Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Film Review: Act Of Valour


Act of Valour is an action movie with a twist - a fictionalised account of real US Navy SEAL operations to counter global terrorism, starring a group of real life, active US Navy SEALs.

The largest part of Act of Valour is pure action. There are three related missions including a hostage rescue, reconnaissance and invasion of a Mexican cartel, to prevent a terrifying terrorist assault on the US. Directors Mike McCoy and Scott Waugh together with director of photography, Shane Hurlbut, create convincing and precise action sequences demonstrating the cutting edge technology used by the SEALs. For the most part, these are intense and adrenaline pumping but, over-reliance on an array of action movie cliches - particularly the over use of slow motion - leaves some scenes feeling cheesy and out of date.

As for the film's sub-plots, a number of threads (a pregnant wife left waiting at home, for example) feel too obvious to generate any real depth of emotion. And, although patriotic and heartfelt, the use of an unoriginal voice over to tie the missions and home-life together, cheapens the film's messages.

None of this is helped, of course, by the fact that the characters are played by real life SEALs, making the plot driving, dialogue based scenes feel not dissimilar to an episode of The Only Way is Essex. Before the film even begins the audience is treated to a preface by the film's creators explaining their decision to use real SEALs but, as the movie progresses, this increasingly feels like the wrong choice. Although they put in a good effort for non-actors, the cast fail to convey genuine passion, missing out on an opportunity for a real emotional connection with the audience.

The inclusion of the 'making of' preface, telling its audience Act of Valour's messages before they've even seen it, feels something like an excuse, or an apology. Indeed, if the film doesn't deliver these messages on its own, then something is sadly a miss.

Strong on action and short on substance, see Act of Valour only if you love modern warfare sequences, but don't expect to be moved.

For more information see the official website

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Film Review: Wild Bill


In crime drama Wild Bill, Bill (Charlie Creed-Miles) is out on license from prison. On his release, he finds his two sons (played by Will Poulter and Sammy Williams) have been abandoned by their mother and are fending for themselves in a South East London flat. Bill tries to go straight and protect them from being taken into care but, complicating matters, Bill's youngest son, Jimmy (Sammy Williams), has been recruited by a local dealer to peddle drugs on the estate.

The despair found in Wild Bill, is matched with hope in equal measure. Bill is a man who wants to change his life and who quickly moves beyond playing scratch cards towards making a real change. His flat's dirty toilet, pointed out by a social worker at the beginning of the film, cleverly becomes a recurring marker in his transition from neglectful to diligent father.

Creed-Miles gives a remarkable performance as Bill, a likeable character, easy to sympathise with despite his faults, yet still capable of the tough resilience required on his estate. Apart from the clear villains of the story, all of Wild Bill's characters have an appealing side to their nature. Roxy (Liz White), a prostitute and casual drug user, is not stereotyped but is treated sympathetically, as affectionate and friendly. When asked by Bill, 'Are you on the game then?', she warmly replies, 'Blimey, you know all't lines don't cha'.

Billed as a Western style British film, Wild Bill doesn't take this theme to extremes but instead uses it subtly (a harmonica playing in the background for instance) adding an original edge. Neither is the final showdown predictable or tacky, instead Bill's nerves and anxiety are truthful and sincere. Much comedy also finds a home in Wild Bill, tempering the harsh realities of its characters lives.

But a review of Wild Bill, Dexter Fletcher's directorial debut, cannot end without mention of its many beautifully directed scenes. My personal favourite follows a paper aeroplane sweeping across the sky above the estate as Bill bonds with his youngest son, Jimmy. The visuals and music here are stunning and make for an incredibly moving piece of film. This is also true of the closing scene, which I won't spoil for you now, but stays with you long after the credits have rolled.

Wild Bill should not be missed. Gripping, honest and touching, it's the most moving film I've seen this year. I couldn't help but shed a few tears.

For more information see the official Facebook page

Monday, 26 March 2012

Film Review: The Hunger Games


The Hunger Games has broken box office records this week, making $155 million (£98 million) during its opening weekend. But is this blockbuster one worth seeing? The answer is definitely, yes.

