Thursday, 25 April 2013

Iron Man 3 (12A)

There is an inherent problem with trilogies and blockbusters - so much hope and hype is generated prior to release that when the actual film arrives it is in danger of disappointing. Even if just slightly.

When you've spent months waiting for it, and Twitter is awash with people wondering why the Press screenings came with iron-clad embargoes, part of you fears that maybe you've built things up too much. Maybe you should learn the lessons of The Phantom Menace and The Hobbit.

Or maybe you should learn to trust some studios.

Because if Marvel (and now Disney) have proved one thing in the past few years, it's that they are taking great care with their babies. And they are delivering on every level. (Shush. Hulk made his debut in Avengers. No other film of him exists anywhere. AT ALL. Got that? Good.)

Which brings us to Iron Man 3, a film I had to see in 3D because I couldn't be bothered waiting for the third screening of the day. But I'll come to this later. First, let's enjoy the film.

As Robert Downey Jnr explained in the run up to Iron Man's release, they've set the story in a post-Avengers world - meaning they don't have to spend time explaining who Tony Stark is and how he comes to jet about the place in a metal suit. A possibly risky strategy you might think, but given that the world and his cat saw Avengers at least twice it's a minimal one. If this film manages to be seen by someone who hasn't seen Avengers, the world will probably stop spinning.

The story this time around focuses on The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley in one of his finest roles), a Bin Laden-esque character who is waging war on America, with bombs going off left, right and centre and TV networks being hacked so he can spread his message of fear and tyranny.

Also knocking about are a botanist with a grudge (Rebecca Hall) and a scientist no one took seriously when they had the chance (played by a wonderfully sinister and slick Guy Pearce). He also carries a torch or two for Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), and who can blame him? Most male Iron Man fans (and, I suspect, a portion of the female contingent) can't see what she sees in the billionaire playboy philanthropist Stark when we're all available.

And back for a second fly-past is Don Cheadle, now badged the Iron Patriot - War Machine being judged too antagonistic by focus groups. Fortunately, we're far enough down the line to stop making comparisons with Trevor Howard (who played James Rhodes in the first Iron Man before having a hissy fit) and he's now clearly made the part his own.

The story stands up to scrutiny too. Where Iron Man 2 was muddled, 3 allows the characters to drive the story rather than filling in the gaps between set pieces. Which is great, because we get a decent plot with twists, turns, double-crosses - all the stuff you want in an intelligent blockbuster. By allowing us to get to know the people, director/co-writer Shane Black allows us to actually invest emotionally in the characters, so when stuff happens (and it does - a lot) we actually care and feel something. No one was saying that about Iron Man 2, sadly.

It helps as well that the story is rooted in reality, as it were. In a world where billionaires can build their own flying suits, it's easy to go a bit mad with the bad guys (again, see Avengers) - but a global terror threat is something everyone can get on board with, not just comic book devotees.

But it's the emotional punch this film packs that is perhaps the biggest surprise - and its biggest asset. There were several occasions where I suddenly realised I was holding my breath, or had leant further forward in my seat, and these moments creep up on you. They are handled with a wonderful subtlety that adds to the whole. And the music is well placed (this is becoming something of a bug bear for me, but then after Lincoln...) even if there is no AC/DC this time around.

Part of that punch comes from showing Stark's fragility. He stared into the abyss in Avengers and damn-near died, so it's to the Black's credit that this is recognised. Stark's human after all. And we love him all the more for it.

Sure, it's a darker film than any of its predecessors (and that's not just because of the 3D glasses), but that's not to say this is serious. It's still an Iron Man film, and so comes with an expectation for sarcastic quips and humour to deflect tension - and we get both. On several occasions the whole cinema erupted in laughter, including the after-credits sequence.

There's lots I want to say about the characters and story, but so well written is this instalment of the franchise I can't without giving stuff away. Go see it, then we can go down the pub and discuss it over a pint or three. Deal? Good.

It's not a short film, a shade over two hours I think, but you really don't notice (as proven by the fact I can't remember). This is a film that straps you in and hits the gas.

Of course, there are quibbles. I'm like that, it's what I do. For a start, no AC/DC this time round. Two things wrong with this - one, Back In Black kind of became Stark's theme tune, and b) they have a song called War Machine. What more could a sidekick ask for?

Then there's the 3D. Now, the light-loss issue is not a problem here, so that's one pitfall avoided. But it serves no purpose whatsoever. It adds nothing to the story or the filming (which looks fantastic by the way - should probably have mentioned that earlier...). There's no 'wow' factor with it as there was with Avengers. A fact driven home by the trailers for Monsters University, Epic and Star Trek Into Darkness - all trailed in 3D and look amazing. It's the one point Iron Man 3 falls down on.

Still, if that's all you've got to moan about, then I think we can say the film is a hit. The emotions are played with, the eyes are dazzled, the funny bone is tickled, and you come out on a high. Call that a win, no?

Plunkett & Macleane (15) - a lost classic?

I was asked the other day to write a piece on a film that has been overlooked by time, been lost and forgotten. And one film came immediately to mind. Now, in case said piece gets lost in the ether I thought I'd publish it here as well. 'Cos it's a damn good film. Oh, and it's my blog. So ner....

Enjoy. I'm off to watch Iron Man 3.

There was a time when Tony Scott was that bloke who did music videos. Then he did a movie. And people quite liked it, critics were sniffy, and it soon passed into the annals of history.

Which is wrong, because it’s damn good.

It’s essentially a love story buddy movie historical crime caper. With a bit of dance music thrown in. And it’s funny. And actually quite gruesome in places. And, above all, it’s fun.

The story is quite simple. Captain James Macleane (Jonny Lee Miller) is down on his uppers, and while trying to retrieve a stolen ruby from the man who swallowed it he crosses paths with Plunkett (Robert Carlyle), who feels he has a claim to the jewel given it was his side-kick who died for it.

From here, we go on a wild ride as the two become The Gentlemen Highwaymen, holding up London’s high society in a bid to save enough cash for passage to America. A plan slightly hindered by Macleane’s gambling addiction and love for the first woman they point a gun at (played by Liv Tyler, rocking the English accent like a native).  People get shot, beaten up, captured, laid, infected – not necessarily in that order – and we all have fun.

It’s that simple.

You see, the genius of this film (which is probably over-selling a tad, but you take my point) is in Scott’s direction. For a start, it’s perfectly paced. It starts with a prison breakout and just keeps its foot on the gas. Secondly, Scott keeps it perfectly balanced between the two leads, Tyler, Ken Stott’s evil hypocrite Chance (his name is spelt wrong on the back of the DVD, by the way. True story) and Michael Gambon’s turn as the Lord Chief Justice. No mean feat for a man more used to asking R.E.M. to stand on the right spot.

