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Wreck-It Ralph (John C. Rilley), a video game Baddie turning 30 in an arcade full of games much younger, is tired of his programmed roots and the treatment it brings. He wants to become a hero and get a medal like his ‘nemesis’ Fix It Felix Jr (Jack McBrayer), namesake of the game. He flukes his way to a medal in first person shooter ‘Hero’s Duty’ and loses it in driving game ‘Sugar Rush’, where he meets someone who changes his perspective on what a hero really is.

Disney Animation Studios’ CG department has kind of been treated as a red headed step child of the organisation since Bob Iger was able to lure Pixar back and acquire them in 2006. It may still make films of somewhat improving quality that turn a profit but it always has that shadow of Pixar looming over it as though their efforts in comparison are going to be laughed at, particularly taking into consideration that they were always the project of a Michael Eisner ‘Anything you can do, we can do better’ power trip.

In 2012, Pixar had a slip up. Brave was still a success, but not as much as expected and the critics were more mixed than usual. Whilst it shouldn’t be called a major blow by any stretch, the chance was taken and in stepped Wreck It Ralph, a movie that people thought would be a catastrophe but went on to be one of the biggest animation successes of the year.

Before the main feature, Paperman has to be discussed, in the same way any Pixar short would be discussed before the main feature. Paperman is a simple love story with a magical Disney trademark twist that in itself is a pleasure but what makes it stand out is the animation style that combines both hand drawn animation with CGI, the fusion of Disney’s prestigious past and its present successes. Simply put, it looks stunning and there has never been anything like it. It’s on YouTube right now if you can’t wait to see it (or if you have, just watch it again).

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aTLySbGoMX0&list=FLx4dmnR1K3U7BB7A5mlEPDA&index=2[/youtube]

Wreck It Ralph though, had been a project that was announced and almost forgotten about until one preview photo in Disney fan club magazine D23 got people speculating. We start the movie in this exact scene, a therapy session where Zangief (Street Fighter series), Dr. Eggman (Sonic the Hedgehog series), Bowser (Mario series) and others sit with Pac-Man’s Clyde counselling them on how they are as bad guys. For the first half of the movie, it accomplishes this aim referencing everything that you possibly could reference outside of a full on Mario cameo. The best touch being the stilted, retro movement of the characters in Fix It Felix Jr, a sequence which demonstrates the extreme effort and painstaking time it must have taken to produce. Yes, it does the Toy Story cliche of ‘things coming to life when people aren’t around’ but really, if there is one concept that needed that to be used, it was always an amusement arcade full of iconic video game characters.

The cast assembled is interesting in that it doesn’t stretch itself too far from what they are known for, John C. Rilley is John C. Rilley, Jane Lynch is playing Jane Lynch and so on, but that is by no means a bad thing. Everyone clearly has an emotional investment and draws enjoyment in how their lines are read, which serves to put focus onto the actions of the respective characters. Sarah Silverman’s Vanellope von Schweetz shines as a particularly enjoyable character and is slightly out of Silverman’s wheelhouse. Of course, the real exception to this rule is Alan Tudyk, who voices King Candy. An actor who seems to get himself fun and interesting bit parts (the big highlights of both Dodgeball and A Knights Tale being good examples of this), he somehow manages to outperform everyone else in his role, conveying an almost Ed Wynn-esque mix of the whimsical and the sinister.

So this is the part of the review where I talk about the biggest criticism people have about the movie. This isn’t really a spoiler but there is a clear transition from what is primarily a video game movie into a mix of references to video games and sugary tweets. Sure, it may seem like a bit of a cop out but the beauty of the movie is that despite that change in focus, it all feels natural in the same way the video game references avoid feeling forced. Indeed some of the references in the latter half of the film are even as hilarious as those in the opening exchanges. Even what some people have called the most glaring reference (that being a nod to Subway near the beginning) I managed to totally miss during every viewing, even after being shown a screenshot of the scene!

The fact of the matter is that video games alone aren’t on a level where they are able to carry a whole movie narrative despite the billion dollar rise of the industry in the last decade. Sure, Scott Pilgrim pulled it off successfully but it lacked any cross-market appeal, only selling to those it was directly promoted to and thus had a much more sluggish box office performance than was hoped for. Balancing it out as they have in Wreck-It Ralph and managing to avoid the feeling that the references have been forced really is something of an achievement. Bond movies, for example, have never been able to strike the balance between ‘advermovie’ and culturally appropriate references in the way this film does.

