30 December 2009

My Top Films of 2009! another list.

Yeah I know. Another list. Fuckin' Joy. Does anyone actually give a shit what ANYONE thinks anymore? Well anyway. Hold onto yo hats, folks. Here we go! It's my favourite films of the year.

1)Let the Right One In -
Cold. Supernatural sort of love story. The Anti-Twilight? Dunno, but beautiful, moving and original. My film of the year.

2)The White Ribbon -
Superlative exercise in unease from master of disquiet Haneke. Village of the Damned meets Downfall.

3)Fish Tank -
Proof that British social-realist cinema is alive and in good hands with Andrea Arnold's second feature after Red Road. Impressive debut from Katie Jarvis in gritty Essex drama from Ken Loach's natural heir.

4)Katalin Varga -
Romanian set revenge drama from another talented Brit Peter Strickland. Tightly scripted, pacey and powerful.

5)District 9 -
The South African Sci Fi movie of the year (er, usually so many to choose from!) Fuckin' Prawns.

6) Antichrist -
Grim discourse on the nature of marriage. Featuring genitial abuse and er, a talking fox. Dig deep enough under Von Trier's weirdo nods and winks and the shock factor and you're left with a though provoking dreamlike movie.

7)Paranormal Activity -
People seemed to enjoy knocking this a bit... it's not boring - that's tension! Does what it should - with shades of The Exorcist and Blair Witch. Nice to see a well made supernatural film which isn't for children or muppets anyway.

8)Star Trek -
Blockbuster that reespects the francise and enhances it. To my mind better than any of the previous Trek movies. A lot of fun.

9) Drag Me To Hell -
Sam Raimi does what he's best at, doing the horror/comedy thing. Less slapstick that Evil Dead trilogy but still pretty cartoonish. Also a deliciously twisted ending that was hilarious in it's audacity. Another great horror movie !

10) The Hurt Locker -
I'm not normally big on war movies but I couldn't ignore this Iraq drama . Scary, intense. Looks beyond the macho grimness of the soldier life. It'll probably clean up at the Oscars next year... Jeremy Renner will become a huge star .

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08 November 2009

Me and Orson Welles - Released 4 Dec

Effortlessly imagining the heady world of 1930s New York theatre, Richard Linklaker’s (Dazed and Confused, School of Rock) follow up to the disappointing Fast Food Nation, is an engaging and smartly scripted coming of age trip through the drama of life on the stage.

Teen song and dance man Zac Efron (High School Musical, 17 Again) is undoubtedly the main draw as a young actor who gets his dream break with Orson Welles’ Mercury Theatre Company. In just one week, Efron’s green but determined Richard Samuels goes from star-struck wannabe to Broadway debuting Shakespearian actor. Along the way he finds romance with an older, sophisticated theatre assistant (Claire Danes) and painfully witnesses at first hand the mysteries of Welles’ genius and artistic temperament.

First of all Efron is fine – likeable and lively as the wide-eyed innocent, he brings a vitality to the role that his young fans will surely appreciate. Not exactly a stretch of a character for him, but one that he plays to good effect. And of course, his hair and teeth look great.

The film is, however, all about the magic of Orson Welles and the storming performance of newcomer Christian McKay, who manages to capture Welles’ every nuance and tick with alarming accuracy. From the first bellowed boom of the famous Wellsian tones McKay announces his arrival on screen as a major talent. His Orson is fantastic; funny, erudite, charismatic, manic and hugely intelligent. In short, the movie is worth going to see on the strength of this performance/impression alone.
Strong support from a cast including Brits Eddie Marsden (so good in Mike Leigh’s recent Happy Go Lucky) and Ben Chaplin (The Thin Red Line) lends an extra bit of class to an already high quality production but in truth this is McKay’s – and Orson’s – show. The story is lightweight stuff and the style and tone will not win any awards for originality. What sets it apart is McKay’s extraordinary portrayal. Once again Orson is the star of the show, which is, of course, the only way he would have had it.

Rob Monk

04 October 2009

Haneke's The White Ribbon - released 13 November

The White Ribbon
dir Michael Haneke
released 13 November

The gifted and controversial Haneke follows up his American remake of Funny Games with this Palme D’Or grabbing psychological thriller. Revealing dark questions of the human condition very much characteristic of the filmmaker’s probing intellect, The White Ribbon is a creepily disturbing psychodrama that effortlessly plays on societies’ fears of abusive authority and hidden evil.

