The Twilight Saga : Breaking Dawn Part One  (2011)    60/100

Rating :   60/100                                                                     117 Min        12A

The penultimate member of the five film Twilight Saga and generally hailed as its worst instalment, although I actually enjoyed this to some degree – largely because SOMETHING ACTUALLY HAPPENS in this one. It remains cheesy, with bad dialogue and ropey effects, but this has been well established as one of the series’ trademarks so it doesn’t grate quite as much as before. The dire love triangle antics have been toned down somewhat with the advent of Bella and Edward Cullen’s wedding, which looks suitably impressive and matches the tone of the previous films. Bella decides to forgo her perverted hunger to become one of the undead until sometime after their honeymoon, thus allowing them plenty of time to engage in all sorts of inter-species sanguine shenanigans. Unfortunately, this releases unforeseen biological consequences (not particularly surprising ones) driving the rest of the story forward as everyone in their home town releases a collective groan at the latest predicament Bella’s wanton lust and stupidity have landed them all in. The scene with the audible ‘crack’ in it is particularly memorable, some of the music isn’t bad, and this actually had me looking forward to seeing what was to happen in the next one – which is more than can be said for its predecessors.

Through the Eyes of The Red Dragon

Parkland  (2013)    55/100

Rating :   55/100                                                                       93 Min        15

Released in the UK on the exact 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s assassination, this film appears to simply highlight that memorial – there really is no other point to the film whatsoever as we watch a dramatisation of the events surrounding that fateful day from the point of view of his staff, the medical professionals at Parkland hospital where Kennedy was taken, and the brother and mother of Lee Harvey Oswald who shot him (officially, at any rate). There’s lots of weeping, shouting, fake tension for events we already know the outcome of – all in all it’s an uninvolving soporific affair that barely adds anything at all to the plethora of other takes on the event. Indeed, simply rereleasing Oliver Stone’s ‘JFK’ (91), which is a real film, would have been a much better idea, if a somewhat controversial one. An impressive cast: Billy Bob Thornton, Marcia Gay Harden, Paul Giamatti, Zac Efron, Jacki Weaver, but each of them are given very little screen time, and just as little dialogue to work with.

The Hunger Games : Catching Fire  (2013)    71/100

Rating :   71/100                                                                     146 Min        12A

The sequel to last year’s first instalment in The Hunger Games trilogy (well, they are stretching the original three novels by Suzanne Collins into four films) sees the return of new best actress Oscar winner Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson as Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark respectively, ready to face the repercussions and responsibilities expected of them by the domineering force of The Capitol after successfully surviving the annual Hunger Games in the last film – a brutal last man standing, kill or be killed contest designed to both entertain and control the partially enslaved populace in this dystopian vision of the world’s future.

Those consequences are predictable enough – indeed the very names of the novels and films are kind of spoilers in their own right. Not that there is much in the way of originality in this teen fantasy series – the Japanese film ‘Battle Royale’ (2000) which predates all of the novels is one of many examples telling essentially the same story. However, the production value here is enormous, with a great spectrum of committed creative talent behind it. All of which ensures that the films are visually engrossing and perfect just to escape from reality for a few hours with.

Aside from an underwhelmingly abrupt ending, this is just as fun as the first one, compellingly acted and with a number of nice flourishes – like Cinna’s (Lenny Kravitz) indulgence with Katniss’s dresses …

The Family / Malavita  (2013)    61/100

Rating :   61/100                                                                     111 Min        15

Based on the novel by French author Tonino Benacquista and written/directed by filmmaking legend Luc Besson (‘Leon’ 94, ‘The Fifth Element’ 97), this English language film sees the family of one Giovanni Manzoni, a former member of the Brooklyn mafia, under witness protection with his family in Normandy, France, after bad blood and attempted assassination forced him to testify against one of the other crime lords. It’s a black comedy, as the family’s violent traits find themselves at odds with the quaint/rustic/backward way of life in their small town. Unfortunately, the gags are all very predictable and although Besson stages his familiar action set pieces well, his inexperience with comedy does show.

The central cast all do a good job – with Robert De Niro, Michelle Pfeiffer, Dianna Agron and John D’Leo embodying the main family, and Tommy Lee Jones playing the FBI agent assigned to try and manage their protection. It’s a very likeable film, it’s just not anything more than that. Although the scene where Giovanni is invited by the town to watch and discuss a classic movie of American cinema, is quite wonderful.

