Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Hugo Review

Christmas 2011

Genre: Family Fantasy/Adventure.

Starring: Asa Butterfield, Chloe Grace-Moretz, Ben Kingsley, Sacha Baron-Cohen, Jude Law, Emily Mortimer, Helen McCrory, Ray Winstone, Richard Griffiths, Frances de la Tour and Christopher Lee.

Running Time: 126 mins. Approx.

Certificate: U (Contains mild peril).

Seen At: Apollo Cinemas, Altrincham.

On: Sunday, 4th December, 2011.

Martin Scorsese is one of our very greatest filmmakers, providing audiences with movies whose titles alone conjure up iconic images, and have become enduring classics. One could call him a true ‘cinemagician’ a reference which is accentuated upon in his latest feature, based on the novel: The Invention of Hugo Cabret, by Brian Selznick (whose Grandfather was the first cousin of well-known Hollywood producer David O. Selznick – fitting given the film’s subject matter in the second half).
  It tells the story of Hugo, a young orphaned boy whose only home is a busy Parisian train station. His daily job is negotiating the perilous inter-workings of the station’s giant clocks, and his only means of survival resort to him stealing loaves of bread from the bustling markets.
  He lives in fear of the sinister station master, until he meets an adventurous young girl Isabelle and her initially austere, disdainful and cantankerous grandfather Papa Georges, who runs a toy booth.
  Before Hugo’s father (Jude Law – appearing only in flashback) died in ambiguous circumstances, he and his son began restoring a mysterious robotic figure known only as an Automaton, whose heart-shaped keyhole is wound-up by the key that belongs to Isabelle. Is it just coincidence that she should have the key Hugo’s been desperately searching for? Whatever the outcome, it’s up to the two children to literally ‘unlock’ the mystery of the deceptively innocuous Automaton. Rest assured, that once they get it working, it reveals an astonishing, magical secret that will change everyone’s life forever…
  The premise may sound unusual, and that’s predominantly due to the fact that it is so refreshingly different and original. This film is an absolute joy to watch. Visually sumptuous, the wonderfully warm, cinematographically glossy tones are superbly enhanced by such subtle utilization of 3D, which serves its function of fully immersing its audience completely within the magic.
The opening shot on its own is a tour-de-force in stunning optical scale. A high-angle view of a slightly fantastical, glowing, snow-covered cityscape of Paris, tracks directly into the hustle-and-bustle of numerous shoppers, before stopping short of the gigantic clock-face inhabiting our protagonist.
   The film is a real departure for Scorsese, known famously of course for often graphic, adult, pictures usually centred around gangsters. This is his first venture into family-friendly material – the festive glow and hopeful optimism that envelopes throughout is about as far removed from the gritty, crime-ridden streets of Taxi Driver, the sheer brutality of Raging Bull’s boxing ring or the pulpy, violent camaraderie of Goodfellas as you’re ever likely to go.
  Yet never is it over-sentimentalised in a way that’s syrupy, sugary or patronising. Indeed, there are definite elements that dictate a darker undercurrent tonally, including the scenes where Hugo has a nightmare that he himself has turned into the Automaton, as well as a terrifically memorable sequence where a train goes off the tracks – again, made all the richer through the tool of 3D – thanks to Scorsese’s love for the new aspect of the medium.
  As original as it is in its content, it’s also happily reminiscent of a particular quartet of films – capturing the adventure of Lemony Snicket, as well as the magical qualities of The Polar Express, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Harry Potter owing to the fact that they all share the scenario of a wondrous new world being seen through the wide-eyed perspective of children.
  It turns out, that Isabelle’s stern grandfather is in fact the great auteur and pioneer of silent filmmaking Georges Melies, famous for the art of illusion, most notably in the short entitled A Trip To The Moon, (this is first shown in a revelatory way). As such, the second half of the film is a joyous celebration of the magic of cinema, delivered by Scorsese, one of the forms contemporary masters, that’s fascinating for lovers of cinema. As Melies reflects back on the pain of remembering the fate of his once glorious past, it becomes obvious that the earlier scene in which Melies instructs Hugo to fix a clockwork toy mouse, acts as an allegory, a touching metaphor of reversal  for Hugo to fix Melies.
  A recurring motif of clocks is definitely present (the fixing of the clockwork mouse, the clockwork, wind-up figure of the Automaton, the scene which sees Hugo balancing upon the giant hands of the clock-face in which he spends most of his life).
  This is cleverly mirrored by the highly precise, almost clock-work nature of Scorsese’s method of filmmaking. Proceedings literally ‘run like clock-work’, with the running-time of just over two hours flying by, with the delicate intricacies of several different strands of narrative storytelling being tied up by an expert effortlessly.
  The vast majority of performances are brilliant. Asa Butterfield is already one of our best young actors, and is effectively understated and emotive – really shining as Hugo. Sir Ben Kingsley is fantastic as Melies, particularly when his visage of contempt softens to reveal a kind, loving and empathetic genius.
  The best performance comes from Helen McCrory as his wife Mama Jeanne, exceptional in her portrayal of an aging former silent-movie actress – the star of Georges’s films and the love of his life.
The film isn’t entirely flawless – Sacha Baron Cohen’s channelling of ‘Allo Allo’s Arthur Bostrom as the station master doesn’t work well at all. Nor really do the rather clichéd characters played by Richard Griffiths and Frances de la Tour as an older lady and gentlemen who keep running into each other at the station, smitten, but can never admit their true feelings.
   But these small shortcomings do nothing to detract from what really is a magical, memorable and deeply moving cinematic experience. It deserves every success at the fast-approaching trio of Golden Globe, Bafta and Oscar award ceremonies.  Its huge appeal is absolutely universal – it should be seen by everyone.
   The most wonderful film – one of the year’s very best – I cannot recommend it highly enough!

Rating: * * * * *

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

The Rum Diary Review

Autumn 2011

Genre: Biopic/Semi-autobiographical Comedy-Drama.

Starring: Johnny Depp, Amber Heard, Michael Rispoli, Richard Jenkins, Aaron Eckhart and Giovanni Ribisi.

Running Time: 120 mins. Approx.

Certificate: 15.

Seen At: Didsbury.

On: Saturday, 12th November, 2011.

