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Jessica Chastain in Zero Dark Thirty

10 June 2013-06-10

Out in the UK this week Zero Dark Thirty (Universal, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD) “A lot of my friends have died trying to do this; I believe I was spared so I could finish the job.” The key line of dialogue, as uttered by Jessica Chastain in the drama about the operation to kill Osama Bin Laden. “Spared” – there’s a faintly biblical colour to that word and it’s deliberate. Mark Boal’s script is not only mechanically extremely good – so many characters are introduced so well in such a short time – but it also deals, with varying degrees of depth, with matters arising from the aftermath of 9/11. The use of torture as … Read more
Alicia Keys in Smokin' Aces

Smokin’ Aces

For anyone who gets confused between Ben Affleck and Ryan Reynolds, Joe (Narc) Carnahan’s latest feast of bang-bang macho will be very bewildering indeed, since they’re both in it. But then bewilderment seems to be what Smokin’ Aces is about. The hip-feast is built around Jeremy Piven, playing Buddy “Aces” Israel, a Las Vegas showman and stool pigeon whose decision to turn state’s evidence has signed his death warrant. Enter just about everybody else – either part of his close-knit retinue, part of the FBI team trying to protect him, one of the mob out to get him, or one of the other guys who also, confusingly, seem out to get him. Girls too, … Read more
Sebastian Koch and Carice Van Houten in Black Book

Black Book

In some quarters the director Paul Verhoeven is now eternally infamous for Sharon Stone’s is she/isn’t she leg-crossing moment in Basic Instinct. But he came to prominence with a Second World War movie, Soldier Of Orange, in 1977. Black Book sees Verhoeven return to his native land, his native Dutch tongue and the 1939-45 war in an engrossing drama focusing on one young Jewish woman (played by the remarkable Carice van Houten), a member of the Dutch resistance who finds herself right at the heart of the Nazi war machine. It is a familiar genre but Verhoeven injects fresh elements into it – notably dark humour, lashings of nudity and a fuzzy delineation … Read more
keira knightley potc2

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest

Yo ho ho and a bottle of something very rum, this second instalment of Gore Verbinski’s money-spinner is a swirling follow-on from part one and a dizzying lead into part three – it’s all midsection in other words. Tonally, it’s Monty Python’s Life of Blackbeard, but with one big difference. It’s not funny. The question is: is it supposed to be? The actors don’t seem to know, so they all camp it up just to be on the safe side. Johnny Depp’s Captain Jack Sparrow continues channelling Keith Richards and actually getting Donatella Versace. Orlando Bloom leaps about trying to look like the film is about him. And Keira Knightley looks fiercely gorgeous, … Read more
Samuel L Jackson in Coach Carter

Coach Carter

“Inspirational coach” movies come in many shapes and sizes. This one comes in the shape of Samuel L. Jackson, the tough talking, clean-living paragon of virtue who comes into a troubled school and turns around the basketball team in the teeth of indifference from pupils, teachers and … sorry, am I boring you? There’s a little more to Coach Carter than the usual sports movie fare. To whit: it is based on the true story of the coach who insisted his players properly knuckle down. He made them sign contracts. Controversially, he also insisted they got good grades in their other classes otherwise they were off the team. And outrageously, he closed the … Read more
Dakota Fanning in Hide and Seek

Hide and Seek

After Godsend and Meet the Fockers, Robert De Niro continues bumping along the bottom with this sub-Sixth Sense frightener. He plays the new widower with a ten-year-old traumatised daughter (Dakota Fanning) whose imaginary friend Charlie starts muscling in on the domestic action. Is Charlie a manifestation of the daughter’s loss? Or of her antagonistic feelings towards the women (Famke Janssen, Elisabeth Shue) who are floating around her newly available dad? Or is he just a malevolent spirit found lurking at the back of the Exorcist cupboard? Director John Polson and writer Ari Schlossberg keep us guessing with Kubrickian glides and Shyamalanian plot turns that suggest more than they deliver. Ultimately, Hide and Seek … Read more
Yûsuke Iseya in Casshern

Casshern

A live action adaptation of the 1973 Japanese anime with a plot that is Godzilla in essence, except this time man’s interference with nature has produced a race of Neo-Sapiens – a deadly spawn out to kill the human race. Which can be saved by only one man – Casshern – a mortal reincarnated with an invincible iron body. It’s the debut feature by “acclaimed fashion photographer and music video director” Kazuaki Kiriya and, like Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, it’s all CGI, apart from the humans. Unlike Sky Captain it’s decided to make things slightly less real, slightly more anime. Wise decision – we can now enjoy the backgrounds for what they … Read more
Uggie the Jack Russell with co-star Bérénice Bejou in The Artist

Dogs in the Movies

Dogs. Yes, that’s right, dogs. I’ve probably already doubled the amount of traffic to this site just by writing the word “dogs” three times. Four times if you count that mention. Because people just love dogs (five). They can’t help themselves. It’s down to their dependability. A human being might let you down, but a four legged friend probably won’t eat you until you’ve been dead at least four days. A cat would probably tuck in while you were still warm. Trenchant insight aside, a dog’s loyalty and trainability make it a natural for the movies. A dog can be encouraged to do stuff that’s cute. Or, with a sign from off-camera, it … Read more
Marlon Brando, Robert De Niro, The Score

The Score

Frank Oz is apparently a bit sniffy about being described as the man who used to be Miss Piggy. Here he directs Robert De Niro, Marlon Brando and Ed Norton in a one-last-heist movie and discovers that big hitters aren’t quite so easy to fist as a porker made of felt. Bob, Marlon and Ed play, respectively, a jazz-loving master thief hoping to go out on a financial high, his lispingly effeminate fence and the cocky wannabe eager to learn at the master’s feet. A wasted Angela Bassett plays De Niro’s girlfriend. (Well, not entirely wasted. At least the producers got to tick the boxes marked “female” and “black”.) We’re in the middle … Read more
Kevin Bacon in The Woodsman

The Woodsman

There are two big default ideas in Hollywood movies and in The Woodsman we have not just a fine film about a paedophile but also a film tackling these two notions head on. The first of Hollywood’s mantras is “be yourself”. The second: “you can have anything if you want it enough” – often expressed as “never give up on your dream”. In The Woodsman Kevin Bacon plays Walter, a fresh-from-prison paedophile who would give anything not to be himself, a man who would love to give up his dream – of having sex with young children. Unfortunately for Walter, his insane bail conditions force him to live over the road from – hollow … Read more
Yoshinori Hiruma in When the Last Sword Is Drawn

When the Last Sword Is Drawn

Here’s a different type of samurai movie, the winner of the Japanese equivalent of the Oscars, following the strange, grudging friendship that develops between two warriors – one fierce, the other mild. It’s a massive sprawling affair that starts in 1899 in a doctor’s office where an old man and his grandson are seeking help. Then, a picture glimpsed on the wall prompts an alarmed look on the grandfather’s face and suddenly he’s diving back through a wibbly wobbly dissolve to a former time, when the Emperor and the Shoguns were facing off for one of their periodic powerplays, and the mercenary samurai were girding themselves for the last heave. The story of … Read more
Nick Nolte and Don Cheadle in Hotel Rwanda

Hotel Rwanda

In 1994, 800,000-plus Tutsis were butchered by their Hutu neighbours while the West debated whether this was genocide or merely isolated “genocidal acts”– i.e. not serious enough to warrant intervention. A decade on and the conflict is beginning to arrive on cinema screens, and most of the attempts to turn a dark day in human history into screen entertainment are taking the Schindler’s List approach – finding the rare good thing in a sea of bloody mayhem. As has director Terry George in this effectively realised true story about Rwanda’s own “Schindler”, Paul Rusesabagina, a hotel manager who risked his Hutu hide to save upwards of 1,000 Tutsis. This is an incredibly tense … Read more

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