Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Jack Reacher


  • Released Internationally on 20/12/12
  • Released in Malta by KRS on 26/12/12

Preview (first published 01/12/12 in VIDA Magazine)

Tom Cruise’s post-Tropic Thunder renaissance continues, and just in case the Mission: Impossible franchise loses popularity, he has now landed another role as a modern day action hero, with franchise potential. Jack Reacher is a rather unorthodox but highly effective crime fighter, who uses his past military skills rather than donning any fancy costumes, and he’s quite good with his hands too. This film is an adaptation of just one of the series of novels about the character, and it’s adapted by Christopher McQuarrie, who will always be ‘the genius who wrote The Usual Suspects’. If you liked Angelina Jolie’s Salt from a couple of years ago, this should work as the male equivalent.



Review (23/12/12)

This film is fun. It doesn’t pretend to be anything it’s not, but rather embraces its role as a smart action film with franchise potential. Tom Cruise is still evidently deeply in love with himself, but to be fair this is one scenario where it works, and his cocksure titular character manages to be both slightly over the top and likeable.

The films opens with a powerful, largely silent extended scene, which as the film progresses is later seen from different angles and provides an intriguing ‘whodunit’ scenario that forms the backbone of the plot. Once that is established, Reacher arrives on scene in stylish fashion, and gets to work. His clever dialogue is often countered effectively by Rosamund Pike’s character, with whom he shows good chemistry. But despite being very witty at times, the script throws in enough humour to make it all very easygoing and engaging. There’s also a fair amount of original action, with even good old fashioned fist fights getting a few new twists.

Throughout all the proceedings, however, not much is as it seems, and things finally fall satisfactorily into place, although the film does lose some originality and smartness in the third act. More importantly, though, the film does a great job of letting the audience get to know Jack, but at the same time leaving enough mystery for us to be curious about what his next adventure will be, if and when he shows up.




Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Life of Pi


  • Released Internationally on 21/11/12
  • Released in Malta by KRS on 20/12/12

Preview (first published 01/12/12 in VIDA Magazine)

With Cloud Atlas and Midnight’s Children making it to the big screen in 2012, the list of truly ‘unfilmable’ books grows shorter. Here’s another one. The philosophical and quite unique novel from 2001 gets a gorgeous big screen revival, at the hands of celebrated director Ang Lee. One can only imagine the logistical implications of filming a tale where the main character, a sixteen year-old boy from India, survives a shipwreck and lives for more than half a year on a rescue boat with a fully grown tiger. As if the shipwreck wasn’t enough to ruin his day.

Things go surprisingly well, however, and the life-changing journey will hopefully flourish as well on screen as it did on the page. Ang Lee is no stranger to making stunning looking films (Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, Brokeback Mountain), but based on this film’s trailers, we’re in for a whole new level of visual awe. It’s exciting to have Lee back in the limelight after a few years of lying low, and this seems to be one film that will appeal to all sorts of cinemagoers.



Review (19/12/12)

If there is one film that deserves a proper big screen viewing, this is it. Shamelessly gorgeous from start to finish, as well as being a near-perfect film in every regard, this was, for me, the cinema-going highlight of 2012, and one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen on a screen of any size.

From the word go, you realise you’re in for something special. The opening credits help set the scene, in a zoo paradise in one of the prettier parts of India, and for the duration of a sublime lullaby by composer Mychael Danna, we are treated to scenes that would give any top notch David Attenborough documentary a run for its money. Much like most of the film, I would gladly frame any scene from this opening sequence.

Things then shift into a more playful, humorous mode as we chronicle the early days of our protagonist, and in a quasi Amélie-like fashion the story unfolds with larger-than-life characters and wonderful attention to detail. The opening scenes also introduce us to Richard Parker, the tiger who is so central to this wonderful story, and within seconds I had stopped wondering which scenes were real tiger and which were computer-generated. The tiger is a technical marvel, and throughout the film remains as convincing a digital creation as any Gollum or blue alien.

The first act also introduces the subject of religion, which Pi is fascinated with from an early age. He adopts three religions as a child, much to the amusement of his parents, and without being too heavy or overbearing this sets the film up for what will ultimately be an interesting metaphor for questions of faith.

Before long we skip forward to the crucial sea voyage, and the life-changing storm which casts our heroes into a boat together, for a battle of wits and will that may or may not be all that it seems. The film then adopts a surprisingly engaging tone as the survival battle unfolds, often without words or distractions. Much like in Cast Away, the fascinating situation of the main character makes for compelling viewing, and in this case the relationship with the tiger adds another wonderful layer.

In the meantime, we are treated to numerous scenes that surpass even the opening sequence in terms of beauty and marvel. I tried to keep track of the most beautiful scenes, but after jellyfish, whales, flying fish and meerkats I stopped counting. The artistry that has been poured in this film is all up on screen for us to see, and should leave most audiences open-mouthed.

But in case you’re worried that this is just eye candy and not much substance, the film then delivers with an ending that manages to both immediately satisfy but also provide much food for thought, and I for one was pondering the final message long after I left the cinema. It is, after all, the reason why the book was such a success.

On every level, this is the best film I have seen in 2012, and one of the most beautifully made films I can remember. It should appeal to all ages and most tastes, and I strongly recommend you do it justice by seeing it on a proper big screen, and in 3D. To quote from the film, “You have to see this, it’s beautiful!”.




Friday, December 14, 2012

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey


  • Released Internationally on 13/12/12
  • Released in Malta by KRS on 13/12/12

Preview (first published 01/12/12 in VIDA Magazine)

It’s finally here. When the The Lord of the Rings trilogy came to a resounding conclusion back in 2003, the general feeling was that there had never been a more satisfying and well-made trilogy of films in memory, and that there weren’t many other books out there that could be adapted and reach such heights. The trilogy also managed the tricky task of pleasing both obsessive fans of the source material and the general film-going public, and there was hardly any aspect of the whole production that was not standard-setting and flawless. So, inevitably, the ending of the trilogy also brought with it a certain feeling of sadness, like that empty feeling you get after a great holiday. Is that it? Do we go back to normal mediocrity now?

