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Colossal (2016)
Curious fantasy drama is flawed but still worth a look, 29 May 2017

Colossal is a film from Spanish director Nacho Vigalondo. It stars Anne Hathaway as Gloria, a thirty-something wastrel who would much rather be out all night drinking with her friends than growing up, getting a job etc.

When she is dumped by her boyfriend (Dan Stevens, channeling Hugh Grant) and kicked out of the flat they share, she returns to her hometown and the rental house her parents own where she almost immediately meets old school friend Oscar (Jason Sudeikis) who not only has always had feelings for his old school friend, but also happens to own a bar and employs Gloria as a waitress.

One drunken evening ends with Gloria spending the night on a playground bench, the same night a giant monster appears over Seoul wreaking havoc. Gloria slowly begins to realise that she may have something to do with this event, in fact the monster may actually be her...

This is a strange film, let's be frank - you ain't going to see something like this again this, or any, year. It is like a Godzilla film seen through the prism of indie self-improvement films like Garden State. Or, if you prefer, something akin to Juno with a Kaiju.

It is a film that is a little unsure of itself, despite the brilliant idea at its core. It is not a comedy, though it is fitfully amusing and the presence of Sudeikis, nor is it a 'growing up' movie, instead it is closer to a monster movie, but the monsters involved are not necessarily the obvious green stompy thing flattening Seoul, more the monsters that live within each and every one of us. However it never quite pulls all of its themes and plot threads together satisfactorily, perhaps it never could, and its tone is a little uneven in places. This is a film that does not go where you think the premise might take it. This is a surprisingly dark film, with unapologetic, unlikable characters that are obsessed with nihilistic, destructive emotions and struggle to repress and control them when really they wish to embrace them.

Hathaway, as far away from her traditional elfin princess appearance as she's ever been, is effective as Gloria, though we never really warm to her. It is a measure of the actress's skill that we are clearly not meant to ever love and root for Gloria, but we do wish the best for her, we hope she makes the 'right' choices that would assist her goal to get her life under control even though we know, deep down, she's hopeless. Peering out from under an unflattering fringe, hair unkempt and unbrushed, black eye make-up and cracked lips she bears an uncanny resemblance to UK TV presenter Claudia Winkleman. Hers is a performance of charm, darkness, obsession, addiction and cruelty.

The revelation is Sudeikis who initially delivers his standard, unimpressive, nice guy schtick- a performance he is very good at, it's just not hugely stand-out - but as the film, and Oscar, take a darker tone, Sudeikis subtly shifts gear, moving into menace and threat. It is an unstable performance, shifting suddenly and violently between nice guy and monster A man unhappy with his life, Oscar the bar owner is a thin veneer of respectability and decency wrapped around a cruel narcissistic bully. Sudeikis brilliantly shows the veneer cracking, splitting and revealing the monster that inhabits the man. It is a very impressive performance.

The dark themes, twisted characters and bonkers premise was never going to be completed satisfactorily, and it isn't. The plot demands the mystery is resolved and the threat dealt with and the film does so, but not as neatly or imaginatively as you might hope. It proves impossible to reconcile the two parts of the story, monster in Seoul and monster in soul, in a way that serves both threads well. It is hard to root for Gloria as she finally steps up the the heroine role the monster in Seoul story thread demands, because we've seen she's really a bit of a hopeless selfish drunken stupid girl.

Colossal is imaginative, flawed film blessed with exceptional performances from Stevens, Hathaway and especially Sudeikis. It is not a comedy, it is not a monster movie (though there are loads of loving homages in shots and music cues), it is not an indie redemption movie, it is all of those things together, and it is not a total success, but nor is it a total failure. It is a curiosity, and if you are cinematically curious, you should check it out.

Sleepless (2017/III)
0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Muddled and wholly implausible thriller wastes good cast and great premise, 3 May 2017

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Sleepless is a remake of a French thriller "Nuit blanche" (White Night) and stars Michelle Monaghan and Jamie Foxx. Foxx and partner T. I Harris are corrupt cops who accidentally steal 25kgs of cocaine from Casino Kingpin Rubino (played by Dermot Mulroney) which was actually meant to be delivered to local psycho Scoot McNairy who had promised to make up the shortfall of a drugs deal that had been intercepted by the DEA to his father who, it is implied, is absolutely f***ing terrifying.