Which brings in the music, rather neatly. One of the promo points when Plunkett & Macleane came out was the dance music soundtrack, as a juxtaposition to the historic setting. Now, that’s not strictly true. Yes, there are some scenes (the party and wedding spring to mind) where that’s the case, but in other areas it is scored quite normally. Not that it matters, as the choice of music is perfect. The party and wedding rock.

Sofia Coppola tried the music trick in Marie Antoinette and screwed it up. Scott nails it.

And then there’s the look of the thing. London in the 18th Century was no picturesque playground. It was grimy, filthy, gritty, disease-ridden – or, if you had the right address, that’s how it looked and smelt as you swanned about from party to party in your sedan chair. And Scott captures both worlds perfectly.

You can feel the dirt and filth of the streets, you revel in the opulence and decadence of the parties – both are served up with a relish and attention to detail that far more experienced directors would do well to emulate.

And then there are the performances. Miller (at this point only really known to film fans through Trainspotting and Hackers) and Carlyle (fresh from Trainspotting and The Full Monty, but arguably still better known for talking to his little dog on Sunday evenings in Hamish Macbeth) have a clear rapport. Their relationship is born out of necessity, their friendship almost begrudging – it’s up there with cinemas greatest odd couples. Trust me.

Oh, and you can play the ‘Oooh, that’s…’ game with all the bit parts. All while Alan Cumming steals every scene he’s in.

And then there’s the ending. I won’t give anything away, as you almost certainly won’t have seen it, but there are no clues as to how the final scenes will play out. I watched it again yesterday, just to check, and even knowing what is coming you don’t see any hints or clues. No lingering shots on possible plot points. You’re just left to sit back and watch the action play out. Which is how it should be.

I loved this film when it came out. I loved it again when I finally got it on DVD. And watching it again before writing this, I fell in love with it all over again. It’s up there with the best of modern British cinema. 

Here's fun. Watch the British trailer above, then watch the American version below...

Hard to believe they're for the same film isn't it?

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Promised Land (15)

A film can be many things - it can be funny, serious, moving, message-laden, big dumb fun - but the one thing it has to be, above everything else, is entertaining.

Not necessarily in the 'take me on a wild ride' sense, but in the sense that you are enjoying the experience of watching the performances and story they are attempting to bring to life. That's vital. Take Gangster Squad, for example. Dumb as nuts, but it was fun. Or the latest Die Hard - not a brain cell to its name, but stuff goes boom and bang, we go home happy.

Which brings me to Promised Land.

Now, I wanted to really love this film. The story of a man trying to sell the controversial fracking for shale gas to a small, broke town in middle America which has caused quite an amusing storm among the pro-fracking lobby. Or gas companies, as some people call them.

The environmentalist in me wanted to see what was said about process, what arguments were being put across, see what producer/co-writer/star Matt Damon had to say about the whole shitstorm. Granted I was wary - Promised Land had a troubled gestation, with Gus Van Sant being brought in to direct at the last minute when Damon was suddenly delayed by another project, threatening Land's existence.

Which I'm not so sure would have been a bad thing.

I know Damon had said this wasn't really a story about fracking, it was a story about a guy going back to his roots kinda-thing, but the subject is so contentious that to bring it into the story throws the focus off. The events used to frame the story become the story, and instead of watching a man discover who he really is, we're watching big business eat the world. Which is a shame.

Not that framing the story a different way would have helped much, I fear. The ponderous road to Damascus Damon has put himself on takes so long to develop that you're past caring by the time he takes a stand for what he's discovered he believes in. Hints are dropped about his own mid-west heritage, but they're buried in amongst a chase for the gas against an environmentalist who's also after the girl (oh, yeah, there's a girl. 'Cos we needed another thread to get tangled up in).

Damon himself is fine. Not on top of his game, but doing a fine job - even if his character is clueless as to the machinations of the big business that has just given him a big promotion, or seemingly aware of the downside of fracking he's so keen to downplay. It doesn't feel like a lot of effort went into this part of the script.

A fact that is highlighted when Frances McDormand joins the party as Damon's colleague. It immediately feels like a real character has arrived, like someone is putting some effort in. Same with John Krasinski, who neatly steps out of the shadow of The Office (American version) to play a smooth-talking environmental counter-argument to Damon's hard-selling gas man.

Which is another problem with Damon's character. Steve (for 'tis he) is the guy who gets things done. Brings in gas fields under budget and on time, seemingly selling the poor saps short as he hoovers up the farmland his bosses want to exploit. Nothing about him comes across as a hard-nosed guy who can dupe the yokels. At one point he pleads to the lovely Alice (Rosemarie DeWitt doing all that is asked of her, if little else) "I am not the bad guy" - and he's right. He's not. He's a nice guy who still wears his grandpa's boots. It's a combination that doesn't quite gel.

Now, the debate about fracking is maybe best left for another day (or the end of this review if I'm feeling sufficiently ranty), but Promised Land seems so keen to have a message you're left wondering what it is. There is a point in the town bar when Damon's character has a row with some pissed-off locals about what he's trying to do to the town. He explains how the fracking will bring in the money that will change their lives - and if they don't go for it, the farms they're on will just die. And you find yourself thinking 'that's not the issue'.

And this really leapt out at me. If middle-America is facing this crisis, then the answer isn't to buy up all the farms and turn them into gas fields, the answer is to fix the food supply chain. That way, farmers will actually be able to make a living, giving us the luxury of food. Turn the farms over to the gas companies, and all that happens is we starve. We'll be warm, sure, just hungry with it.

And it was at this point I realised the main problem with Promised Land. It wants to have something to say, while also wanting to tell a love story against a bit of a corporate thriller (oh, yeah, look out for the twist. You may even shrug). And in trying to be so many things at once, it seems to have missed what could have been the real story about the crisis at the centre of America's farming heartland.

Post-Review Rantings:

OK, seems rude not to mention it - fracking...

For those of you who have been wondering what I've been banging on about for the last 10 minutes or so, fracking is the use of chemicals and water and big drills to get essential shale gas out of the ground.

Now, I get that this is a necessary evil. Oil and coal are running out, seeing as dinosaurs have stopped being kind enough to die and mulch down (any creationists reading this, I know dinosaurs don't exist. God just stopped putting the coal in the ground a while back...). I get that we need another source of fuel while we wait for people to work out how to use sunlight and wind. I get that.

