A chance to bring the British gangster film back to its tough roots, Legend is magnificent. Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels in it’s own right is fantastic, but its success skewed people’s perception of what the British gangster film should be. And it stands as the modern era’s example against which all others should be judged. Legend instead takes it’s lead from solid classics like The Long Good Friday, while adding a dash of comedy charm. It proves it can be the best of both worlds.

Director and writer Brian Helgeland has form in crime and thrillers. In Curtis Hanson’s L.A. Confidential he fashioned James Ellroy’s book into a screenplay that paid tribute to the glory days of American Noir while being one of the finest examples of the genre itself. While Legend is more baggy (a common problem to biographical films) it is a similar success; a modern take on old fashioned style.

The structure of Legend revolves around the narration of Reggie Kray’s wife, Francis (Emily Browning). In itself that is a clever conceit, giving sentiment and humanity a strong voice in the Kray’s world. The myth is that they looked after their own, family came first, that they only extorted those who deserved it, etc. Actually that’s rubbish of course; they were criminals, plain and simple. The film recognises both sides and allows us to be in turns charmed and horrified, just like Francis. We get in close without having to sympathise with the brothers. This is a film about their relationship to Francis, rather than the idea their mother was the real power (as suggested by 1990’s The Krays with Billie Whitelaw and the Kemp brothers).

Despite the responsibility, Browning has a difficult role as Emily and pulls it off brilliantly. She represents a timid innocence to be exploited by Reggie, despite his best intentions. She is both tied to and in sharp relief to the ferocious Tom Hardy who is yet to give a poor performance. And it’s buy-one-get-one-free this time! We finally have someone able to stand up to the shadow of Bob Hoskins (The Long Good Friday) and Michael Caine (Get Carter). He finds the fierce intelligence in Ronnie and the real monster in the charming Reggie. It’ll be Ronnie you’re more likely to remember though. The dialogue is rich throughout, but he gets the best lines and will disarm you with a mere stare.

There is solid support in the rest of the cast, especially from the coppers. With Christopher Eccleston as Nipper, the Detective doggedly hunting the Krays, they never feel like idiotic stereotypes. Even when the brother’s are running rings around the Government and it would be easy to make the establishment a laughing stock, there is humour, but not absolutely at their expense, somewhat helped by Kevin McNally as Harold Wilson in a brief role. Taron Egerton also deserves a mention, building on his confident lead in Kingsman, seen here as Ronnie’s homosexual sidekick.

There are no gimmicks in Helgeland’s direction. There was ample opportunity to pull a Scorcese, with flashy editing to match the soundtrack, but instead he lets the cast take the lead in a convincing and bright 1960s London setting. Not to say he’s lazy, far from it; it’s a shrewd triumph of understatement and classical film-making. The joins between Hardy’s two roles, even when they fight each other, are invisible. The violence isn’t over the top either. It is neither ignored nor glamourised, even in the most horrific moments.

Ultimately Legend is a fascinating study of the notorious brothers, their relationship to each other and, through Francis, to the normal everyday world -our world- that would be forever enamoured by a pair of lunatic murderers. That it never excuses their actions is to its credit.

Empire Strikes Back: Secret Cinema 2015



We were on a tube train in Central London, minding our own business when curiosity got the better of the young kid of about five wearing a Storm Trooper t-shirt.

“Is that real?”, he inquired of the lightsaber hanging from my wife’s belt, only partially hidden by her Jedi robes. Of course it was real, she assured him, though a demonstration regrettably wasn’t possible. Nevertheless he excitedly ran to tell his even younger brother that she was going to “chop his arm off”! I decided to keep my laser blaster safely wrapped in it’s Co-Op bag. Surely the key to being a successful mercenary is picking your fights and brandishing heavy artillery (even the plastic stuff) at Londoners would be frowned upon. It’s alright for Jedi; their lightsabers are such elegant weapons.

In this moment we learned a couple of things. That the appeal of Star Wars is timeless and the healthy imagination of boys is still reassuringly violent, but also that there is no need to worry at all about being dressed like pillocks while travelling to Secret Cinema’s latest event. We were not the only ones. Well, we were on that particular carriage, but we had already seen a few X-Wing pilots and multiple Jedi striding around the Underground. Luckily, no Imperial troops though, considering we needed to keep a low profile…

Upon reaching the meeting point and led by desperate, shouty Rebel commanders onto our transports that promised escape for the Rebellion, two more points became clear; you’re only going to feel like a pillock if you don’t dress as the obscure communications suggested (the embarrassment was obvious for the three ‘normally’ dressed people I saw) and this incarnation of Secret Cinema is so huge, it defies comprehension.

