Berberian Sound Studio No big studio pictures are being released this week but there are a number of small but great new films. First up is this chillingly effective mood piece starring top-notch British character actor Toby Jones. He plays Gilderoy, a meek English sound engineer working on a grizzly Italian horror film in the 1970s. As he finds himself confronted by his new European employers, he grows increasingly homesick. As he gets stuck deeper into his job, we find ourselves following him through a rabbit hole of confusion and madness. This is a very strange and terrifically unique film that might disappoint some viewers with its oblique attitude to narrative but it’s proven to be a hit with critics, cinephiles and true horror fans. So don’t watch this… that is unless you want to see something new and interesting.
Jo Nesbo’s Jackpot From the reigning king of Scandinavian thrillers comes this Coen Brothers-flavoured thriller from Norway. When a group of low-life friends score a big win on football ticket, greed starts to get the better of them. And as greed turns to violence, things start to get very messy and complicated. The final result is this bloody, twisted and darkly funny movie. If you liked The Killing and last year’s excellent Headhunters, then there’s a good chance you’ll also dig Jackpot.
Grabbers An Irish comedy-horror that was a hit on the festival circuit earlier this year, Grabbers sees a small island community under attack from enormous bloodsucking squid-things. When the local Gardaí discover that the creatures are allergic to alcohol, they decide that the only way for everyone to stay safe… is to stay completely hammered! Starring Richard Coyle (Coupling) and Russell Tovey (Being Human) alongside an ensemble Irish cast, Grabbers looks to be a funny crowd-pleasing movie.
Adapted from another graphic novel by British scribe Alan Moore (Northampton’s finest), V for Vendetta is set in a dystopian London ruled by a fascist government. Natalie Portman is Evey, a young woman who is swept up in the plans of a mysterious, masked figure known only as ‘V’. He plans to destroy the government through a personal campaign of terror and fire, inspiring a fearful public to stand up to their oppressors. Strangely enough, in recent years, the iconic Guy Fawkes mask used in the film has become a symbol of resistance from protest groups like anonymous and the Occupy Movement.
Although it’s much looser adaptation of Moore’s work than Watchmen, this film still has much to say for itself. While the source material is often seen as a critique of Thatcher’s Britain, this screenplay written by The Wachowskis (The Matrix) sees a government that seeks to control personal and sexual mores in a way that echoes the current gay civil rights movement. Lana Wachowski (formerly Larry) has recently come out as a transgender woman, suggesting that this is a much more personal work than your average comic book adaptations.
Fun bonus: watch out for a supporting performance by Stephen Fry as a TV host whose style of broadcasting seems to imply a Benny Hill/Melvyn Bragg hybrid!
This sequel to 2010 Clash of the Titans sees Sam Worthington once again come to do battle against the mythical Titans. Many of the big names from the first film are also back including Liam Neeson as Zeus and Ralph Fiennes as Hades, both of whom are gleefully hammy in their roles. When the bad gods betray Zeus and begin to release the titan Chronos from his stony prison, it’s up to Perseus and a ragtag gang of demi-gods and puny mortals to defeat enemies the size of mountain. The film is definitely slight and very silly indeed but it is lot of fun if you just don’t think too much about its logical inconsistencies.
Quick quiz: is Eternal Sunshine… a) a great film; or b) the greatest film of the 2000s? If you haven’t seen it yet, you’re in for a real treat. Jim Carrey plays a man who’s recently split up with his girlfriend. When he discovers a note telling him that she plans to have her memories of him expunged from her mind in an experimental procedure, he decides to do the same. A perfect confluence of so many factors makes this such a joy to experience: writer Charlie Kaufman (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation) delivers his finest ever script to director Michel Gondry, a music video savant who brought all his trademark visual tics and somehow shaped a movie about doomed love that is funny, entertaining, hopeful and utterly heart-breaking.