Possibly, but it was inevitable that the ‘other’ great Tolkien story would also get the big screen treatment, despite it being a shorter, less epic and more childish tale. But hey, it’s got hobbits in it, and Gandalf, and even Gollum, so why not at least try. Things got delayed, and there was even a point when Peter Jackson, the director and driving force behind the initial trilogy, took a backseat role and handed the project to others. Common sense eventually prevailed, and sure enough we are now getting this prequel part of the tale with the same cast and crew that fared so excellently a decade ago.

Not all the cast needed to return, of course, but it was paramount that Ian McKellen reprises his Gandalf role, since he had inhabited those grey and white cloaks with uncanny precision and he became Gandalf on screen. Less evident but equally talented was Andy Serkis as Gollum, in that ground-breaking marriage of visual effects and character acting, which resulted in a CGI character that has yet to be matched. He’s back, of course, for the expansion of the infamous ‘riddles in the dark’ scene that got a brief mention in The Lord of the Rings but occurs in detail during the events of The Hobbit.

Bilbo Baggins is also back, since this is of course his story and not Frodo’s, but although Ian Holm does reprise his role, a younger Bilbo was needed for most of the plot, so the main new casting choice was the delightful Martin Freeman (The Office, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Love Actually, Sherlock) as the titular hafling. Accompanying him on his first adventure are thirteen dwarves, portrayed by interesting-looking but lesser-known actors who all seem to share a fine, manly singing voice.

In a nutshell, the plot involves Bilbo accompanying the dwarves, hesitantly, on a quest to reclaim their ancestors’ gold from the hoard of the deadly dragon, Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch - Sherlock, Atonement). Trolls, elves, ‘shapeshifters’ and unusual towns stand in their way, not to mention the pitch black depths where Gollum is fiddling with his precious ring.

The adaptation was originally planned as two films, but earlier this year a not-too-unexpected announcement was made that it will be a trilogy. I hope Peter Jackson has tonnes of great material, and I guess after his previous films we can rest easy in the knowledge that he knows what he’s doing. Let’s just hope it was a mostly artistic and not mostly financial decision. In the previous trilogy it was remarkable how he managed to end each film wonderfully, despite not strictly adhering to the book endings. Here it’s just one book with no immediately obvious satisfying endings mid-way, so that’s at least one surprise those who love the book can look forward to.

At the end of the day, watching more of those characters, in more of those locations, with more of Tolkien’s dialogue, to the sound of more of Howard Shore’s music is better than we can hope for with most other film releases nowadays, so even if it fails to reach the lofty standards of its predecessor, this is still the undisputed highlight of this festive season.



Preview (14/12/12)

The Hobbit is no The Lord of the Rings. The scale of the book was much smaller, and the tone was more childish. But Peter Jackson has very evidently set out to make a Hobbit trilogy that is very similar to his previous masterpiece trilogy, and this might be the main reason why I left the cinema disappointed.

My first problem was one which was rather inevitable. By deciding to make the rather short book into an entire trilogy, and a hefty nine-hour one by the looks of it, there was always going to be a lot of extra material thrown in. This turned out to be even worse than I feared, with plot lines and incidents that are mere footnotes in the book getting entire sequences and lavish detail. They’re interesting to watch, and one might argue that they are fascinating when looking at the Tolkien world as a whole, but with regard to this film in particular they are sometimes dragging, not always very relevant or needed, and they detract from the essence of the quest at hand. I was more than happy when Peter Jackson released the extended editions of the Lord of the Rings films on DVD, with added scenes thrown in. But if he plans to appeal to the general movie-going public, the focus should be on telling a good story in style, rather than on less necessary padding.

The second problem was unexpected. The two trilogies unfold in the same world and share many characters, but I was disappointed to see Jackson rehash and recycle entire concepts, scenes and ideas from his previous films. He seems so intent on reproducing the success of the previous trilogy that this one has been structured in more or less the same way, even where the book doesn’t call for it. We therefore get a prologue in the same style, which is fine, except that it includes scenes of battle (with Thorin the dwarf versus the pale orc) that are uncannily similar to the flashbacks of Isildur battling Sauron. The pale orc is then elevated to a status very reminiscent of Lurtz, who led the Uruk-hai in Fellowship.

Even small ideas like Gandalf appearing to grow in stature when he gets angry, and mounted warriors circling unexpected visitors, are repeated. The whole wargs chase scenes and Rivendell sequences also end up looking like leftover footage from the previous films. We even get a council of sorts half-way through the film, just like in The Fellowship of the Ring, which also serves as a very unnecessary opportunity to bring back some of the old cast for a reunion. And just as Gandalf delivered a memorable line to Frodo before (“All you have to do is decide...”), everything grinds to a halt and sounds the same as Gandalf tries to impart a similar quotable line to Bilbo this time (“...simple acts of kindness...”). It starts to get annoying once the moths and eagles return, and it is ultimately distracting from the story at hand.

Thankfully, the story does contain numerous completely new elements which allow Jackson to present something that looks fresh and original. The new wizard, Radagast, is one of them, and the disgusting but somehow endearing Goblin King is another. The pivotal ‘riddles in the dark’ scene is also a joy to watch, largely thanks to the excellent performances by Martin Freeman as a young Bilbo, and Andy Serkis (via motion capture) in a continuation of his acclaimed Gollum role. The pivotal moment when Bilbo finally picks up the ring, however, doesn’t look like the scene many will remember from The Lord of the Rings, and this is one occasion where some continuity and consistency would have been appreciated.

