Monday, 25 April 2011

The Girl Who Kicked The Hornets Nest


This is the last in Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy following the plight of Lisbeth Salander and the journalist Mikael Blomkvist.

Chances are that if you are interested in this film it is because you were one of the millions of people who became so gripped by the books when they first came out.

The challenge with trilogies is sustaining our excitement and interest, just look at the Matrix, an astonishing first film, such a shame with the last two.

The challenge with book adaptations is somehow capturing the pictures we as readers have had in our minds about how the characters would look, sound, and behave.

Thankfully, and most impressively, neither of the above challenges are problems with this one. Where the first was all action, raw shock and intense viewing, the second fell a little short but did the role of all middle films, it moved the plot on and expanded. This one, the final film, is light on action – as in the book, but is high on intrigue, tension, and a devastatingly good plot line. It is gripping, even when you know what is going to happen.

Clearly if you read and enjoyed the books you aren’t going to have a problem knowing that the plot is excellent. What you perhaps were worried about is the performances and especially the casting of Lisbeth and Mikael. To be blunt – these two are just amazing. Phenomenal performances that fulfil all you had in mind for them when reading. Exceptional casting, outstandingly good acting. They are such talents I have found myself researching other films they are in and setting up for a weekend of subtitles, Michael Nyqvist, and Noomi Rapace.

They are making an American version of the trilogy (I know, groan). Naturally I will watch with an open mind and interest, but I find it extremely hard to believe they will better or even equal the excellence of Rapace and Nyqvist.


Sunday, 24 April 2011

Kill Your Friends


This finely crafted diatribe of hilarious bile is the first from author John Niven who has gone on to write several more; this fact in itself suggests it was well received!

It is dubbed as one of the filthiest books you will ever read. This isn’t too far from the truth, although I have read worse!

Set over one year in the life of an A&R man in 1997 who is losing his edge as he gets older (he is 27ffs!) it is a clever, funny, awful, repulsive book about the ‘scum’ within the music industry. Our hero admits that no one actually knows how to spot a hit; it is all fluke and b/s from an industry we are led to believe is filled with racist, sexist, perverts who are all caning chang and dropping Es until they simply burn out. Sure, plenty of it is for effect, but as with much effective comedy, there is some truth hidden in the footnotes.

If you like rude, outrageous and as un-pc as you can get, you are going to enjoy this roller coaster of grot. You will even find yourself cheering from the sidelines as our main man dives from one wrong deed and thought to another.

A smart touch is the fact that Niven is frequently citing acts from the period, which is close enough for most of us to remember the musical backdrop. It isn’t just the big acts that are referenced. Who remembers Ether for example, an act that peaked (in the UK at least) as a support act for Ben Folds Five? Even they get a mention amongst the hundreds of other acts in the book…well researched (or remembered) Mr Niven.

I found Kill Your Friends an entertaining and easy read. It is a one hit read – I devoured it in a couple of hours, not because it is short or I am a speed reader, but because it is engrossing, funny and very enjoyable, and requires no real investment from you…provided of course you aren’t easily offended as it is exceptionally offensive indeed. Now go f**k yourself and read another one of my posts!



A line about Skyline: several scenes of excellent and gripping special effects action, twinned with multiple moments of laborious, awful waffly dialogue.


Saturday, 23 April 2011



This is the movie that was reportedly made for £100,000. It had a crew of just four, two paid actors who were effectively ‘holidaying’ with the director/producer/writer/special FX whiz kid (he did the lot), and a support cast of locals rumoured to be hired on location. Oh, and the other known ‘fact’: Gareth Edwards (the aforementioned whiz kid/writer/director/producer) created the effects on his own, in his bedroom, once the filming was complete.

Add all this together and what you expect to see is a patchy, naff, cheap, novice debut movie. This is certainly not the case with Monsters.

I actually found this a rather difficult film to review, sit back, and indeed enjoy, because I spent so much of the time thinking about Mr Edwards in his bedroom working on his laptop or out on location with his tiny team of guerrilla film-makers. And this says much about Monsters. I should compare this experience to when I first watched Moon – before the film I was all too aware that it was the debut movie made by David Bowie’s son for very little money (albeit vastly more than Edwards had for Monsters) and yet I escaped into Moon and forgot all about the back-story within seconds…

So what of Monsters? I certainly enjoyed it and there is so much to celebrate, not just from what Edwards has achieved practically on his own, but in the fact that he tells a good story very well.

