Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Sucker Punch


If you are a boy approaching puberty, this will be the greatest film you will ever see. If you aren’t, it won’t.

Nothing much in terms of plot, script, or character, but masses and masses of action that looks just a-grade spectacular.

Visually this is one of the most stunning computer assisted movies you can see right now, it looks awesome. Throw in a bunch of scantily clad hot girls fighting for a probably pointless cause and no depth whatsoever and you’ve got Sucker Punch.

In short, it’s what 300 director Zach Snyder is known for, amazing looking movies that don’t really have or need a plot.


Super 8


Dubbed as the family film of the summer this one is being noted as homage to Spielberg who produces the film.

Yes, it is a cracking movie. However, for me, what lets it down is that it over-stretches itself in every frame. It has been over-produced. It felt to me like someone had decided they could have loads of money to make it, so they should spend every penny.

I got the impression that JJ Abrams wanted to make ET but decided to make Transformers 8. There was so much unnecessary detail to each scene that it did distance the viewer from the closeness and charm of the script.

If they had taken out 80% of the special effects, the bombs, the military, the train crash – all spectacular moments to witness, but not moments that enhanced the plot at all, then this would have been a much more personal and impressive movie.

The alien could have been captive for example in a bus, the bus could have crashed in a small town, and an elite and quirky team of bad guys sent in to capture it, whilst the kids played out their own mission. This, in my view, would have been a better film than train-crash, military, bombs, town-evacuation etc. Sometimes less is more.


Little White Lies


The most compelling, charming, magnificent little character movie I have seen for ages.

When a French film is good, it is magnifique! Little White Lies was magnifibloodywonderful.

Funny, moving, and loaded with personality, I can recommend this without hesitation. Very few films have made me laugh out loud as hard as this one, formidable!


Attack The Block


Great! Another first time director moment by a famous small screen face – this time Joe Cornish of Adam and Joe fame has aliens attacking an estate in South London, and it’s down to the yoof to defend their turf.

Plenty of people have raved about this one, and for good reason, it is seriously good fun.

It does lack a little in character development, there are plenty of clever ‘street speak’ lines but the characters don’t go much further than the one dimension. It is also far too short; only just long enough to officially qualify as a feature. I felt there was room for a sub-plot or two and a little more from the fringe characters that could have been comedy gold, rather than comedy foils.

Nonetheless, it was great!




A delightful, charming, beautiful movie by first time director Richard Ayoade (who plays Moss in the IT Crowd).

The story is simple, a young boy wanting to lose his virginity and keep his parents together in a sleepy town in Wales.

Excellent performances, a quality script, and a terrific soundtrack from Alex Turner, there is very little not to like about this movie.

Much praise has been given to Ayoade and I do have to touch on that just briefly. For a first timer, this is an exceptional debut, but much of the credit must go to his cinematographer Erik Wilson and also the scenery itself, which has been captured magnificently. I’m not saying Ayoade hasn’t done an excellent job; just that he has had a lot of help.




Gripping, beautifully well made and with a banging soundtrack from the Chemical Brothers.

It is not the finest film you will ever see, and Cate Blanchett turns in a very below par performance, as does Eric Bana If I really want to over-think it. But it is still the filmic equivalent of a page-turner picked up on holiday. It will surprise you a little, but you can leave it at the hotel when you’ve finished.

It looks great, it sounds good, and it won’t challenge you at all.


A quick note:


Just wanted to say, I will be continuing to blog, but with much more concise reviews for the time being as ‘life’ is getting in the way of the keyboard right now.

Many thanks, I hope you will continue to read, react and enjoy.



Monday, 25 July 2011

The Adjustment Bureau


A light-hearted romantic love-story with a sci-fi twist. Matt Damon is the rising politician who randomly meets striking ballerina Emily Blunt and their adventures begin. Seemingly not fated to be together, the normally unseen powers that be do their best to keep the couple apart so they can follow the life-map that has been laid out for them.

 This is a race-against time romo-thriller with an underbelly of sci-fi action added into the mix.

 Personally, I enjoyed this movie. I found it engaging, gripping, a pleasure to watch. It won’t challenge you, there is nothing taxing about it, and perhaps it is a little too predictable for hardened filmgoers. But if you are looking for a decent untaxing watch for a night in with the Mrs, other half, housemates, or just you and the sofa, you won’t be let down by The Adjustment Bureau.