Whenever you’re remaking a much loved-film, the entire ordeal is always going to be controversial. In the span of just over a year, two of Paul Verhoeven’s cult sci-fi classics are getting the millennial treatment: a remake of RoboCop is currently in production while the new Total Recall is now out for everyone to enjoy.
While 1990’s Total Recall was based on a short story by Philip K Dick, the new version is actually a glossy reworking of Verhoeven’s film. Set in a pseudo-Orwellian future, it shows a world in which the last remaining global superpower is the ‘United Federation of Britain’. Lucky us. The super-shady government (led by Breaking Bad’s Bryan Cranston) has effectively forced the Earth’s poor to live on the other side of the world on the withering colony of Australia. In a nice little piece of science fiction invention, workers from the Colony commute to Britain everyday via an enormous lift that drops straight through the earth’s core. The people on the colonies are so poor that the only escape they have is through a service by the name of Rekall, in which they implant false memories to give you the impression that you’ve lived through the experience of a lifetime. If you can’t be a rock star or fly to Mars, you can remember it for a price.
Colin Farrell plays Douglas Quaid, a blue collar factory worker who goes to Rekall to deal with a recurring dream in which he’s a spy. (Apparently, therapy is no longer a thing in the future.) But before he can get his memories implanted, the facility is stormed by government soldiers and Quaid goes all Jason Bourne on their collective asses, systematically taking them out using hitherto unseen fighting abilities. Those of you who remember the Schwarzenegger original will know what happens next: Quaid discovers that he might not be Quaid at all but a government-operative-turned-freedom-fighter named Hauser!
Director Len Wiseman delivers the same aesthetic he brought to the Underworld films: glossy, grungy and full of lens flare. His vision of the future is actually rather stunning, with New London’s skyline made up of cities floating on top of older cities. In what has become a bit of a sci-fi cliché, the slums are designed to look a lot like the back streets of Hong Kong. It has almost become shorthand for futuristic squalor.
While he has brought a new look to Total Recall, Wiseman and his writers have also made sure to pay homage to the much-loved original. And by ‘pay homage’ we mean ‘recycle quotable lines and recreate entire scenes’. By remaking scenes from the original, we can only too clearly see the limits of Wiseman’s talents. In the original, Quaid attempts to sneak past a checkpoint disguised as a great big fat lady only for the plan to go south when security deviates from the normal script.
Verhoeven managed to craft a sequence that was strange, tense and darkly funny. Wiseman, on the other hand, rushes through this scene, using it to segue into another noisy gun battle. Of which there are a lot. In fact, the entire project is riddled with peculiar choices made by the film makers . In the early part of the story, Farrell is torn between two women: the one he’s married to and the one from his dreams. However, the two actresses who play those women are incredibly similar: Kate Beckinsale and Jessica Biel are both boringly beautiful brunettes. Why would Farrell’s character secretly fantasise about Biel when he’s sleeping next to someone almost identical?
We’re perhaps not being entirely fair to the film: there are plenty of nice touches throughout including the lift that goes through the earth and a foot chase that takes place through a labyrinth of lift shafts (this movie is literally obsessed with lifts). Plus, as we all know, any film can be improved by the addition of Bill Nighy or Bryan Cranston – and Total Recall has both of them! As a piece of production design, it can’t be denied that Total Recall is very beautiful indeed, owing much of its aesthetic to Minority Report and Blade Runner – two other well-known P.K. Dick adaptations.
Farrell plays a solid action hero even when the script doesn’t really give him much to work with. As we saw recently in Seven Psychopaths, he can be an incredibly funny leading man but the slightly pedestrian script never calls for it. The noticeable lack of humour in this version of Total Recall is perhaps where the film really falls down. Whereas the classic action films of the 80s and 90s had a great sense of joy and humour, Wiseman’s film tries too hard to be a conventional blockbuster.
But what it really boils down to it this: where the hell is Johnny Cab?