But do we really need to pollute the ground and water tables while we do it?

I know the industry says it's fine and safe, but hey we've been here before with other industries. We call it Sellafield, America calls it Three-Mile Island, Russia calls it none of your business. There are risks with fracking. If you want to know more, go and watch the documentary Gasland, where a man is able to set fire to his own tap water (actually referenced in Promised Land). Yeah, that looks like a thing we all want happening...

As I say, we need a new energy source, but evidence is there to suggest fracking isn't the way to get it. For now feel free to sit on the fence, just remember fracking causes earthquakes (allegedly - Popcorn Legal Team) and your fence will fall down...

Glass of water, anyone?

Monday, 22 April 2013

The Reluctant Fundamentalist (12A)

And so the curtain falls on the 19th Bradford International Film Festival, and while the city's newspaper didn't seem keen on giving it the coverage it deserved, those who attended even just one film found a great wealth of cinema on offer.

And it was nice, as well, for the bloggers who have covered it (pop along and check out @KieronBarr, @filmintel @m_pattison and @OtleyFilmSoc when you have a moment. No, not yet, read this first. Then go) to be asked to step on to the stage and be thanked by the festival organisers. Strangely, for one not averse to stepping up in front of rooms full of people, I played all modest and stayed in my seat - forgoing the chance to share a small spotlight with one Dr Mark Kermode. On the upside, I won a book...

And, once the plaudits had been handed out, we were introduced to the final film of the festival - and going by the packed Pictureville, a much-anticipated one - The Reluctant Fundamentalist.

Now, having only got my paws on a copy of the book this evening (minutes before the lights went down), I'm not up to speed on whether the film is a true or fitting adaptation of the award-winning, best-selling novel, but taken on its own merits the film is striking to say the least.

Essentially, it's the story - told over a cup of tea in a university cafe in Lahore - of one man (Changez, played wonderfully by the excellent Riz Ahmed) and his journey from Pakistan to America and back, set against 9/11 and America's resulting approach to world politics.

But it's much more than that.

It's a film about truth, perception, betrayal, love, image and how we deal with each other as human beings. It questions what you know and what you think you know, and what you think you see.

It's slow paced, but it needs to be as it allows each part of the story to play out naturally - giving the audience time to form opinions before they're quashed (or not, depending on your viewpoint). That's not to say it drags. It may run at around the two-hour mark, and strangely feel longer without that being a negative, but you're never shuffling in your seat. This film keeps you gripped, quietly and gently but oh-so-firmly, right to the end.

And that is all down to Ahmed. As the lead here, the film stands or falls by his performance. It's his story, they are his viewpoints and experiences, and you share each and every painful one along the way, always on his side regardless of the perspective given at any moment.

I'm being a bit vague and ambiguous, but I have to be. With so many people having things to hide, it would be wrong of me to give too much away. If you've read the book (and if you have, I'd love to hear your views on the film), you'll know what I mean when I say people are never what they seem. It's a key facet to the story, and to reveal too much would just spoil the twists and turns.

What I can say is this. 9/11 changed a lot of lives, and not just those who lost loved ones in the tragedy or resulting conflicts. Normal people living normal lives were seen differently, and that is captured brilliantly here as Changez's world is turned upside down while he's away on business in Manila on that fateful day.

And that's one of the things the film - and Ahmed - capture brilliantly. The turmoil and conflict as a once-promising life and career start to fall apart amid doubt, fear and suspicion. Someone always pays a high price if you make assumptions based on appearances...

But it's not just Ahmed who shines here. Liev Schreiber makes you forget Movie43 ever existed with his portrayal of Bobby, the journalist who gets Changez to tell his tale but who also has things he wants to keep hidden. And Kiefer Sutherland proves there's more to him than Jack Bauer with his emotional performance of Ahmed's boss Jim - a man who also appears to have things hidden in his closet.

The only person who didn't ring true for me was, sadly, Kate Hudson. Normally a fan of her work, her attempt at self-obsessed artist Erica - the love of Changez's life - somehow fails to ring true, meaning the emotional bombshells she sets off somehow lack impact. A shame, because it throws the film out of balance when she's around. I still can't put my finger on what the problem was (and it's no short trip home from Bradford, so I've had time) but she seemed somehow hollow.

Granted, with all the characters having something to hide (or do they?), a lack of depth is to be expected. You've got to wait for the full picture to reveal itself, that's what gives this film so much of its tension. But you don't get that from Hudson. She appears two-dimensional the whole way through, to the point that when one particular piece of her past is revealed, you almost shrug, neither bothered nor surprised by the revelation.

And that's a shame when everyone else has brought their A game. There was something bothering me all the way home about The Reluctant Fundamentalist. I know I liked it, but something wasn't sitting right. Something was keeping me from falling in love with this film - and sadly, the conclusion I have come to is it's Ms Hudson's performance.

Which is a shame when there's so much to recommend here.

For a start, it looks fantastic. The contrast between the two worlds of Manhattan and Lahore are captured perfectly, and the tension is slow and creeping, peaking once or twice but never over-playing its hand. And it's scored to perfection. Having seen so many films this year when the composer has decided to instruct you on the required emotional response, it's breathtakingly refreshing to have a film so laden with emotion and emotive scenes scored with such a subtle, deft touch. A fact brought home during the latter stages of the tea room tête-à-tête.

And the structure is near perfect. As we move between periods in time, from Changez's early life in Pakistan, through his Princetown years via his career to the present day, you never feel lost. Director Mira Nair (of Vanity Fair and Monsoon Wedding fame) has a firm hand on the rudder, navigating the time lines like a Gallifreyan native.

This is further underlined by Ahmed. Changez goes through a lot, but in every time period he perfectly captures what his character is going through, every emotion brought to the screen with a perfectly-weighted delivery.

As I've said, I've not read the book, so there may be a section of fans out there who will be horrified by what Nair has done. I'd be amazed if that's the case, but big books come with a core of fans that can be right sods to please.

As a film, however, even with its flaws it's a gripping piece of work. You come away feeling you know what Changez has gone through. You share his pain and anguish, you feel for him when he upsets his father and mother, you want to help when he's arrested, you want to tell Erica to get over herself (but that again might just be Kate Hudson).

It's not a masterpiece, but that's not a crime. It's still a damn fine film.

And Ahmed deserves all the awards that are coming to him.

Thursday, 18 April 2013

The Spirit Of '45 (E)

In the same way that going to see Evil Dead the day Margaret Thatcher gave me a chuckle, it seems strangely fitting that the day after they bury her with pomp and circumstance many feel was unwarranted I should sit down and watch Ken Loach's documentary The Spirit Of '45.

