Beautiful Creatures  (2013)    63/100

Rating :   63/100                                                                     124 Min        12A

The latest offering in the teen fantasy romance genre focuses on witches rather than vampires or werewolves, but retains many familiar elements; such as a young attractive female soon to be the centre of everyone’s attention, and pretty much bad news for everyone else in the middle of nowhere dead-end town where she is the newcomer, cue polarised clashes of good versus evil. It’s not too bad though, despite featuring nothing terribly original, and the leads played by Alice Englert (daughter of ‘The Piano’ 93 director Jane Campion) as Lena Duchannes, and Alden Ehrenreich as Ethan Wate are good enough to hold interest until the end, with Emma Thompson, Viola Davis, Jeremy Irons, and Emmy Rossum in support for extra gravitas and sex appeal.

It’s based on the 2009 book by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, and in their universe curiously the female witches, unlike their male counterparts, do not get to choose whether or not they take the path of good or evil, but rather fate (represented here by the moon) chooses for them on their sixteenth birthday. An odd, pseudo sexist, splicing of age of consent and menstrual cycle, implying teenage girls are creatures of sanguine whimsy rather than will, although the main character is at least projected as vague counterpoint to that notion.

Magus Negus Magic   (Theatre)    73/100

Rating :   73/100

One day, as I was cheerfully negotiating the labyrinthine wynds of Edinburgh’s old town, I was approached by a tall dark figure asking if I wanted to see some magic. Unaware he was talking to The Red Dragon, and that he could have been INCINERATED AT ANY POINT if he failed to impress, he proceeded to unleash a barrage of close-up tricks with cards, coins, and elastic bands. Being no stranger to the dark arts of magic, I had to admit at being impressed by his illusion and conjuring skills, but also his enthusiasm and evident pleasure at entertaining. Magus Negus models himself on the magicians of the Victorian age, replete with top hat and tails, and indeed tries to infuse himself with the somewhat bygone gentlemanly spirit of that romantic age. He recently surpassed his one hundredth show and is currently working on a YouTube project to showcase some of his magic, and also the landscape and iconography of the city of Edinburgh – a city described by a BBC film crew I was once passing on a separate sunny afternoon as ‘one of the handsomest in Europe’.

The rating above represents the quality of his work that I’ve seen, and also the effort he puts into making his magic a pleasant and friendly experience for strangers rather than a case of bombastic showmanship, something for which he should be rewarded. One of his clips is below, and you can see the rest on his YouTube channel. Or, perhaps, you may be able to find him canvassing the streets of Scotland’s capital….

(for magic related films see ‘The Prestige’ 06, both versions of ‘The Illusionist’ 06 & 10 {the latter of which is an animation about a magician in Edinburgh no less}, and, most certainly, Ingmar Bergman’s ‘The Magician’ 58)

Coffee and Cigarettes  (2003)    71/100

Rating :   71/100                                                                       95 Min        15

O my goodness, this film features one of THE most beautiful actresses of all time, and as exciting a discovery as this was to make, it is matched in complete and absolute equal measure by the irritation of realising this is pretty much the only film she actually appears in! Aaaargh! Was it a drug-fuelled mirage on my part (I had consumed quite a large amount of caffeine before the viewing – it seemed appropriate), or did some horrible fate befall her after filming, like marriage?? Her name is Renee French (possibly a stage name) should anyone out there posses the answer, and she features on the headline picture above. Her character appears in one of the eleven vignettes that together make up this film, as she sits sultrily flicking through a guns catalogue, a harsh juxtaposition with her elegant looks – think of Jennifer Aniston when she looked her very best, in one of the early seasons of friends before sun blasted emaciation became the fashion of the day, but then crank up the sex factor another notch.

Happily, the film itself is also quite good – each scene is shot with classy black and white cinematography and is linked in some way to the theme of coffee and cigarettes, though writer and director, Jim Jarmusch, is at pains to show he’s not necessarily pro-smoking. Every section has a vein of comedy, and at times contemplation, with a long list of actors and musicians involved; Bill Murray, Cate Blanchett, Iggy Pop, Steve Coogan, to name but a few, and some had an input on the script as well. It was shot over a time span of two decades, and some of the scenes appeared as previously released short films before being collated into the final piece.

The two elements of the film’s title present a perfect ambivalence for The Red Dragon, loving one and abhorring the other. No matter what your opinion of them, don’t be put off as they exist as a fairly neutral linking artifice. It would, however, be fascinating if someone were to make a documentary exploring the use of smoking in the movies and its evolution with social trends and medical knowledge. The Red Dragon firmly believes the movie industry has a lot to answer for in terms of knowingly encouraging the youth of every generation to take up smoking and, despite the aforementioned sexual allure of Ms French, in real life there are few things less sexy than someone looking to desperately light up a fag, or uncaringly blowing their foul ash into your lungs as you are walking behind them.

Eventually, humankind will look back and laugh at the stupidity of their ancestors, smoking having long since been completely banned (I believe one dictator in central Asia has already done this), unless, perhaps, they are all fans of film noir. Check out ‘The Insider’ (99) and ‘Thank you for Smoking’ (05) for films that deal with the smoking industry as a central theme.