With Foxx identified as the thief, Mulroney kidnaps his son, Thomas, to force Foxx to bring the drugs to the casino for an exchange. Unfortunately hard bitten Internal Affairs cops Michelle Monaghan and Stranger Things' David Harbour are on his trail and seize the cocaine from Foxx' hidey hole as evidence.

So Foxx no longer has the drugs to trade for his son, Mulroney has his son but no drugs. McNairy has no drugs, but a lot of pressure from his dad, and Monaghan has the drugs but no arrests.

So that's the setup and it is delicious. The film is driven along by a throbbing, pulsing electronic score, and the tension rises and rises as the stakes become clear, and are much higher than any of the characters realise.

For the first half hour this film is great, you really think this is going to be something great and, when the action finally arrives (surprisingly late in the day), it is crunchy and punchy and you think this film is going to be great.

Unfortunately, it isn't. Too many implausible incidents happen, things occur out of character, and the film seems determined to jam as many action staples within its delicious, restricted setup as it is possible to do. Hint, you cannot stage a plausible car chase within a casino. It is not possible.

Foxx is fine, Monaghan is better, but both are poorly served by the film. It has a Taken vibe, but without the scope of an entire city to play in, or a sense of fun. It reminded me of such failures as Bruce Willis' Hostage and last year's One-Eight Seven.

It's not that it is stupid, it is just too implausible and poorly structured. Not recommended.

4 out of 10 people found the following review useful:
Lacks the element of surprise, but Guardians 2 is just as much a blast!, 3 May 2017

Going into a cinema with no real idea what you are going to see is a rare experience. Nowadays films seem intent of giving away everything in the trailer, or the hype is so detailed that the film sounds rubbish and you're not going to see it anyway.

The first Guardians of the Galaxy film was a similar experience. Here was a wacky sounding premise from Marvel: a sci-fi space opera with no known characters, no links to the established Marvel Cinematic Universe and contained a character who was a talking tree with limited vocabulary.

There was no real need to worry, the first Guardians was a highly imaginative, colourful, lively, fresh and funny movie with a robust rolling plot, instantly lovable characters, quotable dialog and, get this, it was fun. Seriously fun.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2 is, guess what, the first sequel that introduced us to Peter 'Starlord' Quill, Gamora, Drax, Rocket Racoon and Groot and it has a lot to live up to. No matter that all the cast returned, along with writer/director James Gunn, there was always the worry that the first film was a fluke, a one-off never to be repeated. The oft-mentioned threat of rolling this free-spirited franchise into the wider MCU also raised eyebrows (and concerns).

Therefore I am happy to say that Guardians 2 (as literally no-one is calling it) is a worthy sequel to the original film. It is a slick, funny, colourful intergalactic romp that is resolutely like nothing else in the MCU and is just as good as the original . Though not hugely different from the first, who cares when a film is this much fun.

The story of Vol 2 (any better?) sees our heroes battling a interdimensional space beast on behalf of Elizabeth Debecki's race of beautiful gold beings called The Sovereign. One swift double- cross later and a mighty space battle ensues causing our characters to crash on a remote planet when they are finally tracked down by Kurt Russell's Ego. An ancient god-like living planet who just happens to be Quill's long lost father.

One of the signature joys of a Guardians film are the snap scenes, scenes that don't really advance the plot, but provide character moments that are sometimes sweet, sometimes caustic, but nearly always very funny. Other snap scenes are simply extremely stupid - at one point Yondo and Rocket perform multiple hyperspace jumps which wreak havoc on their physiology. A joke so silly that visiting it twice is only natural.

Performances are all excellent, with an particular nod to Kurt Russell as Ego, whose performance is subtle and well delivered, even when he is reduced to CGI for the inevitable climax, and Elizabeth Debecki who, despite being drowned in unflattering gold paint, delivers a performance of frustrated rage and despair hidden under a shell of calm control. See her performance in "the-scene-where-the- carpet-runs- out" for an example.

