Author Archive

In a nutshell: This time it’s war

Popcorn rating: 3.5/5

What do you get when you put a gang of vigilante superheroes in the same room? A fight.But what if those same costumed defenders have to unite to face a massive threat to the planet they have vowed to protect? Then, my dears, it’s war.

That’s the basic premise of The Avengers (I flat out refuse to say that other title, you know, the really shit one) which strings together the characters we know and love from the recent Marvel Comics’ films and ups the ante.

The film sees Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr), The Incredible Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Thor (CHris Hemsworth), Captain America (Chris Evans)  as well as the lesser known Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) unite to battle Loki (Tom HIddleston) and his intergalactic army.The ensemble cast squabble, flex their muscles, practice their best quips and come to blows before realising the stakes are much higher than their own egos.

Yes it’s cheesy but director and writer Joss Whedon has his tongue firmly in his cheek.With The Avengers, he has been entrusted with the biggest budget production of his career and it has paid off. Whedon adds flair to the scenes of carnage and destruction but it is his trademark humour – which made his TV work like Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Firefly such fan favourites – that gives the story the charm it needs.

In interviews, Whedon said he wanted to make a war movie and he has certainly succeeded, but you also get the sense there isn’t enough room to do all the characters justice. As expected, Robert Downey Jr’s Iron Man steals the show while the excellent Samuel L. Jackson is a little underused as Nick Fury, the leader struggling to keep this rag tag group together.

Overall, The Avengers is a triumph but could have benefited from a stronger villain. Tom Hiddleston’s Loki, the adopted brother and enemy of Thor, is more whiney than scary.

Reviewer: DavidMorgan

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In a nutshell: East London meets Wild West

Popcorn rating: 4/5

They say the road to hell is paved with good intentions. And you’ll certainly be left with that lasting impression after watching Wild Bill.

British actor Dexter Fletcher’s first stint in the director’s chair sees Charlie Creed-Miles play the aforenamed anti-hero. Bill Hayward is out on patrol after eight years in prison for a list of convictions as long as a shopping list.

Bill comes home to find the same hoodlums running the estate and his sons Dean, 15, and Jimmy, 11, fending for themselves after their mum ran off to Spain. At first his natural instincts kick in and Bill wants to make a similar escape to Scotland, but surprising his sons and even himself, he soon finds himself well equipped to be a dad and even commits to a low paid job over the perks of crime. However, it isn’t long before his old gang and Social Services at his neck and chaos commences…

Sure, Bill wants to change, or at least escape from his old life, but there are insurmountable obstacles in between him and that fresh start. Fear not though; this is no misery saga. Fletcher weaves his magic with storytelling, somehow managing to merge comedy with a gritty drama that evolves throughout its runtime.

Although Wild Bill is set in troubled neighbourhood in east London some tense scenes are deliberately filmed in a Western style adding to the story’s unique charm. Also look out for an extended cameo by Andy Serkis, who is currently busy working on The Hobbit.

Ultimately, Wild Bill reminds you that hope can be found in depths of despair and although you can’t expect the happiest of endings that leaves you feeling good.

Reviewer: David Morgan

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: Silence really is golden

Popcorn rating: 4/5

If you ever need any proof about the magic of cinema, look no further than The Artist. Imagine someone telling you a year ago that a black and white silent movie would be a big hit in 2012, you would have probably laughed. And yet here we are in the wake of the film’s success at the Golden Globes scooping three accolades for best comedy, lead actor and score.

Remarkably, viewers have gone in their millions to watch a story unfold that uses filming techniques which are almost a century old. This was a whimsical time when the silver screen was accompanied by a full orchestra that would chronicle every moment with music.

Director Michel Hazanavicius’ first mainstream feature is a love letter to classic films in its purest form. As much a history lesson as it is a love story or comedy, The Artist tells the story of George Valentin (Jean Dujardin). He is a legend of the silent movie business and a polished professional who is able to work the crowd and the press into a frenzy with ease.

But then everything changes. The 1930s sees the decline of silent movies as ‘talkies’ begin to dominate. Proud George struggles to cope with the reality of his diminishing fame while Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo), who starts as an extra in one of his films, shoots to success.

Except for a few clever flourishes, The Artist is lovingly recreated as a replica from the 1920s. You will rediscover how powerful something as simple as an expression can be. Mention also has to be made to George’s jack russell Uggie who almost steals the show infusing each of his scenes with charm and comedy.

To see something like go head-to-head with the likes of Mission Impossible in the nation’s multiplexes is a delight. Silence really is golden.

Reviewer: David Morgan

In a nutshell: Hollywood’s take on Larsson’s dark masterpiece

Popcorn rating: 4/5

Who would have thought a series of novels by a late Swedish author could have caused such a stir?  More than 20 million people have read Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy and the original films proved to be among Sweden’s most successful.