From the weird and wonderful mind of Hunter S. Thomson, after at least four long years in development, and under the directorial eye of Bruce Robinson (of Withnail & I fame, making his first film in fifteen years), comes The Rum Diary.
  Based on the 1998 novel – formally a manuscript found by Johnny Depp in Thomson’s basement - it tells the story of Paul Kemp – a boozy journalist sent to nineteen-fifties Puerto Rico to write for a failing newspaper The San Juan Star – the only problem is, he soon falls for one of the local’s girlfriends, and gets lost in a debauched, drug-riddled journey of self discovery.
Obviously Kemp is firmly based on Thomson himself – this particular incarnation marks his pre-gonzo period of journalism, the fully-fledged version of which is shown through yet another of his alter-egos – Raoul Duke, in Terry Gilliam’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.
  The very first shots of this film are of a bleary-eyed, bloodshot, and severely hung-over Depp as he recovers from drinking a hundred and sixty one miniatures. ‘Are they not complimentary?’ he later whimsies teasingly. Such is the tone for the rest of the film, razor-sharply written, beautifully shot and quietly - extremely funny.
  It’s a world away from Depp’s glossy, gothic, family-friendly collaborations with Tim Burton. He’s exchanged fairytale landscapes and magical chocolatiers for grimy, rum-soaked typewriters, sunshine and (in some cases quite literally) ‘acid’-tongued humour.
  Depp himself has never looked more comfortable in a role - tanned, relaxed and – incredibly youthfully preserved for a forty-eight year old who’s supposed to be playing a character in his twenties. Surely an Oscar must be far too long overdue.
  Many of the supporting roles are also finely acted – but none quite so good as Giovanni Ribisi’s permanently inebriated Moberg – again, a likely awards contender.
 Unfortunately Amber Heard’s Chennault, the bewitching love interest so lovingly described in the book, translates into a rather hollow, somewhat flimsy caricature on screen, and isn’t really given that much to do, except act like the stereotypical ‘blonde bombshell’.
  Tonally, the novel is far darker and more serious than the film – a subplot involving domestic abuse is explored – but is thankfully spared here.
  Much of the surprising humour is visual, including drinking the water from a fishbowl. Two standout scenes both involve cars – one without a front seat and one that is continually revved, pelting along a deserted road. Another hilarious moment sees Kemp and his photographer associate in court, after inventing a flame-thrower via alcohol consumption, where a poor, unsuspecting and anciently-elderly local proceeds to vomit over the dock in all the excitement.
   The entire screenplay only ever utilizes two lines of dialogue from the whole novel  – a choice informed by Robinson’s apparent admission that he just was unable to write in Thomson’s very distinctive and particular vernacular. This, again, is cleverly mirrored on-screen as Kemp muses: ‘I don’t know how to write like me’.    Despite only making references to the source material very gingerly, Robinson succeeds in capturing the spirit of the novel perfectly – seemingly idyllic, with occasional, sudden undercurrents of alcohol-fuelled bursts of violence. Listen carefully, and a pounding political backdrop is also ever-present, jammed full of attacks on almost every social comment indicative of the time; from the criticism of Nixon’s Presidential technique, to the full realization of the gradual collapse of ‘The American Dream’.
  Only at the very end is the savage subtext fully explored, with even the very final line of dialogue retaining all of Thomson’s inimitable trademark quirk.
  It probably won’t get the awards recognition it so richly deserves, but this is nevertheless a superior take on a true modern classic, a real gem, in which Depp solidifies his status as the actor who really can play anyone. This is the role he was born to play.

Rating: * * * * *

Johnny English 2 Review

Autumn 2011

Genre: Spy Action-Adventure Spoof/Sequel

Starring: Rowan Atkinson, Rosamund Pike, Gillian Anderson, Dominic West, Stephen Campbell-Moore and Tim McInnerny.

Running Time: 98 mins approx.

Certificate: PG.

Seen At: Didsbury.

On:  Wednesday, 19th October, 2011.

The spy genre is certainly a varied one. From Bond, to BBC One’s Spooks to Robert Rodriguez’s Spy Kids to the outstanding Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy – a box-office smash earlier this year.
  At the other end of the spectrum is of course good old spoofery, in the shape of Rowan Atkinson’s inept, bumbling spy – MI7’s Johnny English.
  A full eight years after his first adventure, this time he’s in locations as diverse as London, Switzerland and Hong Kong.
  This film, whilst silly, infantile, wildly over-the-top and just not as hilarious as it could and should have been (considering it’s directed by Oliver Parker), is at least marginally funnier than the original, thanks to its more streamlined, linear structure, as opposed to the former’s rather episodic pratfalls.
   The caliber of the supporting cast this time around is also a vast improvement. Refreshingly, all playing it absolutely straight are the likes of Dominic West, Gillian Anderson and, an actual former Bond-girl from Die Another Day, Rosamund Pike – as English’s beautiful love interest. It’s also great to see a classically-trained actor like the brilliant Dominic West have some fun as Ambrose, the dastardly double-agent.
  The gags this time are, as you might expect predominantly visual, with all manner of jokes involving cats flying out of windows, helicopters cruising along motorways, wrongful application of lipstick, painful training devices and Chinese killer-cleaners.
  It does have a very funny sequence involving a super-speed wheelchair, but otherwise, distinctly average.

Rating: * * *

Thursday, 17 November 2011

The Three Musketeers Review

Autumn 2011

Genre: Mythical Fantasy Action-Adventure

Starring: Logan Lerman, Matthew Macfadyen, Luke Evans, Ray Stevenson, Milla Jovovich, Mads Mikkelsen, Christoph Waltz, Gabriella Wilde, Juno Temple and Orlando Bloom as The Duke Of Buckingham.

Running Time: 110 mins. approx.

Certificate: 12A

Seen At: Didsbury

On: Saturday, 15th October, 2011.

After numerous adaptations, with stars including Richard Chamberlin, Oliver Reed and Christopher Lee each seen portraying one of the infamous Musketeers, audiences finally have the first cinematic version of the tale that ventures into the revolutionary third dimension.
   This is a huge-scale, effects-laden, blockbusting take on the classic, and while it may not always be entirely historically accurate (customized airships with built-in flamethrowers), it is brilliant fun from start to finish. Every artistic element is inventive, from the toy-town-inspired opening credits sweeping through a gigantic map, to its utterly unique use of the much-maligned 3D.
  Many films either completely over-use the tool, with the result often a blurry mixture of indistinction constantly being flung at the audience, or fail to include it nearly enough, not realizing it’s full potential.
  Here however, the perfect balance is struck between allowing just enough surprising moments for it to flourish (whether it be for showing the intricate motion of a booby-trap, a slow-motion close-up on an approaching cannonball, or the staggering sight of guards on mass), but always allowing it breathing space.
  It’s enhanced further by an extremely effective technique known as: ‘speed-ramping’ – which means to either frantically speed-up or suddenly slow down the action, simultaneously (this works particularly well during the many great sword-fighting sequences).
   The basic narrative structure remains about the only aspect that hasn’t changed. The once-heroic Athos (a straight-laced Matthew Macfadyen) Porthos (a brawny Ray Stevenson) and Aramis (a cool Luke Evans) are brought to the fore once again, with young protégé D’Artagnan (Logan Lerman) to defeat a quartet of dastardly villains – three of which are the Cardinal (Christoph Waltz), a conniving, beautiful and deadly seductress (Milla Jovovich) and the mysterious, eye-patched Rochefort (Mads Mikkelsen).   
   The predominant villain is the Duke of Buckingham. The role makes for a triumphant return to the big screen for Orlando Bloom (this is his first mainstream blockbuster in four years, since finishing on the colossally successful Pirates of the Caribbean franchise in 2007). It’s well-worth the wait however, as he completely steals the show – relishing being so evil for once, in his fluorescently green, blue, and puce pantaloons. He twirls his mustache with glee in one of the truly great, Oscar-worthy performances of the year. It so easily could have descended into pantomime, but he skillfully plays it the absolute fun side of menacing, with some great one-lines: ‘Look at what the cat dragged in!’. Make sure you wait until the very final shot to discover his, and another character’s fate, with a conclusion that so clearly sets it up for a sequel and hopefully even a franchise. Amusing, exhilarating, gloriously colourful, of epic proportions and with its tongue firmly lodged in its cheek, this is one of the most surprising and very best films of the year!