The arbitrary choice of ending point sort of works, although it hardly has the emotional impact of the ending of Fellowship, and Jackson wisely drops in a tantalising glimpse of the much anticipated dragon, as he did in the prologue, since it is mostly once he joins the fray that we can expect proceedings to pick up in intensity, and hopefully in a fashion completely unique to this trilogy. The end credits song, by Crowded House frontman Neil Finn, is my last minor complaint. It sounds just slightly out of place, and doesn’t blend in seamlessly with the famous orchestral themes of Middle Earth like the three stellar songs from the previous trilogy did.

Don’t get me wrong, this is still a spectacle to watch - especially in 3D and in the brand new HFR (high frame rate) presentation. There’s enough orcs and dwarves and action and humour to keep everyone entertained, and the overall quality on display far exceeds most films we’ve seen in recent years. If this had been released in a world where The Lord of the Rings didn’t exist, it would be taking the world by storm and wowing us all into silence. But ultimately, it tries too hard to repeat the formula of its predecessor, which is not a wise move since it is a weaker story. Maybe a different director would have been a good idea after all, but then again I’ll reserve judgement because I still hope that Jackson has some surprises in store for the next two instalments, and that the trilogy as a whole will be looked back on as a wonderful piece of fantasy cinema.




Saturday, December 01, 2012

Past Perfect: The Remains of the Day (1993)

Home movie gems from the past few decades that need some dusting but never get old.


Before Downton Abbey and Gosford Park, there was another understated but meticulous treasure that showed the world of servitude and dedication to one’s household in all its soul-destroying detail. A couple of years after he first terrorized the world as Hannibal Lecter, Anthony Hopkins gave a completely different but no less amazing performance as a butler who realises that his loyalties and priorities might have been misplaced. Emma Thompson is sublime as his co-star, but it is Hopkins who commands our attention and subtly makes our blood boil. There’s no action, there’s no overstated melodrama, but with the smallest of his gestures one realises the enormity of what has happened in his life. This is not one to watch if you’re feeling sleepy or being interrupted. It’s one to savour with your eyes and ears wide open.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Rise of the Guardians


  • Released Internationally on 21/11/12
  • Released in Malta by KRS on 30/11/12

Preview (first published 01/11/12 in VIDA Magazine)

This looks like the clear winner for children this month, and may even carry through until the festive season. The animation team at DreamWorks, who have brilliant films such as How to Train Your Dragon to their name, have turned their attention to children’s author William Joyce, who also has experience in film and animation. He is working on a series of books about the Guardians of Childhood - an Avengers-like gathering of famous names including Santa Claus (voiced by Alec Baldwin), the Tooth Fairy (Isla Fisher), the Easter Bunny (Hugh Jackman), the Sandman (who takes care of dreams) and Jack Frost (Chris Pine). They all team up to protect children when Pitch (the nightmare king, voiced by Jude Law) threatens to take over the world. So there’s a fair bit of magic and wonder involved, which allows the animation teams to run riot. This should be fun, but even more so if you’re still at that wonderful age where you believe.



Review (29/11/12)

This delivers as expected, with stunning visuals and animation, right from the first few minutes. After a brief prologue introducing the central, misunderstood character of Jack Frost, the film launches into full festive mode, and despite being set around Easter time, provides enough north pole material to feel like a festive holiday treat. The ‘guardians’ all get ample screen time, but are slightly different to their usual self. Alec Baldwin provides a deep Eastern European accent for Santa Claus, who also sports heavily tattooed arms. But otherwise it’s business as usual, from tooth fairies to Easter bunnies to the lesser known Sandman. It’s a testament to the animation team at DreamWorks that the latter is probably the most memorable character, despite not uttering a single word throughout the film.

Jude Law’s villain draws heavily on Hercules’ Hades, and probably deserved a better ending. The film also seems to be cramming too much into one short film at times, and risks losing the plot in the second half. Worst of all, however, it somehow misses out on that extra something, that magical spark, that made recent gems like How to Train Your Dragon and most Christmas classics so heart-warming and special. The ingredients are all there, but something hasn’t set. Or maybe I just dampened my sense of awe when I found out the secrets behind the tooth exchange system and Christmas presents. Either way, young kids should be suitably blown away, and this should serve as a wonderful holiday treat.


Tuesday, November 20, 2012


  • Released Internationally on 11/10/12
  • Released in Malta by KRS on 21/11/12
Preview (first published 01/11/12 in VIDA Magazine)
Based on the track records of those involved, and initial reviews, this looks like it will be one of the main films we’ll be hearing about come Oscar time. More importantly, though, it’s a high profile adaptation of a fascinating true story.
Back in the late seventies, there was a hostage crisis in good old Iran, during the course of which six American diplomats in their late 20s and early 30s were successfully rescued. But rather than politicians sitting around a boardroom table, this rescue involved the Canadian government lending a hand and working with the CIA to create a fake film company and purported production of a film named ‘Argo’, to act as an elaborate cover for getting the diplomats to safety under false identities. So not your average day in foreign affairs.
This is the third film directed by Ben Affleck after his brilliant Gone Baby Gone and The Town. He starred in the latter, and he again he takes on the main role here as a CIA identity expert. He also produces, along with George Clooney and Grant Heslov, who together have already given us a few gems, including another period political thriller Good Night and Good Luck. The cast also includes John Goodman (The Big Lebowski, The Artist), Alan Arkin (Little Miss Sunshine, Edward Scissorhands) and Bryan Cranston (star of TV hit Breaking Bad).
So it seems like the good story is a given, and with these sort of artists it should be a well-told one. Plus everyone loves a bit of international espionage, and the period setting should add an extra layer of class. Let’s hope this is as good as Munich, although if all turns out well there should be a much lower body count.

