Avatar review now online

If you’ve been living in a cave, you might not have seen Avatar yet. Check out my review on the Rotherham Advertiser website.

Happy “view” year, one and all

THIS YEAR promises to be a big year for film lovers. Intelligent thrillers Up in the Air and Inception promise to exercise the grey matter, comedy Date Night looks like the perfect date movie and remake fans can look forward to Robin Hood and The Karate Kid (yes, really) returning to the big screen, with TV favourite The A-Team joining them some time in the summer.
Fans of dumb fun will be kept busy with The Green Hornet and The Expendables and there are new instalments of Toy Story, Twilight and Shrek on the way.
2010 also has its fair share of unnecessary films, too. A remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street is out in April (surely six months too early?) and there are yet more superhero movies slated for the inevitable summer release.
Thankfully, though, there are still enough creative forces at work out there to be confident of many a celluloid fix over the coming 12 months.
Happy New Year everyone and happy viewing.

KEEP QUIET… P-L-E-A-S-E

NEW Year is a time for making resolutions, turning over a new leaf and laying to rest the mistakes of the past.
But the dog-with-a-bone aspect of my character just wont let some things lie and one particular old chestnut, the subject of anti-social cinema punters, fits into that category.
To that end, and in the spirit of New Year’s Resolutions, Im vowing in 2010 to do my bit to make the multiplex a more pleasant place for the filmgoer.
I aim to contact all the big cinema chains plus the odd independent and find out what their policy is in relation to noisy customers.
And crucially, what will they do if that idiot in the row behind you refuses to pipe down when politely asked?
Cases like the one last year when a particularly-vicious youth tracked down the female cinemagoer who had asked him to keep quiet and threw bleach in her face are thankfully few and far between, but chatting, hyperactive punters are a common irritantand there is no excuse for them.
Why should people pay through the nose to see the latest releases, only to have them ruined by selfish people talking all over the dialogue?
For their part, I want the big chains to do all they can to keep cinemas quiet so that everyone can enjoy the film in peace. Is that too much to ask?

My films of the year – do you agree?

THE time has come to pick my films of the year and 2009 has certainly provided a bumper crop.
Of course, every reader will have their own favourites, so don’t be surprised if I haven’t included all (or any) of yours.
I’m not going to rank them from one to ten, just urge anyone who hasn’t seen any of the films listed to make sure they catch them on DVD.
So here, in no particular order, are my top ten of 2009…

In the Loop: Perhaps not as brilliant as its sister TV series, The Thick of It, but still laugh-out-loud and cringe-makingly mirthful by turns, Armando Ianucci’s comedy take on the work of spin doctors and politicians in the run-up to a war in the Middle East is unmissable stuff.

Inglourious Basterds: A real return to form for Tarantino after a string of self-indulgent and wilfully grim films, the deliberately-misspelled comedy bloodfest is hard to watch at times but always absorbing. Features Christoph Waltz in what could be a breakthrough performance as the thinking man’s SS fixer.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button: The second Brad Pitt film on the list, this multi-layered drama is so richly-produced you can just feel the quality. It’s a bit of a weird one but its peculiarity is what sets it apart. Both Pitt and co-star Cate Blanchett are excellent.

(500) Days of Summer: Loved and reviled almost in equal by measure by the critics, 500 Days revolves around the sparky dialogue of lovers (or are they just friends?) Zooey Deschanel and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Self-consciously quirky but genuinely romantic and easy to lose yourself in. Even the noisy teenagers in the screening I witnessed soon became absorbed, and there can be no clearer stamp of quality than that.

Frost/Nixon: I admit I missed this at the cinema but I caught up with it on DVD and am glad I did. A small-scale masterpiece, this docu-drama about journalist David Frost’s interviews with a disgraced but defiant Tricky Dick is at its best in the quieter moments—Frost’s private reflections on his own weaknesses, Nixon’s horror on being finally confronted on camera with his guilt and the bizarre presentation of a pair of Italian shoes.

The Reader: Another Oscar winner for Kate Winslet and, blubbing speech apart, well worth it. Winslet is fantastic as withdrawn former concentration camp guard Hannah Schmidt, but she is matched by future star David Kross as the schoolboy with whom she forms a distinctly unusual bond. As Holocaust stories go, this is as thoughtful and compelling as they come.

