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Friday, 29 June 2012

Film Review: Storage 24


Unfolding largely in a London storage warehouse, this drama channels a love triangle involving Noel Clarke, his estranged girlfriend and her new boyfriend into a second plot isolating several characters in a confined space with a killer. Early on, a loud, off-screen bump presages both a crashed aircraft (from which something nasty has escaped) and intermittent power outages (which lock up the premises' security system, trapping people inside). An impressive if unoriginal monster is upstaged by – spoiler alert! – a cuddly toy dog with fireworks attached. The whole thing proves unexpectedly entertaining.

Jeremy Clarke

category: Film Reviews

Film Review: Ice Age: Continental Drift


The fourth entry in the animated prehistoric franchise features improved visuals but trades in familiar shtick.

Scrat the saber-toothed squirrel gets a well-earned promotion from series mascot to plot catalyst in Ice Age: Continental Drift, the anticipated fourth entry in the hugely successful computer-animated franchise.

As Scrat’s star rises, however, the series’ momentum stalls. Faced with the prospect of deviating from the well-trodden tracks of its predecessors, the scriptwriters clearly got cold feet, merely substituting kid-friendly pirates for the kid-friendly dinos of 2009’s Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs as Manny the woolly mammoth and his prehistoric cohorts embark on yet another epic journey studded with sentimental bromides.

None of this will matter to the young target audience, who will giggle along with the helter-skelter action sequences and the fusillade of wisecracks and sight gags.

The last of three animated tentpoles to roll out this summer - after DreamWorks’ Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted and Pixar’s Brave, Fox’s technically assured 3D offering still can expect a warm reception and successful box office ride.

With the core trio of Manny (Ray Romano), Sid the goofy sloth (a hilarious John Leguizamo) and the tiger Diego (Denis Leary) getting a bit long in the tooth - it’s nearly 10 years between the first Ice Age and this one - scriptwriters Michael Berg and Jason Fuchs corral a menagerie of newcomers and shoehorn in several subplots to distract from a musty storyline.

In this go-round, the world literally falls apart as Scrat’s (Chris Wedge) Sisyphean pursuit of his prized acorn results in a seismic shift that tears asunder Earth’s prehistoric supercontinent, Pangea. (The filmmakers have as little regard for geological history as they did for paleontology in the previous installment.)

Our mismatched heroes are set adrift on a chunk of ice, with Manny separated from his mate Ellie (Queen Latifah) and their now-teenage daughter, Peaches (Keke Palmer, who also sings the end-credits song “We Are”).

They’ve picked up a troublesome stowaway in the form of Sid’s Beverly Hillbillies-like granny (Wanda Sykes), while back on shore, Peaches is trying to keep up with the cool-kid mammoths (hip-hop star Drake, rapper Nicki Minaj and Glee cheerleader Heather Morris) and managing to alienate her best friend, Louis, a molehog voiced by Josh Gad (star of the Broadway hit The Book of Mormon.)

Peter Dinklage voices the best of the new recruits, a simian pirate king with very bad teeth named Captain Gutt. His ragtag crew of high-seas marauders, which includes a love interest for Diego in Shira the white tiger (Jennifer Lopez), join Mother Nature at her crankiest in trying to thwart Manny and company’s journey home.

It’s familiar, drawn-out shtick, and the humor lacks the subtlety of the first and best Ice Age, but there are some visually inventive high points.
The wordless interludes featuring Scrat as slapstick comedian nonpareil not only generate the biggest laughs but provide little oases of aesthetic delight. And there’s an unsettling journey through the land of the Sirens, where the atmosphere turns dark and weird for just a moment, before Steve Martino (Horton Hears a Who), co-directing with Michael Thurmeier, steers it back into safer waters.

The animation by Fox’s Blue Sky Studios improves with each installment, and here it is vividly rendered, with the design of each prehistoric critter a marvel of state-of-the-art technology down to the last hair.

by Megan Lehmann

category: Film Reviews

Film Review: Your Sister’s Sister


The credits confirm this precious but rather lovable comic/drama is written by director Lynn Shelton but all the really funny lines arrive straight from the top of Mark Duplass’s head.

The deadpan Duplass is best known as the director of Cyrus but he’s also a dab hand at improv – as he proved in Shelton’s Sundance award- winning comedy Humpday.

This time, Shelton and Duplass mix in a higher budget, some weightier themes, surer camerawork and two semi-famous actresses, Rosemarie DeWitt and Emily Blunt.

The wisp of a plot – two half- sisters, a platonic male friend grieving for his brother and a bottle of tequila spend the weekend in a remote cabin near Seattle – sounds like it should be showing off-off Broadway. However, because Shelton works without a script, the indoor fireworks are far less stagey and the dialogue much more effervescent than a play with the same premise.

Much of the heat and light evaporates after a big emotional showdown about three-quarters of the way through but the dependable Duplass is on hand at the death for the best climactic romantic monologue since Jerry Maguire said: ‘You complete me’. And it’s all off the top of his head – impressive stuff.

By Colin Kennedy

category: Film Reviews

Film Review: Polisse


NOT as grimly unpleasant to watch as one might expect a film revolving around the Paris police department’s Child Protection Unit would be, Polisse uses the dynamic between the characters’ chaotic private lives and the bleakness of their jobs as fuel for a fairly lively character drama that provides a snapshot into a unique world. It’s almost too bad then that actress-turned-director Maïwenn chooses to make this idea so clunkingly literal by casting herself as a photographer assigned to document the unit.

Snapping away at the various officers as they grapple with the personal and bureaucratic issues they refuse to let interfere with their professional duties, she never gives us much sense of what her character’s assignment actually is.

On the plus side, a definite vitality comes from the observational approach Maïwenn deploys as the film’s director. Though the film eventually homes in on several major plot strands, it’s the film’s rich texture that proves so involving. All of human life is here and while a lot of it is ugly, the film does a good job of dramatising the fact that there are also forces of good working tirelessly to give the most vulnerable a fighting chance.

Alistair Harkness

category: Film Reviews

Film Review: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter


Seth Grahame-Smith adapted his own novel, a genre mashup that rewrites history about the 16th president, played by Benjamin Walker.

Starting from a premise - succinctly stated by the movie’s title - that suggests a hybrid of history lesson and horror show, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is a mishmash of styles that might leave viewers’ heads spinning. Genre enthusiasts will lap up the mixture of action and fantasy, while history buffs who don’t mind a bit of rewriting will dig into an alternative spin on the Civil War period. Audience response initially should be robust, even if closer consideration might sap some later momentum.