Review (20/11/12)
In a year during which the Avengers assembled, the Dark Knight rose and James Bond came back from the dead, the best and most thrilling film so far turns out to be based on a true story. With Argo, it truly is a case of ‘you can’t make this stuff up’.
The film is chilling from the first minute, with a wonderful opening sequence that draws from the sci-fi storyboards that feature later on to give us a no-nonsense history lesson and set the scene for the hostage crisis. The setting is late 70s / early 80s, but the images are uncannily similar to ones we still see on the news today. The American embassy is taken by rioters, and within minutes we are able to grasp the desperate plight these diplomatic employees face. We then fast forward to 69 days later, when the stalemate persists and the US is getting increasingly desperate in its attempt to get the hostages home to safety. Which is why the ‘Argo’ idea (see preview above) gets the green light.
The film works wonderfully at giving us both the bigger picture but also the personal stories of those six hostages and the man sent to get them out. The whole mission revolves around whether they can find it in them to trust him or not, and for a hugely entertaining two hours so must we. We the audience also get to feel some of that ‘fear of the mob’ that pervades the whole situation, as hordes of unnamed and justifiably angry protesters are heard in the distance. Have you ever felt that awkwardness as you stand there with a customs official leafing through your passport? Or that complete helplessness as some bouncer glances in your direction, and despite you disliking him instantly and having a firm opinion about his level of intelligence, knowing that in this one instant you are completely at his mercy? Imagine that a hundred-fold, and we might be getting close to what these ordinary citizens had to go through.
The period setting is done with great attention to detail, placing us firmly in the immediately post-Star Wars era when such a crazy sci-fi scheme sounded like a good idea. From costumes down to bedroom quilts, nothing is overlooked. The Iran setting is also pulled off reasonably well, despite no film crew having set foot there. Istanbul has to stand in for many Iranian scenes, but this is a minor issue since the film is primarily about people and fear, whatever the setting.
As the film races to its climax, there is some inevitable playing with timelines so as to throw more tension into the mix, but thankfully it manages to steer clear of being incredible. And with so much invested into the hostages, the feelings at the end are well-earned and provide a very emotional conclusion. As with all such films, the true impact of what you have witnessed hits home once the end credits roll, with real-life images alongside images from the film reminding us that these are true stories of true individuals.
Ben Affleck and his team have done it again, and I for one was transfixed by the events onscreen, despite the whole saga having come to an end only a few days after I was born. This film remains extremely relevant in today’s world, but is also a fascinating story. Easily the best of 2012 so far.


Wednesday, November 07, 2012



  • Released internationally on 05/11/12
  • Released in Malta by KRS on 07/11/12

Review (07/11/12)

Frankenweenie is a rather odd little gem. As a very personal project by the very unique Tim Burton, it’s his characteristic vision in all its gothic, macabre and irreverent glory. But it remains a fairytale at heart, and features a very lovable dog, albeit recently deceased, at its core.

Burton first made Frankenweenie as a 30-minute short back in 1984, when he was still in his pre-Beetlejuice and Batman obscurity. You can watch it on YouTube if you don’t mind spoiling the surprise. It was a live action short in black and white, and due to its unusual length and debatable child-friendliness, it ended up as a mere extra on the DVDs for The Nightmare Before Christmas.

This full-blown, full-length adaptation is done with the same stop-motion animation that made Nightmare so special, and has thankfully been left in monochrome which adds so much to the atmosphere and lends a nod to the Frankenstein films of old. As soon as the playful Disney logo turns grey and dark, and Danny Elfman’s score turns foreboding, children and adults alike should know that they’re in for something rather different.

In a nutshell, the story is about a young, smart and inventive boy, who is a bit of an outcast and prefers to pass the time alone in his attic, inventing. When his beloved dog Sparky dies suddenly, he finds a way to harness lightning and bring him back to life. But inevitably word gets around, and his jealous classmates use the invention on other creatures, with less romantic effects. The story also portrays the fight between progress and tradition, with the Salvador Dali-esque (and Vincent Price-inspired) science teacher (voiced marvellously by Martin Landau), facing resistance from the town locals when he tries to challenge the minds of his pupils.

Nods to other Burton films abound, with the suburban setting being practically identical to that of Edward Scissorhands, and the resurrected Sparky looking uncannily like the Penguin from Batman Returns. And I think I even detected a nod to the old Rankin/Bass stop-motion classic Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town, whose evil Burgermeister is reborn as this town’s mayor.

If you enjoy Tim Burton films, you’ll love this. If you enjoy films that champion the oddballs and the quiet types, you’ll love this. If you want to show your kids something less fluffy and sparkly than usual, here’s a chance to take them on a PG tour of the dark side.




Tuesday, October 30, 2012


(L to R) Chon (TAYLOR KITSCH), O (BLAKE LIVELY) and Ben (AARON JOHNSON) in ?Savages?, the ferocious thriller from three-time OscarÆ-winning filmmaker Oliver Stone that features the all-star ensemble cast of Kitsch, Lively, Johnson, John Travolta, Benicio Del Toro, Salma Hayek, Emile Hirsch and Demi·n Bichir.

  • Released Internationally on 06/07/12
  • Released in Malta by KRS on 31/10/12

Preview (first published 01/10/12 in VIDA Magazine)

Director Oliver Stone is no stranger to extreme violence and drugs, but he seems to have toned things down since 1994’s Natural Born Killers, with his focus shifting towards violence of the political, financial and sporting kind. But he now returns to the seedy and dangerous world of drug cartels for this sprawling crime drama. Focusing on two best friends who share both a booming marijuana business and a girlfriend, the tragedy shows how the delicate balance that drug dealer’s lives are built on can collapse spectacularly (or so we’re told). The impressive cast includes John Travolta, Benicio del Toro (Traffic), Salma Hayek (Frida), Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Kick Ass), Taylor Kitsch (John Carter), Blake Lively (The Town) and Emile Hirsch (Into the Wild).



