Review: Starred Up (2014)

Led from the front by an astonishingly aggressive performance from Jack O’Connell, STARRED UP gives the British prison film exactly what it needs: a kick up the arse. A gripping look at life behind bars in a UK prison, as well as an examination of a father-son relationship on life support, David Mackenzie’s film is a welcome reminder of what British cinema can accomplish when it has something vital to say. Even though the script eventually succumbs to stock characters and contrivance, STARRED UP offers a disturbing portrayal of criminals who are all too used to being forgotten on both sides of the fence.

Full review: Starred Up | TAKE ONE

Review: The Lone Ranger (2013)

Arriving in the UK with the word ‘FLOP’ seared into its flesh, thanks to a lacklustre marketing campaign, an underwhelming performance at the box office stateside and a critical mauling in many quarters, Disney and Jerry Bruckheimer’s adaptation of The Lone Ranger had a bad reputation before it even opened. All the more reason to rejoice then that it turns out to be one of the most purely enjoyable films of the year: full of spectacular action, eccentric humour and loving nods to the entire history of the western genre. Most surprising of all is that the near two and a half hour running time just flies by. Why can’t all flops be this much fun?

Full review: The Lone Ranger | Cinema Review | Film @ The Digital Fix

Review: Moonrise Kingdom (2012)

Moonrise Kingdom posterI first saw Moonrise Kingdom a few weeks back in preparation for Bums on Seats, Cambridge 105’s film review show which I’m fortunate enough to occasionally turn up on. Wes Anderson’s latest was enthusiastically received by us all, but I never got a chance to write up my thoughts. Its ongoing steady success at the UK box-office – nearly £1.5m banked so far – is worth celebrating, so here are my two cents (better late than never, eh?).

The King of Ameriquirk (that breed of hip, modern film which deliberately goes out of its way to be strange, offbeat, ironic and uncool), Anderson returns with possibly his finest work to date. A charming coming of age tale about first love, it has the feel of a children’s film made by children, but with an expensive cast and decent production values. The colourful 16mm photography lends a lovely homemade quality to the 1960s-set tale, yet it’s masterfully assembled.

The top drawer supporting cast includes the always reliable Frances McDormand, Bill Murray, Bruce Willis, Edward Norton and Tilda Swinton. But the two young leads – Kara Hayward as the depressed Suzy and Jared Gilman as the determined Sam – are the real stars. Sharing a similar sense of rejection at home, Sam plots for them both to escape by trekking across the rugged terrain of the New England island where they live and setting up camp in a remote cove.

In Anderson’s world, adults act like children and children like adults; seemingly the only sensible people on the island are the young lovers. The grown-ups all appear to have significant issues that make them unreliable in some way, whether it’s McDormand’s unhappy housewife or Willis’ inadequate cop. This rather neatly leads the adult viewer to see the story through the eyes of the children, almost making you forget their ages. It’s rare for a film to make you feel like you’re a child again (in a good way), but Anderson succeeds admirably.

At 90 minutes long it doesn’t outstay its welcome, if you are naturally averse to this sort of quirky yarn, and the soundtrack is a delight. In short it’s a beguiling slice of cinematic whismy, and I insist you catch it on the big screen if you still can.

[xrr rating=4/5]

The Joy of New Discoveries (or: Why Creepshow Kicked My Ass)

One of the best things about being a film fan (or indeed a fan of books, music or most other things) is that every once in a while, you stumble across something by accident that slaps a great big smile on your face and reminds you just why you are a fan in the first place. Over the past 12 months or so I have been happily reading Ain’t It Cool‘s essays on 25 Years Ago: The Greatest Genre Year Ever. Never anything less than enthusiastic, these articles from various fans have each reviewed a movie released in the golden year of 1982, when the planets aligned, warring Gods united and Fate conspired to provides us with a generous helping of geek classics that have withstood the tests of time better than most. Sadly I was too young and sheltered at this point in my life to enjoy these greats on the big screen, save one: E.T., which my dad took me to see at the local fleapit. The others (among them Blade Runner, Poltergeist and The Thing) I eventually caught up with on TV and video, but one article centred on a film I hadn’t come across before: Creepshow.