Many, and I'll nail my colours to the mast and say I am among them, feel that the socialist (not to be confused with communist) dream that was embarked on just after the war was dealt several killer blows once Mrs T got handed the keys to No10 in 1979. Ken Loach certainly does, but more of that to come.

The birth of the National Health Service, council housing, free education, state-owned utilities and state-owned transport infrastructure is a cornerstone of our country's history, an it is this that Loach sets out to document here. And as you'd expect from a man with his back catalogue - he does a good job.

The setting is clear and they style simple from the start. Using interviews with experts and people who lived through the times, inter-cut with archive footage of people living in the slums or celebrating the end of the war, Loach sets about explaining how bad things had been and how they led to the rise of the Labour movement.

Essentially, people returned from the war determined to not return to the Britain of the 1930s - where, as one man puts it, the country was run by the rich for the rich.  And the passion people felt then for a government promising housing and a free health service is still felt now as they recount what they lived through.

Among the more compelling interviews (and that's not to take away from the others - one of the strengths of this film is the way Loach gets people to talk openly and honestly) is the man who watched a pit tunnel collapse on his mate. They could have put a prop up, but no one was paying them for that. They were paid to get the coal out, and the sooner the more likely they were to get a badly-needed bonus.

The emotions he and his colleagues felt as Clement Attlee swept to a landslide victory is captured vividly. And the optimism that swept through the working classes was almost spiritual. Finally they believed someone was there to help them.

And it is this that is at the core of Loach's film. As he details how the social revolution was implemented - from the Beveridge Report, through to the nationalisation of major industries and utilities - Loach captures how everyone was there for each other. There was a sense of community, society, togetherness. That the message that the State would care for you from cradle to grave was honest, heartfelt, needed and appreciated.

That's not to say the whole movement was perfect, far from it - and Loach isn't one to shy away from covering the flaws in the system. The point is well made about the mining industry and how the tyrannical bosses of the privately-owned pits were deemed fit bosses of the new nationalised coal boards. Not something appreciated by the workers.

For just over an hour, Loach perfectly captures the sense of hope that swept post-war Britain. He tells the tales of the squalor people lived in, and how that was changed. The sense of unity that brought people together, the fact people's health was no longer an economic decision.

And then we jump to 1979 and the Tory election win.

Which jars a weeny. Having put Attlee's win in perfect context, there is no explanation as to the feeling in the nation at the end of the 70s. Now, I was only six when that speech was uttered on the steps of Downing Street, but I've learnt enough over the years to know all was not rosy in England's garden. Industrial unrest was rife and people had had enough of not having their bins emptied (a simplistic view, but you get my point).

What happened during the 50s and 60s is not mentioned. Do we assume all was well? The dockers get a nod with the end to the use of casual labour in the 60s, but that's it. We go from Attlee to Thatcher in the blink of an eye, and it's hard not to be left with the feeling that you've been shown a lovely painting and the person who vandalised it years later, but without context.

And that's a problem, if you're after a fair and balanced piece.

As I said, I'm on board with blaming her for fracturing society and creating a country where people just look after themselves - I saw this happening first hand - but, if you're attempting to show a balanced view of history (and lets not forget Ken is a BIG Labour supporter, so that's quite the 'if'), then you need to explain what led to the return of cash over a social conscious.

Because there's no denying that money was at the core of Thatcher's three terms in office. She sold off everything she could lay her hands on, and deregulated many other areas in the interests of free enterprise. She put making money at the centre of policy, not caring for your fellow man. And that is something Loach is keen to stress.

Having skipped through the years from The Spirit Of '45 to the aftermath of the spirit of Thatcherism, he again speaks to people who have been through it all - and in doing so, drives his point home. That at some point, society will start to mend itself, and again we will endeavour to once again care for each other. This may happen, it may not - but the belief of the people being interviewed is contagious.

So, yes, the last twenty minutes of The Spirit Of '45 raises more questions than it answers, but despite this the film as a whole is humbling and uplifting in equal measure. To see how a nation can unite after a hard-fought war and work together - and take pride in each others' work - is a joy to behold. And it does give you hope for the future.

We just need the younger generation to see this film, and to understand that socialism and society in it's truest sense is a good thing. Ken's done his bit...

(After a brief cinema run, The Spirit Of '45 is now available on DVD)

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Nor'easter (Adv 15)

Let me again, for the slow of wit or short of memory, remind you of a life lesson - if you sit in a cinema, and a sparsely populated one at that, and start eating popcorn loudly while rustling the bag as if you've lost your last tuppence, expect a reaction. Don't be surprised by the multitude of dirty looks and the shooshing. Trust me, you got off lightly.

On the off-chance that either of the popcorn sisters is reading this, I was the one who shooshed you first. I would have been the second, but someone beat me to it.

On the upside, I'll put money on Nor'easter confusing the hell out of the pair of them.

Shown as part of The Uncharted States Of America section at the Bradford International Film Festival, Nor'easter marks the debut of writer/director Andrew Brotzman, and tells the tale of a wet-behind-the-ears priest given his first posting in a remote north-eastern corner of America.

David Call plays Erik, the priest thrown in at the deep end after his predecessor upset everyone by sleeping with the cop's wife. His church has a flock of three - two stalwarts and Ellen Green (played by the superb Haviland Morris). Ellen has issues. She barely talks to her husband, her daughter seems to be the neighbouring town's bike, and her son hasn't been seen since he was kidnapped some years before.

So, no pressure on the new guy then.

Ellen's husband Richard (Richard Bekins) is still clinging on to the hope son Josh is alive, clinging so hard in fact he's strangling his family. He's lost faith in God, but has faith in his lost son's existence. Well, until Erik proffers closure and redemption by holding a funeral for Josh. This works. Then Josh comes back.

Then things get... well... let's go with interesting.

You see, this film doesn't really know what it's trying to be. It's about faith, but not in any great depth. It's about a man of God's doubts, but not in any great depth. It's supposed to be a thriller (according to a quote from the Portland Herald), but - again - depth is an issue.

And the lack of depth really is a big issue. The film runs for a mere 85 minutes, and in that time we see Ellen try it on with Erik, Erik working with a young ice hockey team, Josh return, where Josh has been, more stuff that I can't go into because it'll ruin the film... but none of it happens to any great satisfaction. Everything is on the surface, which is a hard sell when so much of what should be driving the characters is lurking in far deeper waters.