Review (30/10/12)

As expected, this one is not for the faint-hearted. Even before the opening credits roll, we’re given a hint of the level of violence we are to expect. Whether those involved in drug cartels actually go to these extremes to find new ways of murdering and torturing their enemies is a point for the police, but Stone tries to show how much is at stake by way of justification. The inevitability of a messy death for anyone who steps out of line helps to add some tension to the proceedings, but ultimately it’s hard to find a character to sympathise with when everyone is super rich and life isn’t worth too much to them. The way the tale unfolds, it seems evident that we are meant to sympathise with ‘O’, or Ophelia, the shared girlfriend and weak point of the two self-made weed kings. But even she lacks any real charm, despite looking stunning. When she tries to explain her plans in life, Salma Hayek’s character cuts her nonsense short with a well-placed ‘do you Americans all talk like that?”

Hayek is initially convincing as the feared drug lord, but her hard exterior crumbles a bit too quickly when the going gets tough. The cast all do quite a good job, with interesting characters that help make the surprisingly linear plot very easy to follow. Which all leads nicely to the predictable showdown in the desert, which much like every step of the dealings, can go either way. It seems that when working with savages things can very quickly descend into chaos, but Stone tries to show us that it’s not always clear who the real savages are.

In the end

Not exactly a drug-war classic, but the beach location and the young protagonists offer an interesting new angle. It’s all reasonably entertaining, if you’ve got the stomach for it.





To Rome With Love



  • Released Internationally on 20/04/12
  • Released in Malta by KRS on 31/10/12

Preview (first published 01/10/12 in VIDA Magazine)

Woody Allen has been making his own particular brand of film for decades, without worrying too much about what critics thought or what the box-office brought in. But his last offering, Midnight in Paris, was extremely well received, and one of his most successful films to date. It seemed to reach out beyond the usual Allen following and appeal to fans of the city, who rushed to see another cinematic postcard that captures the city’s charm and beauty. In the past, he had similar love letters to New York and, albeit less directly, London. So it’s no huge surprise that Allen is following a similar formula here, with his usual well-written drama and romance unfolding in the eternal city of Rome. As usual, he has attracted a stellar cast – Alec Baldwin, Penélope Cruz, Jesse Eisenberg, Ellen Page, and most interesting of all, Roberto Benigni. Plus, as a huge bonus, Allen himself is back on screen, adding his wonderful acting to the writing and directing duties. We can more or less imagine what this will be like - but that’s a good thing.



Review (30/10/12)

The film is bookended by two locals who serve as all-seeing storytellers – the traffic policeman at Piazza Venezia and a man whose balcony overlooks Piazza di Spagna. Between them they give us a small sample of the many stories and people that walk through the streets of the eternal city, and thereby absolve Allen of the need to make all their stories interconnect.

The narratives are predictably light and entertaining, playing out like longer sketches with better developed characters, possibly in reference to the many such Italian films of previous decades. Some of those we meet happen to walk through the main sights of the city, but sometimes the camera lingering on the famous monuments feels forced and extra. There’s a decent dollop of fantasy in a couple of the stories, which jars initially but plays out nicely, especially Baldwin as the commenting observer in the shaken love life of Jack (Jesse Eisenberg). Roberto Benigni’s story is also amusing, but only just avoids dragging the joke on for too long.

Woody Allen himself is central to possibly the better plotline, as a retired opera producer who feels he has discovered a raw, different talent during his brief holiday. Again, it’s a one-joke story, but it works. Allen’s writing shines best with the character of Monica (Ellen Page), in which he perfectly captures the intensely annoying ‘tortured artsy soul’ I’m sure many viewers will recognise. Besides the big names in the cast there are also many recognisable Italian stars, including smoky-eyed Ornella Muti, and a hilarious Antonio Albanese who is clearly enjoying himself.

In the end

If you’re new to Woody Allen, I wouldn’t start with this one, but if you’ve enjoyed his previous films you’ll probably find this fun, albeit not hugely so. Either way, if you love Rome, but have no flights booked for the foreseeable future, this could do for now.




Friday, October 26, 2012



  • Released Internationally on 26/10/12
  • Released in Malta by KRS on 26/10/12
Preview (first published 01/10/12 in VIDA magazine)

Unless you were attempting a solo Atlantic crossing in a canoe at the time, you probably saw and enjoyed possibly the most far-reaching and audacious piece of movie advertising ever staged - with the Queen herself coming along for the ride. But despite Bond being a quintessential part of British culture, and therefore a fitting addition to the pop opulence that was the Olympics opening ceremony, the timing was of course far from coincidental. Because after a few delays, the 23rd instalment in the most enduring film franchise ever (it turned 50 this year) is about to parachute into our cinemas.
Daniel Craig has proved a very popular choice as the man with the tuxedo, although his second film was not as well received as his debut. For his third romp, he's pitched against a new nemesis portrayed by Javier Bardem, and if said foe is even half as evil as the guy Bardem portrayed in No Country For Old Men, Bond had better not forget his license at home. Dame Judi Dench returns as the bossy (but in a lovable way) M, and we are introduced to a new, younger Q (Bond's quartermaster, and provider of fancy gadgets), portrayed by Ben Whishaw (Perfume). Rounding off an impressive cast are Ralph Fiennes (The English Patient), Albert Finney (Big Fish), along with two rising starlets as the new additions to the legendary Bond-girl catalogue - Naomie Harris and Bérénice Marlohe - one from each side of the British channel, how lovely.
If, for some slightly strange reason, you need any additional reasons to go watch a Bond film, another selling point this time, and one that has raised the hopes of many, myself included, is the choice of director. With such a successful formula at hand, the franchise has often managed very well without the need for any highbrow visionaries in the folding chair. But this time they've managed to land Sam Mendes (American Beauty, Road to Perdition), who is also bringing along his frequent musical collaborator, composer Thomas Newman. That should make for an extremely interesting soundtrack, although at the time of going to press the identity of the big name behind the song is as yet unannounced (Adele? Noel Gallagher? Who knows?).