You could make a case that the sequel will be more friendly to that audience because of the first film’s success and considering that rumours have been flying around regarding a potential reference  to Tron and, more importantly, a full blown Mario cameo, there is definitely weight behind that train of thought.

It’s always hard to find a flaw though, in a film like this. At the end of the day, it is made to appeal to a wide audience so you’re never going to experience some kind of epic, broad plot, full of twists and turns. Indeed, all you’re looking for is that ticks all the boxes a movie like this should. The test of a good family movie is if the children in the cinema are able to be invested and not bother anyone else around them. Wreck-It Ralph does that, something that their noisy neighbours Pixar are almost masters of.

Wreck-It Ralph is, quite simply, a joy.  Disney Animation stepped up their game and produced something that is enjoyable, funny and surprisingly engrossing. It may not be original in terms of plot and direction but, as with all good to great family movies, you simply don’t care and nor should you.

Wreck-It Ralph is out now in UK cinemas and out on DVD and Blu-Ray in the US on March 5th.

8 February, 2013 0 comment
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Header

I spared no expense on my header as you can see.

Another year has come and gone and as I look at the numerous ideas and goals I wrote on a piece of paper December 31st, 2011, I can’t help but think…”Well, that didn’t work.”

But enough about me! This is an end of the year list! These type of lists are well known as the least common thing to find on any website, blog, or stone tablet in the month of December.

But enough about poorly put together punchlines, let’s point out the stigmas of Direct to DVD. It’s a place where throwaway sequels go to grasp at cash. Where films that have lost all momentum and trust from studios are left to die. Where really cool ideas are shoved to the side because it doesn’t fit a in the right section of a report. Where cheap budgeted films hope to trick you with really awesome cover art. All these things put together are pretty much Direct to DVD’s reputation…which is mostly true. Oh well.

But enough about me getting to the list, let’s get to the actual list! These are films that fit stigma, bombed so badly the cost of shipping it to theaters and desperately advertising it only added to the cost, or just seem baffling to see in theaters. Either way, I’m at no real position to judge, but I’m going to do it anyway!

One last stalling note: I did not include films that were limited release (less than 500 was my cutoff).

And now…THE LIST!

THORRRRR

10. Red Dawn — Starring Chris Hemsworth
After sitting on a shelf for a couple years for significant editing (including a change in the country of the villains) this remake finally roared into theaters led by Thor-himself, Chris Hemsworth. If you’re keeping score, that would be the third Hemsworth movie theatrically released following his work in Thor (Cabin in the Woods being the other). Either way, the movie’s budget inflated to $65 million and as of today has only recouped $37,265,000. Of course, the movie still has a foreign release, but if the Wolverines aren’t succeeding in the US, they’ll need a lot of help.

 

Katherine HI-GAL!

9. One For the Money — Starring Katherine Heigl
It seems as if Katherine Heigl’s star is starting to fade. While she might have some box office draw left, the idea of combining her with a project that has been in development hell for over a decade is probably not smart. Of course, that could be the hindsight talking since I’m referring to One for the Money which cost $40 million and failed to recoup its price. It is included on the list because, at the very least, a stripped out budget could have provided a decent direct to DVD comedy. Also, I just wanted to point out how fading Heigl has become because I’m a jerk.

 

Alas Poor Box Office

8. The Raven — Starring John Cusack
Perhaps my favorite movie that ends up on this list. Edgar Allen Poe working to stop someone from committing murders inspired by his stories is an intriguing idea to me, but apparently not the majority of the viewing public. Although, it does hold the honor of being the last movie that my aunt and uncle saw before she went into labor, leaving from the theater to immediately go to the hospital. The Raven cost an estimated $26 million and managed to bring in a worldwide total of $26,059,817. While the information makes it seem like a good old fashioned ‘draw’ if you consider the other costs, including advertisement, it is still a disappointment. There is a hesitance to include it, due to an enjoyment bias, but I personally feel the film could have broke even direct to DVD. No, I don’t have the numbers to back up my claim.

 

Ghost Riders IN The skyyyyyyyy

7. Ghost Rider 2: Spirit of Vengeance — Starring Nicolas Cage
An insanely cut budget is usually a good sign that the sequel is going direct to DVD, but somehow the surprise success Ghost Rider managed to hit a jump into theaters for its psychotic sequel. Considering Nicolas Cage has had no problem whatsoever dipping into the direct to DVD pool lately (Stolen, Trespass), it’s not as if star power got it a theatrical run. Either way, the movie bombed despite a lower cost, making it just another title in a bad year for Nicolas Cage.