Beginning with Lincoln’s Indiana childhood in the early 1800s, screenwriter Seth Grahame-Smith (adapting his novel, which supposedly originates with Lincoln’s secret journal) speculates that after young Lincoln and his father dare to interfere with the slave trader Barts (Marton Csokas), who also happens to be the nexus in a large network of the undead that has infiltrated the South, the vampire exacts revenge by attacking and killing the 16th president’s mother.

Lincoln seeks revenge on Barts years later as a young man (Benjamin Walker), narrowly escaping getting killed himself following the intervention of Henry Sturges (Dominic Cooper), a dedicated vampire assassin. Sturges recruits Lincoln as a hunter as well, training him in the arts of vampire elimination.

After moving to Springfield, Ill., Lincoln begins dispatching ghouls as directed by Sturges, using an ax with a silver-plated blade, while combining vampire hunting with his study of law. He also meets the young Mary Todd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and begins courting her, despite Sturges’ warning not to become too attached to other people, and is reunited with his childhood friend William Johnson (Anthony Mackie), a former slave.
After he finally gets his revenge by killing Barts, he’s marked for elimination by Adam (Rufus Sewell), who controls the Southern vampire horde. Lincoln temporarily sets aside his ax to marry Mary and switch his allegiance to politics, as debate intensifies over the abolition of slavery. Following his election, President Lincoln is brought back into direct conflict with the vampires with the onset of the Civil War, when Adam and his minions side with the Confederacy in an attempt to finally take control of the country.

The movie’s virtues and some of its miscues essentially originate with Grahame-Smith’s script. Taking the conceit that the institution of slavery was a vampire-motivated plot to provide the undead with fresh blood, Grahame-Smith adeptly connects Lincoln’s vampire vendetta with his anti-slavery crusade. Marrying this high-concept premise to a coherent narrative proves more challenging, however, as the tales of Lincoln’s vampire-slaying exploits make an awkward fit with the historical facts of his life.

Following up 2008’s Wanted, director Timur Bekmambetov showcases Lincoln as America’s “first superhero” (despite his lack of any supernatural abilities), shaping the first act around the future president’s desire for retribution. The initial scenes of the young lawyer dispatching the wide variety of ghouls that seem to favor Springfield in hand-to-hand combat delivers some initial thrills that more turgid set pieces later in the film seem to lack.

Bekmambetov, no stranger to vampire lore after launching his own Russian franchise with Night Watch and Day Watch, effectively deploys the appropriate camera moves, pacing and special effects to craft an awesome action figure determined to rescue the country from a bloodsucker takeover. Caleb Deschanel’s cinematography profitably welds horror tropes to special effects, but there are no real surprises in terms of either concept or execution, and the 3D conversion seems to obscure images more than enhance them.

Tall and lanky, Walker seems like he was cast more for his potential resemblance to Lincoln than for his acting or action abilities. While he appears fairly capable - if not especially accomplished - handling Lincoln’s legendary ax, slower scenes opposite Winstead and other actors tend to drag with Walker’s restrained delivery and stiff demeanor. Winstead’s performance as Mary is far more spirited as she flirts with Lincoln in earlier scenes and later argues with him over the fate of their family and country. The supporting cast is efficiently tasked with supporting Lincoln’s twin goals of destroying vampires and winning the war.

At a taut 105 minutes, Abraham Lincoln credibly delivers the thrills and gore it promises, though it’s ultimately too lightweight and conventional to merit either cult or classic status.

by Justin Lowe

category: Film Reviews

Film Review: Killer Joe


The career of William Friedkin will always be defined by The French Connection, with its violent and amoral cop, and The Exorcist, featuring a little girl inhabited by demonic forces. There's a hint of both these unquiet spirits in Friedkin's new film: a gruesome, brutally violent and queasy trailer-park nightmare from deep in the heart of Texas. It's adapted by Tracy Letts from his 1993 play (Friedkin also turned Letts's play Bug into a film in 2006), and its theatrical origins do become obvious in the way certain characters are left disconcertingly off screen; the movie is concluded with a long, slow and single-location sequence, which makes it looks oddly like a filmed stage play. There is also a bit of what screenwriters call "sexposition": that is, if you have a couple of sleazy male characters discussing something important to the plot, they might as well do it in a topless bar for the added frisson.

But for all this Friedkin and Letts don't pull their punches, and Matthew McConaughey holds the centre of the movie as a cold, cruel gourmand of violence, second only perhaps to Casey Affleck's sadistic Texas cop in Michael Winterbottom's The Killer Inside Me.

McConaughey plays Detective Joe Cooper of the Dallas Police Department, an officer who cruises around in an unmarked car, wearing dark clothes, accessorised with aviator shades and the inevitable Stetson. Cooper is to make a remarkable intervention in the lives of a dysfunctional local family, whose appallingly inadequate paterfamilias is Ansel (Thomas Haden Church), a welder of low ambition and low IQ, acrimoniously divorced from his alcoholic wife, and now living with his dubiously loyal girlfriend Sharla (Gina Gershon), who has the unfortunate habit of answering the door naked from the waist down.

Sharla is the resentful stepmother to Ansel's son Chris (Emile Hirsch), a failed drug dealer who now owes several thousand dollars to some scary characters. Chris's sister Dottie, played by Juno Temple, still lives in the family nest, a delicate and unworldly person given to sleepwalking and sleep-talking, a condition that makes their family life anxious and surreal. Yet poor Dottie is treasured as a vulnerable soul.

Desperate for cash, Chris lets his dad in on a secret, murderous plan for easy money. Hirsch's twisted, twitching, horribly needy face lights up with joy at the thought of it, and so to some degree does his dopey father's, although Church is too intelligent a performer to play stupid with absolute conviction. They need someone who is good at murdering, and this is where Joe comes in: he augments his police pay with a sideline in contract killing and could be persuaded to take the job in return for a share of the promised payout. "Killer" Joe is unimpressed with the offer, but much taken with comely, scantily clad Dottie. Perhaps they can come to an arrangement.

McConaughey's Joe has icy intelligence and competence, and a keen sense of the art of the possible; he makes everyone else look like a child, with the exception of Dottie, who is the nearest among them to actually being a child, though she has a precocious adult awareness of exactly what is going on, and is an enthusiastic supporter of Chris's plan. Joe moves into their lives and indeed their home, like a parasitic Satan, taking charge. Once he has accepted a commission, there is no turning back, and he is clearly all too accustomed to whingey and panicky clients having second thoughts, and having to ride roughshod over their scruples.

