Friday, 30 March 2012

No Fun and Games for the Daily Mail

It was hardly surprising that if any paper was going to publish an opposing article about The Hunger Games, it would be the Daily Mail. Still, I for one certainly didn't expect that the article would be regarding a mother's perspective on the film's impact upon her young daughters. Journalist Shona Sibary explains in an extended piece how Gary Ross' big-screen adaptation of Suzanne Collins' novel left her girls aged 11 and 13 in tears and emotionally disturbed. Her piece is available to read here.

 In my review for the film, I explained that I found the film's violence to be extreme for a picture deemed suitable for all ages and that Lionsgate should have agreed to the BBFC's offer of releasing the picture uncut under a 15 certificate, but judging from the simply staggering box-office figures the picture it has accumulated, the financial decision to cut for a 12A was by business means 'sensible'. But even in it's cut form, The Hunger Games packs serious punch, and rightly so. 

 In Shona's article, she explains that the film provides no sense of good triumphing over evil, nor does the film possess a particular moral core, instead it is merely a cold exploitation of minors engaging in tragic violence, yet she fails to realise that the film is presenting an image of a desolate dystopia - the only life pulsating through the Districts is the relentless energy from those involved in the games and those witnessing them. Plus she regrettably fails to understand the importance of family, trust and respect that the film provides.

 Throughout the piece, she claims how her daughters are 'impressionable', 'very sensitive' and that after watching The Hunger Games, they could be left with 'lasting emotional scars'. Even an absolute imbecile would be able to realise that anyone who is that frightful and delicate should not go and watch this type of picture, regardless of it's certificate or hype. Christ, she even says her daughter Annie cried when she saw her brother accidently step on a ladybird. Give me a break.

 I am in agreement with her that this film is not suitable for everyone, far from it, nor is it 'wholesome family entertainment', but unlike so many films that supposedly qualify as 'family-friendly', Ross' picture never claims to be such - audiences simply assume it's a family film because everyone can see it providing a parent or guardian is present for those under 12. If every 12A rated feature was aimed entirely at a family audience, there would be no need for genre specific features and filtering audiences - recent 12A pictures such as The Woman in Black, Chronicle and The Darkest Hour 3D are hardly movies you would rush out to see with your mother, father and grandparents are they? Shona is simply blinding herself from logic in order to argue her 'case'.

 Further on she notes that she could see her daughters distress during the contest and that she began to cry - surely if your child was that affected by what they were seeing, you would leave the cinema? Yes you would be losing a few quid in the process but that thought should be redundant. I will not have the audacity or rudeness to question her parenting but it does seem a little odd in all honesty.

 At the end of the article, she tries to boycott the film and tell mothers that they should not let their children see the film but what she forgets is that a few lines previous, she explains that it was her 'own stupidity for exposing them to this dysfunction, terrifying world' thus making the last 1,500 words completely pointless. 


Thursday, 29 March 2012

It's True.

Anchorman 2 has been confirmed.
Now that's CLASSY.

Banana Brick

'The Cabin in the Woods' Review

The Cabin in the Woods (dir: Drew Goddard, 2012) Cert: 15

A group of teenagers. A camper-van loaded with booze and class C drugs. A cabin in the woods. Sounds all too familiar right? Well think again because Joss Whedon, the mastermind behind Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly isn't making anything that simplistic or predictable. Instead The Cabin in the Woods, directed and co-written with Cloverfield scribe Drew Goddard, ranks amongst the most ambitious, original and mind-bogglingly wonderful pictures of recent, and it's going to be a total nightmare to review.

 Five friends decide to get away from all the stresses of life and college and head off for a weekend to a remote cabin that is believed to belong to Curt's (a pre-fame Chris Hemsworth) brother. After a short spell in the woodland location, not all is what it seems and soon the group are fighting for their survival and indeed the truth behind this deadly and secluded cabin.

 The film's strengths lie within the unknown; the less you know about The Cabin in the Woods, the more rewarding and surprising it is when watching. One advises you ignore all trailers and all online information if you truly want to witness the benefits and experience the picture. For this reason, I shall not be sharing a single further plot point than the very brief synopsis above.   