It's been a very 'Team GB' summer, so we can now sit comfortably in the knowledge that another great British tradition is heading our way, with fast cars, shamelessly sponsored watches, scantily-clad women, and some of the best action ever seen on a screen - and all without ruffling his suit.


Review (26/10/12)

Bond is back, and this just might be the best Bond film you can remember. We all have our favourite Bond moments and nostalgic memories, but this one delivers in every department, and would be an excellent film even if it didn’t have the 007 label attached to it.

Daniel Craig

It was only after the film finished that I realised I hadn’t once thought about whether Craig was a good Bond or not. Only three films into the role, he is Bond, and the way things have progressed since the franchise reboot, it’s all falling into place nicely around the assured and increasingly comfortable central blonde hero. He gets to work the haggard and unshaven look briefly this time around, and we also get a rare glimpse into the more personal side of the world’s favourite spy.

The villain
Javier Bardem is unsettling in many ways as the arch nemesis of the story, and his fine-tuned performance is even more powerful because he often doesn’t fit the usual Bond villain mould. Some might bemoan the lack of scale, but I found it refreshing to have a villian who’s not set on clichéd world domination. Silva, as he is referred to, shows that he could cause global chaos if he wanted to, but he has a different agenda.

The sights
We start off in Turkey, and later get to see the lights of Shanghai and the landscapes of Scotland. But the heart of this film lies in London, with many recognizable locations, and a key action sequence set during an underground rush hour (albeit slightly toned down). The District line also gets a much-needed facelift.

The music
I for one loved the new Bond song by Adele, but there was no denying it wasn’t exactly rousing, thrilling stuff. But in the context of the opening sequence, it fits perfectly, and lends itself to a well designed and plot-relevant title sequence, although not as excellent as the Casino Royale one. Thomas Newman also shows his class by tackling the daunting composer role with ease, mixing his trademark percussion and unusual instrumentation with the usual Bond moments of grandeur or sadness. He also doesn’t shy away from using the James Bond theme in all its glory, especially during one very appropriate sequence.

The team
Judi Dench gets more screen time than usual as M, and she is a joy to watch. Ralph Fiennes makes a welcome addition to the MI6 staff, but it’s not a smooth entry, plot-wise. The Bond girls deliver as expected, although thankfully neither of the main ones is a brainless bystander, despite both being stunning. Their amorous or flirtatious encounters with Bond are not given any unnecessary screen time or attention, however, as there is a lot of material to get through.

In the end
After the slightly disappointing previous entry, this is a spectacular, well-written and emotional return to form; full of traditional Bond touches but self-sufficient as an action film with brains. There are a few surprises, and the story arc of 007 and his unusual employment continues to be very entertaining. You might also find some sequences reminding you of The Silence of the Lambs, The Return of the Jedi and (of all films) even Home Alone, but it all feels appropriately Bond-like. Sam Mendes has done a terrific job, as has his crew, including a beautifully shot final act. For an original story, this one is quite impressive, and it should ensure that we get many more Bond films to enjoy in the years to come. Hopefully, they’ll be as good as this one.



Sunday, February 26, 2012

2011 in MovieMusic

It was quite a year for films, and with great films come (usually) great film scores. After spending hundreds of hours throughout 2011 and the past couple of months roaming around London and Malta with film scores bursting out of my earphones, I have compiled a list of what I think are the particular highlights, to help you navigate the endless available CDs, and maybe pick out a few gorgeous tracks from iTunes or Amazon. Whilst I still love the physical feel of the CD and the smell and detail of the liner notes, it is very true that digital downloads are very handy for those scores which might not be a great album or CD, but have one or two standout pieces worth paying for.

The Greats
  • John Williams came out of semi-retirement to score Spielberg's two films this year (The Adventures of Tintin and War Horse), both of which got nominated for Best Score, and the latter being probably the best score of the year.
  • Hans Zimmer started the year off with a fun Rango score, and then did three sequels on autopilot - Pirates 4, Kung Fu Panda 2, Sherlock Holmes 2.
  • Danny Elfman had a quiet year, but wrote a fun, sporty score for a film that hardly anyone saw - Real Steel. He also contributed some music to Gus Van Sant's Restless, which unfortunately remains unreleased.
  • Thomas Newman was very busy, providing great (but fairly typical) scores for The Iron Lady, The Help, The Debt and The Adjustement Bureau.
  • Alan Silvestri provided one of the year's best old-school heroic themes for Captain America: The First Avenger.
  • Patrick Doyle scored two unusual films for him - a superhero film (Thor) and a dramatic action film (Rise of the Planet of the Apes)
  • Howard Shore returned to form with one of the year's best scores for one of the year's best films - Hugo, as well as providing a Wagner-influenced score for A Dangerous Method.
  • The hottest composer of the past few years, Alexandre Desplat, was busy as usual. He ended the Harry Potter story on a high, scored The Ides of March, and provided lots of gorgeous pieces for The Tree of Life, many of which were eventually unused. He also scored Best Picture nominee Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, and contributed a few themes to My Week With Marilyn.
  • James Newton Howard had a green start to the year with The Green Hornet and The Green Lantern, neither of which were very memorable. He provided some great adaptations of Elton John classics for Gnomeo & Juliet, and has a track of saccharine music on the Larry Crowne soundtrack. Thankfully, his score for Water for Elephants got a proper release, and is a wonderful score.
  • Michael Giacchino provided one of the year's best - a nostalgic, emotional score for the nostalgic, emotional Super 8. He also provided a new take on the classic Mission: Impossible theme for the 4th film in that series.
  • Ennio Morricone, who is very understandably taking it easy nowadays, scored an Italian TV film Come Un Delfino.

