Archive for September, 2010

Tony Curtis: 1925 – 2010

Tony Curtis: 1925 – 2010


The internet is full of tributes to Tony Curtis who died today aged 85, what better tribute is there to an actor than to watch his movies and encourage others to see them too. He appeared in some memorable movies including: Sweet Smell of Success (1957), The Vikings (1958), Spartacus (1960) and The Boston Strangler (1968) but one movie stands out. Not only is Some Like It Hot (1959) amongst his best performances but as I may have mentioned once or twice it is also my all time favourite movie. Anyone who has seen it, watch it again, it gets better with age, anyone who hasn’t seen it, watch it as soon as you can, you won’t be sorry.


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Director Johannes Roberts has been kicking around the direct to video/DVD market for a decade, with this “fear of hoodies” horror/thriller he has found a mainline to the zeitgeist and received his first cinema/theatrical release.

English literature teacher Robert Anderson (David Schofield) is the victim of an assault by a student. A year later with his life falling apart, he has a drinking problem and his daughter who is also his student hates him. He also has a seemingly irrational fear of youths and youth crime (in other words a daily main reader) but as the saying goes: Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get you. After keeping his daughter (Eliza Bennett) back for detention, they become part of a small group of people who fall victim of a gang of faceless (literally) “Hoodies” who attack the school in a sort of teenage cross between Assault on Precinct 13 and a slasher movie.

At its worst the movie looks like a cheap direct to video movie with poor overacting, predictable photography and some truly sick imagery. At its best it’s a taught slow burning and slow building thriller that is creepy and shocking. Whilst most of the violence is off camera there is some horrible imagery that is somewhat gratuitous. To the credit of writer/director Roberts the movie doesn’t pretend to be important of profound, it knows it is a nasty little horror.

Despite this sub-genre of movie The Daily Mail will be sorry to hear that England isn’t really been overrun by “Hodddies” this just like last years Harry Brown isn’t an important movie, but it is an effective horror/thriller.

Three Stars out of Five


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The Town

The movie starts by telling us that Charlestown, a one-square-mile district of Boston is home to more bank robbers than anywhere else in the world and together they are responsible for around 300 robberies a year. Pretty much as soon as the movie starts we are introduced to one of these crews:

Doug MacRay (Ben Affleck) and James Coughlin (Jeremy Renner) are like brothers, they have know each other all their lives, together with Albert ‘Gloansy’ Magloan (Slaine) and Desmond Elden (Owen Burke) they make up a small well organised team of bank robbers. After successfully completing a bank robbery they suspect that the bank manager Claire Keesey (Rebecca Hall) may be able to identify them. MacRay follows her for a time before introducing himself, the pair hit it off and against his better judgement they quickly start a relationship.

Based on the novel Prince of Thieves by Chuck Hogan, itself inspired by a real life robbery similar to one referred to in the movie carried out by Doug MacRay’s farther. The movie is always gritty and gripping with great and believable characters. The acting is great, Ben Affleck, Jeremy Renner and Mad Men’s Jon Hamm are perfectly cast and give strong performances but its the women in supporting roles that steal the show; Blake Lively as Krista, James’ sister and Doug’s ex and the always watchable Rebecca Hall who gives a more low key and less showy but more emotional performance.

There is a recurring theme in Heist movies of the central character looking to get out of the business, this usually involves a woman and hope for, but not necessarily a search for redemption. This theme is certainly used but there is a lot more going on. If you set out to make a worthy film that is overtly about the limitations of ambition and prospects of people from a certain background (class, race, religion or socioeconomic) the story can be dull and contrived. But when you make a genre piece that has the confidence not to insult the intelligence of the audience that contains these themes and ideas you may just get the point across while entertaining the audience. The Town isn’t anything profound or amazing, just a really good genre movie with a bit of depth and intelligence below the surface.

Thanks to Michael Mann’s Heat the bar has been set pretty high when it comes to heist movies. This clearly isn’t Heat and it isn’t as good as Affleck’s first directorial feature Gone Baby Gone but it is probably the best example of the genre since Heat. Skilfully and confidently directed in such a way that you forget it is only the directors second movie.

Four Stars out of Five

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The Hole

“You’ve got a gateway to hell under your house, and that is really cool”

To make a credible horror movie that is both suitable and enjoyable for a family audience is a hard thing to do, Joe Danye managed it with Gremlins in 1985. A quarter of a century later he has attempted to recapture the magic with The Hole, but has he succeeded?

No cliché is left unturned in the plot of this movie, single mother Susan (Teri Polo) moves her two kids, Dane (Chris Massoglia) and younger brother Lucas (Nathan Gamble) from Brooklyn to a small town. Before long the kids have made friends with teenage girl next door Julie (Hayley Bennett, who in true cinematic convention was 21 when the film was made). The threesome stumble on a mysterious trapdoor in the basement floor secured with six padlocks. Do you think they open it?

