Thursday, 20 September 2012

Movie #30 Lawless

John Hillcoat’s third major film, based on a novel (in turn based on a true story), sees him take on a family of moonshiners in Prohibition-era Virginia. Again, he teams up with Nick Cave who scripted and (with fellow Bad Seed Warren Ellis) scored.

I enjoyed Hillcoat’s first international success, the Australian revenge-Western The Proposition, very much. On the other hand, 2009’s ultra-bleak The Road made for pretty tough watching, though it had a rare quality of grim fascination. Lawless is less successful than either, having neither the ripping-yarn story of the former nor the single-minded tautness of the latter.

Hillcoat and Cave have high hopes for their film – it’s pitched toward ‘epic’ taking on grand themes: family, vengeance, justice, redemption. In its dreams, Lawless would be a kind of Sergio Leone-scripted mountain man re-imagining of The Godfather, albeit focusing on Shia LaBeouf’s Fredo-a-like runt of the litter.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Excuses, excuses...

OK, so it's been a while, now, and I might have one or two excuses for my continued movie silence - I have unexpectedly picked up a social life over the last few months, plus fabulous sporting events (Euro 2012, Tour de France) have proved somewhat more enticing than a slew of average-lookin' flicks - but still, it's about time I posted something up here to prove that I'm still alive.

I have in fact seen a couple or three films since Marley, most notably Prometheus, which I do intend to post reviews of. However, for the time being the Slut remains on hiatus. Don't take it personally; I'm getting married next week, followed by a trip to the Olympics and the the full-blown honeymoon.

I hated Prometheus by the way. Stay tuned(ish) for reasons why.

Sunday, 29 April 2012

Movie #29 Marley


Do you like Bob Marley? Probably, yes you do, or at least it's difficult to say a categorical 'no'. How could you not? He not my favourite recording artist (probably not even in my top ten Jamaican artists full stop), but I don't dislike him. Who does? Even the Ku Klux Klan probably whack Legend on the turntable when they're kicking back with a beer after a good night's cross-burning.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Movie #28 The Cabin in the Woods


So, my first flick after a good month away from the cinema (seriously, don't ask) and I can't even really discuss it without giving anything away! To be honest, even the fact that you know you shouldn't hear about it before hand is a kind of spoiler.

So what to say about The Cabin in the Woods, then? Directed by Drew Goddard, produced by Joss Whedon and written by both, there is a great deal of both Buffy and Lost in what must inevitably be described as 'a deconstruction of the horror genre'. Ostensibly a slasher, much play is had with the tropes of the genre - and Lord knows horror has its tropes - but the central thesis (which I obviously can't reveal) is somewhat half-baked; essentially a Lovecraftian X-Files-meets-Evil Dead back-of-a-beermat notion that is cute but cannot bear the weight of a feature film.

More positively: there are some great performances to enjoy (most especially Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford); the direction is consistently suspenseful and, at times, genuinely brilliant; the third act is insanely good fun; there a lot of laughs (though they do make the overall tone of the film uneven); and the screenplay is commendably concise, with the movie clocking in at a highly Slut-approved 95 minutes.

Ultimately, while it's an 'A' for effort and good intentions, the execution is merely 'C+'. A bag of ideas that doesn't quite hang together, with a Destroy All Monsters climax that turns out to be very difficult to end satisfactorily (despite being great fun while it lasts). And despite the claims of originality, this kind of deconstruction has been seen before in such movies as Scream, Funny Games and (more obliquely) Adaptation; plot-wise there are many debts (beyond the multifarious horror tributes): The Matrix, The Truman Show, My Little Eye, Odishon, even The Ghostbusters. So, not the great cinematic statement that some would have you believe it is - but entertaining despite all that.

******6/10

Friday, 23 March 2012

Intermission - 2011 Catchup: Troll Hunter, Certified Copy, The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec, Project Nim

Troll Hunter

More found-footage fun, this time from Norway, as a documentary crew accidentally stumble across a disgruntled troll hunter, in the clandestine employ of the Norwegian government. It's clever and silly at the same time, convincingly produced and well worth a look. I am getting heartily sick of the found-footage device (see this rant), but it's used well here and actually makes sense as part of the story (as opposed to being a tenuous excuse for lame storytelling). The trolls themselves are fantastic and the surrounding mythology is very cleverly adapted into the modern-day setting. Seek this out on DVD, it's a gem.

*******8/10 

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Movie #27 We Bought A Zoo


Another quick one: the rather literally-titled We Bought a Zoo. Cameron Crowe's Damon/Johansson vehicle, is a curiously tricky thing to review. Not because it's a challenging example of the cinematic art, but because in fact, despite only seeing it a couple of days ago, I can barely remember anything about it.

