Iron Man 3  (2013)    75/100

Rating :   75/100                                                                     130 Min        12A

Despite ropey beginnings, this proves to be quite possibly the most enjoyable of the Iron Man series thus far. Written by Shane Black and Drew Pearce, and directed by Black in the stead of Jon Favreau who helmed the previous two, the third instalment finds our hero Tony Stark dealing with the psychological aftermath of the events of ‘Avengers Assemble’ (or ‘The Avengers’ for everyone outside of Britain) whilst once again donning his not so alter-ego of Iron Man to deal with the threat of a terrorist calling himself The Mandarin, played most wonderfully here by Sir Ben Kinglsey. The Mandarin was one of the most frequent villains to appear in the comics, and one of the advantages of writing about a universe which has just been visited by demigods and hordes of war waging aliens, is that the term ‘far fetched’ can no longer be applied.

The story is a lot of fun, and what makes it really work is the injection of comedy which fits both the personality of Stark and the actor portraying him, Robert Downey Jr. At one point he encounters a fan in the guise of a schoolboy, which normally means we are about to be bombarded by irritating cliché, but it actually turns out to be one of the best things about the film. Don Cheadle and Gwyneth Paltrow reprise their roles, and both Guy Pearce and the enchanting Rebecca Hall manifest themselves as talented scientists. Ironically Hall’s character has a rant about being called a mere botanist, but websites about the film also seem to enjoy referring to her in the same manner. There’s a nice improvised ‘Assassin’s Creed’ moment, and at the end there’s a series of slightly retro credits with stills from all three films, but no expected extra scene following. However, I do believe there is one if you stay for the entire credits after the retrospective. I shall just have to go and see it again…. (I can now confirm that this is indeed the case, it’s a lengthy wait though)

Apparently some scenes were shot in China purely for the Chinese version of the film, something which is becoming more popular with the Chinese market now being second only to the American one in terms of film revenue, and something which The Red Dragon doesn’t agree with since it’s done purely for commercial reasons, but probably the other footage will appear on the DVD release anyway.

Below is the London press release for the film with some of the cast and crew, seemingly a small cauldron of emotions, from nerves to repressed giggles….

The Look of Love  (2013)    67/100

Rating :   67/100                                                                     101 Min        18

A biographical portrait of Paul Raymond, one time richest man in Britain and head of soft pornography giant ‘Men Only’ magazine, along with many infamous Soho establishments, convincingly played here by Steve Coogan. The film really focuses on his relationship with his daughter, played by Imogen Poots, but it tries to squeeze in all of the other women in his life as well; his wife, long term girlfriends, threesomes, and general one night stands. A lot of these elements take up the first half of the movie, and are given too brief a treatment to be effective, and indeed the cutting and editing is far too rapid here generally. This may be to do with the content, as we see an endless stream of bare breasted girls parade up and down the stages of his London attractions, at once containing enough nudity to offend and off-put some viewers, and yet cut far too sharply to be used for any effect other than to show Raymond was constantly around attractive young women.

It’s like the film is playing it safe, commenting on the infamously conservative British relationship with sex and pornography in general (see this article, for talk of the current government banning all porn in the UK) and talking of its evolution in history, and yet also suffering from that same slightly repressive culture – accentuated with sex scenes that are shot in a traditionally prudish way, especially with regards to male nudity onscreen. There’s really nothing here to offend or, ‘ahem’, titillate your average audience member. There is a lot of cocaine use throughout though, especially with Poots’ character, in fact we are to believe she essentially takes the stuff with her Cornflakes for several years, and yet she continues to still look pretty good, which is perhaps a bit of a visual oversight.

Despite its flaws and a dull first half, ultimately the slow burn effect begins to work, and together with the music and feel of the era it evokes, it does build to a reasonably memorable emotional end. Admittedly, having a slight crush on Imogen Poots probably helps (also, see her surprisingly accomplished Scottish accent in ‘Centurion’). It’s directed by the man who effectively brought Coogan to an international audience with ‘24 Hour Party People’, Michael Winterbottom, and marks the latest of a long running collaboration between the two, after further films like ‘The Trip’ and ‘A Cock and Bull Story’.  Also with good turns from Anna Friel, Chris Addison (‘The Thick of it’) and Tamsin Egerton (‘St. Trinians’, ‘4..3..2..1’) and features a brief but pretty good Marlon Brando impression from Coogan too (he began his career onscreen as an impressionist for ‘Spitting Image’ in the eighties).

