Thursday, 28 February 2013

Glasgow Film Festival 2013 Review: WELCOME TO THE PUNCH

Executive producer Ridley Scott’s presence is immediately felt with an opening credits title reveal which instantly recalls that of Alien. Unfortunately that is about the only place it is felt in director Eran Creevy’s follow up to impressive lo-fi geezer drama Shifty. The canvas is broader and it certainly makes headway towards rivalling its American counterparts, but Welcome to the Punch is a glossy British crime thriller that feels like Michael Mann's Heat turned down to Gas Mark 3.

Where Creevy must be applauded is in crafting a relatively lean thriller that not only looks stylish with its depiction of London bathed in a steel blue neon glow, but has its fair share of nicely handled action set pieces. There is a finely tuned sense of what makes an image dynamic and it plays with visual motifs throughout.

Lacking the profundity and underlying depth of other underworld dramas, everything here is surface level. It isn’t always a problem when that surface is so highly polished but it is missing a vital ingredient: characters we can invest in and get behind. With a slick running time of just over ninety minutes, there is never time to delve into what drives our lead characters. It keeps feeling pressured to hit that next action beat.

The full review is continued over at STV's website.


Glasgow Film Festival 2013 Review: THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES

The weight of expectation lies heavily on The Place Beyond the Pines. Not only is it co-writer and director Derek Cianfrance’s follow up to 2010’s lauded anti-love story Blue Valentine, it also marks his reteaming with that film’s breakout star, Ryan Gosling.

It transcends easy genre classification as it surges from frenetic crime thriller, to the bridled passions of a savage love story, to family drama about paternal expectation and the sins of the father.

It marks Cianfrance out as a major new force in American cinema and proves the masterful handling of the potentially depressing plot of his last film was not a fluke. He is just as adept handling even broader, less intimate themes here but manages to ground them in a film that, for the most part, doesn’t feel overblown. The energy and rawness in the action scenes is matched in every respect by the way he handles smaller emotional scenes.

The full review is continued over at STV's website.


Glasgow Film Festival 2013 Review: JOHN DIES AT THE END

With a title which might sound like the ultimate in movie spoilers, John Dies at the End is so consistent in its attempts to uproot viewing preconceptions at every turn that this potential warning klaxon is of no concern.

To begin to explain what it is about is both a futile task and nigh-on impossible. Don Coscarelli, the maestro behind horror-comedy classics Phantasm and Bubba Ho-Tep, has constructed something so multi-layered and ambitious that it would be easier to list the things the film doesn’t touch upon. It is a clear cut case of chucking anything and everything at the screen and seeing what sticks. As is always the case with this scattershot approach much doesn’t work but, as is pleasingly the case here, much does.

It pitches itself somewhere between the cult movie conundrum of Donnie Darko and the freewheeling inanity of Dude, Where’s My Car?

The full review is continued over at STV's website.


Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Glasgow Film Festival 2013 Review: STOKER

The latest in a long line of successful directors from around to world to make their way to the US film industry is respected South Korean director Park Chan-wook, who directed the hugely respected Oldboy. Stoker, his English language debut, sees him working with an A-list cast and crafting an indie thriller which treads on hallowed Hitchcockian ground.

As an exercise in creating an atmosphere of tension it is an unrivalled success but it ultimately leads to nothing.

The full review is continued over at STV's website.


Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Glasgow Film Festival 2013 Review: THE LOOK OF LOVE

Changing attitudes to permissiveness in British society since the 1950s are marginally shown through the prism of Soho property entrepreneur and mucky mag magnate Paul Raymond (Steve Coogan) in this biopic. Or, as he succinctly puts it in his pre-credits introduction, “Welcome to my world of erotica.” Sadly this transgressive address direct to camera is one of the few moments which display the same irreverent verve as Coogan and director Michael Winterbottom’s last biopic together, 2002’s 24 Hour Party People.

Halfway between a British Boogie Nights and Carry On Titillating.

The full review is continued over at STV's website.


Thursday, 14 February 2013

Review: THIS IS 40

This is 40, the latest film as writer-director from comedic superpower Judd Apatow, comes laden with the double baggage of not only a bulging running time but also its status as a ‘sort of’ sequel to the hugely popular Knocked Up.

Following peripheral characters from the 2007 film, Pete (Paul Rudd) and Debbie (Leslie Mann), we are reunited with them on the brink of hitting the milestone age of forty. Pete is the boss of a small record label which specialises in celebrating bands of a certain vintage, while Debbie runs a fashion boutique which employs Desi (Megan Fox) – a fact which doesn’t help Debbie’s issues surrounding her body and aging in general.

The crux of Apatow’s plotting hinges on the couple’s divergent approaches to the impending milestone. Debbie chooses to bury it and lie about her age, while the laid-back (aren’t all Apatow males?) Pete takes it in his stride. They are having to cope with financial strain, problems with their fathers – in Pete’s case the dependent Larry (Albert Brooks) and in Debbie’s the absent Oliver (John Lithgow) – as well as the day to day family struggles of bringing up two daughters (Maude and Iris Apatow). All of which is taking its toll on their fraught, but loving, relationship and spurs a desire to take stock of what they have and make some required changes.