The Watch The IT Crowd’s Richard Ayoade takes on his first big Hollywood role alongside comic heavyweights Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn and Jonah Hill. Serving as the self-appointed neighbourhood watch of an middle-class American town, the quartet finds themselves in over their heads when they discover an alien threat. It’s been given a 15 certificate, so you can expect Vaughn and Hill to deliver the profane goods while Stiller plays another one of his uptight everymen. The Watch been compared to Attack the Block but with a mainstream suburban slant: so it’s Attack the Cul-de-Sac, if you will.
A Few Best Men
When an average English lad returns home from his backpacking holiday, his mates are surprised to find out that he’s engaged to be married. Cut to: Australia, where the lad collective get into all sorts of scrapes on the eve of the big day. From the trailer, we recognise many of the faces including Kevin Bishop, Kris Marshall from the BT ads, Rebel Wilson from Bridesmaids and Olivia Newton John, who is looking pretty good for a woman her age. The gang’s misadventures down under seem to involve gimp masks, Hitler moustaches, a decent stash of cocaine and a beloved family ram — pretty much an average night out in Basildon. The really strange thing however, is that the boys seem concerned about coming off as crass and uncouth in front of the Australian in-laws. As if any Aussie would be shocked by men getting drunk and naked at a wedding…
Total Recall Colin Farrell stars in this re-imagining of the 1990 sci-fi classic. He plays a blue collar worker who discovers he might actually be a freedom fighter who’s had his memories replaced by a tyrannical government. In his quest to uncover his true identity, he’s helped (or maybe hindered) by the beautiful Kate Beckinsale and Jessica Biel. How does this film differ from the original? Does Quaid still get his ass to Mars? Will he give the people air? Will he make his wife consider that a divorce? Watch Total Recall to find out the answers to those questions and more!
From the writer of The Empire Strikes Back and Raiders of the Lost Ark comes this explosive new film about… an elderly couple and their lovely dog. Okay, we’re not giving writer/director Lawrence Kasdan a fair shake here: his new ensemble comedy stars Kevin Kline and Diane Keaton amongst others and is heavily reminiscent of his 80s classic The Big Chill (also with Kline). With it’s collection of quirky older couples working through issues whilst on holiday, it feels like an American take on The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Which, to be honest, doesn’t sound like a bad prospect at all.
A group of five mates wake up one morning to find that there’s no electricity or radio signal and an enormous UFO hovering above the city. Understandably, society begins to crumble and they find themselves faced with lawless anarchy. This film stars Pierce Brosnan‘s son alongside Jean-Claude Van Damme’s daughter which means, genetically speaking, that this film should be as good as Die Another Day and Street Fighter combined! As a bonus, The Muscles from Brussels also makes a cameo appearance — though you must wonder if he only took the job to make sure Brosnan’s kid wasn’t getting fresh with his little girl.
Normally when a film is listed as ‘in development’ for almost a decade, it’s a sign that nobody knows what the hell they’re doing with it. Over its 8 years in ‘development hell’, Life of Pi has switched hands many times, with M Night Shyamalan, Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Alfonso Cuarón all slated to direct at one point or another. Throughout the process, critics and commentators have suggested that Yann Martel’s novel was un-filmable, thanks to its unusual structure and nebulous themes of faith and truth. And there’s also the novel’s central act, in which a young boy spends 227 days adrift in a lifeboat, accompanied only by a Bengal Tiger. It’s no surprise that this project would prove daunting even the most accomplished film makers.
But director Ang Lee is no ordinary film maker. If this was Olympic gymnastics, then the competitor from Chinese Taipei has selected a routine with an incredibly high tariff, landed it with both feet firmly together. Not only is Life of Pi a triumph of visual storytelling, it’s also one of the most affecting cinematic experiences of the year.