Rating: * * * * *

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy Review

Autumn 2011

Genre: Spy Drama/Conspiracy Thriller.

Cast: Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Toby Jones, Benedict Cumberbatch, Mark Strong, Ciaran Hinds, Tom Hardy, David Dencik, Amanda Fairbank-Hynes, John Hurt and Kathy Burke.

Running Time/Duration: 127 mins. Approx.

Certificate/Classification: 15

Seen At: Parrs Wood Cinemas, Didsbury.

On: Saturday, 17th September, 2011.

Over thirty years since the much-loved 1979 TV series was originally transmitted, the highly-anticipated film version now arrives in cinemas. Based on John le Carre’s extraordinarily labyrinthine novel of rouge espionage, it centres around the morally ambiguous George Smiley, first immortalised by Sir Alec Guinness.
   The year is 1973, and Smiley is brought out of retirement, to help root out a mole, who’s infiltrated their way into the ‘circus’: the then-codename for the Headquarters of the MI6 British Secret Service. It’s up to Smiley to deduce who the culprit of this betrayal is, before their web of deceit closes in...
   The novel, whilst entertaining, I found as heavy as lead, convoluting between the present and flashbacks.
    Thankfully however, this adaptation is, quite simply, stunning from beginning to end. It’s challenging certainly, but never in a frustrating or confusing way, but rather utilising the far cleverer, more perplexing method of luring its audience in slowly, and gradually unfolding. It is, in its own slow-burning way absolutely gripping.
   Each of the characters, whether they be the potential suspects or not, are wonderfully well-drawn and distinctive. Mark Strong’s tragic Jim Prideaux, David Dencik as the conflicted, supposed loyalist Toby Esterhase, and Benedict Cumberbatch as Guillam, the squeaky-clean pretty-boy, who, like all of the characters on display, may just be hiding a deep dark secret…
   The head of the circus, known elusively only as Control, seeks Smiley’s aid in uncovering the identity of MI6’s: ‘rotten apple’ – it is one of five men, each appointed with a respective single-word codename, to which the film’s title refers...
     The choice of director here is unusual. Tomas Alfredson burst onto the scene a couple of years ago with the foreign-language vampire-romance shocker Let The Right One In. This, his debut into not only mainstream but also English-speaking filmmaking, makes for a radical change of pace.
    Artistically, the film is a triumph. The attention to period detail is extraordinary, whether it be from the click of a typewriter, or the whirl of smoke from one of the tireless worker’s cigarettes. The overall aesthetic, this edgy, drab, downtrodden look that envelopes almost every shot, is one that ingeniously evokes a crumbling, rain-lashed, almost post-Dickensian vision of early nineteen-seventies London, only serving to  further authenticate the reality of the spy profession for the actors.
   A searing shot of colour is injected in the absolutely electrifying scenes which see each of the agency’s men seated in a boardroom lit by a fluorescent gold egg-box-esque wall. You can almost hear the inner-working of each of the suspect’s ‘little grey cells’ working overtime, as they are interrogated by John Hurt’s prickly Control. The atmosphere emitted from this film throughout,  is tantalisingly intense and palpable with tension.
   The cherry on this crème-da-la-crème cake of British acting talent, is most certainly Gary Oldman’s meteoric landmark performance as Smiley. Menacing, cold, and quietly terrifying, he is a monstrous, striking presence on screen. If Alec Guinness’s interpretation of the character was of a man you’d instantly forget, then Oldman’s is of a shady, antiheroic manipulator you wouldn’t trust an inch. Yet, he’s always understated, portrayed by Oldman as an observing, insular figure. The key is locked in Oldman’s great capacity for subtle nuances – his posture in a chair, or the fractional readjustment of his glasses. It is his best ever performance – surely an Oscar-nomination for Oldman – the ultimate character-actor, often known for taking on even dangerous roles, is long overdue.    
  The other two standout supporting roles come from Colin Firth as Bill Haydon, and fantastic rising star Tom Hardy, terrific as the rough and ready defector Ricki Tarr - the scenes in which he travels to Istanbul only to uncover the torturous treatment of his girlfriend are hugely powerful. The film’s occasional spurts of bloody violence, sparse as they are, are made all the more shocking by the fact that they are so brief. This doesn’t embody the blockbusting, action-packed, special effects laden qualities of a fantastical Bond film – it’s a complex, intellectual and supremely crafted adult thriller.
  My only observation more than a criticism, is that there are only ever two women in the entire film. However, one of them is brilliant - it’s wonderful to see Kathy Burke acting again, looking so different than in her usual comedic roles, as Connie Sachs, the shunted former employee with a weakness for a small tot of sherry and a filthy vernacular, with one particularly rude line of dialogue especially amusing.
   In the film’s tone, as dark, murky and serious as it is, the screenplay hasn’t left out the important element of humour, in either the Christmas party scenes, (which feature a cameo from le Carre himself), or during an insight into the audit interpreter’s choice of relaxing listening – in this case being a George Formby rendition of Mr. Woo).
The musical score – almost hypnotic in its ability to draw you in immediately, also features two great songs – Sammy Davis Jr.’s Second Best Secret Agent (played, again in the Christmas party scene, and Julio Iglesias’s La Mer, at the very end of an emotional dénouement, once the mole has been identified.
    This really should do brilliantly in next year’s awards season, with Alfredson, Oldman, Firth, Hurt, Hardy and Burke all fully deserving of recognition.
   Not only is this the film event of the year, it’s also the undisputed best film of the year. I hope it receives all the golden masks, globes and statuettes it deserves.
     A classy, near-faultless adaptation of a classic, has now become an instant classic all of its own. A twisty, classy whodunit, almost red-hot to the touch with suspense, that’ll keep you guessing who the perpetrator is until the final moment.
    Utterly absorbing and truly outstanding.

