponent than his petty criminal son.

    That alone would make for a decent plot of a dozen other films, if somewhat predictable, but an early twist reveals the man Dane shot and killed was not Ben's son. Why are the police so determined to ensure it was? And why are they relishing any excuse to put Ben down as well? You might think that's a spoiler, but it's worth knowing that much more. The real story is a far more gruesome and complicated affair. It's rather typical of the saturated American crime novel genre, so much so it may explain why so few break out into screenplays.

    There's an ace up the sleeve of this one though in the shape of Don Johnson, playing pig farming private detective Jim Bob Luke. Awesome name! And he's a heck of a character; Johnson has great fun with him. His arrival gives the film a kick up the backside, even though it didn't really need it. The seedy screenplay has a good dose of comedy and Jim Bob is just one of the bonuses that help Cold In July stand out.

    Some of the dark humour comes from the contrast between Dane's reaction and, it seems, everyone else's. He needs to see this through much further than his friends and family, especially his wife. While she is still somewhat affected, a sofa soaked with blood is still a good reason to get a new one that matches the decor a little better! That odd tone isn't overplayed, it's just that for her and everyone else, the story ended with the first bullet and they assume it's the same for Dane. Except he's sneaking about at night, unable to resist getting stuck into the excitement of the horrific real story that Jim Bob is uncovering.

    Cold In July was released at a similar time to Two Faces of January, a glossy thriller that was critically acclaimed and given that over used label, "Hitchcockian". Actually it was weak, vacuous and bore little resemblance even to To Catch a Thief, one of the Master's least remarkable films. While still an unashamed genre piece, Cold In July is more deserving of shelf-space next to Hitchcock's classics, featuring as it does his favourite conceit; the normal guy who finds murder on his doorstep.

    What really makes this conceit work as well as it does in this instance is an excellent risk-taking narrative in Mickle and Damici's screenplay (a similar approach they took with Stake Land). Potentially it is a messy plot with too many angles, but the focus is so tight on Dane that it feels even and measured throughout. So far so it's worth using as an example of Todorov's narrative equilibrium theory. Don't yawn! As with many such theories you can bore people to death by making any film fit it to some extent. It's only worth mentioning if the example explores it in particular and I'll stick my neck out; the structure and, in particular the ending of Cold In July is so perfectly done it's actually one of the best examples of the equilibrium stages since The Ladykillers of all things.

    The well judged fast and loose style of director Mickle disguises such structure. Essentially it's a modern western cum pulp noir, but an 80s setting and occasional music from the era evoke a mood not unlike the peerless Drive in moments. But let's not get ahead of ourselves. This isn't some minimalist piece, what with the pig farmer called Jim Bob, an irreverent sense of dark humour and sporadic, often brutal violence. One memorable execution sees a thug shot through the head and his blood splatters the only light bulb, bathing the rest of the scene in deep red! The mid-range tones come out well on Blu-Ray, but moments like that look astonishing. Mickle has an old fashioned, but cheeky sensibility that comes throughout the movie, though not always in such spectacular fashion.

    Cold In July is a great example of classical filmmaking given a modern twist and a confident identity all of it's own thanks to Mickle and Damici's grasp of genre. It's effortlessly watchable and hopefully we'll see more of Johnson's hilarious Jim Bob in the future.

  • Let's Be Cops
    Mike reed 22-01-2015

    At first I didn't want to see this as it reminder so much of 21 jump street however I managed to watch, the writers have done a good job plotting together a believable cop - comedy film.
    The gags aren't forced and the characters were cast well.

  • Lee Evans - Monsters Live
    Mike reed22-01-2015

    Lee evans brings his comedy tours to an end with his dvd monster, in front of a sell out crowd in Birmingham. The physical comedian proves he still has it at fifty using his body as a tool evans discusses topics such as animals, holidays and his wife.
    After seeing the dvd audiences will appreciate how much effort a comedian will work on a show proved in the DVD extras.
    Fans of lee won't be disappointed, after being around for 25 years on stage lee announced his retirement on the Jonathan Ross show in November 2014.
    This must stand up is well worth £10 therefore if you find it cheaper it's a bargain.
    What makes this dvd brilliant, lee gives all his fans 110% his loyal commitment performances has put him in Britain best loved comedians.

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