Adapted from British journalist Benjamin Mee's whimsical memoir of his own experience doing up a run-down zoo in the (relative) wilds of Dartmoor, Crowe shifts the action to California, with widower dad Matt Damon upping sticks en famille from the big city to the titular zoo. And, as an inoffensive (apart from a couple of 'bullshit'-level swears), syrupy family Saturday afternoon melodrama, it's more-or-less OK: if all else fails, there are animals to look at.

So the good things, in brief: Thomas Haden Church is in it, the soundtrack is good and the animals are winningly photogenic. The downsides are more numerous - the story has been fairly obviously squashed and squeezed into a Standard Hollywood Narrative, and it doesn't quite work. Matt Damon - who I like - is somewhat exposed here (not to mention has terrible hair), and the supporting cast are hardly stretched. It's shot with lovely light; the palette almost approaches sepia at times, but literally no risks are taken here at all: this is filmmaking by the book, with none of the mainstream sass of Crowe's earlier landmark movies. The only thing distinguishing ...Zoo from, say Beethoven, is the occasional PG-level naughty word and the Neil Young tunes in the background. Inoffensive fluff, no more, no less.

****4/10

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Movies #25 & #26 Project X, The Devil Inside - and a rant


And now a couple of bona-fide stinkers. I’m pairing them up, as they share a common framing device (‘found footage’), and they’re both rubbish. First, the lesser of the two evils:

The Devil Inside

This rotten mess is yet another exorcism affair. Laughably billed as ‘the film the Vatican doesn’t want you to see’ – suggesting, if nothing, the Pope and his cardinals have better taste in films than you might expect – it conforms to most of the rules of the priest-versus-demon sub-genre. At least 2010s highly flawed The Last Exorcism attempted to offer something new, and last year’s even less impressive The Rite had Antony Hopkins’s heft to help it along.

To be fair, at a trim 83 minutes it at least has the decency to be short, and there are few (pretty cheap) jumps – though even moderate horror fans will see them coming a country mile away. This is not a flick for the veterans, who will find the premise, the scares and the execution risible. Nonetheless, I can’t imagine even horror neophytes being too impressed, particularly given the pointlessly oblique ending.

**2/10

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Movie #24 The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel


 As John Carter (review pending) disappoints at the box office, the surprise smash that almost kept it from the top spot is this Saga-tastic tale of superannuated Brits upping sticks to the titular crumbling hotel in Jaipur. A cunning meld of mid-market source material, picturesque location, dubious (but harmless) national stereotyping and National Treasure™ actors has struck a chord with UK cinema audiences and will no doubt turn a very healthy profit.

While I’m outside the film’s target demographic, there were still a few things I was looking forward to – I’m a big fan of some of the performers involved, I have an abstract sense of liking India (I have some Raj-era family history, and my Grandma used to tell me endless stories of the ‘tiger on the veranda’ variety) and generally appreciate any attempt to make serious films that ignore the whims of teenage boys.

Monday, 19 March 2012

Movie #23 21 Jump Street


A quickie down on Jump Street: so this is the Channing Tatum/Jonah Hill reboot of a TV series unheard of in the UK, except as a footnote in the career of Jonny Depp, for whom it was the first rung on the ladder of fame. Essentially, it was a pretty cheesy high-concept thing, a young-looking police detective sent back to high school to bust teen-aged crims.

And, though set in 2012, the film version follows the same plot, with Tatum and Hill going undercover with tongues firmly in cheek. The trailer made it look like standard frat-ish sub-Old-School hogwash, but in fact this is a pretty good movie with some genuine belly laughs, real wit and heart - directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller realising that, as with Goon earlier this year, comedies are funnier when the audience gives a damn about the characters.

To be fair, credit is also due to Hill (who co-wrote) and, particularly, Tatum (who very ably sends up his own lunk-headed himbo persona) who both play the movie out with enthusiasm, chemistry and real, old-fashioned comic timing. The supporting cast are similarly good (there are a couple of neat cameos), with Ice Cube a particular highlight.

All-told, while hardly transcendent stuff and definitely too long - overstaying its welcome by a good twenty minutes - this is nonetheless a decent and entertaining time to be had in the cinema.

******6/10

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Intermission - the incredible self-plugging blogger!

On a whim, I've started up a new blog. This one's dedicated not to cinema, but to cycling (see previous post), and particularly cycling in and around the wild and wonderful city of Manchester.

Therefore I've chosen the classily self-explanatory name of The Manchester Cyclist. Please do check it out, and if you like it, join the site.

Fans (and indeed detractors) of 'brand Slut' will notice the consistency of aesthetic across the two. Did you know I once worked 'in' marketing? Well, now you do.


Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Intermission: Slut in bicycle plunge horror!

So, I've been a bit quiet for the last week - that's because I've been on a short break to the hills and valleys of Wales, to play poker and ride my bike (far away from multiplexes and decent wi-fi). And whilst there I managed to take an almighty tumble over the handlebars, doing my bit for Anglo-Celtic relations with a fair exchange of molecules between the Welsh tarmac and my English face.