Rating: *****

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Fright Night Review

Autumn 2011

Genre: Comedy/Horror.

Cast: Anton Yelchin, Colin Farrell, Imogen Poots, David Tennant, Toni Collette and Dave Franco.

Running Time: 106 mins. Approx

Certificate: 15

Seen at: The Trafford Centre’s Odeon Cinemas.

On: Tuesday 6th September, 2011.

As those chilly autumnal nights start to draw in, and with Halloween just around the corner, how fitting then that DreamWorks Pictures have cleverly chosen to release a film which encapsulates so many of the more classic elements of cinematic horror.
   A remake of the 1985 original starring Roddy McDowell of Cleopatra fame, this suburban shocker is jammed full of the more traditional, old-fashioned conventions: – doors creaking ajar, shadows creeping up on walls and house-phones ringing endlessly.  These only count in its favour, solidifying it as a simple, straightforward, yet always highly effective example of the much-used genre.
  What modernizes it, making it suit predominantly the teenage or early twenties audiences of today, is its 3D element. Whilst some critics have been quick to give the rise of 3D a decidedly cold reception, it only ever adds to the experience, tenfold in fact, in my opinion. Many movies either overuse this revolutionary tool, thus erasing its impact, or don’t use it nearly enough, not utilizing it to its full fruition.
   Here however, whether it’s the pierce of a crossbow’s arrow, the punch of a stake, or a splatter of fresh-fanged blood, there’s just the right amount of three-dimensional flourish present to compliment and enhance, giving proceedings a bold added flair.
    For all its jumpy scares, tonally it manages to also equal the balance between being just as funny as it is (not all that, thankfully), frightening.
  Its protagonist is young Charley Brewster (a relatable and always likeable Anton Yelchin), an average teenager who turns from monster-skeptic to vengeful hunter when he finds out that his brawny neighbour Jerry (Colin Farrell, clearly having a lot of fun), is actually a bloodsucking vampire...
  Recently, Colin Farrell has played so many heavily serious roles where his character’s either highly conflicted or guilt-ridden (Crazy Heart, The Way Back, London Boulevard), so it’s refreshing to see him in material that’s much lighter – he revels in being so relentlessly evil. Cinematographically though, the film is somewhat Hitchcockian. As Charley becomes increasingly suspicious over Jerry’s motives and the body count starts to drop, he resorts to spying on ‘the vampire next door’ with referenced binocular scenes reminiscent of the great voyeurism of 1954’s Rear Window and it’s far more recent homage – 2007’s Disturbia.
  A strong sense of eerie atmospherics is helped enormously by a chillingly irreverent musical score. As soon as those opening bars of choral pipes emit their foreboding sense of doom in the main theme – the tone is set for the rest of the film – fun, fast and never taking itself too seriously.
  The leads are given hilarious support from David Tennant in the flamboyant role of a television vampire slayer who’s all high theatrics and heavy eye shadow – his character makes swearing into an art form.
 The screenplay is peppered with plenty of witty one liners, and when Jerry is in his fully-fledged vampire mode – some suitably impressive CGI is truly allowed to let rip.
  In terms of popular movie genres, a horror comedy is difficult, as it’s important to have both in just the right quantities – horror for the dedicated fans, and plenty of comedy so that the laughs are just as frequent as the occasional scream. Luckily, as was also the case with Scream 4 before it – this has both, in spades.
 Overall – tongue-in-cheek, frenetic and full of energy, this is a worthy addition to the comedy horror cannon – with plenty of…bite! 

Rating: * * * *

Thursday, 29 September 2011

Planet of the Apes Review

Summer 2011

Genre: Fantasy Action-Adventure

Starring: James Franco, Frieda Pinto, John Lithgow, Brian Cox, Tom Felton, David Oyelowo and Andy Serkis.

Running Time: 105 mins. approx.

Certificate: 12A.

Seen At: Parrs Wood Cinemas, Didsbury.

On: Friday, 19th August, 2011.

In a summer that has seen the return of pirates, mutants, masked serial killers and a certain boy-wizard; we then turn to the slightly unusual choice of rebooting a very different movie franchise. This is actually the seventh movie incarnation of The Planet of the Apes and its counterparts – including of course the 1968 original with Charlton Heston, and the 2001 Tim Burton version, universally panned by the critics.
   This latest however, is meant to be looked upon as a prequel to all that has gone before it.
   James Franco plays Will, a young, ambitious scientist working at a facility that houses chimps to test on, whose somewhat experimental methodology leads him into developing a new gene strand which he believes, can be used as the cure to Alzheimer’s disease.
  Will’s own father, played by John Lithgow is gradually suffering from the condition himself – however of course, it must first be tested on the chimps - with revolutionary repercussions…
   After a baby chimp’s mother is fatally shot at the beginning of the film, he is adopted, reared and taught by Will. Naturally, he’s giving a sample of the strand, and the results prove astonishing.
   Named Ceaser, his cognitive skills are astonishing, but of course, it isn’t long before he grows too much into his adulthood to be kept at home, so he’s admitted into a harsh, prison-like institution with the rest of his kind. Don’t despair though, as the affects of the drug are far from wearing off, as he leads his own species on an ulrelenting uprising to fight back, and reclaim rightful domination...
   This film is simply a joy to watch on every level. The screenplay, which could so easily have become bogged down with technicality, is structurally simple and easy to follow, and it’s paced perfectly.
   James Franco is an ideal leading man, injecting Will with all the necessary sensitivity and understanding. My one and only criticism is the need for Freida Pinto, who only serves as being a completely pointless cardboard-cutout girlfriend figure for Will, and is given nothing else to do.
   Where the film really excels is in its combination of two elements: its sheer scale and both the level and indeed standard of its visual effects.
   Andy Serkis, now having become synonymous with his work with motion-capture performance with Gollum in The Lord of the Rings and another ape in King Kong, is once again utterly spellbinding as Ceaser, with every single nuance, every subtle facial expression, perfectly pitched. 
   In fact, as an audience you completely forget you’re watching incredibly detailed and lifelike computer-generated work, and just emotionally invest totally in Ceaser – he is the full force the film’s whole protagonistic drive. Surely Serkis should be in line for a deserved Oscar nomination.
    There are also a couple of jaw-dropping moments, not only in the huge- scale action sequences which occupy the last forty minutes, but also during smaller, much more intimate moments such as Ceaser’s response to a couple of human commands, as well as how the apes really form a strong bond with each other. 
   The sequences where a multitude of apes unite first on city streets and finally on the Golden Gate Bridge, are utterly breathtaking, taking on everything from entire buildings, to helicopters and ultimately humans.
   The film feels like its on an epically cinematic scale, helped enormously not only by plenty of blistering action set-pieces and some of the finest, most convincing visual-effects in years, but also by Patrick Doyle’s suitably dramatic musical score. 
   The level of the emotional component which accompanies the film is also staggering – by the end, it’s impossible not to feel moved. 
   The best film of the year so far by a mile, and certainly the most impressive and enjoyable blockbuster of the summer. Let’s hope it’s the recipient of the accolades it deserves. Intelligent, emotional, refreshing and truly spectacular.