Also, the Twinkie joke it uses is now dated.

 

Probably would've been #1 if stats were available

6. Gone — Starring Amanda Seyfried.
When the advertisements for this film ran, I seriously believed it was a direct to DVD movie until they listed the release date. I wasn’t sure why it was in theaters and, to be quite honest, am still unsure today. This “Find my sister” thriller was not screened for critics and when they did get to see it, they tore it apart. Gone currently holds a 12% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It may seem odd to randomly give critic information but there is a reason…lack of data. There are many various sites to find movie information such as budget. I searched the majority of them including the Internet Movie Database (IMDB), Box Office Mojo, and even Wikipedia and not ONE of them had this movie’s budget listed. Why is that a secret? Why is this information…Gone? Dear goodness.

 

I should read the book someday

5. Atlas Shrugged: Part II — Starring Samantha Mathis
Last year, Part I of this series made my list. This year, the sequel arrived. The more things change, the more they stay the same. Released in more than twice the amount of theaters of Part I, Atlas Shrugged: Part II managed to make even less than its predecessor. So, again, I’d think it would’ve been better off to take the Direct to DVD path. Plus, it will most likely not have the amusing DVD cover mistake of hyping the opposite of the movie’s philosophy.

STILL FUNNY

Still funny.

 

One Shot, No Interest

4. Silent House — Starring Elizabeth Olsen.
Do you know how hard it is for a cheap horror movie to not make a profit? I mean, The Devil Inside is an abominable film of absolute horribleness and it made nearly $30 million in theaters. However, Silent House, and its $14 million dollar budget just flat out failed to find profitability by coming in at $13 million in worldwide gross. Considering the nearly infinite amount of direct to DVD horror movies per year, this remake could have easily been a candidate to take that route.

 

Candy, candy, candy

3. Fun Size — starring Victoria Justice Featuring Chelsea Handler & Johnny Knoxville
A slew of Nickelodeon actors and a few semi-recognizable comedic faces that ensured a PG-13 rating star in this randomly appearing comedy, released near the end of October. Perhaps Fun Size was poised to pick up movie viewers who wanted to avoid horror films for Halloween. However, things did not go as planned as the film could not recoup its $14 million budget. In fact, it couldn’t even break $10 million. In my mind, it would have fared just as well Direct to DVD.

 

One Thousand One, One Thousand Two...

2. A Thousand Words — Starring Eddie Murphy.
Poor Eddie Murphy. Whenever people think he may be having a resurgence something dreadful happens to derail the comeback train. This movie finished filming back in 2008 and sat on a shelf until March 2012 where it escaped in route to meeting a horrific doom at the box office. Only half of the $40 million budget was recouped in theaters, not including what was dished out in a desperate attempt to advertise it. At least England had the right idea as they cancelled the theatrical runs and the movie was released direct-to-DVD on July 16, 2012.

 

What is this nonsense, anyway?

1. Oogieloves in the BIG Balloon Adventure
Good golly. A $20 million budget combined with a release of over 2,000 theaters and only a $1,065,907 return. In fact, Oogieloves managed to dethrone last year’s #1 Creature for the much more infamous title of “Worst Opening Ever.” Hindsight being completely 20/20, I’d say that dropping this thing to Direct to DVD would have most likely made it more money than theatrical release. Heck, releasing the thing direct to VHS would have probably been more profitable. And in case you’re wondering…no, I haven’t watched it. If you have, I wish you congratulations.

So, did I miss something? Did I snub something? Did I put something on the list that didn’t belong there? Well, I say no…but I’m the one who wrote it. Feel free to comment. Thank you for taking the time to read such an odd idea for a year-end list.

So, until next time…Give me $20 million and I could get you back more than $1 million. Just saying.

 

30 December, 2012 0 comment
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There’s something about Charles Dickens’ novels that inspire filmmakers and something about the characters and the nature of the stories that makes them so enticing to adapt to the screen. In the last decade alone the BBC have had great success adapting Little Dorrit, Bleak House and last year’s Great Expectations, while Oliver Twist has been churned out on numerous occasions, also inspiring one of the most successful and well loved movie musicals of all time.

