Archive for March, 2012

In a nutshell: The fine art of police brutality

Popcorn rating: 3.5/5

Dave Brown has a god complex. The Los Angeles veteran police officer charges his patrol car towards gangs just for the joy of watching them scatter, beats suspects on a whim and walks in and out of his family’s lives.

It is unclear whether Brown (Woody Harrelson) has been corrupted by his badge or has deliberately sought out a career to give himself ultimate control. But in Rampart, an extremely intimate portrait of a man on the edge, you see his fall from grace in the midst of the 1990s crusade to root out corrupt cops in LA.

In a superb performance by Harrelson, Brown is the ‘last of the renegade cops’ who uses his knowledge of police work and the legal system to weave himself out of trouble time and again. When he is caught on camera viciously beating a suspect who crashes into his car – or ‘doing the people’s dirty work’ as he sees it – his carefully constructed world begins to crumble.

Brown soon finds himself in the centre of a huge scandal and in the crosshair of those looking for revenge. And as he goes deeper down the rabbit hole, he discovers that nothing is what it seems.

Israeli director Oren Moverman has put together an incredibly well crafted and realistic film and that is what makes it so painful and heartbreaking. Moverman pulls no punches as you see Brown gradually alienate everyone around him, even his daughters, as the witch hunt intensifies for his badge.

Rampart makes for difficult but ultimately rewarding viewing and is boosted by a top cast which includes Sigourney Weaver and Steve Buscemi.

Reviewer: David Morgan

In a nutshell: Hammer horror goes ghostly in style

Pocorn rating: 4/5

A Hammer fan since the age of 13, I was hugely excited to learn that the iconic British film company was adapting Susan Hill’s shudderingly creepy classic ghost story, The Woman In Black. Then I heard they’d cast Daniel Radcliffe in the lead role, and I was nervous. Not that I have anything against the lovely eager-faced Potterboy, but surely this film was for grown-ups? And knowing it had a 12A rating didn’t help. Any film that under 12s can watch provided they’re with their mum* just couldn’t be that scary, I thought.

HA! How wrong was I?

The Woman In Black, like the best of Hammer’s early output, is a lushly atmospheric Victorian Gothic period piece that, during the showing I attended, had half the audience yelping in fear and saw popcorn liberally be-scattered about the aisles where hapless young wusses had literally jumped out of their seats. Moreover, Radcliffe is really rather good as a young widower trying to do the best by his little boy, and turns in a thoroughly convincing and sympathetic performance throughout.

Much as Hammer used to take substantial liberties with Bram Stoker and Mary Shelley in their golden years, they’ve done away with plenty of Susan Hill’s plot here: The Woman In Black diverges considerably from the book, and it doesn’t really have the understated feel of the novel. What it does have is imaginatively-staged scares by the spadeful and a nice line in gloomy Gothic melodrama as this traditional haunted house tale gradually unfurls before us. There’s almost no gore, hence the 12A rating, but it’s still deeply gruesome in tone, relentlessly spooky, and full of serious make-you-jump moments. Plus, there are some genuine shocks – if you’re confident that cute kids in jeopardy always escape the worst in horror films, think again.

Subtlety isn’t the film’s strongest point – there are only so many times you can be shown a creepy clockwork Victorian monkey toy before you just want to giggle – but there are moments of quirky humour that work remarkably well, and the film overall is well-executed and beautifully shot – bleak estuary marshes, dank mists and all. Plus, like all the greatest Hammer films, it has a fine supporting cast of stalwart English character actors and even one of those brilliant scenes where a cheery young chap enters a local village pub and finds that something is clearly Not Quite Right.

All in all, great spooky fun, and you’ll never look at a rocking chair in the same light again. But really, don’t be fooled by the rating: avoid taking your nine-year-old unless you actively want them to be wetting the bed and sleeping with the lights on into their mid-teens.

*In fairness, I actually went to see it with my mum, and I’m 36.

Reviewer: Jo Sheppard