Speaking of which, here are some equally good impersonations from another famously famous thesp.

Bernie  (2011)    33/100

Review :   33/100                                                                   104 Min        12A

Based on a true story and from respected director Richard Linklater ( ‘A Scanner Darkly’ 06, ‘Me and Orson Welles’ 08 ) this looks slick enough, has good performances from the central players Jack Black, Shirley MacLaine and Matthew McConaughey, and the real events are reasonably interesting. The problem is, it’s put together in such a long winded way that, not only can we see a mile off what’s coming, it becomes very difficult indeed to remain attentive enough to really care. This is a fairly serious role for Black, and as shown by several previous divergences from his normal genre (see ‘Margot at the Wedding’ 07 for another memorable one), he is good in this, garnering a Golden Globe nomination for his depiction of the titular Bernie, a mortician who is well loved by everyone in the small town of Carthage Texas that he moves to after graduation, bowling them over with niceness and showering the elderly residents with attention and gifts, in particular Marjorie Nugent played by Ms Beatty (Shirley MacLaine is Warren Beatty’s sister, in case you didn’t know).

Bernie is so nice, however, he is not particularly luminous as the central character in a movie, something which it has perhaps been attempted to accommodate for by having most of the story told in the past tense via interviews from many of the town residents, some real, some actors, including district attorney McConaughey wearing very familiar cinematic boots, and our view continually switches between these interviews, with the interviewer silent, to the events that they are talking about, and since they talk about Bernie himself in the past tense, we are to wonder what happened to him…

It’s just not engaging at all, the constant flitting between interviews begins to drag really quickly, and there is an ambiguity over the ego and motivation of ‘Bernie’, and indeed the actor playing him; he constantly sings in the church for example, and there is an element of Ok we all know Jack Black can sing, but is this really adding anything to the film? A stronger comedic vein running parallel to the story might have actually helped a lot (it’s listed as black comedy, but I think black is a synonym for absent here). The film does have the distinction of being one of only two that I’ve ever seen to have received a chorus of applause from the audience at events mid film, which is admittedly impressive ( the other was Frank Darabont’s ‘The Mist’ 07 ).

11.05.14  For a very interesting recent update on the true story involved, have a gander at this article from The Guardian. RD

Love is All You Need / Den Skaldede Frisør  (2012)    67/100

Rating :   67/100                                                                     116 Min        15

From acclaimed Danish director Susanne Bier and starring Pierce Brosnan and Trine Dyrholm, this is a very traditional tale about hardship and the redemption of finding rejuvenating love in the most unlikely of places. Brosnan’s son is marrying Dyrholm’s daughter in Italy, and the two of them meet when their cars collide accidentally in the Danish airport they are to depart from. One has an adulterous husband and lives with the threat of returning cancer (he cheated on her whilst she was undergoing chemotherapy no less), the other lost his wife many years ago in a tragic road accident and has allowed himself to be consumed by work ever since. Both central performances are extremely good, and indeed the pain in Brosnan’s eyes looks very real when he talks about the loss of his wife, so much so Red Dragon decided to do a little checking and sure enough, he sadly lost his first wife, actress Cassandra Harris, to cancer. Ever since he has been a vocal supporter of cancer charities (he is also an ardent environmentalist), including being the celebrity spokesman one year for the breast cancer fundraiser ‘Lee National Denim Day’, run by Lee Jeans and which reputedly raises more funds than any other annual one day event for the cause – you can find more details about it here. Interestingly, Cassandra Harris appeared in the Bond film ‘For Your Eyes Only’ (81) as Lisl, and visiting her onset Brosnan was introduced to Bond producer Albert R. Broccoli which, despite setbacks due to his ‘Remington Steele’ contract that allowed Timothy Dalton to take the reins for two films, eventually led to his casting as the fifth actor to play James Bond in the Eon series.

