Monday, 31 January 2011

'Rabbit Hole' review:

'Rabbit Hole', starring Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart as a married couple going through the motions eight months after the tragic death of their four year old son, is a surprising and deeply effecting experience. Kidman has earned a Best Actress Oscar nomination for her performance - and deservedly so - but Eckhart should not be overlooked as he is equally superb in a rare relationship drama which mostly manages to avoid being cloying and calculated despite revolving around such an emotive event. The film pulls this off by virtue of the subtlety of the two lead performances, made all the more remarkable by the fact that the dialogue is often not of the same abundant class.

David Lindsay-Abaire's screenplay, adapted from his own award-winning 2006 stage play of the same name, is mostly decent but weighed down by some cliché lines, such as "what do you want from me?" and "I can't do this any more!" Yet Kidman and Eckhart invest each moment with such raw intensity and emotional honesty that the film is never less than captivating, never more so than when the two share screen time. Likewise John Cameron Mitchell's direction is unpretentious and respects the ability of the actors to hold our attention without distracting camera tricks and rapid cutting (take note Danny Boyle). The director and his stars are helped by the fact that 'Rabbit Hole' as a dramatic piece refuses to take the same well-beaten path of other relationship dramas. They are also beneficiaries of a writer who has crafted well-rounded characters, both of whom we are able to empathise with even though they try to overcome grief and maintain their marriage in completely different ways - something which reminded me of 'Blue Valentine' even though that film is about a very different and more commonplace emotional turmoil.

'Rabbit Hole' differs from 'Blue Valentine' however when it comes to the film's resolution, which is as melancholic as one would expect, but far less despairing. There is a light at the end of the tunnel in shared grief, but the suggestion is not that there is any quick fix to the emotional damage we have witnessed. The characters don't do anything silly either; they don't get involved in any irritating misunderstandings - any "baby, it's not what it looks like" moments. The film also differs from a lot of American tales about grief in that it doesn't bend over backwards to placate the religious in the audience. Kidman's character is critical of those in a child death support group who insist that the death of their child is "part of God's plan". She laughs at the suggestion openly and it turns her against taking part. When she has an argument with her mother (Dianne Wiest) about disliking the use of religion as a coping mechanism, her mother comes back with all the familiar platitudes yet she isn't forced to back down and change her mind as the film takes an intriguing turn.

The thing I liked best about 'Rabbit Hole' was the fact that Kidman's character doesn't have to go on a journey to "make peace with God" and find that "faith" is the answer to all life's trials and tribulations. The opposite is instead true: possibly for the first time in any film I've seen, science is mooted as a cause for optimism and as a means of comfort, specifically the quantum physics idea of parallel universes. You could argue that this is just another belief system and one requiring the same leap of faith as religious belief. Yet parallel universes are a widely accepted scientific possibility (based on measurable, testable data) and the fact is that this character pointedly finds hope in science rather than superstition. Eckhart's arc is similarly refreshing and pleasing if for entirely different, trend-bucking reasons. He is a rare mature, emotionally sensitive male character in American cinema who is not governed by his libido - even if his desire for sex is a contributing factor in the worsening of relations with his wife.

The film's one grating, uncomfortable moment falls to Dianne Wiest who has to deliver a monologue to her daughter about her own journey in dealing with the loss of a son. When asked if the hurt ever goes away, Wiest says that it becomes bearable but that it turns into something you "carry around like a brick in your pocket. And you... you even forget it, for a while. But then you reach in for whatever reason and - there it is." This moment is just a little florid and stagy when compared with the rest of the film and it doesn't strike me as being very true to the way people actually talk: does anyone really ever come up with overwrought, bafflingly counterintuitive metaphors like that in real life? Who puts a brick in their pocket anyway? Can you even fit a brick in a pocket? Why can't you just take the brick out of the pocket? It's just a rubbish way of explaining and simplifying grief.

But the script only finds itself lacking in a few isolated moments. Most of the film is solidly crafted and the performances are gripping. I shed more than one tear - and at little moments too, such as when Kidman throws her son's clothes in a charity bin, pausing for a moment afterwards as if to contemplate the fact that she can't get them back out again. The film is at it's most emotional when it isn't trying to hard. In the latter case it can feel manipulative. It is true that the supporting characters are thinly drawn props only there to provide added emotional complication to our leads, such as Kidman's irresponsible younger sister (Tammy Blanchard) who falls pregnant and the couples's best friends who have failed to keep in contact out of awkwardness, but these characters do the job and provide a necessary foil for our protagonists. It's all about Kidman and Eckhart and they elevate an interesting, diverting drama into an outside Oscar hopeful.

'Rabbit Hole' is rated '12A' by the BBFC and is out on Friday the 4th of February.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

'Brighton Rock' review:

It can be a thankless task adapting a beloved novel to the screen. It is then a doubly thankless task when you choose to adapt a beloved novel which has already spawned an equally beloved film. Though first time director and several-time writer Rowan Joffe - whose previous screenwriting credits include '28 Weeks Later' and 'The American' - has undertaken this very task with his updated version of Graham Greene's Brighton Rock. 'Brighton Rock' is the story of a criminal named Pinkie who murders a rival gang member and is forced to cover his tracks in order to avoid a grim death by hanging. The only witness to his crime is a young innocent named Rose, who Pinkie decides to romance in order to ensure her silence.

When I say "updated" I simply mean that Joffe has moved the story from its 1930s setting to the mid-1960s and has set the action amongst the "mods and rockers riots" of the era, made famous on the silver screen by the 1979 film 'Quadrophenia' - a cinematic reference the film alludes to with its relocation of the climax from Peacehaven (or the Palace Pier in John Boulting's 1947 version) to Beachy Head. Sam Riley, best known for playing Ian Curtis in 'Control', stars as Pinkie, a role made famous by Richard Attenborough. Andrea Riseborough plays the naive waitress Rose, whilst the supporting cast is more impressive, boasting Helen Mirren, John Hurt and Andy Serkis as the debonair crime boss Mr. Colleoni. A thankless task re-makes may be, but there were signs that this stellar cast, coupled with the film's vibrant new context, could make this new adaptation something unique and edgy.

Sadly, Joffe's film suffers not only in comparison with the film of old, but also with just about any film currently in cinemas. It is poor. Very poor in fact. Bearing the brunt of this cinematic train wreck is Sam Riley, whose performance is embarrassingly one-note. His Pinkie seems to be in the mould of Phil Mitchell, as he speaks in a gravelly half-whisper for the entire film. The representation of his relationship with Rose is even worse. The history of cinema is littered with female characters who fall in love with gangsters and psychopaths; it is a well-worn idea and one that has been handled far better in a hundred different movies. Usually the guy is shown to have a lighter side, for example in the films of James Cagney: he is often smooth, funny and charismatic, only showing his darker side when pushed or challenged. Indeed Attenborough's Pinkie had an undercurrent of vulnerability to him and even sweetness if you knew where to look.

Riley's Pinkie, by contrast, has no light to complement the shade. He is unremittingly horrid from the first time he meets Rose until the last. As a result you care nothing for him, not even as a brooding anti-hero, and you wonder why Rose would ever be drawn to him in the first place. I saw an old interview with the great Peter Ustinov the other day in which he said that “it’s never worth playing a hero without a weakness or a villain without a heart, a character must have three dimensions and some sort of inner contradiction to make it interesting”. This is, in my opinion, true and it is the greatest failing of Joffe's 'Brighton Rock' that all of the characters are thinly drawn, though Mirren, Serkis and Hurt gamely try their best with the material (albeit with an air of deliberate camp). Riseborough succeeds at injecting her character with a warmth found nowhere else in the film, yet the script is so lacking in nuance and the central relationship so lacking in credibility that it is another thankless task.