There are some positives here, though. For a start it looks great (but then so does the Mona Lisa, just don't ask her to tell you a story), and there is a cold detachment that runs through the film that perfectly mirrors the harsh Maine landscapes. And the idea is a good one, no doubt about it.

It just has a lot of problems, and not just with the plot. For a start, the characters are two-dimensional. OK, this might be forgivable with the peripheral players, but apart from some cursory background for Erik, you don't feel you know any of the main players any more by the end than you did at the start.

And that includes Josh.

Now, I know Josh has returned with a secret. He's been somewhere with someone and he won't spill the beans. Not a problem. But it feels like Brotzman didn't know how much or little to reveal, or how he wanted Liam Aiken to portray the myriad of conflicted emotions Josh is going through. Instead of a tortured soul, torn between his two worlds, he just goes for a grumpy teenager.

And then there are the little things. How does Erik get to the right pizza place? Oh, look, she must be the doctor because she's carrying her stethoscope on the outside of her massive medical bag. If the daughter is being 'easy', why is she with the same boy the whole way through? How does a new priest in town get to work with a hockey team so quickly? Why does no-one lock their doors?

I have other issues as well, but am wary of saying too much in case I spoil anything. Let's say this. Where Josh has been is complicated. It raises questions. A lot of questions. None are dealt with. There is redemption, of a sort, but even that is far from satisfactory. And the ending can be read two ways, neither of which will fill you with joy. It left my screening in stunned silence.

But despite all this, I didn't hate it. Far from it. It's certainly thought-provoking, and while Nor'easter is trying to deal with issues and subjects too vast to be fully grasped, it's having a go - and that's to be applauded. For a debut film, it doesn't lack ambition.

Nor'easter trailer

There is almost certainly more - and better - to come from Andrew Brotzman, but from little acorns etc... Hitchcock's debut didn't sweep the world off its feet either.

Nor'easter is a flawed piece of work, but it's still a work worth seeing. In a world where Die Hard and G.I. Joe movies are churned out at the drop of a hand grenade, and where the Scary Movie franchise is on its fifth incarnation, films like Nor'easter that are actually trying to do something original and say something are to be applauded.

Just finish your popcorn before you go in to see it.

(There are probably things I want to add to this, but Steve Earle's new album has just finished, my wine glass is empty, and Richard Parker has finally stopped climbing the door and gone to bed. So I'm gonna follow suit...)

(...Good morning folks)

I was right. The one thing that is clear throughout the film is how ill-equipped Erik is to deal with what he is facing. In fact, he is demonstrably constrained by the rules within which he has to work, leading to the events of the final 20 minutes of Nor'easter.

There are parallels to be drawn as well between Erik's inability to deal with what he discovers and the Catholic church's own in-house issues. That bit will make more sense when you see the film.

Monday, 15 April 2013

Much Ado About Nothing (12A)

Shakespeare fans can be a funny bunch. While some welcome his works being re-imagined, others - and I've seen this happen - have been known to throw hissy fits and ask for a refund if there's so much as a hat that's not from the Elizabethan period.

Equally, movie fans can be a funny bunch. Known for a certain style or genre, not all directors are able to stretch out and do what the hell they like just for the fun of it. Especially not when said director's previous film made enough money to bail out the Eurozone.

And vanity projects, ideas a filmmaker has that are fueled by their own passions, can come a cropper. For every Inception (only 'allowed' off the back of Nolan's success with the Caped Crusader), there are 15 re-edits of Blade Runner.

So, a modern-day, black and white version of Much Ado About Nothing (sticking to the original dialogue) filmed in his own house and garden in 12 days by the man who gave us The Avengers - what could go wrong, eh?

Absolutely nothing. That's what. And that's just one of the reasons why I left Bradford's Pictureville cinema wrapped in that warm, satisfied feeling one gets when you've been in the company of a bunch of people having more fun than anyone has a right to when they should be working.

And that's not the beer talking (one of the many great things about the Bradford International Film Festival, who were showing a preview screening of Much Ado - they're serving Black Sheep beer. And you can take a pint in with you. More cinemas should be doing this).

For those who haven't had the pleasure of seeing a version of Much Ado before, a quick recap - boy meets girl, boy falls in love with girl, boy uses friend to tell girl and girl's father how he feels, true love gets sabotaged by a miserable git-wizard, hilarity ensues, all set against the back-drop of a warring couple who refuse to admit they love each other meaning their friends have to concoct tales to give cupid's bow a few nudges. Got that? Good.

It is easily one of Shakespeare's most popular plays, meaning Joss had to get this right. As mentioned, Bard fanatics can be unforgiving. Still, at least he didn't do anything like adapt, direct and produce the whole thing himself, write the music and cast his mates. At least he played it safe...

Fear not. Joss clearly knew what he was doing.

 In the sublime Alexis Denisof (of Angel/Buffy fame) and the wonderful Amy Acker (Angel/Dollhouse) Joss has the perfect Benedick and Beatrice. Laughs played to the max, slapstick moments a sheer delight, yet balanced against the more passionate, angry moments that litter this play. In picking his lead pair, Joss nailed it.

But this is an ensemble piece, and without fellow Whedon alumni Clark Gregg (aka Agent Coulson in, well, nearly all of the recent Marvel films), Nathan Fillion (Buffy, Firefly/Serenity), Fran Kanz (Dollhouse, Cabin In The Woods), Tom Lenk (Buffy, Cabin In The Woods) among the cast, this could have easily struggled. But everyone is clearly having fun, and delivering their A-game, meaning every scene flows and sings.

And over-seeing the whole shebang is the now famous Whedon. Now, we know he can do horror, we know he can do sci-fi, and we know he can do mega-budget comic hero epics. But a black and white Shakespeare play in his back garden? Yup, turns out the talented sod can do that too.

Throughout, this film looks wonderful. It's got a great pace, with the problems of changing sets and scenery usually found on the stage easily dodged as people run about his house and garden. The party scenes make sense, rather than being a mess as can often happen (Spring Breakers, I'm looking at you), the group scenes fizz with each character being given the necessary chance to shine, but it's the soliloquies that seal the deal.

When Benedick is coming to terms with how he thinks Beatrice feels about him, he holds the screen perfectly, helped by Joss's framing and editing. Not for this version the worthy, five minutes of talking at the world. Here, the audience feels as much a part of the experience as the actors, with perfectly chosen close-ups being used to round things off beautifully.