Dickens’ characters are so dark, romantic and soulful and yet so desperately full of sorrow and misery, filmmakers keep flitting back to him because there is a great story to be told. There is always a sad, downtrodden and lonesome leading protagonist whose adventures take them to be in company with the most lecherous, horrific and awful people imaginable. There is always a reference to the gloomy, dirty and frightening streets of London, a long awaited twist, a death and normally a great hill to climb before a happy ending.

Mike Newell whose most recent work consists of magical fantasy adventures, from kiddie friendly wizardry in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire to 2010’s disappointing summer blockbuster Prince of Persia: The sands of Time, is the latest director to have a stab at one of Dickens’ most beautiful and frightening tales.

Great Expectations is the deeply compelling and emotional story of human tragedy, revenge, passion, greed and heartache. The story begins with a poor but kind-hearted orphan boy called Pip (War Horse alumni Jeremy Irvine as adult). Upon his terrifying encounter with escaped convict Magwitch (a brilliant performance by Ralph Fiennes) on the moors, Pip is then led into the path of the mysterious Miss Havisham (played with perfect eccentricity by Helena Bonham Carter), a woman locked in a continual state of mourning after being jilted by the groom on her wedding day. It is there that Pip also meets Estella, Miss Havisham’s long suffering adopted daughter. Although at first taken aback by her cold and mean nature, Pip comes to fall in love with Estella, a passion that consumes his every thought.

When a secret benefactor supports Pip’s transition to become a gentleman in London, his life takes a very unexpected turn, to become a man of property and someone of great expectations.

The cast is quite simply perfect, with strong supporting forms from Robbie Coltrane and Jason Flemyng. The two young lovers play their roles with depth, heart and soul, while Bonham Carter it seems was born to play this role. Her complex and tragic little figure, swamped by a rotting wedding dress makes for compelling viewing.

There is nothing especially original about this adaptation. It wasn’t needed, nor was anyone crying out for another version after last Christmas’ successful TV three-part drama starring Gillian Anderson. None the less it is so much more than another mediocre costume drama.

A wonderful adaptation that deserves to be enjoyed, purely for the super performances but a story that will live on and linger with you long after you’ve left the cinema.

 Great Expectations will be out on 30th November across screens in the UK.

30 November, 2012 0 comment
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Ben Affleck is turning out to be one of the finest filmmakers of his generation, so much so that his Directorial efforts have trumped practically all his acting failures during the early 00’s (Can we forgive him for Gigli now?). Back when he joined forces with best friend Matt Damon in 1998 to write the script for the much loved Good Will Hunting, who knew then that we had a soon to be greatly respected and highly praised creator in out midst.

Only a few years after his commercial successes with The Town and Gone Baby Gone, Affleck returns to the director’s chair to helm and star in this winter’s Oscar bait movie Argo.

Following the real life events of the CIA’s attempt to rescue six American diplomats from Tehran during the Iran hostage crisis in the late 1970s and early 1980s, this thriller is one to watch out for come award season.

On November 4th 1979, the American Embassy in Tehran was overrun by militants in support of the Iranian revolution and in retaliation to the US’ support of the deposed Shah. In a frightening display, hostages were taken and paraded on television. When the CIA learn of six U.S diplomats who are trapped and seeking shelter with the Canadian ambassador (Victor Garber), exfiltration specialist agent Tony Mendez (Affleck) is sent in to rescue them.

Mendez plans a clever ruse by joining forces with real life make-up artist John Chambers (John Goodman), who worked on The Planet of the Apes films and also previously helped the CIA with other crafted disguises, and film producer Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin) to produce a phony film studio and rescue the trapped citizens. All the while he was also establishing the pretence of a developing sci-fi project called ‘Argo’ to the press.

In a potentially dangerous and life threatening task, he masquerades as the film’s director, enters Tehran under the pretext of location scouting for the film while really briefing the six escapees with extensive information, providing fake passports and fake identities to get home safely.

The details of this incredible mission were not released to the public until 1997 and while Mendez himself was awarded the Intelligence Star, the nature of the event meant he was not allowed to keep it until the information was made public.

