Starring: Brad Pitt (Moneyball), Richard Jenkins (The Cabin in the Woods), Ray Liotta (Goodfellas), James Gandolfini (The Sopranos), Scoot McNairy (Monsters), Ben Mendelsohn (The Dark Knight Rises)

Writer/Director: Andrew Dominik (The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford)

Runtime: 1 hour 37 minutes

Release Date: 21 September (UK), 30 November (US)

Well, here’s one that kind of came out of nowhere. Having heard very little about this movie (mainly due to its delayed release in the US), I went in knowing nothing the trailer didn’t tell me. What I ended up watching was one of the best films of the year.


This is a bleak film. Very bleak. Bleak in almost every single way it could be. There is no relief from the bleakness other than a lot of dry humour, but it’s all about bleak stuff. Did I use the word bleak already? Anyway, the film’s plot is pretty simple once you get right down to it, but it’s all hidden under an odd structure. Our protagonist Jackie Cogan (Pitt) doesn’t show up until twenty minutes in, and the first act of the film mainly focuses on the petty crooks Frankie (McNairy) and Russell (Mendelsohn). It makes sense in the end why the story is told like this, even if it’s initially a little jarring. The film also has a very prominent social and political message, emphasised by the fact the film is set during the run up to the 2008 US presidential election. The constant sounds of Obama talking about hope and coming together as a nation whilst we watch scenes showing the downtrodden and broken slums of New Orleans really puts things into perspective and shows how America isn’t as rose-tinted as its media suggests, which is pointed out heavily during the final scene between Pitt and Jenkins.

The performances by the entire cast are stellar. Pitt is as great as ever, creating a protagonist who is likable despite his trade, mainly because he knows what he does isn’t exactly right. McNairy and Mendelsohn are really great as the inept crooks we follow at first, and I hope they get more high profile work after this. Gandolfini, while still acting as if he’s in The Sopranos, delivers a great performance as a drunken mess of a criminal. Jenkins and Liotta’s parts are minimal but effective, and this is probably the best I’ve seen Liotta in years.

Killing Them Softly isn’t an action movie, but its scenes of violence are brutal and wince inducing. This is mainly down to the incredible sound design; every punch and every gunshot feels real and makes you jerk in your seat. A scene where Liotta gets the crap beaten out of him is particularly memorable and bloody. The film also makes great use of slo-mo (in a way very reminiscent of Dredd) during a scene that combines the three coolest things you can shoot in slo-mo: guns, rain and broken glass. The cinematography is very simple but gloomy, matching the tone of the film. The soundtrack is made up entirely of licensed music, and it fits the mood well.

In the end, Killing Them Softly is a fantastic crime film. It’s filled with memorable moments and great performances from all key players. If it ends up on my Top Ten at the end of the year, I wouldn’t be surprised. Go see it soon; just don’t expect to come out feeling warm and fuzzy (especially if you’re American).


LAWLESS review

Starring: Shia LaBoeuf (Transformers), Tom Hardy (Inception), Jessica Chastain (The Help), Guy Pearce (Memento)

Director: John Hillcoat (The Road)

Writer: Nick Cave

Runtime: 1 hour 55 minutes

Release Date: 31 August (US), 7 September (UK)

It took me a while to get round to seeing Lawless, but now that the release schedule has died down a bit, I had the time to catch this one before it fades out of theatres. It seems a little late to review it because if you were interested, you probably saw it already, but I’ll throw in my two cents anyway.


If I had to sum up Lawless in one word, that word would be ‘inconsistent’. There are moments in this film that are great but, like a hick hopped up on moonshine, it stumbles far too often. The film starts out well and quickly (maybe too quickly) establishes the key players and their motives. Then the movie takes a nap until the end of the second act. Sure, stuff happens but it’s all done at the pace of a pleasant Sunday stroll in the park. Characters walk out of the movie and don’t show up again for ages, and despite the decent running time the subplots don’t feel as tied up as the ending wants you to think they are. When the movie finally gets going again, it starts to become really good. But then the film ends on this sugary sweet ending and it just doesn’t seem right. If you want a satisfying ending, walk out before the last five minutes; it won’t feel as jarring.