This could make for a rotten excuse to churn out a 'top ten bike films' or indeed 'top five instances of bruised ribs', but I'll give that a miss for now (I'll be honest, I'm waiting for the upcoming Joseph Gordon-Levitt bike-messenger flick Premium Rush to appear before I turn those out). I just wanted to post my excuse for not being quite as prolific as I should be. I'll haul my wounded arse back to flicks this week to check out the dubious delights of Project X and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel before running the rule over John Carter - in 2D - this weekend.

That said, the 'plex is a real cultural wasteland at the moment - I've managed to miss out some of the more honking awfulness - One for the Money, The Vow, This Means War - but there are slim pickings indeed over the coming months. So much so that the film I'm looking forward to the most is actually 21 Jump Street, which could at least be a bit funny. Looking back to last March we had Animal Kingdom and Rango on wide release; no such luck this time around.

April's not looking much better either. Battleship, Mirror Mirror, Wrath of the Titans, Gone and the ludicrously-titled Avengers Assemble (That's The Avengers to you and me) are not putting metaphorical jam in my figurative doughnut. I'll watch them anyway - you never know - but will counter-programme at home and do a bit more catching up on the better-rated 2011 releases that I missed on the big screen.


Happy trails, guys.

Monday, 5 March 2012

Movie #22 The Woman in Black


Regular readers might be aware of the fact that I like to declare my prejudices right of the bat, so here goes: I dislike middle-brow movies in general, and middle-brow horror movies in particular (cf The Awakening). Also, while I have enjoyed some ghostly movies (The Orphanage, The Shining), they aren't usually my cup of tea horror-wise; my tastes run more toward the fantastical (Pan's Labyrinth), the realistic (Texas Chainsaw Massacre) and the inevitable zombies. And finally, I have seen the much-vaunted stage production of The Woman in Black and... was bored by it.

So on the face of it, things aren't looking good for this movie adaptation of The Woman in Black, even though I am well-disposed toward Daniel Radcliffe playing the lead role of Kipps, a London lawyer tasked with selling the spooky old Eel Marsh house. On his despatch to the house (in generic, though presumably northern and certainly coastal, rural England) he arrives to find the comic-book locals eyeing him with suspicion and attempting to frustrate his business, seemingly due to local superstitions regarding the house, its ghost, and the manifold deaths of local children.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Movie #21 The Muppets


Prejudices declared - I was a muppet fan as a kid and remain so as an adult. I'd been waiting for this for some time, ever since I first got wind of it back in 2010 (and there's been an insanely long delay between US and UK release dates). In fact, strike 'waiting' and replace with 'eagerly anticipating'. So imagine my delight on takign my seat in the the theatre... First, we're treated to a lovely Toy Story short - talk about "you had me at hello" - before kicking off the title sequence with Paul Simon's 'Me and Julio Down in the Schoolyard'. Mix that in with a later nod to The Economist and you're already approaching a perfect Multiplex Slut storm of references.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

List #8 Top Ten... creepy coppers

Uh... you don't think we look sleazy, do ya Val...? Val?!

For the first list in a while, I thought it best to celebrate Woody Harrelson's superb turn in Rampart: so here's a rundown of my favourite examples of that fine cinematic archetype - the creepy copper. Read on...

Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Movie #20 Rampart

I have in my head a perfect cast list. It's not composed rationally, nor with any particular story in mind. But imagine a film-geek heaven in which a magnificently scripted, directed and produced feature plays forever, this is the roll-call. John Goodman's on there. So is Nicholas Cage. So is Sharon Stone. Rampart, extraordinarily for a non-Coen film, contains three more: Woody Harrelson, Sigourney Weaver and (albeit briefly) Steve Buscemi.

But what is Rampart? Set in the eponymous LA police district in the late nineties, it's essentially a character piece focusing on Dave Brown (Harrelson), a racist, sexist, violent and corrupt beat cop who epitomises the very characteristics with which the LAPD wished to disassociate itself at that time. Brown's home life is no less complex. He lives with two sisters with whom he has a child each; despite a flickering relationship with both, he also picks up women from a sleazy nightclub. Beyond drinking and chainsmoking, he enjoys occasional pill-binges; uppers and downers to balance him on the tightrope.

Monday, 27 February 2012

Intermission: Oscar Audit 2012


As promised, an quick audit of my 2012 Oscar predictions. Last time around, I picked eleven correctly from twenty predictions. Has a year's worth of movie watching increaded my accuracy? Er... slightly; 14 out of 24, including:

Best Picture: The Artist
Best Actress: Meryl Streep
Best Supporting Actor: Christopher Plummer
Best Foreign Language Film: A Separation
Best Animation: Rango
Best Original Screenplay: Woody Allen
Best Art Direction: Hugo
Best Sound Editing: Hugo
Best Song: Man or Muppet
Best Original Score: The Artist
Best Costumes: The Artist
Best Documentary Feature: Undefeated
Best Animated Short Film: The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr Morris Lessmore
Best Make-up: The Iron Lady

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Intermission - Oscars 2012: who'll win; who should...