 The Cabin in the Woods was filmed over three years ago and has been dramatically stalled in it's releasing due to MGM declaring bankruptcy back in 2009 but now under leading horror distributor Lionsgate, Goddard's and Whedon's work can finally be unleashed on the unexpected public in certainly more ways than one. Not only is this a fantastic horror movie, it's also one of the funniest, sharpest and beautifully ironic gore-fests since Scream which makes for really refreshing viewing. Each character is developed and dimensional yet there is still plenty of room to poke fun at genre stereotypes and typical character escapades. It's clear throughout that the script is the body of this film and never does the on-screen imagery silence the barking wit of Goddard and Whedon's pen.

Still from The Cabin in the Woods (dir: Drew Goddard, 2012)
 It is also simply joyous to see such a bold and unique teen slasher present itself at a time in which teen movies have become so lazy and repetitive. With exceptions of Easy A and 21 Jump Street, there hasn't been a full-bodied teen film since the likes of Superbad and Juno and even then, all these films in question would only fall under the comedy genre bracket. The Cabin in the Woods is the horror-comedy the world has been waiting for since Scream, maybe even since The Evil Dead - it really is that good.

 The climactic 20 minutes of The Cabin in the Woods are absolutely bonkers - the screen simply ignites with ferocious energy, gallons of gloop and more shocks and twists than the viewer could imagine. It ranks amongst the most satisfying and down-right mental third acts in modern movie-making.

 The performances in this film are balanced and often side-splitting; Hemsworth is fantastic as Curt, Jesse Williams is the nice-guy in Holden and Kristen Connolly makes a solid leading lady as Dana but the film's stars are those who provide the most laughs. Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford are sublime in their roles which I cannot tell you a single thing about and Fran Kranz is simply bliss as Marty, the stupid stoner who actually sees a lot more than the others give him credit for. Oh, and there is also a cameo which will make your jaw drop.

 In order to truly support the breathless roller coaster ride that is The Cabin in the Woods, one will now be silencing his lips and keyboard but I'll leave you with this - Goddard and Whedon's long-lost project is an absolute master-class in genre collaboration, scripting and visual design. If there is a more pleasing, head-spinning and unashamedly entertaining picture in 2012, then we are heading in the right cinematic direction because this haunted house is downright perfect.

Just go see it, even if you have to manically run, scream, trip over and beg for mercy on your journey to the multiplex. 

By Chris Haydon

Saturday, 24 March 2012

'Winter's Bone' was Robbed.

Nominated for 4 Academy Awards in 2011 without winning one; Winter's Bone is the film that proves the underdog still doesn't really stand a chance.

After re-watching Debra Granik's masterpiece as a further tipping of the hat to Jennifer Lawrence whose latest, The Hunger Games, is my current film of the year, I realised just how hard done by Winter's Bone was last year, despite taking home Golden Globes and winning the big prizes at the Sundance Film Festival. 

 Ironically, the awards the film most deserved to win were in the categories that weren't dominated by Tom Hooper's over-achieving The King's Speech, but stiff competition was far too set-in-stone for Granik's indie drama to break through.

 Lawrence, who was nominated for Best Actress, was stacked against Natalie Portman for her fine turn in Black Swan as well as Annette 'I've never been as good as I was in American Beauty' Benning, Nicole Kidman and Michelle Williams, and although Portman was a worthy recipient, I can't help but think Lawrence deserved it just that little bit more. For a actress of such a young age to provide such a gripping, complex and emotionally taut screen presence is something surely worthy of celebrating and giving her the Oscar would have been the token of that feeling. 


 It's a similar story for John Hawkes who was beaten to the Best Supporting Actor award by Christian Bale for his good but incredibly showy performance in The Fighter (Mark Wahlberg was much better in the slighter and more intimate role - he was robbed too thinking about it.) - Hawkes' raw menace yet ability to makes audiences feel immense sympathy for is quite astonishing and much liker his chilling performance in Martha Marcy May Marlene, his work is something to cherish.

