30 March 2009-03-30

Jill Wagner in Splinter

Ratings on the UK system – U=universal, PG=parental guidance, 12, 15 and 18 are self-explanatory, E=Excempt

Celia (Second Run, cert 15)

Oz director Ann Turner’s classic 1989 rites-of-passage debut, about one girl’s amply furnished fantasy childhood. It’s the story of a child, from a child’s point of view, rather than adult looking back, and set in 1950s Australia overrun by rabbits and the Red menace.

Celia – at Amazon

Of Time and the City (BFI, cert 12)

Back with a bang, grumpy, poetic old man Terence Davies’s elegy to his lost, native Liverpool, composed almost entirely of archive footage, brilliantly welded together by a master. Wait till you hear what he has to say about the Beatles.

Of Time and the City – at Amazon

Blindsight (Revelation, cert E)

Six blind Tibetan kids head into the Himalayas to climb one of Everest’s peaks and in a clear case of the blind leading the blind, sightless mountaineer Erik Weihenmayer is leading the expedition. Lucy Walker’s documentary starts trad and feelgood but building to a compelling examination of culture-clash.

Blindsight – at Amazon

Splinter (Icon, cert 18)

More tense than horrible – though it’s fairly horrible too – this grimly effective horror thriller dark as arterial blood sees actors you’ll just about recognise being menaced by zombies. What they saved on names they spent on SFX. Good decision.

Splinter – at Amazon

The Children (Contender, cert 18)

AKA Ghost House Underground. Eva Birthistle and Stephen Campbell Moore star in this Brit horror about starey evil kids. The Innocents and Midwich Cuckoos provide the inspiration and it works very nicely as an indictment of liberal parenting too.

The Children – at Amazon

Changeling (Universal, cert 15)

Clint Eastwood directs one of his most over-hyped movies, thanks to the presence of Angelina Jolie as a 1929s mum convinced the abducted son who’s been returned to her is a ringer. Anger, tears, mood swings aplenty in a show-off piece for a precious star.

 Changeling – at Amazon

Waltz With Bashir (Artificial Eye, cert 18)

Director and former Israeli solider Ari Folman lays bleak monochrome animation over mea culpa interviews with old army buddies, complicity in the 1982 Sabra and Shatila refugee massacres his chief concern.

Waltz with Bashir – at Amazon

Lakeview Terrace (Sony, cert 15)

A great writer but only a so-so director, Neil LaBute’s drama about an interracial couple (Kerry Washington, Patrick Wilson) menaced by out-and-out racist cop Samuel L. Jackson is neighbour-from-hell horror with pretensions.

Lakeview Terrace – at Amazon

The Secret Life of Bees (Fox, cert 12)

Nearly adult Dakota Fanning in a drama about a southern gal dealing with parental abuse and segregation in 1960s USA. Amazingly sweet, considering and the all-star cast – Sophie Okonedo, Queen Latifah, Alicia Keys – is hellishly impressive.

The Secret Life of Bees – at Amazon

Body of Lies (Warner, cert 15)

Leo DiCaprio is the field operative, Russell Crowe his boss in Ridley Scott’s entertaining, slick updating of the old spy thriller – Iraq, Al-Qaeda and all that done on a big cinematic scale and with a supporting cast (Mark Strong, Golshifteh Farahani, Oscar Isaac) to match.

Body of Lies – at Amazon

Derek (BFI, cert 18)

Isaac Julien’s tender, surprisingly conventional homage to his old mentor, queercore maverick Derek Jarman, who died in 1994, written and narrated by muse Tilda Swinton. As a manifesto on the supremacy of art over entertainment, it’s refreshingly old school too.

Derek – at Amazon

My Best Friend’s Girl (Lionsgate, cert 18)

Dane Cook as a sleazeball hired to make crap ex boyfriends look so good in comparison that the women head back to safety. Zinging one-liners but the stinky rom-com chemistry with co-star Kate Hudson ruins what should be Cook’s breakout movie.