While a story of this nature is naturally like catnip to the Academy Awards, full credit goes to Affleck who while acting the role of Mendez very well has assembled a strong quality cast, a brilliant screenwriter, production designer and even the perfect composer in Alexandre Desplat. In real life the six diplomats made it home safely, and in 1981 all other hostages taken were released unharmed. Argo never wains on tension, right up to the nail biting finale, so despite the conclusion of the film being common knowledge, it still takes you on a ride before you get there, sprinkled with a few little comedy touches courtesy of Arkin’s hilarious turn as Lester Siegel which provide much needed relief from all the political jargon.

A few other creative touches, including a cleverly organised opening credits sequence using hand drawn storyboard images,and interesting history information at the end of the film keep things engaging in what is a superb feature from Affleck, that serves only to leave us wanting more.

Argo is out in UK cinemas from today.

 

7 November, 2012 0 comment
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Mo and Rashid are brothers living on a Hackney council estate. Mo looks up to Rashid like a hero, making his way in the drug selling world as part of a gang and being able to pay the family’s bills and buy flashier things. When his friend and fellow gang member Izzy dies in a clash with a fellow gang trying to take their turf, after the intention of escaping the life of the estate, Rashid no longer sees himself as invincible and decides to change his life, managing to get a job and desperate to ignore his gang background. Mo, having felt let down by his brother’s turn, takes his place in the gang.

It has been seven years since the release of Kidulthood single handedly spurred what has become a British Film making trait; The East London Gangster film. Sure, there have been others before then, but Noel Clarke’s film was the first to hit a mainstream audience with the issues of poverty and resorting to drugs to make a living head on. At the time, though, it felt much more like unfufilled potential with a lack of real depth to the setting and story but also to the characters, being more like caricatures that happened to embrace London slang then actual living humans. Since then, many festival made movies and smaller produced British movies have come along, Clarke himself doing Adulthood and 4321, but none has really come along to stop the recurring pattern. It never helped, either, that the ones that didn’t star Clarke were always compared to his films, not helping make their own way in the film landscape.

Enter Sally El Hosaini, director of shorts and having worked as a consultant and assistant on TV dramas and movies, to have a crack in her first feature film. What she doesn’t succeed in originality in terms of setting and crime related story, she achieves something that many had tried and failed to do; relate not just to the lives of the people on the much filmed council estates but flesh the characters out beyond the tropes that we all know and hate.

El Hosaini surrounded herself with a cast that have enough variables to support the story and carry her intention to make it the thinking man’s East End gangster movie. James Floyd, who plays Rashid, is the standout and could have simply played your average lead role gangster but brings enough to the role that makes you believe this guy just wants to change. His brother Mo, played by Fady Elsayed, is the counter to Rashid. He wants to be a part of the lifestyle that his brother wants to leave because he has admired him for a long time. When Mo feels betrayed, it makes sense rather then feeling like it’s there to put the plot forward. A great added touch to the cast, too, is La Haine actor Saïd Taghmaoui, who plays the photographer who gives Rashid his first job and also is involved in the film’s big plot shift.

The cinematography, along with the rest of the package, is one of the stronger points. Shots are well crafted to not just give you the effect of the estate but also making actions that happen more significant and give more impact. It marks a great demonstration of how good this is executed when you can make places in Hackney seem like the most iconic, standout imagery in ways that you would not think would be possible. It delves away from pretentious and keeps stable enough to make things realistic and not outside the realms of the realism the film constructs.

My Brother The Devil is not any means original and does cover the same topics others have attempted in the past. What makes MBTD stand out much more is the fleshing out of characters, the directions the story goes down, the beautiful cinematography and overall feel of the drama taking place. They combine together to make one of the best British made dramas in the last few years and is worth seeing whether you can relate to the subject matter or not.

23 October, 2012 0 comment
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They say great things come in small packages and you’d have to have a heart of stone not to shed a tear or two for this delightful little British film that recently closed as the gala night for the Toronto International Film Festival – a small film with a big heart to share.

Marion (Vanessa Redgrave) is dying from cancer. Despite taking its toll on her body the illness has not taken away her soul and she is determined to live her last moments to the full, including singing with her eccentric and colourful friends in a choir. Her husband Arthur (Terence Stamp) on the other hand wants nothing to do with the outside world and would much rather Marion stayed home and rest. Desperately concerned Marion is risking her health and too much of the little energy she has left, he has become angry at the whole world and everyone in it, pushing friends away and distancing himself from the already strained relationship with his son (Christopher Eccleston). Nothing matters to him but Marion.