'Brighton Rock' 2011 has few redeeming qualities other than the score by Martin Phipps and the fact that it gives people from Brighton and Eastbourne (where much of it was shot) the chance to see their town on a cinema screen. The film's clifftop climax is so badly done it's almost comical, whilst Joffe's direction verges on the amateurish and his evocation of overused mod imagery (such as Pinkie on a scooter) feels contrived and cynical. I'm not blithely dismissive of re-makes and adaptations by nature. They can be cracking fun and sometimes even brilliant cinema (all of Kubrick's films are literary adaptations, for instance). However, if you have nothing to add to the original besides a slight change of setting - and if you can't even adequately get across the core dynamic of that earlier work - then you have no business making that film.

'Brighton Rock' is out in the UK from Friday 4th February and can be seen at Brighton's Duke of York's Picturehouse. The film is rated '15' by the BBFC.

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Oscar nominations in...

The 2011 Academy Award nominees were revealed today, a week after I made my own predictions. I'm happy to say that I was mostly right in my guesses, though not entirely. I got 9/10 Best Picture nominations correct, but was wrong when I said 'Monsters' might be in with a shot. I went so far as to list a number of alternate picks that I thought might be included if one from my list were not. But even among all of those I never saw the nomination for 'Winter's Bone' coming. It shouldn't have been too big a surprise though, as the film was met with overwhelmingly strong reviews and touted as an awards contender when it was released last year. I guess the fact that I didn't personally like it all that much forced it out of my mind.

I fared less well in the other categories. I got 3/5 Best Actor nominees, as I thought Ryan Gosling ('Blue Valentine') and Mark Wahlberg ('The Fighter') were certainties. But rather it was last year's victor Jeff Bridges ('True Grit') and previous winner Javier Bardem ('Biutiful') who got the nod. I got 4/5 Best Actress picks right, with my only mistake being to include Julianne Moore ('The Kids Are All Right') over Nicole Kidman ('Rabbit Hole').

I was close with my predictions for Best Director. Though my pick of 'The Kids Are All Right' director Lisa Cholodenko over Joel and Ethan Coen ('True Grit') was a mistake - though not an unhappy one. In the supporting categories I got 6/10 right - but as I said before, those categories are probably the hardest main awards to call. Anyone can get nominated for almost anything. Case in point, Australian film 'Animal Kingdom' gets its sole major nod in the Best Supporting Actress category with Jacki Weaver listed. The young star of 'True Grit' Hailee Steinfeld was also a surprise inclusion. Best Supporting Actor seemed like it might be less problematic, but I also got two of those names wrong. Michael Douglas didn't get his widely expected nod for 'Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps', but Jeremy Renner ('The Town') and John Hawkes ('Winter's Bone') were included.

I've posted the main categories below (as stolen from Deadline). I've emboldened those who I think will win on the night:

127 HOURS (Fox Searchlight)
An Hours Production Christian Colson, Danny Boyle and John Smithson, Producers
BLACK SWAN (Fox Searchlight)
A Protozoa and Phoenix Pictures Production Mike Medavoy, Brian Oliver and Scott Franklin, Producers
INCEPTION (Warner Bros)
A Warner Bros. UK Services Production Emma Thomas and Christopher Nolan, Producers
THE FIGHTER (Paramount)
A Relativity Media Production David Hoberman, Todd Lieberman and Mark Wahlberg, Producers
An Antidote Films, Mandalay Vision and Gilbert Films Production Gary Gilbert, Jeffrey Levy-Hinte and Celine Rattray, Producers
THE KING'S SPEECH (The Weinstein Co)
A See-Saw Films and Bedlam Production Iain Canning, Emile Sherman and Gareth Unwin, Producers
A Columbia Pictures Production Scott Rudin, Dana Brunetti, Michael De Luca and Ceán Chaffin, Producers

TOY STORY 3 (Walt Disney)
A Pixar Production Darla K. Anderson, Producer
TRUE GRIT (Paramount)
A Paramount Pictures Production Scott Rudin, Ethan Coen and Joel Coen, Producers
WINTER'S BONE (Roadside Attractions)
A Winter's Bone Production Anne Rosellini and Alix Madigan-Yorkin, Producers

JAVIER BARDEM - BIUTIFUL (Roadside Attractions)
COLIN FIRTH - THE KING’S SPEECH (The Weinstein Company)
JAMES FRANCO - 127 HOURS (Fox Searchlight)

MICHELLE WILLIAMS - BLUE VALENTINE (The Weinstein Co) -though never write off the lobbying power of the Weinstein's!

JOHN HAWKES - WINTER’S BONE (Roadside Attractions)

MELISSA LEO - THE FIGHTER (Paramount) -he's the favourite, but I'm backing Adams at the third attempt
JACKI WEAVER - ANIMAL KINGDOM (Sony Pictures Classics)

HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON (DreamWorks Animation)
TOY STORY 3 (Walt Disney)
THE ILLUSIONIST (Sony Pictures Classics)


ANOTHER YEAR, Mike Leigh (Sony Pictures Classics)
THE FIGHTER, Scott Silver and Paul Tamasy & Eric Johnson, Story by Keith Dorrington & Paul Tamasy & Eric Johnson (Paramount)
INCEPTION, Christopher Nolan (Warner Bros)
THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT, Lisa Cholodenko & Stuart Blumberg (Focus Features)
THE KING'S SPEECH, David Seidler (The Weinstein Co)

127 HOURS, Danny Boyle & Simon Beaufoy (Fox Searchlight)
TOY STORY 3, Michael Arndt, Story by John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, and Lee Unkrich (Walt Disney)
THE SOCIAL NETWORK, Aaron Sorkin (Sony Pictures)
WINTER'S BONE, Debra Granik & Anne Rosellini (Roadside Attractions)
TRUE GRIT, Joel Coen & Ethan Coen (Paramount)

Algeria, Hors la Loi (Outside the Law) (Cohen Media Group) - A Tassili Films Production
Canada, Incendies (Sony Pictures Classics) - A Micro-Scope Production
Denmark, In a Better World (Sony Pictures Classics) - A Zentropa Production
Greece, Dogtooth (Kino International) - A Boo Production - I want this to win!
Mexico, Biutiful (Roadside Attractions) - A Menage Atroz, Mod Producciones and Ikiru Films Production

Black Swan (Fox Searchlight) - Matthew Libatique
Inception (Warner Bros.) - Wally Pfister
The King's Speech (The Weinstein Company) - Danny Cohen
The Social Network (Sony Pictures Releasing) - Jeff Cronenweth
True Grit (Paramount) - Roger Deakins

Exit Through The Gift Shop (Producers Distribution Agency) A Paranoid Pictures Production Banksy and Jaimie D'Cruz
Gasland - A Gasland Production Josh Fox and Trish Adlesic
Inside Job (Sony Pictures Classics) - A Representational Pictures Production Charles Ferguson and Audrey Marrs
Restrepo (National Geographic Entertainment) - An Outpost Films Production Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger
Waste Land (Arthouse Films) - An Almega Projects Production Lucy Walker and Angus Aynsley

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Beames on Film is one year old!

Yesterday was the first birthday of this film blog, which I began a year and one day ago in order to have somewhere other than Facebook to shout my opinions at people over the internet. I just wanted to post a quick "thank you" to everyone who has read - or better still reads - my ramblings on cinema and hope that you stick with me over the next year, which I hope will include even more reviews and several visits to film festivals.

Here is some self-congratulatory stuff about how it's all been going.

2010 was quite eventful for me and saw me interview some big name Hollywood types (including Ricky Gervais, Darren Aronofsky and Oliver Stone) and write well over one hundred reviews, as well as lots of other stuff here and there - including one piece for the Sunday Telegraph. I have also become a regular contributor on one of the UK's best read daily film blogs Obsessed with Film and even once appeared as an "expert" on BBC Radio Sussex.