 The 2011 Oscars cooked up a massive storm with all it's issues - we all know Inception and The Social Network deserved to sweep the ceremony and I still lose sleep over Christopher Nolan not being nominated, but perhaps if the Academy voters just opened their eyes a little more and saw the sheer staggering power of Winter's Bone and of it's performers, film fans might just have a little more faith in Hollywood, the Academy and the Awards season after all.


If you haven't seen Winter's Bone, watch it now. Trust me.

Friday, 23 March 2012

'Act of Valour' Review

Act of Valour (dir/s: Mike McCoy/Scott Waugh, 2012) Cert: 15

These ingredients make up Act of Valour:

Wooden "performances"
Relentless unintentional homosexuality
Michael Bay style pyrotechnics
Heavily exploited propaganda
Epically lame score 
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 style missions

It's absolutely awful. It's Team America: World Police without the laughs and strings, but with much MUCH more wood. 

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

John Carter's Financial Disaster

If you are reasonably up-to-date with the movie world, you'll know that Disney's John Carter, directed by the wonderful Andrew Stanton has been a bit of a dud, and rightly so. It's baggy, over-long, poorly acted and scripted and is a fairly boring watch considering giant Mars space bastards are running about all over the place, but it seems as though Disney were not completely prepared for just how bad it's box office run has been.

 According to reports, John Carter has only taken $184 million WORLDWIDE even though it's budget was a staggering $250 million with a further $100 million blown on marketing. In order for a film to be a financial success in the modern cinematic climate, it must make at least double it's budget in ticket sales and seeing as the film has been at every major cinema chain now for the past fortnight, it seems highly unlikely it will meet those demands.

"Yes I know, I screwed up LIKE A BOSS."
 Disney changed the film's name in post-production from John Carter of Mars as they thought it would alienate viewers and completely generalise the film as Science Fiction but even dropping the 'of Mars' has made no significant difference. But the most alarming thing about this story is how much the budget fairs compared to other blockbusters this year. Here are some recent budgets from Hollywood:

The Hunger Games - $78-100 million
The Avengers - $200 million
The Dark Knight Rises - $250 million
Snow White and the Huntsman - $78 million

Disney's Carter cost the same as The Dark Knight Rises; a sequel that's part of one of recent cinema's highest-grossing and critically acclaimed franchises. Nolan's Batman movies are tried-and-tested - even if it cost $600 million, chances are it would double that figure at the multiplexes because audience know what they are in for. It's the same story with Joss Weadon's The Avengers (or Avengers Assemble as it's been stupidly renamed for the UK); audiences have embraced each of the hero's separate pictures and have been waiting for the grouped film.

 The fact that John Carter cost $50 million more than The Avengers is simply baffling. Maybe Disney just need to accept that they made a poor investment, a rubbish movie and put a little too much faith in Stanton. He is a sublime animated filmmaker with the credentials, awards and box-office figures to prove it, but I'm not sure live-action is his comfort zone and after this, one highly doubts Disney will ever give him the opportunity to try again.

Maybe Disney should have made this instead...


'The Hunger Games' Review

The Hunger Games (dir: Gary Ross, 2012) Cert: 12A

I've reviewed the quite frankly astonishing big-screen adaptation of The Hunger Games for Nerditorial. Click the fabulous poster above to read my verdict.

Two points though:
1. If you can, see it in IMAX.
2. Prepare to have a new favourite movie.

Happy Hunger Games and May the Odds be Ever in Your Favour.

Saturday, 17 March 2012

'21 Jump Street' Review

21 Jump Street (dir/s: Phil Lord & Christopher Miller, 2012) Cert: 15

Here's a list of some recent comedy movies (2011-2012):

The Inbetweeners Movie
The Hangover Part 2
30 Minutes or Less
Bad Teacher
Horrible Bosses 
Bucky Larson: Born to Be a Star
Just Go With It
Our Idiot Brother
Your Highness
Burke & Hare
The Change-Up
Johnny English Reborn
Hall Pass 
Tower Heist
The Sitter
This Means War
Project X
One for the Money

21 Jump Street is 100% funnier than every film on that list.

In fact, it's the best American comedy since Superbad.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

'We Bought a Zoo' Review

We Bought a Zoo (dir: Cameron Crowe, 2011/2012) Cert: PG

Seven years after his greatly disappointing Elizabethtown, writer/director Cameron Crowe returns to the big screen with an American adaptation of a British true story and hopes that his latest will be considered amongst his best works. According to Crowe, he specifically wanted Matt Damon to lead We Bought a Zoo and visited him on the set of True Grit to get that all-important yes. With his desired star on board and a whole host of other performing talents, has Crowe buried his demons and redeemed himself?