I thought I’d seen it all before. A few years ago I attempted to “escape to the off-world colonies” (Blade Runner) and while it was great fun, it was a fraction of the size of this endeavour, which cleverly feels like several distinctly different and sizeable locations. Blade Runner was also only a fraction of the cost, a fact widely reported. It seems to me £78 is reasonable, in-line with previous screenings considering this one is huge (although I didn’t go to the Back To The Future event). For a Princess or a pirate, it’s a big chunk of change which ever way you cut it, even before travel costs and pricey on-site refreshments, but if you can afford it, I can’t see how you can consider being robbed. You’d pay similar for a concert lasting a couple of hours and Secret Cinema create a five-hour plus illusion, the memories of which will last a lifetime. Anyway, it was my birthday. I don’t smoke, nor drink to excess, so sod it. If I’m going to start a mid-life crisis by confirming my uber-geek status, this is the best way to do it!

It would be great to spill the beans about exactly what goes on, but that would really spoil the spirit of the thing, so I’m keeping spoilers to a minimum. You’re so much better embracing it fully and if you’re a Star Wars fan you owe yourself this experience. You’ll absolutely love it. One important tip if you do go for it, read the mysterious emails fully. Log into the chat rooms they direct you too a couple of times at least. Take the various obscure items they suggest. And dress up. Like a pillock, maybe, but dress up like your scummy Rebel life depended on it. Geeks are fashionable now, anyway!

Your life is not your own as you go through the entrance, your phone sealed in a silver packet away from signal, Twitter, Facebook and other loved ones. You’ll soon forget about it anyway although it’s a damn shame photography has to be denied, albeit understandably. That selfie with Boba Fett is going to have to wait.

The first major area you get to is a wretched hive of scum and villainy. (Actually that’s not true, they turned out to be lovely people). There are real market traders where you can buy food, trinkets and t-shirts, while being bothered by Jawas. Keep your eyes peeled for familiar characters while drinking in the Cantina, but what happens exactly is up to you. Suffice to say, it’s like a live-action Skyrim! Wander around as much as you like, but tease the actors a little and you’ll discover tasks that pull you into the story. You won’t be stuck on that dust-ball for long and your jaw will drop more than once throughout the evening.

The actors are superb. They never break character, seemingly regardless of how cheeky you are, so interact with them as much as you can, because those guys absolutely make the experience, working very hard to guide and tease you through the various features throughout the evening until you reach the actual screening. You might have forgotten by that point, but there is the little matter of the film to watch. Even if I wanted to tell you how the staged segment of the evening prior to watching the movie is brought to a close, I don’t think I know how. It’s an exhilarating, glorious, goosebumpy “how are they doing this?!” kind of moment. The approving roar from the crowd was deafening.

A welcome surprise was that the screening was relatively comfortable. Bladerunner certainly wasn’t, so I’d been anxious about two hours stuck on a cheap seat. I mean, you shouldn’t expect much, considering the secret location certainly isn’t exactly the Odeon, but still we were able to relax. And of course, 30+ years on, The Empire Strikes Back is still phenomenal. Any of you who have been to a Secret Cinema screening before will know there are occasional surprises during the film and they are brilliantly done again. The Force is strong with this one and the few poor reviews I’ve seen are not justified.

We set off for home, exhilarated and exhausted in equal measure, riding waves of nostalgia for the most beloved film trilogy of all (what prequels?). The Secret Cinema team know their films and more importantly, their audience. The Empire Strikes Back is a gob-smacking achievement, staged for those of us that love Star Wars by people who might love it just a bit more.

It says something that on that tube ride home I’d almost forgotten the clothes we were wearing and certainly no longer cared what anyone thought. I only noticed my laser blaster, slung across my shoulder, hadn’t been put back in it’s Co-Op bag until we got to a KFC and I absent-mindedly put it on the table next to me. That might explain why they didn’t charge us…

The Rebellion continues through September. Go join while you still can. “With you, RebelX”.