I did a lot more stuff than I ever expect to do in that first twelve months, but I can't yet rest on my laurels and I need to work to ensure that 2011 will be as big if not bigger for me (and by extension this blog). In mid-February I will be writing from the Berlin Film Festival, whilst I also hope to visit many others including a second trip to Venice later in the year (who knows, maybe even Cannes).

It's been fun, but also a lot of hard work - most of it (99.9% of it) unpaid. Thanks for supporting and encouraging me on my ramshackle journey to become a full-time film journalist. There aren't many comments left on the site, but Google Analytics ensures me you're out there. So sincerely: thank you. This coming year could prove make or break, so fingers crossed. I hope you are all still reading come January 2012!

To "sex up" this post a little with something tangentially relevant, here is my favourite scene about writing from one of my all-time favourite movies:

Friday, 21 January 2011

'Black Swan': My interviews with Aronofsky, Cassel and Kunis...

Hooray! The brilliant 'Black Swan' is out today in the UK. It was my favourite film of last year after I saw it at the Venice Film Festival and a few months later I was sent to a fancy London hotel for a press junket where I interviewed the director, Darren Aronofsky, as well as two of his stars: Vincent Cassel and Mila Kunis. My review of this masterpiece is up on Obsessed with Film along with those three interviews. Here are the links below:

'Black Swan' review
Darren Aronofsky
Vincent Cassel
Mila Kunis

The film is destined to be nominated for a shed load of Oscars and I fancy Natalie Portman to win Best Actress - something I predicted as soon as I left the première screening on the Lido in September. I noted down all my Oscar predictions earlier in the week.

'Black Swan' is out now and playing at Brighton's Duke of York's Picturehouse. It has been rated '15' by the BBFC.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Oscar prediction time 2011...

First things first: regular visitors might have noticed that I was unusually quiet last week. This was down to a mixture of the birth of my new baby brother James, a period of horrible flu-ness and general work at the cinema. I have now completed reviews that I started last week before illness temporarily shelved them and they can now be found below this post or on the "reviews" page. Yesterday I also posted a review of the 'Certified Copy' Blu-ray over on Obsessed with Film. So now that I'm back up and running, I thought I'd comment on the award season as it comes into full swing.

As I'm sure most film fans are aware, from all the Ricky Gervais furore and Colin Firth's mighty, flag-flying Best Actor triumph, the Golden Globes (that's the budget Oscars to you and me) were held yesterday in LA. The full results (at least for the film half of it) can be found on the Splendor Cinema blog so I won't bother to re-post them here. Today also saw the nominations for the BAFTAs announced, which you can read here. What I want to instead is look forward to the real deal: the Academy Awards, which are taking place at the end of next month (February 27th). The nominees are announced a week today (Tuesday 25th), so now seems like as good a time as any for rampant speculation.

Best Picture
For the main prize I'd have to say that obvious favoured candidates, 'Black Swan', 'The Social Network', 'The Fighter' and 'The King's Speech', will be joined by fancied outsiders 'Toy Story 3', 'Inception', 'The Kids Are All Right', as well as the now annual nomination for the Coen Brothers with 'True Grit' a likely contender. The final two films in the field of ten are harder to call. I'd guess that Clint Eastwood's 'Hereafter' could miss out after getting "mixed reviews" and failing to perform at the box office. Instead maybe Danny Boyle's '127 Hours' could sneak in, perhaps alongside Gareth Edwards' roundly-praised 'Monsters' (as this year's 'District 9')?

I'm not hedging my bets. Those previous ten are my picks. But if those aren't the chosen ones, then who knows? Maybe the Tilda Swinton vanity project 'I Am Love' could emerge as the token foreign language contender for the award? Or maybe even Alejandro González Iñárritu's 'Biutiful'? I'd also not discount 'Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps' as a possibility. Or the brilliant 'Blue Valentine', with the Weinsteins always keen to push their films for awards glory.

As for the winner, it'd be foolish not to expect the triumphant winner of the Golden Globe 'The Social Network' to win. However, the Globe hasn't often predicted the correct Oscar winner in recent years and last year saw 'Avatar' the strong Oscar favourite all the way through award season until a last minute surge for 'The Hurt Locker'. If it doesn't win for some reason, then I'd like to see 'Black Swan' do it instead.

Best Director
David Fincher won the globe and I believe he'll win the Oscar for 'The Social Network'. The director nominations will be drawn from the five most serious contenders for the main prize. In this case that would make the four "losers" Darren Aronofsky ('Black Swan'), David O. Russell ('The Fighter'), Tom Hooper ('The King's Speech') and Lisa Cholodenko ('The Kids Are All Right').

Best Actor
This category will be won by Colin Firth, last year's most popular loser after his performance in 'A Single Man' is generally liked and has been roundly heralded for his performance as a stuttering George VI in 'The King's Speech'. The makeweights in this field will likely be Jesse Eisenberg for 'The Social Network', James Franco for '127 Hours', Mark Wahlberg for 'The Fighter' and Ryan Gosling for 'Blue Valentine'. Personally, I'd like to see the Golden Globe "Best Performance in a Musical or Comedy" winner Paul Giamatti win the Oscar for 'Barney's Version', but that won't happen. He won't even be nominated. Out of the likely nominees, my pick would be James Franco. I disliked '127 Hours' but he was class in it. He is co-hosting the event with Anne Hathway, so it would be fun to see him win.

Best Actress
How long before this award is renamed "Best Female Actor"? I haven't heard the term actress self-applied in years, so it seems like only a matter of time. This is one of the hardest fields to call in the whole competition. It seems certain that Jennifer Lawrence ('Winter's Bone'), Natalie Portman ('Black Swan') and Michelle Williams ('Blue Valentine') will be nominated, with Portman the probable winner (and my personal favourite). However I'm not so confident about the other two names. Halle Berry ('Frankie and Alice') and Nicole Kidman ('Rabbit Hole') are among the favourites having been nominated at the Globes, but I think Julianne Moore and Annette Bening will both be nominated for 'The Kids Are All Right' - recalling Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick who were both nominated last year for 'Up in the Air'.

Best Supporting Actor
Another hard field to call. In fact, the "supporting" categories are always hard to predict because they can throw up literally any name and are especially prone to votes based on nostalgia or sympathy (Heath Ledger last year, or Pete Postlethwaite at this year's BAFTAs). On that basis Michael Douglas seems a likely nomination for 'Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps' due to his recent battle with throat cancer. Besides, he won an Oscar for the same role in 1987, playing Gordon Gekko in the original 'Wall Street', so it's not that far fetched an honour. Christian Bale will likely win the category for his role in 'The Fighter'. A certainty for at least a nomination is Geoffrey Rush for 'The King's Speech'. The remaining two names could be Andrew Garfield for 'The Social Network' and Mark Ruffalo for 'The Kids Are All Right'. If I had my way Ruffalo would win that one, though I haven't yet seen Bale in 'The Fighter'.

Best Supporting Actress
Golden Globe winner (and a Best Actress nominee last year for 'Frozen River') Melissa Leo will be nominated for her role in 'The Fighter'. As will Amy Adams, who has twice been nominated for this award in the past, for roles in 'Junebug' and 'Doubt'. Mila Kunis seems like a safe bet for 'Black Swan', as does Helena Bonham Carter, who will likely complete a trilogy of acting nominations for 'The King's Speech'. The final nomination is hard to predict. Jacki Weaver was nominated for the Golden Globe for 'Animal Kingdom', whilst the BAFTAs have 'Lesley Manville' up for 'Another Year' and Barbara Hershey for 'Black Swan' (and Miranda Richardson for 'Made in Dagenham', but I'm not going to entertain that as a serious Oscar choice). I'm going to take a stab in the dark here and suggest that Mia Wasikowska could be an outside contender for 'The Kids Are All Right' - a film I've nominated in most of the categories, but which could be left out altogether. Certainly the film's initial Oscar buzz has died down since its release. I think Amy Adams will win the statue itself. Third time lucky.