Visually the film never quite delivers some of the gob-smacking spectacles of the first - there is nothing that quite compares to "Nowhere" in the first film for example. However it is still a lush, colourful look at space that is always attractive to look at.

There are other problems, the last 10-15 minutes descends into the CGI slug-fest that mars so many of these films and swiftly becomes tiresome. Also the whole film differs from the first by not visiting any of the characters and locations we visited in the first film, there's none of the Novacorp that set up much fun in the first film. The film is, in my opinion, weaker for not having our ragamuffin heroes dropped into and frustrating an icily organised and civilised society, and the Sovereign don't quite cut it.

However these are minor quibbles. This is a film packed to the rafters with character, comedy bickering, whip-crack dialogue, stupid visual jokes, clever character moments, joyous action and a desperately cute baby tree.

Perhaps the real problem with GotGv2 (nope, there is no shorthand that's going to work) is that is no longer a surprise, it is no longer that exciting new thing. The flaws of the first film, a weak villain, unclear plotting and over the top CGI climax, are still present here. If anything the plot is a little worse than the original. To beat this James Gunn turns everything up to eleven and, you know what, it works.

It's a fantastic film, one of the year's best, and it comes highly recommended. But be warned if you have not seen the first film, you may be a little lost.

Not the comedy it is billed as, but a fine film nonetheless, 3 May 2017

Their Finest is a war-time drama about Welsh journalist Catrin Cole, winningly played by Gemma Arterton, who gets seconded to the Ministry of Information film department to write the 'slop', or women's dialogue for the much-derided 'informationals' that made up part of a trip to the cinema in 1940. Once there she deals with standard establishment bigotry from likes of Richard E Grant and Jeremy Irons but shows her talent enough to be recommended by Sam Caflin's Tom Buckley to help out on a possible feature film about two sisters who stole their father's boat and rescued soldiers from Dunkirk. Once this film within a film starts, we meet Bill Nighy as Ambrose Hilliard, a grandiose actor past his prime actor who thinks he's thirty years old and still awesome. The film makers then have to deal with propaganda demands from the ministry of war (add in a genuine American airman, who naturally cannot act), a constantly shifting script, complicated actors as well as the stresses and strains of life during the war years, and the challenges of finding and holding on to love during the particular challenges of the Blitz.

On the whole I found this film entertaining, but a little uneven. It was frequently quite funny, then sad, then hopeful, then bittersweet, then funny again, which makes it very hard to pigeonhole into a single genre. It is slightly romantic, it is gently comedic, but it is also hard edged and, in places, quite brutal. It is also unable to wholly avoid cliché, which is a bit of a shame.

However, the performances are, uniformly, fantastic. Gemma Arterton combines sweetness and steel in a measured, nuanced performance that is utterly winning. Catrin comes across at times a naive, even downtrodden, but also strong and bloody-minded. She's a complex, fully rounded character and Arterton delivers her with skill. Likewise Sam Caflin is superb as the acerbic, sexist even cruel co- screenwriter Tom Buckley. The man is a hard-to-pin down character who is frequently utterly horrible, but Caflin's performance enables us to find a damaged, even likable man within the outwardly hideous character without the script needing to telegraph his innate decency. It's an extremely tricky role, and Caflin pulls it off admirably. Bill Nighy too could have simply cruised through his role, seeing as it effectively just requires him to be the Bill Nighy role he's performed for years now, but the actor brings more to well crafted character, allowing him to be more than just the light relief. In a film of subtleties, Nighy's ever so gentle romance with Helen McCrory, and his understated 'bromance' with Eddie Marsden's agent (both supporting roles expertly performed) is amongst the most subtle.

The script, by Gaby Chiappe, delivers these fine actors with plenty of well-wrought lines and subtle characterisation, though I do wonder if it would have been better served with a bit more time, despite this being quite a long film. We do sometimes lurch from horror to banality, though it never loses sight of the deprivations of wartime. Sometimes the incongruity of the daily routine is brutally disrupted by the destructive, deadly bombing of the German Blitz. Other times the day-to-day ho-hum routine of sheltering, working and even loving whilst at any moment a bomb could explode and end your life, is beautifully drawn. It just occasionally feels a bit rushed, or a bit 'paint by numbers'. One wonders with a bit more running time if these various elements could have been blended together a bit more evenly. However this is nitpicking. Ione Scherfig, the director, has delivered a fine film, balancing the horrors of wartime, the struggles of women to be accepted in a man's world where most of the men are elsewhere, and a fine examination of the craft of 1940's film-making.