SELMA - 2014 FILM STILL - Background left to right: Tessa Thompson as Diane Nash, Omar Dorsey as James Orange, Colman Domingo as Ralph Abernathy, David Oyelowo as Martin Luther King, Jr., Andr¾© Holland as Andrew Young, Corey Reynolds as Rev. C.T. Vivian, and Lorraine Toussaint as Amelia Boynton - Photo Credit: Atsushi Nishijima   © MMXIV Paramount Pictures. All Rights Reserved.


The acclaimed film Selma tells the gripping and moving true story of the pivotal moment in Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s epic civil rights struggle – the 1965 protest march from Selma to Montgomery Alabama to secure voting rights for African Americans. Starring British actor David Oyelowo (The Butler, A Most Violent Year) as Martin Luther King Jr. Alongside Tom Wilkinson Carmen Ejogo Tim Roth and Oprah Winfrey the 2015 release of Selma celebrates the 50th anniversary of the passing of the voting rights act and this triumphant story of the power of the people.

Selma is an incredible achievement and among the many things you could praise it for, it perhaps works best as the bio-pic of Martin Luther King Jr. that we still haven’t had. I’ve always maintained that the best way to understand someone is to tell their story through one key event, not trying to encompass everything.

Selma only covers a few months towards the end of Dr. King’s 13 years working for civil rights and we find a man uneasy with his success, his statesman-like reputation, and how it reflects on the those he supports. He is aware of his potential fate and the strain that puts on his family; his wife Cloretta (Carmen Ejogo making the most of a limited role) speaks of death as a fog that surrounds them. While the film does not include his assassination, the knowledge that Dr. King pays that price adds an air of melancholy despite the glorious success of his achievement that started on the Edmund Pettus bridge. David Oyelowo’s under-stated performance is superb, convincing as both the calm leader everyone relies on and the human being, struggling to understand if he is doing the right thing. He lifts every scene he is in, even when the film occasionally stumbles and lacks focus in the first half (particularly the awkward tone of wire-tapping sub-titles).

There was much talk of Selma being snubbed by the Academy Awards. With just two nominations and one win (Original Song for Common and John Legend’s Glory) there was a notable lack of coverage for what seemed like an obvious choice. Reviews were almost all full of praise and it did have an air of importance, the sort suspicious cynics would have you unfairly believe is Oscar-bait. The Academy’s omission was certainly curious in any case, but in truth, Selma does have some minor flaws that take the wind out of its sails. Overall it lacks the consistency and, more importantly, the spark that made 12 Years a Slave distinctively special.

That’s understandable because it’s heart rightfully belongs on the historic Edmund Pettus bridge and until we’re on it, narratively speaking, Selma lacks focus, rushing to get to the march. It is far more complicated a story than that of persecution over race represented by good guys and bad guys. Set in 1964, America was becoming more self-aware of it’s shameful history and progress had been made in Civil Rights, just not very quickly where voting is concerned. Tom Wilkinson as President Lyndon B. Johnson embodies America’s personality in a smartly judged role, trying to balance a past he is both ashamed of and sympathetic to, with an inevitable future that he at least believes in. In other words, of course black Americans should be able to vote without fear of discrimination and violence, but… well, it is Alabama, so maybe next year? A delay cannot be afforded though and the bridge comes to represent an emotional and Constitutional crossing as well as a physical one. It must be crossed now and the battle to do so is that of one in an on-going war. That’s exactly what it was, of course and the tension before the attempted crossing is palpable. The march itself is a powerful realisation of the struggle, though in-between the catalyst to action for both sides is some horrific violence that will make you wince.

It’s hard to comprehend that Martin Luther King Jr. had made such huge strides in a relatively short space of time, yet we can’t celebrate his legacy as purely historical. Recent events show that hate and ignorance continue, 50 years on from that historic crossing. Perhaps we’ll know true diversity has been properly recognised in art at least when a film such as this can be snubbed by an award ceremony because, despite it’s brilliance, it simply doesn’t quite measure up to other nominees. Instead, in 2015, there is still a niggling feeling of sinister motives. That isn’t fair on anyone, least of all this powerful film and those who made it.




Jurassic World‘s cinema release in 2015 marks just over 20 years since Steven Spielberg re-wrote the monster movie with the original Jurassic Park, but it’s a full 40 since he changed cinema forever with the incredible Jaws. And it’s looking like a teenager. The current Blu-Ray release is stunning quality and it’s striking how fresh the film still is; it’s still one of the best of that kind of film and likely to remain so for some time.

