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Compiled by ANDREA MENDOZA

With the intention that, by reading this intensely,


She may soak up the magic that is the essence
Of Mr. Jolins awesome talent.
May she acquire skills and produce effect.
Intention is a ribbon of inspiration, celebration, and learning:
You are most welcome to borrow.












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This collection contains the following film and movie reviews by Dan Jolin, all published by
Empire:

A Serious Man (2006) directed by the Coen Brothers, p. 2
King Kong (2005) directed by Peter Jackson, p. 4
Inside Llewyn Davis (2013) directed by the Coen Brothers, p. 7
Captain Phillips (2013) directed by Paul Greengrass, p. 10
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012) directed by Peter Jackson, p. 12
Django Unchained (2012) directed by Quentin Tarantino, p. 17
Man of Steel (2013) directed by Zack Snyder, p. 21
Argo (2012) directed by Ben Affleck, p. 24
Thank You for Smoking (2005) directed by Jason Reitman, p. 28
The Iron Lady (2011) directed by Phyllida Lloyd, p. 30
Shrek the Third (2007) directed by Raman Hui & Chris Miller, p. 32
Labor Day (2013) directed by Jason Reitman, p. 36
Toy Story 3 (2010) directed by Lee Unkrich, p. 41
Dear Wendy (2005) directed by Thomas Vinterberg, p.
Warrior King (2005) directed by Prachya Pinkaew, p. 43
Borat (2006) directed by Larry Charles, p. 44
The Moguls (2007) directed by Michael Traeger, p. 47
X-Men: The Last Stand (2006) directed by Brett Ratner, p. 48
V for Vendetta (2005) directed by James McTeigue, p. 50

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A Serious Man
The Coens move in mysterious ways

Plot
The suburban Midwest, 1967. Larry Gopniks (Stuhlbarg) wife wants a divorce. Larry
Gopniks son owes the school bully $20 for a bag of marijuana. Larry Gopniks brother,
Albert (Kind), is sleeping on the sofa. And Larry Gopnik? He just wants to know how it all
went wrong, and what he can do about it...

Review
The Coen brothers are not
serious men. From Blood Simple through to Burn After Reading, their movies have always
scudded on a strong current of inky comedy. The results are often marvellous, but there
have been slip-ups, where things can turn shrilly screwball. Its when theyre going for out-
and-out laughs that you have to be most wary; you could wind up with The Ladykillers
rather than Raising Arizona.

So its with much satisfaction we can report that A Serious Man is a suburban dysfunctional-
family drama-cum-metaphysical mystery. About the clash between rationalism and
superstition (or faith). And Bar Mitzvahs. And academic integrity. And death. And teeth.
And the inescapability of fate. And Jefferson Airplane. And, to some extent how far well
probably never know, as the Coens, not being serious men, never answer a question straight
Joel and Ethan themselves.

While it feels as if the Coen DNA could, with enough scrutiny, be eventually extracted from
A Serious Man, dont make the mistake of thinking this is a personal movie. Larry Gopnik
is not their father. Still, Joel has gone as far as to say A Serious Man is reminiscent of

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things that happened to him and his brother as they grew up in their own Midwestern
suburb, and wed put money on one of the films stand-out sequences in which Dannys
(Aaron Wolff) Bar Mitzvah plays out through the red-eyed kids marijuana-glazed POV
being rather more than reminiscent for one of the siblings.