Rating: * * * * *

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Horrible Bosses Review!

Summer 2011

Genre: Black Comedy/Caper.

Starring: Jason Bateman, Kevin Spacey, Jason Sudekis, Colin Farrell, Charlie Day, Jennifer Aniston, Jamie Foxx and Donald Sutherland.

Running Time: 99 mins. approx.

Certificate: 15.

Seen At: The Trafford Centre

On: Thursday, 28th July.

Jennifer Aniston is normally so incredibly typecast, that even before her next film starts, you feel like you’ve already seen it: optimistic and free-spirited, but unlucky-in-love, she finally finds her Mr. Right.
  So, it’s very refreshing to see her in a whole new light, playing a sexually frustrated nymphomaniac dentist no less!
   Her usual golden locks are gone, replaced by devilish brunette tones, which only serve to hammer home her character’s man-eating status even more.
   The basic premise is as follows – three supposedly ordinary friends (played by Jason Bateman, Jason Sudekis and Charlie Day), are each under the thumb of a maniacal boss.
   Bateman has to contend with Kevin Spacey’s threatening slave-driver, Day is the dental assistant to Aniston – falling as the unsuspecting victim to her frequent advances, while the third boss is my favourite of the three – Colin Farrell’s cocaine-addicted discriminator with a comb-over. They’ve had enough, and set out to inconspicuously murder each other’s bosses...
  If that scenario sounds familiar, you’re most likely remembering what I consider to be one of Hitchcock’s finest films – the 1951 classic Strangers On A Train.
  The screenplay is erratically written and patchy to say the least, which means the dialogue is only occasionally mildly amusing, whereas the film’s misleading marketing means it’s advertised as being more consistently hilarious. Considering are empathy ought to lie with the three employees, why then do we as an audience seem to have so much more time for the three horrible bosses? Because they’re the ones having all the fun.
  Kevin Spacey is clearly reveling in being so deliciously evil, Colin Farrell’s character is probably the funniest, while also oddly becoming the most insubstantial – owing to the fact it’s severely underwritten, and Aniston’s foul-mouthed innuendos are a rare treat to behold - like having her way with her patients while they’re under the influence of anesthesia – right there in the dental chair!
   The admiring, occasional homages to Hitchcockian sentiment are lovingly crafted, and the ratio between the black-comedy element verses pure, knockabout slapstick - abundant with jokes centering around split stashes of  cocaine, basic toilet-humour and cartoonish car chases – is tonally well  balanced. It’s only lacking in the diamond-sharp screenplay that could’ve made it so much funnier, considering the sheer mass of comic potential on display.

Rating: ***

Monday, 26 September 2011

Harry Potter Review

Summer 2011

Genre: Family Fantasy adventure sequel.

Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Alan Rickman, Micheal Gambon, Julie Walters, Mark Williams, Nick Moran, Maggie Smith, Ralph Fiennes, Helena-Bonham Carter, Robbie Coltrane, Tom Felton, Helen McCrory, Jason Isaacs, David Thewlis, Gary Oldman, Miriam Margoles, Kelly McDonald and John Hurt.

Running Time: 144 mins approx.

Certificate: 12A.

Seen At: Altringham.

On: Sunday, 17th July, 2011.

After ten years, seven novels, and this – the eighth and final film – this is the end of the Harry Potter phenomenon, singularly the biggest and most commercially successful book and film franchise worldwide.
  Fans around the world have been waiting a whole decade for this final showdown between our young, bespectacled Harry and – You-Know-Who…
   Hogwarts School is no longer the safe haven it once was for students. In fact, it is now in a state of total lockdown – being run by none other that the sternest of potion masters – Alan Rickman’s Professor Severus Snape, who eventually shows us where he true allegiances lie.
   It is a customarily lip-curling performance from Rickman – there’s a definitive art to the exact way he accentuates his language – really chews on those words of malice, so that if he’s playing a villain, what you then have is this tremendous sense of power and authoritarianism. He’s certainly the aspect of the series that I’ll miss the most.
  Director David Yates has had to pull out all the stops to satisfy the millions of fans and he succeeds in doing so in suitably spectacular fashion – particularly as this final chapter, has the ultimate ‘Battle for Hogwarts’. So, in terms of the special effects, it has just about everything from spells to spiders and snakes to trolls. This is where the 3D becomes especially spellbinding, most notably during Harry and Voldermort’s final duel!
  It’s an oddly somber sensation when you realize that it won’t be coming back next year, so it’s just as well that it bows out with such spectacular flair and panache.

Rating: * * * *

Friday, 23 September 2011

Transformers 3 Review

Summer 2011.

Genre: Sci-fi-Action/Fantasy/Sequel.

Starring: Shia LaBeouf, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Josh Duhamel, Patrick Dempsey, John Turturro, Tyrese Gibson, Alan Tudyk, John Malkovich, Frances McDormand, Ken Jeong and Buzz Aldrin.

Running Time: 157 mins. approx.

Certificate 12A.

Seen At: Didsbury.

On: Friday, 15th July, 2011.

