Lay the Favorite  (2012)    53/100

Rating :   53/100                                                                       94 Min        15

In all honesty, the trailer featuring Rebecca Hall gaudily showing lots of flesh was what first attracted The Red Dragon’s attention to this film. Wondering if this was quite merit enough for him to sit and watch it, he was further intrigued by the fact that her accent and entire demeanour were both entirely contrary to anything she has done before. It’s from director Stephen Frears (‘Dangerous Liaisons’ 88, ‘High Fidelity’ 2000, ‘The Queen’ 06) and Ms Hall plays the central character of Beth Raymer, whose autobiographical novel of the same name the film is based on. It follows her story, from casual sex industry dabbler in Florida to professional bookie in Vegas and Central America.

Hall’s performance is a very convincing one and she deserves a lot of credit for daring to take on the role in the first place. Her American accent is unwavering and markedly different from her natural English one, as she fully inhibits the free spirited and talented with numbers Ms Raymer. Indeed, her performance would by itself rate very highly, although some may be put off by the character and the film’s heavy and unfair reliance on her to carry the whole, as it meanders through the story in a fairly messy way. We aren‘t really invited to invest in her as a character as, right from the offset, too much emphasis is placed on her as an object of sexual attraction, almost to the point where she‘s cinematically fetishised. Interesting that this follows on the back of Frear’s ‘Tamara Drew’ (10) and there too a highly sexualised main character, played by Gemma Arterton.

The film does pick up a bit, before degenerating into dull, dangerously close to day time soap opera territory. Bruce Willis is OK in support, and Catherine Zeta-Jones gives a much needed injection of comedy and drama. Indeed, perhaps making more of her character would have added something of more interest to that of the film. In general very average, and probably best left for fans of Rebecca Hall and/or Stephen Frears.

Age of Consent  (1969)    73/100

Rating :   73/100                                                                       98 Min        12

Great little film from master director Michael Powell featuring an early starring role for Helen Mirren, and based to a large degree on the novel of the same name by prolific Australian artist Norman Lindsay (who also wrote the classic children’s work ‘The Magic Pudding’, published in 1918). James Mason attempts an Australian accent, with varying degrees of success, as Bradley Morahan, an artist looking to get away from the stifling constraints of urban life who relocates to an idyllic island (specifically Dunk island, in the Great Barrier Reef region of the Coral Sea). In the beginning the pace is a little too slow, as the artist meanders around, his inner turmoil matched by angry and frenetic snapshots of the natural world surrounding him. Enter the beguiling water nymph of Mirren’s Cora Ryan, whose determination to save money and leave the location of his self imposed exile creates a symbiotic relationship between the two; he pays her to model for him, and much as the artist has to make use of the light before it fades, the opportunity to appreciate the rare creature he has before him rekindles his passion for life and art alike, whilst she playfully revels in the mysterious appreciation. This forms the core of the film, as we see him produce colourful and soulful work, almost like a cross between Van Gogh and Gauguin, whilst the other characters are given to share that sense of vibrancy in their varied distinction, and several dogs are tossed around for comical effect (sometimes by each other).

The film is sadly not yet available on DVD in the UK. It was recently restored by Martin Scorcese’s The Film Foundation and his long time editor Thelma Schoonmaker (the former is a long time admirer of Michael Powell’s work, the later was his wife at the time of his passing in 1990) as part of their worthy project to protect the work of the auteur. Just as their successful restoration of Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s ‘The Red Shoes’ led to it becoming a favourite of an entirely new audience and generation, so too might Film 4’s decision to air this restored gem spark more interest in the director’s work, and in this, his last ever feature film (though he would do one more as part of The Archers with Pressburger again). James Mason also met his future wife Clarissa Kaye (who plays his character’s old flame in the early part of the movie) on the shoot, and the two remained together until his death in 1984. Interestingly, it’s mentioned in the cast list at the end that Helen Mirren is a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company, a nice plug for her early career, and something which I don’t believe I’ve ever seen done in the credits to a movie before. An, at times, mouth-wateringly bright and infectious piece, and a fantastic way to bow out of an eclectic career in film.