Even if not properly personal, the film does stand out as their most human and easy to
relate to, enhanced particularly by its approach to casting: it doesnt star a single star. (The
nearest youll get is Spin Citys Richard Kind; no distraction here of an A-lister with a bad
hairdo...) The lead actor, Michael Stuhlbarg, has hardly ever played a named character on the
big screen. Not that youd guess. He gives the film valuable warmth and grounds it
wonderfully as beset physics professor Larry, evidently creaking under the pressure, but
never exploding into cartooniness. In one scene, Larry, still trembling from the shock of a
car-prang, answers the phone to discover hes been unknowingly enrolled in a record club.
Stuhlbarg measures his reactions perfectly, shifting from confusion (Santanas Abraxus?!),
to frustration, to borderline hysteria (Ive just been in a terrible accident!), but while the
steam may build, the gasket doesnt blow. There are parallels with William H. Macys Jerry
Lundegaard in Fargo, although Larry is no weasel, and isnt heading down a downward spiral
of his own making. In short, hes not stupid and doesnt deserve his misfortunes the
same as most people who suddenly find themselves going through hell. The question Larry
asks is the same that would be on any of our lips: why is this happening to me? The answer,
as youd expect, is not easily found.

Despite the relatively naturalistic setting (even if it is one of brutally manicured lawns) and
non-crime-driven plot, we are still undoubtedly in the Coenverse. They revel in Yiddish
argot just as they did 30s slang in Millers Crossing; character names are typically outlandish;
dream sequences punctuate the action; and, like Barton Fink and The Man Who Wasnt
There before it, its fiendishly inscrutable, opening, for example, with a non sequitur vignette
set in a 19th century Polish shtetl, and ending on a double-cliffhanger.

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No doubt there will be multiple interpretations. Is it the failure of religion to maintain
relevance in modern life? How the American nuclear family exploded in the 60s? The Jewish
curse? You can bet, whatever you think, the Coens would disagree with you. Who cares?
Watch, puzzle, rewatch and, most importantly, enjoy yet another beautifully constructed and
shot Joel and Ethan show. And if we see a more exciting final shot of a movie this year, well
eat our yarmulke.

Verdict
Admirably low-key, deeply compelling and their warmest movie since Fargo.


King Kong
One king to rule them all...


Plot
Maverick filmmaker Carl Denham (Black) is determined to shoot his latest adventure flick
on a mysterious, unexplored island, despite the fact his bosses want to close the picture
down and his leading ladys walked. With the authorities on his tail, he convinces Ann
Darrow (Watts) to join him aboard the Venture a ship which takes the actress to that very
island to meet her giant-gorilla-shaped destiny

Review
Warning: Review contains
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minor spoilers.
There are many reasons why directors attempt remakes, but I wanna cos its my favourite
movie ever shouldnt really rank as the most encouraging. Spielberg sensed contemporary
relevance in his update of The War Of The Worlds. Soderbergh saw vast room for
improvement with Oceans Eleven. And numerous others have, quite simply, thought a new
take on an old story would guarantee big bucks. No doubt Universal had the latter in mind
when finally greenlighting this latest reworking of the 1933 monster classic, but, as is well-
documented, that wasnt the key driving impulse. No, Peter Jackson just wanted to emulate
the film that lit his first fires of inspiration and repay that creative ignition with a fitting
tribute.

Pre-Lord Of The Rings, this sounded like pure folly, especially as the last Kong (John
Guillermins 76 monstrosity) was such a flop. No wonder Jackson struggled to get it rolling
in 96, regardless of the fact that remakes of Godzilla and Mighty Joe Young were already
crowding out the marketplace. Of course, after Rings, Jackson could have suggested
remaking Plan 9 From Outer Space and been showered with greenbacks. Still wouldnt have
made it a great idea. Yet his wanting to remake Kong, even if cinema quite frankly
doesnt need another Kong, turns out to be this movies greatest strength.

Like Sam Raimi, Jackson is a filmmaker who lets his inner fanboy guide him rather than
blind him. Indeed, Jacksons avidity is so tangible in his insertion of winking in-jokes , in
his choreography of the action sequences and, most importantly, in his detailed realisation of
the great, battle-scarred ape himself it allows us to easily forgive the few flaws the movie
does have.

Such as? Well, why, for example, spend so long in the first act detailing middle-rung
characters like Venture crewman Jimmy (Jamie Bell) and Captain Englehorn (Thomas
Kretschmann) if youre just going to drop them out of the story come the climactic New
York rampage? It seems an odd choice to pad the script in one area, pushing our arrival at
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Skull Island back to the end of the first hour, then keep it lean in another. And on the
technical side, the occasional CG shot looks unfinished; an ambitious brontosaurus
stampede, for instance, doesnt quite gel its madly scrambling human element with its dino-
participants to form a believable whole.

Fortunately, Jackson spends so much time knocking your socks off that you wont really feel
like scratching your head. (Besides, theres a level of criticism you just cant go to, unless you
want to start questioning Anns Wolverine-like ability
to resist skeletal fractures, while accepting the existence of a 25-foot-tall gorilla.) His horror
sensibility serves the story well, as does his dark sense of humour watch Denham mourn
his ruined celluloid like his companions mourning their dead friends. He also teases fine
performances out of his ensemble, Jack Black deserving a special mention for making
Denham so appealingly reprehensible.

The overlong Skull Island section, meanwhile, might be an indulgent action binge but it still
out-Spielbergs Spielberg at his most Jurassic: icky giant bugs elicit schoolgirl squeals, while
Kongs T-Rex tussle causes fanboys to shriek with delight. Even the monster-free sequences
will cause mandibles to slacken, such as the Ventures attempts to navigate the islands rock-
spike coast, or the Kong-summoning ritual, disturbingly portrayed as an ecstatic religious
experience for the islands wretched, hissing natives.

As for the King himself, if he doesnt win this film the special-effects Oscar in a few
months, Empire will be a monkeys uncle. In fact, if the Academy werent so damn
conservative, hed be in with a fighting chance of earning Andy Serkis (who provided the
motion-captured moves) an acting gong, too. Kong represents the next evolutionary step up
from Gollum in Wetas peerless splicing of performance and VFX. While the biplane-
swatting and skyscraper-clambering undoubtedly impress, its in his facial performance and
interaction with Ann (Watts, in a knock-out turn) that he truly astonishes, not least because
at all times he remains vigilantly unanthropomorphized and yet still invites sufficient
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emotional involvement for you to blub come the Empire State showdown. Its as a romance
that the 05 King Kong outdoes the original hands-down, with some wonderful interludes
tautening the couples bond to such a degree that its ultimate snapping is painful.
Verdict
Unlike its newly trim director, Kong does boast some flab around the middle but by the final
reel theres little doubt that what could have been Jacksons folly is a triumph, the kind of
romantic action spectacle that makes the big screen silver and provides box-office gold. Puts
the prime in primate.


Inside Llewyn Davis
Barton Folk

Plot
The Village, winter 1961. Aimless singer-songwriter Llewyn Davis (Isaac) sulks at the fringe
of the folk-revival scene, pestered by the memory of his dead partner and vaguely hoping for
a big break to land in his lap. But the unwelcome fruit of a one-night stand with Jean
(Mulligan) and the accidental adoption of a cat set in chain various mishaps that might just
fail to change Llewyn's life.

Review
Joel and Ethan Coen don't like to leave a good story finished. Notable exceptions dot their
work (Miller's Crossing, The Hudsucker Proxy, True Grit), but there's always been a strong
sense that they dig loose ends: the suitcase full of money; the bowling tournament; Larry's
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test results; Barton's box. Imagine a Coen Brothers movie finishing with end-credit post-
scripts. God forbid. They encourage us to be tantalised by uncertain futures.
And few have been as uncertain, or as tantalising, as that of floundering folk singer Llewyn
Davis, another of the brothers' Serious Men - those quirky little Jobs like Fink and Gopnik
sent a-reeling by all the misfortunes their quietly mischevious creators inflict upon them. The
fact that Inside Llewyn Davis is arguably the Coens' most sombre outing yet might make its
heavily elliptical nature especially tough on the viewer who prefers their entertainments
wrapped in a neat little bow. Like the earnest plucking and yodelling of the music scene at its
centre, the film isn't exactly one which begs for wide appeal.
However 'cold' some find them, the Coens have rarely made their protagonists entirely
dislikable. Even the egotistical Barton Fink is okay(ish) once you get to know him. But,
embodied in the dismissively sleepy-eyed Oscar Isaac (who stole the under-seen Robin
Hood away from Russell Crowe with his sneertastic King John), Llewyn is a true shit. Fans
of real-life folk hero Dave Van Ronk shouldn't mistake Llewyn for his surrogate; the Coens
were merely inspired by certain incidents in Ronk's engaging memoir, The Mayor Of
MacDougal Street. Llewyn is a guy who, asked for abortion money by his friend's girlfriend
(Carey Mulligan, gorgeously furious) after possibly knocking her up, tries to borrow that cash
from that very same friend (Justin Timberlake, outrageously pullovered) just moments later -
even though he knows there's a strong chance the zygote in question could also be the
spawn of that very same very same friend. But Llewyn's suffering, right? He was once one
half of a burgeoning musical duo - until his collaborator jumped off a bridge. And at least
he's an unrecognised musical genius. Right? Right?
Well, not quite. The Coens leave it to us to decide if Llewyn is the simmering talent he
believes himself to be. ("I don't see any money in it," shrugs F. Murray Abraham's
Chicagoan Svengali, quite reasonably, after Llewyn puts half his soul into a make-or-break
audition.) Or if he actually helped push his poor buddy to take that terminal dive. None of
which, it should be stressed, makes Isaac-as-Llewyn any less engaging. Like the Gorfeins'
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imperious, infuriating ginger tom (who it would be a spoiler to name), we find ourselves shut
out with this serial couch-crasher, coatlessly suffering the bite of an East Coast cold snap
while bathed in cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel's near-comatose blue-grey light, which
arrives filtered through snowclouds and frosted windows. Whether he's alienating warm-
hearted fans (the aforementioned Gorfeins), suffering a nightmarish, sleet-lashed road trip
with an on-the-edge Beat poet (Garrett Hedlund) and a blusterously offensive, heroin-addled
jazz veteran (John Goodman), or puh-puh-puh-ing his way through a ludicrous, space-race-
inspired pop confection ("UH-OH!"), Llewyn isn't someone you ever feel an urge to tear
away from. (Unlike, admittedly, the Gorfeins' cat.)
He is a man who won't deign to connect with others, but is also incapable of functioning as
a solo act - either musically, or in life. It's tempting to see Llewyn as the incarnation of Joel
and Ethan's combined fear of each being left without the other, something which may well
niggle at them now they've hit their fifties. In this sense it very much characterises their
'mature' phase, a further step away from the zany excesses of the past. As such, it may not be
one of their easiest films to like, but it's easily one of their best.

Verdict
Inside Llewyn Davis throbs with melancholy, hunches under heavy skies, revels in music
history's unsexiest scene and unapologetically leaves you dangling. It is also beautiful,
heartfelt and utterly enthralling.


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Captain Phillips
Sea Trek: Into Darkness

Plot
In April 2009, US container ship the Maersk Alabama was boarded by four Somali pirates
who took its captain, one-time Boston cabbie Richard Phillips, hostage. The crisis played out
over five days, and this film recreates those events.