Based on the book by Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games is a clever satire of the television talent show genre, grounded in a gladiator style contest. Twelve districts choose two youngsters to compete in a televised fight to the death in penance for their uprising against the rich Capitol years earlier. At the district twelve reaping, contestants are selected from a raffle in which the number of times they are entered is based upon the amount of food they have taken from the authorities. When her younger sister's name is called, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) volunteers to take her place as her district's female tribute.

Although it might sound like there's a lot of background information to take in, The Hunger Games presents this in a quick and uncomplicated way, immediately absorbing the audience into its dystopian version of the future.

Astutely, The Hunger Games makes good use of everything required for an entertaining series of the X Factor: pre and post-show analysis; publicity, sponsors and advertising; support for the underdog; love interests between contestants; and manipulation of the rules by the show's creators. Indeed, The Hunger Games is a telling exploration of the impact of fame. Neither of The Hunger Games main protaganists intend for the game to change them, 'if I'm going to die I want to still be me' says Peeta (Josh Hutcherson). A knowing audience realises, of course, that change is inevitable, making the unfolding drama even more intense and uncomfortable to watch.

But, despite a strong script and obviously well thought out setting, there are a few holes in The Hunger Games. For instance, if the games offers the opportunity to become rich, why has there never been a volunteer from district twelve before? And, as it is surely in the district's interest to win the games, why don't they prepare and encourage their young people? I'm sure that these answers lie in Suzanne Collins' trilogy of Hunger Games novels, but in the film we are left to assume it's a case of corruption and poor economy.

The Hunger Games director, Gary Ross, does a stunning job of telling the story from Katniss' point of view highlighting her vulnerability and fear. Particularly compelling is the moment when Katniss walks out on stage for her first television interview - the audience sees and hears only what she does. Jennifer Lawrence is mesmerising as Katniss and triumphs in showing her development from nervous and uncomfortable teen to shrewd and confident contestant. Lawrence is also supported by a strong cast including Woody Harrelson as the initially obnoxious but mellowing former winner, Haymitch Abernathy, and Stanley Tucci as sharp television presenter Caeser Flickerman.

Visually, the Hunger Games is interesting too. District twelve's grey and historic look, beautifully reflects its poverty and the despair of its residents. The Capitol's fashion, however, is less convincing. Styled like characters from a futuristic Alice in Wonderland, the guady, freakish fashions and comedic facial hair of the Capitol's main ensemble serve only to erode The Hunger Games' believability.

Conceptually intelligent and imaginative, The Hunger Games is truly captivating and constantly keeps its audience guessing. Spectacular on the big screen, it's certainly worthy of its box office success.

For more information see the official website

Monday, 19 March 2012

Film Review: 21 Jump Street


Remember 21 Jump Street? The original was a late 80s undercover cop drama that gave Johnny Depp street cred as a teen idol. Here it is recast with Jonah Hill (Superbad, MoneyBall) and Channing Tatum (The Vow) as two new, naive cops with very different skill sets, sent undercover as high school students to identify drug suppliers.

As clever Schmidt (Hill) dreads the return to high school, where he was labelled a nerd, Jenko (Tatum) relishes the idea of returning to his days as a cool and popular jock. But, in true comedy style, the pair mix up their identities and find that in the seven years since they graduated, high school is a very different place.

Just when high school comedies where drifting from tired to downright exhausted, 21 Jump Street has leapt onto the big screen with a refreshingly new take on the genre. Furthering Glee's notion that 'different' is the new 'cool', 21 Jump Street's popular students are those with a passion for the environment, good causes and who wear their backpacks with two straps. 

Hill and Tatum work perfectly together as unlikely friends whose bromance begins when they realise they can unite their strengths to pass the Police exams. Both bring a charm and charisma that makes their characters loveable and the film irresistible. Ice Cube also puts in a hilarious performance as the pair's uncompromising boss.

21 Jump Street is incredibly funny. Gags are fired out in such quick succession that the film moves along at an incredible pace. Whilst the most insightful jokes often result from the characters themselves, some real guffaws come from slapstick action sequences. There's also a nod to the video-game style screen shots from writer Michael Bacall's Scott Pilgrim vs The World.