Yes, it's the obligatory Academy Awards post - but how many other folks will audit their predictions after the fact, eh? Aha! So it was worth having a look...

The big story, I suppose, is the raft of 11 nominations for Hugo, an entirely underwhelming movie. Oddly, it no longer seems remarkable that a black and white silent film (and a French production to boot) should have received  ten nominations. The almost complete absence of both Drive and We Need to Talk about Kevin seems strange to me too. Anyway, let’s plough into it. Rather than listing the nominations for each category (have a look at the BBC website, they list them there), I’ll simply note who I think will win, who should win (of the nominees), who shouldn’t and who should’ve been nominated

Saturday, 25 February 2012

Movie #19 Safe House


Dolly Parton famously said "it takes a lot of money to look this cheap", a sentiment clearly echoed by director Daniel Espinosa in the crafting of this megabucks, shouldabeen-straight-to-dvd actioner. Set, creditably, in present-day Cape Town, Ryan Reynolds is custodian of a CIA 'safe house'; essentially an off-the-radar hideout where the Agency can stash folks that need stowing away, and in which dodgy deeds can be carried out away from international scrutiny. However, Reynolds's facility is seldom used, until former-agent-turned-uber-traitor (and, apparently, psychological mastermind) Tobin Frost (Denzel Washington) appears, fresh for waterboarding but hotly pursued by a posse of generically ethnic wrong'uns with guns. These crims (led by Fares Fares) take down the safe house; Reynolds just about escapes with a cuffed Washington in tow, under instructions from CIA HQ (where Sam Shepard, Vera Farmiga and Brendan Gleeson strut around with furrowed brows) to keep hold of Frost by all means possible.

Sounds like it could be good? Well, it isn't. And a for a number of reasons.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Movie #18 A Dangerous Method


Please, lie down on the couch… and tell me about your mother

 Based on screenwriter Christopher Hampton’s own stage play The Talking Cure, A Dangerous Method is David Cronenberg’s examination of the relationship between Carl Jung (played here by the ubiquitous Michael Fassbender) and Sigmund Freud (Cronenberg fave Viggo Mortensen), and the development of Jung’s own brand of psychoanalysis through the treatment of the young hysteric - and future psychoanalytical evangelist - Sabina Spielrein (the ever-improving Keira Knightley).

Friday, 17 February 2012

Movie #17 - The Descendants

The Descendants is the latest from Alexander Payne, a director who takes his time. He is coming off of a hat-trick of home-run belters: Election, About Schmidt and Sideways (his debut Citizen Ruth, remains little seen: a casualty of Miramax’s whimsy). And while we’re not in Terence Malick territory, a six-year gap between releases means that it’s fair enough to call this ‘long-awaited’.

The film concerns Honolulu lawyer Matt King (George Clooney). Despite outward appearances of success – good job, heir to a considerable fortune, nice house, the basic fact of living in Hawai’i – things are not going well for Matt. His wife (Patricia Hastie) is comatose following a boating accident; he is emotionally estranged from his two daughters (Amara Miller, Shailene Woodley); his father-in-law (Robert Forster) is an embittered old grouch – and Matt’s just about to find out that, prior to her accident, his wife had been conducting an affair with a local realtor.

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Intermission: 2011 Catchup - Beginners, The Skin I Live in, A Better Life, Sleeping Beauty


The Skin I Live In

Perhaps the single film I most regretted missing last year was this, Almodovar's much-praised mysterious plastic-surgery thriller. And it's great, a cracking thriller that verges on horror. It is a very hard film to review, though, as one doesn't wish to give away any of the plot detail before it's seen - best to go in completely cold and experience the bonkersness. Suffice to say, much praise the taut storytelling, the elegant, dynamic direction, two fabulous lead performances from Antonio Banderas and Elena Anaya, and finally a wonderfully manic score (oddly reminiscent of Philip Glass's Akhnaten, without the singing) from Alberto Iglesias.

A high:
********8/10

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Movie #16 Man on a Ledge


"One-a these days, your gonna stick your dick in the wrong door, and somebody's gonna slam it"

That bizarrely hilarious line is the only real highlight of this plodding, by-the-numbers schlocky heist-flick. Sam Worthington (not quite concealing his Aussie gravel) plays the titular ledge-dweller, a man framed for a crime he didn't commit; his brother (Jamie Bell) and brother's girlfriend (the very lovely Genesis Rodriguez) carry out a ludicrous and convoluted diamond heist in the building across the street. The worryingly-wrinkled Ed Harris stalks around in the background adding heft to his few scenes as the villainous mastermind and a variety of actors put in turns as cynical Noo Yawk cops.