Only when the inevitable happens and Arthur’s world comes crashing down, does he begin to open himself up to the possibility of a future without his wife, and with a little help from Marion’s friends and their choir leader Elizabeth (Gemma Arterton), Arthur gradually begins to move on and live his life.

Weepy British dramas of this kind have come in their shedloads before, most recently with the likes of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and even Love Actually and Calendar Girls. There is nothing new or original here, in fact like many a heart-warming, self-discovery story before it’s predictable and clichéd. The depiction of the elderly ‘OAPzz’ (as they call themselves) and their involvement with modern music is laughable, but endearing too. However the acting and funny script make it worth your while.

While Redgrave and Arterton are delightful in their roles, it’s Stamp who carries the film. Less ‘Victor Meldrew’ and more ‘Grumpy’ from Snow White, proving under that hard exterior lays a caring side, a heart he only previously showed for his wife.

A few relationships could have been covered in more detail including the theme of father-son estrangement, and even the scenes between the unusual friendship that ignites between Elizabeth and Arthur, as she tries to coax him out of his mourning.

Ultimately the funniest scenes are those between the older characters, Arthur and Marion’s fights and the elderly singers learning how to rap. Not as cringe worthy as you might expect from your Dad on the dance-floor at a wedding.

However at the very centre of this beautiful little drama is a story about one elderly couple and their fight for the more fun and joyful aspects of life and love. What hits home the most if that these central characters could very well be your grandparents or the locals you see down the pub, British eccentricity at its best and most charming.

It probably won’t gather much attention, nor will it be remembered as one of the great comedic dramas, but it is such a sweet and tender film that it deserves to be praised and enjoyed.

Song For Marion will be released in the UK early next year.

20 October, 2012 0 comment
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The deaths of three innocent eight year-old boys in West Memphis, Arkansas in 1993 shocked and disturbed many. The young victims were found partially mutilated, had been sexually assaulted and bound. Rumours regarding the nature of this hideous crime soon became well known, and it was asserted by the prosecution that the murders had taken place as part of a satanic ritual.

Frightening and fascinating, West Of Memphis documents the events that followed and the subsequent trial and conviction of local teenagers, Damien Echols, Jessie MissKelley Jr and Jason Baldwin, known as ‘The Memphis 3.’

The teenagers were sentenced to life in prison, yet a lack of theoretic and forensic evidence, and suggestions rumours had been the direct result of inaccurate police assumptions, divided public opinion. For 18 years, the judge who had presided over the case refused a retrial, resulting in a strong backlash of dedicated followers and supporters who rallied in they’re hundreds in attempts to pressure the courts for a retrial and to get The Memphis 3 released.

In 2007 fresh DNA evidence came to light suggesting the innocence of the convicted men, and provided new material to posit the more likely perpetrator.

The evidence on which the men were convicted is scrutinised in this film, with fresh investigations offering alternative conclusions as to how the murder victims received their wounds, also attributing material which suggests the teenage suspects were bullied by the police and coerced into giving false confessions.

In 2011 after public pressure, a deal was made with the prosecutors and Echols, MissKelley Jr and Baldwin entered Alford pleas, were acquitted of murder and released with suspended sentences. They had each served 18 years and 78 days in prison for a crime they did not commit.

Directed by Amy Berg (Academy Award nominee for her work on Deliver us from Evil) and produced by Echols himself with help from Hollywood filmmakers Peter Jackson and his partner Fran Walsh, who themselves supported the release of the three men, this is one of the finest documentaries of the past decade.

Images are shockingly graphic and disturbing, while interviews are insightful and honest revealing a great deal more lies than truth. By the end you will be left with many more mixed feelings than you had at the beginning of the film.

Such is the focus of this film, and the unusual collaboration which gave the Director such extensive access to sealed footage and police photographic evidence, (including interviews from inside the prison where Echols was being held) we are given a hugely compelling and enthralling watch.

14 October, 2012 0 comment
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Victor Frankenstein isn’t the most sociable of boys, mostly staying indoors making movies with his best friend Sparky and only going out to go to school. When his father encourages him to try Baseball in exchange of signing his permission slip for the science fair, tragedy strikes as Sparky, is hit down by a car after chasing a ball. Victor is depressed and misses his faithful companion until his science teacher unintentionally gives him the idea to try and get his dog back.