 It is a first time outing for director George Nolfi who had previously written blockbusters The Bourne Ultimatum and Oceans Twelve. Perhaps due to this being his first outing, Nolfi keeps it very simple. Visually it is all quite basic, which is a tad disappointing given the sci-fi nature of the plot. A more experienced director perhaps would have ramped up the visuals. But keeping it simple can also be effective and Nolfi will probably feel ready to take a few more risks with his next outing.




A film that has played heavy on the ‘if you liked Taken, you’ll love this’ idea, perhaps simply because it has the ever gigantic Liam Neeson in another suited-up race around a European city action adventure.

 It opens with Neeson and his wife, the constant beauty January Jones, arriving in Berlin. As they reach their hotel Neeson realises his case has been left at the airport and taxi’s back to retrieve it. Involved in a crash, Neeson wakes from a coma only to find that someone else is living his life for him. He has no ID, his wife doesn’t recognise him and there is an impostor who seems to have all his memories.

 Linking up with the driver who saved his life, the perfectly charming Diane Kruger, Neeson must unravel the mystery before his life crumbles around him.

 It is not Taken. Yes, it is quite gripping, there are a few good action sequences and a couple of twists, but the similarities end here. There is an appallingly shot car chase which makes me question if director Jaume Collet-Serra was just having a bad week. It is so car-interior heavy that I actually felt a little queasy.

 The twists are simple and predictable, and Neeson doesn’t have any of the power, determination and presence that we delighted in with Taken. In fact, I’d even go so far as to say Neeson is quite weak in this – I never felt that he was genuinely afraid, horrified, or even that confused by his situation.

 I did actually enjoy it, but I was certainly left wanting more. It was all just a bit off the boil. Perhaps this is the filmic equivalent of ordering a Vindaloo and being served a Korma, all a bit too creamy and soft for what I was hoping.


You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger


Woody Allen has come back to London to work some of his magic in a film, unsurprisingly, about relationships.

Actually, this one was quite charming.

At first I was extremely worried. The opening scene has Gemma Jones doing some of the worst over-acting I’ve ever seen, distractingly terrible. I’ve seen interviews with Jones subsequently saying she never received any direction from Woody Allen, and if this is true I am stunned he didn’t step in and sort her out, she is a proven actress but gets it all wrong throughout this film. I hate to say this, but the same can be said of Anthony Hopkins, who is also off colour in this one.

Despite the performances, You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger is quite an entertaining little watch. Naomi Watts, oh, actually she is also quite poor in this…Erm, Antonio Banderas is ok and Freida Pinto is quiet and beautiful. 

 All right, forget most of the performances…if you can overcome some of the hopeless acting You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger has the usual human interplay and angst we’ve come to love from Woody Allen movies.

 Not a film that will fill you with the joys of life, but a playful tale about a handful of people who all want to take from life without putting that much into it.




In a nutshell – if you like cold, gritty, historical (but I very much doubt historically accurate), swords and arrows action, this one is for you.

 Paul Giamatti is brilliantly cast as the evil King John who is determined to ignore the Magna Carter and reclaim the power of his kingdom. He is more than happy to strike down any who stand in his way, with help from his hired army from overseas. He is perhaps a little pantomime here, but I found this both amusing and quite entertaining, others will possibly hate it.

 Violence abounds throughout this movie, but naturally it is all building to the epic climatic battle…with a handful of half-starved and depleted warriors having to take on an army of well fed and rested soldiers, the good and bad lines are very clearly drawn here.

For me, it dragged on a little too long. Lose 25 minutes and it’d be a lot sharper.

There were some decent performances and the casting ‘risks’ given the genre were actually inspired as they all turned in top draw performances. Jason Flemyng, Brian Cox and Mackenzie Crook clearly delighted in the freedom they were afforded in their roles and Giamatti again filling the screen with his villainous turn.

Bloody stuff, not for the faint hearted, but all reasonably good battlefield fun.


Wednesday, 13 July 2011

The Black Crowes

Music, Gig, live at Shepherds Bush Empire

I first saw The Black Crowes live the very first time they played in the UK. This was many centuries ago and I have seen them play every time they make it over here. This was their swansong tour before they head off on a ‘prolonged hiatus’…whatever that means, presumably they’ll be retiring until the urge to tour again hits them.

I suppose because this was their ‘goodbye’ gig I was expecting something different to what I’ve seen before.

Opting to play two sets rather than having a support act, and let’s be fair, they have enough material to play all night, they strutted on stage bang on time at 8pm sharp. Chris Robinson has amazingly maintained that stick-insect thin frame of his and moves around the stage like a peacock giving us the full-on feathers treatment. This is his crowd, and he just loves it.