Tinker Bell and the Secret of the Wings  (2012)    67/100

Rating :   67/100                                                                       75 Min        U

Fast and fun, Tinker Bell flutters again in this, her fifth film instalment as part of the Disney Fairies franchise. Aimed at younger children, girls primarily, like its predecessors it retains the same colourful (computer generated) artwork and general feel of fairy goodness. Although the story is a little whimsical – introducing the mirror realm of the winter fairies and a never the twain shall meet parental warning, until Tink decides to eschew the ruling fairy law and go adventuring, almost causing global fairy annihilation, but ultimately alluding to the wisdom of co-operation and invention. It should be easy enough to follow and engrossing for its target audience – with Angelica Huston and Timothy Dalton in fairy voice support.

Disney have the following website to support the franchise, and it’s a pretty comprehensive site. The opening short entitled ‘How to have a snowball fight’ is actually quite amusing and The Red Dragon did appreciate the line ‘I love the smell of snowballs in the morning’ (if you are not aware of the reference then you are in immediate need of an injection of classic war films). However, this also seems to be a portal for a kids MMORPG (massively multi-player online role playing game) and based on the game’s description it seems, like many of its kind, to be designed purely to keep youngsters playing and immersed in the Disney fairy world. If it was also educational then maybe it would be a good thing, but as it is The Red Dragon would strongly advise parents to have their children stay clear of it, avoiding the possibility of a primary school aged generation of gaming zombies (I believe it also costs real world money to play).

Great Expectations  (2012)    63/100

Rating :   63/100                                                                     128 Min        12A

The audience’s over familiarity with the subject matter was always going to be a big stumbling block with this latest film interpretation of Dicken’s penultimate novel, considered by many, including himself, to be one of his most artful and mature. Though this problem can be overcome, as shown by Andrea Arnold’s very fine indeed version of ‘Wuthering Heights’ last year, and to a lesser extent ‘Jane Eyre’ also from 2011, the issue is compounded by the fact a televised version of ‘Great Expectations’ with Gillian Anderson as Miss Havisham was aired for the festive season only one year ago, and one of the most famous and deservedly well liked British films of all time is David Lean’s version of the story, which despite being released in 1946, still gets shown on the big and small screen on a semi-regular basis. Comparing that version to this, there is a famous with scene with a young Jean Simmons that universally gets a laugh in response, the same scene here never even registered a titter with the audience.

Although you can’t really go too far wrong with Dickens, there is nothing in this film that makes it stand out at all and money would be better spent simply renting the Lean version. Here, the quality of the acting varies drastically, with it being the third mild mannered role in a row for lead Jeremy Irvine (after Spielberg’s ‘War Horse’ 11 and ‘Now is Good’ 12 – a fantastic film incidentally) which may not bode well for his future career, although he does seem the right age for the role, unlike John Mills in Lean’s film. Holliday Grainger looks resplendently radiant when she is revealed as the grown up Estella, but Miss Havisham is played by Helena Bonham Carter, who is perfectly capable of doing the role justice but instead decided to go with ‘I get to dress up like a Goth and act all crazy again, yay!’, it’s like watching Miss Havisham as played by Johnny Depp and, frankly, how many more times do we have to watch the same charade of meritless self indulgence. Robbie Coltrane, Ewen Bremner, and Ralph Fiennes all give wonderful turns to provide a balance to some of the others, resulting in an unmemorable and limp, but not wholly unenjoyable, final rendition.

So Undercover  (2012)    65/100

Rating :   65/100                                                                       94 Min        12A

Be aware that this is a very much aimed at teens film, but with that in mind, and dire opening sequence aside, it’s actually reasonably fun. It stars Miley Cyrus as a private eye, hired by the FBI to infiltrate a college sorority house and spy on the people inside. It’s very much in the vein of ‘She’s the Man’ (06), ‘The House Bunny’ (08) and to a lesser extent ‘Mean Girls’ (04). Not withstanding The Red Dragon’s opinion, early feedback has led the US distributors to plonk it onto the straight to DVD shelf, which is a little unfair on the film (the danger of ‘amazeballs’ slipping unconsciously into your vocabulary aside) and poor ‘Starter for Ten’ (06) director Tom Vaughan, especially when ‘The Last Song’ (10), Cyrus’s biggest release not surrounding her alter ego of Hannah Montana, was painfully bad but likely had the backing of millions in advertising.