OK, so Man on a Ledge is a soft target: it's silly, cliched and a bit dull. It has an oddly early-nineties feel as well, as if it's cheap knock-off of Speed or even Lethal Weapon - but without the excuse of not knowing any better. Many of the actors in this could do better - it's a paycheck, marking time. There are moments when it feels that the plot may be developing in interesting directions, but these are dead ends, as we return again and again to one of the most preposterous screenplays I've come across for years (seriously; it makes Taken look like Glengarry Glen Ross).

It's depressing, really, to think that studios can still get away with turning out this kind of crap when movies like Chronicle prove that accessible multiplex-fodder films can be made cheaper, better and with greater success. But then the grosses for Man on a Ledge are not looking good so far. My advice - don't encourage them, give this a miss.

**2/10

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Movie #15 Carnage


Its odd how this has slipped into the schedule with relatively little fanfare. After all, despite his pedarastic adventures, Polanksi is still regarded as one of the great living directors (and I enjoyed his last film, The Ghost) and the cast could make other filmmakers weep with envy - a foursome of Christoph Waltz, Kate Winslet, Jodie Foster and John C. Reilly. The scripts itself also has pedigree, adapted by Polanski and Yasmina Reza from Reza's own acclaimed comic stage play The God of Carnage (albeit transposed from Paris to New York).

The four leads play two middle-class Brooklyn couples, coming together intending to maturely settle differences after their two children got in a fight (an event shown in Haneke-ish dialogue-free fixed-shot during the opening credits). Barring the opening (and closing) shots, the entire film takes place in a single apartment, almost in real time, as self-congratulatory amicability gives way to barbed defensive posturing and finally, a full-blown row.

Monday, 13 February 2012

Movie #14 The Grey



The Grey, on the face of it, doesn’t have great pedigree. Director Joe Carnahan’s most recent film was 2010’s critical punchbag The A-Team. Liam Neeson’s career trajectory – a fascinating thing in its own right – has seen him mired as an archetypal grizzled action man in such shoot-first-think-later fluff as Taken and Unknown. Re-watching Schindler’s List these days you half expect him to punch his way into the Reichstag to lay der smack down on Adolf himself. And the subject matter – essentially a plane-crash survival movie – promises little beyond the utterly generic.

But let’s not be hasty. Pigeonholing directors as hacks is a recent phenomenon (Such immortals as Ford, Hawks and Hitchcock made a few duds in their sophomore days). Neeson-wise, there’s nothing wrong with grizzled per se – for example, his small role is probably the best thing in Scorsese’s Gangs of New York – and he has never been more gruff and stony than in The Grey. And while the film is definitely a genre piece – you might even call it a B-movie – we know these days that the constraints of genre can quite poetically portray deeper truths than what we call ‘the art film’. Certainly Spielberg can tell you more about childhood and loss than, say, Almodovar.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Movie #13 Chronicle


 A quick one, then: Chronicle. Scripted by Max Landis (the sequel to John Landis) and directed by the disgustingly young Josh Trank (b. 1984), it’s one of those found-footage thingies, like Cloverfield and Cannibal Holocaust, in which three high-school seniors develop powers of telekinesis (quite how this happens doesn’t really matter – the film is as comically dismissive of this event as it is tenuous in its justification and use of ‘real footage’). The three use these powers at first for horseplay and shenanigans, but soon they develop dangerously beyond their own control etc. etc.

So it’s actually a pretty okay film – tightly plotted, with some clever touches (when the trio over-exert themselves, they get nosebleeds).  Obviously it doesn’t do to overthink it – beyond the physics of it all, there are a lot of ‘how did nobody see that’ moments, not to mention the pretty flat characterisation and the Saved by the Bell-level dialogue. But as a smart entertainment, to go and sit and watch with yer popcorn and a vat of cola, it’s perfectly decent. Go and see it.

******6/10

Monday, 6 February 2012

Intermission - 2011 catchup: The Tree of Life; Bridesmaids, Life in a Day; The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo



So you don't think I'm slacking off, I've also been catching up on some of the more notable movies of 2011 that I didn't manage to see last time round. Here's the first batch, in short, sharp doses:

Life in a Day

Kevin Macdonald's film is a peculiar piece of work; the premise is to show the multitdinous aspects of human life on earth over a single day . It is composed of hundreds of pieces of amateur footage (culled from thousands of submissions) cut and pasted together chronologically and broadly thematically, without external narration. Not a movie in the traditional sense, and only technically a documentary, it has been masterfully edited together to create a loose narrative without having to forcefeed the audience. A moving and unusual experience that should be sought out.

********8/10

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Movie #12 - Patience (After Sebald)


A real surprise piece, this one, and a bit of a departure from the usual multiplex fare. This wasn't being shown anywhere locally but for a single screening at Manchester's Cornerhouse cinema - and as a documentary feature (of the 'biographical essay' sub-species) about author W.G. Sebald, I couldn't resist seeking it out.