The Departed
One of the best film composers ever, John Barry, died on 30th January 2011. His last film score was for Enigma, in 2001. it's impossible to do credit to his fantastic body of work in a paragraph, so you might want to listen to the one-hour musical tribute I hosted back in February last year.

The Newcomer
Ludovic Bource came out of obscurity to provide a great, obviously prominent score for The Artist, which has won many awards and will probably win the Oscar tonight. The director chose to use Bernard Herrmann's famous music from Vertigo in the climactic scene, but the rest of the film owes a lot to Bource's magic.

The Little Screen
I also included two wonderful TV scores that arrived in 2011 - Carter Burwell scored the miniseries Mildred Pierce, and Ramin Djawadi composed the already famous theme for Game of Thrones.

The Bands
  • The Chemical Brothers scored Hanna.
  • Basement Jaxx members scored Attack the Block.
  • Rodrigo y Gabriela contributed to 2 scores this year - The Pirates of the Caribbean sequel and Puss in Boots.
  • Trent Reznor (from Nine Inch Nails) and Atticus Ross followed up their acclaimed score for The Social Network with a similarly atmospheric, but less listenable score for The Girl in the Dragon Tattoo.

The Oscars
All 9 Best Picture nominees are included, except for Midnight in Paris (no original music released, as usual for Woody Allen's films).
All 5 Best Score nominees are included - War Horse, Tintin, The Artist, Hugo and Tinker, Tailor. The Artist will most probably win tonight, although I really hope War Horse or Hugo do instead. Still, for once all 5 nominees are very good scores this year.
The Best Song nominee from The Muppets is included. The other nominated song is from Rio, which is represented by a score track.

The Experts
If you want the opinion of a group of people who probably know much more about film scores than the members of the Academy (and more than I do), you can have a look at the annual nominations and awards for 2011 by the IFMCA (The International Film Music Critics Association) -

The Best MovieMusic of 2011:
The Adjustment Bureau - The Ripples Must Be Endless [End Title] (Thomas Newman)
The Adventures of Tintin - Snowy's Theme & The Adventure Continues (John Williams)
Anonymous - The Other One (Thomas Wander & Harald Kloser)
The Artist - Overture & George Valentin* (Ludovic Bource)
Attack the Block - Moses the Hero (Steven Price, Kevin Buxton & Simon Ratcliffe)
Battle: Los Angeles - Hymn (Brian Tyler)
Captain America: The First Avenger - Captain America March* (Alan Silvestri)
Come un Delfino - I Ragazzi Del Sole (Ennio Morricone)
A Dangerous Method - Burghozli (Howard Shore)
The Debt - End Title (Thomas Newman)
The Descendants - Hapuna Sunset (Charles Michael Brotman) - not original score
Drive - Bride of Deluxe* (Cliff Martinez)
Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close - Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (Alexandre Desplat)
Game of Thrones (TV) - Main Title* (Ramin Djawadi)
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - While Waiting (Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross)
The Greatest Miracle - Prelude* (Mark McKenzie)
Hanna - Hanna's Theme (The Chemical Brothers)
Happy Feet Two - Opening Medley (Various Artists)
Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows Part 2 - Lily's Theme*, Dragon Flight, Courtyard Apocalypse & The Resurrection Stone (Alexandre Desplat)
The Help - Aibilene & Ain't You Tired [End Title] (Thomas Newman)
Hugo - The Thief (Howard Shore)
The Ides of March - The Candidate (Alexandre Desplat)
In Time - Main Theme [Orchestral] (Craig Armstrong)
The Iron Lady - Grocer's Daughter & Steady the Buffs (Thomas Newman)
Jane Eyre - Yes! (Dario Marianelli)
Kung Fu Panda 2 - My Fist Hungers for Justice (Hans Zimmer & John Powell)
La Piel Que Habito [The Skin I Live In] - Los Vestidos Desgarrados (Alberto Iglesias)
Mildred Pierce (TV) - End Titles (Carter Burwell)
Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol - Light The Fuse (Michael Giacchino & Lalo Schifrin)
Moneyball - More (Mychael Danna)
The Muppets - Man or Muppet (Various Artists)
My Week with Marilyn - Such Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of (Conrad Pope)
One Day - We Had Today (Rachel Portman)
Paul - Goodbye [It's a Little Awkward] (David Arnold)
Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides - Angelica (Hans Zimmer feat. Rodrigo y Gabriela)
Puss in Boots - The Puss Suite (Henry Jackman feat. Rodrigo y Gabriela)
Rango - Rango Suite* (Hans Zimmer)
Real Steel - Final Round (Danny Elfman)
Rio - Flying (John Powell)
Rise of the Planet of the Apes - Caesar's Home (Patrick Doyle)
The Rum Diary - Rum Diary* (Christopher Young)
Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows - The End? (Hans Zimmer)
Soul Surfer - Bethany's Wave* (Marco Beltrami)
Super 8 - Super 8 & Letting Go* (Michael Giacchino)
Thor - Thor Kills the Destroyer & Can You See Jane? (Patrick Doyle)
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy - George Smiley (Alberto Iglesias)
Transformers: Dark of the Moon - Sentinel Prime (Steve Jablonsky)
The Tree of Life - River (Alexandre Desplat)
Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part 1 - The Kingdom Where Nobody Dies, A Nova Vida & Bella Reborn (Carter Burwell)
W.E. - Duchess of Windsor & Letters (Abel Korzeniowski)
War Horse - Dartmoor, 1912* (John Williams)
Water for Elephants - The Circus Sets Up (James Newton Howard)
X-Men: First Class - First Class & Magneto (Henry Jackman)
Your Highness - Isabel the Strong (Steve Jablonsky)