Looking for Eric: Little seen but loved by practically all who did, Ken Loach’s drama says as much about friendship, family and mental illness as it does about football in general and Cantona in particular. Those who avoided it for its sporting background missed out because the star of the show is not King Eric but his downtrodden-postie namesake. Superb performances, great writing and a wonderful climax—what more could you want?

Milk: Sean Penn in stellar form as gay pride politician Harvey Milk. A tremendous supporting cast including Josh Brolin, Diego Luna and Emile Hirsch provide great backing to Penn’s sympathetic (and Oscar-winning) portrayal of the shopkeeper who turned San Francisco politics upside down. Gus van Sant’s rehabilitation from the unwanted Psycho remake is complete.

Slumdog Millionaire: Absent from many lists as it was completed and released Stateside last year, Slumdog only came to UK cinemas in January this year, so it qualifies as a 2009 film in my eyes. And what a film. Great-looking, compelling, emotional and dramatic, Danny Boyle’s tale of a quiz show champion from the slums is indisputably brilliant and should be in any true film lover’s DVD collection.

State of Play: The conspiracy thriller is alive and well, with Ben Affleck, Rachel McAdams and particularly Russell Crowe eminently watchable in a timely study of the murky links between politics and big business. Transported across the pond to Washington from the London setting featured in Paul Abbott’s TV original, Kevin Macdonald’s drama ratchets up the paranoia level and keeps you gripped throughout.

And the worst…
New In Town: Renee Zellwegger phones it in as she ends up as far away from her Oscar-winning peak as possible. Zellwegger is the high-flying exec dumped in a one-horse town. Fill in the blanks yourself. Sub-Bridget Jones slapstick, endless cliches, a vomit-inducing ending and some unfunny mocking of the bumpkin natives abound. It all adds up to a wasted 90 minutes. Less “fish out of water”, more dead on arrival. Avoid at all costs.

Ten Christmas crackers – and a turkey

CHRISTMAS may be a time for feasting, fighting and boozing for many people but for me its a chance to slump on the sofa and indulge in a film or two.
When it came to picking my top seasonal treats, there were plenty of obvious candidates with a particularly-festive theme jostling for position on the list.
But I decided that some non-Christmassy classics just had to be included on account of the fond memories they prompt of holidays past and their inevitable place in the December TV schedules.
So here for your enjoyment, in no particular order, are my top ten Christmas crackersplus a turkey for good measure.
Theyre not necessarily the best ever, just my personal favourites. Feel free to drop me a line with your own suggestions for the ultimate all-time Christmas list…

The ten crackers:
Elf
I’m not a huge fan of Will Ferrell, and I know that revelation will shock and appal some fans.
I just find some of his schtick a little too childish and difficult to stomach.
But Elf is an undisputed diamond in my house.
A sparkling script, some great slapstick and charming chemistry between Ferrell’s Buddy the Elf and Zooey Deschanel’s shop worker Jovie make this one Christmas comedy I never grow tired of.

Tim Burtons The Nightmare Before Christmas
Jack Skellington, the Pumpkin King of Halloweentown, attempts to combine Christmas with Halloween in this early 1990s classic.
The citizens of Halloweentown decide to make their own Christmas with their own twistand with mixed results.
It does have its scary moments but has more than its fair share of comedy, too. It’s great-looking, too. One for those forgoing Midnight Mass, perhaps?

Love Actually
OK, so it’s cheesy, frothy and as light as a meringue (unless you’re Emma Thompson’s wronged wife), but Love Actually creates a warm fuzzy feeling early on and produces just enough laughs to avoid being cloying.
The laughs sit neatly alongside the romantic moments and the running time just flies bybut if you’re not a fan of Richard Curtis, stay away.

ET
Not strictly a Christmas classic but shown so many times during the school holidays over the year and retaining such a childlike charm that it just has to be included.
The tale of the pint-sized extra-terrestrial is heart-warming, funny and emotional and has stood the test of time superbly.
Notable for the famous “riding bicycles across the moon” scene.