By the end of the film, when despite of all the problems that have beset the production and our heroes, we see cinema audiences reacting to the fruits of their labours, you have to possess a hard heart not to feel lifted. Its a fine film about women shaking off the shackles of the pre-war bigotry, rising to the challenge of the world , and succeeding.

As Bill Nighy's Ambrose Hilliard says at one point "we only get these opportunities because young men are fighting, and dying, elsewhere." This is a film about opportunities and when to seize them. It is not a comedy, not a laugh riot, and it is being misrepresented by the advertising. It is, however, a well made , very well acted, wartime drama. And, if you are in the mood for this kind of film, you would do well to look it out.

"Dracula" (2013)
17 out of 38 people found the following review useful:
Anemic re-telling of the Dracula fable is a pointless exercise, 7 November 2013

Right, the good. This is a handsome production with terrific costume and set design.

Now the bad. This is a pointless, toothless, bloodless piece of TV that misses the whole point on what makes Dracula one of the greatest of all literary monsters.

1) Dracula seems to be more interested in his handsome black servant than any of the bosomy women who apparently find him irresistible.

2) Dracula seems to be solely interested getting the UK to use less oil - so he's an eco-vampire? Can you have a green vampire? 3) He's all about revenge, apparently. Revenge when you are immortal is simply, turn up at your nemesis' deathbed and seduce his daughter - you win. It's not inventing a wireless electric power source.

4) He's appears to be slightly interested in Mina Murray, who's sadly the blandest, most wooden thing since someone painted a wall magnolia. Unfortunately she's probably the most fleshed-out character in the whole piece... Jonathan Harker looks permanently perplexed, yet appears to be being set up as the brains of the organisation...

5) It's so dark any blood looks like chocolate sauce. However this darkness is never used to create a sense of dread or foreboding, or provide cover for a shock reveal, it's merely there for you to find out if the brightness control on your TV works...

5a) Oh, and there's not enough blood - this is Dracula FFS! 6) It's about as sexy as a stone. I've never seen any man be that disinterested in an enormous heaving bosom.

It's impressive as Rhys-Myers managed to make the boorish, overweight, ulcerated, forty-year old Henry VIII into a chippendale-esque 20-something lothario that humped everything with a pulse, but has made the incredibly sexy, dangerous, desirable, immortal count into, and I can hardly being myself to say this, an industrialist. Think Donald Trump without the ability to see his own reflection...

Could have been worse, he could have been a banker or a lawyer, but I guess that's witticism too far.

Basically this is a pointless bit of TV. In addition to above flaws, it is guilty of delivering an under-developed over-arching plot, no sense of villain or hero we should be rooting for, virtually no in-episode plot worth mentioning so everything is a bit dull, and no sense of compulsion for use viewers to wait for the next episode.

Flat, poor and bloodless. Hopefully not immortal.

1 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
Worst Episode ever, 4 October 2013

*** This review may contain spoilers ***


Okay let's start with the good - the stunts were impressive and there was a decent amount of destruction going on.

Hem, that's it. This was by some way the worst episode of this up and down series yet - and yes that includes the episodes where Steve stages a one man invasion of North Korea...


Can anyone explain to me the plan of the terrorists? So they knew where Wo-Fat was being held and were able to storm a massively defended prison cell (with only four guys - okay), but they then storm a second well defended target to shoot the one surviving member of the original storming team? Or was the data download of Kono's location their real target? So they were in the employ of the Yakuza?, so why the suicide pact?

Okay, let's chalk that one up to the on-going plot madness.

Where did the machine-guns come from? The terrorists were set free by McGarrett and Danno and flee in Danny's Camaro, followed by Chin-Ho. Next time they stop the car, all four of them have long barrel full-auto rifles. Presumably they didn't stop somewhere and buy them (as Chin-Ho would have, I hope, noticed), where did they come from? Steve's secret stash in the trunk?