My Best Friend’s Girl – at Amazon

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© Steve Morrissey 2009

9 March 2009-03-09

Walt Disney's Pinocchio

Ratings on the UK system (ie U=universal, PG=parental guidance, 12, 15 and 18 are self-explanatory, E=excempt)

Pinocchio 70th Anniversary Platinum Edition (Disney, cert U)

From the days when the voice cast went uncredited, Walt Disney’s 1940 follow-up to Snow White gave us the Oscar-winning song When You Wish Upon a Star, a wooden boy with a Freudian nose and one of the studio’s darkest and finest animations.

Pinocchio – at Amazon

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas (Disney, cert 12)

The Holocaust through the eyes of a nice German lad (Asa Butterfield) whose dad just happens to be a death camp commandant. The everyday normality of the death camps and the mix of the sentimental, the melodramatic and the brutally direct often jars for the wrong and the right reasons.

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas – at Amazon

Quarantine (sony, cert 18)

A fluffy TV reporter (Jennifer Carpenter) lucks into the biggest story of her career by accident as a TV news crew is trapped inside a zombie house. Aficionados will recognise this as a scene for scene, stroke for stroke English language remake of Spanish horror [REC]. How wise not to change a thing.

Quarantine – at Amazon

Generation Kill (HBO, cert 15)

Into the bafflingly busy Iraq War with an embedded Rolling Stone reporter in this multi-stranded, vibrant 7-part TV series adapted from journalist Evan Wright’s book and brought to the screen by the team behind The Wire. Another triumph.

Generation Kill – at Amazon

LA Confidential Special Edition (Warner, cert 18)

One of director Curtis Hanson’s sweet run of great films in the 1990s and one of the must-watch movies of 1997. Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce and Kevin Spacey play cops up to the oxters in celebrity sleaze – hello Kim Basinger in Veronica Lake pose – in this lush, noirish evocation of the tawdry 1950s.

LA Confidential – at Amazon

The Rocker (Fox, cert 12)

Full Monty director Peter Cattaneo keeps it feelgood in this harmless comedy about an old and rubbish rock drummer 20 past his sell-by joining a young band. Yes, it’s a School of Rock knock-off, and yes Rainn Wilson is working his way through Jack Black’s list of buffoonery and goofery.

The Rocker – at Amazon

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day (Momentum, cert PG)

Frances McDormand joins a crack team of British thespians (Stephanie Cole, Shirley Henderson, Mark Strong) to demonstrate how to strangle the English accent in a flimsy wannabe screwball comedy set between the wars and stolen comprehensively by Amy Adams.

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day – at Amazon

3-Day Weekend (TLA, cert 15)

Following on from last year’s Back Soon, Rob Williams’s state-of-the-gay-nation outing sees eight men hopping beds and baring souls for a weekend in a drama avoiding waspish stereotypes as it follows its central relationship into meltdown. Warning: may contain nuts.

3-Day Weekend – at Amazon

The Gene Generation (High Fliers, cert 15)

Chaotic throwback to cyberpunk 1980s – 2000AD comic, Brazil and Blade Runner – with a physically impressive if wooden Bai Ling as a ninja she-assassin. Quite what Faye Dunaway is doing here is a mystery.

The Gene Generation – at Amazon

Saw V (Lionsgate, cert 18)

Directed by Saw 1-4’s set dresser – a franchise this established will eventually direct itself – the gorno franchise finally runs out of wit, though the early DIY tracheotomy scene catches the breath and proves there’s still some ingenuity left in the tank, unpleasant though it is.

Saw V – at Amazon

Repo! The Genetic Opera (Lions Gate, cert 18)

Talking of which, here’s what Saw II, III and IV director Darren Lynn Bousman’s been up to, a tin-eared Rocky Horror-ish trash-glam musical on nitrous. Motley crew Alexa Vega, Paris Hilton, Sarah Brightman, Anthony Stewart Head and Paul Sorvino make it oddity of the week.

Repo! The Genetic Opera – at Amazon

The Lodger (Sony, cert 15)

Based on the same novel Hitchcock made into his 1927 silent classic, a lumpen Ripper tale set in LA, starring a wasted Alfred Molina as detective and Hope Davis as lonely housewife who let out a room to a mystery man (Simon West) who might be a killer.