Sammy’s Great Escape / Sammy 2  (2012)    67/100

Rating :   67/100                                                                       92 Min        U

This is the sequel to 2010’s ‘A Turtle’s Tale: Sammy’s Adventures’, an English language Belgian production aimed at younger children. It’s pretty good all in all, with a vibrant and colourful underwater world where the scene stealing characters are, as always, the penguin chicks, although they don’t feature very much. Surprisingly, this is one of the best uses of 3D I’ve seen, and although it still lacks a bit of visual clarity (always difficult to tell if that is the result of post-production work, or an inherent problem with the technology) the swirling environment with characters floating around everywhere lends itself very well to the medium. The story follows Sammy and Ray, now grandfathers, and two of their grandchildren as they try to get back to their home, having been ousted from it by a gang of evil human fishermen.

There is a nod to ‘The Little Mermaid’ (89) with two of the bad guy’s ‘heavies’ appearing in the guise of eels, but here rather than having everyone erupt happily into song, Jimi Hendrix’s version of ‘All Along the Watchtower’ rings out as the captured fish start to fight each other over the food the humans give to them, aiding the message of the film that keeping any creature in captivity is a bad thing. More effort and thought has been put into this than a lot of the 3D fare that is being churned out of Hollywood at the moment, though some young children may find some of the less aesthetically appealing sea creatures a little frightening – there were a few squeals as the protagonists’ friend to be, a schizophrenic lobster, is introduced, replete with eyes rolling in different directions and claws clamping out of the screen toward the audience, though eventually everyone settled down, having seemingly gotten used to the weird variety. Seeing as the heroes of the tale are turtles, I guess there’s no reason they can’t have a third film with their next generation of offspring…

Warm Bodies  (2013)    33/100

Rating :   33/100                                                                       98 Min        12A

A classic tale of undead zombie falls in love with young pretty lass, but still has to win over her father (John Malkovich) before they’ll have peace. The problem is, it’s very much a one trick pony, and once the slight amusement of the premise has passed there is nothing particularly funny or interesting left in the rest of the film. It’s mainly the fault of the director and screenwriter (the same person in this case – Jonathan Levine) and less so of the actors who do OK with what they have. The would-be Romeo and Juliet (who can’t resist aping the star-crossed lovers’ balcony scene) are played by zombie Nicholas Hoult (‘A Single Man’ 09) and not-zombie Teresa Palmer (‘I am number four’ 11), who almost looks and sounds like someone has mashed together bits of Amanda Seyfried and Kristen Stewart, an interesting combination …

The film also has an inherent problem in that the leading male character can’t speak properly. It does, though, at least have a pretty good soundtrack, but it even repeatedly succeeds in garbling that, cutting off songs like ‘Rock You Like a Hurricane’ by Scorpions before they’ve even started – if you’re going to sacrifice a decent story and script for good music AT LEAST PLAY THE SONG! If you really want to see a zombie romcom then forget this and watch ‘Shaun of the Dead’ (04) instead.  SPOILER ALERT (though I’m sure you will see it coming a mile off anyway) to make matters worse, their cross-species love saves all of zombiekind who start to become more human again. Bleurggghhh.

Hitchcock  (2012)    72/100

Rating :   72/100                                                                       98 Min        12A

Threading a delicate and careful tapestry of the two main characters and their relationship, ‘Hitchcock’ gives us a behind-the-scenes look at the making of one of the most famous horror films of all time, ‘Psycho’ (60), and an insight into what it may have been like for its even more famous director, Alfred Hitchcock (Anthony Hopkins), and his wife and longtime collaborator Alma (Helen Mirren). Both lead actors do a very fine job, with Hopkins in particular really seeming to relax into the role although his accent falls perhaps halfway between that of Hitchcock and his own. The film plays with the various myths and legends, idiosyncrasies and potential problems, passions and seeds of future sorrows that surrounded the latter part of the life of the director and, in particular, his last fistful of films, a few of which – ‘Psycho’, ‘The Birds’ (63), ‘Marnie’ (64), and in my opinion ‘Frenzy’ (72), have surpassed the test of time to enter into the annals of movie legend, and are studied religiously in film schools the world over.

Danny Huston is in support, with Scarlett Johansson and Jessica Biel playing Janet Leigh and Vera Miles respectively, though neither of the modern day leading ladies are given much to do here other than look pretty, a task which certainly falls well within their artistic purview. During the narrative, small hooks are tied to the real-life killings that ‘Psycho’ was based on, with the killer Ed Gein being played by Michael Wincott (who also portrayed the killer in 2001’s ‘Along came a Spider’), indeed the whole film is based on the 1990 factual novel ‘Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho’ by Stephen Rebello. The release of the movie coincides with a made-for-TV film, ‘The Girl’, which focused on the making of ‘The Birds’ & ‘Marnie’ and Hitchcock’s relationship with the star of both those films, Tippi Hedren. As to who plays the role of Hitchcock better, Hopkins or Toby Jones in ‘The Girl’, that is a pretty tough call to make, and though the differences in budget do make for a more slick final product with ‘Hitchcock’, as you would expect, it arguably also makes for a slightly safer one.