Michael Bay is a fan of huge-scale blockbusters. From 2001’s epic World War Two drama Pearl Harbor, to 1998’s sci-fi disaster Armageddon and the 2005 highly original futuristic thriller The Island – the spectacle of flashy visual effects is never more evident, than in the Transformers franchise.
    Based of course on the famous children’s toy, these films pitch huge mechanical robots of virtual metal against each other.
  This time, for the third movie in the series, as the war between the Autobots and Deceptacons intensifies, we also have the somewhat far-fetched backdrop of a piece of crash-landed alien matter sabotaging the 1969 moon-landing...
   It all turns out to be quite a disappointment, which is a great shame – particularly when proceedings started off so well. We’re presented with an astonishing opening space battle – which is where the 3D aspect is really allowed to come into its own. Flying ships zoom past your head and lasers blast right in your face – but unfortunately this level of excitement fails to be maintained all the way through. Shia LaBeouf returns as the supposed ‘every-teen’ Sam Witwicky, and with the well-documented axing of Megan Fox from the series, she’s replaced by Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, who’s so extremely wooden that it’s impossible to ever feel at all captivated or engrossed by her relationship with Sam. Worse still is the total waste of such talented actors in thin, frankly rather pointless supporting roles such as John Malkovich or Ken Jeong, and particularly Frances McDormand – she has little else to do than stand around looking overly authoritative.
  That said, LaBeouf still does a great job as Sam – quick-witted, relatable and always likeable – he remains one of my favourite actors. It’ll be interesting to see him progress onto more mature roles that he set in motion with the likes of the Rear Window pastiche Disturbia, and Oliver Stone’s Wall Street sequel opposite Micheal Douglas last year.
   The technical skill involved in the huge action set-pieces remains truly staggering. Having to task of reacting to monumental robots constantly fighting each other must present a great challenge for the actors. Especially memorable is the apocalyptic sight of spacecrafts dominating the skyline, and an entire building split in half, as our characters cling on for dear life. The standard of the special effects on display is stunning.
  Also, these machines possess the ability to transform themselves into sleek sports cars – blisteringly vibrant in either orange, yellow or white. So obviously, Bay can’t write state-of-the-art sports cars into the script and resist including at least two surprisingly gripping car chases halfway through.
  And talking of the screenplay, the dialogue is maddeningly expositional, frequently clichéd and the laboriously overlong running time of well over two-and-a-half hours certainly doesn’t help matters.
  It is novel to see a rare glimpse of the real Buzz Aldrin in a cameo though, but here’s hoping that this is the last installment, to save the franchise from descending into the deliriously excessive.
    Loud, overcooked and far too unsubtle.

 Rating: * * *

Bad Teacher Review

Summer 2011

Genre: Comedy

Starring: Cameron Diaz, Justin Timberlake, Jason Segal, Lucy Punch and Phyllis Smith.

Running Time: 92 mins. approx.

Certificate: 15.

Seen at: Didsbury.

On: Thursday, 23rd June, 2011.

Comedic favourite Cameron Diaz makes a welcome return to considerably lighter material than recent years, similar to territory such as The Sweetest Thing, My Best Friend’s Wedding and There’s Something About Mary. This is her funniest role since 2008’s What Happens In Vegas opposite Ashton Kutcher. It’s a really great character for Diaz to play, because of just how fearless she is in it, proving still that she is one of the most naturally gifted comediennes in the business.
   She plays teacher Elizabeth Halsey – although teacher may be something of an overstatement.
   Lazy, rude, razor-tongued and foul-mouthed, the scenes where she arrives late for class in dark glasses either severely hung-over - sneaking an extra bottle of vodka into her desk draw - or under the influence of illegal substances, are a real treat to watch.
  Supposedly an English teacher, she resorts to the old – ‘shall we just watch the video instead of reading the book’ scenario. Consequently, her students can often be found slumped in front of a screen watching Michelle Pfeiffer in Dangerous Minds to name just one. Either that or looking on in astonishment as she takes part in a scantily-clad sponsored car wash.
   In fact, Elizabeth is only using teaching as a stop-gap in order to fund her true ambition – to have a boob job! There’s a hilarious sequence whereby she attends a demonstration of this at a clinic, and let’s just say the actress in question wasn’t wearing a bra!
Matters are further complicated for our boozy heroine, with the interference of the excruciatingly irritating Amy Squirrel (played by very funny British actress Lucy Punch) – a pristine goody-too-shoes who constantly delights in being the principal’s favourite member of staff, until her true colours are finally exposed as superficial.
  Help is at hand with the arrival of substitute teacher Scott Dellacord (woodenly played by Justin Timberlake). Needless to say, from there on in the film becomes more than a little predictable, with the pair soon falling for each other.
  A solid enough script outweighs the fact that it’s a bit too long, and it’s refreshing to note that on this occasion, the filmmakers chose to break tradition by not making the rebellious Elizabeth a totally ‘reformed character’ by the end. 
  Rating: * * *

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

X-Men 5 Review

Summer 2011

Genre: Superhero/ Sci-fi fantasy blockbuster/prequel.

Starring: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Kevin Bacon, Rose Byrne, Oliver Platt, Nicolas Hoult, Jennifer Lawrence, Lucas Till, Alex Gonzalez, January Jones, Zoe Kravitz, Jason Fleming, Caleb Landry-Jones, Rebecca Romiijn and Hugh Jackman.

Running Time: 132 mins approx.

Certificate: 12A

Seen at: Altringham

On: Sunday, 5th June, 2011.

Matthew Vaughn, who originally came to filmic fruition with a much darker, edgier project, the 2004 British gangster vehicle Layer Cake – starring Daniel Craig and Sienna Miller, then moved to considerably lighter fare with the fantastical family blockbuster Stardust. Last year, he completely reinvented the comic-book genre with the decidedly adult Kick-Ass.
   Now, he infuses those doomy sensibilities into the latest addition to the X-Men cannon. This time, it’s a prequel, telling the story of how the young versions of the brilliant Professor Charles Xavier (played by Patrick Stewart in the original trilogy) and a troubled, angst-ridden young man, Erik Lehnsherr (formally Sir Ian McKellan), came to meet.
    We’re put directly into a very bold context straight away. It’s useful to finally see the sharp antithesis established between the very privileged, public-school upbringing of Xavier, compared with the shocking origin of Erik, who, as a holocaust victim, was raised in a prisoner-of-war concentration camp.
  Considering this has the very clear watermark of a family-friendly summer blockbuster, Vaughn makes some very brave tonal choices during the opening sequences, not least Kevin Bacon’s brutal execution of Erik’s mother – not graphic in an overly explicit sense, but still surprisingly violent. At one point, during the final demise of Bacon’s antagonist, the action is slowed down, as we even see a coin pass bloodily in and out of his skull – gruesome, but effective...
  The action is then set in the early sixties. Refreshingly, the overall artistic ambiance is one heavily reminiscent of the early Sean Connery era of Bond films, mixed with a slight Kubrickan observation. Some of the best set-pieces take place in The Mandela Club – where it’s all retro skintight fashion, cool cocktails and tuxedos. 
  There’s also a plethora of new additions to the X-Men, including the flighty, winged Angel, and Banshee, who’s power manifests itself through his ability to emit sound waves. The best of the new talent however, arrives in the shape of the young Lucas Till as Havok, a human rotatory deflector-shield, who produces vivid red rays when he spins around in a hula-hooping motion to generate momentum. 
  Of course, Stewart and McKellan are two considerably impressive boots to fill, and by and large, McAvoy and Fassbender succeed admirably. It’s clever how neither portrayal turns into an exact impersonation, and yet both still manage the task of being original, and capturing their predecessors qualities. Micheal Fassbender is well on his way to fast becoming one of the most impressive and exciting emerging talents of recent years. Always relied upon to be versatile – (a hunger strike victim to vicious Nazi to comic-book adversary), his intense characterization of Lehnsherr should satisfy even the most cynical of fans. You understand how somebody who’s continually persecuted against can easily go from quietly menacing to a power-hungry megalomaniac.
  The eclectic choice of casting is also interesting. It’s great to see vastly talented television talent breaking through into movies like Mad Men’s January Jones and Damages star Rose Byrne. Jones plays Emma Frost, a modestly cool customer who can turn her whole body to icicle-encrusted diamonds. Byrne plays the impulsive Dr. Moira McTaggert, who proves she’s just as capable with the fight scenes as her male counterparts.
  A team of screenwriters, including Jonathan Ross’s wife Jane Goldman, chose the Cuban missile crisis to serve as a contextually political backdrop for the action to take place within. This is sadly never explored particularly fully, although the script does manage to sneak in a couple of really well-judged cameos from familiar faces.
  It’s also inventive to witness more perfunctory versions of later inventions in the stages of their mere infancy – such as Cerebro. We see younger versions of well known supporting characters such as Jennifer Lawrence’s Mystique and Nicholas Hoult’s blue-footed Beast – still striving in their age-old struggle for acceptance in a world fearful of abnormality.
  There’s a good dollop of mass-scale action, particularly once our heroes master the jet plane. We’re helped in understanding the reasoning behind certain situations. We finally learn exactly how Xavier ends up in a wheelchair, as well as witnessing the dawn of a new reign of terror when, in the final moments, Erik becomes Magneto as we see him only in silhouette, wearing the infamous burgundy helmet – helped enormously by Henry Jackman’s pounding final track of score.
  Original, aesthetically inventive and atmospherically refreshing.