*my favourite tracks of the year

Enjoy! There's lots more where those came from, so if you like a particular track, you might want to check out the entire score.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

January at the Movies

War Horse
  • This article was first published on 01/01/12 in VIDA magazine.
  • Release dates are subject to change. All films released locally by KRS Film Distributors Ltd.

film of the month:
War Horse
Steven Spielberg made a much-welcomed return to the director’s chair last month, with a first for him - an animated film - but his usual style of adventure and awe. Now he’s back again, and this time with another two of his areas of expertise - war, and heart-wrenching emotion. War Horse is a beautiful tale of a boy who grows to love the horse he cares for, only to see him whisked off to serve in World War I. Although too young to enlist as a soldier himself, the boy eventually sets off on an impossible mission to find his horse and bring him safely home.
The original children’s book was brought to life in spectacular fashion as a piece of stunning theatre (if you’re in London, I strongly recommend it), which uses uncannily realistic puppetry to bring the equine stars to life. Now it’s getting the big screen treatment, and you can bet that Spielberg’s version will be just as moving. Benedict Cumberbatch (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy), Emily Watson (Punch-Drunk Love), Tom Hiddleston (Thor) and David Thewlis (Harry Potter) star, although they will probably be outdone by the stars on four legs and the British countryside.
Richard Curtis, who does comedy and romance so well (Four Weddings, Love Actually, Blackadder) has adapted the screenplay, and Spielberg-regular John Williams will be providing the score. Not that the story needs much more emotion, but Williams usually manages to add a layer, or five. Whether you like Spielberg’s adult fare or his childlike awe, this should do the trick.

also released this month:
The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo
I was recently in a London hospital waiting room, hoping that a tutorial hadn’t been cancelled, when my ears pricked up and I eavesdropped slightly. Two very prim and proper British ladies next to me were having a matter-of-fact debate about whether Daniel Craig would make a good Mikael Blomkvist in the new adaptation of the book. They proceeded to analyse most of the main characters, and an uninformed listener might have thought they were discussing a 70s soap opera on the BBC, not a twisted and often shocking crime thriller from Sweden. But such is the reach of the late Stieg Larsson’s Millenium trilogy, that mums everywhere can hold very strong opinions about the infamous Lisbeth Salander and her tortured past. The Swedes rightly got to the books first, and made three very good films out of them. Now it’s the Americans’ turn. I groaned at first, but with David Fincher at the helm, and what is so far unanimous acclaim for Rooney Mara’s performance as the petite but ruthless heroine, this is looking better by the minute. Rounding off the cast is Christopher Plummer as Henrik Vanger, Stellan Skarsgård as Martin Vanger and Robin Wright as Erika Berger. David Fincher does dark and twisted wonderfully (Se7en, Zodiac) and he even managed to make the birth of facebook a riveting thriller. This should be brilliant.

If you’ve ever seen a film or music video by Tarsem Singh, you probably remember it. His visual style is quite unique, and he is more than willing to sacrifice story and flow just to make every shot worthy of a fancy frame. The Cell looked so great that J.Lo wasn’t the best-looking prop in it, and The Fall started off with a masterpiece prologue before diving into colour and looking gorgeous throughout. So he seems like a good fit for more tales of Greek gods and muscly heroes, since 300 was similarly spectacular and artsy. This film looks like an obvious offshoot of that Spartan tale, and we can expect a lot more shiny abdominals and slow-motion spear-throwing. Let’s hope there a plot in there somewhere.

My Week With Marilyn
Like many stars who died young, Marilyn Monroe has been immortalised at her peak, which is why decades later she casts a spell over people who were born decades after her demise. But, unlike many of the pin-up blondes of today, she was famous for more than just her looks (and her line of perfume, etc.) - she was an acclaimed actress who starred with the best. This nostalgia trip looks back at her encounter with the acting institution that is Sir Laurence Olivier (played by Kenneth Branagh), whilst filming in the UK. A young assistant gets to show Marilyn around the British isles, and quickly discovers the extent of her allure. Michelle Williams (Blue Valentine) is receiving heaps of praise for her portrayal of the blonde bombshell, and the film looks to be the best one about her yet.

The Iron Lady
If you’re not convinced by Michelle Williams’ portrayal of Marilyn Monroe, you can pop into the adjacent screen and watch the master at work. Soon after disappearing inside the character of Julia Child, Meryl Streep has now transformed herself once again and is Margaret Thatcher. Her acting, her voice and the hair and makeup make it quite uncanny to even see the film posters, and that’s usually enough of a guarantee that you will immerse into the film plot and forget you’re watching a performance. Directed by Phyllida Lloyd (Mamma Mia!) the film focuses on the run-up to the Falklands war in the early 80s, and is the first big-screen portrayal of the larger-than-life prime minister who still polarizes the public today.

J. Edgar
And rounding off this month’s trio of impersonations, Leonardo DiCaprio takes on a less well-known figure, J. Edgar Hoover. Hoover set up and built the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) across the Atlantic, and is the man credited with making it the crime-fighting powerhouse that it is today. Directed by Clint Eastwood, the film also starts Armie Hammer (The Social Network), Josh Lucas (A Beautiful Mind), Judi Dench (Iris) and Naomi Watts (King Kong). The script is by Dustin Lance Black, who shot to fame after penning the Oscar-winning Milk a couple of years ago.

The Darkest Hour
Timur Bekmambetov may not ring as many bells as, say, Steven Spielberg, but he’s only just making the transition from Russia to Hollywood, and the syllable count isn’t in his favour. After a couple of acclaimed films in his homeland, he brought his stylish action to the film Wanted, which had numerous sequences that you couldn’t dream up if you were the least sober person at Woodstock. He now turns his mix of action and spectacle to the subject of hostile aliens, and this film centres around five young heroes tries to survive an invasion of Moscow. To make things interesting, you can’t see the aliens.