Now it’s Hollywood’s turn at the girl with that tattoo, with David Fincher in the director’s chair.

Many have questioned the purpose of remaking The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.  The 2009 original directed by Niels Arden Oplev was critically acclaimed and of its place . The remake will therefore no doubt spark a debate about our reluctance to read subtitles.

Nevertheless, Fincher is a perfect fit for the dark yet captivating subject matter, channelling his experience from his previous thrillers like Seven and Zodiac.

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo tells the story of disgraced journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) as he investigates the disappearance of a teenager some forty years ago.  He is aided by the enigmatic computer-hacker Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara) in the seach to uncover secrets which will ultimately threaten their lives.

A word of advice is needed for those new to the Millennium story – be prepared.  The core of the film is a classic ‘whodunnit’ but there’s a darker edge to the film with many scenes of sexual violence. This is an important addition, helping to shape the plot and characters, but it is graphic and abhorrent.

Indeed, the original name for the story is Men Who Hate Women and the book’s themes were inspired when a teenage Larsson witnessed a rape and was too frightened to intervene.

But this should not put anyone off because the film features redemption on many levels, particularly for anti-hero Lisbeth.  The character, one of cinema’s most interesting in years, is played almost perfectly by newcomer Rooney Mara.  It is almost on a par with Noomi Rapace’s groundbreaking portrayal in the Swedish versions.

Mara introduces a vulnerable side to Lisbeth – a welcome new dimension to the damaged character. Daniel Craig also works hard to hang up his 007 tuxedo to play an everyman.

Although it’s a little jarring and confusing to see Americans playing Swedish characters it’s worth suspending your disbelief as this is worthy adaptation.

Reviewer: DavidMorgan

In a nutshell: The end of the world as he knows it

Popcorn rating: 4/5

Curtis LaForche is haunted by visions of apocalypse. The devoted father and husband (Michael Shannon) is plagued by nightmares which seem so real to him, they cause him to question his sanity. As the viewer, this proves to be an immersive but troubling experience as you feel yourself sinking down the rabbit hole with him.

Don’t expect any fire and brimstone here though. Curtis’s visions prove terrifying simply because they are feasible. He sees hurricanes, tornadoes and birds falling out of the sky and, as this external danger gets ever closer, those closest turn against him in his dreams.

Curtis is a proud man and when professional help fails to hit the mark, he renovates his storm shelter to protect his family from what he perceives to be the end of the world. In doing so he ends up alienating everyone around him including his best friend, brother, boss, patient but frustrated wife Samantha (Jessica Chastain) and even his dog. This is small town America where your standing in community is everything and, as you can imagine, sparks soon begin to fly.

Much praise has been heaped on Michael Shannon (last seen in HBO’s Boardwalk Empire) and he deserves every bit of it. His ability to show great anguish without saying a word is amazing.

Take Shelter is also slightly reminiscent of Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island with both featuring a very intimate take on someone losing their mind.

Many have equated director Jeff Nichols’ Take Shelter as a portrayal of the modern American psyche but in truth anyone can relate to this. It could also be seen in terms of a metaphor for the state of economy. Who hasn’t wanted to batten down the hatches during the credit crunch?

Put simply, Take Shelter is an accomplishment in terms of reminding you of the pure power of cinema to evoke feelings, from empathy to dread. And the final scene is suitably open-ended which keeps you thinking long after the credits roll.

Reviewer: DavidMorgan

In a nutshell: Bizarre but brilliant.

Popcorn rating: 4.5/5

Bill Bailey doesn’t do much in the way of social comedy – but maybe he should.  The Prime Minister and the Pope were among those in his firing line during brief interludes between his random observations and musical wizardry.  He had the huge crowd at Liverpool Echo Arena in stitches when he mocked David Cameron for saying ‘we’re all in this together’ when he and his Cabinet chums live in luxury.

Bill also didn’t shy away from controversy when he lampooned the Pope for criticising British society when the same man has been accused of failing to act against a paedophile priest.

The rest of the show saw Bill in more familiar territory by twisting our perceptions on modern music.  Hip hop artist Akon’s misogynistic lyrics in ‘Smack That’ were analysed line-by-line before being given a West Country style makeover to eye-watering effect.  Then James Blunt’s wet and whimsical brand of guitar music had the same misfortune when Bill attempted to write a song for him.

For long fans of Bill Bailey, there have been moments of frustration in previous tours as he has been known to recycle old gags.  But the new tour, Dandelion Mind, was refreshing, featuring completely new material.

One of the best moments was actually when Bill broke down into a fit of giggles when he realised how absurd his ‘job’ is.  At the time he was playing Enter Sandman by Metallica on horns. It was bizarre but quite brilliant.

Reviewer: DavidMorgan