Shot entirely in black and white; all expressionist shadows and brooding menace, the film follows the strange events and apparent accidents that trouble a rural school and farming community in 1913 North Germany. A narrator, (identified later as the young schoolmaster), links the events in the film with Germany’s history in the first half of the 20th century and although not overtly pointed out, it is the rise of fascism that Haneke is concerned with here.

The village is one big cess-pit of fear and paranoia - of abusers and the abused and of hate born of ignorance and out of control authority. A laugh-riot it most certainly is not. But a more high minded and emotionally challenging movie will not be delivered this year. Grueling, intense and displaying steely eyed focus, The White Ribbon marks a high point for modern European cinema.

Rob Monk

25 September 2009

Birdwatchers - Out Now

Dir: Marco Bechis
Released 18 Sept

A thoughtful and well observed story of culture clash in rural Brazil, Birdwatchers is at times haunting and sad, capturing rare images of a stunning and beautiful land. The traditional way of life of the indigenous Guarani-Kaiowa people of Mato Grosso do Sul is pushed to the forefront, revealing a proud race constantly under threat from the modern world. The film is the story of their ability (and struggle) to adapt accordingly, while staying true to the beliefs of their elders.

Unfortunately, a somewhat disjointed and disorientating narrative does not fully do the tribespeople or their plight complete justice. The plot jumps around too quickly in an effort to personalise the political statement of the piece. The burgeoning love affair between trainee shaman Osvaldo and farmer’s daughter Maria and the flirtations between ‘The Scarecrow’ (recruited by the landowners to watch the tribe) and the local women could have both received more screen time. Instead their stories are left to dwindle disappointingly away. Similarly, the emotional impact of a second suicide within the tribe feels curiously dampened by the amount of ground that is being covered.

However, there are many powerful scenes that resound in what is essentially a serious political film. The opening scene of bird-watching tourists floating down the river, expressing surprised delight at the ‘natives’ who jump up and down shaking spears and bows as they go by is great. Shortly afterwards we see these same ‘natives’ in modern dress getting paid for their acting work.

The political and social landscape of Guarani-Kaiowa is deeply imprinted on the movie and theirs is a story richly deserving of attention. It is a shame that at times it feels as though a traditional documentary may have worked better. That said, the film is a moving and humbling account of a battle that has and is being fought all around the globe.

Robert Monk

All Tomorrow's Parties - The Film

All Tomorrow’s Parties
DVD release and download Nov 2

“For the fans, by the fans” is a phrase that comes to my mind whilst watching this lively, vibrant documentation of the first ten years of the popular ATP festival. Collated from hundreds of hours of footage of the festivals submitted by bands, fans and the organisers themselves on a variety of different formats, the film is more than your average concert movie.

Like the festival itself, the film plays host to a chaotic mixture of styles – with an emphasis on experimental guitar music – and the varying quality of the film recordings adds to this slightly schizophrenic, surreal experience. Snippets of live performances from the likes of Belle & Sebastian, The Gossip, Animal Collective and Iggy Pop provide the meat and bones of the film, but they are interspersed with a fan’s eye view of the festival. The editing is adventurous and imaginative - many of the clips look back to the traditional British holidays of times past that took place in usual ATP venues of Minehead and Camber Sands.

A sense of the festival’s character and personality really comes through; as ATP founder Barry Hogan states, it was originally set up to be “like a best friend’s mix-tape, only on stage.”The off the wall, easy going nature is captured perfectly, whether it’s Daniel Johnston playing to a small crowd in a chalet or someone falling off a balcony drunk. There are times however, when it all feels a little bit ‘Woodstock’ - too many shots of young men with long hair acting stoned.

Without a narrative or voiceover the film is somewhat disorientating and trippy, but as a tribute to a modern musical institution and the raw power of rock and roll All Tomorrow’s Parties takes some beating.