One of the most interesting discoveries whilst watching this was that Miley Cyrus has a large scar on her forehead – is Miley Cyrus in fact Harry Potter in female form? Very curious as to how she got it, but good for her for not letting it stand in the way of becoming a global icon in her own right. Her iconic status is always going to be a bit of a problem when it comes to her transition from pop music to film, but lots of people have done it successfully and it’s worth remembering that she has been regularly acting for television since the age of nine or so (she’s just turned twenty). Someone in a similar situation possibly looking to turn to the big-screen (he’s been given a role in next year’s ‘Can a song save your life?’ alongside Keira Knightley) is Maroon Five’s Adam Levine, which, as anyone who has seen his music video when he saves the day from bank robbers will conclude, can surely only be a bad thing (Update: he’s actually really good in it. RD 3.12.14). It reminds The Red Dragon of Gary Oldman’s take on basketball players straying into acting, which you can listen to here…


The Hunt / Jagten  (2012)    87/100

Rating :   87/100                        Treasure Chest                     115 Min        15

A Danish film from Thomas Vinterberg, who is known for his 1998 film ‘Festen’ and whose work has remained in relative obscurity ever since. With this in mind, and the knowledge that this follows the story of a male primary school teacher and his relationship with one of the young girls in his class, a relationship accused of being grossly inappropriate, one might be inclined to think it’s a grab at controversy and sensationalism in order to regain the spotlight. However, this is very much the opposite of the story in ‘Festen’, almost as if the director felt a sense of legitimacy and need to show this dark reality from the other side, and my goodness is it compelling. It has the virtue of successfully allowing us to sympathise with all the characters’ conflicting points of view, and also share in the protagonist’s (played by Mads Mikkelsen, on very fine form) growing sense of outrage and injustice. The title is no doubt also a reference to not only witch hunts in general but also the most infamous among them; those taking place in Salem in the 1690’s as immortalised by Arthur Miller’s ‘The Crucible’, which the film has more than a few things in common with.

There’s a nice nod to Mikkelsen’s tell as Le Chiffre in ‘Casino Royale’ (06), but from beginning to end the film remains serious, gripping and never loses its sense of reality, never oversteps into melodrama. It’s good to see a film tackling such horrid issues, indeed it’s most topical in the UK at the moment with the ongoing debacle of the Jimmy Savile investigation, the deceased BBC icon who whilst in the afterlife has been revealed to be a serial sex offender, and the subsequent police investigation, operation Yewtree, continues to uncover more culprits on a weekly basis, prompting the question how had so many high profile people got away with something so terrible for so long. In fact, literally as The Red Dragon types this up from the cosy confines of his cave, Max Clifford, one of the most high profile publicists in the country, has been arrested “on suspicion of sexual offences” as part of the same investigation. Only last month Lord McAlpine, the former Tory treasurer, was falsely insinuated to have been a perpetrator of child abuse after a piece of shoddy journalism went live on BBC’s ‘Newsnight’ programme, such a serious error that the Director General of the BBC, George Entwistle resigned over the affair and the BBC reached a settlement of £185,000 with Mr McAlpine. ‘The Hunt’ may just put that sum into an appropriate context.

As an aside, Vinterberg is one of the co-founders of the Dogme 95 movement along with Lars von Trier, Kristian Levring, and Søren Kragh-Jacobsen. It was founded on the principles of reducing filmmaking to a very raw and accessible level, a tangent to huge budgets and artificial theatricality, and produced enduring films such as the aforementioned ‘Festen’, and von Trier’s ‘The Idiots’ (also from 98). The movement lasted for more or less a decade from its inception in 1995.