But what kind of film is it exactly? Obviously horror and bearing more than a passing resemblance to Hitchcock’s The Birds, yet also an event film. Along with Superman and Star Wars, Jaws ushered in the era of the original ‘blockbuster’. Some would argue that’s a bad thing, but while these films did open up the ruthlessly commercial side of cinema more than ever before, with a noisy focus on franchise and merchandise rather than art, it was a long time coming and these early films were made with the best of intentions and bucket loads of talent.

The first theatrical film for Spielberg (his debut Duel was made for TV) Jaws is arguably still his best film, full of invention in every frame and a superb, ambitious screenplay. It’s particularly astonishing to watch the editing (with Verna Fields) and compositions, the way the simplest of exchanges are injected with energy. Akira Kurosawa (Seven Samurai) would always ensure there was movement in every scene he composed, often simply with weather in the background. As well as famous shots such as the three-step zoom on the beach, Spielberg achieves a similar ambition, yet it never feels gratuitous. Although some of his later work can be over-engineered, the mise en scene of Jaws is perfectly measured. The camera roams when it needs to roam, and lingers when it should linger. And of course John Williams’ score provides the rhythm. Often imitated, it’s only when you see the film again you can really appreciate just how brilliant that theme is. It creeps into the back of your brain ratcheting up the tension.

It’s exhilarating stuff and every time I see Jaws there is something new, but on this last occasion I was paying more attention to the screenplay and considering the popular critical idea that it isn’t about a shark at all. It’s about divorce. Bit random, I know! There’s definitely a very large shark in the film and it does seem to have grabbed everyone’s attention. Then again there should be a reason for the creature.

The best movie monsters represent a single character’s more mundane real-world demon (or a country’s, with Japan’s fear of nuclear armageddon represented by Godzilla). In this case it’s Roy Schneider’s police chief and while there is nothing explicit about a difficult relationship with his wife Ellen (Lorraine Gary) -on the contrary, they seem happy- there is a melancholy bubbling to the surface. Read between the lines and this is a marriage being worked at. Chief Brody’s family are new to the town and it is inferred they moved from New York to a more idyllic lifestyle, escaping a violent job. Ironic that Brody finds in Amity a more singular deadly risk yet he is determined to deal with it despite his aversion to water and boats. That determination becomes all-consuming, almost as if he needs the distraction.

The film is fairly neatly split into two halves: ‘Not On The Boat’ and ‘On The Boat’. When Brody eventually steps aboard The Orca with Oceanologist and shark-expert Matt (Richard Dreyfuss, in fine form) and gnarly old shark-hunter Quint (the intimidating Robert Shaw), the brief emotional scene with Ellen suggests an amicable trial separation. If he fails to kill off his shark-shaped demon he won’t be coming home.

It is to Spielberg’s credit that he could translate the various and shifting tones in Peter Benchley and Carl Gottlieb’s screenplay (based on Benchley’s own novel) into a narrative at once affecting and thrilling. For all his enthusiasm to skilfully scare the crap out of us with horrific moments, including the opening attack on a skinny-dipper or a young boy taken in a shower of blood in front of a crowded beach, the composition of the quieter scenes have as strong an effect. Note the moment at dinner where Brody’s youngest son mimics his pre-occupied dad; or on the boat comparing scars, where Brody keeps potentially the best one quiet, before Quint tells the haunting story of the USS Indianapolis. This is already a thriller of the highest quality and that shark is still yet to be seen properly.

The magnificent beast was created by Bob Mattey and is a mile-stone achievement in animatronic effects. Well, when it worked! Spielberg himself has admitted that he probably made a better film because of the problems with Bruce (the affectionate nickname for the shark, apparently inspired by Spielberg’s lawyer) limiting his plans and it makes you wonder how much higher standards could be now if filmmakers hadn’t a CGI safety net to rely on. As it is the brief glimpses of the shark are deeply unsettling, especially when you see the size of him compared to The Orca. And when he finally makes his full entrance? Just keep telling yourself, he’s 40 years old and made of fibre-glass! It won’t work though.

The shark is all the more powerful an image for the false sense of security built up by Bill Butler’s gorgeous cinematography. From snappy hand-held work to the wonderful and serene skylines, the film looks gorgeous throughout. One of those rare movies where you could pause at any moment and you’ll probably get an image worth framing. Visually the film’s a masterpiece, with or without the shark. That’s where so many pretenders fall short; focusing too much on the monster, putting everything else in service to its appearance. Alien is another example of building the characters and sets so well that the creature has that much more power when it finally does strike because it is as real a place as possible that is being attacked.