 They opened with Remedy, perhaps my all time fave of theirs, and what a job they did with it. A romping number that really gets let out of the cage when they perform it live. Next up came Hotel Illness, another Crowes stonker, again performed with the polished pomp that comes from a band in their prime who have done this thousands and thousands of times before.

If the gig had ended after the opening two tracks I would have declared it a triumph. It didn’t.

 Now I expect virtually all hardened Crowes fans to disagree with me here, but I’m afraid for me the band are let down by two things...

Firstly, I just feel that most of the numbers from the last decade fall short of the standards from the first four albums. Some fans will claim it is their best work, for me the country influence is just too strong. The Crowes are at their best when they stick with their special brand of Rock n Roll with a perceptible nod to Blues n Soul. So when they started to bombard their set with frequent sliding guitars and country motifs I felt a little let down.

 The second problem I have with them live is the extended guitar solos that managed to find themselves onto most numbers. I love a good guitar solo. I love a band that revels in playing live and gets lost within itself irrespective of whether the audience is there or not. But what happened last night was this – the guitar solos dominated so many of the numbers that actually they played about half as many songs as they could have done. It was the sheer length of the solos I struggled with. One of them was pushing 8 minutes, before being handed over to the next guitarist to carry on! If that was just for one or two numbers, fair do’s, but every track. Too much I’m afraid. Yes, I would sacrifice many of these guitar solos if it had meant I could hear Sting Me and She Gave Good Sunflower and Thick n Thin, I could go on!

 The plusses of seeing the Crowes live are always apparent. Chris Robinson is a brilliant performer with a stonking live voice. The band are so so tight – always bringing it back to the starting track after the aforementioned month-long solos. It is a delight to watch the telepathy that comes from a band who have been together so long their kids are now running the country. The keys last night were astonishingly good. The drummer I always love to watch live as he is technically as good as I’ve seen anywhere and clearly loves playing these tracks.

 I am going to miss the Crowes live. I just wish they would gig again and I could compile the set list. There are songs I love that I wanted to hear and I couldn’t. It was a relief they found the space amongst the guitar wails to add in She Talks To Angels and Jealous Again otherwise I’d have been really gutted!

The Killing

TV Series, Channel 4

The Killing is Channel 4’s new big money buy-in, a US crime drama based on a Danish TV series that recently aired on BBC Four. In order to write a fair review I will just get this out of the way once – the original was a masterpiece that is still fresh in memory, it is a very hard act to follow.

You can see why, on paper, The Killing is a credible buy for Channel 4, it contains all the right ingredients of good, gripping, gritty drama. It is from excellent stock, and it comes from the company who make Mad Men. Sounds like a no-brainer.

Clearly a huge amount of money has gone into this series. Set in Seattle, the whole piece is reasonably nicely directed. The camera takes its time to amble around each scene; the city is painted with a dark pastel hue, which allows the gloom and shadows of the city to prevail. And there is so much rain. The rain is such a feature of this show that it feels like a vast amount of the production budget was spent on rain machines…but with an opening episode spilling over 90 minutes, should ‘rain’ really be one of my standout memories?

 There are extensive and impressive shots of the city from cranes, helicopters, and other additional clever angles and devices, which add to the scale of the production. But apart from making me think how much money it must have all cost, they don’t add anything to the DRAMA.

What about the story? Well, this is a very slow burner. The Killing is, in essence, a protracted who-done-it, which centres on the murder of a 17 year old girl. Where this differs from standard crime fare is that the focus is on the surrounding characters – the lead detective is a woman who is about to leave the city, the job, her life as she knows it, to pack up with her young son and marry some guy in California. She is literally due out of town at the end of day one. The victim’s family are clearly (I hope) on the verge of developing intriguing back-stories, and of course there is a politician, who just so happens to be handsome, who has a history of his own and a team member he can’t trust.

Here is where the problems come in, whereas in the Danish original you revel in the unsaid, in the stillness, and in the slow grinding tension, in this remake, you don’t. Based on the first episode, which is all I have seen so far, the characters are bland and one dimensional. Worse, they are simply the stereotype signature characters we are all too familiar with and have seen done better plenty of times before (Wallander anyone?). It is very telling that I have no emotional connection with the dead girl, even more so that at this stage I am neither guessing nor do I care who the killer is. Yes, I want justice to prevail, yes, I am expecting the lead detectives life to start falling apart as she immerses herself in the investigation, but I’m not actually that bothered.