The Muppet Christmas Carol
There’s nothing like a dose of Caine, Kermit and the singing cabbages to get you in the mood.
All the best bits of Dickens and the Muppets combine to create a confection of the funny and the scary.
I was introduced to Mr Fozziwig and co the best part of a decade ago (I know, I know, latecomer!) and never looked back. I defy anyone to watch the singalong finale and still be lacking in Christmas spirit.

Big
This 1980s comedy always seems to be on at Christmas. It’s not remotely festive but it’s fairytale innocence never fails to charm.
Tom Hanks, in one of the roles of his career, plays a ten-year-old boy whose wish of becoming “big” comes alarming true, leaving him with the bodyand lifeof a toy company exec.
Cue hilarity as the boy-man unwittingly works his magic on his cynical colleagues.
The scene were he plays a giant piano with Robert Loggia’s toy tycoon can’t fail to raise a smile.

Its a Wonderful Life
Wonderful is the word as James Stewart’s suicidal small-town everyman battles his demons on Christmas Eve with the guidance of Clarence the Angel.
Dismissed as seasonal schmaltz by many and a huge flop on release, Capra’s film is actually darker than you might remember it but is an undoubted Christmas classic nonetheless.

Gremlins
This mid-1980s marvel provides shocks and laughs in equal doses, although the ratio probably depends on your age.
A warning to be careful about what Christmas present you buy, Gremlins introduced the world to the magic of the Mogwai and has hardly dated at all.

The Snowman
What Christmas list would be complete without it? OK, you might want to murder cherubic choirboy Peter Auty for the nauseating/sweet (take your pick) Walking in the Airlater a smash hit single for Aled Jonesbut there’s no doubting its charm or the quality of the animation.
Nominated for an Oscar in 1983, The Snowman cant fail to melt your heart.

Scrooge
The second Christmas Carol adaptation on the list but still worthy of its place.
Alastair Sim is on top form as miser Ebenezer Scrooge in this atmospheric and downright creepy take on the Dickens novel.

And a turkey….
The Grinch
Dont get me wrong, I know its a kids film but its just so irritating.
Jim Carrey is at his gurning worst as a completely over-the-top bah-humbug creature whose one wish is to steal Christmas and ruin the big day for everyone else. Practically unwatchable.

New boom for buff boy Taylor

In light of New Moon’s continuing success, Hollywood execs have gone predictably barmy over the film’s young stars.
Kristen Stewart was already marked out for great things after Twilight (doesn’t Panic Room seem a long time ago?) and has shunned the obvious cash cow route of teen-friendly movies for a challenging role as a prostitute in indie flick Welcome to the Rileys, sending the rumour mill into overdrive as stories persist that she will—wait for it—go naked.
The more surprising beneficiary of New Moon’s rise to prominence is Taylor Lautner, once an modestly-chested teenage actor, now a supremely-buff, six-packed hunk of schoolgirl fantasy.
Strong word had it before shooting on the Twilight sequel began that the 17-year-old was in danger of being ditched or at least having his torso played by a “double” if he didn’t tone up in time.
Countless hours in the gym have ironed out that problem, reportedly giving Lautner 30lbs of extra muscle and a raised profile in more ways than one.
The end result? He’s the latest “action man.” Not Action Man, but not far off.
Studio bosses have signed him up to play Max Steel, a superhuman extreme sports junkie immortalised as a toy by Mattel a decade ago.
So it’s xXx meets Transformers meets GI Joe.
I can’t see it troubling the Oscar judges but it looks like Lautner’s career is back on track after briefly appearing doomed before it had even begun.

Disney finally breaks down the race barrier

As the monster that is Christmas grows and the relentless march of Yuletide advertising reaches fever pitch, you could be forgiven for missing a movie landmark later this month.
Austere film factory Disney is breaking down a self-imposed race barrier with the debut of its first ever black princess.
The forthcoming Princess and the Frog fairytale looks unremarkable in every respect, except that it features an African-American princess in the starring role.
Ironically for such a forward-thinking film—and for Disney, it’s been a long time coming—the cartoon is set in Jazz Age New Orleans, when any sort of racial equality was still some way off.
Somehow, I doubt its portrayal of princess-in-waiting Tiana will ring particularly true, especially when it comes to race relations. But then it is a Disney film, so we can’t expect realism, can we?