The Rest
'Toy Story 3' will win the animated film award without too much trouble. 'Inception' will pick up some of the boring effects and technical gongs, whilst 'The King's Speech' will win some sort of costume award for being a stiff, British period drama (then again 'Black Swan' could very well beat them to that one with its ballet costumes). The Best Adapted Screenplay award will go to Aaron Sorkin for 'The Social Network', whilst Best Original Screenplay may go to 'The Kids Are All Right' writers Lisa Cholodenko and Stuart Blumberg. The Best Score award is a two way battle between Hans Zimmer for 'Inception' and Trent Reznor/Atticus Ross for 'The Social Network'. I have a feeling Zimmer will win this one even though Reznor scooped the Globe. The foreign language winner is impossible to predict on any year. Last time around 'A Prophet' and 'The White Ribbon' picked up every prize en route to the Oscars only for Argentine film 'The Secret in Their Eyes' to come from nowhere and win it. I honestly couldn't even guess. 'Biutiful' maybe? Who cares.

So, those are my picks for the 2011 Academy Award nominations. I'll no doubt write a follow-up to this when the real nominations come in on the 25th.

Monday, 17 January 2011

'Blue Valentine' review:

Stills and posters don't do 'Blue Valentine' justice. It looks too smug and indie, even a little high on itself with its brooding, handsome leads locked in a po-faced embrace. It seems self-consciously "cool" and "stylish", flaunting various garlands on the poster stating that it played in Cannes as well as the hippest international film festivals: Toronto and Sundance. It comes from the shamelessly Oscar-nomination-savvy Weinstein Company and the knowingly trendy soundtrack is composed by indie darlings Grizzly Bear. It was also subject of a high-profile age rating controversy in the US which was over almost as soon as it began, leading the more cynical to speculate that the whole thing might have been a publicity stunt to raise the film's profile (certainly nothing in the film warrants the original 'NC-17' rating from the MPAA). Worse still, I've heard people say things like "it's this year's '(500) Days of Summer'" - which is the worst thing anyone could ever tell me about a movie (except maybe "it's like a Michael Bay directed episode of '24'").

Forget all that though. 'Blue Valentine' is sensational and the performances of Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling searing. It is an emotionally raw, sexually frank and honest movie about relationships, with rounded, multifaceted adult characters and a nonjudgmental attitude. There is something in this movie for anyone who has ever been through romance. But it doesn't stop there. A lady sitting next to me wept during one scene in which Gosling's character, who works as a removal man, helps a lonely old person move into a nursing home by organising the frail gent's photos and war memorabilia around the small, impersonal room. In another scene Michelle Williams' character talks to her ailing grandmother about the decline of her parents' marriage. Another harrowing scene sees her confront the physical process of having an abortion. It's a film that will resonate strongly with people who've been through any of these experiences - not just a painful break-up.

It's not all doom and gloom however. The shade wouldn't have any impact if not for the bright light that shines on half the movie, which flicks back and forth between the happy beginning of the relationship and the fraught end of the couple's married life - prompting those unfair comparisons with the superficial, winking atrocity that is '(500) Days of Summer'. This narrative structure isn't employed for its kookiness however, as the film plays these moments against each other for contrast and often for a change of pace and emotional gear. The salad days of the relationship are probably harder for the film to get right than the sadder stuff. It's relatively easy to do bleak and receive acclaim, whilst genuine romantic warmth is hard to convey and all too often it can read as cheesy, grating and cloying. But when Gosling flirts with Williams, when he sings to her and plays the ukulele, it is properly lovely and wholly sincere.

Director and writer Derek Cianfrance strikes this balance so wonderfully that 'Blue Valentine' avoids becoming a blandly anti-romantic "isn't love bullshit" movie and is instead something much more complex and truthful. "Honest" is perhaps the best adjective to describe the film, in its depiction of sexuality and love. And as with the very best films, in 'Blue Valentine' it is always possible to take any character's point of view and empathise with it. There isn't really too much moral grandstanding here. Nobody is ever obviously in the wrong. Yet at the same time you can understand why they might appear to be in the wrong to the other party. I'd also wager that anyone who watches it will encounter a situation or even an entire conversation that has literally happened to them at some point - for me it was the argument during which Gosling attacks the notion of "potential" (as invariably measured by economic success).

If I had one mild criticism it would be that male sexual gratification is never shown positively and the only scene we see of intimacy between Williams and Gosling is one of cunnilingus. Male sexual pleasure is aggressive and potentially destructive - something to be either put up with or resisted by women. This is only a mild criticism though and I certainly wouldn't advocate an additional love-making scene specifically to tick some sort of affirmative box. What we do see is well handled: tastefully filmed and extremely intimate, and always in service of the characters and their emotional journey (what a turgid, overworn phrase, but I can't think of a better one). It would also be hypocritical of me (given my attack on the Apatow comedies) not to mention that Gosling's character is the typical modern movie male (an overgrown man-child) who just wants to drink and have fun, whereas Williams is the stern, career-minded one who lays down the law with their daughter. But here it is done so well that it rings true and doesn't feel like standard 21st century Hollywood sexism that it perhaps is.

'Blue Valentine' isn't that sad little emo poem of a movie you might think it is from the poster. It's a riveting film that says as much about love and romantic relationships as any other film I've seen as it bravely and skilfully jumps between emotional extremes with great economy and even subtlety. If it doesn't resonate with you on some level then I can only surmise that you haven't ever left the house. It's one of those movies that makes two hours feel like twenty minutes and leaves you feeling satisfied by the art form you love so much, despite the fact it so often breaks your fragile little heart.

'Blue Valentine' is rated '15' by the BBFC and is out now in the UK.

Friday, 14 January 2011

'The Green Hornet' review:

Masked-vigilante movie 'The Green Hornet' has taken a mighty walloping from film critics since its release on Friday. The action-comedy, which stars Seth Rogen and is directed by Michel Gondry, had a troubled production history which saw the original director and co-star Stephen Chow leave the project citing "creative differences". Added to that has been the lukewarm to negative reaction given to the choice of casting comedy actor Rogen in the lead role as Britt Reid (AKA The Green Hornet), as well as the generally unenthusiastic response to the first trailer released last summer. You could be forgiven for not having heard of it too, with minimal publicity being afforded the film (I haven't seen a single TV ad or billboard) by Columbia Pictures, who are seemingly keen to cut their losses and move on - a sign that nobody had much confidence in this movie to begin with. Slap on the much-maligned retrofitted 3D and this movie practically has "avoid" written in big letters all over it.

With crushingly low expectations I went to see it on the opening day last week, mainly because I've admired all of Michel Gondry's previous films. Aside from 'Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind' none are perfect, but all of his films are rough gems, with lots of interesting in-camera trickery and generally fairly interesting themes. His first two films were written by Charlie Kaufman, but even his subsequent works ('The Science of Sleep' and 'Be Kind Rewind') had a Kaufman-esque high-concept and a lovable off-beat sensibility. This spirit and his directorial ingenuity even carried through into his recently released lo-fi and very personal documentary 'The Thorn in the Heart'. Even so, I expected an absolute train wreck of a film in 'The Green Hornet'. I certainly didn't expect to see something so utterly entertaining.

Any misgivings I had about 'The Green Hornet' disappeared during the opening scene, in which crime boss Benjamin Chudnofsky - played by Christoph Waltz who won an Oscar last year for his role in Tarantino's 'Inglourious Basterds' - confronts a flashy, young mobster played by the excellent James Franco (in an uncredited cameo) who has made the mistake of setting up on his turf. The dialogue in this opening exchange is hilarious and both actors are fantastic to watch. Franco is sleazy and cocky, whilst Waltz seems insecure and looks genuinely hurt by accusations that he doesn't know how to dress stylishly (a barb that will become a preoccupation for the remainder of the film). The German actor underplays his role and makes it funnier, but also adds some depth to his character. Chudnofsky isn't a typical mad villain who bumps off his own henchmen (although he is that too), he is also amidst a serious mid-life crisis and is quite pathetic, something Waltz does rather well.