Tim Burton is a strange director to get a foothold on. He’s Disney’s Christopher Nolan in terms of box office figures, but does not share the same director’s critical acclaim having his last few movies either being called by the numbers or being downright torn apart for the directions he takes. Despite this, Disney got a hold on the fact that Burton is a box office maestro and told him to pick any project he wanted to do with their funding. His choice was to remake a short he directed in 1984 called Frankenweenie. Back then, Disney let Burton go because of how much money was put into it with no real idea how to market it or Burton. Since then the direction and money made has changed so so much that makes sense to give the old dog another shot at the big time.

The film feels like back to basics for Tim despite the stop motion animation and the hard work from all involved into such a project. No Johnny Depp and Helen Bonham Carter for people to use as parody against him, nor is he taking on a beloved classic that people will compare to originals or the source material. This is Burton in his element with an animation form he is familiar with and able to use to his quirky, pseudo-gothic advantage as he combines Suburban 1950s America with the fiction of Mary Shelley in a loving and humorous way.

Mackinnon & Saunders, animation model makers extraordinaire, are familiar with opening the London Film Festival, having worked with Wes Anderson on Fantastic Mr Fox which opened there in 2009 and are also familiar with Tim Burton from The Corpse Bride in 2005. Because of this they are fully able live up to their name in helping him capture what made the short an enduring idea and successfully converting it to a stop motion format.

The recurring word that could be used is charming. The characters that surround Victor like Elsa Van Helsing (voiced by Winona Ryder), Weird Girl and Edgar Gore all stand out in their own ways. Indeed, the whole voice cast are superb in putting their own stamp on the character models as well as the loving parody of the original tale of Frankenstein. A personal favourite is Mr. Rzykruski, Victor’s science teacher who is voiced by Martin Landau in a purely excellent performance; insane in the most modest and charming way as good teachers really should be.

Burton describes the music as another character and with Danny Elfman composing the soundtrack, you can definitely see what he means. The soundtrack combines the charm of the characterization with the surreal normality of the world of New Holland, blending them together and helping to accentuate nods to older horror movies even further. Elfman and Burton’s connection stretches all the way back to Pee Wee’s Playhouse and it could be argued that their connection is one of the strongest in film in terms of bringing the best out in each other, so it goes without saying that the music is one of the film’s stronger elements.

The flaws of the movie are hard to find with the package being so finely put together but it could be said that it may be too gutsy for its own good. The main plot about the boy bringing back his dog is something of an oddball to market, with death being a central plot device. As proven the United States, combined with the fact it came out in the same weekend as Hotel Transylvania, audiences might be put off by the story and the black and white elements, which might be a minor concern as in the UK, it comes out a week after HT.

The ending of the movie is also a tad cliche but somehow it feels like the right for the story, although it remains weird in it’s execution.  It’s a paradox of sorts, making sense one way for the audience’s sake and the other for the story with the lessons learned and consequences that result. It’s hard to say without spoiling it and again, this might be a minor concern from the perspective of an audience looking for entertainment, but while it doesn’t spoil the film, it is a concern that lingers nonetheless.

Frankenweenie is without a doubt Tim Burton’s best movie in a long while. Lovingly crafted and put together, full of charm and whilst the story is generic standard family fare, it is enough to keep you enthralled until the very end. It may not have your typical family movie plot and look in some ways, but it is certainly something that can be defined as ‘fun for all the family’.

Frankenweenie opened the London Film Festival. It is out now in the United States but released in the UK on the 17th of October.

11 October, 2012 0 comment
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Following the conclusion of the London Olympics and the release of Cockneys Vs. Zombies, Cockneys seems to be experiencing a boom in popularity which could make the timing of The Sweeney inspired. So, does this modernisation of the classic 1970’s Cop show work now set in modern day London? For the most part, yes it does, but there are a few things that could have been tweaked to make it a better film (and assuming realism is sought after with The Sweeney, a more plausible film too). The plot is pretty standard, a seemingly straightforward murder at a jewellery heist turns out to be more than meets the eye, and it’s up to our two favourite members of the Flying Squad to piece together the puzzle.

Let’s start with the positives. It’s rare that an action movie is allowed to make such a wide use of central London locations but  The Sweeney’s iconic status opened a lot of doors while filming, the highlight of which is a shootout in Trafalgar Square. It’s an incredibly exciting action sequence that also proves to be an amazing technological achievement as it makes great subtle use of CGI to create bullet hits and gun flashes that could not be replicated on set due to the open public setting. Of course action in general is the main focus of the film and as well as the aforementioned scene there are some very lively car chase set pieces.