The chaotic outcome of the plan is where the film comes most alive, with its ugly collisions of double-cross and triple-cross, and the horrible realisation that they are involved in evil, and have themselves become evil. When Dottie sees Joe first, she says that his "eyes hurt", and later she will repeat this remark to him directly, without making it clear if she means Joe's eyes are hurting himself or other people, or both. Joe does not reply to this observation, and it's a shame that their approaching intimacy rather puts a stop to poetry of this kind in the screenplay. Dottie is a version of Blanche Dubois – not a young Blanche necessarily, because of that weirdly mature self-possession, but one who welcomes the kindness of this particular stranger.

Killer Joe sets the scene for a killer noir, with some killer lines and killer characters, but Friedkin's energy and determination to wrest the story away from the stage and set it free in the cinema deserts him in the final act. It is up to McConaughey's crooked cop to carry the picture: a sleek, loungingly casual loner whose hunger for violence, like his hunger for fried chicken, is finally and horribly gratified.

Peter Bradshaw

category: Film Reviews

Film Review: Friends With Kids


Actor Jennifer Westfeldt makes her debut as writer and director of this agonisingly unfunny and charmless grownup relationship movie (perhaps inspired by Nicole Holofcener) that is so phoney it made all my teeth hurt and caused my sinuses to feel as if they had been filled with radium. It its own horrible way, it's as unwatchable as Michael Haneke's Funny Games. Westfeldt has the leading role in which her performance is a stately, humourless amalgam of Lisa Kudrow and Jennifer Aniston. She plays a singleton who agrees to have a baby with her platonic best friend Jason (Adam Scott) – they actually have sex, rather than use the turkey baster – and insist they will be able to date other people afterwards and not let feelings get in the way. And guess what? If you see this on at the cinema, walk on by.

Peter Bradshaw

category: Film Reviews

Film Review: The Amazing Spider-Man


Five years in Hollywood is an age at the best of times, but if your studio is sitting on one of the world’s most popular comic-book franchises while lesser superheroes break box-office records like so many henchmen’s heads, it must feel like forever.

Sony Pictures released the third of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man films in 2007, and in January 2010 it announced it was rebooting the series with a new star and director. Since then, Avengers Assemble has taken $1.5 billion worldwide, making it the highest-grossing comic-book movie in history: it’s odd to think that the last time Peter Parker suited up in cinemas, Iron Man and The Dark Knight were more than a year away.

So for Spider-Man to register in today’s superhero-saturated market, he has to do something more than pull on a candy-wrapper costume, swing from the same skyscrapers and pander to the geeks in the cheap seats. Fortunately, Sony and director Marc Webb have come up with a very creditable, very marketable alternative, and it owes more to the recent success of Twilight than anyone in a costume and cape.

Simply put, The Amazing Spider-Man is the first superhero movie aimed primarily at women. The new Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) is no goofy teenage geek in the Tobey Maguire mould; he’s a bright, introverted young man with a furrowed brow, a Tintin quiff and a pasty Home Counties complexion. Garfield seems to be playing him as a half-gangly, half-graceful riff on Eduardo Saverin, his character from David Fincher’s Facebook chronicle, The Social Network.

Then there’s his needle-sharp young girlfriend, Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), who wants to get under Parker’s skin even more than that radioactive arachnid did and find out what it is that makes his Spidey-senses tingle.

Gwen’s father is a police captain who is out to stop both Spider-Man and his arch-foe, the Lizard (Rhys Ifans), a scientist whose genes get spliced with reptilian DNA. For this costumed crimefighter, the girlfriend’s dad is as much of a threat as the supervillain.

In fact, if Webb’s film has a weak suit, it’s the supervillainy: Ifans’s character is underdeveloped, and his putative tragic fall is more of a gloomy tumble. Some comic-book fans have also criticised the “unconvincing” special effects employed to bring Ifans’s scaly alter ego to life, although I can’t say I’m entirely clear what a convincing rendering of a giant angry lizard in torn purple trousers and a lab coat might look like.

But that’s not to say The Amazing Spider-Man is short on blockbuster testosterone, and the film’s second half offers more than enough bungee-swinging through Manhattan’s concrete canyons, immaculately rendered in vertiginous, silky-smooth 3D, to satisfy thrill-seekers of either sex.

What’s refreshing is the way Webb makes those action sequences count – with a plot that rests almost entirely on the plausibly tingly romance between his two leads.

This makes perfect sense: Webb’s last, and indeed first, film was the romantic comedy (500) Days Of Summer, which was widely praised for the authenticity of its sentiment. The Amazing Spider-Man features plenty of that, too, which gives this superhuman drama a human edge.

If anything, it’s Spidey, not Gwen, who slots most comfortably into the love interest role: while Raimi got fanboys drooling with Kirsten Dunst in a rain-soaked vest top, Webb’s leading lady remains clothed and dry. Instead, the camera ogles Garfield, whose glutes are showcased quite magnificently in his skintight bodysuit. Enough superhero films are produced for teenage boys who used to dress up in Spider-Man pyjamas. At last, here’s one for an entirely different audience, whose other halves may soon be dressing up in Spider-Man pyjamas for their benefit.

By Robbie Collin

category: Film Reviews

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Film Review: Red Lights


The Spanish writer-director Cortés's last film was the brilliantly sustained Buried, a claustrophobic thriller set entirely in a wooden box several feet underground in the Iraqi desert, occupied by an American truck driver kidnapped by terrorists. His new movie covers more familiar ground, being about a pair of sceptical academic scientists (Sigourney Weaver and Cillian Murphy) dedicated for different reasons to exposing fraudulent paranormal activities, while a professional rival (Toby Jones) gets larger grants to investigate ESP at the same university. Their chief target is a celebrated blind psychic (Robert De Niro), who bends forks and claims to cure diseases. After an extremely interesting first hour demonstrating their investigative methods, the movie flags rather badly. The climax is preceded by one of the most absurdly violent fights of recent years staged in a lavatory where the combatants inflict terrible injuries on basins and toilets.