It is set 6 years after alien spores have hatched in South America and the aliens are now terrifying and destroying residents in the ‘infected zone’. A young photographer has to escort the boss’ beautiful daughter out of the zone and across the US border to safety. What you get is part race-against-time, part almost romance, part road movie, and part action thriller, all wrapped up in a neat modern sci-fi bubble.

Obvious parallels with District 9 or even Cloverfield are expected, but although it is an aliens in residence movie set across a decimated landscape caper, it is not like either of these. It is subtle, moving, sad at times, and the unexpected regularly happens. I certainly enjoyed it, perhaps more on reflection than at the time.

Despite the title, it is not a movie about monsters. It is a movie that sets out to teach us a little about ourselves. Yes, there is the occasional lean towards cheese and some of the lines are far less polished than the directing and effects, but this is forgive and forgettable.

The monsters themselves are huge, tentacled octopus-like beings that leave a path of destruction in their wake. Edwards is fleeting and subtle in his revealing of the monsters, we initially catch ill-lit glimpses of them and let our imaginations fill in the rest. Only at the very end do we have prolonged exposure to them, and this is a delightful, tender, touching scene, which closes the movie with a magnificent twist in our emotional reaction. Excellent stuff.

A word on the actors – terrific! I’d not heard of either of them before this movie, but they are superb and both destined to shine in their careers to come. Scoot McNairy (I know, Scoot!?) in particular stands out, most notably in a scene where he is talking to his son on the phone. Whitney Able is also excellent and the camera loves her.

The more I think about Monsters, the more I am enjoying it post-mortem, making it very difficult to score! Can I recommend it? Absolutely. Is Gareth Edwards a rising star with a massive future? You bet. Will you love Monsters? Maybe love is too strong here, but certainly appreciate it and later it will stay with you; the memories will be good.


Friday, 15 April 2011

The American


Very little seems to happen in The American. It is slow, the action is fleeting and rare, and there are extensive scenes where all we see is George Clooney walking down assorted streets.

However, The American is an absorbing, classy little film. It is slow, but it allows the viewer room to breathe, the plot twists gradually and it is powerful and poignant.

George Clooney plays an assassin who has lost his edge. Opening in Sweden we quickly establish the hard-hearted harshness of Clooney’s character. He is dispatched to a small town in Italy to regroup and await instruction. As he carefully and slowly builds and calibrates a rifle we see him gradually clear his head and lay plans for his future.

There is nothing new to The American, but it is refreshing to see a Clooney piece that is style and character led over action and extensive plot.

I enjoyed this movie but don’t want to overplay its greatness. My verdict is that it is the perfect in-flight movie (and I think BA are currently screening it). It will hold your interest and won’t challenge you and is a very pleasant way to spend 1hr 45mins.


The Dilemma


What would you do if you found out that the wife of your best mate and business partner was cheating on him? How about if he was also in the middle of the most important deal of your careers and needed to avoid stress? Would you tell him?

That, in a nutshell, is The Dilemma.

I like Vince Vaughn and generally find him pretty funny. He wasn’t funny in The Dilemma, but that didn’t make it a poor film.

There are peaks and troughs to this one, which range from uncomfortable moments which are actually quite painful to watch, to hideously cheesy moments which are even more painful to watch, to the easy and relaxing harmless scenes where it feels more like a big budget sitcom.

Vaughn is ok in this, as is Kevin James his buddy. The wives are both under-used but Jennifer Connelly is always worth watching and there is a scene in a diner in which Winona Ryder really proves she can act. Queen Latifa does her best to steal the show and is accordingly handed out the best lines, including her frequent references to having ‘lady wood’, all charming stuff.

Harmless, reasonably entertaining, should have been much funnier.

By the way, it’s directed by Ron Howard, which surprised me!


Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Jackass 3


Johnny Knoxville and his quirky posse of ‘professional stuntmen’ are back for more of the same!