Despite the likeability of the central characters, it’s the supporting roles that drag this film into the realm of melodrama, and although it’s not insufferable, it does begin to fray the edges of its believability, with almost everyone else at the wedding having some sort of personal drama which will come to the fore, and which ultimately takes up too much screen time and detracts from the core of the film. The Mediterranean setting is picturesque, evoking Brosnan’s vocally challenged trip to Greece in ‘Mamma Mia’ (08), and there are a lot of beautiful landscape shots of the town they go to, indeed it would not have gone amiss to have cut them longer and extracted some of the soap opera to make room. Brosnan exists here as box office draw, but one cannot imagine this going down too well in Denmark as although his character is deemed to be fluent in Danish, the actor is most certainly not, and so the film constantly flits between English and subtitled Danish, purely to try and appeal to a wider market. A tactical ploy which appears to have been successful, with this screened more commercially than most of Bier’s previous work, although I wonder if something did not go awry with their marketing, as the only time I’ve seen a trailer play for this was a mere one day before it went on national release, and, equally, I wonder if a wider release would not have been secured anyway, given the success of her previous film ‘In a Better World’ (10), which took home the best foreign language film award from the Oscars (notably, against the wonderful ‘Dogtooth’).

A nice film worthy of a look in, even if the supporting story arcs hinder rather than help.

Evil Dead  (2013)    17/100

Rating :   17/100                                                                       91 Min        18

This remake of Sam Raimi’s classic 1981 film of the same name manages to exist as boring, grotesque and irritating in pretty much equal measure, and has kept the basic idea of its progenitor but excoriated all of the darkly comedic aspects, quirks and playful horror that made the original such a cult favourite, a film that became so revered there is even a musical based on it (see below for a short excerpt). Oddly, production credits here find Raimi alongside Bruce Campbell and Robert G. Tapert, all of whom worked on the original trilogy (‘Evil Dead II’ arrived in 1987, and then ‘Army of Darkness’ followed in 92) and it seems the idea for this film is for it to act as both a reboot and a continuation of the original three, with an ‘Army of Darkness 2’ to follow, then a sequel to this one, and finally a third film to tie together the two separate story arcs. An interesting plan, but with the final product here, one could be forgiven for starting to think Raimi has lost his touch, especially on the back of his previous film ‘Oz The Great and Powerful’, as although he is not on directing duties (that dubious honour belonging to Uruguayan Fede Alvarez, handpicked by Raimi) this is ultimately badly shot, conceptualised, written, cast and staged.

It also suffers from the very, very familiar set up that takes place – a bunch of teens go to a cabin in the woods, seemingly fully intent on tempting the dark arts and getting themselves mutilated in a series of ever more bloody ways. Ironically, the success of the original has helped saturate the horror spectrum with this same concept, so much so, of course, it was satirised in the grand homage that was 2011’s ‘The Cabin in the Woods’. Here, the stage is set by the main character Mia, played by Jane Levy, wanting to kick her drug habit and thus isolating herself in her family retreat with some trusted friends and her brother, but this entire plot element is left dangling limply by the narrative and gets in the way of things more than anything else. Pretty soon they happen upon a cursed ancient tome, and one of them very cleverly works out what the words they should never ever utter are, and unleashes some kind of evil demon, one that ends up having no more scripted structure than a serious of exploding blood bags. It’s simply revolting, and fits right into the stratum of modern horror films that want to cerebrally butcher the audience as much as possible rather than thrill, scare, reward, or entertain them.

Unless you really want to see young girls wearing bright yellow contacts, cutting their tongues in half and flaring their nostrils so wide the camera could practically fit up them, then give this one a very wide berth.

Olympus Has Fallen  (2013)    70/100

Rating :   70/100                                                                     120 Min        15

For what this is, it’s actually pretty good. ‘Olympus Has Fallen’ marks the first film since 9/11 to show a terrorist attack on the White House. With that premise, it doesn’t sound great, The Red Dragon does not recall many of the old ‘The President is in danger!’ films being particularly enthralling, however, it is delivered via a fairly no nonsense approach here, and the orchestration of the attack itself is reasonably believable given events in the real world a decade ago, although the same cannot truly be said of its execution. It does also suffer from an inevitable cheese factor, but it’s at least cut and fed to us in thin slices, not detracting from the film as much as some of its predecessors.

