Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Law & More Reviews 2009-2010



Here are a collection of my movie reviews for the entertainment section of the 'Law&More' Website. Whats that, you've never heard of it? Well then you'll understand why some of these reviews are far more glowing than they deserve to be. A site like 'Law&More' really can't afford to lose review screenings and so there is an element of rose tinted view points in a couple of these review.







Zombieland: ★★★★☆

Horror comedy Zombieland focuses on two men who have found their own unique ways to survive in a world overrun by zombies. Columbus is a coward, an unlikely survivor, superbly played by ‘Jesse Eisenberg’ (Adventureland, Squid and the Whale). A mixture of fear and a lack of emotional ties to anyone have so far kept him alive. Living by a self made list of strict survival rules, he finds himself alone in a town he always felt removed from. Tallahassee, ‘Woody Harrelson’ is a gun toting, knife wielding zombie-slaying machine. He’s a man with nothing to lose and completely driven by one single goal; to get the last Twinkie on earth. As they join forces with Wichita ‘Emma Stone’ (Superbad, The Rocker) and Little Rock, ‘Abigal Breslin’ (Little Miss Sunshine, Signs) who have also found their own unique ways to survive in Zombieland, they will have to determine which is worse: relying on each other or taking on the zombies alone.
Ever since George A. Romero’s 1968 small budget, black and white film, ‘Night of the Living Dead’, Zombies have always had a place in the heart of any cinema devote. Of late the genre has had something of a resurgence with such films as ‘Land of the Dead’, ‘Dawn of the Dead’ and ‘Shaun of the Dead’ dragging what was once a cult area of filmmaking kicking and gnawing into the mainstream. 
 
Zombieland builds on the foundations of ‘Shaun of the Dead’ and at first inspection it would be very easy to describe the director’s, Ruben Fleischer, debut feature as another lazy Hollywood ‘re-imagination’ of a cult hit. We have an unconventional hero in Columbus, a trigger happy nut, Tallahassee and to complete the ‘Rom-Com-Zom’ formula a young, attractive love interest in Wichita. However, what you don’t get is an opening act describing how this particular ‘virus’ came to infect mankind, there are no news reports or newspaper headlines left lying on the street, instead the audience is thrown straight into the thick of it all, into a dystopian world where zombies greatly outnumber humans.

Someone once taught me that all modern Sci-Fi films are 99% re-used, formulaic material and it’s what you do with that final 1% that turns an average film into a great one. Zombieland is a perfect example of taking that final 1% and squeezing as much individuality into it as will fit. The comedic dialogue shows more of a nod to recent indie hits (such as Superbad, Juno and Adventureland) than the tried and tested gore fest, complete with cheesy one liners and dated punch lines, that we’re used to being subjected to. It’s with this that Zombieland really pulls itself ahead of its contemporaries. The characters are well rounded with each one loveable in their own unique way, not to mention a wonderful cameo from one of cinemas modern day heroes. But if that’s too ‘cutsie’ for you, and for some of you it will be, don’t worry, the other 99% is full of what you want from an action horror. This is particularly true of the final ‘shoot-out’ scene, which takes place in an abandoned amusement park. We see our heroes slaying through fields of zombies whilst enjoying the fun of the fare. It’s truly the stuff of any violent video gaming boy’s dreams, where ammunition is unlimited and there’s no queue for any of the rides! In conclusion Zombieland is a rollercoaster ride of a film with enough needless brutality to keep ‘die hards’ happy and comedic turns to keep newcomers to the genre coming back for more. 


Moon: ★★★★★
Ever since the dawn of time, long before the Apollo landing in 1969 and for much after that, man has looked up and stared at the moon, viewing it as a source of wonder and mystery. It has been the muse of many a film maker for a number years. 
 
I wanted to make a film which would be appreciated by people like myself, who loved these films” said the director on his self proclaimed homage to films such as 2001: A Space Odyssey, Solaris and Alien.

Director Duncan Jones (son of David Bowie) is fully aware of the abundance of films in this genre and the difficulties of producing something fresh and original within it, instead choosing to work within the framework these films have left, leaving you feeling familiar with the surroundings and making the foundations of the plot seem more believable. 
 