The three young leads all do a good job and are believable (if a little too old in one case) and generally likeable. The plot is very simple and you will realise where it is going early on, this isn’t a bad thing. There are a few genuine creepy moments although nothing that will scare anyone other then the very young or the very nervous. By the time the kids actually go into the hole it loses its way a little but visually it is very effective looking, this has nothing to do with the 3D that is as pointless as ever.

In a lot of ways the movie is a little old-fashioned and belongs in the directors heyday of the 70’s and 80s, this by the way is a compliment not a criticism cinematically. It does however make me wonder if the film will find an audience. When I was 12, I was watching the Halloween, Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street movies, so it stands to reason kids of that age are now watching Saw, Hostel and other similar movies. That’s why I see the audience of this movie being younger children and their parents but not necessarily teenagers. Now back to the question I asked at the top: if the question had been “is it as good as Gremlins” the answer would have to be no, however on its own merits, it is a really good fun movie. There is also a great cameo from the always watchable Bruce Dern.

Four Stars out of Five

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Oil City Confidential

As well as making movies and music videos, director Julien Temple has developed into a supremely talented documentary filmmaker responsible for the excellent Requiem for Detroit (2010) as well was the rockumentaries: The Filth and the Fury (2000)(about the Sex Pistols), Joe Strummer: The Future Is Unwritten (2007) and Glastonbury (2006). This movie about 70’s Rock n Roll/ R&B band Dr Feelgood probably represents the pinnacle of his work.

For those who don’t know Dr Feelgood started out as a pre punk pub-rock era band who have a reasonable and fiercely loyal following but never really made it. Coming from Canvey Island, a strange reclaimed island in the Thames estuary (or the “Delta” as Wilko Johnson likes to call it) shaped their outlook on life and their music. Donald ‘Duck’ Dunn’s quote in the movie The Blues Brothers “We had a band powerful enough to turn goat piss into gasoline” applies just as much to Dr Feelgood as it does to The Blues Brothers. The original line-up of Lee Brilleaux, Wilko Johnson, John B Sparks and The Big Figure only stayed together for around a decade, the live album, Stupidity and the single Milk and Alcohol representing the height of their fame. Fantastically shot making the most of the unusual location, the movie is made up of modern day interviews and archive footage of the band interspersed with clips from old movies including British heist movie Payroll (1961). The overriding theme that comes from the movie is that they are basically a bunch of normal, everyday guys who got together for the all the right reasons, namely the love of music and split up for all the usual ones.

Like the band it is about the movie offers nothing new or revolutionary to the “rockumentary” genre but doing everything about as well as is feasibly possibly. This is one of the best documentaries I have seen in a long time. If you are a fan of the band you will love this insightful piece; if you don’t know the band, you will be a fan by the end of the movie; if you don’t like the band, shame on you! 

Four Stars out of Five


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Exit Through The Gift Shop

“I want to be a non-conformist, just like everybody else”  Banksy

A few years ago I remember talking to someone about The Blair Witch Project, they had been to see the movie with someone who thought it was a real documentary then suddenly realised what it really was. It has been a few days since I saw Exit Through The Gift Shop and still don’t know if it was real. Was I watching a documentary, a mocumentary or just Banksy doing what he does best, taking the piss? More to the point was it really made by Banksy? This all begs the question, does it matter? Elaborate hoax or honest and heartfelt doesn’t detract from the brilliance of the spectacle.

Thierry Guetta, a French born, LA based vintage cloths shop owner is obsessed with filming anything that moves with his video camera. Whilst on holiday in France he inadvertently finds a focus for his obsession when he starts filming his cousin, street artist “Invader” it opens the door to the world of graffiti/street art and its exponents. Eventually he captures the holly grail, the great white whale, the elusive British graffiti artist Banksy. Things take a strange turn when the roles are reversed with Banksy becoming filmmaker and using the pseudonym “Mr. Brainwash“ Thierry Guetta emulates the artists he is obsessed with.

Banksy is credited as the Director of the movie although most of the footage was shot by Guetta. As Banksy explains at the start of the movie it was Guetta’s intention to make a film of street artists but Banksy found Thierry Guetta a far more interesting subject. The problem arises with the fact I still don’t know what is real. Was the film made by Banksy? Is the person in the movie with the blacked out face really Banksy? Is Mr. Brainwash really Banksy? Some of Mr. Brainwash’s work is approaching brilliant, such as the Andy Warhol inspired spray cans, other parts of it are crass and crap at best. The movie also features the artists: Borf, Coma, Swoon, Dan Witz, Neck Face and Shepard Fairey (the man responsible for the Barack Obama “Hope” poster).

