Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Hagley Road to Australia

From Sydney with love...

This is a picture of my new area.

It's in the Sydney district of Pyrmont (super recommended if you happen to be Down Under), and it explains why things haven't been so active on the blog in recent weeks.

So, apologies to whoever may still read this, but I've moved here for good and have been enjoying the fantastic Sydney climate.

Just imagine, it's winter time here and we've been having twenty degrees and sun. The pubs and nightlife are amazing and what they say about the Ozzies being friendly and welcoming is absolutely true!

We'll be posting again soon, once work and my new Ozzie life are all settled.

Sunday, April 08, 2012

The Change-Up


Fans of the recent strand of US comedies including the excellent Horrible Bosses and The Hangover would be mistaken to think that The Change-Up was anywhere near the same league.

Sure, it features some familiar faces and good acting. From the ever-reliable and super versatile Ryan Reynolds (Buried, The Amityville Horror), to tried-and-tested Jason Bateman (Horrible Bosses, Paul, Juno) and Leslie Mann (The 40-Year-Old-Virgin, Knocked Up), the cast is certainly at hand to deliver a laugh or two. Which in fact they do, especially in the promising first half.

The problem, however, is in the script. Past the first hour, the film takes an unnecessary swerve towards a syrupy morass that piles up by the minute and starts oozing more off cheese than a chunk of Stilton left to seep under the Arizona sun.

It's as if ideas had run out and the only option left was to drown the whole thing into an unwitting caricature of the worst cinematic fluff that ever came out of Hollywood.

Seriously, it becomes absolutely insufferable. Even when you think that enough violins have been unleashed out of their case and that, surely, producers and directors would now reinject some last-minute grit and comedy-value into the plot, more soppy scenes come to hit you in the face, wetter than an aqueous flannel.

Verdict? Good if you tap on the button that says STOP about an hour into it. Unwatchable after that.

Monday, April 02, 2012

The Syndicate

Realism and suspense from BBC One's new excellent drama.

TV is increasingly crying out for products a little more in tune with the real world and a little less inclined to treat the British viewer like a 6-year-old imbecile on speed.

Kay Mellor's new five-part series on BBC One is a step in the right direction and a fine return to the best tradition of engaging British drama.

Starring the ever-reliable Timothy Spall (Secrets & Lies, Damned United) and rising star Matthew McNulty (Control, Looking for Eric), The Syndicate kicked off last week and suggests a promising next four episodes.

An entertaining, gritty, suspence-laden depiction of the life of five low-paid supermarket workers in Yorkshire, The Syndicate starts when the staff are broken the news that the entire store is about to close down.

And while each character is already struggling to make ends meet and juggle the maxed-out plastic, amongst a background of family tiffs and a intriguing criminal subplot comes the bombshell that the five employees won £18m on the lottery.

Which, you guessed it, far from meaning a solution to all problems is likely to precipitate things, as a sneak preview to the next four episodes indicates.

Just one detail: how can one of the character's girlfriend give birth and then go out clubbing and on the piss within 24 to 48 hours? Even for England, that's unfeasible.

But that one flaw aside, flying colours all round and a welcome change from the stifling goo of twee products and repetitive "talent" shows that have been clogging up the telly in recent months.

· The Syndicate returns on BBC One on Tuesday at 9pm.

Sunday, April 01, 2012

Tory clowns, civil liberties...

...and u-turns so pathetic that you're left wondering if this government is for real.

Remember when Tories and LibDem alike were rinsing their gob with attacks on New Labour's "erosion of civil liberties", "Big Brother Britain", "ZaNuLabour" and the rest?

That was one of their key points as they were conning the whole population throughout the 2010 campaign and their first few weeks in power.

Well. Just like the joke-like bonanza of lies covering anything from NHS plans to VAT, tuition fees, tax, the minimum wage and the rest, the Conservatives have now come up with this gem: "The government will be able to monitor the calls, emails, texts and website visits of everyone in the UK under new legislation set to be announced soon", reports the BBC today.

And the justification? "Tackling crime and terrorism", says the Tory-led Home Office. Of course. What. A. Bunch. Of . Clowns.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

This Must Be The Place

Impenetrably arty, or just a load of nothingness?