 Benjamin Mee (Damon) is a journalist who sadly loses his wife to ill health leaving him solely responsible for his two children. His small Southern American home holds too many memories of his past so Benjamin decides to start a fresh new life with his family and relocate. During house-hunting, he and his young daughter Rosie (Maggie Elizabeth Jones) fall in love with a property that happens to have a run-down community zoo as part of it's contract. The Mee family move in and with the help of head zoo-keeper Kelly (Scarlett Johansson) and her team they strive to re-build the zoo and re-open to the public.

 We Bought a Zoo has all the credentials to be a sugar-coated, overly-clichéd and a highly illogical picture and sadly that's what the vast majority of it's promotion presents, but surprisingly this is not your typical family drama, nor is it incredibly sickly and self-obsessed - it's actually a joyous, heart-warming and immensely entertaining movie and amongst the best films I have seen this year so far.

 Perhaps the film's greatest merit is that it supplies it's audience far more than the title would suggest - yes it is about a family buying a zoo but this is fundamentally a story about dealing with grief, loss and understanding human interaction. It's themes are frank and emotive, it's messages are true and involving and it's ideas are engaging and satisfying. This is a properly developed family film balanced with tears, laughs and a streaming beam of hope that radiates throughout.

 Crowe's eye for capturing facial expressions and motions is uncanny and whilst We Bought a Zoo's beautiful visuals are formed by the skilled cinematographers and art directors, Crowe is very able to tell a character-driven narrative with his camera. Using varied angles, lenses and controlling social spaces, he makes the spectator feel part of the family and part of their adventure, whether good or bad. He is also famed for getting great performances from his actors and this picture is no exception. 

Still from We Bought a Zoo (dir: Cameron Crowe, 2011/2012)
 In fact, Matt Damon's portrayal of Benjamin Mee is amongst his best ever screen showcases and it seems criminal that he wasn't even nominated for any awards this season, nor was the film itself. Damon provides a multi-layered and emotionally controlled performance that really strips back any of his Hollywood glamour and presents him as an every-man in an extraordinary scenario. Benjamin travels through various emotional states due to the loss of his wife and has a particularly hard time monitoring and connecting with his son Dylan (Colin Ford - who looks scarily like Damon), and a large quantity of the top performing is born through this tangled relationship. One particular scene during the second act sees the pair clash in a heart-wrenching argument - it's a truly powerful and deceptively raw moment that only fleshes the picture and it's characters out even more. 

 Johannson is an actress one has defended on countless occasions - far too many people say she is incapable of giving a good performance; have these people seen Lost in Translation, Match Point, The Prestige or Vicky Cristina Barcelona? I suppose not. Johannson is wonderful as Kelly and it's clear that Crowe was aware that more than some zoo attire and having her hair tied back would be needed so that audiences believe the Dolce & Gabbana model really does shovel animal waste as part of her daily routine. This is a quaint, delicate and believable performance and it's clear Johannson had immense fun portraying such a person.

 The ever-reliant and fantastic Thomas Haden Church provides endless laughs as Benjamin's older accountant brother Duncan who constantly tries to warn his flesh and blood about the financial risks he is taking upon himself. This is comfortable territory for Haden Church and he thrives within it; every time he enters a scene, he cracks a subtle yet hilarious gag which really helps to balance each sub-plot the picture has to offer.

 Other notable performers included Elle Fanning in a rather giggly girly role which is sweet and a nice change from her usual characters, plus Jones is just fabulous as Rosie - she has so much confidence and radiance for such a young girl (aged only 7) and one is certain she will be popping up in plenty more films in the future.