Philip French

category: Film Reviews

Film Review: Lay The Favourite


Lay the Favorite, a serio-comic true-life tale about a lower-class force of nature who discovers she’s a natural in the gambling trade, is like a loud guest at a party who’s amusing for a while, until you just have to escape to the next room. Starring the ever-classy Rebecca Hall in the unlikely role of a big-mouthed “private dancer” who aspires to become a Vegas cocktail waitress but instead becomes a valued aide to a pro gambler, this broad entertainment also features nice turns by Bruce Willis and Catherine Zeta-Jones. But the comedy just isn’t that funny and the enterprise never finds an exact tone, with director Stephen Frears merely turning up the pace and the volume as the climax approaches. Star names will find this a theatrical berth but a strong box-office score would be a matter of sheer luck.

Anyone who has seen Hall before will do a double-take upon first laying eyes on her here as Beth Raymer, a low-rent Florida floozy in the tiniest of jean shorts whose Vegas dreams remain elusive until she encounters Dink (Willis). A sports gambler with a small, smart-talking staff, Dink takes Beth on to make bets, run errands and work the phones and before long realizes she’s a good-luck charm with a genuine gift for numbers.

The defining aspect of Lay the Favorite is that Beth has a big personality - in fact, a very big personality (as was confirmed at the Sundance premiere when the real Beth Raymer appeared onstage, looking about half Hall’s height but no less big for that). She enthuses over everything, reacting to the smallest event or comment as if it was going to be the thing that finally changes her life. She’s an enthusiast, which in many respects is a fine thing, except that she gets silly and out of hand at times, notably when it comes to Dink himself.

Dink’s glamour-puss wife, the wonderfully named Tulip (Zeta-Jones), returns to town, immediately picks up the strong vibes between Beth and her husband and behaves like a queen bitch until Dink is obliged to fire the uncomprehending Beth. At first, Tulip is presented in strictly one-dimensional terms as a haughty spoilsport, but one of the grace notes in D.V. DeVincentis’ adaptation of Raymer’s memoir is the portrait of Tulip's marriage to Dink, who willingly admits that she is absolutely right to think Beth represents a threat. An appreciative feeling for their marriage ensues, as the couple’s mutual honesty eventually allows Tulip to become an important ally for Beth.

In the meantime, the impulsive Beth picks up a nice fellow, journalist Jeremy (Joshua Jackson), in a casino and moves with him to New York, where she is soon taken under wing by a friendly rival of Dink’s, the flamboyant Rosie (Vince Vaughn), who induces the ever-impressionable Beth to become involved in his illegal bookmaking schemes. This eventually involves her going to Curacao to oversee operations there, even as she becomes increasingly aware of how dangerously exposed she and those closest to her - Jeremy, Dink and Tulip - have become.

No matter the great craft and skill Hall brings to such an unexpected characterization, in addition to what one might suppose was Frears’ desire to pack the film with zany personalities and character actors along the lines of classic Hollywood comedies, there’s a certain intangible feeling here of tourists visiting a strange and exotic place and trying to do as the natives do. This cuts it for a while, but it seems like all the actors are yelling through the entire final stretch of the movie, which starts spinning in the evident belief (also displayed in many old Hollywood films) that a climax has to be crazy and frenetic. Here it’s just exhausting and, finally, off-putting.

Willis’ performance suffers from being part of this, as his character becomes abusive and nasty when things don’t go his way. The actor most excels in his quieter scenes with Hall and Zeta-Jones, the latter softening after a brittle beginning to show her character’s shrewd and sensitive sides. She also is laudably self-effacing, earning startled laughs by exhibiting Tulip’s terribly bruised face and bandaged head while lying in bed after a face-lift.

The overall tendency toward shrillness distracts from the characterizations and puts a damper on much of the potential comedy. A juicy supporting turn comes from Laura Prepon as a Vegas lifer who shows Beth the ropes.

by Todd McCarthy

category: Film Reviews

Film Review: The Five-Year Engagement


Jason Segel has the wary, searching look in his eyes of a person who has known humiliation; the nervous, wide-eyed gaze seems to worry, “what’s next?” Though he’s tall and muscular, he has soft and saggy flesh that invites derision. The scintillating, psychologically reverberant result is his bent for mortification, a cinematic self-scourging through exposure—facing embarrassment through em-bare-assment. His onscreen notion of love (romantic love, and, by extension, the love of viewers) entails pain and punishment; he becomes the joke of his own butt. The submissive side of male romance has always been a part of Judd Apatow’s moral universe, and Segel, who has risen to stardom in its compass, takes that idea to a poignantly personal extreme with his performance in “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” which he wrote, and, now, in “The Five-Year Engagement,” which opens today, and which he co-wrote with the director, Nicholas Stoller.

The subject of the film is couplehood, compromise, and power. The film’s very definition of love is what you can bear to be with someone; and its vision of equality in a relationship is a succession of imbalances that ultimately even out. It’s got a Hawksian symbolic castration like the one in “The Big Sky” (one of the great Westerns, not on DVD), a slapstick-style smearing that brings to mind I don’t even want to say (but you get the idea), and surprising gender ambiguities and reversals. It’s also got a fascinating day/night dynamic (the man is a chef and the woman is a student—he works nights, she doesn’t) that calls to mind another tension, between entertainment people and office people (and the movie makes some surprising suggestions regarding how to resolve it). It’s also about secrets and lies—though Segel offers a sort of prefeminist, garlicky wisdom, in the vein of Apatow’s, regarding the mysterious and irrational bond of spontaneous intimacy that a lasting love is based on. And he doubles it with a modern, equitable ethic of honesty and psychological, rational reconciliation. Which is a long way of saying briefly that “The Five-Year Engagement” is an exemplary modern romantic comedy, personal and symbolic, goofy and substantial, tightly imagined yet loosely strung, wise in bewilderment. It opens today and it really should be seen (what’s more, Segel’s chemistry with Emily Blunt has the ring of a pure metal).

Read more

by Richard Brody

category: Film Reviews

Film Review: Rock Of Ages


There’s a moment in “Rock of Ages,” right at the beginning, even before the completion of the opening credits, where the film verges dangerously close to being uber-cheesy. Julianne Hough is singing the most sterile version of “Sister Christian” you’ve ever heard, on a bus, perfectly lit, sitting alone (as buses from Oklahoma always lack for riders), with a Cheshire smile permanently affixed. She sings by herself … right up until the moment when the rest of the bus joins in, somehow surprising her, as she thought bus singing was primarily a personal pursuit. It’s then you realize what you’re truly in for, and the film pivots from “potentially cheesy” to a “river of gooey cheese with Julianne Hough as Captain Cheese, aboard the S.S. Muenster”.