What is it with arty film directors?

It makes you wonder if their default way of operating consists in shooting their film first, followed by sessions with arty mates and colleagues looking for conceated ways of coating their product in a load of wierdness and randomness.

And at the end of it, do they talk to each other about things like "metaphysical hyperrealism" so that they can feel sophisticated?

Contempt for the ordinary viewer, however, is certainly something they fail to take into account.

Blatantly so in the case of This Must Be The Place, directed by Paolo Sorrentino and one of the winners, god knows how, at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival.

The film is double frustrating for a number of reasons.

Sean Penn's amazing acting feels wasted, for starters. Perfect in his portrayal of retired (and bored) goth rockstar Cheyenne (looks modelled after The Cure's Robert Smith, one of this blog's heroes), Penn confirms his talent for versatility. Pity that he's wallowing in a sea of nothingness here.

And that's because the story plot is so weak that it comes crumbling down the moment it's apparent that the film is about very little was it not for a lot of beautiful photography, cultivated shots and intriguing landscapes.

Other than that, it's like trying to bake a cake with water being the only ingredient.

They could have expanded on Cheyenne's relationship with his estranged parents, or anything about his past, or present, or even future, or any of the side characters that are churned out every five minutes and then kicked into oblivion for no apparent reason.

Instead the plot errs from handing David Byrne a bit of self publicity, to bits and pieces about a local lady mourning her missing son, or even Cheyenne's mate going on about his sexual prowess.

Until, 50 minutes into it, an improbable stab at hunting Nazi war criminals becomes - but not too much - the purpose of the film.

And if that wasn't random enough, there's two-a-penny unconnected references to anything from wheeled suitcases, to ping pong, to blokes jumping into your car asking for a lift only to get dropped off thirty seconds later. Of course, for no apparent reason, aside from showing a stunning shot of the New Mexico desert. Camera held diagonally, of course.

Now, no doubt this blog's being ignorant. No doubt, director Paolo Sorrentino and whoever co-wrote the script had in mind some grand reference to the alienation of the globalised world or other self-aggrandizing coincidental double meaning.

And we're all up for a load of substance. But when you have to practically give yourself a brain transplant to try and grasp what a film is on about, then it's quite obvious something doesn't add up.

In short, very disappointing.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Super 8

An evening you won't get back.

If you succumb to the idea of watching Super 8 on the grounds that it was directed by the same bloke behind both Lost and Cloverfield, J.J. Abrams, and that it was produced by Steven Spielberg too, remember it's an evening of your life you will never get back.

And it's a mild shame because the nostalgia theme in Super 8 is done with taste, the premises are interesting (a bunch of kids turning unwitting witnesses to a mysterious train crash) and there are also some endearing comical moments.

Until, that is, that so-very-American irresistible temptation for grand special effects done in the style of dick measuring kicks in, and it's suddenly like Spielberg and Abrams decided to do some self-parody.

Cue aliens, monsters and giant-insects-cum-octopuses building a supergalactic spaceship while everybody stares with their finger pointed and a falling star too manages to get into the picture courtesy of some good timing.

However, don't take our word for it.

You may fancy watching an unfeasible adventure consisting of ET cross with War of the Worlds for primary school kids with a sprinkle of Stand by Me or any Stephen King-inspired stuff after he got into multiple-eyed monsters turning into walking spiders disguised as the sheriff... In which case, Super 8 will be most enjoyable.

Monday, February 20, 2012


The best hypochondriac film since Cassandra Crossing.

They say that the mark of a good film is when it still affects you days after watching it.

In which case, just hope you don't sneeze, or cough, or that your legs don't itch, or that you don't get a mouth ulcer, not even one, in the week after you watch Contagion.

And that's because we're talking here Hollywood's contribution to hypochondria to a scale that not even the makers of the Daily Mail and their infamous SORE THROAT headline could possibly begin to comprehend.

Except that, unlike the ugly Mail, Contagion is beautifully done, with each of its subplots so involving that it really will pin you to your seat, kleenex in hand, from start to finish.