Gerard Butler plays the secret service agent who must don his John McClane cap (lots of strong parallels with the original ‘Die Hard’ (88), and one can’t help but feel this could have served as a much better version of the fifth instalment, ‘A Good Day to Die Hard’) in order to try and save the beleaguered President, played by Aaron Eckhart, whilst Morgan Freeman, who of course played the President in ‘Deep Impact’ (98), also appears as the member of the White House staff who must take on the reins of power in light of his commander in chief’s compromised position. Also with another good turn from Melissa Leo, who certainly gains the audience’s sympathy by essentially being used as a punchbag at one point. From director Antoine Fuqua, who helmed the much maligned but really not that bad ‘King Arthur’ in 2004 (with the enchanting Miss Knightley of course) as well as ‘Training Day’ (01) and ‘Brooklyn’s Finest’ (09). Expect strong violence, explosions, bullets, and, well, death, throughout.

Scary Movie V  (2013)    3/100

Rating :   3/100                                                                         86 Min        15

Easily the worst of the Scary Movie films. It opens with Charlie Sheen and Lindsay Lohan in a bed together, which is surely the definition of a scary movie, but unlike it’s predecessors, Anna Faris turned down the opportunity to reprise her role as central character Cindy, and given the dark depths her career has often been plunged into, that really says something. Instead, the central plot follows the characters of Dan and Jody, pictured above and played by Simon Rex (who appeared in a couple of the others) and Ashley Tisdale respectively, as it proceeds to spoof some of the more famous horror and sci-fi film releases of the last couple of years. Using ‘Mama’ as the core concept, some of its other cinematic references are the Paranormal Activity franchise, especially numbers three and four, ‘The Cabin in the Woods’, ‘Evil Dead’, ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes’, ‘Black Swan’, and ‘Inception’. It’s mostly devoid of laughs, with a surprisingly long list of famous names like Usher and Snoop Dogg (in fact, in this sense it’s like an American version of ‘Keith Lemon – The Movie’), though it does feature an especially long outtakes section during the credits, which was actually more entertaining than the movie proper.

The Place Beyond the Pines  (2012)    76/100

Rating :   76/100                                                                     140 Min        15

The third dramatic feature from ‘Blue Valentine’ writer/director Derek Cianfrance, which again sees him reunite with Ryan Gosling, who is this time joined by another (to ape Will Ferrell’s Mugatu in ‘Zoolander’) ‘so hot right now’ Oscar nominee in the guise of Bradley Cooper, along with the combined talents of Eva Mendes, Ray Liotta, Ben Mendelsohn, Rose Byrne, Dane DeHaan, Bruce Greenwood, and Emory Cohen. The strong cast have been assembled by the success of ‘Blue Valentine’ and the involving script here, which spent several years gestating and who’s founding concept was a triptych exploring the notion of legacy, and the consequences of ones actions for years to come.

It opens with Gosling’s character Luke, a biker performing stunts in a travelling show, finding out he is actually the father of Mendez’ one year old child, leading him to quit in order to stay in town and try to provide for his new, unheralded son. The child turns out to be an unnatural devourer of enormous amounts of money, and so pretty soon he decides the only way he can possibly meet the demands of baby is to rob banks, several in fact, the money from which he finds he is just able to buy the would be new Citizen Kane of the world a cot with. This cot actually ends up as the centre of the entire universe of the film. Enter a spanner in the works, Cooper’s greenhorn cop, and the director’s intended consequences begin to be unveiled.

The film has been shot with a lot of fairly modern styles, close up camera work at times and shaky cam for example, but here they work pretty well for the most part, helping to give a feel for the adrenaline fuelled, hell for leather ride on a motorcycle after a bank robbery, and so forth, although the mix of these techniques and the fading in and out of music with diegetic sound, I think could have used a bit of tweaking. Slight plot issues aside, the story is good, but it’s really brought to life by the cast and crew – indeed I’d put this down as the first early awards contender of the year, although I wonder if it wouldn’t have been a little more effective with a truncation around twenty five minutes before the end, the completion of the third act feels a little too long and a little over the top.