One of the things that really struck me is how, given his young-ish fanbase, Joss has kept to the Shakespearian conceit of not bothering to explain who anyone is. Instead of pandering to a generation that seemingly has a short attention span (a broad generalisation I know, but hey - prove me wrong) and adding back-story, he's stayed true to the source material and trusted his telling of the story to explain who you're watching as things unfold.

And it works. It's a measure of how few film makers today are either allowed to, or dare to, use this device that it came as a shock to find characters turning up with no pre-amble as to who they were and what they were doing (Fillion and Lenk's cracking double act as officers of the law being a fine example). It just goes to show that, done well, an audience doesn't need to be spoon-fed.

As I may have intimated at the start of this review, this film had so many pitfalls in its path, it was like a family of moles had taken a ton of coke and set about the lawn. But all fears are dispelled from the off.

The love and enjoyment Joss and the cast have had making this film flows off the screen in waves. You're wrapped up in the story, you're falling about as Benedick listens in on conversations, or Beatrice is falling down a flight of steps (or banging her head as she hides under a work surface, causing the woman sitting near me to audibly wince), or the police are being inept, you're heartbroken as others find the path of true love does not indeed run smooth.

You feel you are among friends, and as such you share in everything they experience. And when the party is over, you find yourself not wanting to leave.

Friday, 12 April 2013

The Look Of Love (18)

And so, after weeks of adverts, tweets, Facebook postings and the local paper chucking in an ill-conceived four-page supplement almost as an after-thought, the Bradford International Film Festival is finally here! And it's starting with drinkies. Happy days.

Of course, it's also starting with a film - and what better than a biopic of a self-made millionaire brought to you by the the team that enjoyed great success with 24-Hour Party People? Of course, they also brought us A Cock And Bull Story...

This is about a man, his millions, and the art of making money out of nudity.

As The Boss was otherwise disposed this evening, I got to go to the opening night of the Bradford International Film Festival. As the office work experience (I prefer the word intern), I've been waiting for the words "Erica, here's your Press Pass", so you can imagine my excitement.

I'd be interested to know what The Boss, being of the male persuasion, would have made of this.  All I can say is if I'd turned this film into a drinking game whereby I had a shot for every nipple appearance, I'd be slumped on the floor jibbering, rather than writing this.

Sadly not, so I'll continue.

The film starts in a seemingly sweet way, with Paul Raymond (Steve Coogan) driving his grand-daughter around in his Rolls Royce, while telling her that his empire will one day be hers.

We then see him surrounded by the Press asking him about his daughter, who has evidently died.

From that point on we see Raymond's life in flashback, starting when he opens a strip club in 1958, through to, I assume, the eighties - although I only worked that out from the soundtrack, which was playing Soft Cell's Tainted Love by then.

Initially the film centres on Raymond making pots of money owning strip clubs, making forays into the world of theatre (he owned the Windmill Theatre in London) and publishing the first "men's magazine", Men Only. All this while indulging in dalliances with various showgirls, to the seeming amusement of wife, Jean (Anna Friel).

It then moves on to focus on the relationship (or lack of) with his adored daughter Debbie (Imogen Poots). I got hopeful at this point that the story would develop into something with a bit more emotion and depth.

As screenwriter Matt Greenhalgh told us in his pre-film speech, he had a lot of fun researching the life of Paul Raymond.  Armed with all that research, why then did we see so little character development and such a flimsy story?

None of the characters were likeable, not even daughter Debbie who was, arguably, a victim, having been sent to gain a middle class education at a posh school, only then to be thrust into the seedy world of strip clubs, drugs and a parent who wholeheartedly approves of her lifestyle. Her descent into drug addiction and the party-life could have been so much grittier than it was.

The men in the film are odious creatures who view women as objects to leer at and talk dirty about. The women are vacuous in the extreme. And it kind of feels like the film was made for like-minded people.

There are a lot of naked women to be ogled in this film.  A lot.  To the extent that it's almost a series of naked sketches, where the story is an afterthought.

The sixties was a sexual revolution, I get that.  But the threesomes and orgies were there at the expense of the storyline.  When the film reaches the seventies, surely a feminist or two would've emerged to give Raymond and his cohorts a hard time?

We get a few news clips thrown in, such as his £250k divorce being the largest of the time, or an interviewer asking whether his clubs are degrading to women, but these more interesting and relevant bits are never expanded upon. And this would've given us some much-needed contrast.

It's like they couldn't decide what kind of film they wanted to make. It's not a straight-out biography (it doesn't round the story out enough for that), and it's not a comedy (it simply makes you chuckle a few times). At times the story is simply confusing - was Debbie still married to Jonathan (Simon Bird) when she died?  If so, who is the bloke holding the kids at the funeral 'cos that wasn't the same actor.

It's a shame because the great cast raises your expectations, but the performances either seem lazy or just an excuse for well-known comedians to do some averagely-amusing caricatures.

And don't get me started on the soundtrack.  Did they run out of money for song royalties?  They seemed to play the same few songs ad nauseum. Unacceptable.

Having said all that I didn't hate it. It's just that, ironically for a film about sex,  the whole thing left me feeling unsatisfied.

Monday, 8 April 2013

Evil Dead (18)

There's a joke here about going to see Evil Dead on the day Maggie Thatcher died, but this isn't the place for cheap shots or political point-scoring. OK, it is, but today was about a colossus of the 80s being back in the spotlight, not Maggie.

There had been quite a lot of dissent about Sami Rami and Bruce Campbell (not forgetting Robert G Tapert, completing the original unholy trinity) allowing Evil Dead to be re-made - or, in their words, re-imagined. To the fans, the original is sacrosanct. A glorious horror film that gave birth to many imitators over many decades. But going back? Were they mad?

Well, yes, probably. but then if anyone had the right to go back and have another go in this particular gore-splattered playground...

And it could have gone horribly wrong. Babies could have gone out with the bathwater, legacies could have been dumped on and an entire fanbase could have been alienated in an evening. And they knew that.

Which is why they kept their hands on the rudder, hand-picking director Fede Alvarez (who, along with the brilliant Diablo Cody also took on screenplay duties) and doing their utmost to ensure another generation of horror fans got a taste of what rocked the world in 1981.

And I think they may have managed it.

Now you can try and watch Evil Dead without thinking back to the original, but only if you've never seen it. If you've seen the original, it stays with you, meaning comparisons are inevitable as the opening scenes play out. And they're good. They set up what we already know - that bad things happen in them there woods. And as a possessed teen is cleansed in a time-honoured tradition, you begin to relax. This is shaping up OK.

And then those words appear on the screen. EVIL DEAD. And I couldn't help grinning. It felt good, it felt right, it felt safe (if such a phrase can be used here). The blood-soaked ball hadn't been dropped.