 Icelandic singer/songwriter Jonsi (former front-man of Sigur Ros) provides the score for the picture and each individual track really complements the emotions and events occurring in each scene. Expect to feel tingles and have a huge smile slapped across your face when listening even though you'll not have a single clue what he is singing - one just hopes it's as nice as it sounds.

 At times We Bought a Zoo does dip it's toe into the tedious 'All-American Values' sanctuary but Crowe's witty and effective co-written screenplay allows all the happiness and sugary nature that surrounds the Mee family's efforts to feel necessary rather than maliciously dragging it's viewers into a state of desired euphoria.

 This film is not perfect and I'm sure those with a rock-like exterior will be resilient to it's efficient charm and pleasure, but Cameron Crowe has certainly redeemed himself with We Bought a Zoo and for those who love leaving a cinema feeling refreshed and filled with endless glee then this is the movie for you. It's an engaging, wonderful and enchanting adventure laden with brilliant performances and plenty of surprises along the way. I absolutely adored it and I cannot wait to see it again.

A sheer delight to experience and a film destined for multiple viewings. Cameron Crowe, welcome back. It's been far too long.

By Chris Haydon

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

'In Darkness' Review

In Darkness (dir: Agnieszka Holland, 2011/2012) Cert: 15

I've reviewed In Darkness for my pals at Nerditorial. Click the poster above to find out why two children are peeping from a sewer...

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Best Films of 2012 So Far...

NO! Not this crap-fest!

However, this poster sort of sums up 2012 in film so far, because let's face it, the last three months have been pretty bland. Still, there is TONS of pictures around the corner which are inducing massive endorphins into one's brain so it isn't all bad, and keeping on the subject of 'not bad', here are my picks of the best movies released so far this year which if you haven't seen, go watch now.

Martha Marcy May Marlene
(dir: Sean Durkin - USA - Cert: 15 - 102 Mins)

Currently my favourite release of the year so far (which I actually saw in 2012 [technicalities and all]) - bold, ambitious and immensely affecting, Durkin's writing/directing début is a shell-shock for the senses and the psyche. 

The Woman in Black
(dir: James Watkins - UK - Cert: 12A - 95 Mins)

Finally a generally scary ghost story. Watkins and Radcliffe make fireworks with their creaky house of terrors and place havoc with their spectators. The Woman in Black is chilling, engrossing and as much fun as you could have being spooked at the flicks.

The Muppets
(dir: James Bobin - USA - Cert: U - 103 Mins)

Whip-smart, hilarious and as nostalgic as you could ever wish for. Bobin and Segel's 2012 update for the most famous puppets in history is a celebration of music, cinema and colour that bounces off the screen in wondrous and charming fashion Plus it won a bloody Oscar. MANAH FLIPPING MANAH.

I would have included Steve McQueen's masterpiece Shame and Alexander Payne's perfect The Descendants; both of which are 2012 releases, but they featured on my top films of 2011 list as I saw them last year and selecting them again would be a total cop-out.

Films to get Excited About...

'Contraband' Review

Contraband (dir: Baltasar Kormakur, 2012) Cert: 15

I've reviewed Marky Mark's latest for my good pals at Filmoria.
Click the poster for the review and don't forget to follow the site on Twitter!

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Matthew McConaughey + NC-17 = Chicken?

Matthew McConaughey, star of such classics as Ghosts of Girlfriend's Past, Fool's Gold, Failure to Launch and Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation has only gone and starred in the new William Friedkin movie Killer Joe which has been slapped with an NC-17 rating by the MPAA...


Friedkin's latest has gathered notoriety ever since it's unveiling at TIFF last year but it seems the film's psycho-sexual and 'brutal' nature is too much for the American classification board. According to early reviews and synopsis, the film features a disturbing rape scene and oral sex all involving a chicken bone which definitely boarders on the insane/gross-out.

Tom Six's centipede is being chicken-bone raped by this stud-muffin....

Hurts doesn't it Tom, just like your terrible movies.