There is nothing new here, but what we get is the predictable grouping of the painful to watch, sometimes vomit inducing, gross-out stunts that Knoxville and the lads have made a living from.

Surprisingly there isn’t a stand-out stunt in this movie, but the collection we are ‘treated’ to simply continue the Jackass brand. If you like Jackass, you will like this.

For me, it is feeling a little stale now, and strangely Knoxville is starting to look a little too old to be fronting this – which may explain why he is always wearing sunglasses.


Everybody’s Fine


Everybody’s Fine. No they aren’t, and neither is this f***ing awful movie.

With such a stellar cast, Robert De Niro, Kate Beckinsale, Drew Barrymore and Sam Rockwell, it is horrible to watch them bore in such a glib and pointless ‘gentle family drama’.

The actors are far better than this film. Even they will be reluctant to sit through this one.

Did I enjoy anything about it? Well, there was a pretty cool looking house at one point.


The Tourist


Ricky Gervais famously ripped this film a new backside when he hosted the Golden Globe awards, so I was expecting an absolute turkey.

It wasn’t a turkey. But it probably deserves a little stuffing.

What you get from The Tourist is a reasonably considered, albeit simplistic, plot. A fair dollop of action, including some quite impressive looking sequences. And of course the stars…Johnny Depp is hardly at his best, but hey, it’s still Johnny Depp, and as for Angelina Jolie, well in some films she is a superb actress, in this film she looks magnificent.

You won’t care about the characters in this movie, you won’t be challenged by the plot. But Venice and Jolie look great and for some people that will be enough.


Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Sophie Barker, Seagull


You know Sophie Barker. You have relaxed with her, fallen asleep with her, swung in hammocks whilst looking at the stars with her. She is the voice behind Zero 7’s In The Waiting Line and her voice wholeheartedly justifies the tag ‘gorgeous’.

She has also sung with Groove Armada and Muki but more recently her attention has been on finding her own organic sound. After Lullaby an album of songs for children, she has returned to the studio, guitar in hand, with a full band.

Seagull is what has emerged.

I was fortunate enough to gain entry to a special invite only gig upstairs at Ronnie Scott’s last night for a first listen to the album and to see Sophie and the band performing live.

As I waited outside for my plus one I noticed that most of the people attending were clearly friends of Sophie. It is always a worry when you have a friend who is a musician (or actor, or director for that matter) as inevitably you are going to be asked to come and watch them and it may involve a degree of forcing a smile. It is a little like going to the wedding of a good friend who is marrying someone you just don’t get – you will go along to support your mate, but you may not particularly enjoy the experience. Obviously this hasn’t happened to me, but you know where I am coming from.

Fortunately, Sophie Barker has a rare and splendid talent, and her friends probably find themselves fighting for tickets whenever she announces a gig or some new material.

Seagull is a finely crafted album. 10 songs, each one giving off the impression that these are keepers. This is an album that you are going to play and connect with on first listen, it is an album you just know you are going to be friends with for a long time.

Sophie has an astonishingly beautiful voice. Is has power and grace that resonates on every song and it is the kind of voice that makes you stop whatever you are doing and just enjoy.

She is also a very fine songwriter indeed. Seagull is out in May and deserves to reach a significant audience. Comparisons with Zero 7 and David Ford are not unfair as it has such a fluid and welcoming element of ‘chill’ to it, but it is also a distinctive and bold musical statement. Her eight strong band are clearly all outstanding musicians and Sophie has given them music to embrace their skills. Strings, keys, plenty of guitar, (some horns on the album), and some rich harmonies all fuse together in a relaxing and joyful embrace.

I already have some clear stand out favourites. Say Goodbye, which has already been subject of remix excitement, charms with its keyboard led opening and extremely catchy chorus. Bluebell, perhaps the most ‘upbeat’ on the album is a romantic delight that could and should grace many a wedding in the years to come. Insight, a soulful, bluesy number takes the listener inside Sophie’s thoughts ‘I listen to the words of a poet, when I really want an action man instead’. They are all worth your time, and I am pretty sure my faves will chop and change in the weeks to come.