 Despite this, I will come back for more. I know, crazy eh! I have seen just enough to lure me back for a second episode. For me the lifeline comes from the replacement detective who has come in from drug squad and has his own way of working. I also am taken by the style of the piece, even if I don’t feel the money has been spent justifiably so far. My hope is that episode 2 will take more risks, challenge us a bit more, and step away from what just feels like the ‘obvious’.



Five people trapped in a lift. The devil is amongst them.

This one is served up from M Night Shyamalan who has a writing and screenplay credit, leaving directing duties to John Dowdle. I am not sure if having M Night Shyamalan’s name on it is an audience draw anymore as plenty of his recent projects have been on the verge of terrible.

Back to the lift and what plays out is a tense, gripping, well made piece of film. You know what is going to happen, you know who is going to be the last man standing and who is going to be possessed before they have reached the first floor. But actually that is what makes it.

You have seen this film time and time again. You have seen it done better, but you have certainly seen it done a lot worse. It will make you jump on occasion, it’ll make you squirm a little, and it won’t give you any reason to call it a ‘bad’ film. There will be no Oscars handed out here, but it is a fun, easy watch.

One point of note – which some people may appreciate – it is very very short. Cut out the credit time and I think the action runs at something like 72 minutes…barely a feature film by my clock. If I’d paid to watch it I may be asking for a few quid back.


Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Drive Angry


Nicholas Cage does his best Nicholas Cage impression in a movie that is loaded with cars, fighting, nudity, and cheesy lines. Great stuff!

Cage is the grandfather who has escaped from hell to avenge the murder of his daughter and save his granddaughter. He picks up a plucky and super hot waitress along the way for company as he sets out to tackle the devil-worshipping cult who tore his world to pieces.

No, you won’t be watching this one for the plot or the script. Yes, you will be watching for a laugh!

Tongue in cheek action and a naffness that acknowledges itself and somehow that makes it ok.

An enjoyable, rubbish, romp of a movie. Fun and awful in equal measure, I suspect this was great in 3D.


The Afterparty by Leo Benedictus


A terrific page-turner that follows the lives of four individuals at a party over a single night. The gate crashing nobody, the superstar Hollywood actor, his drug addicted model wife, and a young starlet just setting out on the scene.

Leo Benedictus tells an excellent story which is loaded with twists and turns. By experiencing the same action through the different perspectives of the four characters we keep learning more and more about the event and continue to re-frame our sympathies.

Benedictus also adds in a fifth element between the chapters, that of email dialogue between the author and a publisher he is hoping will take the book. It adds another level and enables us to step out of the story quite frequently to assess what we have just taken in.

It is a frighteningly descriptive book and Benedictus’ turn of phrase makes you delight in the word-play whist also enjoying the plot. I can categorically recommend The Afterparty. It is a modern triumph of drugs, celebrity, casual sex, lies and the fame game.


Music/Gig Live at Ko Ko, Camden

You may only know OK GO as the guys who do the amazing videos. Perhaps you only know them for the treadmill one? There is a strong chance you can’t immediately hum one of their tunes, and yet somehow you’ll know more of their tracks than you think.

Having loved their videos for a long time, I heard the guys were coming to town…so I downloaded their album and booked my tickets.

I have to be frank here, when an act is known primarily for their videos, you have to be a little concerned about what they are like as a live group…

All I can say is – f**king brilliant! These guys know how to put on a show and party with you like it is just you with them in their front room.

This show had a bit of everything. Yes, it turns out they are a really good live band. But far more than that, they know how to put on a performance, and it had something for everyone.

Here are a few highlights –

A song where the four of them stood around a huge table filled with bells and used the bells to form the entire track, singing on top of it. This is a very tough thing to master and commanded total attention from the impressed crowd.

A brilliant video made only for that night, which concluded with the star of it, Tim the bassist, emerging dressed as a gold-clad Ming the Merciless from Flash Gordon.

An outstanding solo performance from the lead singer who waded through us all, set up a box to stand on in the middle of the crowd and sang into the audience with his guitar. Brave man. 

Massively cool light effects including lasers attached to their guitar heads and an ever-changing pattern on the back of their jackets.

The biggest, most frequently used confetti cannons I’ve ever seen.

Excellent and regular banter with themselves and the audience. I like it when you feel included!

Seriously, OK GO are what established live acts should be about – putting on one heck of a show. Their music was excellent, but the show really did take them to the next level. I am a great fan of bands who go the distance to entertain, I actually find it quite frustrating when you only get the songs played back to you…OK GO just know how to please an audience and I will absolutely be coming back for more.