Yes, “Rock of Ages” is a film that’s completely in on the joke, leading to the occasional smirk, though you’ll beg for some new casting before the end credits roll. You’re officially motoring, though I’m not sure of the current price for flight.

Hough plays Sherrie Christian, a small-town girl looking to make it big in Los Angeles. She’s immediately mugged (and that part I can vouch for the veracity of) and then offered a job at the hottest rock club on the strip, The Bourbon Room. Befriended by a boy named Drew (Diego Boneta), the two compete for who can rock the most feathery hair (Drew wins). Drew works at the bar too, though he has bigger dreams of being a rock legend. So too, does Sherrie, who (I guess) also wants to be a singer, though we basically never see her practice or yearn to perform. The whole Sherrie – Drew dynamic is troublesome, never fully sold, a detriment to the momentum of the plot overall. The duo duets with great frequency, but it’s not until the end that the film figures out, “Wait, we should just make fun of these two.” Once that decision is made, they become more palatable, but it’s a long and rocky ride to get there. Though Sherrie-Drew is the main plot point, there are two others that the film tracks along with. We should broach those two story lines before we run out of Internet ink.

Catherine Zeta-Jones is Patricia Whitmore; she’s the mayor’s wife, and she hates that rock n’ roll. It’s her goal to shut down the entire Los Angeles rock scene! And that’s about it, that’s the whole point of her existence, as a foil to music who just so happens to also sing and dance throughout. Sure, okay, we can go with that, except for the fact that almost every scene is barely held together by music, which may or may not have something to do with the preceding scene. Where great musicals like “Moulin Rouge!” and “Chicago” have a storyline that’s thoroughly enhanced by the music, “Rock of Ages” is comprised of inorganic moments that simply don’t fit. They’ll go from Bon Jovi’s “Dead or Alive” to Extreme’s “More Than Words” (which, not for nothing, isn’t from the ’80s) without anything resembling cohesion. It’s an extended karaoke session, though admittedly it features some fun mash-ups and performances. Your enjoyment of the film will come down to your enjoyment of the songs. Like an extended episode of “Glee,” or the less- awful parts of “Coyote Ugly”.

Which brings us to the strength of “Rock of Ages,” Thomas Cruise Mapother IV. This guy crushes every moment he’s in, and the shared scenes with Malin Akerman really work, to where you almost forgive her for “Watchmen.” Cruise, as Stacee Jaxx, is the living embodiment of a rock god. Ladies love him, and fellas want to be him, which, given our current rock god scarcity, really works. Tom Cruise is the closest thing we have to a legit “dangerous” rock star in his own right, so his presence in the film is a huge asset. He’s generally drunk, usually callous, and completely self-absorbed. It’s excellent. To balance him out, Akerman plays a reporter from “Rolling Stone” named, ahem, Constance Sack. She’s scheduled to interview Jaxx, it all goes awry, and these are the moments that feel the most like a real film, as their dynamic is at once hilarious and compelling.

“Rock of Ages” is the rare film where the trailer alone probably tells you all you need to know. If you commit to just having fun with it, and realize this isn’t a “musical” in the artistic sense of the word, then this won’t be a bad time. Movie aficionados are the most likely to admire Cruise’s performance and overlook the rest. “Rock of Ages” is a composite of scenes loosely gathered together and branded as a whole. If you’re not liking a particular moment or song? Never fear, they’ll be moving on to another track in a minute or two.

Grade: B-

By Laremy Legel

category: Film Reviews

Film Review: Chernobyl Diaries


A basic monster movie that benefits greatly from its unique setting, Chernobyl Diaries again demonstrates Oren Peli’s ability to wrest scares with minimal production values and a clever premise. The wunderkind behind Paranormal Activity came up with the story for this effort, which he also produced and co-scripted. While unlikely to match that franchise’s unworldly success - barring a “Fukushima Diaries,” there seems little prospect for a sequel - this low-budget horror film provides a reasonable quotient of scares.

The film concerns six twentysomethings who impulsively decide to forego their planned trip to Moscow to partake in some extreme tourism. Led by their guide Uri, a hulking ex-Special Services soldier, they embark on a tour of the Ukrainian town of Prypiat, abandoned since the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear reactor disaster rendered it uninhabitable.

Wandering through the eerie deserted apartment complexes, they manage to engage in the usual youthful tourist silliness, posing for romantic pictures and cracking wise. But their general uneasiness is not alleviated by such mock-serious comments by Uri as “I want you to tell me if you see something moving in the water.”

After a half-hour or so of subtle build-up, it’s when the group’s dilapidated van refuses to start that all hell breaks loose. As darkness falls, it soon becomes apparent that they are not quite as alone as they thought.

And so the hapless tourists are forced to deal with creatures ranging from wild dogs to, well, who knows what? The victim count quickly rises as they run into menacing figures who make vividly apparent the nasty effects of decades of radiation poisoning.

Or not so vividly, as director Brad Parker wisely eschews prolonged shots of the horrific creatures in favor of quick glimpses via jumpy hand-held camera work that only hint at their physical deformities. Although the film is mainly shot documentary style, Peli does manage to work in his usual found-footage format in one key sequence.

Even with its brisk 90-minute running time (including credits), Chernobyl Diaries soon proves repetitive with its endless scenes of the frightened victims wandering into forbidding environs only to keep running into things that go bump in the night.

But the novelty of the setting ultimately proves highly effective. Shot mainly in Eastern European locations that effectively stand in for Prypiat, which is now actually a tourist site, the film is highly convincing in its verisimilitude. Adding greatly to the overall effect is the realistic production design that well conveys buildings long abandoned to nature and the use of such evocative locations as tunnels underneath the streets of Belgrade.

The youthful performers, who include such familiar faces as actor/pop star Jesse McCartney, are very natural in their terrified reactions, and Dimitri Diatchenko is so convincing as the affable but menacing Uri that he seems to have been recruited on the streets of Moscow.

by Frank Scheck

category: Film Reviews

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Film Review: A Royal Affair


A Royal Affair, which screened in competition at the 62nd Berlin International Film Festival, is a Danish 18th Century period drama directed by Nikolaj Arcel. The film is set at the court of King Christian VII of Denmark (Mikkel Folsgaard, winner of the Silver Bear at Berlinale for his debut feature performance), a childish, often-vile and mentally unstable individual, and follows the romance that blossoms between his young Queen, Caroline Mathilde (Alicia Vikander, a beautiful 23-year-old actress whose next role is in Anna Karenina), and the appointed royal physician, Johann Friedrich Struensee (Mads Mikkelsen, one of Denmark’s most internationally recognisable actors). A Royal Affair is an adaptation of Prinsesse af blodet by Bodil Steensen-Leth by Arcel and Rasmus Heisterberg, which tells the story from the perspective of Caroline Mathilde. It is a script that won them the award for Best Script at Berlinale.