Rogen plays an equally unconventional hero: a spoilt, selfish, arrogant son of a millionaire who does nothing but party. We've seen that before in Robert Downey Jr's Tony Stark or even in Christian Bale's Bruce Wayne, but Rogen's hero isn't charming and erudite - he is an obnoxious oaf and by and large stays that way right the way through the film. Rogen's delivery - of dialogue he penned with writing partner Evan Goldberg - is superb too, in all its underplayed, mock-macho brainlessness. The relationship between Rogen and Jay Chou, who plays his sidekick Kato, is the centre of the movie and fun to watch. The film also boasts quite an impressive supporting cast. Aside from Franco's aforementioned cameo, there are also roles for Tom Wilkinson as Rogen's father, Edward Furlong as a guy who runs a meth lab and Edward James Olmos as a newspaper man, as well as Cameron Diaz as a brainy criminologist who (for some unexplained reason) takes a temp job as Reid's secretary.

Michel Gondry has done well to put his stamp on the troubled project too. The colourful and exaggerated world his characters inhabit could hover uneasily somewhere somewhere between 'Mystery Men' and 'The Fifth Element', yet it is tonally consistent and very broad without ever jumping the shark. The director's stylised approach as ever includes sequences of animation and eye-catching, innovative in-camera set pieces which show off his preference for practical visual effects. One single-take tracking shot uses several different actors as Kato in silhouette in order to imply his great speed and agility, whilst another shot slowly pans 360 degrees around a garage full of expensive cars as Rogen, in fastforward, enters each of them with a lady he has met at a party. Great time and care seems to have been taken over the films 3D conversion too, and the result is an effect which is far better than that seen in 'Alice in Wonderland' or 'Clash of the Titans'.

As funny and winsome as I found much of 'The Green Hornet', Rogen is clearly from the Apatow stable. This manifests itself not only in the type of comedy on offer (a lot of which wouldn't be out of place in a film like 'Pineapple Express'), but perhaps most tellingly in the treatment of Cameron Diaz's love interest character. Rogen and Goldberg just don't know what to do with her and she isn't in very much of the film. The sexism of Apatow films like 'Knocked Up' (itself a Rogen vehicle) is in some ways evident here, with men again cast as lovable man-children and women as joyless shrews, patronised as "mature" or "smart" in order to get away with it. Instead the emphasis is as always on "bromance", here between Rogen and Chou. Likewise, Reid's absent (apparently long-dead) mother casts no shadow over the film or her son's character, though the death of his father is a catalyst for the film's action and Reid's transformation into a superhero. That said, there is a reason for Rogen's continued errant man-child persona: it is funny.

For a film that is so resolutely playing the superhero movie for comedy, 'The Green Hornet' is surprisingly full of exciting action. Jay Chou's martial arts work - filmed by Gondry in an interesting video game style which recalls 'Oldboy' - is fantastic, but the really brilliant thing from an action perspective is the "Black Beauty", a modified car which serves as Britt Reid's equivalent of the Batmobile. It's got so many gadgets, missiles and guns on it that, basically, if you were ten years old again you'd want a toy of it for Christmas.

There is something to be said for entering a film with diminished expectations. Maybe I wouldn't have been so positive about 'The Green Hornet' had I seen it prior to all the negativity. But even then I can't imagine slating it. It was funny, with some interesting visuals and solidly entertaining action. It has Christoph Waltz in it. I didn't even mind the 3D. I can't see it being too many people's "film of the year", but all the same: if this ends up in a few "worst of 2011" lists we'll have had an ok year at the movies.

'The Green Hornet' is out now in the UK and is rated '12A' by the BBFC.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

'The Thorn in the Heart' review:

If there is one word that sums up the feature film work of Michel Gondry it is probably nostalgia. His next film is 'The Green Hornet', a modern take on a character which made his debut on the radio in the 1930s and who was made most famous by his 1960s TV incarnation (which co-starred Bruce Lee). His last film 'Be Kind Rewind' was equally backward looking, taking its inspiration from VHS cassettes and cinema of the 1980s - with Gondry recreating lo-fi versions of such films as 'Ghostbusters' and 'Driving Miss Daisy'. The Frenchman also directed 'Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind' which looked at the importance of memories and 'The Science of Sleep' which looked at the significance of dreams (through the eyes of a childish nostalgic played by Gael Garcia Bernal), whilst his first film 'Human Nature' was in some respects the ultimate look back as it followed Rhys Ifans as a primitive man raised by apes.

It is entirely fitting then that Gondry has chosen to shoot a documentary about his elderly aunt Suzette, a former school teacher. The film looks back at her life, and in the process that of Gondry's own parents and childhood, by way of a great deal of Super 8 film footage (the ultimate resource of the nostalgic?) as well as some very intimate interviews. The interviews are warm and Gondry comes across as thoughtful and kind-natured whilst managing to coax some quite poignant, heartfelt reminiscences - which mostly relate to the turbulent relationship between Suzette and her son Jean-Yves. It is from these interactions that the film's title is taken as Suzette describes her son as the thorn in her heart. Yet as you might expect from a Michel Gondry film, there is also a great deal of good humour and a sense of fun over a lot of the documentary.

In his typically inventive and inspired lo-fi style, Gondry uses animation to bring some of his aunt's recollections to life. In one playful scene, which had me in stitches, Gondry re-enacts a moment that his cameras have missed staging an incident in which Jean-Yves became "trapped" in a bathroom after a small clothes horse fell against the door. Opening the door ajar, Gondry has a member of his crew replicate how Jean-Yves poked his head through the gap and whined for his elderly mother to move the small laundry-drying apparatus blocking his path. In another innovative and charming sequence, Gondry makes a class of school children run around wearing green screen cloaks which he uses to make them appear invisible. As they charge around the playground with only their heads and feet visible, there is a great feeling of experimentation and spontaneity as the director looks to excite the children about the possibilities of his medium.

But the best "stunt" of his in this low-key film happens when Suzette takes him to the site of a demolished school where only an old projection box remains standing. Gondry and his crew decide to turn the space into a cinema once again and fashion a screen out of a timber frame and some bed sheets before taking an old projector into the old projection box and screening an old film for Suzette and some of her former students, now themselves middle-aged. It is a joyful and moving moment in a film full of such moments.

The film's crowning achievement is that whilst Gondry is always on friendly terms with his subjects (whom he clearly loves dearly) he does manage to get a lot of truth out of the exercise. His aunt is depicted with great admiration and respect, yet Gondry also manages to convey how she has perhaps neglected her son - possibly on account of his homosexuality - in favour of attending to the generations of school children who came through her classroom, all of whom seem to look on her more fondly than Jean-Yves. The relationship between Jean-Yves and his deceased father is similarly troubling. Yet this is counterbalanced by more jovial scenes, such as the opening in which Suzette tells stories about her husband over a big family dinner, during which she is incapacitated by laughter.

The family as depicted by Gondry is complex: equal parts beautiful and damaged. This balance is something which Gondry seems to portray so effortlessly without it ever feeling like he is manipulating his audience or his subjects. The film may even seem to suffer from the fact that it is so relaxed and slight - it could almost look like Gondry hasn't done anything at all. Though I think 'The Thorn in the Heart' is a really wonderful and personal piece of filmmaking from a director consistently so adept at looking backwards without compromising either his judgement or his artistry.

'The Thorn in the Heart' is rated 'PG' by the BBFC.