For the uninitiated, W.G. Sebald ('Max' to his friends) was a feted literary novelist; a German who made his home in England - specifically Norwich, where he held a high academic post at the local university - yet continued to write books in his native language, meticulously overseeing their translation into English. Labelled as a writer's writer, his novels and other works tend toward the meditative and profound; his visions are encyclopedic yet selective - like Borges he appears, modestly, to know everything, but unlike his fellow non-Nobel-laureate his writing is saturated with the decadent ennui of post-war Europe. In 2001, he died aged 57 in a car crash, having begun to experience a delayed widespread critical celebration that has grown in earnest in the years since his death.

Friday, 27 January 2012

Movie #11 The Artist

First things first: all you naysayers who claim that this was last year's film: forget itl! A platform release in London in four cinemas at the end of December? No no no, I'm not having it. 99% of the country got this on the 6th Janury 2012 - so it counts as this year's film!

Ahem. So The Artist, then. You've probably heard/read/seen all the hype, know about the Oscar buzz and all the rest of it: in fact, the story of the film itself threatens to overwhelm the actual plot. Yes, it's a black-and-white silent film about the end of silent film; we see this end-of-an-era via a relationship between George Valentin, a silent star, and Peppy Miller, an ingenue who stumbles into talkie stardom.

So should you believe the hype? Well, yes, I think so. There's been a fair amount of backlash to the film as well, accusing it of being a mere novelty, a short film experiment extended beyond its natural bounds. I disagree. The story - itself a classically composed plot - is charming and lovely. Despite the absence of dialogue, it's a well composed screenplay; every scene drives the story forward in some way, everything is necessary - and it's often very funny too.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Movie #10 The Sitter


In which Jonah Hill plays the titular sitter, a twenty-something unemployed layabout looking to earn a bit of spare cash by babysitting the troublesome children of a voluptuous family friend. All of which is essentially an excuse to make lots of very, very silly jokes.

Coming from the good folks who delivered Pineapple Express, aimed squarely at the stoner-slacker demographic (to whom Hollywood caters somewhat disproportionately) and bereft of major stars (Hill, while a decent sort, is not leading-man material), this is not, on the face of it, particularly appealing. However, after struggling through a couple of humourless, two-hour-plus wannabe heavyweights (see here and here), The Sitter’s light-hearted irreverence and highly economical 83-minute runtime actually came as a blessed relief.

To call it ‘slight’ would be to overstate its heft; this really is a cavalcade of brainless quick and dirty laughs – there’s nothing clever or original here, and a lot of it isn’t even that funny. But – I did laugh occasionally, I wasn’t bored and while I wasn’t challenged either, that’s not always what we look for in a film. Sometimes we just want to switch off and have someone make you giggle. If you’re in that kind of mood, and you’re not immediately turned off by a plot involving a daft drug deal, lots of gratuitous swearing, racial/cultural stereotyping (I think it stays just about on the right side of the line here) and scatological/sexual humour, then you might enjoy The Sitter. Just don’t expect to respect yourself the morning after.

****4/10

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Movie #9 J. Edgar


Clint Eastwood's latest film is a chance to redeem himself of the mess that was last year's Hereafter, a Matt Damon vehicle that fair stank out the cinema. This time Leonardo Di Caprio is the star, playing J. Edgar Hoover, founder and long-serving director of the FBI (and all-round oddball), as we follow his controversial career from ambitious upperclassman in the twenties to his eventual death in 1972.

Essentially a love story dressed as a biopic, the crux of the film is the chaste, unspoken but passionate homosexual relationship between Hoover and his second-in-command Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer, just one of him this time). At lot has been made of the homoeroticism in the film; Eastwood and screenwriter Dustin Lance Black (who penned Milk) commendably step off the fence, going beyond the expected nudges and winks.

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Movie #8 W.E.


In a previous life I used to work in the book trade; non-book friends would assume that I reserved my professional ire for the kind of books that clog up airport lounges: the misery memoirs, the Da Vinci Code ripoffs, the chick-lit. In fact not. These books, while not my cup of tea, service a legitimate market and deserve their place on the shelf. No, what got my goat where the multitudes of books that got published not through their quality or marketability, but because the aspirant author clearly knew-someone-who-knew-someone. Of course, that's the way things go sometimes, but the fact is a lot of stuff gets printed that is of little worth artistically or commercially, taking up editorial expertise and marketing budgets that could have been far better spent on projects procured on merit.

The movie business, which releases far fewer individual packages and thus subjects them to greater scrutiny, tends to suffer less from this, but every now and again a film like W.E. comes along. It's not quite a direct parallel, but the similarities are there. Plainly this film would never have been made, nor the script ever considered, were pop-star Madonna not behind it (directing and co-writing). It's probably not pushing things too far to call this a vanity project. The ostensible subject - Wallis Simpson, the American divorcee vilified by the British press for taking up with King Edward VIII, precipitating his abdication - has an obvious personal resonance (Andrea Riseborough in the lead bears a striking resemblance to La Ciccone), and the concurrent plotline in late-90s Manhattan gives us a Madge-proxy in Abbie Cornish, who is obsessed with and, ludicrously, chats to Wallis (in her head, presumably, though this is not clear) when not falling in love with dishy security guard Oscar Isaac.