It is Caroline’s story, with her narrated letters to her children – one of which would later become King Frederick VI – framing the story. She was whisked off to Denmark from England while still in her teens to marry Christian. Though she is unhappy and mocked consistently - Christian calls her ‘Mother’ because she carried his child, and is threatened by her intelligence and skills as a pianist - she plays the part. That is until she meets Struensee, who shares her interest in writers and thinkers like Rousseau. They start a secret affair and together they begin to influence not only the King, but also those with the power to make decisions of change.

A Royal Affair is easy to follow and very watchable, and even those not normally interested in period/costume dramas should find this very enjoyable. It is smartly scripted, providing an even handling of royal insider study and a struggle by Struensee and Christian to overthrow the conservative nobility court and reform Denmark out of the Dark Ages. It is an era when social reform is sweeping throughout Europe, and intellectuals and freethinkers are challenging the nobility.

Struensee possesses radical ideas on how to run the country; having published manuscripts enlightening the appalling peasant living conditions and proposing decrees for change under Anonymous. Some of Christian’s ideas – including one involving an empty carriage journeying around town and picking up drunk people who have lost their way – are amusing, but well-meaning reforms to provide inoculations in public hospitals and abolishment of literary censorship and interrogation torture are all passed.

It also features interesting characters that are effectively drawn and whom we get emotionally drawn to and surely one of the best on-screen couples to hit cinemas so far this year in Vikander and Mikkelsen. Their chemistry is excellent, and watching their secret and forbidden love blossom is really quite moving. Mikkelsen turns in more great work. His evident love for Caroline is etched in his face. Known for playing intense antiheroes and villains, he is succeeds in providing the charm, winning over both Christian and Caroline. I believe Vikander, who is of Swedish descent, had to learn the new language for the role.

Just as memorable is Folsgaard as Christian; at times a sniveling worm of a man and at others hyperactive and boisterous. On some occasions he seems to be very grounded in what his duty is to the people, but most of the time is aloof. While he is repulsive and pathetic, he does evoke sympathy come the end. Throw in some stunning costumes (it is a costume drama after all), lush photography and elegant set pieces, and this is well funded European co-production certainly looks the part.

There is some odd pacing to the film. It is predominantly made up of short episodes, which serve as documented accounts brought to the screen. As it is spanning several years only the significant events need be included. There are large jumps in the story – for example, only a few scenes separate Caroline discovering she is pregnant and her delivery of the baby – and the film’s length (a little long at 137 minutes), despite moving briskly, begins to test one’s attention. I think A Royal Affair benefits from being familiar because Arcel tells the tale very well. The bleak descent is genuinely devastating, the dense screenplay provides extensive commentary on 18th Century European history and each of the three central characters are compelling in that they are conflicted in some way or another. Very satisfying.

by Andy Buckle

category: Film Reviews

Film Review: Fast Girls


This perfect bit of pre-Olympics feel-good entertainment is an uplifting story of girl power.

Lenora Crichlow and Lily James play rival sprinters forced to put aside their differences as they battle for gold in the British sprint relay team. Noel Clarke (who also co-scripted) is on hand as the girls’ put-upon coach.

Bright, breezy, sexy and sassy, it’s the banter between runners that gives the film its vibrancy.

By Mark Adams

category: Film Reviews

Film Review: Cosmopolis


A hard-bodied hooker with a laser-sighted weapon. Robert Pattinson blasting a bloody hole through his left hand. A pounding nightclub. A man stabbed in the eye. A modified handcannon. Naked bodies. A giant rat prowling crowded city streets. Gunfire. Graffiti.

Tantalising images flash by in the teaser for Cosmopolis, indicating that director David Cronenberg is blazing back to his dark, florid psycho-horror heritage after the taut austerity of A Dangerous Method. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Not only is Cosmopolis more talky and less cinematic than Cronenberg’s previous drama, it might just be the weirdest movie of the year.

After an enigmatic opening credit sequence splashed with earthy streaks of paint, the first thing Cosmopolis shows us is a big close-up on the grinning front-grill of a white limousine. It’s definitely grinning at us. Because, as those splattery credits cheekily winked at, this is an art movie.

Cinema, they say, is the art of showing and not telling. Not according to Cronenberg. After a prowling opening shot, his camera barely moves. “Those aphoristic little ideas about cinema, that’s bullshit,” he declared after making A Dangerous Method. “To me, cinema is a face talking.”

And that’s Cosmopolis right there: talking, talking, talking. It’s the least commercial film he’s made in the last 10 years. Or maybe ever. Except for one thing. The face doing the talking has made more than $2 billion at the box office and causes teenage girls to instantly lose consciousness, sanity or both.

“I want more,” Robert Pattinson tells a prostitute armed with a taser, after a sex scene that sizzles hot enough to set Edward Cullen’s hair gel alight. “Show me something I haven’t seen before.” Well, exactly. How about the star of Twilight screwing Juliette Binoche in the back of a limo, pissing in said limo and even getting a prostate exam in the backseat?

Pattinson as a bored twentysomething on a personal odyssey to destroy what he has in search of an exciting, dangerous future? The more you think about it, the more it becomes perfect casting.

Pattinson plays Eric Packer, a billionaire travelling across Manhattan in a limo to get a haircut. One by one, a series of characters join him for lengthy, chewy, intriguing and sometimes indecipherable conversations that feel like brain synapses firing at random.

By the time the scissors come out, he’ll have lost his wife (the glacially beautiful Sarah Gadon, Jung’s wife in A Dangerous Method), been mobbed by angry protesters, been stalked by two very different pursuers, been ridden by two extremely hot women and committed startling acts of violence against himself and others. Mostly, though, he’ll have done an awful lot of chin-wagging.

Samantha Morton puts the modern world to rights (“The idea is time. Money makes time. It used to be the other way around”), Mathieu Amalric goes blond and beardy as an anarchistic protester and driver/bodyguard Kevin Durand (Little John in Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood) tries futilely to keep him out of trouble.