Forty years on Jaws still retains considerable power. It is as thrilling and at times as scary as anything else in the genre. The fear of sharks may be misappropriated, but it’s still a primal dread that will never dissipate, if only because audiences want to be scared that much.




During Suspiria, Dario Argento’s Italian masterpiece from 1977 about a witches coven masquerading as a dance school, there is a brilliant, audacious moment concerning the fate of a blind piano player. It sticks in my mind even now as a perfect example of how a horror film should manipulate the viewer, undermine expectations and use it against them. Take away the safety net. There should always be a splash of madness in the best horrors too. Something that crawls inside your mind and takes up residence.

Scott Snyder and Jock’s comic Wytches opens with a similarly brutal scene that promises the rest of the story isn’t taking any prisoners, including you, the poor reader. Snyder’s fast-paced, twisted narrative borders on obvious, but is grounded by strong characters, the classic Gothic fantasy horror mirrored by real-world demons. It even captures a sense of childish fables, of being captured and eaten (hopefully quickly!). But these are not the cackling pointy-hatted cliches living in ginger-bread houses, but horrific elemental… things. They live in the woods, the very trees themselves and they can give you anything you want. For an awful price, that is. Perhaps the ending seems rushed and has to give in to more routine chills, but chills they are nonetheless and the great thing is that the groundwork has been set-up for wider universe. It’s clear Snyder has only scratched the surface of his own idea and these nasty creatures are dug in very deep.

Jock brings the story to twisted life; the Wytches themselves literally so. His art distorted and frequently, purposefully messy, almost a visual equivalent of some bastard running their nails down a blackboard, and as uncomfortable as it is engrossing. The collected edition doesn’t take too long to read, but promises to linger for a lot longer. Probably while you’re trying to sleep and ignoring that “chit chit chit” noise scratching at your door… Well, pledged is pledged, eh?

Why am I reviewing a comic when normally I’m waffling on about movies? It’s because there is nothing like Wytches in Hollywood and probably never will be. I strongly believe the glory days of real horror are behind us. Foreign work like Let The Right One In or little-known fare like McKee’s The Woman shows the talent is there, but mainstream has given in to sentimentality, remakes and diminishing sequels. I seem to have misunderstood the universally acclaimed Babadook, a film I found dull and lifeless. Clever it may be, but it lacks the substantial sense of dread that Snyder’s wonderful book generates.

I highly recommend picking this up. It’s not at all expensive, even the versions with the bookplates.




Jurassic World



This year is the fortieth anniversary of Steven Spielberg’s Jaws, a film that defined the modern monster movie. And it’s a little over twenty years since he redefined it and set a milestone in special effects with Jurassic Park. Now we have the third sequel, although it feels more like a reboot, in Jurassic World. The most enduring thing you’ll take away from this one is a reassurance of just how brilliant and ambitious the first film was. Like Jaws, Jurassic Park still feels fresh. In some ways, Jurassic World is already a dinosaur.

You see what I did there? Oh never mind…

Actually the new film is really good! It only really suffers from its association with the original film and otherwise Colin Trevorrow has fashioned a satisfying b-movie with ideas above its station, typical of the monster genre. It’s great fun and proper family entertainment.  Avengers: Age of Ultron was a better film, but comes with Marvel Universe baggage and Mad Max: Fury Road is only for grown-ups, as it should be. Monster movies boil down to big snarly thing chasing little things (us) and when it gets on with it, Jurassic World does that brilliantly. It takes a while to get there and the human characters range from insufferable to essential while navigating a confused plot. The original Park had better boundaries, narratively and literally, than the new improved theme World.

It does try and largely succeeds in playing up to the cynicism it was always going to attract, almost in a 22 Jump Street ‘I-know-I’m-a-sequel’ sort of way. We get remixed versions of scenes and characters, including fan-friendly moments like finding the original Visitor’s Centre, while the predictable bigger and nastier angle is tackled head-on by creating a bigger and nastier creature that half the cast question as much as might. They thankfully stop short of winking at the screen while their characters debate how necessary this beast really is, but this self-aware aspect helps with accepting the sillier aspects. For instance the name of the Big Bad is “Indominus Rex”, which causes Grady (Chris Pratt) to laugh out loud when he hears it and sets up a funny scene with him and Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) as he argues how stupid the name is. Just imagine how much better Avatar would have been if it had the balls to laugh at its own “Unobtainium”. Same thing. Jurassic World knows how absurd it is and it embraces it. The only recurring Jurassic Park character, Dr. Wu (B. D. Wong), even addresses how these dinosaurs might not look like their real ancestors, which is basically a disingenuous  “up yours” to the Palaeontologists.

In truth what really lets this one down is a lack of human characters you give a damn about. It also misses the discipline and ambition from the first film, or even the eccentricity of Lost World, but especially the discipline. Take the kids… Like Joseph Mazzello’s Tim in Jurassic Park, Gray (Ty Simpkins) clearly knows his stuff about dinosaurs, but this is never used (well, once). Nor is the fact that his older brother Zach (Nick Robinson) likes looking at girls; I really expected him to hook up with someone and for her to add context or at least another potential dino-snack, but no. He just, looks at girls a lot. Oh and apparently he’s a mechanic, but only when the plot really needs him to get twenty-year-old jeeps running.

That pair really weaken the film; they’re detached from the rest of the cast for far too long and their anguish over their parent’s potential divorce is just drivel slowing down the plot. The adults are generally much better, such as Bryce Dallas Howard making the most of an under-written role (Joss Whedon might have a point) and especially Chris Pratt who anchors the whole thing in a Harrison Ford manner. Those two work really well together, even lifting a scene from Romancing The Stone. Pratt pretty much is ‘Indiana Jones And The Dinosaur Theme Park’ and that’s no bad thing. He gets great support from Omar Sy as his colleague and Vincent D’Onofrio as a military advisor that wants to exploit Owen’s Raptor skills. Irrfan Khan plays the owner of Jurassic World and he is a strong character; a playboy billionaire with a conscience and morals.

But the film belongs to the lizards and the Raptors almost steal the show again, right from under the over-large nose of the Indominus. The dinosaur battles are amazing and the film really cuts loose with an airborne attack on a crowd (and the poor Petting Zoo!) by Pteranodons or in the earth-shattering monster-mash final battle, yet we never get the awe that Jurassic Park still causes like the glorious ending, nor the cheeky splashes of gore that Spielberg could handle so well even in a kid’s movie. As well as hiding some jungle action in Aliens style video-feeds, there’s a lot of cutting away instead of lingering on victims as the earlier films occasionally did. There is barely anything here to rival lawyers on toilets or limbs popping up at inopportune moments.

Take Jurassic World as a straight-forward monster movie and it’s a heck of a lot of fun. Very much the sequel Jurassic Park deserves. And if there is another one on the horizon, maybe smaller rather than bigger wouldn’t be a bad thing. Just needs more teeth.

The Guest

Dan Stevens in the Guest



Just what state is the thriller genre in when such a derivative film like The Guest is considered exceptional? Because that seems to be the consensus, and it simply isn’t deserved.

From the trailer it appeared to be a modern twist on Shadow Of A Doubt or a nasty cousin of Drive, either of which would have been more interesting. Certainly it shares the aesthetic of the latter, but none of the consistency, and it has little of the powerful suspense found in Hitchcock’s classic. Rather it wants to be thought of alongside the b-movie inspired oeuvre of John Carpenter. This it could easily have done if it hadn’t been so bloody dishonest and that’s what really annoyed me.

The first half of the film is brilliant. Dan Stevens is superb as David, charming and charismatic one minute, steel-eyed menace the next. He easily ingratiates himself into the grieving family of his old army buddy, although the teenage daughter (Maika Monroe) is suspicious and soon starts digging into David’s past. Her brother, played by Brendan Meyer, however latches onto the stranger, especially when David deals with bullies in spectacular crowd-pleasing fashion; a bar brawl channels the brutal violence of movies like The Hitcher.

So far all good, but once the military get wind of David the narrative turns into a boring and predictable cul-de-sac of nonsense action, fun enough if all you wanted was a brain-dead slasher. Meanwhile the weight shifts to the teenagers and they, like the rest of the supporting cast, are uniformly weak and unable to push it forward. Meanwhile Stevens is lumbered with being the Bogeyman instead of the substantial threat he had been.