Named after a French swimming pool by his father’s eccentric friend, Piscine Molitor ‘Pi’ Patel (played by newcome Suraj Sharma as a teen and by Irrfan Khan as an adult) grows up in an idyllic zoo in India until his father decides to sell off the animals and move his family to Canada. When their freighter sinks, Pi finds himself adrift in the Pacific, sharing a lifeboat with a number of animals, including a full-grown tiger named Richard Parker.
Showing the same sensitivity to character and emotion that he did with his Oscar-winning film Brokeback Mountain, Lee turns Pi’s physical and spiritual ordeal into a compelling visual story. The spiritual element of the source novel could easily have been so very divisive. At the beginning of the film, we are told that Pi’s story is one that will prove to us the existence of God, which is an incredibly hubristic statement to make. Although, to be fair, the film never comes across as proselytising or smug – from early scenes where Pi and his father discuss faith and rationality to later scenes when the reality of Pi’s story is being brought into question, Lee never seems to ‘take sides’, as it were.
Lee and cinematographer Claudio Miranda have assembled a film with incredible visual panache, creating an intentionally artificial aesthetic that constantly makes us question what we’re seeing. His use of 3D on this film is also remarkable. No big fans of the stereoscopic craze, we were surprised by how immersive the experience felt, notably in a haunting shot where Pi watches his ship drift slowly into the depths of the ocean. We’ve always insisted on avoiding the 3D versions of films where possible but with Life of Pi, the effect is employed to such great effect that it becomes an essential part of the picture.
We could gush on about Life of Pi all day but as with most good films, you’re better off not knowing too much about it before you go in. It’s a remarkably faithful adaptation that never feels bound by its incredibly popular source novel. Instead, it is a treat for the senses: one that should appeal to a broad audience and will undoubtedly come back into focus when awards season rolls around next year.
The Imposter One of the year’s most acclaimed films, The Imposter has become something of a word-of-mouth sensation, grossing over £1 million at the UK box office. This might be chump change compared to what Skyfall pulled in but for a documentary film, this has become an enormous hit. It tells the story of a Texas family whose son vanished back in 1994. The investigation into his disappearance eventually dries up until the family receive notice that their boy has miraculously turned up in Spain. What happens next is something that something so unbelievable that you simply couldn’t make it up
The Man Inside This gritty British drama sees Ashley Thomas (aka grime artist Bashy) play an up-and-coming boxer who’s trying hard to avoid the same fate as his abusive, homicidal father. blinkbox favourite Peter Mullan plays Thomas’ trainer while Michelle Ryan returns from her short-lived spell on American TV to play a recovering heroin addict. The Man Inside looks could be a decent film examining the complexities of nature-versus-nurture, but it’s also possible that writer/director Dan Turner has given in to the baser urges of British cinema and made another movie about poor kids stabbing each other. At the time of publishing, we hadn’t received a full copy of the film, so we don’t really know.
St. George’s Day If there are two oversubscribed motifs in British films, it’s Cockney gangsters and football firms. Combining the two, St George’s Day sees a pair of gangster cousins forced to pull off a big heist in Berlin on the day England play Germany at football. Though this seems like a cookie cutter Brit-flick, its powerhouse cast (including Charles Dance, Dexter Fletcher, Vincent Regan and Sean Pertwee) makes this movie a very intriguing prospect.
When The Lights Went Out
Based on an infamous series of incidents from the 1970s, this supernatural horror allegedly recounts ‘the most violent poltergeist haunting in Europe’. (Is there a poltergeist governing body that ranks these things?) Starring Shaun of the Dead’s Kate Ashfield, the film tells the story of a family who movie into an estate in Pontefract, Yorkshire only to find that it is haunted by a physical apparition. It has flavours of The Exorcist and features a quality supporting cast including Scottish actors Martin Compston and Gary Lewis.