Friday, 7 January 2011

'127 Hours' review:

In theory Danny Boyle might just be the perfect choice of director to make a mainstream film about the graphic, but nevertheless quite boring, story of Aron Ralston - a climber who got trapped in a rocky crevice in an isolated part of Utah in 2003 and only escaped by severing his right arm below the elbow. I say boring because although Ralston had to hack through his own flesh and bone with a blunt knife before he was free, he spent five days prior to that sitting in the dark, talking to his video camera and drinking his own urine. However, in Boyle's hands you know that the story will be punctuated by his trademark blend of hyperactive editing and energetic music, with even the smallest moments - such as taking a sip of water - afforded flashy, hi-octane treatment with bravura use of camera.

This ceaseless, self-consciously hip treatment is exactly what the Academy Award winning director of 'Slumdog Millionaire' has brought to the table in his film '127 Hours', which stars James Franco as Ralston and is co-written with regular partner Simon Beaufoy. It begins with a fast-paced, split screen montage of archive footage showing people in big social groups (on the stock market floor; or at a sporting event) making elaborate use of their arms. Boyle, never one for subtlety, is ramming home the point that we use our arms a lot in communication with others. By going it alone and neglecting his friends and family (he doesn't return their calls or tell them where he is canyoneering) Ralston will loose one of these important social instruments, though ironically he will emerge a better, more socially minded individual as a result. Ralston might spend most of the film trapped in one tight space, but he does at least venture on an emotional journey. As every poster for the film tells us, this a "triumphant true story": something intended to be every bit as "feelgood" and "heartwarming" as 'Slumdog'. It's a motivational tale about survival and how we, like Ralston, can turn great adversity into a positive life-changing experience.

That is the theory anyway. Instead, for me at least, Boyle's heavy-handed and fidgety style of storytelling detracts from the humanity of the piece, as he shifts uneasily from crisp digital landscape photography, to grainy handheld shots, to cameras showing the POV of a hand or the inside of a drinking straw. Sometimes it's lo-fi and gritty and sometimes it feels like an expensive Michael Bay directed music video. It is the same restlessness and tacky excess that characterises the director's entire filmography, though with it's hallucinations and dream sequences, '127 Hours' also features the surreal touches and moments of genuine invention as seen in his best work: 'Shallow Grave' and 'Trainspotting' (and for me 'A Life Less Ordinary'). Yet these flourishes now feel overwrought and verge on self-parody. It also doesn't help that the self-indulgent form and fast-cutting of Boyle's film is consistently set to the most horrible of musical selections.

The cumulative effect of the distracting editing and the over-the-top soundtrack is that the film's most pivotal, climactic and talked about sequence - that of the amputation - is almost funny rather than horrific. I'm quite squeamish and I can't watch so-called "torture porn" films, so I was expecting to have to resist the urge to cover my eyes during the final moments only to be underwhelmed. It's no fault of the special effects and make-up department. The wound looks real (at least to someone like me lacking any frame of reference) but it is badly filmed. Perhaps the moment wasn't supported by the obvious and cheesy writing that preceded it, which had already dented my enthusiasm for the movie by that point. "You're going to be lonely" a former girlfriend flat-out tells the climber in a flashback (no need to think about what you're seeing for yourself). In another scene the same love interest lays a hand on Franco's chest and asks all-too earnestly "how do I get in here? What is the combination?" "If I told you I'd have to kill you" he replies predictably. Through those scenes I was left saying under my breath "go on: lop off the arm already and end this film."

'127 Hours' is at its most watchable and alive when Franco "does a Gollum" and videos himself playing both sides of a question and answer session. James Franco is a good choice to play this role and is rapidly establishing himself as one of the more courageous and interesting male leads around. He just about holds your attention during most of this one-man show with a performance that combines playful humour with despair and anguish. He is also a convincing physical performer as he scales the canyons before he is involuntarily indisposed. It is to the film's detriment that Boyle's busy audio-visual style prevents any moments of sincere and quiet introspection for Franco's character.

It is at least refreshing to see that Franco's Ralston doesn't start off the film with any sort of major personality defect - unless you take ignoring one answer phone message (left as he's preparing to leave the house) as shorthand that he's not nice enough to his dear old mum. He seems a likable if slightly cocky guy, described by two girls he meets before the accident as "fun". And he is fun: showing the lost pair which way to go and taking them to a a beautiful subterranean swimming pool where they all lark about for a bit. He is charismatic and he seems driven by a love of the outdoors rather than a selfish (and self-destructive) desire to be left alone. The character change he undergoes is more the organic and relatable response to a near death experience (to cherish your loved ones and take nothing for granted) than the contrivance of the needs of film structure as explained so well by Brian Cox in 'Adaptation'.

I will say that Ralston's real-life experience is genuinely incredible. No matter what was at stake, I'm not sure I could saw though my arm without anesthetic and with only a crummy little penknife and a makeshift tourniquet at my disposal. It is a testament to the guy that he managed to do that rather than passing out and dying of dehydration alone in that deserted rock face. It was never something I needed to see on film however and Boyle's loud, chaotic telling of it has failed to convince me otherwise. Maybe a smaller, more intimate and disciplined film would have worked better for me, though I can see that many will find Boyle's more excitable approach compliments its thrill-seeking central character.

One small caveat to end this review would be that in a fairly empty screening there were two or three people who applauded as the credits rolled. I also saw that many people were more effected by the amputation scene than I was, covering their eyes and so on. I haven't enjoyed any of Danny Boyle's films of the last ten years either. So if you found 'Slumdog Millionaire' to be as brilliant as many film critics (and indeed the Oscar voters) did, then maybe there is something for you in '127 Hours'. There just wasn't anything in it for me besides a winning central performance and a couple of breathtaking shots of the Utah landscape.

'127 Hours' is out now in the UK and is rated '15' by the BBFC.

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Calling all martial arts film fans PLUS Jurassic Park!!!

Back in Venice I saw the exciting new Andrew Lau directed sequel to the 1972 Bruce Lee film 'Fist of Fury' (my favourite Lee feature) 'Legend of the Fist: the Return of Chen Zhen'. Brilliantly, Brighton's Duke of York's Picturehouse is playing the film as late night feature tomorrow (Friday 7th January) at 23.30.

In September my review said (with an uncharacteristic blood lust): "The first ten minutes equals anything in recent memory in terms of adrenaline pumping action. We begin in France during WW1, where a group of Chinese allied to the French are under fire from a German position. Few films tackle The Great War over it’s deadlier sequel and this is probably the most exciting take I’ve seen, as scores of biplanes bomb our heroes and Yen outruns machine guns and scales buildings, gleefully hacking away German soldiers."

Indeed the first 10-15 minutes are outstanding. I recommend Brighton based fans of Bruce Lee movies or martial arts stuff in general check this out tomorrow.

You can buy tickets for tomorrow's showing at Brighton's Duke of York's Picturehouse here.

Also, I have to mention that one of my most cherished films, 'Jurassic Park', is coming to the Duke's on Saturday 15th at 23.30. You can pre-book tickets for that here.

Mr. Toby King and myself have hassled the manager non-stop for a year to get this on the big screen, so please come and pay your respects to "the greatest film of all time".*

*my opinion aged 8.

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

The Worst of 2010?

After the unbridled positivity of my Top 30 Films of 2010 list it is now time to take a look at the reverse. What were the worst films of 2010?

The likes of 'Inception' and 'Toy Story 3' may not have lived up to my very high expectations, but neither are bad. 'Inception' was the year's most over-hyped, exposition-laden behemoth and 'Toy Story 3' was the film that most disappointed me (being a huge Pixar fan) - but they are both well made films and far from terrible. There were also (by definition) a lot of quite average films over the summer, such as 'Knight and day' and 'The A-Team'. Some were more fun than others but most were nevertheless passable. This list, a "top 10" (if you can call it that), is reserved strictly for the year's most risible wastes of celluloid.