Everyone is good in this, including newcomer Emory Cohen who comes across as a young Tom Hardy in many ways, there may even be a nod in that direction and Nolan’s Batman trilogy with Cohen saying ‘Why so serious?’ in a rather creepy way at one point, and the naming of Ben Mendelsohn’s character, who played Daggett in ‘The Dark Knight Rises’, as Robin. Dane DeHaan may have been miscast a little, as here his character is almost identical to the one he played in ‘Chronicle’, probably also why he was offered the role in the first place though, and the appearance of Ray Liotta onscreen is a bit of a giveaway that murkier territory is about to be entered …

Incidentally, the title of the film is a translation of the Mohawk name of the city that provides the setting – Schenectady in New York state, near the capital, Albany.

Oblivion  (2013)    15/100

Rating :   15/100                                                                     124 Min        12A

This film suffers from, at least, three major problems: the trailer spoils the entire first half of it, giving away critical elements, the screenplay is full of holes and so cheesy there were audible gasps of exasperation and laughs of derision in the cinema, I felt like applauding the couple of people who left at one particularly bad moment, though it is at least matched by lacklustre acting overall, and thirdly it lifts a lot from multiple other sci-fi sources, combining to produce a pallid shell, from which any talent and creativity long since departed.

If I were to add a fourth thing, it would have to be Tom Cruise’s hair, which seems to have a life of its own, appearing down one moment, and then ridiculously erect the next – usually when he mounts his wee desert bike as if this suddenly activates ‘Mad Max Desert Bike Cruise’. Speaking of which, there’s no reason for the bike to even exist other than to have the hero ride off on one; the hero who decides finding something lost in the desert will be easier on bike rather than from the air, hmmm…

The Red Dragon actually rates Cruise generally, but there is only so much he can do when everything else around him is crumbling. Fans of the hugely popular Bethesda Game Studios roleplay game ‘Oblivion’ should be aware there is no connection to this film, instead here Tom Cruise plays Jack Harper, hot on the heels of him playing ‘Jack Reacher’, who together with Victoria (Andrea Riseborough) are the last two humans assigned to the dying planet of Earth, who must protect, with the help of armed drones, huge automated machines which are to transport the planet’s water supply to humanity’s new home on Saturn’s moon, Titan. This has all come to pass after war with an alien race, a war which we won, but our own planet, and indeed our moon, was the price that had to be paid. Despite victory, remnants of the alien task force remain and attempt to interfere with the human plans…

In the course of telling their story, here is a not entirely inclusive list of the other films that are defiled in the process; ‘Wall-E’, ‘Star Trek: Generations’, ‘Terminator’, ‘Independence Day’, ‘The Matrix’, all to greater or lesser degrees, but their biggest art theft is also a massive spoiler, and so appears after the end of this review. Some of these similarities it could get away with easily, such as the drones with red ‘Terminator’ esque eyes and their screens that have ‘terminate’ on them, commonplace in sci-fi now really, but as they mount up it becomes more difficult. Cruise collects and cares for a small plant, the only thing alive he’s found in the dead lands he patrols – ‘Wall-E’. He has a hidden away, idealised cabin in a somehow fertile woods – ‘Generations’. I’ll stop there before I give too much away.

The film is written and directed by Joseph Kosinski (‘Tron Legacy’ 2010) who based this on his, unpublished (early warning sign right there), graphic novel, and he has claimed it pays homage to films from the 70’s, which may be true, but for the rest of it that fine line between homage and stealing is not tread carefully. Just as with his ‘Tron Legacy’, the visuals are the film’s only saving grace (many of the location shoots took place in Iceland), which paint a grand vista of cinematic grandeur, but are ultimately just the icing on a poorly baked cake.


Ok, this is basically the American version of Duncan Jones’s (son of David Bowie) ‘Moon’ (09), and, unfortunately, it’s cheesy and rubbish, whereas ‘Moon’ became a well deserved indie hit. Even though Kosinski’s graphic novel was begun in 2005, the similarities here are too great to ignore, and the screenplay underwent several rewrites over the years via several different people, had the graphic novel been published one could say for sure which came first. Strangely Jones is planning to write a graphic novel as a sequel to ‘Moon’ which he may then turn into a film – perhaps he nicked Kosinski’s idea? In any case ‘Moon’ was released first, and is ten times better, so it would have been wise to significantly alter the script to make sure no one could accuse it of plagiarism. Not the first time Cruise has been involved in an American remake – see his ‘Vanilla Sky’ as opposed to Alejandro Amenábar’s ‘Open Your Eyes’. If you are a big fan of sci-fi then please watch ‘Moon’ before you see this, as one will probably ruin the other for you and ‘Oblivion’ is bad in enough other ways to not really care about spoiling.