A combination of director Steven Soderbergh's skilfully minimalistic work as well as some top quality acting from a star-studded cast including Matt Damon, Kate Winslet and Gwyneth Paltrow will seriously make you believe that that dick of a bloke coughing right on your face on the bus may have just kickstarted the biggest outbreak of meningoencephalitic virus known to man. And bat.

A must see.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Descendants

George Clooney's performance of a lifetime.

One of the main contenders at the forthcoming Academy Awards is the excellent The Descendants.

In common with his former films (About Schmidt, Sideways), Alexander Payne's The Descendants shares the same reflective mood, serene pace and a contagious, almost 'old school'-like, eye for character development.

But the biggest bonus here is George Clooney's stunning performance.

Nominated for Best Actor at the Oscars, Clooney smoothly impersonates Matt King, a wealthy family-trust administrator and practising laywer on a Hawaiian island.

King is grappling with a few demons, chiefly the fact that his wife Elizabeth is laying comatose in a hospital following a boat accident. He's now going to look after two daughters that he barely knows how to handle. Plus, if things weren't complicated enough, he finds out that, right before the time of her accident, his wife was having a full-blown affair.

Caught between a major family crisis and emotional turmoil, King decides to confront his wife's lover, a successful real estate broker (Matther Lillard, the murderer from Scream).

This in turn will kickstart a rollercoaster of emotions and assorted mess which will result in one of the most endearing dark comedy dramas of the year - and any further is bound to be tantamount to blatant spoilers.

Quite simply, excellent.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

We Need To Talk About Kevin

Are some people simply born with sociopathic tendencies?

Lynne Ramsay's adaptation of the 2003 novel of the same name is one of the most disturbing films you'll ever get a chance to see.

To put it bluntly, don't watch it if you feel you're already losing hope about the state of humanity, or if you are more than a touch puzzled by the ongoing normalisation of nastiness across all levels of society (the pathetic sociopaths behind Unilad being the latest recruits).

And that's because, pouring fresh blood (literally) in the century-long debate about nature vs nurture, We Need To Talk About Kevin is a frighteningly poignant depiction of what happens when somebody is born completely devoid of empathy and humanity.

For all the protestations that it's the environment that shapes you, that unloving or dysfunctional parents are bound to have an impact, that good education improves your chances of smoothing out deranged tendencies, and so on -and all of the above most certainly counts - some people are just born evil.

And this evil little shit, Kevin, Tilda Swinton's creepy son in one of the most compelling films that came out in 2011, is testament to that.

Yet, even more disturbing than the movie itself are some of the comments accompanying the review on IMDb.

According to some, the fact that Kevin's birth was unplanned, or that Tilda Swinton's character didn't insist on seeking medical help earlier on, or that she was a bit cold and disdainful, are all supposed to be the crucial factors behind this younger and more manipulative version of Patrick Bateman turning into a serial killer.

Except that, if you follow that line of thought, then you'll be able to justify the most heinous of crimes. Especially given that probably less than 0.01% of the world's population has the privilege of a perfect ubpringing (and what is "the perfect upbringing" anyway).

Most kids don't get enough cuddles and some get too many. Some people may have absent fathers or messed-up mothers, some the other way round, some both and some neither.

Yet, thankfully, the greatest majority of us don't live an existence solely aimed at being horrible to other people without harbouring even a shred of empathy at the most basic human level.

All of which proves what an amazingly stimulating film We Need To Talk About Kevin is. The subject-matter may explore the darkest realms of the human psyche, but a combination of fantastic acting (Swinton could easily have been nominated for an Oscar) and genius plot structure will most certainly leave you still thinking about it for days.

Which, ultimately, is always the sign of a good film.

Monday, January 30, 2012

The Skin I Live In

Pedro Almodóvar's latest must-see is one of the best films of 2011.

The last ten years have seen Spain reaffirming itself as the most productive breeding ground for top quality cinema.

Álex de la Iglesia (La Habitacion del Niño), Guillem Morales (Los Ojos de Julia), Jaume Balagueró (REC, Fragile), Rodrigo Cortés (Buried) and Juan Antonio Bayona (The Orphanage) are only a handful of directors typifying Spain's current cinematic run of form.

And that's without counting, of course, one of country's most celebrated film-makers, Pedro Almodóvar (of Volver fame), whose latest film The Skin I Live In (original title La Piel Que Habito) is one of his most remarkable ever.