Nope, poor writing that's where that came from. And GM's requirement that Danny stops driving a 4-year old model of car, maybe?

Let's not even try to figure out how three big blokes and one girl are all able to get out of a two-door coupe, with long barrel weaponry, and while firing on a target? Not a chance.

It got worse, amazingly.

So the NLM big bad is on the island and has been there long enough to engineer a breakdown in Katherine's Corvette in order to kidnap her, but not long enough to charter a helicopter or boat, or rent some form of safe-house. Instead they steal a TV helicopter. Why? Hawaii's full of charter helicopter businesses, we've seen them enough in the series - Hell, Kamekona's got one. Why steal a helicopter that is guaranteed to be missed by its owners? OK, maybe it's the only one they could steal, but if you have a stolen helicopter, surely landing it in the middle of the local football stadium is not the most subtle of hiding places?

Anyway, so you are the terrorists and you've gotten clean away - Chin's car's shot to pieces, the Camaro is on fire, Steve and Danny are in a van, and all three of them say the bad guys have gotten away. So why not drive like a lunatic?

Oh and you've got a van with five compatriots in it heading for a helicopter that has four, maybe five seats, but already has one pilot and one armed goon sitting on the halfway line, waiting.

Basically it's one of the worst thought out 'bad guy plan' I've seen in a long time. I'm not a pedant, I'm more than happy to let plot holes pass by, but this episode was an insult to my intelligence. It was rushed, sloppy, shoddy and frankly terrible.

Action aside, which was nicely staged, and Chi McBride's introduction, this was a terrible episode. I can only hope it improves.

The Artist (2011/I)
1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Pure Retro Joy, 18 January 2012

George Valentin is the silent movie star. He and his dog, Jack, are the stars of many a hit film. They are loved by their public and boy, do they know it. But George's life is about to be turned upside down by the advent of a new technology - sound. George's pride and arrogance make him blind to the fact that the audience want to hear their stars as well as see them, and so begins his slow slide into obscurity.

The story to the Artist is a well worn one, and one that was a staple of many of the melodramas of the period it recreates. It is a good enough story, well told and well acted even if it drags a little towards the end, but it is not where the true joy of "The Artist" lies.

The Artist is wonderful for a huge number of reasons. Firstly the performances from everyone involved are superb, delivering their (silent) lines with the perfect collection of facial expressions and body language. You may not be able to keep up with what they are saying, but you understand what their characters are feeling. Those of you who may be worried about enjoying a silent film, don't be. The film draws you in and involves you with the characters and their story. You don't miss a thing.

Though the entire cast are spectacular, especially Jean Dejardin and Berenice Bejo as George and Pepe, I felt a special love for Penelope Ann Miller as George's wife Doris, James Cromwell as Clifton, and a fantastically curmudgeonly Malcolm McDowell as an unimpressed extra. Auggie the Dog though, as George's most loyal friend, is spectacular. He delivers a genuine performance as opposed to just seeming to be a collection of cute tricks. What could have been cutesy or mawkish comes across as genuinely believable.

On the technical front the film is unusual and innovative. The film makers commit to a historically accurate 4:3 ratio image, to title cards and simple graphics to highlight their story, but this also allows them to play around with the conventions. The locked off, fixed cameras of the silent era is often mixed in with more modern dolly shots; there are hints of colourisation, occasional graphic touches appear that were beyond film makers of the late 1920s. All these little touches highlight a point, emphasise a character or underline an emotion.

All of this technical detail is enhanced by the wonderful score which swells, drops, meanders, dances, mopes and soars along with the audience's emotions. Because of the lack of dialogue and sound effects, "The Artist" highlights the power of music and moving pictures to deliver emotion to the audience.

The re-creation of early Hollywood and Burbank is detailed but not glorious. Unlike beautiful re-creations such as LA Confidential however, the Hollywood of "The Artist" feels a busy, lively and warm place. There is a sense of community throughout the film: people may forget who you were, but they don't forget that you are a person.

This is key to the film's charm. It isn't mean-spirited. It reminded me of "It's a Wonderful Life", a film that never fails to make you smile.

