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.