Put bluntly, Almodóvar's films are generally weird. But I mean good and watchable weird. Never pretentious or self-indulgent, let alone overly arty and elitist, which is this blog's pet hate. You can watch almost every Almodóvar film and expect the seediness and the various quirks along the way to finally make sense at some point.

By the time you've spotted the twist coming or have clocked it altogether, the story will have drawn you in so much that you'll simply want to find out how or why right until the very end.

Given how rich and carefully textured the plot is, there's not much we can reveal about The Skin I Live In. Even the slightest clue may easily turn into the most irritating of spoilers.

The film is in one go horror, psychological thriller, crime, film noir, and distorted love melodrama as well. All the while, underlying ethical questions are posed over the extent to which Frankenstein-like medicine can go.

But, while most directors would have lost the plot trying to juggle too many genres at the same time, Almodóvar pulls it off handsomely.

His rich colours and obsessive themes are not, unlike many other directors, cheap gimmicks, fillers or clever tricks. They are integral part of his narrative.

The film is also the moment when Antonio Banderas, one of Spain's most famous actors, reaffirms his acting credentials. Often slammed as wooden, here he's absolutely superb, oozing mystery and charisma and carrying the whole weight of the film from start to finish.

Watch The Skin I Live In and you'll lose yourself into its slow but intense pace and into its intriguing and relentless buildup, while the different ends of the same web gradually come together against a backdrop that is both creepy and fascinating at the same time.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Rite

Add a 't' in front of the title and you get the general idea.

How many films can be made about exorcists and possessed women (and why is it always the women, by the way, have you noticed...?) swearing in several languages before people realise that it's totally useless?

How many times, before producers actually decide to pack it in and focus their attention and cash elsewhere? The troubled, sceptical priest under the guidance of an older, wiser maverick. The mandatory car accident. The chained sweaty woman telling them both to fuck off. In Latin too. The cross and the prayers, the spitting and the red eyes, the premonitions, the insects and the lot...

This one here comes about 35 years too late, as it would only matter to those few souls who never watched The Exorcist and its multiple spin offs and rip offs.

If there's one thing the makers of The Rite got almost 100% right, that was the film title. They forgot to add the letter 't' in front of "Rite". Then it would have made sense, Anthony Hopkins or not.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Vanishing on 7th Street

When the apocalypse is so dull that you can't wait for it to come.

There's an unwritten rule in cinema, etched in capital letters, as old as the first reel to reel.

And it goes as follows. The fact that a director may have been behind a decent film and the fact that a story plot may also sound vaguely intriguing are no guarantee of a good film.

Brad Anderson may have been the man behind both Session 9 and The Machinist, and his latest Vanishing on 7th Street may also sound like your perfect so-called "post-apocalyptic" story. Unfortunately though, it's painfully weak as well as way too flimsy and badly acted to actually go anywhere.

For all the amount of semi-deserted, mysterious-looking and Twin Peak-esque scenes set in an old neon-lit bar, the plot is simply too feeble and anemic (yes, thanks thesaurus) to strike any chord with the viewer.

Not to mention that Hayden Christensen and the other actors are so wooden that, put next to Pinocchio, they would positively make him look like Plastic Man.

Which wouldn't be so bad were it not for the fact that character development is below zero.

The thrills evaporate after about fifteen minutes as you quickly realise that a single episode of the Teletubbies will carry more suspense than this pap.

What seem to be the only four survivors to a mysterious plague that snatches people away, are just sitting there, fiddling with ice cubes and fuel, and periodically wailing that they have lost their kid/mum/colleagues/ex wife.

That's all they seem to be saying. And after you've heard the same lines 7 times in a row you just start hoping for the entity to put the inept four out of their misery once and for all.

As for the apocalypse, it must be the most docile one to be ever conjured up by a cinematic mind.

The same monstrous thing that hits people in an instant in the first part of the film, is later on so slow that even a snail would crawl back to safety once they twig that they're about to be snatched.

Vanishing on 7th Street is like a fantastic initial idea that crashed into the worst of writer's blocks within ten minutes.

Which, given how crowded the post-apocalyptic genre is starting to look, makes this film even more redundant.