What really saves the movie from being mediocre are two things. Firstly, the performances are superb across the board. This is arguably LaBoeuf’s finest performance, but compared to everyone else he looks as amateurish as a 15 year old in a high school rendition of Bugsy Malone. Hardy is as strong as ever, and delivers his lines in a Southern twang comparable to Jeff Bridges in True Grit, but still understandable without the use of subtitles. Jessica Chastain also keeps up her winning streak, though her role falters due to lack of development. Gary Oldman shows up every now and again, but despite his best efforts he seems mostly irrelevant. But the standout here is Guy Pearce as the villain. He is so slimy and ruthless that you come to love every single frame he’s on screen. His performance often borders on the cartoonish, but then he beats the crap out of someone and you suddenly remember this guy can do some serious damage. His performance alone is worth the price of admission.

The other great thing about this film is the violence. This movie is much darker than the publicity suggests, and I was wincing at certain moments. Within the first five minutes, Hardy beats a guy half to death with some brass knuckles, and what follows after that gets even more gruesome. It all comes together at the end for a shoot-out that’s very reminiscent of Bonnie & Clyde. The other technical aspects of the film work, but none are truly memorable. I found the editing strange at certain points; it definitely seems like they got enough angles to cover all the scenes, but I feel they don’t use the right shots at certain points. The music itself works fine and fits with the tone, but whenever they use anything with lyrics, it feels very off-putting.

To sum up, Lawless is a decent film, but it could have been so much more. With a script rewrite by a more experienced writer, this could have been an Oscar contender. But I must judge the film for what it is, and it is a film with great performances and some gruesome violence but falls apart in the structure and pacing department. See it if you still haven’t, but don’t be disappointed if you miss it before it gets dropped from your theatre.


LOOPER review

Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Inception), Bruce Willis (Die Hard), Emily Blunt (The Adjustment Bureau)

Director/Writer: Rian Johnson (Brick)

Runtime: 1 hour 58 minutes

Release Date: 28 September (US, UK)

Looper is the brainchild of Rian Johnson, who made the terrific film-noir/high school movie Brick (he also made The Brothers Bloom, which I haven’t seen yet but really need to). The talent behind it, combined with the intriguing premise, has had me excited about this one for a while. Now that it’s finally released, I can happily say Looper lives up to all expectations and comes out as one of the best films of 2012 so far.


The plot of Looper is more complicated than the trailer suggests. Joe (Gordon-Levitt)’s hunt for his future self (Willis) is merely the starting point of a story that goes much deeper into themes of loss, revenge, and of course time travel. Some of the major plot elements of the film have been completely omitted from the publicity, and wisely so, and some of them are more interesting that the initial premise. The way the time travel works in this world is explained in detail, but no so much that it becomes over-bearing and requires the use of a diagram. It does some unique things with the concept of the past affecting the future, while also taking some obvious queues from other sci-fi films (the film screams The Terminator at several points). The film keeps up a good clip, though it does slow down a fair bit in the latter half of the second act.

Many have found Gordon-Levitt’s make-up to make him look more like Bruce Willis to be a bit unnerving. But to be honest, you get used to it eventually. More importantly, Gordon-Levitt nails Willis’ mannerisms and tone of voice. But he also is sure to make his performance not an exact copy of Willis, considering that while they are both Joe, they are very different Joes that have experienced different things. Willis himself is on usual form, so if you know what to expect from him these days you’ll get exactly that. Emily Blunt, while introduced late in the film, does very well and has finally managed to shed her English accent for a role. Paul Dano and Jeff Daniels serve their small roles effectively, and Brick’s Noah Segan is back playing a similar role to the one he did in Johnson’s first film.

Action isn’t the main focus of Looper, but when it does it, it does it good. 95% of the action involves gunplay, and it works by limiting its arsenal to just a few different guns. The visual effects aren’t amazing either, but they do the job and never seem fake. The production design is where the film shines outside of story. The world is well designed and feels like a future that could actually happen: a well-blended mix of dystopic and apocalyptic. I also don’t think I’ve ever seen a sci-fi film take place mostly in corn fields, so points for originality there too. The cinematography is well done (especially during a scene where Joe goes on a drug trip) and the music is subtle but effective.