This biggest joy lies in the welcome fact that this is a comedy about adults, for adults, and not aimed solely at manchildren or teenagers. It harks back to films like Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, which offered a mature angle on the relationship comedy. It is certainly occasionally puerile but it deals with adult relationships and doesn't skew towards a younger demographic like, seemingly, every other modern comedy film.

On a line-by-line basis, this is maybe Judd Apatow's most observant, consistently funny film. Pete and Debbie have the kind of sparky, blow-exchanging relationship which only exists in films but while it might not have a ring of authenticity, it does ring true comedically. Apatow and his performers just get comedy and there is little in the way of his usual fallback stoner stuff here, although he still can't resist every character being pop culture savvy enough to crack, for example, a J.J. Abrams gag when needed.

It cannot be emphasised enough that it is funny. Very funny. There is a recurring Tom Petty motif that slays in each of the multiple iterations it is used. There is an undercurrent of meanness to Apatow’s characters that exists, even within a couple as obviously forgiving of each other’s flaws as Pete and Debbie, but it is deftly counteracted by that underlying affection. It gets so much right about portraying a love that knows bounds but keeps pushing through them and strengthening for it. The lead performances from Rudd and Mann are pitched perfectly between fragile and sassy and even Apatow’s and Mann's own daughters (as the family's fictional daughters) have grown into surprisingly natural comic performers since their last appearance.

The family supporting cast is equally tenderly portrayed and never at the expense of seeming as if they are smash-and-grab, quick laugh cameos. Brooks and Lithgow get a few nice, rounded scenes but others fare worse. Chris O’Dowd, Lena Dunham and Jason Segel barely warrant a mention based on how little they have to do and the less said about awkward, unnecessary appearances from musicians like Green Day's Billie Joe Armstrong and Ryan Adams, the better. What it has to say about family, and aging, and relationships is beautifully rendered. But there is no reason a comedy with a plot as slight as this needs to be 134 minutes long.

Some of the film does feel like padding and characters like Megan Fox’s suffer. Her performance ranks as her best but her appearance here unfortunately boils down to simply a good-looking counterpoint for Debbie’s neuroses. With some plot liposuction to remove the unsightly subplots like this, which breed extended scenes of clubbing revelry and forced drama, the film would be all the better for it.

It encounters the age-old Apatow problem of being so in awe of his characters that he can't seem to let go of unnecessary subplots and situations he obviously cares for. Although the film's biggest problem is that the engorged running time is filled with a central plot that relies on believing in the strain the central characters are under because of financial pressure. It is just that it is really tough to take some of it when that largely amounts to shots of characters looking sad in a BMW or moping around their massive house as their vanity record label flounders. The way these faintly-patronising issues are casually tossed into the mix leaves a nasty taste in the mouth.

There is plenty to admire, especially in the game performances of the leads. The improvisational script hits plenty of high notes and the Knocked Up connection is thankfully underplayed (although, it is occasionally notable by the absence of characters from that at key events - only Seth Rogen's Ben merits one mention.)

It is Apatow's longest film in relation to the scarcity of how much is actually happening, but does it feel as if he has pushed it too far? Maybe not quite, but it certainly could do with a bit of scaling back. This is funny, but this is also a bit ragged.


Sunday, 10 February 2013


The mixture of horror elements with teen romance is attracting comparisons to the hugely successful Twilight phenomenon but Warm Bodies is a different beast altogether. While it wouldn’t do badly to warrant those comparisons, it also has an eye on satisfying the mainstream gore brigade in the manner which Zombieland managed a few years back. It wants to have its brains and eat them.

R (Nicholas Hoult) is a zombie. He lives in an airport with all the other zombies, eight years after the apocalyptic events which caused much of the population to become the walking dead with a need to consume the flesh of live humans. On the other side of the star-cross’d tracks is Julie (Teresa Palmer), who is very much alive and holed up in a military compound run by her overbearing father (John Malkovich). With company in the form of sassy BFF Nora (Analeigh Tipton) and boyf Perry (Dave Franco), she sets out into zombie-infested territory, which is where she meets the dead guy of her dreams. But when boy is meant to want to eat girl’s brains and girl is meant to want to plant a bullet in boy’s head, can a relationship flourish?

It is an intriguing set-up that is rich in potential but all the film’s flaws can be put down to the fact it fails to establish a coherent situation or set out exactly what level of sentience the zombies have right at the start. That the film is all about uprooting the status quo, and telling us things are changing, is no matter. It needs to be clear on its own rules and it just isn’t. We're confusingly told in Hoult’s conceptually distracting opening voiceover that zombies are unable to think, but then watch them solve problems through logic straight away. We're also told they can't run but see them run minutes later. There is no quandary here about whether the zombies should be fast or slow; the filmmakers just pick and choose what they like when it suits.