For whatever reason, Creepshow seems to have pretty much skulked under the radar in the UK. I’m sure it has always been well known in horror geek circles of course, but in the mainstream it appears to have stayed out of the limelight. I certainly don’t recall any broadcasts on the terrestrial TV channels, though of course it might have slipped me by. This seems odd to me: directed by George A Romero (whose ‘Dead’ films still get regular airings on TV), written by Stephen King (basically as well known in the UK as in America), and featuring a strong cast, Creepshow should be much better known than it is.

Initially I ignored this article and simply presumed it to be some obscure low-budget item in the mold of Evil Dead, but eventually I did click through and read it. The great thing about these articles is their personal nature; you can almost imagine you had the same experience in your childhood (wishful thinking on my part, sadly). Halfway through the article came a bit that grabbed my attention:

“On one such outing back in ’82, we arrived at the theater and were greeted by a poster featuring a skeleton behind a ticket counter. The tagline of the film read, “The most fun you’ll ever have being scared.” Okay. I’m in, I thought.”

For some reason that pulled me in. Now, let me just put on record my geek credentials: I like a bit of horror once in a while, but I’m no gorehound. I have so far happily avoided all of the Saws and the Hostels. Give me a sci-fi horror (Alien, The Fly), or a classic horror (Dracula, Frankenstein), or a comedy horror (Evil Dead 2, Shaun of the Dead) any day. I love old-school slashers like Halloween. Beyond that I start to wimp out, I’m sorry to say. But a film that boasts about being ‘the most fun you’ll ever have being scared’… now that sounds pretty cool. Just the image of the skeleton behind the ticket counter tickled me.

So I waited for the recent SE dvd release to drop to a fiver ( if you’re interested), and took a risk. And I loved it. This was perfect Halloween-night sleepover fun (shame it’s March…). It was funny, spooky and scary, sometimes all at the same time. When it was silly, there was an edge of eeriness, and then when it was properly scary, there was a sense of gallows humour about it. Basically, this was great entertainment, expertly crafted by writer, director, cast and crew, and I want more. Now. Please.

As I said, every so often you make a new discovery that just reminds you why films are your hobby and passion. Creepshow did that for me this month. Now, do I take a risk on Creepshow 2…?

Shiny New Goldfinger

Last night the Summer of British Film season kicked off across UK cinemas with the re-release of the classic Bond movie, Goldfinger. Over the next few weeks, Brief Encounter, Billy Liar, Henry V, The Wicker Man, The Dam Busters and Withnail and I will be showing in cinemas up and down the country in brand new digital presentations, each one representative of a particular genre: Thriller, Romance, Social Realism, Costume Drama, Horror, War and Comedy.

I’ve been looking forward to the season: I haven’t seen Billy Liar or Olivier’s Henry V before, and the rest I’ve only watched on the small screen. The choice of film for each genre isn’t bad at all, though obviously everyone has their own private wishlist. In the War film category for instance, I would much rather have seen Zulu or Lawrence of Arabia, both of which would really benefit from a big screen. But never mind.

The one I was least looking forward to was, ironically, last night’s Goldfinger. Not that I don’t enjoy the film – on the contrary, it’s one of the most entertaining in the Bond pantheon. But umpteen TV viewings had made it much less of a must-see than, say, The Wicker Man which I’ve only seen once or twice. I can also think of other British films that are far better thrillers than Goldfinger: The Third Man for one, a sublime yarn set in post-WWII Vienna, and a film that truly deserves the label Classic. But again, never mind. Opinions will never agree on subjects like this. Anyway, I thought it would still be fun to see Connery as Bond on the big screen, in one of his best outings.

I came away absolutely gobsmacked. Not at the film you understand, which was as entertaining as expected, but at the quality of the digital presentation. It was absolutely incredible. If it wasn’t for the SFX and fashions on show, you would never guess this was a film over 40 years of age. The sound was a touch quiet, but perhaps that was the screen we were in. Hats off to whoever were responsible, because it made the film far more involving.

If the standard is maintained for the remaining films in the season, then I heartily recommend you seek out your nearest participating cinema, especially if any of the films showing is a favourite of yours. I guarantee jaw-droppage.