Refreshingly imaginative and hilariously perceptive, 21 Jump Street is the best comedy to hit the big screen in a long time. Don't miss it.
For more information see the 21 Jump Street official site

Film Review: Contraband


Based on Icelandic thriller Reykavik-Rotterdam, Contraband is the latest heist action thriller to top the US box office. Starring Mark Wahlberg, fresh from 2011 Oscar nominated The Fighter, Contraband sees reformed criminal, Chris Farraday (Wahlberg) attempt one last smuggling job to save his brother-in-law from brutal drug dealer Briggs (Giovani Ribisi).

Although Contraband is founded on a number of cliche plot points and implausible twists, it does deliver both thrills and entertainment in droves. Even as the smugglers improvise and become embroiled in a robbery of expensive modern art, the film's pace becomes so fast that there is little time to question its plausibility or the amount of time that has passed. Set against the backdrop of New Orleans blues, Contraband also has an interesting, but under-developed, style.

Wahlberg is assured and comfortable as ex-smuggler, Chris, whose confidence in his ability to traffic millions of dollars in counterfeit bills is reined in to the right side of arrogant. Despite his criminal background, Chris is an admirable character whose reluctance to smuggle drugs is both endearing and refreshing. The alternative bootleg plan he concocts is brimming with jeopardy and when it (inevitably) goes horribly wrong, Wahlberg's relaxed self-assurance retains believability and leaves Contraband's audience basking in Chris' quick wittedness.

Wahlberg is also in talented company. Ribisi excels as the enraged and unstable drug dealer Briggs, whose unpredictable behaviour adds a stunning layer of suspense. Kate Beckinsdale also gives a strong performance, albeit in one of the more cliche roles that Contraband has to offer - the desperately afraid wife.

Fast and sharp, Contraband is an engrossing thriller that works despite its reliance upon a few cliches.

For more information see Contraband official website

Film Review: We Bought A Zoo


We Bought A Zoo stars Matt Damon as bereaved husband and adventure junkie, Benjamin Mee. In an effort to make a fresh start, Benjamin relocates his family to a house with its own struggling zoo. Brought to us by the director of Jerry Maguire, We Bought A Zoo is based on a true story.

We Bought A Zoo's main plot focuses on the challenge of getting the zoo back into working order in time for opening day. This, rather predictable, element of the film fails to build any real sense of jeopardy and the animal escapades (an escaped bear and an uncaged lion) lack sufficient peril to make them thoroughly satisfying.

Instead, it is Benjamin's attempts to rebuild his relationship with his children that offers the most gratification. Finding it much easier to communicate with his daughter (Maggie Elizabeth Jones), Benjamin alienates his son (Colin Ford) as the family struggles with their grief. This father-son friction adds some welcome tension and pace changes to the laid-back tempo of the main story.

As Benjamin tries to reconnect with his family, We Bought A Zoo has a hint of The Descendants about it, but lacks the subtlety and style of the Oscar nominated movie. Nevertheless, We Bought A Zoo is emotionally demanding in parts, particularly as father and son collide in an array of misunderstandings and altercations. Equally emotional is the clever union of both zoo and family plot lines, as Benjamin grapples with the suffering of an elderly Bengal tiger, mirroring his wife's painful illness.

Matt Damon's sensitive and warm performance holds We Bought A Zoo together and is key to audience investment in the story's conclusion. As love interest Kelly Foster, Scarlett Johansson is also likeable and appealing. But We Bought A Zoo is also littered with one dimensional characters, such as the fastidious zoo inspector, who offer lightheartedness at the expense of realism.

Stylistically, We Bought A Zoo is backed by a beautiful soundtrack that director Cameron Crowe used heavily on set and in the production process to inspire the actors' performances and to create the appropriate mood.

We Bought A Zoo is a sweet, family film that balances an emotionally trying sub plot with lighthearted escapism. Although its emotional strength is patchy, it is enjoyable and worth a look.

For more information see the We Bought A Zoo site

Film Review: Rampart


Rampart stars Woody Harrelson as corrupt, uniformed Los Angeles cop, David Douglas Brown. Nicknamed 'Date Rape Dave' after his unlawful shooting of a suspected serial rapist, Brown blindly believes he only hurts bad people. When he is caught on camera beating a driver who has caused a collision with him, Brown becomes embroiled in an investigation into his own conduct.

Rampart is based on the corruption and misconduct amongst Los Angeles police officers during the Rampart scandal in the 1990s. Harrelson's character, Brown, is an amalgam of the 70 plus officers involved in the scandal. Living with his two ex-wives (Anne Heche, Cynthia Nixon) and continuing to have sexual relationships with both, Brown is also a serial womaniser.