Moon is set in the not too distant future, where the energy crisis has prompted the American government to discover a new source for the world’s fuel problems, H3, a substance mined on the far side of the Moon. Sam Bell, played by Sam Rockwell in a performance that has won him much deserved acclaim, is the sole inhabitant of the base and in charge of this operation, joined only by a solicitous computer by the name of G.E.R.T.Y (Kevin Spacey). Perhaps Jones is taking a cue from one of his father’s songs, ‘Space Oddity’ where Major Tom, not unlike Sam Bell is “Sitting in a tin can, far above the world”.

Bell must man this base alone for a three year stint, a long, lonely slog and as we join him fourteen days away from leaving, this solitude is starting to show as we’re presented with a scruffy, unkempt man suffering from headaches and eventually what he believes to be hallucinations. What unfolds next certainly doesn’t bode well for his wellbeing.

This one man show is truly a stunning piece of classic science fiction. It relies on a decent script and quality acting as opposed to overblown special effects and implausible storylines which are rife within modern attempts to reignite a genre that has, in many people’s opinion, not been the same since its golden era during the late seventies and early eighties. Its depiction of the human condition is fascinating; a cerebral delight. Although it does heavily draw from its predecessors, Moon’s pensive atmosphere and gripping storyline leave it eclipsing its contemporaries.

Un Prophete: ★★★★☆

French Filmmaker Jacques Audiard’s 2005 breakthrough hit The Beat That My Heart Skipped, centered around a young man who tries to find redemption from his criminal life by following the path of his mother and becoming a concert pianist. Lauded by many critics as one of the best foreign language films of the last decade it propelled actor Romain Duris and director Audiard into the forefront of French cinema. Duris has gone on to star alongside Juliette Binoche in Klapisch’s Paris, Russian Dolls and in Honore’s Dans Paris. Meanwhile eager audiences have been anticipating what Audiard would offer with his ‘tricky’ follow up feature. Well after much festival buzz, it’s finally here, and instead of the usual disappointment that comes with these tough follow ups Audiard has out done himself with Un Prophete, a film that continues to depict his fascination with the French criminal underground onto the big screen.

Un Prophete is an engrossing yet terrifying prison drama centralized around a young Arab by the name of Malik. We join Malik at the beginning of a six year sentence. It’s never really explained to us what he’s been convicted off, yet this is not important to the plot, and if anything it helps us see Malik without any unnecessary bias regarding his background. Young and impressionable, and with no family ties or connections to the outside world he is a perfect target for the gangs that continue to operate inside the prison system. Entering prison as a keep your head down, solitary sort it’s not long before he is called upon to perform an unthinkable task in exchange for protection by Cesar Luciani (Niels Arestrup) head of the Corsican gang that control the inner workings of the prison. What happens’ kick starts a domino effect which turns our young man from juvenile delinquent to a leading figure of the criminal world that thrives deep inside the judicial system. Taking education wherever he can find it, whether it be criminal or otherwise he soon learns more than just how to survive, but how to rule. 
 
Tahar Rahim plays the Arab prisoner, giving an equally impressive performance as Duris did in The Beat That My Heart Skipped. A newcomer to the cinema world his performance is an example of Audiard’s skill for unearthing new talent and polishing it up to perfection.

Set almost completely within the prison walls, using very few stylistic gimmicks the film relies on its perfectly crafted cinematic language to make you feel confined in this world of confinement. With the films cast being made up of almost completely unknown actors, its depiction of prison life and organized crime seems so realistic that its cynical attack will rile you up and leave you both angry and saddened at what you witness.

In conclusion Un Prophete is an incredibly well made expose of the problems that dwell in the justice system and the mindset of those who struggling to survive within such a brutal world. Asking the age old question, Is it really wise to detain men of a criminal nature amongst others from whom they can learn from? Menacing yet beautiful, with each scene as important as the last, Audiard has managed to create a visually exquisite film that is equally as stylish as it is socially important.


Edge Of Darkness: ★★☆☆☆
Released this weekend, can Mel Gibson carry a film after seven years out of the acting game to concentrate on being on the otherside of the lens?