Seagull is filled with delightful numbers and is the understandably perfect vehicle for Sophie and her vast talent.

Seagull is a relaxed masterpiece that I sincerely hope you make a point of searching out. And as for Sophie and the band live, brilliant, find out when she is playing and get yourself down there.

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Source Code


The director of Moon is back. This time he’s got Jake Gyllenhaal. On a train. In someone else’s body.

In order to clarify the theme of Source Code let me explain some quantum physics (!). In 1935, the physicist Erwin Schrödinger devised a thought experiment that addresses the quantum theory of superposition. A cat is shut in a box alongside a vial of hydrocyanic acid, and a detonator triggered by the state of a radioactive isotope. Until the box is opened and the isotope observed, it is in two states at the same time. Consequently, while the box is closed, the cat is both alive and dead at the same time. From this we pick up the thread for Source Code.

By the way, Source Code and Schrödinger’s Cat – both initialled SC, coincidence? I think not.

Jake Gyllenhaal is shut in a box of metal, both mentally and physically. We even see the dripping acid on occasion. He is alive and dead at the same time. In Source Code Gyllenhaal is Schrödinger’s Cat. Love it! Clever Duncan Jones and writer Ben Ripley- I salute you!

So how about the film?

What Jones has served up is a gripping, engaging, clever movie. It is a little bit Unstoppable, a little bit Groundhog Day and an obvious nod to the TV show Quantum Leap, all bundled together in a finely crafted, compelling and refreshingly brief 93 minutes.

The effects are impressive and Jones tells the story in a clear, edge-of-your-set, exciting fashion. It is a film that will take you on an adventure that you can’t help but be sucked into.

Jake Gyllenhaal is outstanding. We knew he could act in Donnie Darko; this was re-enforced in Brokeback Mountain and Brothers amongst others (we’ll not discuss Prince Of Persia). Source Code may be his most impressive performance to date. He portrays his situation and thought process with such clarity and effectiveness that even those who will look on the plot as unbelievable will connect with Gyllenhaal’s character. There are, of course, a couple of questionable moments, one involving his father, but rather than this becoming cheesy Gyllenhaal’s portrayal is sympathetic and understated. I was extremely impressed.

I also have to salute the leading ladies, Michelle Monaghan and Vera Farmiga. Monaghan plays Christina the love interest on the train; she does this with a simplicity and naivety that is a pleasure to watch. Farmiga is Gyllenhaal's handler who has to find the balance between sympathising with his confusion, and getting him to do the job and save the day, she really is commanding. Excellent.

There are a couple of negatives I should mention. The first is Jeffrey Wright, the man who invented the Source Code and now leads the military team. Wright just gets it wrong. Whist the other actors all perform with a delicacy and subtlety that underpins the story; Wright is almost pantomime in his over the top performance. The second is, it is just a little bit too simple to work out. With a Duncan Jones movie we want a couple of killer twists. There were twists, but these were easily predicted albeit done with class.

I can’t write about Source Code without discussing the director Duncan Jones. So let’s get it on record now. How do you follow Moon? I loved Moon. It is one of the most complete sci-fi movies I have ever encountered and one I have watched and re-watched numerous times. It is the closest to 10/10 I expect I will come across for a debut film. Indeed, if I had the money I would buy a Moon poster signed by Jones and Rockwell. I am a ‘Moon geek’. Source Code is not Moon. It represents a ‘step-up’ for Jones who is now a new face in Hollywood, but with this comes a degree of artistic restriction and I feel he was perhaps held back slightly with his vision for Source Code. But Source Code will recieve a wider audience than Moon, it will be a box office success, and it is a great movie.

Source Code is a compelling film. Jake Gyllenhaal is superb, as are Michelle Monaghan and Vera Farmiga. Jones has proved he can absolutely cut it at this level. It isn’t as complete a film as Moon, but it stands alone as an absorbing and fulfilling experience. It is also an outstanding filmic translation of advanced and complex quantum theory so watch, ponder, and enjoy.

7.5/10. I have scored this the same as Limitless as I think they are on par overall as rewarding, enjoyable, and extremely worthwhile films that you should make every attempt to see on the big screen.