In his first scene, Harrelson gives an immediate impression of Brown's unpleasant nature as he intimidates a female officer into eating a bag of unwanted fries. As with much of the film, this scene makes for uncomfortable viewing. As Brown tries to break free of a number of charges, Harrleson makes his further descent and consequent, paranoid, desperation both clear and disturbing. Brown is on the edge and Harrelson has his audience tense, constantly fearing what he will do next.

Harrelson is also supported by strong performances from Cynthia Nixon, Anne Heche, Robin Wright, Sigourney Weaver, and Steve Buscemi.

There is a great deal to appreciate in Rampart's style. One particular scene that stands out sees Brown visit a nightclub, where he gorges on food and voyeurism. Here the cinematography (Bobby Bukowski) and soundtrack build a compelling impression of Brown's unravelling state of mind.

Rampart is tense and brimming with complicated characters. See it for its intelligent examination of a too often stereotyped character (the corrupt cop) and its compelling performance by Woody Harrelson.

For more information see the official Rampart website

Film Review: Project X


Project X is a teen party taken to extremes. Uncool seniors, Thomas, Costa and JB, plan a house party to increase their popularity. By publicising the party online the guys get thousands of people to attend and it quickly spirals out of control, bringing destruction to the residential streets of California.

Project X's main characters are less likeable and far less comedic than in other films of this genre, making it unpopular with many. But its confrontational style builds a different atmosphere - a more threatening one that works in a different way to films such as Superbad and The Hangover. Project X is all about the evolution of one long party, the descent into total disaster. It's worth seeing Project X just to see how far it will go.

Despite it's somewhat cliche subplots (theft of drugs from a dealer and consequent retribution), the film does have some interesting style touches. For instance, using home-style footage of other partygoers to tell a more complete picture of the party's chaos, outside the main trio's perspective.

Project X is a different, more extreme take on the teen party genre. If you fancy watching one long party with the ultimate bass filled soundtrack, then Project X is probably for you. Personally, I'm more excited about Project X creator, Michael Bacall's, next film, 21 Jump Street (released 16 March).

For more information see the official Project X website

Film Review: This Means War


This Means War is a romantic comedy, action style, starring Reese Witherspoon as Lauren, a single lady looking for love and egged on by her married sister, Trish (Chelsea Handler). Trying her luck on a dating website, Lauren meets the gorgeous Tuck (Tom Hardy), but on her way back from their first date, bumps into the attractive FDR (Chris Pine). Unaware that Tuck and FDR work together as CIA agents, Lauren begins to date both of them. An initial gentleman's agreement turns sour when Tuck and FDR both fall for Lauren's charms and 'war' ensues.

How can this conundrum possibly end well for anyone? The story's writers overcome this problem with a little flair and a lot of convenient back story. Reese Witherspoon walks a similar tightrope as Lauren, who could all too easily fall into the 'slut' trap. Fortunately, Witherspoon's comic timing and onscreen sweetness give Lauren a likability that doesn't shake. Thanks to Witherspoon's performance, it is possible to both envy and empathise with Lauren.

This Means War has enough romance and action to appeal to a wide audience. It is has plenty of laughs too and makes for an easy hour and half. But it falls somewhere short of hilarious and is too predictable to be labelled imaginative. This Means War is a comfy film that's easy on the eye but offers few surprises.
For more information see the official This Means War website

Thursday, 8 March 2012

This Week's New Releases

All the trailers for this week's new cinema and DVD releases are now available on the Fiction Adore You Tube channel by clicking the icon below. Happy viewing!

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Three Little Piggies

I love The Guardian's new open journalism advert! It's such a clever twist on the Three Little Pigs story. If you haven't had a chance to see it yet, take a look at the video below. Or click on the video link to open in You Tube and have access to full screen mode.

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Ageing and Film

Have you seen The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel yet? If you have, what did you think of the way it portrayed those in later life?

Having watched my grandparents grow older, they way society treats our older generations is an issue that's close to my heart. So I found this article by David Cox in The Guardian, about the way ageing is dealt with in film, incredibly interesting. For me, it's spot on in recognising what worked and what didn't in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel's view of the older generations.