In the first episode of season 11 of the Simpsons, Homer  Simpson attends a test screening of the latest Mel Gibson film, a remake of ‘Mr Smith Goes to Washington’. Unhappy with Mel’s drama heavy approach he angrily fills in his comment card which catches Mel’s eye, and confirms the Hollywood starsv own major worry about the film, “But I don’t shot anybody” Mel believes everybody else loves him too much to tell him the truth so works with Homer to make what he believes his fans really want to see, an action heavy dramatic piece revolving around the world of governmental cover-ups and political corruption.

 The production notes describe Edge of Darkness as an emotionally charged thriller set at the intersection of politics and big business. Perhaps this is the film Homer and Mel would have made. The trailer certainly makes Edge of Darkness look like a cash-in on last years surprise hit ‘Taken’, a action heavy, revenge drama focusing on a man losing his daughter and ‘Having nothing left to lose’. However  Martin Campbell (Casino Royale) has created something a little different in a genre that many believe has been drained of any originality.

 Something of a re-imagination of the 1985 BBC  mini-series of the same name, the plot focuses around Thomas Craven (Gibson, in his first appearance in front of the camera in seven years after a successful stint behind it) a veteran Boston detective, driven by grief and searching for the truth after his only child, Emma, is gunned down by a bullet the police believe was meant for him. Shattered by his daughters sudden death, Craven is looking for answers, taking on, or down anything or anyone who gets in his way.

 Sitting in-between last years political drama ‘State of Play’ (another remake of a successful BBC drama) and the action heavy ‘Taken’ Campbell has created the sort of edge of your seat thriller you’d expect from the director who rejuvenated the bond franchise with Casino Royale, indeed the Edge of Darkness is very much the film Casino Royale would have been if you’d removed all the high tech gadgets and ‘Bond girls’ that the franchise demands. Certainly a very well made Saturday night popcorn movie. It certainly won’t stick in your memory, or affect you too deeply (after all were very familiar with the concept that the government maybe hiding a few secrets here or there.) but as a piece of celluloid escapism it works wonderfully. 
 
Homer Simpson: Movies aren’t stupid. They fill us with romance and
  hatred and revenge fantasies. Lethal Weapon showed us that suicide
  is funny.

Mel Gibson: That really wasn’t my intention.

Homer Simpson: Before Lethal Weapon 2, I never thought there could be
  a bomb in my toilet, but now I check every time.

Marge Simpson: It’s true. He does.

Mel Gibson:  Do movies mean that much to you, Homer?

Homer Simpson:  They’re my only escape from the drudgery of work and
  family.


Ponyo: ★★★★☆
Studio Ghiblis back! And after the disapointment of Tales from the Earthsea can Miyazaki bring the Ghibli boat back on course?

Anyone who knows me will tell you that my love for Studio Ghibli is unfaultering, as I sit here writing this (wearing my Totoro hat) I’m full of joy that yet again Miyazaki has come up with another memorable film in Ponyo. Already described by many as Japan's Disney, Ponyo followa this trend and is roughly inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid. It’s an incredibly beautiful venture into an amazing world full of sea creatures and human beings.  Miyazaki has always effortlessly combined the fantastic and the mundane in his films with Ponyo being no exception, resulting in a visually imaginative and exhilarating piece of work, that expertly excerts all the vigour and energy those familiar with the Ghibli franchise will expect, all achieved with surprising simplicity.

A story as idealistic and imaginative as any that Miyazaki and company have brought to life, with the kind of vivid hand-drawn care that is harder to come by with each passing animated feature, with only Pixar coming close to capturing the same type of childhood magic we all desperetly search for when attending such films. Ponyo's story focuses around a young boy, Sosuke, who whilst playing by the beach front encounters an odd little goldfish who he names Ponyo. Its apparent from the get go though that Ponyo isn’t your normal goldfish as she starts to change form into a young girl. With her half human half magical father Fujimato desperate to get her back the two young  characters find themselves on a journey that will change the way they see the world.  

As with most of Ghiblis work Ponyo isn’t just another animated film for kids and does touch upon some serious issues. Like Nausicaa and Princess Mononoke before it,  this film centres around ecological concerns and the threat of global warming. But unlike any of the recent catastophe films we’ve seen clogging up the cinema listings (2012, Day After Tomorrow) Ponyo lacks any real sense of conflict or danger, instead subtly making its point and not ramming home the sort of world ending views we read daily in the news. Instead you can expect a film with a delightfully absurd internal logic that is perfectly keyed into the way small children, (and some adults) see the world with a frame narative that we can all agree on, and that is, that love can conquer all, wether it be plutonic or otherwise.