Rob Monk

11 August 2009

The Agent

The Agent

Dir. Leslie Manning/ Written by Martin Wagner 

Ever wonder who decides what books you read? No, it’s not Richard and Judy, not even Oprah. The answer, as delivered by this spiky and clever little film, happens to invariably be the literary agent (played with gutsy vigour here by William Beck). Alexander the agent is cunning, ruthless and oblivious to taste or criticism and is out to make lots and lots of money. Which he does very well.  And like all the best con-men, we find that he is strangely likeable and charismatic in spite of ourselves …

Plunging us head first into the wheelings and dealings of the publishing world, Martin Wagner’s bitingly funny screenplay follows disgruntled author Stephen (a world-weary Stephen Kennedy) in his attempts to get his agent to justify his fee and his occupation.  Fearing that his agent is not doing enough to push his second novel, Stephen takes matters into his own hands…

The Agent started out as a play and it shows in the production. There are only a few characters (Maureen Lipman turns up in one very funny scene) and most of the film is a two-way conversation between Stephen and Alexander taking place in a non-descript office. But what the film lacks in action or variety of tone it more than makes up for in the quality of the writing and acting. The two leads are superb and absolutely convincing in their given roles. Kennedy’s edgy desperation drives the film and evokes tremendous sympathy as the man who has been knocked by life one too many times. Beck is equally good and displays great levels of wit and charm. The characters are so believable that at points the film almost feels like a documentary.

The real star on show however is the terrific writing. I doubt a more truthful film exists in relation to the literary world and if it does it could scarcely be more energetic, funny or stylish. A real gem, packed with wonderful lines and two incredible, performances. This is a challenging and thought provoking film that treats its audience with a maturity and respect, which is unfortunately all too rare in British cinema. Seek it out.

The Agent is out September 18th and is showing at the BFI Southbank. 


Mad, Sad and Bad? Nah, Just bad...

Mad, Sad & Bad - UK, 98 mins, English. Dir. Avie Luthra.

Meera Syal, Nitin Ganatra, Zubin Varla, Andrea Riseborough

Avie Luthra’s comedy drama about a British-Asian family attempts to uncover universal truths and generous laughs from the minefield of modern relationships and city living. Unfortunately, despite a good cast - including familiar faces such as Meera Syal and Eastenders’ Nitin Ganatra – the script is frail, largely laugh free, and the plot, such as it is, never gets going. The whole feel of the production is that of a TV movie, or perhaps a pilot for an uncomissioned sit-com.

A large part of the problem can be ascertained from Luthra’s notes when he states that he intended to reflect a “kind of metropolitan thirty-something selfishness…people in their mid/late thirties in mixed relationships who were so self obsessed they’re not able to look beyond their own needs.” Now, if ever there was an unnecessary and uninspiring pitch it would have to be that one. Perhaps that sounds harsh and unfair. However, it was particularly disappointing that the most potentially interesting aspect of all of this – the mixed-race relationships, possible cultural divides etc – was not examined or used in anything approaching dramatic (or comedic) fashion at all. Indeed, the fact that there are mixed-relationships in the film is unimportant and largely irrelevant. All of the characters could have been Brit-white or all could have been Brit-Asian and the script could have remained unaltered. Which is presumerably the point? But in that case why mention or show it at all?

As it is, Mad, Sad & Bad joins the already tragically large list of failed British comedic offerings. The three main storylines; Syal’s dowdy Rashmi’s quest for a decent date in order to get her secretly boozing Mum (Leena Dhingra) off  her back, Ganatra’s Atul’s  troubled relationships and writer’s block and eldest brother Hardeep’s (Zubin Varla) sex obsession and lonely home life all remain unconvincing and barely raise a smile between them.  Often the balance between comedy and drama seems well off kilter – particularly Hardeep’s attempted seduction of his brother’s girlfriend (Riseborough), which just comes across as inappropriate and seedy.

The strongest character is probably that of the matriarch Usha, whose post-death narration opens and closes the film and should be the spark that leads the characters out of their naval gazing.  She at least provides some sense of realism, as her loneliness and desire for a better life for her kids begins to tire her out.

As for the other characters, they seem forced and underdeveloped. Syal and Ganatra are both good comedy performers, but they are working with frankly sub-standard material here. A running gag about Atul struggling to write an opera about cheese is painfully unfunny and is unfortunately the abiding memory that sticks after the credits roll. Mad, Sad & Bad? No, sadly, just bad.

Mad, Sad & Bad is out now.


07 June 2009

Looking For Eric - Back of the net!