Almost every ill thought out aspect in the first act sets it on a course which will do nothing but infuriate and it is not helped by what are probably the worst depictions of zombies on screen for some time. Of course the film's hook requires us to believe in a relative humanisation of them but they are so capable in almost every aspect that you almost forget they are meant to be dead (which is why, presumably, the script constantly reminds you of this integral fact). Listening to the zombies converse with each other isn't all that removed from any of the other clunky conversations from every character in the film.

It is not as if we want to see Hoult's rotting member drop off during a tender moment with Palmer, but his character is so prettified and un-decayed that all they have to actually signify he is a zombie is pallid skin under an indie haircut. Although it is refreshing to see that being a hipster vinyl snob doesn't end when the heart stops beating.

Any of these flaws could be forgiven if they were anchored around an emotional core strong enough to hold it together. But it is not. We are just expected to accept the relationship because both parties look quite nice. Every hurdle is easily overcome with a minimum of fuss, from eaten exes to break-ups and makes-ups. Surely the meat of this living/undead affair is the dilemmas caused as a result of his brainlust, rather than the triteness of the insipid forbidden love angle it is lumbered with. As it is, we don't see R touch a morsel after the first act.

It muzzles the undead and removes their potency. It tries to replace this by having truly bad zombies called ‘bonies’ who are flesh-craving skeletal savages, but it is all so bloodless that nothing really feels like a threat anyway – human or zombie. The sense of comedy is underdeveloped and always comes at the expense of what little characterisation there is. M (Rob Corddry) is R’s zombuddy and his character only really exists to provide punchlines. It might get a cheap laugh to have a zombie say "fuck yeah" or "bitches, man" but it certainly doesn't make any sense in the situation the film has established. Even the best joke in the film, about how to act undead, has more than the air of a certain North London-based zombie comedy.

On an aesthetic level, the world it sets up is perfectly fine, if lacking in originality. The landscapes and set design are exceptional but character visual effects have more than a little I Am Legend about them. The use of retro music is charming, with 80s power ballads from John Waite and Bruce Springsteen, as well as real-life musical zombie Bob Dylan.

There is no getting over the fact it is deeply flawed in concept and execution. Not sweet enough to satisfy those who want a punchy, funny love affair and not gruesome enough to satisfy anyone there for horror. It is good to see director Jonathan Levine add another genre string to his bow after 50/50 and The Wackness but this is an instrument he doesn't know how to play. There is a real lack of understanding about how either of the genres which make up this hybrid actually function.


Monday, 4 February 2013


There is always going to be a degree of crossover when bringing a true life tale to the big screen. Few events featuring prominent figures are new ground and many have already been touched upon in other films. Roger Michell’s Hyde Park On Hudson comes just two short years after The King's Speech and has the ring of a coldly cynical attempt to inspire comparison with that film by coming at it from a different angle.

It is 1939 and President Franklin D. Roosevelt (Bill Murray) strikes up a romantic friendship with his distant cousin, Daisy (Laura Linney), at his rural retreat of the film’s title. His relationship with wife Eleanor (Olivia Williams) is frosty but endures and, with World War II on the horizon, this functionally dysfunctional unit is expecting a visit from King George VI (Samuel West) and Queen Elizabeth (Olivia Williams) of Great Britain on bended knee to ask for wartime co-operation from the Americans.

It plays out in part like a comedy of manners, only without much in the way of anything funny. The Royal couple is already suffering a crisis of confidence as a result of the King’s speech impediment and perceived lack of status back home and it seems the Yanks are rubbing it in with all they have planned for the duration of the visit. So we have scenes of squabbling British fish out of water arguing about hot dogs with all the nuance of a seventies sitcom.

It never settles on whether it wants to be a tale of warm, fuzzy Presidential adultery or a film about international relations in a time of impending war. It certainly doesn't manage to harness the two in any satisfactory way. The relationship between Murray's FDR and Linney's Daisy is brusque and lacking in emotional weight. The visiting Royals subplot feels shoehorned in to capitalise on that aspect of the 'real life' story, but it comes in too late and fails to make a meaningful impact when it does.

Much is made of setting up the President’s polio as a counterpart to the King’s problems and, to an extent, it works. The relationship between the King and the President is far more acutely handled than the relationship the heavy-handed voiceover from Daisy suggests we are supposed to care about.

Roosevelt is a warm presence in the hands of Murray but the ensemble is never more than the sum of its parts. There are individually fine performances, such as those of Murray and Colman, but every aspect ultimately feels too familiar. The stuffy Brits versus brash Americans situation has all the hallmarks of a trope. The King's stammer and lack of confidence are now certainly overly familiar ground to merit such prominent inclusion. The film is based on a cache of journals by the real life Daisy, who is intended to be the audience's eyes on this situation. It flounders because her character and performance never seem necessary when the interesting stuff is everything else.

Michell's direction is flat and it is lacking in the same spiky charm and relative sophistication of the aforementioned Oscar-winner; it is either missing something or, more likely, has included too much. It is a bit of both - missing anything remotely memorable because it spreads the dual threads of the plot too thinly.