Rating: * * *

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Pirates of the Caribbean 4 Review

Summer 2011

Genre: Action-Adventure/Blockbuster/Sequel.

Starring: Johnny Depp, Penelope Cruz, Ian McShane, Geoffrey Rush, Sam Claflin,
Astrid Berges-Frisbey, Kevin McNally, Richard Griffiths, Keith Richards and Dame Judi Dench.

Running Time: 136 mins.

Certificate: 12A

Seen at: Didsbury.

On: Saturday, 28th May, 2011.

In 2003, the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie was the unexpected runaway success of the summer. Now, two sequels later, Johnny Depp returns as the infamous Captain Jack Sparrow – a role and indeed a character, that is one of the most iconic of its generation.
   This time around, there’s a much more patriarchal feel to the proceedings, as the action opens in the courts of Buckingham Palace, where our piratical protagonist is captured and forced to face Richard Griffith’s oily King George, who sets him on a quest to find the Fountain of Youth.
   Along the way he reignites a spark with his voluptuous old flame Angelica (a fiery Penelope Cruz), who’s father just happens to be the so-called: ‘pirate all pirates fear’ – Blackbeard.
   Considering this tyrannical figure is supposedly such a threat, Ian McShane’s performance is oddly downbeat, with lots of ghoulish facial expression, but not much substance.
  Unfortunately, the absence of both Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley as young lovers Elizabeth and Will is far too keenly felt for this to equal the standard of the first three installments.
  It’s not the only problem either. The plot is as muddled and convoluted as ever, with too many double-crosses and triple crosses to keep track of. There is an influx of intriguing new talent however, in the shape of Sam Claflin as young servant boy Philip – of course the substitute for the Orlando Bloom mould. Astrid Berges-Frisbey plays a mermaid who’s given little more to do than flop around, and Geoffrey Rush is sadly rather underused.
  Thank goodness once again then for Johnny Depp. It’s a joy to see this character again, and Depp infuses Sparrow with his trademark sparkle, wacky facial expressions and sharply anecdotal witticism. ‘I saw everything – I can name fingers and point names’ – is one of many slurred sayings that are slyly observational.
   The action set-pieces are also suitably impressive. Early on, Sparrow is seen balancing on top of two horse carriages, one of which is occupied by a quixotic society lady – none other than Judi Dench – in a delightful blink-and-you’d-miss-it cameo. Assuming she is about to be propositioned by the dashingly irreverent Sparrow, Depp simply snatches one of Dench’s earrings as she replies incredulously: ‘Is that it?’.
  Where the original film utilized the conceit of pirates turning skeletal in the moonlight, here we have the price that mutineers must pay while under Blackbeard’s servitude, as well as a genuinely spooky mermaid attack, made all the more unsettling by the duel combination of Hans Zimmer’s rousingly shocking score, and of course the novel addition of 3D.
   3D was at its very best when suited to the florescent, frenetic frenzy of a huge effects vehicle like TRON. Here, the overall feel – cinematographically at least -  is rather dark and dingy occasionally – but thankfully, there are plenty of moments that serve the extra dimension very well – with the tip of a sword swung right up into your face.
  To conclude, this is a lively, always entertaining mixture, of laughs, adventure and extravagant effects, with Depp on peak form and a witty screenplay, but here’s hoping that Bloom and Knightley decide to agree to reunite once again when the sails are set for a rumored fifth outing. I wonder just how much leverage is left in a filmic formula where they remain absent – because these wonderful movies – my favourite film franchise of all time – it just isn’t the same without them!

Rating: ***

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Scream 4 Review

May 2011.

Genre: Horror/Comedy/Sequel.

Starring: Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox-Arquette, David Arquette, Emma Roberts, Hayden Panettiere, Rory Culkin, Erik Knudsen, Nico Tortorella, Marielle Jaffe, Marley Shelton, Alison Brie, Mary McDormand, Adam Brody, Anthony Anderson, Anna Paquin, Kristen Bell and Roger Jackson.

Running Time: 111 mins. Approx.

Certificate: 15.

Seen at: The Trafford Centre’s Odeon Cinemas.

On: Thursday, 5th May, 2011.