Ray Winstone and Ben Drew (otherwise known as Plan B) make up great buddy cop team and have great chemistry who play well of each other and provide us with some great one liners and comedy moments. Too, there is some quite smart dialogue as crime scenes are analysed and by way of tribute to the original series the famous interrogation scenes are authentically recreated. Problems start to present themselves in periods of extended dialogue though, as the delivery begins to feel forced.

And with that criticism, that is where the compliments end. The plot is pretty simplistic and certainly isn’t going to challenge the audience as it becomes quite predictable in places. Some plot devices used, while remaining faithful to the original series are hardly aesthetically pleasing. After it is revealed early in the film that a female member of Regan’s team has an ongoing affair with Regan, we are treated to a number of awkward sex scenes that, because of Regan’s unflattering size and age (especially compared to his partner) aren’t exactly pleasing to watch.

While the speed of the film is a big help to the action scenes, it does present a problem elsewhere as the film moves at such a fast pace you barely get a chance to build any connection with or to identify with the characters. The Sweeney would definitely have been helped by giving more time to establish characters before diving into the frenetic sequences. It feels very much as though everybody working on the film banked on the whole audience understanding the dynamics and characterisation from the original series but given that it originally aired nearly 40 years ago, there will be a large proportion of the audience with no previous exposure to the characters or the setup.

And so that is The Sweeney. Overall it’s an average film that is buoyed up with some excellent action sequences and some fun comedic moments, but one that could ultimately have benefitted with more thought and development on the script. One additional query to add is that the opening sequence in which Carter pursues an armed villain includes a nonsensical scene where the villain throws his weapon to the ground for no clear reason. It felt tacked on purely as a way to establish that Carter is a central character and I would love to know if the scene served any other intended purpose!

Nonetheless, The Sweeney is likely to draw a solid audience, although it may be that younger audience members will be attending as they are fans of Plan B’s music Fans of the original series may be left a little disappointed at how the classic detective series is treated here.

13 September, 2012 0 comment
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When I think about the best zombie movies, I think of comedy, horror, drama and great characters. Generally films in the wide genre all try and do something a bit different with the theme and with that in mind I settled into watch cockneys versus zombies. The sneak peeks I had seen in the last few years certainly suggested a unique premise that hadn’t been seen before and looked like we would have a great mix of laughs and horror.

The film opens with some builders working on the Olympic stadium in the East End of London. They are digging the site and come across a tomb sealed up in 1666 by the then King. The workers open the tomb which unleashes the eponymous Zombies across the East End. We’re also introduced to some subplots where an Old People’s Home is threatened with closure and the relatives of some of the residents are about to commit a bank robbery.

Once the zombies are unleashed they gradually start to take over the East End and so it falls upon the Cockneys to fight back, which gives us our fun premise and I’m pleased to say I was not let down. There are some fantastic sight gags and a lot of jokes sending up Cockney rhyming slang. One of the key strengths in the film is the casting, with notable British talent on board in the form of Alan ford, Richard Briers and Honor Blackman for the older generation and Harry Treadaway and Michelle Ryan on board from the younger generation combining to make up a brilliant ensemble cast.

The film is full of instantly classic moments that will certainly appeal to the British cinemagoer. We have plenty of great shots of the London skyline and it’s famous locations and we’re also treated to a memorable chase scene featuring a hijacked Route Master bus which feels reminiscent of Summer Holiday only with Zombies instead of attractive women. More humour comes from the older cast, most notably as they address the speed of zombies against the speed of old men in a hilarious scene where Richard Briers shines.

But what zombie movie wouldn’t be complete with an arsenal of weapons to take on the undead and sure enough, the cast eventually start packing some awesome weaponry which really contributes to an excellent scene where the elderly residents have to escape the Old People’s Home. The film becomes a very easy sell when you can advertise it on the basis of Honor Blackman and Richard Briers toting Uzis.

There are a number of impressive touches to set the film apart from others in the genre, including an inspired moment when a character with a metal plate in his skull becoming a Zombie rendering gunshots to the head useless. It’s one new idea I have never seen anyone do in a zombie movie before and it’s a great new idea and a welcome addition.

Zombies Versus Cockneys is an enormously fun film. Doubtless it should be held up there with the best of the new wave of British cinema and can rest comfortably alongside Shaun of the Dead for its entertainment factor and engaging characters.

11 September, 2012 0 comment
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