Essentially the story plays out as before. Group of youthful sorts gather at a cabin in the woods, a book that shouldn't be read is, all hell breaks loose, the end. Brilliant stuff. But it's how they go about it that works so well.

As before, the back stories of each of the characters is barely sketched in, but that's fine. You get enough information from the dialogue and acting (as it should be if a film is done well) to know who is who. There's the brother who's been away for ages (David - Shiloh Fernandez), his sister (Mia - Jane Levy), the friends (Olivia - Jessica Lucas; Eric - Lou Taylor Pucci) and the brother's squeeze (Natalie - Elizabeth Blackmore).

This time around, they're at the cabin to have an intervention as Mia's drug habit has got out of control again - and this is a clever device, serving as a handy and believable smokescreen for the other characters as the early stages of demonic possession set in.

And the lead-up is done brilliantly, staged in turns as events mirror the pages in THAT book that Eric knows he shouldn't be reading (but he's an academic sort, so he was always gonna). And the scares are kept relatively low key for a while, allowing you to relax (so to speak) as you wait to be made to squirm in your seat.

And then the gloves come off.

As is standard practice around here, plot points will be sketched around. No point me telling you exactly what happens when you can go see it for yourself. No. Much better you get a taste of what you'll experience. And the taste is blood.

Lots of blood.

On the gore front, this Evil Dead is off the charts bonkers nuts brilliant. And it knows it is. It's grinning from ear to ear as people cut their own arms off, survive nail-gun onslaughts, get beaten to death with broken toilet, take a hot showers... The list is pretty endless. Basically, if you spot a bit of hardware, odds-on someone is going to be on the receiving end at some point. And the tree scene is just ace.

And what hardware. Basically the business end of B&Q is put to great use (including the kitchen section) as battles are fought with the possessed. Or as the possessed set about their tasks. It depends who is wielding what when.

And there's a chainsaw.

But it's not just the screamingly wonderful gore and splatter that makes this one of the best horror films in many a long year. No. It looks the business. It is shot exquisitely. The lighting is just-so, the colouring is a delight to behold, and there is a shot near the end where I almost stood and applauded it looked so good (you'll know it when you see it. Or ask me again after you've seen it). There is serious style to the squishy substance.

And it's visceral. You really do feel every bone break, every blade cutting into every piece of flesh, every needle getting stuck into someone's eye. At times the filming is almost claustrophobic, hemming you in with whoever is under attack. At one stage, I suddenly noticed I was actually holding my breath. Fortunately this meant the possessed personage didn't find me...

This film knows what it's doing. It's not an intellectual exercise. It wants to scare the crap out of you, wants you jumping out of your seat, wants you desperately wishing you could turn your eyes from the screen - but you can't.

But, for all the dumb. bloody fun - this film has it's subtle moments. The nods to the chainsaw are one, the use of an electric carving knife to cut some meat is another. And it has some perfectly weighted jokier moments, delivered beautifully, which had the whole cinema laughing out loud.

Of course, it's not without its flaws. There are niggles. The soundtrack is, at times, laboured and - especially during the emotive climax - a smidge mawkish. In a bid to give you a feel for the rush of the fight, some scenes end up being a bit blurred, and at times the director chooses to play to the lowest common denominator (ooh, look, there's that had that got ripped off, just in case you didn't notice). There's also a debate to be had about the number of souls that are claimed.

But none of this detracts from what is, ultimately, a riotous success. The pitfalls were many, the boobytraps could have gone off at any moment, but Alvarez has delivered what he and the famous production team promised - a re-imagining of a classic, freshened up for a new generation.

As the credits rolled, a woman muttered that it wasn't as good as the original. She's wrong - on two counts.

1 - it is

2 - that's not the point (I know, negates point one. Don't care)

This version of Evil Dead should be allowed to stand alone, not in the shadow of the original. Equally, the original doesn't need to be compared to it's new sibling. It's stood proudly alone since 1981 (sequels notwithstanding), and there's no need for that to change.

Rami and Campbell (and the other guy) have succeeded where many have failed. Breathing new death into a horror franchise without desecrating a legacy. It's time to be terrified all over again.

Friday, 5 April 2013

Spring Breakers (18)

I don't ask for a lot out of life - regular cups of tea, Richard Parker to not pinch my seat, a football team that wins  more than it loses, The Darkness to stop making records and for films to be entertaining.

They don't all have to be Citizen Kane, I get that - variety is the spice of life after all - but it should, as a bare minimum be engaging and hold my attention. And I'm not a complex man. Some guns, some bikini-clad beauties, some sunshine and a mad gangster with over-sized braces should do it. Not gonna trouble the grey matter, but should be an enjoyable way to pass 90 minutes, surely. I mean, with that little lot, you'd have to be a Boris Johnson-sized idiot to screw things up.

So hats off, then, to Harmony Korine, who has indeed taken all of the above ingredients and made a complete hash of the whole thing. I mean, how the hell do you make what should be a gritty, nasty, sleazy, grimy nuts-n-bolts hormone-fueled actioner tedious? It takes real skill.

Going by the trailer (which actually makes a lot more sense in two minutes than the film manages in 90), it should be a blast. Loud music, nasty rapper sort, drugs, teenagers robbing diners to pay for a holiday, it's got the lot. Sadly, it's also got a man who really doesn't know what he's doing.

Let's start at the beginning. The premise is simple. Four girls (Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson and Rachel Korine) need more than the $300 bucks they have scraped together to get pissed in Florida. Such are the woes of the modern teen in middle America. So, what to do? Well, a quick hold-up, obviously. Yup, that does it. Loads of money now - Florida-ho!

Only, that's not the actual beginning of the film. It should be, but it's not. Korine needs to spend time setting up his characters. So he starts there. And we learn that two are bored in college, one's a miserable happy-clappy church-goer and one spends all of her time stoned while a mysterious female is passed out on her couch. She's there so long I began to think she might be dead. She could be. We'll never know. Korine figures she's important enough to feature in several lingering shots of her slumbering, be-knickered body, but doesn't want to confuse things with who she actually is.

So, we start by laying out who the characters are. Only we don't. What we actually start with is 10 minutes of drunken debauchery and bobbling boobies as the entire teenage population of America hits one small town and gets shit-faced. Think Newquay, only with sunshine. And it's not needed. A few minutes, to give us a taste of the world our heroines are hankering after? Sure, fine. TEN MINUTES? It's almost like Korine's trying to distract you from the lack of plot.