10) Monsters, dir Gareth Edwards, UK

What I said: 'Monsters' is suffocated by constant exposition with people saying things like "so let me get this straight: we have 48 hours to get to the coast" and when we aren't having things we have just seen and heard simplified for us we are forced to spend our time in the company of a couple of morons. Andrew has, he tells us, seen the corpses of the aliens before on several occasions. The creatures are also on the television news or caricatured by informative children's cartoons whenever we see a television. The duo are aware they are heading through the infected zone, as a great many sign posts tell them so. They see the destruction of areas affected by the so-called monsters. Yet when confronted by them they are forever shouting (and I mean shouting) "what the hell is that thing", over and over and over again... The shouting doesn't stop even when their armed guards - who by the way are asked several times "why have you guys got guns?" (gee, I wonder why) - tell them to be quiet during one attack sequence. The pair just can't shut up... When they pass through a destroyed town they ask aloud "all these people's homes. But where are all the people?"

"Argh! So infuriating!" is the expression that best characterises my experience of watching Gareth Edwards' roundly lauded road movie 'Monsters'. The endless stupid questions and the pseudo-mumblecore intensity of its boring lead actors as they meander on an "emotional journey" that feels horribly contrived. We know that they have been profoundly effected by their trudge across alien-infested Mexico because they tell us so, but what they are supposed to have learned is not exactly clear. That humans are the real monsters? Yawn. The film was dubbed "Film of the Month" in the January issue of Sight and Sound, but it seems to me that a great deal of the attention it has received (in the UK press especially) has been owing to its director being British and operating on a very low budget (doing his own computer effects from home). The latter is laudable and exciting, but the film itself is boring, as are the hordes of dullards who cack on enthusiastically: "it's good because it's not about the monsters." Whatever that means.

9) La solitudine dei numeri primi, dir Saverio Costanzo, ITA

What I said: "I found the film extremely uninvolving for most of its 118 minute running length. It was greeted with a chorus of boos when it ended [in competition in Venice], and I may have been tempted to lend my voice to them had I not been lulled into a dazed stupor by that point... La solitudine was boring and its characters irritating. The first few moments of tension are interesting, but they come to nothing and you quickly realise that they never will. And with nothing to keep you involved, this unhappy jaunt through the world of two young depressives, becomes a chore."

I have managed to almost entirely erase having watched this from my mind. Whilst in Venice I saw over 30 films in a two week period and so some of them have become a bit of a blur. What I can remember is that it was beautifully lit, but uninvolving and it seemed to go on forever. I didn't really understand the characters or care for them and I was tempted to walk out (which I never do). There may be something here that I'm missing. After all, Nick James wrote in Sight and Sound magazine that it was "the one Italian film [he] saw with imagination" (I found 'La pecora nera' to be much more imaginative, personally). Likewise, one reader at Obsessed With Film commented on my review that "It was a beautiful, sensible film. Alice and Mattia are intrinsec [sic] characters, not to be tagged by social stereotypes like you do so lightly" and made light of the film's robust running time and slow pace saying that "it takes time and thought to truly say something about anyone." Fair point well made, but it didn't resonate with me at all.

8) The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, dir Michael Apted, USA

What I said: "Michael Apted has stepped in for the third film [in the 'Narnia' series] and made something much blander. He isn't aided by the fact that a lot of this story takes place at sea and not amidst sweeping vistas, but even when action does take place on terra firma, many of the locations are much more obviously the result of CGI than in the other two films. The result is that even though the set pieces are on a grander scale - with a dragon battling a huge sea serpent around an elaborate galleon on a tempestuous sea at the film's finale - they actually feel smaller and less tangible... The film's pacing is also amiss, as the characters are each presented with moral trials which are overcome far too quickly and easily, the film just jumping from event to event without conveying any feeling of significance or genuine peril along the way... Narnia, as a concept and as a literary world, isn't a place I want to take my imagination... [But] even if you are one of the 468,916 people that "like" God on Facebook (correct at the time of writing) and worship the Narnia stories, 'The Voyage of the Dawn Treader' is a tedious telling of this story."

The tedious dogma of the Christ-lion saga reached its nadir in 2010 with 'The Voyage of the Dawn Treader'. Uninvolving and with ropey visual effects, it has exactly nothing to recommend it other than the fact that it's not one of the following seven films. I don't like this series of films, but even so 'Prince Caspian' was much better in every way.

7) Robin Hood, dir Ridley Scott, USA/UK

What I said: "[Russell] Crowe has less charisma than a hellish lovechild of Gerard Butler and Shia LaBeouf. He grunts and mumbles his way through the film, never really raising a smile, flattening any line which might be humorous as he marauds the English country side looking like a huge, bearded potato on horseback. Flynn might not have played a Hood mired in psychological concerns (“who was my father!?” etc etc), but he was watchable and charming, bringing the character to life in your imagination. Children could (and did) aspire to be Flynn’s Robin Hood, swinging on chandeliers and besting his enemies with his wit as well as his arrows. I can not conceivably imagine anybody growing up wanting to mumble there way through Sherwood Forest as Russell Crowe... Ok, so maybe that’s the point here: this Robin Hood is not for kids. It’s an adult version, with a tough, wilful Maid Marian played by Cate Blanchett (far from the courtly and mannered presence of, say, Olivia de Havilland) and a rugged “manly” hero in Crowe. Yes, I can see that Crowe is more convincingly a man who could have fought in the Crusades than Flynn or Costner or Elwes ever were. But is that an excuse for boring me with his mumbling presence? To paraphrase Benjmin Franklin: those who would give up essential entertainment to purchase a little temporary realism, deserve neither entertainment or realism."

Ridley Scott's 'Robin Hood' was a cynical attempt to do for Mr."of Locksley" what Christopher Nolan did for Batman. It's a re-boot and, with it ending at the point where Hood becomes the vigilante woodsman of folklore, a tentpole for a series of these "gritty" and "realistic" movies. However, the differences between 'Batman Begins' and 'Robin Hood' are many. For one thing Russell Crowe is here at his mumbling worst and Scott is at his most flashy cheesiest (with lots of silly slow-motion action). It's the heart-rending story of a bunch of affable lords angry with the high taxation they are being levied (the world's biggest evil). Hood is their champion rather than that of the poor in this telling of the story. It's also full of allusions to the American Dream and the American Constitution, despite its setting in medieval England. Boring, self-important nonsense.

6) The Ghost, dir Roman Polanski, FRA/GER/UK

What I said: "Perhaps ‘The Ghost’ will age quite well as audiences grow more distant from the recent political past. Then the Blair references will seem more obscure and may add colour to the picture in giving it an interesting historical context. But as a film for this political moment (the upcoming 2010 UK election) the film’s cynicism about politics and its practitioners is at best unhelpful and at worst irresponsible. Many will say that artists have no responsibility other than to their own creative whims and they would probably be correct. But I still find ‘The Ghost’ a little distasteful all the same."

My distaste for Roman Polanski's "political" thriller - fancied by many as a possible nomination for Best Picture at this year's Academy Awards - operates on many levels. Firstly and perhaps most importantly, I didn't find it thrilling or involving and I found the performances to be woeful (with the possible exception of Olivia Williams). It is slickly made, but totally conventional and not the sort of film you'd associate with one of the world's most highly rated auteurs. My other (more passionate) objection is ideological and possibly hypocritical (given my love of disputed biopic, 'The Social Network'). I hated the way it perpetuated received wisdom about former Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair, working as an elaborate, thinly veiled, character assassination. Pierce Brosnan played a sleazy, sinister Blair analogue who (last minute plot twist aside) is a puppet of the American government. I am not much of a fan of Blair, but this all seemed in bad taste to me. I am all for a serious film tackling the Blair years, but the use of the popular perception of the man within a fiction framework seemed at best cowardly as a way of making criticism. Worse still, in an election year it felt like a propaganda film seeking to discredit the Labour Party in general. I don't mind polemical films - in fact I quite like them - but making this attack with innuendo and half-baked conspiracy theories really bothered me. Especially as all dialogue relating to politics was so simplistic and unnatural.