Overall, Looper is one of the best sci-fi movies in a while and easily stands up there with other modern classics like District 9, Inception and Source Code. Some may try to nitpick the film to death and point to some of its more unoriginal ideas, but look past the little details and you’ll find a film that, as a whole, is both fun and thought provoking.



Starring: Kodi Smit-McPhee (The Road), Tucker Albrizzi (Bridesmaids), Anna Kendrick (Up in the Air), Casey Affleck (Gone Baby Gone), Christopher Mintz-Plasse (Superbad)

Directors: Sam Fell (Flushed Away) & Chris Butler

Writer: Chris Butler

Runtime: 1 hour 32 minutes

Release Date: August 17th (US), September 14th (UK)

I had no real expectations going into ParaNorman. I hadn’t been religiously following it up until release, and didn’t really pay attention to it until the good reviews started coming in upon its US release. And now that I’ve finally watched it, I can easily say that ParaNorman is the best animated film of the year so far.


The plot is fairly straightforward and easy to follow for a kid’s film, but what’s original about ParaNorman isn’t its broad plot, but its slight intricacies. The exact character traits and plot points are against the grain and not what you’d expect (a couple of them could be seen as revolutionary). The film is very fast paced and doesn’t stop moving once the second act kicks into gear. The jokes, while not consistently hitting, fly so fast you hardly notice the bad ones. There are many references to classic horror movies (Norman’s ringtone is the Halloween theme. Nice!) and the film even opens with a tribute to Grindhouse. Not sure how many kids are going to get that reference, but its still awesome.

The film has a high quality cast that helps to bring some of these eccentric characters to life. Smit-Mcphee can sometimes be a little dull as Norman, but considering the loner attitude of the character, it fits. Mintz-Plasse does a good job as the bully Alvin, but even in the animated world he can’t escape being recognised as McLovin. The stand-outs for me in the cast were Affleck as the jock Mitch (a certain revelation about him is hysterical, John Goodman as Norman’s hobo uncle, and Jeff Garlin as Norman’s dad. The rest of the voices fit well with their characters, but don’t really stand out as much. Oh, and Jodelle Ferland plays another creepy child. Haven’t seen that before *sarcasm*.

But the stand out thing about ParaNorman is the animation. This was the same company that did Coraline, and it shows. The stop-motion feels so much smoother than films by Aardman, and really helps to suck you in. The art style, while very reminiscent of Tim Burton or Henry Selick, is beautifully realised to create some very detailed environments and set-pieces. The range of facial expressions, helped by the use of 3D printers, are astounding. CG is often used but, like with Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists, it is used only to expand upon the stop-motion, not replace it. The music is also really good and balances a thin line between whimsy and horror flawlessly.

In conclusion, ParaNorman isn’t a perfect movie, but it’s still a damn great one and one I could see myself popping around Halloween. It often feels as if it caters more to adults than kids, but I think the entire family can enjoy this one as long as your kids aren’t too squeamish. Its technical achievments may outshine its story, but is still a fun ride regardless. Don’t miss it.


DREDD review

Starring: Karl Urban (Star Trek), Olivia Thrilby (Juno), Lena Heady (300)

Director: Pete Travis (Vantage Point)

Writer: Alex Garland (28 Days Later)

Runtime: 1 hour 35 minutes

Release Date: 7 September (UK), 21 September (US)

Judge Dredd is the poster boy for British comic book publisher 2000AD. While I have never read a Dredd comic myself, I am fairly familiar with the character and find him interesting. They then made a Hollywood movie version in 1995 starring Sylvester Stallone. It was sub-par. Not just because it changed several key aspects of the comic (such as Dredd’s failure to keep his helmet on throughout the movie), but because it ended up being an over-budgeted, under-written 90’s sci-fi actioner. You know you’re a 90’s movie when Rob Schneider of all people plays your sidekick. 17 years later, the Brits have taken their icon back and put matters into their own hands to create Dredd. Does it stand above its disappointing predecessor, or does it “BETRAY THE LAW!”?


The plot of Dredd is very simple and easy to follow, but story is hardly the film’s first priority. Many claimed after viewing the trailer that it was ripping off The Raid, but I’ll say for the record now that it has little to do with it other than the basic premise. Dredd is as similar to The Raid as The Hunger Games is similar to Battle Royale: enough to make the comparison, but so stylistically different that you soon forget. Instead, Dredd’s inspirations are clearly the sci-fi action movies of the 80’s. Several times throughout, there are clear similarities to films such as Robocop and Escape from New York. Dredd isn’t as clever as either of them, but it is just about as fun. The film has a tendency at the start to get bogged down in scenes full of exposition early on, but once the plot kicks into gear it all dissipates into blood and gunfire.

Sylvester Stallone’s portrayal of Judge Dredd was a performance that incited more laughter than fear. Karl Urban steps up to the role with a lot more stoic-ness and delivers a performance that is not only more menacing and bad-ass, but true to the source material (in answer to the fans: Yes, you never see his full face, and yes, he does get to say “I AM THE LAW!”). But on further examination, it becomes clear that Dredd himself isn’t the film’s main character. That falls more to the character of Judge Anderson (Olivia Thrilby). Not only does she serve as the audience avatar, she’s the film’s main emotional grab-on point. The filmmakers clearly know that Judge Dredd isn’t that sympathetic or relatable, and don’t try to make him a more standard hero like the Stallone version did. Luckily, Anderson isn’t a boring sidekick; she kicks about as much ass as Dredd does and even has a few witty one-liners. She’s also a psychic, which leads to some clever scenes between her and a perp they drag through most of the film. Lena Heady serves as the villainess and, while she is threatening and serves her role well, she doesn’t have enough screen time to be memorable.

But the main draw of a film like this is the action scenes, and Dredd delivers on that front. The action remains simple but fun, with some cool set pieces like when Dredd has to avoid a barrage of minigun fire. The film has sold itself on both the slow-mo (so much so that they incorporated it into the plot) and the 3D. The slow-mo scenes themselves are impressive, but don’t really advance too far after they’ve been introduced. At least they don’t spam it as much as some other films (Resident Evil: Afterlife anyone?). On the subject of 3D, it is mostly pointless; skip it if you have the choice. My main sticking point with the film is some of the CG, particularly the CG blood. How many times do I have to say it: CG blood looks terrible and is just plain laziness. It is even more obvious due to the slow motion. Please people, use practical blood if nothing else; it just pulls me out of the movie. Aside from this, the film is full of fun action, explosive sound and a kick-ass soundtrack.

In conclusion, Dredd is an awesome sci-fi action movie that should please both fans of the character and the genre. If you enjoy 80’s action movies, this is probably far more satisfying than watching The Expendables. While they don’t foreshadow it, I think it’s clear they want to make more of these. When they do, I’ll be queuing up for my ticket ASAP.


BRAVE review

Pixar’s reputation for delivering quality animated films was impeccable. Then Cars 2 happened. One year later, they’re back trying to prove they haven’t sold out by releasing Brave, which is a first for several things at the studio. It’s their first fantasy film and their first film with a female protagonist. But can these help make this film stand out, or is this another misstep in the wrong direction?


Brave tells a very simple fairy tale; one that takes many elements from the classics without feeling like a rip-off. It has enough Grimm-esque inspiration not to feel like a watered-down version of the tale (the sort you’d expect from a Disney production) and makes the film feel more unique than you’d expect. The characters are well fleshed out and you come to care about them, and I think that is mainly thanks to the main mother-daughter relationship; a dynamic rarely seen in films but one that Pixar pulls off to great effect. Merida and her mum feel like a proper bickering family, and their arguments about what is right don’t feel like they’re just there to serve the story. On the other hand, there were certain moments I felt logic went out the window purely to push the plot forward. I know these tropes are part of the whole fairy tale aesthetic, but it could have been much better executed. Overall, not the best tale Pixar has told, but is still a much better and more thought-out one than most would put into a kid’s film.

As I said, the characters of Brave really sell the story and that is helped by the great voice acting. Kelly Macdonald plays our heroine Merida with plenty of Scottish charm and the feistiness of a teenager to make her a believable character. Some may say she comes off as bratty and selfish but, as I said to those who had similar complaints about Andrew Garfield in The Amazing Spider-Man, SHE’S A TEENAGER! Her behaviour is completely natural for her age and makes her seem not only more human, but emphasises the significance of her character arc. Also great are Emma Thompson and Billy Connolly as her parents; the three of them share fun and different dynamics between them that lead to some great comedy moments. But arguably the best characters are three who don’t talk: Merida’s wee brothers. Their antics lead to some hilarious physical comedy and while some may compare them to the minions from Despicable Me, I think they are far superior to those yellow rascals as they feel more like actual characters and they actually serve more of a purpose to the plot.

Pixar’s quality of animation has always been well above standard compared to those of Dreamworks and Sony, and that continues with Brave. As a Scotsman, I can tell you the designers clearly did their homework in researching the look and feel of the Scottish highlands with some very clear influences from certain areas. This leads to some stunning landscapes and beautiful vistas that further make this fantastical representation of Scotland feel more real. Less amazing but still great is the character design. While quite similar to other films of its ilk like How to Train Your Dragon or Tangled, the design still feels unique and no two characters look alike (other than the triplets, but that makes sense). The artistic style is easily among Pixar’s best and will be hard to top in the years to come.

In conclusion, while Brave isn’t among Pixar’s best (my personal favorites being the Toy Story trilogy, The Incredibles and Up) it is still a great family film and the best animated film I’ve seen this year. It’s made me all but forget the sour taste of Cars 2 and I look forward to more great films from Pixar in the future. Let’s just hope a prequel to Monsters Inc isn’t as stupid as it sounds…

Rating: 8/10

TED review

I’ll start off by saying I love Family Guy. I understand why some people don’t like it, but I do. And when it was announced that Seth MacFarlance was doing a movie I was all for it. Now that Ted has finally hit British shores, but does it match up to the quality of its small screen cousin?


The story is pretty simple, but not so bland that you can predict the entire plot. It sticks to the basic template of the buddy movie/rom-com, but it remains fresh because of the lunacy of some of the situations these characters get into. This film was made by a guy who regularly breaks up scenes with fights with a giant chicken, remember? The film is quite limited in size and scope, but I don’t have a problem with that. MacFarlane fares better when its more about the character gags, even if the bigger moments still deliver. My main problem is that the antagonists of the film seem a bit forced in; it’s like the writers suddenly realised “Shit! We need a big climax! Let’s just create a character, give him two scenes prior, and then make him the villain”. It didn’t take away from the film too much as the bad guys are still funny, but I feel that the climax should have felt more natural.

The performances here are nothing to write home about, but they service the script well. Mark Wahlberg works here as a likeable protagonist and fits into the wackiness even if it looks like he doesn’t always know what’s going on (then again, I’ve seen Marky Mark in roles he definitely didn’t belong in. *cough* Max Payne! *cough* ). Mila Kunis is good here too; she could have easily fallen into making this character completely unlikable due to wanting Ted to leave, but she remains fun and avoids the stereotype. MacFarlane himself voices Ted and, while it’s clear he’s running out of voices to us (they even point it out!), he still remains a laugh riot throughout. Almost every line that comes out of his mouth is a gag, and most of them hit. The supporting cast is also good and filled with plenty of MacFarlane regulars and some surprise cameos. I won’t spoil any of them, but one of them is The Saviour of the Universe. Wink wink nudge nudge!

But what’s the most important thing about a comedy? Oh yeah, the comedy! Don’t worry, Ted has more than enough of those. If you know MacFarlane’s sense of humour, you’ll fall easily into this. The jokes come fast, in your face and never stop. Some do miss their targets, but no comedy has perfect aim and the misses are never huge bombs. Again, I don’t want to give away any jokes but you’ll find your fair share of pop culture references, toilet humour and even those good old non-sequiters. Man, don’t you just love it when they stop to do something that has noting to do with anything?

Elephant juice!

Anyway, you’ll certain laugh at this movie more than my painful attempts at comedy in this review.

Ted is by no means a perfect movie and there are certainly better comedies out there, but it delivers on exactly what it promise and never stops until the end.