A weak cast in general is not to blame though, especially when experienced character actors like Leland Orser and Lance Reddick are in the mix. Nor is director Adam Wingard at fault, who wrings all the potential out of the thing and makes it more than watchable. Rather all the problems are squarely on the shoulders of Simon Barrett’s script which was one decent character in a half-arsed plot he didn’t know how to finish. It’s such a shame because David is a fantastic bastard and gloriously entertaining; his wrapping up of loose ends is particularly funny, in a grimly ironic sort of way when one leads to many others. He’s like Jason Bourne off his meds and both Stevens’ and his role deserved a better film.

It is entertaining and with low expectations you’ll likely enjoy it a heck of a lot. I basically did, it’s just that the first half promised so much more.

Last year this film and Two Faces Of January both garnered superb reviews and both feel short. Blue Ruin and especially the incredible Cold In July were both far better. Look those up long before this one.

The Avengers: Age of Ultron


The Avengers 2: Age of Ultron is fantastic entertainment and, like the first Avengers film, it can’t have the focus of one of Marvel’s solo outings, but Joss Whedon has nevertheless made a comic truly come to exuberant life. For being able to do that while managing such a huge script, he might have just made a milestone in the comic genre, albeit one with all the grace of The Hulk on a rampage! The moment in the opening scenes where the heroes slow-mo leap into battle could have been lifted directly from a page of wonderful, garish Jack Kirby inspired art.

There is no room here to focus on an individual character’s arc, that’s all been done in the last few films. Instead this is about exploiting all the hard work built up and having a ton of fun with it (each Avengers is the end of a phase and we’re moving into the third). The Iron Man, Captain America and Thor films range in quality, but have an identifiable style with an effort to progress the characters. There is little such progression in the Avengers films; shit happens and they deal with it, because from a character perspective this is their sandpit and the only point at which they are properly exploited to just be who they are. It’s a playground for the actors too and they must love being able to cut loose and keep their roles going, even if like Iron Man there are no more individual outings on the cards. The comics are just the same whenever they do a crossover. It’s the equivalent of throwing brightly coloured mud at a wall just to see what sticks. Compared with the likes of the superb Captain America 2, possibly Marvel’s best film, The Avengers 2 is a bit of mess, but then, it’s kind of supposed to be.

Marvel and DC comics in their daftest moments pile more and more super-people into increasingly absurd plots. Any one character on their own is treated with development and moral choices that can be emotional and affecting (take Peter Parker, haunted by an early decision that led to the death of his Uncle Ben), but once all the egos are together it’s balls-to-the-wall action, flinging themselves around, smashing stuff up and somehow claiming to take it all seriously. Welcome to comics. It’s awesome.

In film it’s hard to recreate that unbridled destructive joy and Whedon has done a phenomenal job to balance all those characters and keep it as fast and as fun as he does. Frothy and funny dialogue with narrative sleight of hand to use the least-super-person as the anchor (Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye) while developing a romance between Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) keeps the film from falling into noisy Transformers style nonsense. The set-pieces are jaw-dropping (Iron Man versus The Hulk is a stand-out; “Go to sleep! Go to sleep!”), while repeat viewings will bring out the details that are setting up the next few films, such as the seeds of distrust that will lead to the devastating Civil War storyline rumoured for Captain America 3.

And then we have nostalgic geek moments like bringing Vision to life. Vision is incredible and Marvel are almost vulgar in their confidence to be able to bring him into the mix! Paul Bettany is great in the role and must have loved the upgrade from phoning-in Iron Man’s voice-only PA to a fancy cape and a sunburn. I’m really looking forward to where he appears next, hopefully not far away from The Scarlett Witch (Elizabeth Olsen).

DC can claim to have the best individual film with Christopher Nolan’s magnificent The Dark Knight, but quite frankly, Zack Snyder cocked up Man of Steel and the trailer for Dawn of Justice doesn’t bode well. The relationship between Superman and Batman in the comics is brilliant and clever, but the new film appears to be as miserable and serious as the last one. They should always be different to Marvel of course, but can they be as much fun?

Cold In July


I want to talk about Cold In July, mainly because not enough people already are and it’s a cracking thriller, probably my favourite film released in 2014. That’s not to say it was the “best” film of the last year; nor the most action packed, the funniest or scariest, but we spend too long judging films as if it were a competition especially at this time of year. I’m a sucker for the awards season, but when you take a step back many titles are conspicuous by their absence. Despite some initial attention on the festival circuit, Cold In July is one such gem.