The Day Starring Shannyn Sossamon, Shawn Ashmore and Dominic Monaghan, this post-apocalyptic horror sees an armed group of survivors under attack from mysterious predators. Made by WWE pictures, this is the first of their films not to feature a professional wrestler. However, they did retain the same writers, which is probably why Monaghan’s weapons of choice are folding chairs and aluminium ladders. (That last sentence may not be entirely true.)
When Anglo-Irish playwright Martin McDonagh made his feature debut as director with 2008’s In Bruges, it announced him as one of the most potent new voices in modern cinema. It told the story of two low-level Dublin mobsters (Brendan Gleeson and Colin Farrell) laying low in Belgium after a hit gone terribly wrong. Propelled by its abrasive, hilarious and moving dialogue, In Bruges showed McDonagh’s talent for playing with character expectations; it was a quirky buddy movie that just so happened to be about violent men.
With his highly anticipated sophomore effort, McDonagh has made another movie about male friendships and violence. Farrell is back and he plays Martin, an Irish screenwriter living in Hollywood and dealing with a severe case of writers’ block. At this point, alarm bells should be ringing: if you’ve ever had to proof read works written by creative writing students (as we have), you will be very familiar with terribly-written stories about people with writers’ block. However, the film avoids becoming too ‘inside Hollywood’ and self-congratulatory by seemingly making Farrell’s writer a bit of a hack, desperately scratching away terrible story ideas like “Amish Psychopath” and “Buddhist Psychopath”.
When he’s stuck on page one of a screenplay entitled ‘Seven Psychopaths’, Farrell becomes desperate for any sort of inspiration. But he can hardly have predicted exactly how much inspiration is about to fall into his lap: his actor friend Sam Rockwell also works as a petty criminal, stealing dogs and returning them for hefty reward. He’s helped along the way by Christopher Walken, a seemingly-centered man with a dark past. When Rockwell ends up kidnapping the beloved Shih-Tzu of a terrifying crime boss (Woody Harrelson), it’s just the first domino in a long line of convoluted plot turns that involve Tom Waits as a rabbit-loving psycho, a fictional Vietnamese suicide bomber and a masked killer who deposits playing cards at the scenes of his crimes.
Farrell’s character states that he wants to write a movie about psychos that isn’t about violence and shootouts, but about love and peace and whatnot. While this is not necessarily that film, it does ask some pretty probing questions about our society’s fascination with murders, violence and psychopathic anti-heroes. If Dirty Harry actually existed, would we actually want to hang out with him? Would we take him out for a beer? After all, he did kill a lot more people than was strictly essential.
While the film’s structure does become slightly challenging, the sharp dialogue and quirky performances are never less than engaging. Even as the story’s momentum shifts down in a final half hour that deconstructs the hell out of the movie, the film still manages to delight consistently. We’re reminded again of how good Colin Farrell can be when he’s not asked to play bland action heroes; Sam Rockwell still remains Hollywood’s most under-tapped human resource; and Christopher Walken continues to chew dialogue in that uniquely Christopher Walken way. As a meta-physical take on the nature of movies, McDonagh’s film doesn’t quite have the sophistication or depth of Charlie Kaufman’s Adaptation (with which it shares a lot of DNA). But as a picture that rejects violence in cinema while simultaneously reveling in it, Seven Psychopaths gleefully manages to have its cake and eat it before blowing it to heaven with a double-barrelled shotgun.
Merry Monday, everybody! In the run-up to Christmas, everybody’s New Releases bucket is looking a little empty but what we lack in quantity, we make up for in sheer quality!
Ice Age 4: Continental Drift
The prehistoric gang from the Ice Age movies are back! And this time, they’re running an illegal underground racing syndicate getting tangled up with pirates! When they’re set adrift on a floating iceberg, they encounter a gang of swashbuckling animals who have apparently managed to fashion cutlasses out of fish-bones and coral, thereby undoing everything we know about evolutionary history. But, you know, kids probably aren’t as pedantic as we are.