Seven Psychopaths  (2012)    65/100

Rating :   65/100                                                                     110 Min        15

A piece of avant garde screenwriting from writer/director Martin McDonagh, in his first film since he found success with the wonderful ‘In Bruges’ (08), though it does feel as if here he was struggling with writer’s block and decided to incorporate that directly into the film. It follows Colin Farrell’s Marty as he tries to complete a screenplay entitled ‘Seven Psychopaths’ and ends up being given inspiration from several characters in the real world. It’s nowhere near as darkly, and somewhat controversially, funny as ‘In Bruges’, but McDonagh does successfully create some interesting characters and a unique story. These characters are brought to life by a wonderful cast including Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson and Christopher Walken, who, in particular, is a joy to watch. Be prepared for more of the same bleak and uncompromising violence that featured in ‘In Bruges’.

Sightseers  (2012)    51/100

Rating :   51/100                                                                       88 Min        15

A black comedy from ‘Kill List’ (11) director Ben Wheatley that actually has more credit as an unlikely romance story than anything else. If you’ve watched the trailer then you get a very accurate snapshot of the sort of laughs that Wheatley was aiming for, and it has its moments, but perhaps best to think of it as a lesser version of ‘In Bruges’ (08) meets similarly downsized ‘The Killer Inside Me’ (10) and ‘Falling Down’ (93). Both the leads, Alice Lowe and Steve Oram, who also wrote the screenplay together, do well, but by far the best thing about the film is the cinematography, with lovely wide angle shots of rolling mists over the Yorkshire hills contrasted with early morning sunshine and green pastures, all as the protagonists tour the area in their caravan leaving behind them a trail of destruction….

Rise of the Guardians  (2012)    73/100

Rating :   73/100                                                                       97 Min        PG

‘Rise of the Guardians’ features an all star team-up of Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, the Sandman and Jack Frost – all chosen by ‘The Man in the Moon’ to become the guardians of the safety and well being of children on Earth. The latest animation from Dreamworks, it’s the perfect introduction to the holiday season for cinema going families with kids, and the sharp and colourful graphic work together with an entertaining moral story, replete with pantomime bad guy Jude Law (as the Boogeyman), should provide a decent hour and a half’s entertainment for adults as well. The fairies, in particular, are most awesome.

Criticism has been lain against it for lacking soul, which is a problem with a lot of animations issuing forth from Dreamworks. However, I think enough of an effort has been made to label that a little unjust, although The Red Dragon admits slight bias in favour of the cute, and slightly overused, fairies and it is certainly true that the bulk of the piece remains the frothy, whirly, kaleidoscope of flashy action sequences that the production company favours so highly. Fun nonetheless – look out toward the end for the not so subtle nod to the head of the company’s previous work….

Silver Linings Playbook  (2012)    75/100

Rating :   75/100                                                                     122 Min        15

Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence star as two psychologically and emotionally disturbed individuals whose lives become intertwined, both sharing a recent trauma and each believing the other to be more unhinged than themselves. Bradley Cooper gives a really fantastic performance, as does Robert De Niro playing his OCD father. Jennifer Lawrence doesn’t wholly convince as someone who’s not quite the full shilling, but I think that is the point, rather than being in the same boat she is acutely aware of how she comes across to others – a foil to Cooper’s character who is mostly oblivious to the social consequences of his condition, and there is no denying she imbues the role with her strong screen presence; at times like a rattled, but still perfect, porcelain doll in search of a soulful remedy to countermeasure her carnal, desperate, desires. Moving, often amusing, and deserving of the accolades it’s bound to garner it is also laced with the spirit of the title, and has a very well selected soundtrack in accompaniment.

Based on the 2008 debut novel of Matthew Quick but with a shift from New Jersey to Philadelphia, David O. Russel (‘Three Kings’ 99, ‘The Fighter’ 10) both wrote the screenplay and directed the film, having a special interest and relationship with the material as his own son is both bipolar and has OCD, which may be why the whole film feels sympathetically grounded in reality.