I never know how well known Banksy is, whilst he has some unexpected fans people I expect to know who he are utterly oblivious. Street art is also a contentious issue, some people see the exponents as artistic geniuses, others see them as vandals and criminals, whatever your point of view Banksy is one of the best known despite his identity being secret. One of the great things about the movie is insight we get into the secretive world of the artists at work. The story is edited together in suck away to always hold the viewers interest, it is helped along the way by the narration by Rhys Ifans and music by Geoff Barrow. The greatest accolade I can give the movie is that it is so well made it could be enjoyable for viewers even if they have no interest in the subject matter and don’t normally watch documentaries.

I’m still not sure what it is,  but I like it and that’s all that really matters.

Four Stars out of Five.



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Winter’s Bone

Seventeen year-old Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence) has a pretty crappy existence, her farther often goes missing to practice his chosen profession, to “cook” methamphetamine. Her mother is of little use and is only there in body not mind, Ree has taken on the responsibility to look after her mother as well as her younger brother and sister. As bad as her impoverished life is, it is her life and she is hanging onto it with every inch of her not inconsiderable will, she clearly loves her siblings and makes the most of what she has in life. When the local sheriff informs her that her absent farther has skipped bail after putting the family home up as collateral it becomes clear that her family problems run much deeper than a lack of money and parental support. Determined to succeed where the sheriff has failed Ree sets out to find her farther and save the family home. She soon comes up against a code of silence amongst the local criminal network and to make matters worse she is related to most of them!

Ree has a tenacity and a sense of pride that won’t let her give up, it is an emotional and challenging part that has helped the movie create a real star. At just twenty years old Jennifer Lawrence already has numerous movie and TV credits but nothing that compares to this leading role. It really is a leading role, not only is she the main focus of the narrative, but she is also driving the narrative making the movie what it is. With anything less than perfect casting in this part the movie would have failed and been mediocre at best, as it stands it is one of the best movies of the year. As one who often disagrees with the Academy I won’t predict the potential Oscar nominations but have to say Jennifer Lawrence certainly deserves a nomination if not the statuette. Next year she will join the mainstream when she takes on the role of Mystique in X-Men: First Class, hopefully as she develops into a movie star she also becomes a great actress.

Set in the The Ozarks in the south of Missouri somewhere near the border with Arkansas, Cinematographer Michael McDonough finds a strange beauty in the dark and hostile landscapes that seem to lack any colour or warmth. We never see the sun, it would be easy to believe that this place exists in a perpetual state of winter never seeing the springtime sun. The characters who inhabit the move are a perfect reflection of this bleak and hostile landscape.  The setting is so imposing with a sense of impending menace that the movie often feels like it should descend into a Deliverance style backwoods horror. The restraint that always hold back from this is to the credit of the director who has created an ambiance that is as important to the movie as the plot.  The story is simple but believable and always compelling, based on a 2006 “country noir” novel of the same name by Daniel Woodrell (the author of Woe to Live On that was made into the hugely underrated movie, Ride with the Devil 1999). Directed by Debra Granik who also wrote the screenplay, the movie has already won the Grand Jury Prize and the Best Screenplay Award at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival, I’m sure there are bigger awards to come.

Perfectly paced and directed it isn’t a movie that you will want to watch frequently but it is certainly a rewarding experience not just for the great central performance. This is a taught and gritty thriller disguised as a family drama.


After waiting seven months for my first five star movie (since introducing star ratings to my blog in January) I can happily report that I am awarding five stars (out of five) for the third time in as many months.

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Groovers and Mobsters Present is back and this month after great work on Dark Comedy and The Vengeance Trilogy special Allison from My Film Habit is calling the shots, her chosen genre is Prison Movies:  Whether they are exploring the rights and wrongs of crime and punishment or expressing the drama and action of an escape movie or even just the daily dramas of a prisoners life (rightly or wrongly convicted), the prison movie has been a staple from the earliest days of cinema.

A Prophet (2009)

“Think you can last here without protection?”

Malik El Djebena (Tahar Rahim) is a nineteen year old French-Arab. Sentenced to six years for an unspecified crime. Malik has clearly been in trouble all his life but this is his first time in “the big house” and things are against him from the start, he is only semi literate and has no friends on the inside. It isn’t long before he is targeted by the ruling gang who want to exploit him. Never accepted by the Corsican gang that rules the prison but because of his involvement with them isn’t accepted by the Arab prisoners Malik has to be one step ahead of everyone, just to stay alive, this is something he achieves. Does he have a supernatural or even a spiritual vision, is he a Prophet?

