14th December 2008
Film Review: Inkheart
3:20 PM — As with buses, so with films – you wait ages for a movie with a certain basic premise, then two come along at once. Be it alien invasion movies Independence Day and Mars Attacks! back in 1996 or asteroid strike flicks Armageddon and Deep Impact in 1998, or even the ultimate double-whammy of Fail Safe and Dr Strangelove back in 1964 (both based on the very same book), the history of cinema is littered with similar ideas hitting the big screen at around the same time. It's still rare, however, for two movies with such similar basic ideas at their heart to come out in the same month – but with Inkheart out this week and Disney's Bedtime Stories out on Boxing Day, that's precisely what's happened: two children's films about men who can – quite literally – bring stories to life.
Film Review: Madagascar – Escape 2 Africa
3:16 PM — In 2005, Madagascar ambled into our cinemas as just one of countless computer-animated kids' films featuring talking animals getting into scrapes. It's tale of a bunch of New York zoo animals who end up having to fend for themselves in the jungles of Africa, following the Shrek mould of chucking in movie references in an attempt to appeal to adult audiences, and on the surface had little to make it stand out amidst the seemingly never-ending line of similar talking animal animations that the last decade has brought us. Yet somehow, something clicked. It wasn't a classic, certainly, but something about the ninja-style penguins, or perhaps the talented voice cast – principally Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, David Schwimmer, Jada Pinkett Smith and Sacha Baron Cohen – helped it to rise above the herd.
Film Review: Hamlet 2
3:12 PM — There was a time during the mid to late 90s that Steve Coogan was almost unanimously regarded as Britain's best comedian. He came from a strong troupe of comics, first coming to the public's attention via the cult Radio 4 satirical series On The Hour - that also launched the careers of the likes of master satirists Chris Morris and Armando Iannucci as well as Jerry Springer: The Opera writer Stuart Lee and his erstwhile comedy partner Richard Herring. First broadcast in 1991-2, it was On The Hour that saw the first appearance of the comedy character with whom Coogan will forever be associated – the Terry Wogan-inspired presenter Alan Partridge.
29th November 2008
Film Review: Waltz With Bashir
12:49 AM — It seems that the old idea that cartoons are for kids has finally been shattered. Hot on the heels of the stylized black and white animated exploration of the Iranian Revolution that was last year’s multiple award-winning (and Oscar-nominated) Persepolis comes another intriguing, award-winning take on another aspect of recent Middle Eastern history that’s largely unknown outside the region. And as with Persepolis, the animated approach may be unusual, but it is also an ideal way of increasing the accessibility of a subject that would, were it dealt with in more traditional forms, almost certainly turn many of us off before we even considered going to see it. Were this – or Persepolis – a documentary, few would have paid much attention. The gimmick of animation, especially animation done well, has worked a treat in expanding the potential audience.
Film Review: The Baader-Meinhof Complex
12:44 AM — If you've been reading the papers over the last few years you could be forgiven for thinking that we're in the midst of an unprecedented surge of terrorist activity. Every day, the press is full of tales of bomb plots and terror threats. Government announcements constantly inform us of the need for new laws and new powers to deal with a rising tide of violent extremism. Yet if you consider the number of successful terrorist atrocities that have been carried out in the West since the turn of the millennium, though the scale of attacks like those of 9/11, 7/7 and Madrid may have increased, the number has dropped significantly.
Film Review: W.
12:29 AM — In the run-up to what was already being touted as the most significant presidential election in years before the recent global financial upheavals that have added so many extra concerns to the race, it is perhaps unsurprising that Hollywood has tried to cash in on the massive political interest that has surrounded the vote. What is surprising is that the only major film of the election season is a biopic of the outgoing president, rather than a more general political piece looking at the state of the union. What's even more surprising is that the mastermind behind this George W Bush movie is Oliver Stone.
27th September 2008
Film Review: Quantum of Solace 3
2:36 PM — Not quite the traditional Halloween movie this, yet somehow it's still strangely appropriate for the second Daniel Craig-starring Bond film to come out on a date long associated with the dead. Because this is one film series that has well and truly risen from the ashes like some kind of latter-day Dracula. James Bond hasn't been this cool for years – and to think that just two short years ago, as we awaited the release of Casino Royale with a mixture of hope and dread, many had written off the Bond franchise for good.
Film Review: Where the Wild Things Are 2
2:33 PM — After the sheer madness of his only two feature films to date, 1999's Being John Malkovich and 2002's Adaptation, it's a safe bet that Spike Jonze must have been low down on anybody's list as the ideal director for a big screen adaptation of a hit series of children's books.
Film Review: Ghost Town
2:29 PM — Channel Four's late night comedy series The 11 O'Clock Show may only have run for three years, and may never have overly troubled the ratings, but it somehow proved a test bed for two of the biggest British comedy phenomena of the last decade. Launched in 1998 and hosted by Iain Lee (now best known as a radio presenter) and Daisy Donovan, the comedy elements of the show were always a bit hit and miss – which may have been why two characters in particular stood out so clearly above the rest.
Film Review: High School Musical 3 – Senior Year 3
2:26 PM — If you aren't aware of the phenomenon that is High School Musical, it's a safe bet that you're over the age of 15 and don't yet have any children or grandchildren under that age. For its target demographic – mostly girls in their "tweens" (roughly 8-14) – High School Musical is like Harry Potter, Barbie and Pokémon all mixed together and combined with a serious sugar rush. It seems that they just can't get enough of this wholesome franchise of sickly-sweet, unbelievably innocent films, where pristine teenagers sing and dance about the joys of young love, close friendship, and being true to yourself.