Friday, 20 January 2012

Movie #7 Haywire


Steven Soderbergh is a peculiar director; almost Miike-esque in his productivity, his work tends to fall into either the 'payday entertainments' or the 'arthouse cool' category. This is much toward the former as you can get. The main star is a mixed-martial-artist for heaven's sake - not exactly what you'd have had in store for the director of sex, lies and videotape, but there you go.

I'll keep this one fairly brief anyway. It's a kind of Bourne-ish globetrotting action drama; Mallory Kane (Gina Carano) is the person who does the CIA's dirty work for them yadayadayada; in fact the plot doesn't really matter. Suffice for me to tell you that there are plenty of gunfights, scrapping, whizzing, banging and popping to keep you plenty entertained with challenging you one iota (unless you're such a knuckle-scraper that having a woman as lead in an action movie constitutes 'edgy'). Actually, because Soderbergh plays it completely straight makes the film more successful than, say, last year's Hanna or 2010's Salt precisely because it eschews any cod-arthouse shenanigans and sticks resolutely to the action. And clocking at a tight and highly Slut-approved 93 minutes, I enjoyed this a fair bit, or at least I think I did - I picked up my brain along with my coat, hat and umbrella on leaving.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Movie #6 Margin Call


 Another quickie, and behold - the first film that I've gone out of my way to pay to see (for the uninitiated, I get to see so many movies because I do a pay monthly deal with one of the big cinema chains. Fifteen quid a month; I get my money's worth). I played away at the Printworks Odeon in Manchester, a cinematic machine so rapaciously commercial in it's pricing structure, concessions and extra-money-for-better-seats fiddles that it makes my local Cineworld look more like the Cinema Paradiso. But I really wanted to see Margin Call - the cast list is packed with actors I admire, and the whole film has a kind of Glengarry Glen Ross appeal; zippy dialogue, intelligent plot, angry people in small rooms, Kevin Spacey and so on - all commendable stuff.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Intermission: How to Sell a Banksy - available to rent or buy!

Last year I linked to a fascinating work-in-progress, for fans of Exit Through the Gift Shop, and, well, documentary films in general. It was completed and released a couple of weeks ago and I urge anyone reading this to take a look.



The website is here

Support independent film, kids. It's good.


Monday, 16 January 2012

Movie #5 The Darkest Hour


It's quite rare these days for me to be able to go into a film with very little idea of what the film is that I'm seeing - I will usually at least have seen trailers and TV spots, as well as picking up on the more geeky blogosphere (yup, I said it) hype or buildup. But in the case of The Darkest Hour I knew very little indeed, beyond the fact that (a) it's about aliens, and (b) that bloke behind Night Watch, the Russian vampire movie was involved somehow.

So: in short, aliens - invisible ones! - have invaded modern-day Moscow. Four young Western tourists find themselves in the midst of a life-and-death struggle for survival as they are hunted down by these seemingly-invincible aliens through abandon Muscovite cellars and shopping malls. I might as well stop there, to be honest: this is pure b-movie schlock, with little pretence to anything more.

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Movie #4 Goon

Just a quickie on this. Sean William Scott plays Doug 'the thug' Glatt a good-hearted/dim-witted bouncer-turned-ice-hockey-'enforcer' (the guy who beats the opposition players up); his remarkable team-spirit and talent for violence result in a move to the big(ish) league, becoming a cult hero in the process, leading in turn to an inevitable show-down with legendary ageing enforcer Ross 'the boss' Rhea (Liev Schreiber).

Pitched somewhere between Dodgeball and last year's Win/Win, Goon is a surprisingly warm-hearted and well-balanced comedy. There is a fair dollop of the gross-out stuff, but it's evened out by genuine wit and some surprising cultural sensitivity, as well as an oddly charming romance between Scott and Alison Pill. Scott himself is very funny in an understated performance, Schreiber is convincingly grizzled and the supporting cast of hockey-world stereotypes - the Russian import, the moustachioed Canuck (from Regina, Saskatchewan of course!), the flamboyant Quebecois - are lovingly drawn by writers Evan Goldberg and Jay Baruchel (who also co-stars as an anarchic fanboy best friend).

Speaking of the writing, beyond being a well-crafted story, there are some really great gags in the film too. I won't spoil any here, but suffice to say that you don't need to be a hockey fan to understand any of them. In fact, I'm a complete hockey neophyte, but enjoyed this film very much in spite of some initial reservations. Slight, certainly, but it's got plenty of laughs and plenty of heart. Recommended.

*******7/10

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Movie #3 War Horse


On the fabby Big Thoughts from a Small Mind blog, writer CS likes to play a regular game called 'which is better?' (my old work colleagues once had a similar routine called 'who'd you rather?', but that's another story) - a simple concept, taking two well-known actors or directors who have comparable yet contrasting reputations and asking - well, which is better? 

