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tigerthedog "tigerthedog2005" (Rochdale, UK)

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Lincoln [DVD]
Lincoln [DVD]
Dvd ~ Daniel Day-Lewis
Price: £5.00

2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Best Picture?, 5 Feb. 2013
This review is from: Lincoln [DVD] (DVD)
Dir. Steven Spielberg / Cert 12 / 150 minutes

At the time of writing, the annual Academy Awards ceremony is still three weeks away, but as far as I'm concerned, Steven Spielberg's monumental historical epic is destined for glory come the big night and has pretty much got that Best Picture statuette sewn up in the bag. It may lack the sheer visual spectacle of say, Life of Pi, or Les Miserables, or Zero Dark Thirty, but there is no denying it, Lincoln is Oscars bait if ever I saw it. In some respects, more theatre than cinema, it is unashamedly "worthy", containing as it does elements proven time and again to be irresistible to Academy voters; a landmark historical event given the big-screen treatment, an American hero brought to life, collaboration between a director and actor with track records that more than speak for themselves. I almost feel sorry for the other nominees - how can they even begin to contend with such a powerful, intimidating onslaught? As a result, I actually took my seat feeling slightly wary, almost resentful of the film's unfair advantage. Fast forward to two and a half hours later, and all I can say is, believe the hype. On one side of me, my stepdad was wiping away tears. On the other, my thirteen-year-old brother, previously reluctant to attend, was already Google-searching the Thirteenth Amendment. Their reactions, I think, encapsulate the movie's two major strengths; it is both emotional and educational.

Tony Kushner's years-in-the-making screenplay, based on a relatively small section of Doris Kearns Goodwin's biography Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, is something close to miraculous. A Shakespearean The West Wing is the only way I can think to describe it; and it's every bit as impressive as that sounds. I applaud Kushner and Spielberg for knowing their limits here. The film doesn't set out to achieve the impossible, doesn't attempt to compress Lincoln's life story, or even his entire political career into the space of the narrative. It solely focusses on Lincoln's struggle to abolish slavery, therefore taking the creative decision to come in at the end, wisely beginning with Lincoln's re-inauguration into office in January 1865 and inevitably concluding with his assassination four years later (that's not a spoiler, is it?). This structural technique works effectively as it left me feeling compelled to work backwards of my own accord and find out more about the great man. Perhaps a prequel/sequel is in order - Lincoln 2, `Just when he thought it was safe to leave the White House'. The film may be primarily driven by dialogue, but Spielberg (giving us his least self-indulgent film in years) plays his trump cards with devastating impact; he shows us bodies, discarded, dismembered limbs; gruesome visual signifiers of war, injustice and suffering. It makes you tremble, makes you furious. The complications and complexities, the briberies and back-stabbings, that went on behind-the-scenes to bring about the passing of such a seemingly fundamental, basic human right is hard and horrible to believe.

Sally Field, Tommy Lee Jones, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Lincoln is an actor's showcase of a movie and a stunning ensemble achievement. Daniel Day-Lewis leads the pack as the titular character giving a performance of remarkable weight and depth and restraint. Day-Lewis is arguably the finest actor of his generation. He seldom makes movies, but when he does, they are always worth the wait. I consider his last film, There Will Be Blood (2007) to be just about the finest artefact ever committed to celluloid, and that's in no small part down to his towering, unforgettable central performance. Said film won him his second Academy Award for Best Actor, and with Lincoln, he deserves the hat-trick (I was previously backing Joaquin Phoenix for his superb turn in The Master, but I must concede that Day-Lewis is head and shoulders above any of his fellow nominees this year). He famously commits himself wholly and absolutely to any project he undertakes, painstakingly finding and becoming the character. On set, he was simply referred to as `Mr President' throughout the shoot, with all reminders of contemporary life - social media, newspapers, small talk of last night's television, reportedly banned. Although unorthodox, his style of `method acting' clearly yields results as his performance is utterly definitive, so much so that it never feels like a performance. He is Abraham Lincoln, world-weary, war-weary.

This is a long, demanding film, but rest assured your investment is repaid with added interest. If I had one niggle, it would be that John Williams' brainwashing score sometimes intrudes; I felt a little manipulated by it. But this is a minor gripe, in an otherwise moving and intelligent reconstruction of a monumental historical occurrence. I just feel ashamed that I was ignorant of it until now. So, okay, `Go and see this film, it'll make you ashamed', wouldn't perhaps be the best slogan to put on the posters, but it happens to be true.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 30, 2013 9:56 AM BST

Zero Dark Thirty [DVD] [2012]
Zero Dark Thirty [DVD] [2012]
Dvd ~ Jessica Chastain
Price: £3.50

24 of 33 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars So many conflicting emotions, 29 Jan. 2013
Zero Dark Thirty
Dir. Kathryn Bigelow / Cert 15 / 157 minutes

The following review contains spoilers.

Zero Dark Thirty is a difficult, demanding film which sees Kathryn Bigelow follow up her 2009 Oscar winner The Hurt Locker with a docudrama that chronicles the real-life decade-long manhunt for Osama bin Laden. As the final credits rolled sombrely and the lights in the cinema came back up, I turned to my viewing companion and remarked `I really don't know what to make of that'. Several hours later, having had time to go away and digest everything I saw, I'm still stumped, still undecided. I'm hoping that writing this review will enable me to order my thoughts and settle upon some sort of verdict, but at the time of writing, I'm as yet uncertain how to grade the piece in terms of a star-rating. I must ask that you please bear with me.

I suppose the most important thing to point out is that the film doesn't put a foot wrong technically. In terms of direction, Bigelow's vision is never anything less than absolutely breathtaking. Anybody who is familiar with her back catalogue will know that she has a real flair for intense, cinematic action sequences and on that score, her latest effort does not disappoint. Zero Dark Thirty delivers in spades and can proudly stand alongside any one of her previous films. Its set-pieces are as taut and slick and fast-paced as you could want, perfectly judged, expertly sustained. Likewise, Mark Boal's intelligent screenplay is similarly accomplished and efficient; it never slows down, never stops for breath and manages to build tension throughout, culminating in a 45-minute final act that is heart-in-the-mouth, edge-of-your-seat thrilling... I think. I have no problem with performances either, far from it. In fact, will somebody just give Jessica Chastain that Oscar already! And Jason Clarke does some fantastic work; both when bearded and when clean-shaven.

So, you're probably thinking, if the performances are so unanimously strong and the direction is so impeccable, then what have you got to complain about? What could possibly be missing? There is no denying that what we have here is a brilliant, often compelling slice of film-making from a master director who is in complete control of what she's doing. Surely, our job as an audience is to sit back and gratefully marvel? True, the interrogation scenes are electrifying, the torture scenes early in the movie are effectively shocking, and my God, the final raid on the Abbottabad compound is freaking incredible... but, yes, regrettably, there is a `but' coming now. Whilst I admired the film enormously, whilst I wanted to love it, I just couldn't and didn't. Much has been made of the subject matter with many critics voicing concern. Controversy quickly arose regarding the so-called glorification of torture. Was Bigelow condoning it? Was she presenting monsters as heroes? Were those inflicting the torturer worse than those subjected to it? Reviewers heatedly debated as to whether or not it was too soon to dramatise an event that was still more current affairs than history, so much so that the film arrived in cinemas under a bit of a black cloud. Sight & Sound Magazine likened the climatic raid sequence to that of playing Call of Duty on an Xbox console, arguing that it forced us to put our hands on the trigger and turned gunplay into a pleasurable past-time. Rightly or wrongly, I have no issue with any of the above (nor did I feel I was being manipulated at any point). In fact, I'm in favour of a text that provokes and challenges. No, my problem I'm afraid, is an emotional one.

I found that I was able to engage with Zero Dark Thirty, but only superficially, purely on a basic, passive level. It was a feast for the eyes, but gave nothing to the heart. Whether or not, Bigelow intended for this to be the case and deliberately set out to put up a barrier between product and viewer, I'll never know. But for me, the movie maintains an elusive, aloof distance at all times, forever keeping its audience at bay. I wanted to be let in but the film shut the door in my face. All of the characters ignored me. None of them spoke to me. Therefore I had no entry point into the story, no frame of reference, absolutely no reason to care or invest. Zero Dark Thirty, for all its many, many strengths, is as cold as ice, unknowable, unlovable. There's something sterile and forensic about it that made me feel rather uncomfortable. If a film does its job properly, you lose yourself within its world. Watching Zero Dark Thirty, I was constantly aware of the giant screen keeping us apart. Admittedly, towards the end, I found myself tugged into the film, into the chaos of that final raid sequence - a small, claustrophobic space packed with bodies and gunfire and screaming and panic; and I found it made me feel queasy and I wanted to get out of there as soon as possible.

It's hard to be critical of something when you're not entirely sure what the problem is, when there doesn't appear to be anything bad to say. How can I convince whoever reads this review when I'm not even sure I can convince myself? But, I suppose, I felt the same way Jessica Chastain's character did throughout the film. She was so focussed on the job at hand, so driven by her obsession to get her man that everything else, everything she felt, went by the wayside. She lost herself. She lost friends and seemed not to notice or care, so consumed was she that she forgot her feelings. They went on the backburner, saved for a later date when it was more convenient to emotionally respond. Like the film, she kept her distance, incomprehensible and detached, an enigma unto the end; an approach that worked fine for the character, but less successfully for the film. And then in the final moments, when you thought all was lost, it comes. What we've been waiting for. She breaks down. She grieves. She weeps. She is rewarded with long overdue emotional closure. In the end, she feels... something. It's just a shame that I, as a viewer, never did,
Comment Comments (7) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 25, 2016 11:03 PM GMT

Django Unchained (Blu-ray) [2013] [Region Free]
Django Unchained (Blu-ray) [2013] [Region Free]
Dvd ~ Jamie Foxx
Offered by A2Z Entertains
Price: £6.29

1 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Tarantino: Back with a Vengeance, 19 Jan. 2013
Dir. Quentin Tarantino / Cert 18 / 165 minutes

Tarantino's latest offering is by no means a masterpiece to rival, say, Pulp Fiction (1994) and if I wanted to pick it apart and identify areas of weakness, I'm sure I'd have no trouble doing so. Yes, it probably is a tad too long (like this review). Yes, Tarantino's Australian accent is atrocious. Yes, style overshadows substance somewhat. But who cares? When the film overall is so giddily, shamelessly entertaining, it ceases to matter. Django Unchained has balls. It is a brash, bad boy of a film; a mouthy, cocksure specimen, a rugged rogue with swagger, attitude and a twinkle in the eye that wins your heart, shows you a good time and then never calls back. In a way, I almost feel guilty, dirty, for loving it quite as much as I did but I've always derived a perverse pleasure from things that are bad for me. Tarantino is a master of his craft and Django needs to be experienced on the big screen to be fully appreciated. It represents cinema in its truest, purest, most elemental form, and I do fear that it may lose something during its journey to DVD.

The `use all the leftovers in the fridge to make a meal' approach really shouldn't work. Tarantino helps himself to a bit of everything here and Django is therefore a real finger buffet of a film; a Frankenstein's monster of ideas and genres liberally spliced together to triumphant effect. At times, there's a bit of a Greatest Hits compilation vibe going on, as Tarantino revisits themes explored in his earlier work; notably the quest for revenge which drove both instalments of Kill Bill (2003 and 2004) and another foray into the Blaxploitation territory previously ploughed in Jackie Brown (1997). And, like Inglorious Basterds (2009) before it, Django rather turns a blind eye to historical accuracy. But foremost (despite a welcome slice of `buddy road movie' early on), it's a spaghetti western, in the (very deliberate) vein of Sergio Corbucci's Django (1966) but also borrows heavily from Richard Fleischer's cult film Mandingo (1976) with its plantations and exploitative slave-owners. Tarantino faithfully honours the Western iconography to the letter (horses, hats, saloons, etc) but his cowboys aren't built in the recognisable, traditional mould - forget your Clint Eastwood's and your John Wayne's. Forget your strong-and-silent laconic types, because if there's one thing Tarantino's aren't, then it's silent (even if the `d' in Django is). They talk, and talk, and talk. Tarantino's films are characterised by their machine-gun fire dialogue; his actors pinging out their lines like lethal bullets; which seems appropriate given what else Tarantino is known for (and rest assured, there's plenty of that too, even if he keeps us waiting slightly longer than usual for the ultra-violent centrepiece).

At the heart of the film, we have four truly astonishing performances that come together to form one of the best ensemble casts I've seen in a long time. A large part of the film is dedicated to scenes with the principal players simply interacting with one another, and for me, this is when the film is at its most successful and absorbing. There are long scenes set around a dinner table, which unfold like a piece of theatre, which are so good and well-performed that it's almost a shame when the film shifts gears and becomes the all-guns-blazing bloodbath that I imagine a hefty percentage of the audience paid to see. Jamie Foxx deserves credit as our titular hero; technically `unchained' mere minutes after the opening credits, but metaphorically manacled until he's able to exact his revenge upon those who enslaved him. I read a review in Empire magazine which identified Foxx as the movie's weak link; an opinion I passionately disagree with. His role is the most grounded, the least exaggerated, and therefore the hardest to get right; and he gets it spot on, Foxx imbues Django with a real sense of progression; the character undergoes a transformation that is believable and thrilling to watch. Initially, he is beaten, broken, treated like an animal, less than nothing, but come the film's final act, he has become the embodiment of power and strength; a Cowboy manifest; a hero on horseback.

In regards to the supporting performances, it must have been an impossible decision to single out just the one when it came to drawing up the Academy Awards shortlist. Any one of them (Waltz, Jackson (my choice), DiCaprio) would have been a deserving winner, never mind nominee, though ultimately it was Christoph Waltz who got the nod. I thought Waltz (discovered by Tarantino) was the best thing about the self-indulgent Inglorious Basterds. As the self-proclaimed Jew Hunter, he was eloquent and positively dripped menace. The film just seemed to grind to a halt whenever he wasn't on screen. His second collaboration with Tarantino yields an even stronger performance (though I imagine some will disagree). He plays Doctor King Schultz; a former dentist who has abandoned dentistry in order to tread a new career path; that of Bounty Hunting. He purchases (and subsequently tutors) Django to assist him. Leonardo DiCaprio plays against type to give a career-best performance. You'd never believe it was the same actor whose death made me whoop in Titanic (1997). His character, Calvin Candle is a racist bully; charismatic but despicable (almost like the film itself) and the Willy Wonka of the spectacularly misnamed Candieland; a grand plantation trading slaves for sale, one of whom is Django's enslaved wife, Broomhilda (Kerry Washington). Last, but certainly not least, a vitriolic Samuel L Jackson plays Stephen - Candle's right-hand man, a black man who staunchly despises his race. In anybody else's hands, the role would have caused outrage, but Jackson's performance is disturbing, complex and memorable. His fondness for the `N' word in particular has caused much controversy on the grounds of taste. Tarantino detonates the `N' bomb excessively throughout the film; his defence being that, in the context of the period, it was an everyday word widely used, spoken with careless abandon. I feel the extreme usage is justified; the repetition serves its purpose and has a horrifying sledgehammer impact that is truly shocking as a consequence.

Django Unchained may be unapologetic and in-your-face, but it is also tremendously, twistedly funny too. It sees QT rediscover his mojo and I think it's his best film in many years, dare I say it, his most impressive since Pulp Fiction.

Les Misérables [DVD] [2012]
Les Misérables [DVD] [2012]
Dvd ~ Hugh Jackman
Price: £3.00

29 of 36 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Les Miserables - My Musical Review, 17 Jan. 2013
This review is from: Les Misérables [DVD] [2012] (DVD)
Les Miserables
Dir. Tom Hooper / Cert 12 / 158 minutes

First things first, I'm not a musical man,
I saw Sweeney Todd and really wasn't a fan,
Mamma Mia left me equally nauseous,
Thus I approached Les Mis understandably cautious.
On the plus side, Eddie Redmayne is gorgeous.

Musical theatre simply isn't my bag,
And at almost three hours, I feared it would drag,
Figured it would be extremely loud, unbearably long,
With rousing song following rousing song,
I sat down, really not expecting a lot,
Totally unfamiliar with the characters and plot,
Therefore I was rather blown away with what I got,
And can I just say, Eddie Redmayne is hot.

The film was ambitious, lavish and vast,
Tom Hooper assembles the perfect cast,
A rawness and intensity are what he strives to achieve,
The actors sing live, their diaphragms heave.
The close-ups expose their torment and rage,
More so than you could ever convey on the stage.
And whereas I'll never be a fan of a sung-through soliloquy,
There's no denying the cast's vocal ability.
A revolution, a wedding, a dancing thief,
Even a bit of `Cor, blimey, guv'nor' for comic relief.
And Eddie Redmayne is handsome, in brief.

I simply can't understand the Russell Crowe detractors
He's certainly better than the acts on X Factor.
As Javert, he pursues Jackman's Jean Valjean,
Who seduces the audience through candid song.
Annie Hathaway's performance has been critically lauded,
And come Oscars night, odds are she'll be justly rewarded.
Amanda Seyfried delights as Cosette, oh
And Eddie Redmayne does a splendid falsetto.

For `Empty Chairs and Empty Tables' is the film's best number,
His rendition leaves your heart torn quite asunder,
It's a ballad that's heartfelt and tragic and true,
And it feels like it's a serenade sung directly at you.
And if you don't feel something when the credits roll,
Quite frankly, you have no soul.
The final chorus is moving and stirring,
All around me people's eyes were blurring.
And whereas I'll never feel that fanbase sense of devotion,
I defy anyone that isn't swept up in the emotion.
I make no qualms, I'm not going to pretend,
That I'm going to rush off down to the West End,
But for what it's worth, when all's said and done,
Les Miserables is tremendous fun.
And for my money and in my mind,
It's certainly the best film of its kind.
And Eddie Redmayne has a lovely behind.
Comment Comments (6) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 14, 2013 10:22 PM BST

Gangster Squad [DVD] [2013]
Gangster Squad [DVD] [2013]
Dvd ~ Josh Brolin
Price: £2.74

29 of 37 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Gangster Drama by numbers, 15 Jan. 2013
This review is from: Gangster Squad [DVD] [2013] (DVD)
Gangster Squad
Dir. Ruben Fleicher / Cert 15 / 111 minutes)

How can a film with so many guns, so much blood and such a fine cast fall so flat? I'm a big fan of the genre, so I had high expectations for Gangster Squad, but everything here has been done before and done better. It feels to me as if the filmmakers worked to a shopping list of ingredients, a tick-list of `must-include' tropes thrown together, checked off one-by-one by cautious, smug Hollywood execs, dollar signs for eyes, staring greedily out of empty bloodless sockets.

The result is a workmanlike, shallow and impassionate jigsaw of mismatched pieces, all style and no substance, all pizazz and no plot, with dialogue that sounds like it's come straight out of `How to Write A Gangster Movie for Dummies'. I couldn't even enjoy it as a piece of pastiche because the characters were so utterly dimensionless Performances are weak across the board - Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone can't decide whether to go for ham or cheese, and have none of the chemistry (sexual or otherwise) that they brought to Crazy Stupid Love and somebody really needed to take Nick Nolte and Sean Penn aside and tell them that this wasn't a pantomime. Perhaps I should lighten-up - from what I understand, many people have enjoyed Penn's over-the-top villain, but I'm sorry, having him snarling lines like `Out here, I'm a GOD!!!' took me completely out of the story and the drama. Admittedly, the shoot `em up climax is well-shot and slickly executed, and the closest the film ever comes to having a pulse, but by this point, the damage is done and I couldn't care less who lives and who dies, who wins and who loses.

If you want super-slick 1940s noir-thriller, look no further than Curtis Hanson's superb LA Confidential (1997), or do yourself a favour and invest in HBO's continuing masterwork Boardwalk Empire, a contemporary example of how to do period-set gangster drama intelligently and unpredictably. If you want to waste your time and your money, see this.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 5, 2013 10:34 AM GMT

The Impossible [DVD] [2013]
The Impossible [DVD] [2013]
Dvd ~ Ewan McGregor
Offered by DVDBayFBA
Price: £2.98

42 of 50 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Traumatic, 2 Jan. 2013
This review is from: The Impossible [DVD] [2013] (DVD)
Dir. Juan Bayona / 114 minutes / Cert 12

Juan Bayona follows up his acclaimed 2007 directorial debut The Orphanage with another horror film. Whereas the fear factor of his first feature emanated purely from the otherworldly and the supernatural, The Impossible brings the horror much closer to home, drawing on real-life events, specifically the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami that devastated Indonesia and surrounding areas and claimed over 230,000 innocent lives. I remember watching the television news coverage at the time - my confused fifteen year-old self unable to quite understand what I was seeing, unsure of what it meant and what was going on.

The film creates immediate tension because everybody knows exactly what is going to happen. As an audience, we are powerless, simply awaiting the inevitable; the fatal wave is going to hit and there is nothing we can do to stop it. The fact that our main characters, the Bennett family - father, mother, their three young sons - are blissfully ignorant of the tragedy that is about to befall them (as of course were the quarter of a million unsuspecting victims) only serves to reinforce the sense of dread that hangs over the film's idyllic opening scenes; scenes depicting the calm before the storm, introducing us to a close-knit, moneyed middle-class family, holidaying for Christmas in a luxury apartment. Lanterns illuminate the sky. Celebration, laughter and love, things we take for granted. They have everything, want for nothing... and then the ground starts to tremble.

The reconstruction of the disaster is painful to watch, beautifully repellent and brutally realised. To call it impressive almost seems crass and insensitive, but considering it was shot using no CGI whatsoever deserves some sort of recognition come Oscars night. Obviously, no film dramatisation can ever even remotely approach the abject horror of the real thing, but there's no denying the emotional wallop of the film's extended key sequence. The tsunami itself lasted for almost ten minutes, and Bayona here allows events to play out in real time; the ten minutes stretching out like an unrelenting nightmare, a haunting eternity. Water floods the screen. Never-ending chaos reigns. Broken bodies are swept away like leaves on the wind. Lives become nothing; ripped apart and destroyed forever in the blink of an eye. Hundreds of thousands of untold stories reach horrible, untimely ends. At various points, the cinema winced collectively at the savagery unfolding on screen and for once I was glad of the stench of nearby nachos that filled the air as it reminded me that I was safe, rooted and rigid in my seat.

Judging by the reaction in the (almost full) cinema, I wasn't alone in finding this film deeply upsetting. Towards the end, the tension was palpable, the silence broken only by the sound of many a sniffling nose. The fact that the film affected its audience is a testament to the strength of the central performances from Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor who were both outstanding. Anybody who has seen Mulholland Drive (2001) or 21 Grams (2003) won't need any convincing of Watts's acting credentials, but McGregor's unexpectedly heartbreaking performance as a father in search of his missing wife and son came out of the blue and rather knocked me for six. Recently McGregor has been taking it easy, playing the tweedy leads in romantic comedies such as the enjoyable Beginners (2010) and the endurable Salmon Fishing in the Yemen (2011), so for him to turn in such a standout performance was a real surprise for me. Likewise, I can't not mention newcomer Tom Holland, who plays eldest son Lucas. At the beginning of the film, Lucas is your typical angst-ridden teenager, but the tsunami strips away all of his cockiness and reduces him to a terrified lost little boy looking for his mother. It's always a good sign when you find yourself immediately browsing the Internet to find an actor's other credits as I found myself doing last night. I was pleased to see that he's already picking up a few awards for his performance.

I think the measure of a good film can be judged on how it leaves you feeling afterwards. A good film stays with you. By the time the credits rolled on The Impossible, I was slumped in my seat, utterly drained. Had I enjoyed the film? Did I approve of the narrative need to find closure in such senseless tragedy? Did the happy ending trivialise a disaster that destroyed so many lives? Do I ever want to see this film again/ I suppose I left the cinema pondering humanity - shown here at its most weak, vulnerable and defenceless, but also at its most brave, resourceful and noble. The camaraderie, the community spirit, the coming together of broken souls in dire times (many of the survivors in fact played by real-life survivors), in my opinion, validates the existence and relevance of this film. Yesterday was New Year's Day, a chance for new beginnings, so perhaps I was feeling more self-reflective than usual, but I came away from The Impossible with one thing going round and round in my head: life is precious.

Boardwalk Empire - Season 2 (HBO) [DVD] [2012]
Boardwalk Empire - Season 2 (HBO) [DVD] [2012]
Dvd ~ Steve Buscemi
Price: £7.60

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A stunning Jacobean tragedy, 26 Nov. 2012
fWow. The second series of HBO's Boardwalk Empire really was quite a surprise. I enjoyed the first season just fine, but thought it had teething problems and didn't quite measure up to its full potential (Scorsese executive-producing, a bunch of Sopranos alumni, Steve Buscemi, Al Capone, etc). All I can say is, thank God I stuck with it, because this second season was outstanding from start to finish; masterful storytelling on an epic scale culminating in two final episodes that quite frankly blew me away.

I think a big reason why the second season was superior to the first was because it found Buscemi's Nucky Thompson on the rocks. In the first season, he had Atlantic City eating out of the palm of his hand. He was untouchable and indestructible. This time, he had to face the consequences of his actions, his choices, which proves far more interesting and really raises the stakes, impacting every character's arc and really driving the narrative and the characters forward in a way that Season 1 didn't. All of the characters are complex, and pretty much every single one developed satisfactorily across the twelve episodes - none more so than Jimmy Darmody. Watching his Jacobean tragedy unfold was fascinating, and oddly rather moving. It's a joke that Michael Pitt wasn't so much as nominated for his performance in the Supporting Actor category at this year's Emmys - and yet two - two! - of the Downton Abbey jokers were!

Boardwalk Empire joins the likes of Mad Men and Breaking Bad as my favourite television show currently in production. In terms of writing and character, nothing comes close. Plus it could just well be the most cinematic show on TV - every episode feels like it's own little film.

The Amazing Spider-Man (DVD) [2012]
The Amazing Spider-Man (DVD) [2012]
Dvd ~ Andrew Garfield
Offered by Bee-Entertained
Price: £2.45

9 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars King of the Swingers, 22 Nov. 2012
(Dir. Marc Webb / 136 minutes / 12)

WARNING: The following review contains zealous and (some would say) delusional fanboy ramblings and controversial Christopher Nolan criticisms.

The Amazing Spider-Man features a handsome boy in skin-tight lycra, the President from The West Wing and a giant lizard. Seriously, what's not to love?

End of review. Proceed to checkout...

Oh, you're still not sold? Really, you need more convincing of the movie's merits? Hmph. Fine. Have it your way... though you could have clicked `add to basket' by now.

This year saw three major releases to emerge under the superhero banner. Joss Whedon's wild and witty caper Avengers Assemble, Christopher Nolan's hotly anticipated and ambitious Batman swansong in the form of The Dark Knight Rises and Marc Webb's unexpectedly emotional and (comparatively) overlooked Spidey reboot (such an ugly word), the latter of which I hope you are now in the process of ordering on Blu-Ray. You may as well get the 3D version while you're at it. And buy a few copies for your friends too, just to be on the safe side.

Despite socialising awkwardly in the circles of the same sub-genre, these three films couldn't be more different. They nod politely towards each other, but that's it (a good thing, if you ask me, as I found something to enjoy in all of them). Both Avengers and Batman smashed the magic $1 billion mark at the box office, whereas Spider-Man trailed behind in their wake, only able to muster a lowly $750 million. It pains me to acknowledge (I'd love to ignore the financial evidence, and still might yet), but it's probably fair to say that Spidey wasn't quite the runaway success of its cape-clad competitors. Indeed, dear reader, you are probably looking at this review, your temples pulsating Hulk style, thinking how in the name of holy Gotham City can you prefer this - THIS! - to Batman, you heathen! Well, how is Justin Bieber famous - sometimes strange, terrible, inexplicable things just happen.

For me, Spider-Man felt smaller, simpler, smarter, and often, less is more. I can't fault Christopher Nolan's ambition - The Dark Knight Rises was huge and cinematically spectacular, but I was left exhausted and with the impression that Nolan, the Hollywood equivalent of Manchester United, was going-for-broke. The film was so desperate to be taken seriously, so hell-bent was it to out-epic its (superior) predecessors, that it tipped into the realm of pretension, sacrificing emotion and heart and humour in the process, forgetting that, at its core, crucially, it is essentially a light-hearted, fun fantasy story about a mask-wearing cape-swishing Defender. I'm bracing myself for the inevitable deluge of negative feedback! Sharpen those pitchforks. Aim for the heart. Likewise, I had a similar problem with Avengers Assemble, though to a lesser extent - in that it felt a bit superficially enjoyable. True, we have Whedon's usual quick-fire sharp dialogue, lots of explosions and relentless action, an almost overwhelming exhibition of special effects, a veritable visual toyshop, Scarlett Johansson as Wonder Woman, all of which combined disguise the fact that beyond all the bells and whistles, there's really not all that much in terms of character and plot. Where's the humanity?

It all boils down to what you want from a superhero film, I suppose. I guess there will be many people out there who don't want humanity, who couldn't think of anything worse, just as long as there's an abundance of fighting and action sequences galore, right? Three dimensional relationships and character development and emotion just get in the way of the carnage. Why have your hero fall in love when he could fall off a burning building instead? Ideally I'd have both but it's all subjective, though I fear those turning to the new Spidey looking for all-out action, for a film that faithfully follows generic convention, may be disappointed. Granted, you do get a big mutant CGI lizard for your money, though arguably this is the one misfire the film shoots; a pre-transformation Rhys Ifans makes for a far more sinister villain in human form) and it seems to me that the narrative is actually at its weakest when it falls into the trap of fulfilling the prerequisites of its genre and becomes `just another superhero picture'. The Amazing Spider-Man's real strength lies in how it depicts the burgeoning relationship between Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) and Gwen Stacey (Emma Stone). Director Marc Webb's first feature was the excellent and structurally unconventional (500) Days of Summer and here his rom-com credentials lend themselves effectively as the film packs a real emotional punch, more so than any superhero film I can immediately recall. This approach won't satisfy everybody, but I thought it added an extra layer of depth and imbued the film with a soul.

But, when all's said and done, the success of a film such as this rests almost solely on the shoulders of its leading actor. Your CGI lizard can be the best computer animated reptile in the business, but If your main man doesn't convince, doesn't fit the bill, then you're in big trouble. I liked Tobey Maguire just fine, but I never quite accepted him in the role. Maguire has now undergone a pleasing upgrade and regenerated into up-and-coming British actor Andrew Garfield (who currently occupies the number one spot of my Crush List), who, without wishing to hyperbolise too dramatically, inhabits the role perfectly. He simply *is* Peter Parker. His acting chops are of the highest standard - plus he looks incredible in spandex, which always helps.

Garfield made his name starring in edgy, often gritty British dramas, such as Channel 4's Boy A and The Red Riding Trilogy, but didn't come to worldwide prominence until he co-starred in David Fincher's much-lauded The Social Network. It's been an interesting career to follow because in every single role, his performance has been completely different. For every character he's played, he somehow manages to reinvent himself entirely, find a different part of himself to convey, and this film is therefore no different and yet again demonstrates his versatility (check out some of his lesser known TV credits and you'll see what I mean). I was totally able to accept him as a high-school student despite Garfield's 29 years. I predict big things for him. He brings vulnerability and awkwardness to his incarnation of Peter, a shyness that is both adorable and funny, but also a determined sense of principle. There's teenage angst too; brought about by the demons of his past (his parents mysteriously disappeared when he was a child) and by the stirrings and awakenings of first love and heartbreak. Then, when he becomes his alter-ego, everything changes before our eyes; the way he moves, the way he carries himself. There's a confidence and cockiness. He's lighter on his feet, literally moving like a spider. There's an energy to him, a quickness both literally and figuratively. Watching his transformation is arguably far more impressive than Rhys Ifans becoming a lizard.

Before the film was released, the naysayers were up in arms claiming it was a travesty to kick-start the franchise, far too soon to revisit the `origins' story. I suppose these people have to keep busy somehow. I know many a person who deemed this film a load of rubbish without having seen a single second of it and many more who have vowed to not see it out of a sense of bogus, misguided principle. After all, Tobey Maguire's debut swing was only a decade ago and Spider-Man 3 (which doesn't exist, remember) is still fresh in its grave. These people won't be swayed - a shame really, because they don't know what they're missing and sadly probably never will. Sure, there are elements of repetition here, but the execution is different enough and fresh enough to allow The Amazing Spider-Man to stand on its own eight legs, not just as a worthwhile film, but as a superbly entertaining one in its own right.

This reviewer is unashamedly out and proud in his love for this film and happy to admit that he saw it 4 times at the cinema. In terms of the sheer enjoyment factor, The Amazing Spider-Man is my movie of 2012.
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The Master [DVD]
The Master [DVD]
Dvd ~ Philip Seymour Hoffman

75 of 96 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A film that warrants responses, 18 Nov. 2012
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This review is from: The Master [DVD] (DVD)
(dir Paul Thomas Anderson/143 mins)

This is a spoiler-free review.

Rarely does a film arrive so wet with critical saliva, though, like marmite, Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master is dark, distinctive and divisive. Some will hail it as genius, some will leave the cinema wishing they'd stayed home and watched Boogie Nights on DVD. Either way it is sure to provoke a reaction. Personally, I loved everything about it (although the same sadly cannot be said for marmite).

Yet, I can't recommend it. I simply can't. I could never confidently look a friend in the eye and assure them that this is worth seeing. I couldn't even tell them what it was about, let alone its genre. There's no `Well, if you liked this film, you'll be sure to like The Master' analogy to be made here because it defies comparison, eludes classification and is like no other film I've ever seen because Anderson makes no attempt to befriend his audience. Such a rebellious approach can be alienating, but it also proves exciting and rewarding as a viewer, because seldom do directors dare to make origami out of the rulebook in such a thrilling way. His narrative is fractured and drifting, as aimless as Freddie Quell (a career best performance from a superbly contorted Joaquin Phoenix). The ever excellent Philip Seymour Hoffman plays Lancaster Dodd, the eponymous and charismatic Master; whose subtle, seamless seduction of Quell and the other members he recruits to his Cause mirrors Anderson's relationship with us as an audience. Arguably, it is he who is the true Master here.

I stumbled out of the cinema feeling much the same way as I do whenever I see a David Lynch picture - almost dizzy, almost drunk, as if I have just woken from a troubled sleep, nursing an intense hangover, unable to quite come to terms with or make sense of what I've just witnessed, still haunted and fascinated by my nightmare. The outside world takes time to come back into focus, slowly bleeding back in as I gradually recover. I'd forgotten all about the existence of human life, forgotten about roads and pavement and traffic. This is very much the sign of a good film, if you ask me. I look forward to revisiting this particular nightmare again on DVD.

Whether or not you'll feel the same is impossible to say...

Caractacus Jones and the Case of the Murdered Mother (Caractacus Jones' Paranormal Investigations Book 1)
Caractacus Jones and the Case of the Murdered Mother (Caractacus Jones' Paranormal Investigations Book 1)
Price: £1.15

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "No-one ever keeps anything interesting downstairs!", 13 Aug. 2012
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Caractacus Jones and the Case of the Murdered Mother cross-breeds genres like they're going out of fashion, effortlessly combining the quirk of Pushing Daisies, the whimsy of Douglas Adams and the murder mystery of Agatha Christie to produce a story that is every bit as good as that sounds and is, all things considered, more original and exciting than it has any right to be!

When we first encounter Hollie Blythe, she is behind on her rent with no choice but to attend the soul-destroying hell that is her local job centre. Immediately, we're on side. We've all been there, we can all relate, and as such she becomes the audience's identification figure, the ordinary within the extraordinary, and our eyes and ears to the wonderful insanity that quickly ensues.

Said insanity begins when she meets the brilliant but bonkers Caractacus Jones, a Paranormal Investigator, looking to recruit a new secretary, who is, like all the best detectives, interesting because of his eccentricity; like Sherlock Holmes, like Dirk Gently, his mind works in mystifying, marvellous and mad ways - the only downside of which is a lack of understanding regarding social convention. But his loss is our gain, as this makes for a unique, offbeat and engaging hero with cool glasses - Morse never had cool glasses! Besides, he can be partially forgiven for his social ineptitude when you consider that his cases aren't your typical run-of-the-mill police procedurals, his clients not exactly what you'd expect... intrigued yet?

To give away further plot details would be to spoil half of the fun, so all I'll say is that this book is a warm, witty, fast-paced supernatural-who-dunnit-comedy that I'd recommend reading with a nice pot of tea close to hand. More please, and soon.

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