Friday, 2 March 2012

Today's Cinema Releases

Released today is the heavily advertised comedy Wanderlust starring Jennifer Aniston and Paul Rudd as a Manhattan couple who try out life in a rural, hippy-style community. Wanderlust has averaged around three stars in the main UK newspapers, so if your a fan of Aniston or Rudd then this is probably worth a chance.

Also out today is the romantic comedy This Means War starring Reese Witherspoon as Lauren, a woman dating two CIA agents buddies (Chris Pine, Tom Hardy) who begin a battle for her affections when she gives herself a week to decide between them. This Means War has scored comparatively worse with critics than Wanderlust, but if you're struggling to choose between them you can see the trailers on the Fiction Adore You Tube channel.

Next on this week's releases list is Project X. Three high school seniors put on a birthday party that rapidly gets out of control. Featuring three newcomers (Thomas Mann, Oliver Cooper, Jonathan Daniel Brown) this is an 18 certificate so expect some outrageous antics, drugs and nudity etc.

Also collecting an average number of stars from critics this week is Hunky Dory. Starring Minnie Driver as drama teacher Vivienne, Hunky Dory is set in the summer of 1976 and focusses on Vivienne's attempts to engage her class in putting on an end of year musical version of Shakespeare's The Tempest. Even in the trailer, Hunky Dory's beautiful cinematography gives off a summer, 70s hued vibe.

Gaining the most stars from critics this week though, including a full five stars in The Guardian, is Michael (out on limited release at major cities). Bucking the trend of comedy releases this week, Michael focusses on the home life a paedophile, who has a young boy locked in the cellar below his house. From Austrian film-maker Markus Schleinzer, Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian describes Michael as 'not merely a chilling insight into the day-to-day banality of evil, but also an unbearably suspenseful and tense drama'.
The chilling Michael
All trailers for this week's releases can be found on the Fiction Adore You Tube channel, using the link in the left hand side bar

Film Review: The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel


Seven retired people travel to India to live at the new Best Exotic Marigold Hotel for the elderly and the beautiful. On arrival, they discover it is not a stunning location as advertised but is unready for guests and in serious need of repair.

The main plot of Best Exotic sees unprepared owner Sonny (Dev Patel) fight to save his hotel, struggling to convince investors to inject more cash into his unlikely scheme and persuade his mother to let him marry the 'modern' Indian girl he loves. This, somewhat simplistic plot, is not all there is to Best Exotic though, and it is perhaps best characterised as a collection of smaller subplots concerning its hotel's seven new residents.

Of course, it's an eclectic bunch: feuding couple Douglas and Jean (Bill Nighy and Penelope Wilton); Evelyn (Judie Dench), widow to a husband secretly in debt; antiquated racist Muriel (Maggie Smith) travelling to India for a hip replacement; homosexual Graham (Tom Wilkinson), who has something in his past he needs to atone for; lady's man Norman (Ronald Pickup); and Madge, in search of her next partner (Celia Imrie).

All of these characters appear to be on a journey of discovery in India, and although this genre is getting a little tired, Best Exotic has a top-class cast who skilfully keep their character's stories from feeling twee. Nevertheless, there are a few limitations in the script and elements of the plot that are initially unconvincing. Personally, I found it hard to believe, early on, that Muriel, who had such a negative view of other cultures, would travel to India for a hip replacement in the first place. Despite this, the most interesting plots do belong to Maggie smith as Muriel and Tom Wilkinson as Graham. Both do a stellar job injecting light humour with more serious messages. As Sonny, Dev Patel gives us a charming lead character who capably holds the film's various plot strands together.

This movie is certainly targeted at an older market. Although the screen I went to was nearly full, I have to say that I was one of the youngest there. My experience of Best Exotic was punctuated by a succession of 'what did he say?' and 'I didn't catch that', followed by a repetition of the script from the rows behind. But this merely added to the film's style and believability, and was more than preferable to the high pitched screams and teenage chatter that accompanied Woman In Black for instance.

Judging by the audience's many, many laughs, Best Exotic did an excellent job of appealing to its target market. I defy any British citizen not recognise at least one of the characters in their own life. I saw at least half the cast in people I know! And so I laughed a great deal too. But probably, the older you are, the more you will love The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.

For more information see the official site