The story has a deceptively simple premise, based on one of a series of novels by Joe R. Lansdale and adapted by Nick Damici with director Jim Mickle. Richard Dane (Dexter‘s Michael C. Hall) is woken in the night by a burglar in his home. His first thought is to protect CIJ_STILL-081his wife (Vinessa Shaw) and infant son. Following a brief, tense confrontation with the intruder, Dane shoots him dead. The police arrive and the scene is quickly cleared up as they know this particular villain and assure Dane that he did the right thing. He won’t face prosecution, in fact, he’s a hero.

He doesn’t feel like a hero. Dane is one of life’s normal guys, with a reputation to match. So normal that Hall found playing him cathartic after several seasons of Dexter. Well known in the local town, no-one would ever have expected Dane to have killed another man and the praise he receives makes him feel awkward. Plus he now has to deal with the ominous, simmering threat posed by the intruder’s father Ben Russell (played with considerable style by Sam Shepherd), recently released from prison and a far more substantial opponent than his petty criminal son.

That alone would make for a decent plot of a dozen other films, if somewhat predictable, but an early twist reveals the man Dane shot and killed was not Ben’s son. Why are the police so determined to ensure it was? And why are they relishing any excuse to put Ben down as well? You might think that’s a spoiler, but it’s worth knowing that much more. The real story is a far more gruesome and complicated affair. It’s rather typical of the saturated American crime novel genre, so much so it may explain why so few break out into screenplays.

There’s an ace up the sleeve of this one though in the shape of Don Johnson, playing pig farming private detective Jim Bob Luke. Awesome name! And he’s a heck of a character; Johnson has great fun with him. His arrival gives the film a kick up the backside, even though it didn’t really need it. The seedy screenplay has a good dose of comedy and Jim Bob is just one of the bonuses that help Cold In July stand out.

Some of the dark humour comes from the contrast between Dane’s reaction and, it seems, everyone else’s. He needs to see this through much further than his friends and family, especially his wife. While she is still somewhat affected, a sofa soaked with blood is still a good reason to get a new one that matches the decor a little better! That odd tone isn’t overplayed, it’s just that for her and everyone else, the story ended with the first bullet and they assume it’s the same for Dane. Except he’s sneaking about at night, unable to resist getting stuck into the excitement of the horrific real story that Jim Bob is uncovering.

Cold In July was released at a similar time to Two Faces of January, a glossy thriller that was critically acclaimed and given that over used label, “Hitchcockian”. Actually it was weak, vacuous and bore little resemblance even to To Catch a Thief, one of the Master’s least remarkable films. While still an unashamed genre piece, Cold In July is more deserving of shelf-space next to Hitchcock’s classics, featuring as it does his favourite conceit; the normal guy who finds murder on his doorstep.

What really makes this conceit work as well as it does in this instance is an excellent risk-taking narrative in Mickle and Damici’s screenplay (a similar approach they took with Stake Land). Potentially it is a messy plot with too many angles, but the focus is so tight on Dane that it feels even and measured throughout. So far so it’s worth using as an example of Todorov’s narrative equilibrium theory. Don’t yawn! As with many such theories you can bore people to death by making any film fit it to some extent. It’s only worth mentioning if the example explores it in particular and I’ll stick my neck out; the structure and, in particular the ending of Cold In July is so perfectly done it’s actually one of the best examples of the equilibrium stages since The Ladykillers of all things.

CIJ_300DPI_2048x1152.01030402The well judged fast and loose style of director Mickle disguises such structure. Essentially it’s a modern western cum pulp noir, but an 80s setting and occasional music from the era evoke a mood not unlike the peerless Drive in moments. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. This isn’t some minimalist piece, what with the pig farmer called Jim Bob, an irreverent sense of dark humour and sporadic, often brutal violence. One memorable execution sees a thug shot through the head and his blood splatters the only light bulb, bathing the rest of the scene in deep red! The mid-range tones come out well on Blu-Ray, but moments like that look astonishing. Mickle has an old fashioned, but cheeky sensibility that comes throughout the movie, though not always in such spectacular fashion.

Cold In July is a great example of classical filmmaking given a modern twist and a confident identity all of it’s own thanks to Mickle and Damici’s grasp of genre. It’s effortlessly watchable and hopefully we’ll see more of Johnson’s hilarious Jim Bob in the future.

Review originally posted on www.find-dvd.co.uk