Don Jon  (2013)    69/100

Rating :   69/100                                                                       90 Min        18

Joseph Gordon-Levitt chooses a very interesting subject for his directorial debut – pornography. Also written by Levitt and starring him as central character Jon (nicknamed Don Jon by his friends on account of his pulling prowess with girls) we watch as he works out on his body at the gym, keeps his flat immaculately clean, and works his way through a succession of young hotties – and yet still finds jacking off to pornography more pleasurable than the real thing. Then he meets knock out blonde Barbara Sugarman, played by Scarlett Johansson, and becomes convinced she is the one – but will even her curvaceous figure and sublime features be a match for the infinite and easy choices available online?

The subject matter has been treated very well here by the man at the helm (no pun intended) dealing with it head on (ditto), and by mixing in a lot of good comedy. It is thematically reminiscent of Steve McQueen’s ‘Shame’ (11) but I would argue this is in many respects better as it ditches the prevalent moralising tone which permeated that film, and in many ways it does actually represent the differences between a British and American treatment of the topic, one prudish and judgmental – the other forthright and more fun. Indeed, the very idea of porn is often still hugely divisive between the sexes – the next time you’re in a group scenario just throw in the subject of masturbation over your friends facebook pictures and you’ll quickly see the dichotomy that exists generally (you can google that particular aspect of the debate for a plethora of very humorous threads – also something which works quite well is the timely interjection during a game of ‘I’ve Never’, which is normally used as an excuse for people to show off their real or exaggerated sexual exploits, of the line ‘Never have I ever … masturbated whilst thinking about anyone in this room’. This never fails to issue forth a blanket of silence over the sophistic podium, and you can usually tell by the extremely sheepish faces who indeed has done exactly that. Most amusing).

Both Levitt and Johansson sport very convincing accents (it’s set in New York City) and give really good performances, as does Julianne Moore in support. Although Levitt has done a couple of short films prior to this, for a first feature this is a sterling effort – and kudos definitely has to be given for opting to write about difficult subject matter with originality. The alienating problems with intimacy that Jon suffers from will strike a chord with many viewers, some of which will be surprised by the resonance – so seldom is any light shone on this area in a way that audiences can relate to. The only real criticism would have to be there are many aspects of a more traditional resolution to the movie, and although it makes sense for the story and what he’s trying to do, it nevertheless feels a little too black and white – the shades of grey are conveniently, and swiftly, removed from the equation…

Dom Hemingway  (2013)    31/100

Rating :   31/100                                                                       93 Min        15

Jude Law plays the titular Dom Hemingway – a crook just released from prison after a twelve year stint in the clink, and now on a mission to make amends with his estranged daughter. It’s a black comedy, but its primary faults are that it’s simply not that funny and Law convincing us he’s a hard-ass, cockney geezer (despite his commitment to the role) is just asking a bit too much from the audience. It’s like the film is trying to emulate the laughs from ‘In Bruges’ (08), whilst evoking Tom Hardy’s performance in ‘Bronson’ (08), and it doesn’t come close to being as good as either of them – in fact for the first third it is difficult not to want the main character to get killed, with him coming across as repulsive rather than endearing or comedic as he either hits/fucks/or insults everyone he meets (I’m making this sound more interesting than it actually is) and demonstrates how hard he is by lighting up a cigarette in a pub in defiance of the anti-smoking law – send him back to prison! There are a couple of nice moments, the support form the likes of Richard E. Grant and Demian Bichir is fine and the central character becomes a bit more palatable as the film progresses, but the whole film feels too forced and amateurish. From writer/director Richard Shepard (‘The Matador’ 2005, ‘The Hunting Party’ 2007).

Battle of the Year  (2013)    3/100

Rating :   3/100                                                                       110 Min        12

Anything with a bombastic title like this had better have something special going on, hiring popstar Chris Brown to play the principal lead certainly counts as ‘special’. For anyone who isn’t aware – Brown is the ex-boyfriend of Rihanna (unless they got back together – who cares) ever since he punched her in the face, or was that how they met each other, I can never remember.

One can imagine his reaction to the news that his ex lover was to appear in last year’s ‘Battleship’ – “Say what! Who dat bitch think she is?! Yo, get my knuckle-dusters, wait, hell no I’ll show dat hoe – I’m gonna get me one of dem Oscars! That right! That bling is dope yo!!” I have no idea if Chris Brown talks like this, but I’m pretty sure he’s a spoilt little fucknut so why exactly are cinema audiences being subjected to him?

Why indeed. The title of this film refers to the battle of the streetdancing b-boys scenario that forms the focus of the story where a bunch of barely literate hoodlums will become exalted beings at one with each other and the cosmos by jumping up and down, swinging their arms around, and spinning on their heads in a literal inversion of the use of their brain. I actually enjoyed the likes of the Step Up and Streetdance franchises, but this is just terrible, replete with spirit crushing bad dialogue (including anti-semitic lines), woeful acting, and to crown it all, for the most part uninteresting and unskilled dancing – all brought home with terrible editing.