So, it’s finally here. The conclusion of Christopher Nolan’s groundbreaking trilogy that is probably the most hyped finale in a long time. Leading up to its release, I never doubted that it would be a good movie but I always knew it could never live up to expectations regardless of quality. So did it overcome this major obstacle? That’s a tricky question, but let me explain why.


I won’t go into details on the plot, but I will say it is great. It ups the stakes from the previous movies and creates enough tension that you become unsure of every character’s safety. The pace remains fast and riveting, which is especially impressive for a film close to three hours long; I can easily say I was never bored. Its main flaw, however, is that it feels uneven at times.  People often complain how the Batman movies don’t focus enough on Batman himself, and TDKR is no exception. While Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) is very key to the story, he spends very little time as Batman. The film feels like it has two protagonists; the other being John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). The film focuses on this character a lot and, while he is an engaging character that you quickly come to like, I feel more focus could have been put on Bruce’s struggle against these impossible odds. The movie also gets a bit extravagant in its third act which, while thrilling and an awesome spectacle, leads to some plausibility and plot holes. Regardless, I think the story works overall and is also a very good cap to the entire series. I didn’t get teary-eyed, but I’m sure some fans might during its final moments.

The performances in The Dark Knight Trilogy have always been stellar, and TDKR continues this trend. All the familiar faces continue to do excellent work and feel they have developed much since the events of TDK, especially Bruce and Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman). You really feel the guilt they have around how this lie they created has put this city into a false sense of security and have set them up for a massive fall. Alfred’s (Michael Caine) role is very brief but very powerful during a certain revelation to Bruce. Morgan Freeman continues his charming role as Lucius Fox, and cameos from certain familiar faces from Batman Begins will put a smile on the faces of fans. But onto the new blood. As I said earlier, Gordon-Levitt works well as a secondary protagonist and you root for him as much as Batman near the end. Miranda Tate (Marion Cottilard) performs well, but that’s all I’ll say. In terms of villains, Bane (Tom Hardy) is very intimidating and definitely proves to be a good match for Batman, which is especially clear in their first battle. Hardy gets so much across here through just his eyes, though it is sometimes off-putting to hear that muffled voice of his. My main problem with him is how they treat the character in the finale. After a very big third act twist, his role feels diminished in the overall finale and his last moments are too rushed. However, the big surprise here is Catwoman (Anne Hathaway). She gives a wonderful performance, filling the classic femme fatale role brilliantly without falling into Schumacher-esque camp. I enjoyed every moment she was on screen and the film shows that Hathaway is a much more versatile actress than many assume.

Christopher Nolan knows how to deliver spectacle and he definitely delivers here. The scale is massive and the action is much more hectic and expansive than he has gotten in this whole series. And while it makes sense considering that this is the conclusion, I missed some of the quieter moments that were present in the climaxes of the first two. Here, once the actions starts it doesn’t let up until its over. On a technical level, the film is a pure treat. The cinematography is excellent, the editing mostly smooth and the score, while a bit too bombastic at times, fits well with the tone. While I’m unsure if this film will be up for any major awards come Oscar season, I’m sure it will have a major presence in the tech department.

In conclusion, The Dark Knight Rises is not the Second Coming of Movies a lot of its over-eager fanbase has been anticipating, but it is a satisfying conclusion to the story. I see it as the Return of the Jedi of the series: a good movie with a strong and finite ending but lacks some of the things that made its predecessors superior. I can honestly say I feel both The Avengers and The Amazing Spider-Man were better movies overall, but I feel all are flawed in their own ways; TDKR just has a few more. While I feel comparing these three movies is a bit unfair, it is an unavoidable discussion point. I definitely recommend you see it in a theatre (was unable to see it in IMAX, but I’m sure it looks amazing in the format) and decide for yourselves. Not everyone will be satisfied, but I think that will be more down to overhype rather than the quality of the film itself.



P.S.: They showed the trailer for Man of Steel beforehand. It doesn’t show much, but it definitely feels like a Nolan production. It looks sombre and moody, and there is only a brief moment of Superman being Superman. Not enough to know whether it’ll be good, but it got me more invested.