5) Alice in Wonderland, dir Tim Burton, USA

What I said: "None of Carroll’s trademark wit and wordplay is evident in Burton’s ‘Alice in Wonderland’, which is an especially great shame, as that is clearly the highlight of the original stories. It seems that when Burton starts re-imaging older properties, such as Wonka, ‘Planet of the Apes’ and this ‘Alice’ film, he invariably diminishes them. I very much hope his next film is smaller in scale and harkens back to his earlier days, when he seemed like a relevant (possibly even great) filmmaker. For now we can only sit back and mourn his artistic decline, whilst he and Disney laugh all the way to the bank."

The above video demonstrates everything you need to know. Tellingly it features two CGI enhanced Matt Lucases (Lucasai?) and they aren't the worst thing on screen. It was a moment (like the mid-battle wedding in 'Pirates 3') that literally made my jaw drop as it followed my thinking "this film can't get any worse can it?". Oh yes it could and it did, with Johnny Depp's embarrassing Mad Hatter celebration dance. Congratulations Johnny Depp and Tim Burton: you are now totally rubbish. One of the most interesting American directors of the early 90s and one of the best actors of his generation have well and truly hit an all-time low. First 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory' and now this? Jesus wept.

4) The Millenium Trilogy, dir Niels Arden Oplev ('Dragon Tattoo')/Daniel Alfredson ('Played With Fire' and 'Hornet's Nest', SWE

What I said: On 'The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest': "Lisbeth Salander has been through some truly horrible events: beaten up by gangs of armed men; repeatedly raped by her legal guardian; and incarcerated in a mental institution at the age of twelve as the result of a shady government conspiracy. Yet she is still a manifestly unlikeable creation. She is a charmless psychopath and when she is forced to defend herself against charges that she is mentally unstable it is hard not to feel like her despicable, paedophile assailants at least have a bit of a point - although their reasons for making it are obviously not on the level. Again, like [Uma] Thurman's Bride character [from 'Kill Bill'], Lisbeth is hellbent on bloody, callous revenge in a film which thinks old testament "eye for an eye" justice is for wishy-washy Guardian readers. It is true that the film always totally convinces you that these balding, sinister Vince Cable-alikes deserve every bit of what Lisbeth gives them, but therein is the reason I hate these films so much."

I am so glad to see the back of this whole wretched, hateful trilogy - if only for a year before David Fincher's own adaptation of Stieg Larsson's bestselling books is realised. They are black-hearted, right-wing, vengence fantasies of the worst kind, with horrible acts of sexual violence inflicted upon the central character so as to make us even angrier with the film's villains for whom anything goes. But aside from that, these three films are blandly made by a Swedish television unit and look like gritty ITV detective serials rather than films. Noomi Rapace is good as Lisbeth Salander, but that isn't enough to stop the whole enterprise from feeling so horid.

3) Miral, dir Julian Schnabel, ISR/FRA

What I said: "It’s hard to argue with in terms of politics and sentiment: Israelis and Palestinians should live side-by-side peacefully and atrocities have been committed by both sides (though the film, perhaps reasonably, shows rather more perpetrated by the Israelis). But the thing is, Miral is just so contrived, so false, so cravenly seeking out approval, that it lacks impact and says nothing that isn’t either obvious or trite. The fact that the majority of the cast are speaking (at least what sounds like) their second language, only makes things worse. It is a far cry from the Wire-esque likes of 'Ajami', with a complete lack of authenticity. The sets look cheap, the make-up used to age actors – as the film spans the decades – is wholly unconvincing and the non-Arabic actors speak with hammy accents, reducing their parts to caricature."

I never want to see this again. Ever. It is well-meaning in its sympathetic depiction of the life of Palestinian people living in Israel, but it is far too simplistic and manipulative an account. The dialogue often feels as though it has been written for an educational programme for schools rather than for a feature film, as characters tell each other very basic things that they should probably be expected to know already. The acting is hammy and the film looks cheap. Schnabel's last film, 2007's 'The Diving Bell and the Butterfly', saw him nominated for a Best Director Academy Award. He can be certain of no such honour this year.

2) Sex & the City 2, dir Michael Patrick King, USA

What I said: "Carrie is a relationship columnist of international renown and acts as a sort of female version of the James Bond wish fulfilment fantasy. At one point she walks into a “wardrobe” bigger than most people’s bedrooms (and full of expensive designer clothes) and I distinctly heard two disparate ladies in the audience say “cool!” ‘Sex & the City’ is to women what ‘XXX’, ‘Fast and Furious’ and Danny Dyer movies are to men, in that they are not really for women at all: just for stupid people. If Samantha is deluded and slightly nauseating, then Carrie is just downright hateful. She makes her husband go out with her to a party, ditches him for her friends and then drags him home when she sees that he is starting to have fun (talking to Penelope “why am I here?” Cruz). For their anniversary her husband buys them both a flat screen television for the bedroom (getting a derisive chuckle from the ladies in the audience) but his intentions are decent and even romantic: he wants to lie with her and watch “old black and white films” in bed. She is indignant and, in the manner of an ungrateful child, says “a piece of jewellery would have been nice”. What a horrible person (but then Bond isn’t much better as a role model for male behaviour). Carrie and her friends feel like the subjects of an MTV reality show."

If you've seen the above clip you'll know that "culturally insensitive" isn't really an adequate description of 'Sex & the City 2'. Neither is "bad taste". But that is not why it's so high up this list. It's on this list because it promotes a hateful set of stereotypes about relationships, both sexual and Platonic. The "girls" are materialistic and bitchy to the extreme and the film itself is tacky and garish. The only reason it isn't number one is because there are times when I wondered whether or not the whole thing was intended as a satire of itself. I'm fairly sure it isn't and that we are supposed to love these characters and their antics, but the thought kept me entertained regardless. There is little left to say about 'Sex & the City 2' that isn't said by the above clip or my earlier review, so I'll leave it at that.

1) The Expendables, dir Sylvester Stallone, USA

What I said: “Take it off!” bellow Sylvester Stallone and Mickey Rourke, pleading with Jason Statham to remove his shirt. Earlier, in the same scene, Rourke tells a topless Stallone he has a body of steel. “Why don’t we both just stop jerking off?” Bruce Willis suggests to Stallone a few scenes later before testosterone levels reach their peak as Arnold Schwarzenegger enters the room and begins eyeing up his one-time rival. They trade flirtatious manly banter for a few minutes before Willis takes exception, saying “you guys aren’t going to start sucking each other’s dicks are you?” Welcome to The Expendables, a faintly homoerotic ode to all things macho and a poignant elegy to the 80’s action picture: a time when a man was measured by the size of his biceps and where… well, as Rourke asks one girlfriend, “what’s your name again sweetheart?”

The delicate blend of homoerotic knob-gags, manly punching and heart-rending pathos seen in the above clip typifies 'The Expendables'. It is the male version of 'Sex & the City 2' as it plays to the very worst, basest elements of humanity and to the grossest of cultural, racial and gender stereotypes. My original review earned me a lot of angry comments earlier this year (being called a "human cancer" is still my favourite) which lead me to write an article explaining the tone of my review for those bereft of a sense of humour. But whether or not it's right to insult a film's potential audience as I did in my review, 'The Expendables' remains a film for hardened dunces everywhere.

Dishonorable mentions go to the following films: 'The Way Back', 'Round Ireland With a Fridge', 'Showtime'. 'Clash of the Titans' (which was guest reviewed by David Bierton) and 'Le Concert'.