No, I take that back. I'm such a cynic. I'm sure endless shots of topless women showering themselves with beer is essential to the whole tale...

Right, where was I? Oh yes, the story. Right. We've finally got the cash, so it's off to the Sunshine State we go. Party time. Lots of drugs and booze and sunny scooter riders and booze and drugs and booze and a quick scooter ride and some more booze and a quick toot and some booze and a sniff of marching powder and some booze and... oh whoops, they've been arrested.

For the raid on the diner? Don't be stupid. For all the drug partying, obviously. Only our girlies have pissed away all their money (scooters aren't cheap) and face two days "in County" as they can't pay the fine. In their bikinis, too. How handy then, that our dashing hero James Franco (who's clearly enjoying himself more than I am) comes to the rescue, pays the bill and takes our girlies home with him. Sweet.

(On that note - they get arrested for partying. Partying. During spring break. That's their big crime. What's that? Yes, they did rob a diner with a fake gun and a hammer, quite right. Nope, you didn't imagine that. Was quite a key plot point. Still, not to worry, I'm sure they're really sorry...)

Of course, he's not what he seems. By day, nut-job rapper. By night, gun-toting, drug-dealing nut-job rapper with hangers-on and an old friend who doesn't like him anymore. An old friend who also happens to be an honest heavily-armed narcotics retailer just trying to make a living. Could it be that the party is coming to an end? Far be it from me to spoil the final third of the film, but ask yourself this. Did it ever really start?

Even reading all that back now, I still feel there's a nasty little film lurking that could be a lot of fun. Instead we are handed an MTV-lite ragtag pile of bobbins that has been edited by an overly-caffeinated squirrel.

Shots jump around needlessly, sentences are repeated ad nauseum (I get it, you're scared, NOW SHUT UP), scenes are played out from all angles (he clearly couldn't decide on the best one, so put them all in), the acting (Franco aside) is appalling (imagine seven-year-olds playing at being grown-ups), and the nudity is so gratuitous even I was sitting there rolling my eyes. If ever someone needs to learn that less is more, it's Harmony Korine.

I seem to recall reading recently as well that a lot of the dialogue was improvised. It shows.

Now, I understand that I am not this film's target audience. I get that. But when you have to put this many nipples on screen to try and attract your audience, and it still doesn't make the film watchable, you need to ask yourself if you're in the right job.

I'd like to find some positives here - I really would. I've wandered about, making another pot of tea while I try and think of some, and Franco's performance aside, I've got nothing. It really is all surface and no substance while pushing the 'sex sells' maxim to the absolute limit. Hopefully, in this case, it doesn't.

(Arsebiscuits. I've just checked and on a $5m budget Spring Breakers has made $11m at time of writing. Which goes to prove ol' P.T. Barnum was right. Nobody ever lost a dollar by underestimating the taste of the American public...)

Dark Skies (15)

There's a reason I'm not an artist. I have ideas, and I can picture in my head how something should look, but somewhere between my brain and my hand something goes awry and what comes out is not what I intended.

I'm pretty sure that's what happened with Dark Skies.

Writer/Director Scott Stewart knew what kind of suspenseful thriller he wanted to make. He knew how he wanted it to look, how he wanted to layer the suspense, build the tension, create smokescreens to keep you guessing, use the children to add to the horror vibe - he knew all that. I'm sure of it.

It's just that somewhere after the ideas left his brain.... well, you can guess the rest.

The story itself isn't bad. Something is causing things to happen in the family home - first it's food out of the fridge, then it's a lovely sculpture using just about every utensil and piece of crockery in the kitchen, then the family pictures go AWOL - all good, harmless stuff. And the police can't explain it, nor can the man from the security alarm company, so it's all a bit of a mystery.

So far, so average. Nothing happens to make you think 'wow', but it's harmless tosh. Keri Russel and Josh Hamilton do a passable job of flummoxed parents (I suspect they're wondering why they're married with kids, as they don't have any chemistry whatsoever) while Dakota Doyo and Kadan Rockett out-perform the grown-ups as the children caught up in the hoo-ha. Granted, it's not tricky, but they still manage it, so kudos to them.

It's once we've set up the fact that stuff is happening that things start to go wonky. We've had the shots showing life carrying on as normal in suburbia, we've got the moody weird stuff, we've got the police in - it's all standard. Sadly, the parents decide they have to solve this.

Only they can't agree on what they believe. Which causes tension. And dad's lost his job, so there's tension. And mum can't flog the one house she's got to sell, so there's tension. And dad has lied about the fact he knew he hadn't got that new job, so there's tension. And the neighbours are looking at them funny after those birds bombarded the house, so there's tension.

Sadly, all this tension fails to transfer itself to either the plot or the actors.

The dialogue is terrible, the acting is stilted, and once the big reveal happens you're past caring and laughing seems to be the only natural response. And not because it's funny. It just saves you feeling angry that you paid to be patronised like this.

To be fair, Keri is a good actress (or at least she was in Waitress) and while Josh is no Olivier he's not terrible, so the problem must lie elsewhere. It couldn't be Stewart, could it? Not the man who gave us Legion? Oh, right, yeah...

The biggest problem this film has is that Stewart clearly likes horrors and thrillers. He's clearly seen a few. As a result, he knows what you should do to make one of these films. He knows what the pointers are, he knows what the shots should be, he knows what the look of the film should be - but he doesn't know why. He doesn't understand what it is that makes those things come together. He's got the ingredients, he just hasn't got the recipe.

The whole thing gets summed up when J. K. Simmons turns up (I'm not going to say what his character's role is, because someone will actually want to see this film, and I don't want to be the one spoiling their fun. Stewart can do that). Now I love this guy, up to now I'm pretty sure I've never seen him in a bad film, or certainly never put in a bad performance. You can bank on him, he'll deliver. Point him in the right direction and he'll do the job. And do it well.

But not here.

From the minute he shambles on to the screen he looks embarrassed to be there, with each line delivered he's struggling to hide the fact he can't believe he has to utter such tosh. It's almost funny to watch.

Away from all this, though, I have other niggles. First, if money is so tight (and it is, they've cancelled the contract with the security alarm company), how come dad manages to stump up for an eight-camera security system? And when they decide to get a vicious dog, how do we know it's going to be vicious? The snarling? The slavering? The barking? Nope. It says so on the little card on the pen. Because animal shelters do that.

Somewhere in here, there is probably a good film, a quick rewrite and the dialogue can be sharpened up. From there, a different director and this could actually fly. Instead, it lands like a flock of starlings hitting a house.