Of the more recent contests, the one that gave me pause for thought was between Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg; two divergent titans of the New Hollywood. After some considerable thought, I had to come down on Team Marty, but not without some painful internal justifications: hasn't Spielberg given us some of the best moments of our lives, from giant sharks and bullwhips to glowing fingers and red dresses? Yes, but he's had his fair share of down points too; there hasn't really been a really great film since his Schindler's List/Jurassic Park bumper year of 1993 (though I confess to seeing neither Munich nor the recent Tintin film); A.I. and Saving Private Ryan both had strong elements but were basically flawed, The Terminal was poor and Indy 4 was a frank abomination (of course, as one of the greatest directors of all time, we hold him to high standards). But c'mon: Jaws? CE3K? E.T.? Raiders (and the other two)? Duel? Empire of the Sun? Undoubtedly some of the best times you could ever have in the cinema. But where does War Horse fit in?

Friday, 13 January 2012

Movie #2 The Iron Lady

 
Before I begin this review, I should come clean and, like a good politician, register my interests and be clear from the outset on how Thatcher is viewed chez Slut.

So: background. I grew up in the coal-mining region of South Yorkshire in the 1980s which was lain waste by Thatcher's divisive Conservative government; mines were closed, striking miners were brutalized by a police force that was a damn sight less soft-touch than in the 2011 riots. Some of my earliest memories are of being taken to support rallies by my resolutely leftie parents. Many of the villages and communities local to me were devastated by the closure of the mines, and still haven't recovered economically from the loss of the single most significant employer, nor have they recovered psychically from the brutal nature of the closures. So to me Margaret Thatcher is a kind of folk devil - she's The Milk Snatcher (the opening scene sneakily alludes to this moniker, derived from her cutting of the free milk ration for school children), she's 'Thatcher', never 'Margaret', though sometimes 'Maggie' - as in: "MAGGIE MAGGIE MAGGIE! OUT OUT OUT!"

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Movie #1 Shame


It's New York, the present, and Brandon (Michael Fassbender) has his strictly compartmentalised double-life - a successful executive publicly, a leg-twitching sex addict privately - compromised when his damaged and volatile younger sister Sissy (Carey Mulligan) moves in to his flat unbidden. What follows is a somewhat episodic (and fairly graphic) sequence of events illustrating the implosion and explosion respectively of the brother and sister.

I had singled Shame out as my most anticipated film of the first quarter of 2012 (due in most part to the two principle actors and director Steve McQueen) and... it hasn't really lived up to my expectations. That's not to say there's not a lot in here to like - or even love - but there are some pretty fundamental issues that prevent a whole-hearted recommendation.

I'll talk about the film's major problem before getting into the (multiple) positives: it's the story. I don't like to spoil plot points, so I won't, but at the end of this film - after a great deal of intensity and drama - my overwhelming feeling was 'well, what was the point of that?' - or, more obliquely, to quote one of the film's saner characters: "what's the point of us being here if we don't mean anything to each other?". So much of this film is style and gorgeousity, yet the absence of beginning-middle-end (by no means something that I require in a film) ultimately leaves it heartless. This isn't to slap the writing around too much - the dialogue is excellent, in fact, and the balance and composition of the individual scenes is superb. But that's just not enough when you're telling an audience a story. In the end you just feel empty, spent and unsatisfied - probably not unlike a sex addict, in fact (which may be the point, though I would hope not).

Monday, 2 January 2012

Intermission: 2012: first quarter preview


 2012 has a fair few cinematic delights in store, not least the first Hobbit film, Sam Mendes's Bond treatment Skyfall and the forthcoming Ridley Scott epic Prometheus, among others.

For now though I'll just look forward to the next three months: here's my top five most-anticipated for the first quarter of 2012:

Sunday, 1 January 2012

Intermission: Slut Manifesto #2: 2012

Welcome to 2012...

It was a significant, eventful and, in the end, largely good 2011 for me. Since beginning this project I've got engaged to a gorgeous cinephile feminist, lost 70 lbs of body fat, taken up kung-fu, become vegetarian, cycled over 5,000 miles, visited sub-Saharan Africa and secured a new, permanent job. I also saw seventy-four pictures at the 'plex (some of them more than once).

However, there's no doubt that I didn't come close to meeting my self-inflicted remit. Seventy-four films in a year is a lot by any normal person's standard, but it's less than half of my intended viewing. This is largely down to employment insecurity: it's hard to justify spending hours in the cinema every week when you're also looking for a job. And, to be frank, there were times when I just couldn't face sitting through yet another 3/4/5-out-of-10 film, as so many of the year's offerings turned out to be (incidentally, the average mark I gave last year was 5.08; the most commonly awarded rating was 4/10).

So, a new year, a new set of rules: