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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
Sylvester Stallone in Bullet to the Head

3 June 2013-06-03

Out in the UK this week Bullet to the Head (Entertainment One, cert 18, Blu-ray/DVD) Last week it was Arnie in The Last Stand. This week the DVD shelves are groaning with 400lbs of mechanically recovered Sylvester Stallone, complete with new facelift and hair (though there’s not much you can do about that creaky old gait). It’s a dick-swinging action movie directed by Walter Hill, who memorably gave us 48 Hours. Bullet to the Head is 48 Hours part two, you could say, with Sly as the criminal being partnered by reluctant cop buddy (the rather good though underused Sung Kang) to take down a bad guy (Christian Slater, sneering at 16:9 ratio). … Read more
Alexa Vega in Sleepover

Sleepover

Alexa Vega – the girl component of Spy Kids – gets her own teenage vehicle, and it’s the sort of film it’s very easy to be snarky about, especially if you’re not the target audience. It’s the usual teen/tween fare, in fact, about girls who are obsessed with friends, boyfriends and status and focusing on Alexa and her mates who must embark on a scavenger hunt against the film’s obligatory Rich Bitches to win a treasure hunt. The hunt itself has no importance except to keep the film going but then there are a lot of films that use the flimsiest of pretexts to keep things bubbling along. In other news, Ferris Bueller’s … Read more
Jim Carrey in Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events

Lemony Snicket’s a Series of Unfortunate Events

Somewhere near the end of this highly anticipated children’s adventure movie there’s a cameo by Dustin Hoffman. He just blurs on, says a couple of indistinct phrases and is not seen again. The pointlessness of his appearance is indicative of what’s wrong with this film, a series of disconnected and poorly motivated events which no amount of star power – Jim Carrey, Meryl Streep, Billy Connolly, Timothy Spall – can give shape to. There’s even narration courtesy of Jude Law, though it could be Father Christmas for all the difference it makes. The plot follows three young orphans, bookish Klaus, resourceful Emily and gurgling infant Sunny, as they are farmed out to a … Read more
Anne Hathaway and Hugh Dancy in Ella Enchanted

Ella Enchanted

Cinderella updated, with Anne Hathaway as the luckless teen Ella and Hugh Dancy as Prince Char. You see what they’re doing with the names? As with the names so with the film – it doesn’t quite work. For starters we have Hathaway herself – so sweet and milky she could double up as a bedtime drink. Then there’s the plot, which has Ella being given a special gift by her fairy godmother (Vivica A Fox). This “gift” is that she must obey any order she is given. This is someone’s idea of a clever feminist twist on the old story – girls and their constrained life choices – but it hamstrings the plot, … Read more
Sabrina Ferilli and Toni Servillo in The Great Beauty

The Films of Paolo Sorrentino

Paolo Sorrentino’s latest film, La Grande Bellezza (The Great Beauty) is a portrait of Rome through the eyes of a world weary writer. It’s being hailed as Sorrentino’s La Dolce Vita and stars Sorrentino’s Marcello Mastroianni, Toni Servillo. It’s close to a masterpiece in other words, making this a good time to take a look at the career of Italy’s best film-maker right now. Firmly in the tradition of the 1960s generation of Fellini and Visconti, yet clearly his own man too, Sorrentino’s films are intelligent, engaged, stylish, beautifully made and intriguing – they’ve got the lot, in short. One Man Up (2001) Sorrentino’s debut feature also saw him team up with Toni … Read more
Charlotte Rampling and Ménothy Cesar sit on a bed

Heading South

Charlotte Rampling often gets a free pass in films. Sometimes that’s for all the right reasons, such as her association with great directors such as Visconti, Lelouch or Ozon. Sometimes for the wrong ones – the more generalised cultural cringe before the French, with whom she’s also had a long association. The films she’s in often get the free pass too. Let’s take this drama, ostensibly something very daring about matronly white women heading to Haiti to be boned by the local black youth. There are many ways of describing this film but in all honesty it is an interminable drag and actually at its most boring while Rampling and fellow harpies (including … Read more
Amy Huck as the nanny obeying Damien's orders in The Omen

The Omen

Thirty years on, a pointless remake of the film that put quite a few bums on seats in 1976. Back then Gregory Peck was playing the American diplomat slowly realising he’s bringing up the spawn of Satan, and Lee Remick (an expert in lip-tightening panic) was the wife. This time Liev Schreiber and Julia Stiles have the dubious honour. In spite of the disaster movie craze and the example of the late career of Bette Davis, it was still quite unusual in the mid-1970s for a big star like Peck to appear in a horror movie – genre was for wimps. But the studios were realising that the likes of Jaws were changing … Read more

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