But most importantly of all, it reminds you of the power of moving pictures. One wonderful sequence is a long static shot of two floors and an interconnecting staircase on which our leads stand, conversing. Around them, above them, below them, past them, rush busy people. All this movement all around the frame just serves to underline the immobility of our romantic leads - so involved are they in each other, the world is literally passing them by. It is wonderfully romantic, warm and delicate scene, but achieved without the use of sound, speech or even our leads in focus.

It isn't perfect, some on-screen prompts come across as clumsy and the shallow plot sags just a bit in the final third, but the charm and wit of the piece easily surmounts this minor quibbles. It is hard not to dislike a film that delivers its fair quotient of zingers via the medium of text.

The film is warm, romantic, witty, smart and utterly charming. It deserves to win many an award.

Senna (2010)
Stunning, powerful film that everyone will enjoy, not just motorsport fans, 26 October 2011

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Perhaps I should begin this review by saying that, in my opinion, Ayrton Senna was the greatest driver Formula One has ever seen. Schumacher may have seven world championships, Prost may have won more races, but as a racing driver, Senna was the best.

This frankly magnificent documentary tells the story of Ayrton from his first move to Europe as a young man to compete in karts, through his explosive entry into Formula One to his tragic death at Imola in 1994. It is entirely made up of archive clips, many never seen before such as intimate home video clips and back stage footage from FOM driver's briefings, with voice overs either from Ayrton himself on the clips, or from new interviews with those who worked with the man or lived with him.

As such the film is a masterpiece in editing and assembly, culled from thousands of hours of footage the director, Asif Kapadia and Manish Pandey, the writer, have been able to tell Senna's story in a way that allows us to understand this complex individual, his passions and his fears, his hopes and his wishes. As the film reaches its climax at that dreadful weekend in San Marino 94 we feel like we know what is going through Ayrton's mind, and we understand his choices and decisions.

Because of this tight focus on the man and his chosen profession, the film is not an intimate portrait. We understand little of Senna's personal life, for example his short lived marriage before he raced in F1 is not mentioned, nor his next girlfriend who he started dating when she was just fifteen, nor the fact that his girlfriend at his death, Adriane Galisteu, was not looked upon favourably by Senna's family and instead installed Brazilian TV star Xuxa, a previous lover, as his 'official widow'. Likewise the film doesn't dwell on the controversy that surrounds Senna's death (both sides of the argument are mentioned once each and that's it), nor the ferocious controversy that some of Senna's actions, particularly his war of words with the Benetton team or the infamous time he punched Jordan rookie Eddie Irvine in the face. Those looking for a complete portrait of the man, warts and all, should look elsewhere.

But then this isn't one of those pandering F1 documentaries that cater solely for the F1 fans. This, instead, is a film that can be enjoyed by anybody, fan or not. It is a compelling story of a driven individual and his desire to be the best at his sport. Senna never, ever quit on a race track, he never stopped trying, never stopped racing even if the only person he had left to beat was himself. His rivalry with Alain Prost, another great F1 driver, is nicely told here, as are his legendary battles with the FIA, the sport's governing body. Indeed the latter delivers us some of the most electric scenes in the film - nothing whatsoever to do with fast cars, but instead the brutal clashing of egos and opinions that lie at the heart of this most political of sports. Not for nothing is F1 nicknamed "The Piranha Club".

Ultimately Senna is a rare film. It is a documentary that tells a complete story with a solid beginning, middle and end, and provides tension, excitement, wonder and sadness. It is an emotional watch because it allows us to connect with the man beneath the helmet, something that is so hard to do in the closely guarded world of F1. It is an inspirational watch because it shows us what we can all achieve if we apply the talents we all have. And it is an educational watch, because it shows us a sport in transition. Senna raced through the start of the electronic period, where traction control, computerised ride height, launch control and anti-lock brakes took much of the skill required away from the drivers and encouraged them to go faster and faster. Senna's death, the last in Formula One, led to a period of introspection by the sport, the old order at the FIA was swept away, and a new era began with safety at the forefront. Old narrow tracks such as Imola were either dropped from the calendar or adapted to make them safer. Sid Watkins, Ayrton's friend, developed the HANS device, pioneered the use of high speed doctors cars and improved circuit medical facilities, the engines were made smaller and less powerful, the tyres had reduced grip all of which have helped Formula One maintain an enviable safety record in a sport that is dangerous by its very nature.