“Do you ever feel sometimes that you don’t know what’s going on?” asks Jay Baruchel, one of the first visitors to Packer’s limo. Well, get used to that feeling. Sex, death, money, power... It’s all here, somewhere.

But really, this is about a man tearing his world apart to see what’s there – and you get the feeling that’s exactly Pattinson’s game plan. Water For Elephants (beaten by Christoph Waltz’s henchmen) and Bel Ami (seduce-anddestroy in 19th-Century Paris) have hinted at his urge for darker roles, but Cosmopolis is a game-changer for him.

He’s distant, sardonic, nihilistic, enigmatic and very watchable. It’s intriguing to imagine how different it might have been with original lead Colin Farrell, a man with proven shadowy sexual charisma (Fright Night) and compact star power (Phone Booth).

But Cronenberg has helped lift another level of performance from Pattinson, who channels his vampiric blankness for deeper purposes and never disappears completely behind Packer’s black suit and shades.

Cinematographer Peter Suschitzky’s precise, clinical visuals put Pattinson under intense scrutiny. But he chews through the challenge of Cronenberg’s immensely literate script – lifted hand over hand from the prose in Don DeLillo’s dense, stylish novel – with real confidence.

Inside that white stretch limousine, we’re almost in black box theatre. It’s a soundproof, leather-seated cocoon fitted with computer screens where the outside world almost looks like back projection.

Although we exit the vehicle several times, it’s not until the final scene – where Packer’s mysterious attacker reveals himself – that Cronenberg starts subtly stretching the visuals.

At one point, the director’s clever framing has a character appearing to reach into Pattinson’s head. Looks like he found something.

By Rob James

category: Film Reviews

Thursday, 07 June 2012

Film Review: The Pact


ALL families have their secrets. The dysfunctional clan at the centre of Nicholas McCarthy’s ghost story have an entire closet full of skeletons waiting to rattle their gnarled bones.

Unfortunately for us, The Pact is expanded from the writer-director’s 11-minute short film of the same name and he runs out of ideas and dramatic momentum well before the bells have chimed on the first hour.

Hoary tropes of the genre such as creaky doors which open without warning and silhouetted figures that stand unseen behind the hapless characters are traded for cheap shocks.

The jolts are sporadically effective but we’re savvy enough to second guess where McCarthy will take us next and the nasty surprises that could be lurking around the next poorly lit corridor. The film opens with Nicole (Agnes Bruckner) wandering around her deceased mother’s creepy house in Los Angeles, a laptop computer in hand as she makes a video call to her daughter and younger sister Annie (Caity Lotz), who refuses to step inside the property. The little girl signals the start of the nastiness, asking sweetly, “Mummy, who’s that behind you?”

Alas, McCarthy’s flimsy script has no room for common sense and so Annie prevails in order to set up an unlikely resolution involving an old relative (Mark Steger) from the poisonous family tree. The cast are forgettable and there’s a scarcity of action in the final third that suggests the writer-director would have been better leaving this hokum as a short.

category: Film Reviews

Film Review: Goodbye First Love


The 32-year-old film-maker Mia Hansen-Løve began her career acting, notably for Olivier Assayas, whose partner she became. Then, as a director herself, she impressed audiences deeply with her breakthrough feature Father of My Children, in 2009. Un Amour de Jeunesse is a delicate love story, tender and erotic, and drenched in the idealism and seriousness of its central character, Camille (Lola Créton), looking like a very young Penélope Cruz. It is released here under the English title Goodbye First Love, which I think is slightly wrong, pre-empting audience expectations and misreading the film's ambiguity.

This is a fluent, confident and deeply felt movie: unmistakably, if not exactly nakedly, autobiographical. As ever with this kind of personal work, there is an extra pleasure in pondering how and why the author has rewritten her own life, and if she is in complete conscious control of that process.

What emerges on screen has something of Eric Rohmer in its feeling for the languor and nameless anxiety of the very young: at one stage, Camille and her boyfriend argue amiably about the film they've been to see. He dismisses it as talky and complacent; she thinks it is beautiful and deep. We don't get to find out what the film is. I'm guessing Rohmer's A Winter's Tale.

As a 15-year-old high-school pupil, Camille is having regular sex with a conceited and tousle-haired college student called Sullivan (Sebastian Urzendowsky). She is infatuated with him, and he to some degree with her, but does not quite share the intensity of her commitment, having already explained his settled plans to drop out of university and go on a 10-month backpacking tour of South America with a couple of buddies. Sullivan clearly envisages this trip involving many new kinds of experience, but chastity isn't one of them.

He and Camille have a final idyllic summer together at her family's lakeside house in Ardèche, swimming, lazing around and having sex complicated by the melancholy of imminent parting. Inevitably, calamity ensues: Camille grows up, becomes a brilliant architecture student, and a new relationship with a charismatic professor begins to heal her heartbreak. (As it happens, Hansen-Løve met Assayas, 26 years her senior, after she abandoned her study of drama in Paris and began writing for Cahiers du Cinéma, to which Assayas also contributed.) But then, almost a decade later, Camille runs into Sullivan. Things have changed. Or have they?

What is refreshing about Hansen-Løve's movie is that it doesn't fob its characters or its audiences off with the usual gentle hindsight-condescension about young love or first love. It is a commonplace to think that, oh, if only we could climb into a time machine and travel back to visit our teenage lovelorn selves, sobbing our hearts out in our bedrooms. If only we could hug our former selves and tell them it's all right, and it doesn't matter. Hansen-Løve is telling us something quite different: of course it matters. Heartbroken young love is the most intense kind, perhaps the only authentic kind. And you will never forget it and never entirely get over it.

There is something heartwrenching and abject in Camille's getting a map of South America up on her bedroom wall and putting little pins in it to chart Sullivan's course. He has promised to write to her, but this arrangement gradually, predictably unravels. Hansen-Løve shows the imprisonment and agony of Camille's situation and how her architecture career enunciates her misery: designing student accommodation blocks with impractical water features and misconceived spaces for long, dreamy walks which are all too obviously governed by yearning for that last doomed summer of love. Yet the designs are spare, abstract, desiccated. She has designed herself out of them – designed herself out of her own life.

Well, Hansen-Løve studied film, not architecture, and has dramatically designed herself, or a version of herself, into the action. And what is so persuasive is the way she envisages the pair looking. Another type of director might have emphasised the poignancy of these characters' later selves by giving Camille a different hairstyle and Sullivan a shorter haircut, maybe a beard. But Hansen-Løve keeps them looking exactly the same: the severe bob Camille initially had has long since grown out. They look and behave eerily the same as ever. Perhaps we just don't change.