Princess Mononoke / Mononoke-hime  (1997)    75/100

Rating :   75/100                       Treasure Chest                  134 Min        PG

‘The Last of the Mohicans’ meets ‘Star Wars’ meets ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ in this, the film that really put Studio Ghibli on the map internationally and was, upon its release in 1997, the most financially successful theatrical anime in Japan’s history, indeed becoming the highest grossing Japanese film of the year. It’s set centuries past in feudal Japan, and mixes strands of history with Japanese mythology in a tale of the perversive power of hatred, anger and fear, and the dangers of throwing nature out of balance. Princess Mononoke herself has a wonderful introduction, and indeed the entirety of her first major scene I would without hesitation enter into my list of all time favourite film moments, with her charging into an enemy fort quite determined to take on everyone in it single-handedly. One of The Red Dragon’s biggest criticisms of the film is simply that she does not feature enough. In fact, the main character is actually Ashitaka, who exists as our hero, advocating reason and diplomacy as he is abruptly sent on a quest to the heart of the forest, wherein he will encounter mankind mining the earth for iron, and in doing so waging war on the spirits of the forest – some of whom have raised Mononoke (whose name is actually a general term for spirit or monster in Japanese) since she was a mere baby.

Should you be thinking of showing this to your children, there is bloody violence, including decapitations, but it is of the sort more likely to have your kids thinking ‘cooool’ rather than being disturbed by it, worth bearing in mind nonetheless, otherwise this presents an exciting and memorable parable. It features another good score from the wonderful Joe Hisaishi, who does many of Ghibli’s films, though the colour scheme is a little less vibrant than elsewhere in their collection. Ghibli itself (pronounced Gee-Bow-Lee in Japanese, Jibly in the west) comes from the Arabic word for the Sirocco, a Mediterranean wind, with the idea being their work would come as a dramatic wind of change in the industry; which indeed has been borne out as true. Here we see perhaps the studio fully establishing their voice, and yet still retaining some traditions of Japanese anime – a young female still manages to get herself covered in writhing tentacles, for example, although here they represent subversion due to hatred, rather than sexual desire.

The hand drawn style of animation is very easy to love, and in many ways it is the product of the drive and doting attention of director and Ghibli co-founder Hayao Miyazaki. In fact, he invested so much in this film he decided to retire once it was finished, although he couldn’t resist coming back to do ‘Spirited Away’ (and then several others) years later, whose success would eclipse even that of Mononoke. Due to time constraints this was the first film from the studio to introduce the partial use of computers, via the technique of ‘digital paint’, since then a practical balance was sought between traditional methods and new technology, that ultimately ended with a complete return to hand craft for all elements of animation (currently the only major studio to be doing so), beginning with ‘Ponyo’ in 2008. Also a signature imprint of Miyazaki are his strong, independent, loveable, and interesting female characters, from Mononoke to fort and iron works commander in chief Lady Eboshi, and the former prostitutes she has cheerfully working the bellows of her smelting forge. Reputedly, this stems from his seeing the animated film ‘Hakujaden’ (‘The Tale of the White Serpent’) in his youth and very much falling in love with the female protagonist.

Comparing the Japanese version with English subtitles, to the English language version with a host of big name actors doing the voice overs, the overall acting is better in the Japanese one (although Minnie Driver is great as Lady Eboshi in the other), however the audio translation (scripted by author Neil Gaiman) is better and makes more sense of the story, especially for non-Japanese audiences, than the subtitled translation, so that overall the English language version is to be recommended. It’s a little on the long side (when Harvey Weinstein, co-founder of Miramax, suggested it be abridged for release in the States, Miyazaki sent him a Katana blade with a note saying ‘No Cuts’, which simply underscores the awesomeness of Miyazaki) but this is animation with a real story and real point to make, one without any traditional ‘bad guy’, and some blood, the occasional ‘bitch’, and ex prostitutes aside, it aptly demonstrates how animation can be made to appeal to both young and old audiences alike.