At the end of the film we are aware of the man's life, his achievements, his battles and his death, as well as a greater understanding of the sport in which he competed, but not necessarily loved. Senna is a superb film that has been rightly praised and really should not be missed.

2 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
Fantastic slow-burning future classic, 22 September 2011

From its slow, languid, unfussy titles through to its half focused final shot Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is an exercise in classy film making. It possesses perfect period feel and the best cast of the year all delivering a masterclass in film acting.

This is a slow burning story, played out predominantly in stuffy, over bright rooms laced with smoke and questionable decor. It is a game played across countries, by arrogant men with questionable morals and poor manners, deciding the fate of men and women in order to get what they all want: Treasure.

With MI6 still reeling from the exposure of the Cambridge spies, shut out from the American Intelligence sources and desperate for a win in the game. Control (John Hurt), convinced of a Soviet spy in the intelligence service, is losing respect of his younger division heads. When an operation in Bucharest, known only to the highest echelons of the Service, is disrupted by the Russians, Control's enemies seize their opportunity and force the old man and his confidante, George Smiley (Gary Oldman) out. Now an outsider, Smiley is the perfect person to investigate on behalf of a suspicious bureaucrat (Simon McBurney) who begins to think that there may be something in Control's paranoid theories after all.

As so the plot goes, twisting and turning, the pieces slowly coming together in the mind of Gary Oldman's Smiley. A quiet man, not into grandstanding like his contemporaries, instead he quietly and methodically collects information, building up the story. How do we know this? It's written on Oldman's face. Smiley is not a showy role, it demands subtlety from its actor. Oldman is not the first choice, given his scenery chewing roles in Fifth Element or Leon, but he is simply magnificent. In every twitch of his mouth, or long stare into the middle distance, a little something more is revealed about Smiley. What he thinks, what he needs, what he wants. It's all written there on his tired, unsmiling face.

This is not a spy story for the Bourne generation, it's closer to a genre thought long dead - the true cold war thriller like The Conversation, though I kept being reminded of The Odessa Steps or Day of the Jackal. Its pacing is perfect throughout, similar to The Wire in it's slow unraveling of a story told through a lot of disparate characters and from a lot of different viewpoints.

That's not to say there isn't drama or tension here, it's just a very different sort of drama. The most tense moment involves the theft of some papers from a cupboard. It doesn't sound like much, but it is a gripping sequence, full of fear and paranoia.

We've mentioned Oldman, who must be in for an Oscar nomination, but the rest of the cast are all superb, with Mark Strong, Benedict Cumberbatch and Tom Hardy especially impressive.

Huge kudos to the production department for their recreation of early 70's London and all the grimness that entails. From Smiley's glasses (actually sourced by Oldman himself) to the awful Christmas party held by the Circus staff which, as a flashback, anchors much of the plot the detailing is perfect, especially when shot through the roving long lenses of director Tomas Alfredson.

For all the sumptuous detail, consummate acting and magnificent pacing, something had to give, and unfortunately the final reveal of the mole is not the sickening gut punch it should have been. "It was him, of course it was him." It's a problem with this being a film, there isn't enough time to give all of the characters equal attention, keep that ambiguity going to the end.

But this is a very minor quibble in two plus hours of sumptuous high quality mature entertainment. Perhaps my face resembled that of Smiley's at the end, as the montage of the winners and losers flows by, as he's finished putting the case to bed, as the betrayed come to terms with their situation. Smiley's plain features show the faintest ghost of satisfaction, of a man pleased with his work, and of a game well played.

Super 8 (2011)
0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Not bad ... but, 11 August 2011

Super 8 is JJ Abrams' ode to those great kids films that we remember from the 80s. You know, films like Back to the Future, E.T., Stand By Me, Explorers, Gremlins, Poltergeist and the like. These were good solid adventure films well written, beautifully directed and told from a kid's perspective.