I think it’s actually the scene pictured above where Brown leaps backward, but lands way off centre. Hopeless. Somehow Josh Holloway, as the retired basketball coach talked into taking on the American ‘Dream Team’, manages to eventually pull off the role as he takes them to the world breakdancing championships, despite the filmmaking carnage going on around him. This might be based on a true story – I really don’t care enough to find out, it’s certainly based on a documentary about breakdancing as they plug it heavily during the film each chance they get.

If the film industry is to be continually polluted by the music industry – can’t we at least have more of Katy Perry?

I think I may have put this up on another review somewhere, but it seems fitting to post it here too …

In Fear  (2013)    51/100

Rating :   51/100                                                                       85 Min        15

Starring Iain De Caestecker (‘Not Another Happy Ending’) and Alice Englert (‘Beautiful Creatures’), this low budget British horror film sees Tom and Lucy off for a wee romantic trip to the Irish countryside. The only problem is, they very quickly get lost in a maze of country roads supposed to be leading to their hotel – is someone playing a sick joke on them? Although a little tension is created, and the leads are Ok with a scenario that could work – very little is done with the story to make it worthwhile, and the overwhelming feeling come the end of the movie is simply one of pointlessness.

Lee Daniels’ The Butler  (2013)    68/100

Rating :   68/100                                                                     132 Min        12A

The true story of Eugene Allen – or at least it should have been. This is a heavily fictionalised account of Allen’s life, so much so they changed the central character’s name to Cecil Gaines (played by Forest Whitaker). I won’t list the principal story elements which were invented for the film as it will to no small degree ruin it, but their inclusion is ameliorated by the material at least arguably being representative of real experiences for African Americans at that time. In any eventuality, Allen served several of the American presidents, from Eisenhower in the 50’s right up to Reagan in the 80’s, as one of the White House’s butlers (Cuba Gooding Jr. and Lenny Kravitz play two of the others). With his occupation as an anchor for the story, what unfolds is an uncompromising reflection on the Civil Rights Movement in America, as we see the murderous brutality Gaines witnesses in the deep south as a child and the struggle his own son (played by David Oyelowo) goes through when he becomes an activist in the movement, mirrored with his unique employment and the very real effect he and his co-workers most certainly will have had on influencing the perspective, thoughts, and decisions of the presidents themselves.

It’s the latest film from talented director Lee Daniels, after last year’s ‘The Paperboy’, and it’s interesting that even the very difficult and harrowing brutality of racism, is still seemingly more palatable to audiences than the, ahem, touchy area of onscreen masturbation that was evident in that film (which I liked incidentally {the film that is, not John Cusack masturbating}), although some of the less effective after effects used there to make the film seem a little dated do also crop up here, giving early periods of the film a decidedly pallid feel to them. His latest movie is an emotive, strong piece that is well acted by its principal cast and its equally strong, and extensive, supporting cast members. I won’t spoil the long list of big name actors who appear as the various presidents throughout the film, although one was particularly surprising as he’s British, and another has played a president before … If so much of the screenplay hadn’t been mere invention, and if it wasn’t still being billed as a biography, then this would be a fantastic film – as it is, it’s still pretty good.

The Counsellor  (2013)    70/100

Rating :   70/100                                                                     117 Min        18

A slow burn film that takes a while to really settle and get into, but ultimately has enough of a punch to deliver. It’s an ensemble piece from director Ridley Scott, one that sees the rich cast of Michael Fassbender, the titular legal counsellor who decides to embark on a risky drug dealing enterprise for some extra money, Javier Bardem, Penelope Cruz, Cameron Diaz, Brad Pitt, Bruno Ganz, Toby Kebbell and Rosie Perez in a tale of dangerous consequences that uniquely feels real, rather than what we might expect from a big budget movie. Some of the cast give very good performances, Pitt in particular who’s character (if I heard him correctly) manages to fit in a reference to Scots law even though this is based in Mexico and the south of the US (which was nice actually – perhaps this means he was made to feel welcome here when he was shooting ‘World War Z’, or perhaps ‘No Country for Old Men’ novelist Cormac McCarthy, for whom this is his first screenplay, has an interest in Scotland), in fact, and I may be wrong, I think there were a couple of other Scottish references dotted throughout the film …

In any case, it is a dark but worthy film despite a number of flaws – such as the difficulty to engage with it for quite some time, a slightly muffled quality to the dialogue with too much of the delivery focused on having ‘gravely’ voices for dramatic effect/to look ‘cool’, and a creeping verbosity to some of the scenes. There is a strong philosophical element to the film as well, which The Red Dragon feels works very well – just don’t go in expecting to see sunshine and rainbows.