The two films together make excellent companion pieces and any fan of the director, or of film history, would do well to watch both of them, back to back if possible, with ‘Hitchcock’ sequentially first. And then watch his films again of course….

I Give it a Year  (2013)    53/100

Rating :   53/100                                                                       97 Min        15

A romcom that is as obvious and two dimensional as it is largely humourless. As usual with such fare, things like adultery are made light of in order for the story to resolve itself perfectly, as if by magic, which might be OK if it were pure comedy and, well, really funny, but not if you’re trying to semi-ground the characters in reality. A few scenes do work reasonably well, but another major flaw is that the central character, played by Rafe Spall, is too unrealistically lame for surely anyone to be attracted to, never mind his classically beautiful wife (Rose Byrne) as the film details the implosion of the newly weds expected marital bliss. Anna Faris and Simon Baker round out the main cast, with support from Minnie Driver, Olivia Colman, Jane Asher, Jason Flemyng, who cheekily references his former gig as Dr Jekyll in ‘The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen’ (03), and Stephen Merchant featuring his now overexposed sense of lewd comedy shtick. Look out for the somewhat uncomfortably amusing scene with live doves and Rose Byrne, and what looks very much like real fear on her face as they flap around her, almost as if someone were just out of shot tossing them in her direction….

Wreck-It Ralph  (2012)    70/100

Rating :   70/100                                                                     108 Min        PG

Disney’s latest attempts to do for video games what Pixar did for discarded childhood playthings, à la ‘Toy Story’, their debut film, back in 95. The story follows the adventures of the titular Wreck-it Ralph (John C. Reilly) as he determines to prove himself worthier than the bad guy role he’s been programmed to play out every day in an old, classic arcade game, which has managed to survive the test of time as others around it have perished and been replaced by more modern rivals, including a ‘Gears of War’/’Halo’ esque first person shooter. It’s aimed more at kids than adults of course, who ironically won’t get a lot of the in-jokes and references, though most of the action takes place inside the fictional game of ‘Sugar Rush’, which operates much like a candy fuelled version of ‘Mario Cart’.

Though it has succeeded in making The Red Dragon think about dusting down some old games, from around one third of the way into the film it starts to feel a little sluggish and in many ways as clumsy and obvious as its main character; with the wealth of parody material at its disposal it doesn’t quite seem as involving or humorous as it ought to. Ultimately, the film is still pretty good, though this is perhaps more thanks to traditional Disney gushiness rather than fond thumb battering nostalgia, and there is enough here to merit a sequel that will hopefully have a bit more in it for adult audiences, and more in the way of familiar faces from the world of arcade games.

Perfect for families (unless you’re dead against your kids playing video games) and full of nice little touches, from poor path detection and a beholder holding multiple cups of juice at the ‘bad guys support group’, to the thanks given to the caffeinator at the end of the credits, and a little ‘Star Wars’ nod now that Disney have acquired the rights to the franchise from George Lucas (though, interestingly, parts of ‘Sugar Rush’ do look strikingly similar to a certain other eagerly awaited J.J.Abrams project … ).

Flight  (2012)    73/100

Rating :   73/100                                                                     138 Min        15

‘Flight’ is the latest film from Robert Zemeckis (‘Back to the Future’ 85, ‘Forrest Gump’ 94, ‘Beowulf’) and it’s a very good piece to come back with after a few years break from filmmaking, seeing both writer John Gatins and leading man Denzel Washington up for Academy Awards. The story was inspired by the real life tragedy of Alaska Airlines Flight 261, and revolves around pilot Whip Whitaker, played by Washington, having to come to terms with his alcohol and drug dependency. His performance and the story are both compelling, but one of the supporting characters we are introduced to seems to get over their own struggle with addiction remarkably easily, though it could be argued the contrast with Whitaker is what allows this to happen.

Zemeckis is also guilty of the curious misuse of The Rolling Stones in the film (or more correctly, their music) as they are at one point seemingly put at odds with the general tone of the rest of the film. Overall though, this deserves the praise it has received, and puts Denzel right up there in the Oscars race, which shouldn’t detract from the good acting support from Don Cheadle, Bruce Greenwood, Kelly Reilly, and John Goodman. Don’t watch before you go on holiday – though if you really want to scare yourself see  2011’s ‘The Grey’.

Bullet to the head  (2012)    65/100

Rating :   65/100                                                                       92 Min        15

It is impossible not to think of Rage Against the Machine when reading the title of this film, but unfortunately it misses a trick by not having their song of the same name play at any point. Nonetheless, based on the French graphic novel by Alexis Nolent, this is a fun, no nonsense action flick from director Walter Hill (of ‘The Warriors’, 1979, fame) with the sound effects heavily augmented for extra brutality. Sylvester Stallone is the wronged hitman (with a conscience of course) forced to buddy up with Korean cop Sung Kang to take on the bad guys, primarily in the guise of ‘Conan the Barbarian’ (11) and ‘Game of Thrones’ star Jason Momoa, who stalks around like a solid, skulking chunk of evil (he really is much better suited to play the baddie). Expect stylised violence and one-liners. Good stuff.