Ponyo is one of Miyazaki's funniest and most intimate films so far, on a par with Totoro and Kiki's Delivery Service  partly because of the engaging matter-of-factness with which he marries the extravagantly fantastic with the comforting realities of childhood that we all cling onto. The sight of the giddy and newly childlike Ponyo racing atop the waves of a magically roiling flood of water fish may well be one of the happiest  images you see in a movie all year. Compared to the animated garbage that typically passes through our movie theaters, it is with delight that audiences this side of the world will get to see how things should be done. The fact that its trailer's preceeded Where The Wild Things Are recently can practically be seen as a godsend to modern family movies.


The Illusionist:  ★★★★★
Sylvain Chomet, the acclaimed director of the Oscar nominated The Triplets of Belleville is back with his second feature The Illusionist. In keeping with his previous effort this is another gloriously animated piece that harks back to the golden age of such Disney films as 101 Dalmations and The Aristocats.

The films plot is plucked straight from an unused Jacques Tati script. Set in the 1950’s the story follows Tatischeff (named after the famous French comedian/director) an aging magician on a journey to out run the emergence of career hindering rock bands and the rise of television. Whilst visiting a small Scottish Island for a performance his path crosses with a young girl called Alice with all her childish wonder still intact her amazement at his perceived magical abilities leads her to follow him to Edinburgh. A relationship, almost a kin to father and daughter begins to blossom but how long can Tatischeff afford to maintain this magical facade before having to teach Alice the heart breaking lesson we all must learn as we grow up, that there is no such thing as magic.

Whilst Chomet’s Tatischeff bears a remarkable likeness to Jacques Tait, the films story is a million miles away from the silent comedy of such films as Playtime and Traffic. In fact the reason this script was left unmade was due to Tati’s belief that it was too personal and not in keeping with the humorous image he had manufactured with great success.

Indeed The Illusionist is an incredibly moving story, that although full of comedic asides the great director would of been proud to call his own, is a film with a rich vein of emotion flowing through it.

A special mention must also be made toward Chomet’s wonderful handcrafted style. Whilst our cinemas are currently full of CGI animation and 3D features, Chomet is still a keen believer that 2D animation remains the only format that can truly capture the human element of a character. The film also works as something of a love letter to the great city of Edinburgh. Chomet moved his studios to the city after being blown over by the Cities magical feel whilst premiering his last piece at the Edinburgh International Film Festival. Having lived in Edinburgh myself I can second this view and say with great pleasure that he has not only captured that special feeling the place has but enhanced it.

The Illusionist is not just one of the best animated features of recent times, but one of the greatest films I have had the pleasure to see.




The Blind Side: ★☆☆☆☆
I'm personally a sucker for sports movies, however good or bad the narrative is I'm always drawn to them. Having played team sports for many years the slightest moment of comradeship on screen is normally enough to get my adrenaline pumping more than any Cameron action flick, and emotionally move me to the same level that any Tarkovsky film ever has. 
 
The Story of Michael Ohre, now an Offensive tacle for the Baltimore Ravens, starts with a young man growing up virtually abandoned in the poverty stricken projects of Memphis. This was his life until he crossed paths with Leigh Tuohy (Sandra Bullock) a successful mother of two who for want of a better expression, lives on the right side of the tracks. She takes in the young man, offering him a roof over his head and as time goes by a lot more, including an opportunity to finally put his god given abilities, and size to good use by playing football for the local christian school. Family and Football were the two things Michael Oher had never experienced, but ultimately they would be the two things that would change his life forever, leading to a sports scholarship and a successful career with one of the heavyweights of American Football.

Setting a film around a true story can always be tricky. People expect to see the truth, yet still demand to be entertained. As we all know, the truth can sometimes not be quite as entertaining for an audience as it was for those who lived it. Commendably the film stays fairly true to its source material (although Oher is reported to be a little disheartened at being portrayed as somewhat 'simple') but this firm stance results in a lack of any real bite. Bullock’s performance may well be worth of an Academy award, as her depiction of the classic deep south wasp is impeccable, but unfortunately it's not enough to save a film that lacks the kind of punch you'd expect from a best picture nominee. Instead it uses trademark cinematic tricks to tug at your heart strings. Occasionally, the film achieves this with fair accuracy, especially in the scene when young Oher is presented with his first ever bed. However, when these emotionally tipped bullets miss, you'll feel like a quarterback wishing for Michael Oher's defensive tackle to protect you from yet another barrage of clich├ęd, wretch inducing moments that'll have you reaching for the bucket rather than the tissues. A great character piece but as a heart-warming movie attempting to expose the racial, social and economic problems that are rife within American society it misses the ten yard mark by quite some distance.



The Expendables: ★☆☆☆☆
The Expendables is described by many as the action movie to end all action movies. Marketing itself like some kind of Milk Tray selection box aimed directly at men. With a cast including some real heavyweights, both cinematically and literally, joining an aging Stallone as his merry band of mercenaries, we’re presented with an all or nothing mission to save a stereotypical South American Island from a formulaic dictator. 
 
And that’s about it as far as the plot is concerned. There are a couple of attempts to throw in a little romance and back story, but it amounts to no more than another excuse for the film’s stars to flex their substantial muscles. However, anyone going into this movie expecting anything other than just pure testosterone smeared onto a cinema screen is obviously born well after the 1980’s and grew up without the alpha male heroes such as Rocky, He-Man and Rambo. 
 
Overflowing with his usual penchant for guns, tattoos and an abundance of misplaced one–liners, Stallone’s key selling point for this action-by-numbers mess is its ensemble cast - a blockbuster line up including brief cameos from big hitters Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger. However, take away the big names and your left with not much more than the sort of ‘bargain-bin-straight-to–DVD’ film you'd expect to find in some no-name service station starring Steven Seagal or Jean-Claude Van Damme.

It is a shame that the combination of overblown sound effects, fast-paced editing and botox induced mumbling makes it difficult to follow what plot there is. However, this is just nit picking as The Expendables does exactly what it sets out to do and was never going to be the sort of film that you’d need to read a review to help you ascertain what to expect.

Stallone has yet again brought the action genre kicking and screaming into the 21st century with a death per second count that makes Rambo 4 look like Shrek. Indeed, what the Expendables lacks in story, script and acting it makes up for with an abundance of violence and masculinity that will no doubt leave some exhilarated and those with high-expectations disappointed. 
 
Now in his mid sixties you’d surely think The Expendables is Sly’s last roll of the dice regarding the genre, however there are rumours of a sequel, so perhaps like his character in The Expendables, (and come to think about it, most of his movies) he’s just a man who won’t quit.



Lourdes: ★★★☆☆
Golden Lion nominee Lourdes is certainly a film stepped in all the religious surroundings and beliefs that you'd expect. The story focuses on wheelchair-bound Christine, (La Vie En Rose) a MS sufferer who for us will act as our case study as we delve into this world of heightened beliefs and strong wills. Christine, as part of a church excursion has made the pilgrimage to Lourdes, not necessarily for a miraculous cure but as its one of the only ways she gets to go anywhere due to her condition. We follow Christine closely as she and the other pilgrims, each disabled in their own way, take refuge in a cold sterile hotel.

Austrian director Jessica Hausner's (Lovely Rita, Hotel) beautifully shot, moving, art house picture approaches this religious anomaly at what at first can only be described as an agonisingly slow paced, documentary style story. Refusing to take a stance on whether or not the town really is a spiritual beacon or in fact just a tourist park for devoted followers of the Catholic belief system. When the story shifts towards the miracles that are deemed to have occurred at Lourdes instead of validating or dismissing them Hausner instead focuses on why certain people are 'chosen' and why others aren't and the effects of those around them a how it effects their belief structure. 
 
Although there is a minor sub plot involving Christine and her assistant both trying to attract one of the young male helpers, the story hardly strays from its main subject. With religion being such a difficult subject to tackle when making a film (considering your releasing a piece of work to an unknown audience) Hausner manages to successfully keep things accurate whilst still implementing some fine comedic moments that shouldn't cause offence or undermine from the serious message that some of the characters are attempting to convey, 
 
Directed with the same voyeuristic approach as her fellow countryman, Michael Haneke, Lourdes is not the religious study that many may believe it to be. Hausner has instead created a wonderful character study of how beliefs can be heightened or stretched, whether it be the miraculous rehabilitation of a “less pious than she should be” individual or the crushing revelation of the poor health of a devout follower of the church. Lourdes, in conclusion, is a well made character study with some wonderful performances. 
 
This film though will obviously attract a religious crowd. Many will see Hausners’ staunch, 'on the fence' stance as a safe guard from any controversy from this audience, but there is more to it than this, instead it relies on the fact that there is no undeniable proof either way, leaving you with the same situation as most of the pilgrims and their aids, to take what you see and accredit it to your own belief system.


Blood: The Last Vampire: ★☆☆☆☆
Everywhere you look nowadays you can’t avoid vampires, not literally of course that would be some kind of dystopian horror show. Yet, on our TVs there are shows like True Blood and Being Human, in the cinema, films such as Cirque du Freak and Thirst are doing the rounds and you’d find it hard to sit on a bus or train which doesn’t have someone reading one of the Twilight saga books. This isn’t anything new; cinema and TV have fed from the necks of the vampire genre for years, from Bela Lugosi as Nosferatu to Sarah Michelle Gellar as the much loved Buffy the Vampire Slayer. As an audience it appears we are, and always have been, in love with this incarnation of the undead.

Blood the Last Vampire continues this trend, combining a high school setting akin to Buffy and Twilight, with the action of such films as Blade and Underworld. It’s with these action scenes that Blood has really thrown all its efforts.  Using wire technology for the fighting scenes, the film is full of fast flowing, adrenaline pumping moments that look as equally gruesome as they do visually stunning. 
 
The film is set in 1966 and focuses on Saya, a 400 year old half-human, half vampire samurai who works for an ancient, undercover organization which prays on those who feed on human blood. When sent to an American military base in Japan to further investigations, she finds herself enrolled in high school where she finally comes one step closer to her main target, Onigen, the evil patriarch of all vampires.

The film came under much undeserved criticism upon its release. You see Blood is actually a remake of an Anime film of the same name. Released in 2000, it gained a cult following, the only detriment leveled at it was for its short runtime. When the news hit that it was too be made into a live action feature many fans of the original thought their prayers were finally being answered. However, as with most of these things, expectations were too high. As the film had a limited release it only reached a small audience, mostly the loyal fans of the original. Some believed it had strayed too far away from the original source material, whilst others felt that the remake added little to what they had seen before, the age old case of never being able to keep everybody happy. Now that the film will be reaching a larger audience through the rental and retail markets it should, hopefully, be seen for what it is, a decent action packed addition to the ever growing Vampire franchise.


We Are What We Are: ★★★☆☆
It’s that time of year again when we switch the lights off, turn the volume down low and pretend we’re not home. All this out of the fear of handing over sub-par sweets to young children, children, who are made to look all the scarier with the addition of masks, fake blood and an excuse to intimidate. Other reasons to stay quietly snuggled up safe at home during Halloween is that this time of year also results in our cinemas being inundated with the majority of the year’s ‘short run, money grabbing’ horror films, including one if not all of the following; the latest incarnations of recent genre franchises, Hollywood remake of much loved foreign language film, usually unmarketable, forgettable cheap thrill film about Zombies/Vampires (delete as appropriate with this year’s trend). 

But fear not for you have a reason to venture to your local cinema (more likely single screened, art house, midnight showing) as this week we have Jorge Michel Grau debut feature We Are Who We Are a startlingly original Mexican film which if you believe the hype “does for cannibalism what Let the Right one in did for vampires”

The film centres on a family of cannibals, who after the loss of their patriarch must readjust if they are to continue with their unusual rituals and more importantly survive. The responsibility of ‘hunting’ is laid down firmly to the oldest son, Alfredo, a young man with such a blank dim-witted, expressionless faces, that the families chances of survival look minimal at best.

What on the surface looks like a gore heavy tale of family dysfunction actually plays out as more of a social commentary concentrating on the large wealth gap between classes in Mexico (the opening shopping mall scene is reminiscent of George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead and lays down the films underlying message from the get-go) whilst also touching on the countries poor level of crime control. It’s this level of deep-seated satire that makes We Are Who We Are stand out in an otherwise overpopulated market.


Let Me In: ★★☆☆☆
Matt Reeves re-telling of the John Ajvide Lindqvist Novel ‘Let the right one in’, about a bullied 12 year old boy who finds friendship in an unlikely source, is probably best known for the Swedish film by the same name. The film not only blew away critics with its darkly atmospheric and emotionally engaging story but also found itself as one of the most revived and financially successful foreign language films of the last decade. 
 
For those unfamiliar with the films previous incarnation, you’ll be forgiven for thinking that this is just another vampire movie, remade and dolled up for American audiences to cash in on the recent ‘Twilight’ phenomenon or the usual Halloween horror film rushed out in time for the holiday. Yet the reason for the stories previous success was due to the fact that this is not just a vampire story featuring children, but in fact a story about children that just happens to involve vampires.  
 
We follow Owen, played by the outstanding Kodi Smit-Mcphee (the Road), a loner struggling with all the problems adolescents has to offer whilst also having to hide from bullies and feuding parents. Things start to look up for Owen though, when one night he witnesses the arrival of a young girl, Abby (Chloe Moretz, Kick Ass) to his rundown apartment block. Abby and Owen find themselves in a mutually beneficial situation, both of them plagued by loneliness, yet in each other they find the answer to their problems. This relationship takes an odd turn when Owen begins to fathom the real reason for Abby’s odd behavior, she is indeed a Vampire, a word you will only ever here once throughout the entire movie. 
 
Removed from all context ‘Let Me In’ is a superb movie, and shows what fantastic results can be achieved by simply defying genre. We have a skillfully made coming of age tale disguised within a horror frame narrative. The performances are exceptional, especially young Kodi Smit-Mcphee who no doubt has an exciting career ahead of him. As Hollywood remakes go, Let Me In doesn’t disappoint, not smelling like the proverbial ‘lazy money maker’ so many previously have. However it does, as expected lack the originality of its precursor, nothing new has been added, and subjects brought up in the book that were touched upon but never expanded in the original film are ignored. 
 
For audiences new to the story they will find a well crafted and surprisingly engaging horror movie, yet fans of the original, whilst perhaps no doubt surprised by how good Reeves version is, will still find themselves asking firstly, why such a great film has been remade so soon, and why in such a diluted form?


The Hunter: ★★☆☆☆
Iranian director Rafi Pitts made a name for himself at the Berlin Film Festival when his 2006 feature It’s Winter won him the respect of both critics and audiences. The Hunter then has arrived with somewhat of a mellow buzz of excitement by those on the tireless festival circuit.

The film starts out in Tehran, Iran, during the recent elections. With anti-government unrest brewing in the backdrop Pitts central character (played unconvincingly by himself) is a security guard in a car factory, stuck with the night shift due to a prison sentence he served for an unidentified crime. His job throws him into a constant struggle to earn enough to support his wife and child whilst still being around enough to support them emotionally. However on arrival home one evening Ali finds himself alone, with no sight or sound of his family. It is only later after a long and fruitless search that it is revealed that both his wife and daughter have been ‘accidentally’ killed whilst getting too close to a violent demonstration.

Indeed this is a story of a man, who already disillusioned by life, finally snaps after the loss of his family, desperate for revenge, but with no specific target to vent at. Unlike similar Hollywood thrillers like Taken or Edge of Darkness, Ali has no villains to chase or corrupt corporations to crush just a general disenfranchised view of his homeland. And this unfortunately is where The Hunter loses its interest. The final act has no real direction, and by the end any remorse one might feel for Ali is completely undone by his indescribable actions.

The initial promise of a high octane drama/thriller is short-lived and instead through endless long tracking shots that try to emphases the leads pain, we are instead left following a man, who through a lack of verbal communication, and any visible signs of emotion we feel no animosity towards. Indeed Ali is so shut off that he becomes unreachable for the audience, thus everything that Pitts attempts seems so diluted and uninspiring. As a political portrait of Iran I am in no doubt The Hunter perfectly depicts the troubles that are at hand, but by attempting to become something more the film loses focus and inevitably interest.



Wah Do Dem: ★☆☆☆☆
Shot on the smallest of micro budgets, Wah Bo Dem is the result of two young friends, Ben Chase and Sam Fleischner who turned the fortune of winning a cruise trip round to Jamaica into a premise of one of the breakthrough indie hits of the summer.

As you can imagine the film is about a young man who wins a cruise to Jamaica, However having recently broken up with his girlfriend (played here by Norah Jones) our lead, Max decides to go it alone in what could be seen by many as the perfect break-up remedy, however surrounded by the young honey-moon couples and saga holiday makers he finds himself lonelier than he’d first imagined.  So when the ship docks in Jamaica, he’s off, on his own to explore and enjoy the local culture.

It’s not long though before he’s frolicing with local mystics, shaking his ass to some rambunctious dancehall music, and of course taking in some of the local intoxicants. However this search for local flavour, coupled with some rather overly trusting behaviour and daft decisions lead our young Max to be stranded without any clothes, money or passport as he watches his ride home sail into the distance. What’s that you smell? A coming of age road movie! Well you’d be correct.

As with most non-budget pieces like this a lot of the scenes are improvised and look almost documentary-like, so you can fully savour the fresh and honest feeling that comes out of it. This main detour some but leave others exhilarated. Filming took place during the recent Obama victory in the US and the reactions of the Jamaican locals makes Wah Bo Dem something a little more than a road movie, but a historical point of reference to one of the most defining moments of our time. In fact Fleischners film works as something of a love letter to the island, yes it doesn’t fail to show some of the nastier sides of the country, but what it shows in petty crime and poverty it outshines with a spirit of optimism and togetherness.


Made In Jamaica: ★☆☆☆☆
As part of the press blurb that accompanies Made In Jamaica, there’s a quote from Buena Vista Social Club director Wim Wenders. He describes the film as; “A true masterpiece...The ultimate reference about reggae.  A pure gem”. It’s apparent that Jerome Laperrousaz, the film’s writer and director, is trying to emulate the work of Wenders, showing how a small country can make itself heard on the world stage through the medium of music.

Beginning with the murder of one of Jamaica’s leading dancing stars, ‘Bogle’, Made In Jamaica really hits hard from the start and promises to enlighten its audience on, not just the birth of Reggae music but also its reflection on the social and economic problems that are rife in its birth land. However, there is a meandering lack of direction and as the film progresses, it tales of into one long music clip. There’s no outside view to contextualize the stories of these Reggae stars. Instead we’re left hearing the same contradicting view points of peace and violence from the angry, disconcerted voices of these artists, who are justified in their position but ultimately lack conviction due to the documentary’s focus on the music and not the messages the artists are trying to convey. However, it’s with these music scenes that the film comes alive. Depicted with cleverly choreographed dancers and superbly recorded live songs, what the film lacks in delivering its message it truly makes up for by capturing the raw emotion that runs through the music. The interviews that interlace these scenes are very comprehensive too, with each artist given more than their fair share of camera time. The interviewees come across as honest and true, and, more importantly, very passionate about what they stand for. 
    
Made In Jamaica certainly hasn’t made me rush out to buy the complete Third World back catalogue but what it has done is open my eyes and ears to a genre of music I had never previously known much about. I’ve spent many years of my life working for record stores and writing for music blogs and would consider myself to have a wide knowledge of music styles, however, Reggae was always a genre that I could never quite get into. Perhaps being a white middle class boy growing up in the Midlands hindered my appreciation for the genre. Now, after watching Made In Jamaica I’m glad to have a better understanding of this particular branch of music. With any new style of music it can always take a while for your ears to truly tune into it. After watching this documentary I do finally feel like I’ve found that elusive frequency.  
 
If you like Reggae music you’ll love Made In Jamaica. It covers a mixture of old and new styles of Reggae and fans of the genre will undoubtedly be inspired by the words and music of both the young and old stars. However, if like me you’re new to this world then Made In Jamaica, at two hours long, may seem a little too narrow sighted. The inception of Reggae is a wonderful story but it feels like its surface is barely being skimmed. There are many important issues being ignored, leaving you frustrated and disappointed at the lack of historical context to back up the passionate tales of these voices of a deprived yet optimistic people. 

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