Looking For Eric  (15)

Dir. Ken Loach, 2009, UK, 116 mins

Cast. Eric Cantona, Steve Evets, John Henshaw, Stephanie Bishop

Films about the beautiful game have had a troubled history. From the undoubtedly bizarre thrill of watching Sylvester Stallone lining up alongside Bobby Moore and Pele in The Great Escape to lacklustre debacles such as Fever Pitch or When Saturday Comes, cinema has struggled to capture the sport’s emotional intensity, passion and endless possibilities. More recently the depressing sub-genre of hooligan film (Green Street, The Football Factory) has overshadowed the game itself on the screen.

Thankfully, with Ken Loach’s (himself a follower of non-league titans Bath City) masterful feel good character study Looking for Eric, footy fans finally have a film to be proud of.  And this is by no means at the exclusion of audiences more at home in the cinema than on the terrace. Football references are kept to a broad minimum and should not put off anyone unfamiliar with flat back fours, the offside rule, or relegation dogfights.

Steve Evets’ (think, Mancunian Harry Dean Stanton) terminally depressed and damaged postman Eric Bishop is in the middle of a nuclear strength mid life fall-out. We first meet him as he drives his van the wrong way round a busy roundabout oblivious to the oncoming traffic. As a compelling visual metaphor for his sad existence it grabs us from the off and doesn’t let go.

He left his first wife (Stephanie Bishop) 30 years ago in the grip of doubts and fears about becoming a father and remains painfully in love. The stepsons (Gerard Kearns, Stefan Gumbs) from his second marriage treat him with contempt and rule the roost at home.  On top of this he can’t afford to go and see his beloved Manchester United anymore. To be blunt, life for Eric sucks.

And where is the wayward genius Cantona in all this misery? Well, at the height of his despair Eric turns to his bedroom poster of the legend and asks him where it all went wrong.  To his understandable surprise the former Old Trafford hero appears, languidly stepping forth in a puff of spliff smoke (‘borrowed’ from the troublesome step-kids) and beguiling bon mots.

And from that point on King Eric acts as advisor, fairy godmother and personal trainer, constantly popping up offering sage advice and typically oblique poetics; cleverly sending up his public persona (I am not a man…I am Cantona, he announces, tongue firmly in cheek) and showing a nice gift for subtle comedy.  Eric’s desire to explain and understand his failings and goal of reuniting with the love of his life is carefully plotted by his charismatic namesake and together they make a genuinely winning double act.

Great support is provided by Eric’s workmates (particularly John Henshaw’s splendidly named Meatballs); the scene in the postal depot where they try to raise a smile from Eric by telling him god-awful jokes is a peculiarly British comedy gem.  Loach’s (at 73, surely worthy of ‘national treasure’ status) love of gallows humour is always near the forefront but it is without doubt his lightest film in tone; the ending is brilliantly upbeat and will leave a quiet grin on the face for many weeks afterwards. Some aspects of the crime sub plot in the second half of the film don’t always work but these are minor quibbles and as a plot device it necessitates the superb climax. A genuinely entertaining, funny and emotive British movie that fully deserves the many accolades that are sure to come its way. A film to be proud of… back of the net!

Looking For Eric is released on June 12


01 May 2009

Anything For Her - released 5 June

A superlative French thriller that draws favourable comparison to Guilliaume Canet’s 2007 crossover success Tell No One, in Anything for Her (Pour Elle) Fred Cavaye explores similar themes of obsession and love while progressing with a tightly scripted plot at breakneck speed.

Lisa (Diane Kruger) and Julien (Vincent Lindon) lead a happily married life with their young son. This state of bliss is turned upside down when armed cops knock down their door and arrest Lisa for murder. Julien cannot bear to be without her and sets out to break her free - even if it means that he has to kill in order to do it.

The film’s strength largely lies in Lindon’s performance. He is solid, charismatic and believable as the average Joe schoolteacher pushed to his extremes by love and the possibility of that love being lost.  There is never the sense that events are implausible; out of control and mad, yes,  but always believable. The film constantly asks: what would you do in the same position?


Tormented. out May 22. take it away. please ! please!

Oh dear. Essentially Hollyoaks with blood or an episode of Skins meets Scream, Brit- high school horror Tormented has its target audience firmly in view. Sadly this does not seem to include anyone a; over the age of 15 or b; seen more than a handful of decent movies (horror or otherwise). Even the basest teen soap has more wit and vigour than this frankly embarrassing offering.

The plot, such as it is, concerns the suicide of bullied teen Darren Mullet and his apparent re-appearance as a vengeful zombie ghost thing eager to get back at the cast of gormless, braying good looking bastards who did for him in the first place.