The houses were always huge, the kids had all sorts of cool gadgets (this was the UK in the 80s after all), there was always acres of space a short BMX ride away (hey, those cool kids had BMXs dagnabbit). These kids had so much freedom to get into adventures. As kids growing up in rainy Gloucester we were jealous. Okay so, as we've grown up we've picked up on the unhappy childhoods many of this kids actually had (E.T.'s Elliot was fatherless, Stand By Me's Geordie was rejected by his father after his brother's death) and the surprisingly emotive subplots that hid beneath the kid-friendly adventures.

Super 8 has been unashamedly been trading on this nostalgia, in particular mentioning E.T. and Stand By Me. It even has the maestro of much of that early 80's magic, Steven Spielberg, as executive producer. Abrams has also got great pedigree with the creation of fun, smart entertainment - Alias, Cloverfield and the re-boot of Star Trek (I know, and Lost which was great for 3.5 seasons ... then fell apart).

So, does Super 8 deliver on all it's promise? Well ... kinda.

I think my biggest problem with Super 8 is that it feels like two completely different films stuck together, and not that successfully either.

The weaker element of the story is the monster movie, which is a bit of a surprise considering the director's previous work. Abrams does craft some decent jump moments and is a member of the "less is more" school of monster film-making, which is always more enjoyable than the gory munch brigade. But the monster is merely a cipher, having no real back-story and demanding no real investment from the audience, it's just there as a hook. There is one scene at the end, where some hidden depth in the creature is revealed (literally). This one scene ties the two parts of the story together and is largely successful, as well as unexpected, it's just that everything that has gone before is just so ... clumsy.

There's a nasty air force leader, a collection of mysterious objects, some magnetism, but it all just happens; there's no build up, or tension, or mystery outside of "what's that?" Spielberg, at his best, would have woven a sense of wonder into the strange goings on, and would have also kept his focus closely on the kids - Abrams wanders, giving most of the investigative role to our hero's estranged father, which takes away one of the great joys of the kids' flick - Kids trying to persuade Adult Authority that they're telling the truth. Remember that scene in The Goonies? Or E.T. with Elliot's mom? There's nothing like that in Super 8, and it suffers because of it.

However the other side of the tale, the story of recuperation after a trauma and the story of friendship and having an adventure, is thankfully much stronger. In fact, I found myself wishing that Abrams had explored this side of things more and avoided much of the bombast that jars the film. It's actually terrific fun watching the kids run around and create their terrible zombie movie, deal with older siblings, younger siblings and parental relationships that make no sense to you when you're a kid. It's also touching to witness that first crush, and the rivalries that can afflict a group of boys when girls start becoming interesting. These moments should be the cornerstones of the story, the heartbeats that bring it alive and make it dramatic, but instead Super 8 chooses the bombast and spectacle of its monster story for its movie moments. And that's a shame.

Super 8 works better when its smaller, quieter story is in command, and it also allows its collection of excellent child actors the chance to stretch themselves a bit. Joel Courtney, as lead character Joe, holds the film together, selling emotion as well as the outlandish actions sequences equally well, though he does only get one real emotional scene. Elle Fanning as Alice is excellent in every scene and should follow younger sister Dakota along that tricky path form child star to adult actor. Of the other children in the group, only Riley Griffiths as Charles, the director is developed which is a shame. I would have liked to know more about the dynamic within the group. It should also be said that both Ron Eldard (an actor possessed of the saddest face I've ever seen) and Kyle Chandler as Alice and Joe's respective fathers, tied together through tragedy and hating every minute, are both superb.

Super 8 thinks it's E.T, with the monster movie front and centre and essential to the piece, but in fact it is the quieter, friends film that is better and should have been given more screen time. The massive train crash (spectacular, but way, way over the top - how fast was that train going?) and the hugely destructive finale all sit uncomfortably with many of the quieter scenes. Large chunks of the monster story don't seem to make sense, though there are some great ideas here, and what's not to love about having the man trying to set the alien free being played by the same actor who accidentally released the first Gremlin? Basically there was a really tremendously great movie hiding inside Super 8, but for various reasons it's missing. Which is a real shame. However comparing it to the standard of the current crop of blockbuster films this year, it's very nearly a masterpiece.

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