All American College Orgy
Billed as ‘the perfect mix of American Pie and Big Bang Theory’, the trailer to All-American College orgy is short on plot details and heavy on bikini girls and muscled frat boys jumping into swimming pools. Made by and starring no one we’ve ever heard of, All-American College Orgy could very well be a masterpiece: the On the Road of our generation, examining middle-class suburban apathy in an age of unfettered entitlement. We haven’t seen it though, so we can’t be absolutely certain.
The Expendables 2 is the kind of action film that doesn’t exist anywhere else these days. In this post-Iraq, post-Afghanistan era, it can often be seen as tasteless to show your heroes gleefully blowing away nameless soldiers and tossing out snappy one-liners after every kill. In Taken, Skyfall and the highly successful Bourne films, the protagonists are usually portrayed as reluctant merchants of death. But it’s perhaps unfair to judge Expendables 2 by these standards. When you break it down, this isn’t really an action flick: it’s a pantomime.
Much like when David Hasselhoff turns up in the Guildford Christmas production of Peter Pan to make jokes about talking cars and red Speedos, the all-star cast of Expendables 2 spend the majority of their screen time dropping in references to their most popular roles. Arnold Schwarzenegger –who is only in the film for a sum total of seven minutes—makes multiple promises of ‘being back’ and is on the receiving end of a threat from Terry Crews, who promises to ‘terminate’ him. Geriatric martial arts star Chuck Norris also seems to turn up for no discernible reason other than to revive a meme from the mid-2000s. Now before you accuse us of ragging on these movie legends, let us tell you this: we actually found it pretty enjoyable.
The plot, for what it matters, goes like this: After a mission rescuing a Chinese billionaire from some anonymous facility in Nepal, mercenaries Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Dolph Lundgren, Randy Couture and Terry Crews get sent by Bruce Willis to go recover some mysterious object from a plane wreck. The fly in the ointment comes in the form of bad guy Jean-Claude Van Damme, who steals both this MacGuffin and the entire film from under all their noses. JCVD presence is very welcome indeed: he seems to be the only person in this film who isn’t constantly winking at the camera. As the straight-forward 80s-style movie baddie Jean Vilain (seriously, his name is essentially Johnny Villain), Van Damme’s performance quickly becomes the most memorable part of the film.
Okay: game time!
Expendables 2 Drinking Game
Drink (a shot of water*) every time:
…one of the Expendables makes a joke which nobody laughs at, except for the other characters on-screen (When Jet Li parachutes out of a plane, Statham quips: “that’s real Chinese take-out”. Terry Crews chuckles politely)
…someone expends all their ammunition and yells “I’m out!” If gun-battles were human dramas, then running out of ammo would be like the moment when a character reaches his lowest ebb. And the Expendables are constantly running out of ammo. Drama!
…Someone makes reference to Dolph Lundgren’s actual back story. The giant Swede has a Masters in Chemical Engineering and was offered a Fulbright Scholarship to MIT. The rest of the Expendables have a good laugh at this. After all, who needs an education when you have high-calibre machine guns?
…you feel sick watching the uneasy sexual chemistry between any number of the Expendables and their token female colleague (Yu Nan).
If you play by all the rules, you will be fully hydrated by the time the final credits roll*. And I think we’ve hit on the ideal way to enjoy this film: at home with your mates, getting drunk drinking water. The action is all very serviceable indeed, so action fans will never be bored. If you can appreciate its efforts at irreverent humour, you will likely enjoy Expendables 2. If you’re an idiot and accept the super-macho b.s. at face value, you will also enjoy Expendables 2. It’s like going to a really sweaty Panto where you’re allowed to drink beer water* and swear at the stars. I can really think of no better way to spend a cold December evening.
*According to the BBC Health website, the average adult human requires two and a half litres of water a day to maintain a healthy level of hydration. If you don’t consume enough you can become dehydrated, causing symptoms such as headaches, tiredness and loss of concentration — all of which are not conducive to watching Expendables 2.