Displaying varying degrees of idiocy, the clich├ęd bunch of Emos, slappers, geeks and jocks get bumped off in disappointingly boring fashion. The final ‘twist’ is laughable and seeks to act as some sort of get out clause for the mirthless crap that preceded it.

Avoid like the plague. It’ll probably be huge.

Note: Incredibly Empire magazine which I enjoy and respect gave this pile an extremely generous and good review. Why ??! Seriously, any horror  fan (or sentient being) will be switched off by this. The fact that it's rated a 15 should tell you that it's not in the so shit or rank that it's good category...whatever.... 

Blog updates

Have been a bit quiet on the old blog front lately... apologies to the warm souled few for this...updates a plenty everywhere coming up x 

Is Anybody There? - Rel. 1 May - Michael Caine on top form

10 year old Edward (Bill Milner) lives a lonely existence in a sea-side retirement home with his stressed out parents (David Morrissey, Anne-Marie Duff) and a cast of eccentric geriatrics. Bored and increasingly obsessed with death, he is abruptly brought out of his morbid shell by the arrival of “The Amazing” Clarence (Michael Caine) an anarchic retired magician.

Mining similar territory to last year’s Brit-hit ‘Son of Rambow’ (also featuring rising child star Milner) ‘Is Anybody There?’ is a charming and often very funny slice of 80’s family nostalgia that – thanks to Peter Harness’ terrific script – always manages to ring true.

Unsurprisingly, Caine lights up the screen whenever on it and he and Milner develop a chemistry that imbues the drama with a real depth of emotion and credibility. Backed up by a strong supporting cast of familiar faces (Leslie Philips, Sylvia Syms) this is a quintessentially English story that should find itself a wide audience.


07 March 2009

Bronson released 13 March

I read a book about legendary nutter Charles Bronson many years ago and always felt it would make a great bio-pic. Well, here it is! And it's good. 

Michael Peterson, better known as Charles Bronson (named after the Death Wish actor for want of a fighting name) has the dubious honour of being known alternately as Britain's 'most notorious prisoner' and 'Britain's most dangerous prisoner'. A fascinatingly complex and self-destructive figure, he has spent most of his life behind bars. Prison gave him the recognition he craved; earning a reputation for insane random acts of violence and a punishing exercise routine.

This grimly humourous and often surreal drama takes us through the pivotal moments of Bronson's (a buffed up Tom Hardy; RocknRolla) life, including hold-ups, prize-fights and dancing to the Pet Shop Boys in a mental hospital. No punches - or kicks, or choke-holds - are pulled along the way.

However, despite Bronson's commitment to ultra-realistic violence (the predictable outcry about glorification can already be heard), the second act of the film concentrates on the man's idiosyncratic artistic ability; developed through prison classes and encouraged by James Lance's (I'm Alan Partridge, Teachers) entertainingly camp teacher. Bronson's twin passions of art and violence culminate in an extraordinary climax, which will surely be one of the most talked about in a British movie this year. 

Essentially an English take on Aussie crime classic Chopper, a similarly cult audience is assured. 

Breakdance 1 and 2 released on DVD

Somehow I had never seen these movies before - despite a love of electro and early hip-hop. I had seen clips, of course. (Van Damme!) Anyway, they are bloody funny. Here is my review...

(along with it's sequel Electric Boogaloo) or Breakin' in the US has to be hailed as a serious contender for most 80's movie ever. A bold claim certainly; but one that is wholly supported by weapons of mass distraction such as insane moves, street 'tuff' fashions and plot lines centering on fighting evil corporate yuppies solely through the medium of dance. 

It comes as no surprise that the ludicrously cheesy scrapes involving the three main characters; Ozone, Turbo and, erm, Kelly are merely a vehicle for them and their mates to show off some stunning dancing. Still, the filmmakers were unlikely to have been overly concerned with the depth of plot or character development when coming up with the initial 'concept'. 

As an often hilarious and always endearing slice of 80's nostalgia the Breakdance films are hard to beat. Worth the price alone is a blink and you'll miss him Jean Claude Van Damme breakin' away and a slightly embarrassed looking Ice-T, rapping in distinctly non-gangsterish manner. Fresh, y'all! 

The DVDs are released in UK on 6 April 2009