The racial tension between rival groups within the walls of a prison have been a mainstay of Hollywood prison movies for years, it appears things are no different in France. The relationship between the Arab and Corsican gangs are a metaphor, if not a microcosm of French society. At the heart of the tension Malik does what he has to do to survive, this results in a Yojimbo inspired power play making the movie a taught and tense thriller that you can’t take your eyes off. At first by accident and later by design he begins his rise through the underworld ranks. Confidently directed by BAFTA award winning director (for his previous film The Beat That My Heart Skipped) Jacques Audiard but the star of this movie is front and centre in front of the camera, newcomer Tahar Rahim is rarely off screen and relishes challenging roll. If the scene where Malik practices concealing a razorblade in his mouth isn’t the tensest scene you have seen all year, you must watch some pretty extreme movies.

Working as both an existential experience and a political statement but also existing on a more visceral level as a hard hitting dramatic thriller that is always compelling and often thought provoking, don’t let the subtitles put you off.

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Set in a single room with a cast of just ten people. Eight strangers must sit an exam, the last stage of applying for a unspecified but high-powered and much coveted job. They are given a few simple rules before they turn over the papers to start the exam only to find the pages blank.

If you are going to lock a group of strangers in a room in a movie you need a good concept, in the age of The Apprentice and Big Brother this is the best strangers in a room concept since Cube. Other movies like The Killing Room (2009) and Breathing Room (2008) have had good ideas but have fallen short in one way or another. As the movie plays out in near real-time the characters gradually reveal their hand with enough twists and turns in their personalities and agendas to keep the audiences interests. That’s not to say the movie isn’t afraid to bring out all the “strangers locked in a room” clichés, but they are so well handled it really doesn’t matter. Likewise the single room setting isn’t claustrophobic or stage play like except when it wants to be.  The cast of largely unknown actors, Colin Salmon and Jimi Mistry are the only ones I recognise, do a great job with standout performances from Luke Mably and Chukwudi Iwuji. While it is the men who provide the backbone of the story it is the women, Nathalie Cox, Pollyanna McIntosh and Adar Beck who provide the heart and soul.

Many movies start by telling us what year in the past, present or future they are set, this movie is described as being set “Soon” this gives a certain air of inevitability about the idea of where the world is going. Unfortunately it fails to take the opportunity to make any kind of statement that could have elevated it from a good movie to great one. Having said that it is still an impressive debut by first time writer director Stuart Hazeldine

Four Stars out of Five


Originally released in the UK on 8 January 2010, it didn’t make it to a cinema near me so I have just caught up with it on DVD.

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Tamara Drewe

Journalist Tamara Drewe (Gemma Arterton) returns home the small Dorset village she left ten years earlier, she soon meets her ex Andy (Luke Evans) and rock star Ben (Dominic Cooper). Meanwhile her neighbours, philandering crime writer Nicholas Hardiment (Roger Allam) and his long suffering wife Beth (Tamsin Greig) are running a writers retreat. The story started out as a weekly comic strip in The Guardian by Posy Simmonds, it was published as a complete work by Jonathan Cape in 2007. The story is loosely based on the Thomas Hardy novel Far from the Madding Crowd.

The movie has been critically acclaim and has received universal 4 and 5 star reviews, whist there isn’t anything overtly wrong with it the movie as a whole it just doesn’t gel together. The characters are good and the actors playing them do a great job but they are poorly served by a film that feels a little dull and often falls flat. I can happily report that Gemma Arterton has completely won me over in her last few movies as mentioned in my review of The Disappearance of Alice Creed, the way she looks doesn’t do any harm either! The interesting thing is how little her character is used. Love her or hate her she (both actor and character) is certainly interesting to watch but the movie is more an ensemble piece with the supporting characters getting as much screen time as the lead.

The film is full of interesting ideas that are initially brilliantly conceived but are never developed or evolved. The ultimate problem with the movie is that it failed to engage me as a viewer . I couldn’t relate to any of the characters which meant that I really wasn’t that bothered what happened to them. I did find some of the situations they find themselves in to be vaguely amusing despite being hugely contrived but little more. But it isn’t all bad, I have already mentioned how good Gemma Arterton is, she isn’t the only one, rising star Dominic Cooper is clearly having fun in his role as a vacuous rock drummer and it shows. Tamsin Greig best know for her part in the BBC radio series The Archers is also really entertaining with her portrayal of the put upon wife. But the greatest success of the movie is Jessica Barden whose character Jody is one half of a pair of fifteen year old schoolgirls who provide a grounding for the movie. As a bored teenage desperate to get away from he rural upbringing she could be the next Tamara Drewe in the making. As great as these supporting characters are I would just liked to see more of Tamara Drewe.

A film that had enough good things about it to make me want to like it more than I did. The acting is great but the film isn’t half as clever or as funny as it should be, or that it thinks it is for that matter.

Three Stars out of Five

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