Film Review: The Rocker
2:20 PM — There's been a fairly strong tradition of Hollywood comedies revolving around the idea of aspiring rock gods, from the oddball antics of Bill and Ted and their time-travelling escapades in Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure and Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey through the Wayne's World movies, up to the recent hit School of Rock, with many more along the way – including the oft-forgotten Airheads from 1994, which helped launch the careers of both Brendan Fraser and Adam Sandler.
Film Review: What Just Happened? 1
2:15 PM — Back in 1976 the young Robert De Niro, at the height of his powers, appeared in a restrained classic movie about moviemaking, The Last Tycoon. Based on the final, unfinished novel by one of the greatest American writers of the twentieth century, F. Scott Fitzgerald – a man with a strong Hollywood track record of his own – it revolved around a workaholic Hollywood hotshot producer and his efforts to form a relationship with a young woman. The parallels between the moviemaking genius of the lead character and that of the masterly young actor portraying him were apparent to all.
Film Review: How To Lose Friends And Alienate People
2:12 PM — British comedy's invasion of Hollywood continues apace. Ricky Gervais is hailed as a comedy god, with awards aplenty alongside appearances on cult favourites The Simpsons and computer game smash hit Grand Theft Auto IV, as well as a bunch of small roles in films such as Stardust and For Your Consideration, and his first starring role in a Hollywood movie coming up later this month.
Film Review: 88 Minutes
2:08 PM — Al Pacino is undeniably one of the greatest actors in Hollywood history – a star whose name can pretty much ensure a film's commercial success, and bring cachet to projects that would otherwise barely merit a glance. His strong track record of picking interesting character pieces has given us some of the best performances of the last forty years, in films ranging from the Godfather trilogy (he's even good in the much-derided Part III) to his iconic turn in the 80s classic Scarface, through the over-the-top yet still fun turns he's given in movies such as The Devil's Advocate and Dick Tracey to smaller, more restrained character studies in the likes of The Insider and Glengarry Glen Ross.
14th September 2008
Film Review: Swing Vote
4:46 PM — With pretty much the entire press having gone gaga for US presidential hopeful Barack Obama during his European tour back at the end of July, it's unlikely that many people will be unaware that there's another one of those American election things coming up pretty soon – November, to be precise. There's also a good chance that most of us will remember how close the race was back in 2004, when a Democratic candidate polled more votes than any previous winner in a presidential election, yet still lost out to incumbent Republican George W Bush.
Film Review: Death Race
4:42 PM — It is somewhat bizarre that two directors with the same name should have such wildly divergent critical perceptions. Paul Thomas Anderson is lauded as some kind of filmmaking genius, the heir to the legendary Robert Altman thanks to his apparent obsession with complex interweaving plotlines involving multiple characters. This was most notable in his breakthrough hit Boogie Nights and 1999's sprawling Magnolia, and he was recently lauded for last year's multiple Oscar-nominated There Will Be Blood.
Film Review: Tropic Thunder
4:38 PM — Ben Stiller is way up there as one of Hollywood's most successful comedians of the last ten years, as well as one of the most prolific. Part of that broad circle of Hollywood comedy buddies that includes Jack Black, Will Ferrell, Vince Vaughan, Owen and Luke Wilson and others dubbed "the Frat Pack". He's cropped up in cameos and more major roles alongside all of these actors in dozens of films over the last few years, from Starsky and Hutch to Dodgeball, Anchorman to Tenacious D, while still finding time to be the comic lead in films as varied as kids' flick Night at the Museum, romcom Along Came Polly, and his hit relationship comedy Meet the Parents and its sequel Meet the Fockers.
Film Review: Righteous Kill
4:35 PM — For any fans of American cinema from the last forty years, there are three principle giants of the screen: Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Jack Nicholson. These three, all emerging around the same time at the end of the Sixties and start of the Seventies, ushered in a new era of gritty, rough cinematic realism – albeit building on the work of the likes of Marlon Brando, James Dean and their fellow method actors from the Fifties. But unlike Brando and co they were given an added freedom by the concurrent rise of a new wave of experimental directors: the likes of Scorsese, Coppola, Forman, Kubrick, Friedkin – even Lucas and Spielberg – who were keen to try something new, and in the process shook Hollywood by its very foundations.
13th September 2008
Film Review: The Women
12:49 PM — Over the last couple of decades, the battle for women's lib seemed to many to have been won. Yet though the situation may be better, the fight goes on. Women are still paid less, occupy fewer high-up positions in business and remain hugely under-represented in politics. 2008 was the year that many American women thought the tide would finally change with Hilary Clinton's campaign for the US presidency – and yet her bid failed.
Film Review: Pineapple Express
12:45 PM — There's been a sizable, if not quite noble, tradition of stoner comedies in American cinema going back the last forty years or more. This has been largely since the arrival of the late sixties counterculture generation and the realization that people who smoke cannabis are not only easily amused, but can also be quite amusing to watch. The idea was itself an offshoot of the age-old comedies of drunkenness that have been a part of human entertainment pretty much since the first caveman ate the wrong sort of mushrooms and started to walk into things.