In 1996, horror veteran Wes Craven, who made his name with a plethora of terrifying horror classics such as The Last House On The Left, The Hills Have Eyes, Friday The 13th and Nightmare On Elm Street, completely remade and reinvigorated the tired slasher genre that was once so popular with such milestones as John Carpenter’s 1978 seasonal babysitter shocker Halloween.
    Scream, like Jamie Lee-Curtis before her, made a scream-queen out of Neve Campbell as Sydney Prescott, an unsuspecting teenager who falls victim to being stalked by a masked serial-killer, known elusively only as ‘Ghostface’...
    From the moment Drew Barrymore picked up that fateful phone in the opening sequence and heard the chilling catchphrase – ‘What’s your favourite scary movie?’, Craven solidified Ghostface as an instantly iconic killer of the classic horror-movie cannon, in a similar mould to Freddy Kruger and Micheal Myers.
   The most distinctive watermark that makes the Scream  franchise so unique is the fact that its screenplays are constantly referencing the movies throughout , both visually, and in their dialogue. There’s endless talk of body counts, remakes and sequels. Craven is so refreshing in the method he utilises in approaching his audiences. He’s saying that we already know all of the conventions of the genre, so he then delights in usurping each one of them. Phones ring, doors creek ajar and shadows lurk outside windows, but always, never in the way we expect.
Lines like: ‘I’ll be right back!’ and ‘The five things you must do to survive a horror movie are…’, are constructed in such a way as to make the characters think they’re almost in a movie of their own.
  Scream also has the admirable distinction of being the only horror franchise that is actually just as funny and clever as it is scary or gory, with audiences screaming and laughing in equal measure – a notoriously difficult conceit to accomplish. It does this in such a way that strikes a pitch-perfect balance between always being just light-hearted enough, with its tongue firmly in its cheek but always without descending into spoofery territory, such as the parody of the Scary Movie series, which are funny films in their own right and certainly have their place, but only if you’ve seen - and are a fan of – what they are parodying.
     With this latest instalment, it’s ten years since the excessive events of Scream 3, and Sidney Prescott, now a life-coach author, chooses for some reason to return to her secluded hometown of Woodsbourghro – you’d have thought she’d have known better by now wouldn’t you?
   No sooner has she arrived back, when the phone rings (what else?) only for Ghostface’s chilling tones to declare: ‘Welcome home Sidneeey, watch the preview of coming events’...
   Because a decade’s past, of course technology has changed a great amount, so whereas the original trilogy had the distinct nineties zeitgeist of high-school lockers and house-phones, appropriately, this time around, Facebook, iphones, BlackBury’s apps and Twitter are all quickly established to reflect the apparent rise in social networking.
      David Arquette is still Dewey Riley, officially the worst police officer in cinematic history, and his wife, formally news reporter Gale Weathers is now a struggling novelist. Suffice is to say, it’s not long before this latest gaggle of perfect-looking teenagers are gradually disposed of one by one...
    In the now legendary pre-credits sequence, this one is particularly inventive as it sees three sets of teenagers each watching an instalment of the film’s very own movie franchise – Stab. It’s tantalisingly clever, as it completely fools us, subverting our expectations of what we think we’re watching, despite the fact that many of the purposefully clichéd conventions are still present in homage to the original, including a hapless victim’s particularly gruesome fate with an electric garage door.
     Other Hitchcockian references are especially clever this time around as well, whether it be a Vertigo-like fall from a parking lot, or a mock-up of the foreboding,  low-angle shot of the showerhead from Psycho’s iconic shower scene.
So clever, and just so much fun to watch. Here’s hoping there’s a fifth one soon...
Rating: * * * *

Monday, 12 September 2011

The Tourist Review

January 2011.

Genre: Action/Adventure/Spy/Crime/Romance.

Starring: Johnny Depp, Angelina Jolie, Paul Bettany, Steven Berkoff and Timothy Dalton.

Running Time: 103 mins. approx.

Certificate: 12A.

Seen At: The Trafford Centre’s Odeon Cinemas.

On: Sunday, 16th January, 2011.
Picture the scene: Kevin Spacey’s Verbal Kint is walking down a street gradually dropping the pretence of being physically afflicted as his hand straightens, and his formally inward feet return to normal. We then cross-cut to a fax machine as a hand-drawn e-fit of a mythical serial killer is being printed. Suddenly, the penny drops and Kint is finally revealed as the notorious Keyser Soze. Thus ends one of the most famous and classic shockers’ ever in modern cinema, as the twist in a deadly game of cat-and-mouse finally reaches its crescendo, in 1995’s double oscar-winner, The Usual Suspects.
   Its screenwriter Christopher MacQuarie, pens this latest project from a director with the best name in the business, Florien Henkel Von Donnersmark, who burst onto the directorial scene a few years ago with flair and substance with the lives of others.
   Many of the ingredients which MacQuarie weaved in so well into Suspects are thankfully still present, (the teasing chase of cat-and-mouse for instance), but they just lack quite as much punch. In typical style again, there is a final twist, but it’s rather more damp squib than fire-in-the-hole when really, there is no surprise at all.
  But actually, none of that matters when this is so much more fun and enjoyable than Suspects. Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie are an absolute powerhouse example of Hollywood casting at its peak – casting two of the industries’ most bankable stars really works a treat.
  Depp plays Frank Tupelo, a shady and unassuming everyman who meets Jolie’s glamorous femme fatale Elise Ward on a train. A case of mistaken identity ensues as Frank is thrown into a world of intrigue, kidnap and attempted murder. Depp is clearly having fun as he jumps over rooftops and dodges bullets.
    It transpires that Elise’s ex-lover is arch criminal Alexander Pearce who owes a large sum of money to Steven Berkoff’s threateningly imposing antagonist. Frank is of course mistaken for Pearce... 
   What I loved so much about it was all the elements of both the classic, traditional old-style Hollywood caper and its glamour, captured perfectly. The handsome, relatable leading man, a stunningly beautiful temptress, and a truly magnificent setting (in this case, the picturesque gondolas and sunsets of Venice), or various Hitchcockian MaGuffins.
    John Seale’s glossy, luminescent cinematography is simply gorgeous, whether it be photographing boat chases, a ballroom sequence or Jolie in one of her many mesmeric dresses. ‘You look ravenous’ says Frank, with a twinkle in his eye, as he prepares to accompany Elise to luxurious ball. ‘Don’t you mean ravishing?’ Elise asks. ‘I do’  is Frank’s chuckled reply.
   The rich dialogue retains all the humorous wit and sparkle you’d expect from our two stars, again wonderfully reminiscent of Hollywood’s golden age.
   It’s fiendishly Hitchcockian – it is of course no accident that these two characters should first meet on a train – there is of course the obvious comparison with 1951’s wonderful Strangers On A Train, but you suspect that cast and crew were even more heavily influenced by one of my most favourite pictures by the master of suspense, the Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint 1959 classic – North By Northwest.     
    One of the most striking qualities of the film is James Newton-Howard’s pacy, conspiratorial score.  Starlight and Map of the Problematique are just two of the songs on the soundtrack, by the brilliant band, Muse, and they prove an ideal choice.
It’ll also come as little surprise to learn that the relationship between our duo is practically sizzling before too long.
    One of the best and cleverest films of the year, if only for sheer, simple entertainment value. Depp is outstanding in one of his very best roles. 

Rating: * * * *