The Lodger – at Amazon

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© Steve Morrissey 2009

16 March 2009-03-16

Andrea Riseborough in The Devil's Whore

Ratings on the UK system (ie U=universal, PG=parental guidance, 12, 15 and 18 are self-explanatory, E=excempt)


The Devil’s Whore (Lionsgate, cert 15)

Having played Mrs Thatcher, Angela Riseborough is once more an iron lady in a proto-feminist TV series set during the English Civil War and laced with death and lashings of bodice-ripping and packed with a great cast (John Simm, Dominic West, Maxine Peak, Peter Capaldi).

 The Devil’s Whore aka The Devil’s Mistress – at Amazon

How To Lose Friends and Alienate People (Paramount, cert 15)

Another gold star for Shaun Pegg, as a gauche, arrogant, bumbling Brit git in New York journalism in a version of Toby Young’s comic autobiography heavy on the slapstick, easy on the barbs and probably truer to Young’s real nature than he’d like to let on.

How to Lose Friends and Alienate People – at Amazon

W. (Lionsgate, cert 15)

Josh Brolin is good ol’ boy George W. Bush in a headline-hopping biopic saved by great performances. From Oliver Stone, who shoots a lot of it in a deliberately Coors beer commercial style, it’s an oddly sympathetic portrait given the JFK director’s political sensibilities.

W. – at Amazon

Elegy (EV, cert 15)

Randy but ageing (and hating it) prof Ben Kingsley falls for sexy student Penelope Cruz in a spare, lusty adaptation of Philip Roth’s The Dying Animal. It’s missing Roth’s authorial voice but the picture it paints of a lifelong libertine realising his days of swinging his dick are over is poignant.

Elegy – at Amazon

War, Inc. (Lionsgate, cert 15)

John Cusack co-wrote/stars as a political hitman in a Strangelove satire on US foreign policy in “Turaqistan” full of good things but so fearful that we might not get the joke that it labours the satire. Dan Aykroyd, Marisa Tomei and John’s sister, Joan (a standout) co-star.

War, Inc. – at Amazon

The Duchess (Pathe, cert 12)

The sort of British prestige drama Gainsborough Studios used to crank out in the 1930s, now born again via Keira Knightley, as the feisty duchess locked in a loveless threeway marriage. Pretty but pretty vacant too, and Gainsborough seemed a lot less worried about frightening the horses.

The Duchess – at Amazon

Strawberry and Chocolate (Mr Bongo, cert 18)

From Cuba’s great Tomás Gutiérrez Alea and co-director Juan Carlos Tabío, a slight if popular (and Oscar-nominated) 1993 drama about a gay liberal man and his Educating Rita friendship with a straight communist.

Strawberry and Chocolate – at Amazon

Space Buddies (Disney, cert U)

Five cute golden labrador pups go into space in Disney’s latest instalment of the Air Bud series. Squeaky scrapes, street-smart dialogue (referring to each other as “dog”) and the revelation that in space no one can hear you fart. Fun for the inner bedwetter.

Space Buddies – at Amazon


After… (Optimum, cert 15)

Thrill-seeking urban explorers in the Moscow subways get more extreme thrills than they bargained for. A promising high concept, and the soundtrack is by electonic heroes The Crystal Method but it’s a relatively character-free trudge through horror cliche.

After… – at Amazon

Smother (Optimum, cert 15)

Nowadays only playing annoying old harpies, Diane Keaton is the titular (S)mother, squatting with son Dax Shepard and wife Liv Tyler in a feature-length variation on the mother-in-law joke. A comedy, apparently, with no one coming out of the experience well (characters and actors).

Smother – at Amazon

88 Minutes (Warner, cert 15)

Huffing as he goes, Al Pacino plays the forensic psychiatrist given just 88 minutes to live by a grudge-wielding con. A generous amount of time by any measure, though Pacino’s ludicrous performance does, at least, give us something to watch. Thanks, Al.

88 Minutes – at Amazon

Easy Virtue (Pathe, cert PG)

Giddy with its own cleverness, Noel Coward’s play about a flappy American (Jessica Biel) being bullied by ghastly Brit toffs is the latest clinker from the new Ealing Studios. Frightfully frightful in almost every way, with Biel particularly badly served and looking terrible in 1920s clothes (so it is possible). Kristin Scott Thomas excellent as a flinty old battleaxe.

Easy Virtue – at Amazon

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© Steve Morrissey 2009