Nothing is more unreliable, more coloured by how we view our current romantic situation, than the memory of an earlier love. If the film is based on the director's own breakup, was the burden of blame apportioned as it appears to be here? Who knows? The eight years that Camille and Sullivan were apart seems like a long time to them; the drama shrinks it to a single, dramatic heartbeat, and perhaps that is all that it was. The unromantic pain and euphoria of love are instantly revived in this outstanding film.

By Peter Bradshaw

category: Film Reviews

Film Review: Café de Flore


Retreating to his native French Canada after 2009's bland The Young Victoria, Jean-Marc Vallée here gives us a narcissistic and fundamentally unpersuasive mosaic-film, shuffling around scene fragments, dreams and flashbacks while heading towards what will almost certainly prove to be the most stupid movie twist of the decade. Two stories emerge. Antoine (Kevin Parent) is a superstar DJ in latter-day Montreal whose success can't mask the sadness he feels around his first wife; in late-60s Paris, meanwhile, a fiercely protective single mother (a dowdified Vanessa Paradis) raises a young boy with Down's syndrome (Marin Gerrier). These periods are linked by the title track – a Parisian chanson, remixed as chillout in Montreal. Yet the music, like the Down's syndrome in the very-much-secondary strand, is merely here to provide some emotional substance while le pauvre Antoine mopes to his therapist about the woes of touring and finding multiple soulmates. Remove the subtitles, and it's one of Cameron Crowe's head-in-the-clouds dramas, as scripted by M Night Shyamalan: an insultingly arbitrary reveal, preceded by vast, wailing washes of Pink Floyd and Sigur Rós. A very vanilla sky, this.

By Mike McCahill

category: Film Reviews

Film Review: The Angels’ Share


Though not generally considered a comedy director, Ken Loach has made films that have contained some of the funniest moments and sequences of the past 50 years, and he has regularly employed club comedians in serious roles (Crissy Rock in Ladybird Ladybird, John Bishop in Route Irish) and developed the talents of people such as Ricky Tomlinson not previously considered comics. It's just that Loach is a master of sudden, disturbing shifts of mood, and the comedy is embedded in works that are often deeply sad or tragic. The football game, for instance, that Brian Glover referees in Kes is at once hilariously funny and a brilliant study of bullying, bad education and humiliation that illuminates the film's larger context.

The background of The Angels' Share, his latest collaboration with the leftwing Scottish lawyer turned screenwriter Paul Laverty, is the widespread, seemingly permanent youth unemployment and the despair and communal erosion it engenders. But the realistic and humanistic tone is bracingly optimistic, and it's one of the 75-year-old Loach's sprightliest films, made at an age when most directors have hung up their viewfinders, entered a period of terminal decline or settled for repeating themselves.

The movie begins with a group of criminals brought together by chance in the manner of The Usual Suspects and gradually modulates into a heist comedy that combines two classic Scottish films, both directorial debuts from different eras, Alexander Mackendrick's Whisky Galore! (1949) and Bill Forsyth's That Sinking Feeling (1980).

The young offenders, played by non-professional actors who perform brilliantly under Loach's sympathetic direction, are introduced at Glasgow's City Court when pleading guilty to a variety of crimes. Their demeanour is playfully contrasted with the solemnity of the bewigged judge, and most of the offences are quite minor – petty theft, defacing public statues, drunkenness in a public place. However, one of the defendants, Robbie (Paul Brannigan), is up for grievous bodily harm, and he's only saved from another custodial sentence because his girlfriend is eight months pregnant.

All of them are given community service and are fortunate to come under the supervision of Harry (John Henshaw, a familiar face from TV drama and the occasional movie), a middle-aged, working-class Mancunian who forges a bond with Robbie. He's as sympathetic a figure as Colin Welland's teacher in Kes and Peter Mullan's soccer coach in My Name is Joe and brings a wealth of unpatronising understanding to his charges' lives and problems. The unemployed Robbie, determined to go straight and be a good father, appears to have everything against him – a history of violence (there's a revealing razor scar on his left cheek) and his girlfriend's brutal father, who's determined to get him out of Glasgow and away on his own, whether by force or bribery. Harry could be his salvation.

At this point a major dramatic and thematic device appears to link the action, the humour and the ironic morality, and it's whisky. Harry is a connoisseur of fine single malt. He pours a dram to celebrate Robbie's fatherhood. He takes the group of offenders, who are doing public service, painting old community centres and cleaning cemeteries, on a tour of a distillery and then to a whisky tasting in Edinburgh. These occasions constitute a delightful documentary on scotch, its history, production and consumer appreciation. By revealing that Robbie has a natural nose for the hard stuff, it also leads to his discovery of a vocation, his return to crime and his ultimate redemption.

In Whisky Galore! some Scottish villagers help themselves when a whisky-laden merchant ship is wrecked on their shores. In That Sinking Feeling some unemployed teenagers in a desolate late 1970s Glasgow plan the robbery of a warehouse containing stainless steel sinks. Crime is not new in Loach's work, and characters in past films, though not explicitly here, clearly believe in the dictum of the French anarchist and social reformer Pierre-Joseph Proudhon that property is theft. They rustle sheep, rob a sporting goods van to equip their football team with strips, make away with the grass from the bowling green of (naturally) a Conservative club.

In The Angels' Share, Robbie and the companions hear of an extremely valuable old whisky being auctioned at a Highland distillery and plan an ultra lo-tech heist to give them the nest-egg they need. You might infer here that the thieves believe whisky is part of the Scottish legacy that the boys' ancestors were robbed of when the Highland clearances took place. The unwitting participants in their plot are Harry, who has encouraged Robbie's newfound passion, and a sophisticated broker who deals in rare whisky (the excellent Roger Allam who, coincidentally, has a strong resemblance to Alexander Mackendrick).

So there is politics underlying every aspect of this funny, warm-hearted, deftly plotted film, and we fervently wish for the caper planned by this endearing quartet to succeed. We care for them in a way we don't for the cool, cynical confidently smirking George Clooney in his slick Ocean's Eleven heist movies. The film's title, The Angels' Share, is apparently the term used to refer to the 2% of whisky that evaporates in the cask each year. An interesting item of distilling lore, it's initially a joke about capitalist exploitation that turns at the end of the film into a metaphor for generosity and gratitude.

By Philip French

category: Film Reviews

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