Review
Everything is going to okay. Youll hear that line, or subtle variations thereof, repeated
many times during Captain Phillips. Its an unsettling and ironic mantra and, given its
spoken by a Somali pirate, also the hollowest of reassurances. And yet, crucially, it never
plays as a veiled threat. Partly this is due to an impressive performance by first-time Somali
actor Barkhad Abdi, as pirate lieutenant Muse. But also due to a level of emotional (and
political) complexity we should have come to expect from both writer Billy Ray (Shattered
Glass, Breach) and director Paul Greengrass. If you came here for a Go America! tale of
bright Yankee perseverance amid dire straits and dark intentions far overseas, you got off at
the wrong port. This is a tale less of heroism-versus-villainy than different shades of
victimhood.
As youd expect, on the Greengrass spectrum Captain Phillips is closer to United 93 than
The Bourne Ultimatum: based on recent true events, with an even-handed, detail-heavy
procedural approach that in no way constrains psychological and emotional exploration. It
provides a kind of comfort zone for Greengrass, but this is clearly where he does his best
work, so it is also a welcome return to form after he came unstuck trying to dredge
mainstream thrills from non-existent Iraqi WMD in 2010s Green Zone. As in United 93,
Greengrass aims to present reality through a clear, documentarian lens, observing things as
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they likely happened, blow by horrible blow, rather than filtered through Hollywood clichs.
There are no cutaways to desk-thumping Pentagon guys, tie-straightening politicos, or hand-
wringing relatives gathered around TVs. Once Phillips leaves the US, so do we. Unless you
view the casting of Tom Hanks cynically and we dont there is no attempt to crassly
crowdplease.
Yet it still has all the momentum and clench-strength to do exactly that: please crowds. After
brief parallel set-ups in Vermont, USA and Eyl, Somalia, during which theres some
thematically ripe dialogue (Gotta be strong to survive out there, Phillips tells his wife
Andrea, played by Catherine Keener, while discussing their kids on a drive to the airport),
the action thunders along while relentlessly maintaining tension.
Greengrass has a passion for detail: after an hour youll know how to repel assault rifle-
wielding pirates if you dont have access to firearms, and how to react if they do fight their
way onto the decks. What is most surprising is how it is the pirates, rather than the seamen,
who have the odds stacked against them. Phillips ship is an immense metal hulk festooned
with high-pressure water cannons. We got the speed, we got the height, we got the hoses,
insists Phillips. As an audience, we are so used to rooting for underdogs that theres a
temptation to applaud Muse and his three (three!) companions once they do board, especially
as weve had a brief insight into the impoverished and perilous circumstances which induced
them to do so. No al-Qaeda here, Muse assures Phillips once hes taken nominal control.
Just business.
Even later, once Phillips Irish to his captors has been taken hostage and the drama
transfers to the claustrophobic, hotbox confines of a hijacked lifeboat floundering toward
the Somali coastline, Muse and his boys (for they are barely men) attract the full might of the
US Navy. Theres got to be something other than fishing and kidnapping people, Phillips
says to Muse while the shadow of a warship falls over them. Maybe in America, Irish,
maybe in America, Muse shrugs.
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This exchange may seem heavily loaded, but Abdi and Hanks handle it with compelling
sincerity. At first, the role of Phillips doesnt feel like too much of a stretch for Hanks: part
Catch Me If You Cans Carl Hanratty with its no-nonsense Bostonian bark, part Cast Aways
Chuck Noland, a clear-headed professional hurled into extreme calamity. But by the
devastating (yet quiet and intimate) final scene, the differences are obvious and acute.
Throughout his crisis, Phillips is a man running with a bowl of water, desperate not to spill a
drop, desperate not to slow down. As well as suffering an ordeal, he is also experiencing a
kind of alien encounter. Except, of course, he is no more or less human than those at the
other end of the guns so regularly pressed into his face.
There is no hoary were just the same, you and I... moment. His attackers are firmly
separated from him by geography, culture and a generation, but there is desperation and a
kind of naivety, carefully portrayed, on both sides. Just as Phillips cant fathom how there is
no alternative to fishing and piracy for these kids, the pirates themselves fail to accept that,
no, everything is not going to be okay.

Verdict
Both Greengrass and Hanks are on award-deserving form in a riveting, emotionally complex
and hugely intelligent dramatisation of a real-life ordeal.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Roads go ever, ever on

Plot
With the help of "meddling" wizard Gandalf (McKellen), Shire-dwelling hobbit Bilbo
Baggins (Freeman) finds himself thrust into adventure, embarking on a quest with a small
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group of dwarves ("not 13 of the best or brightest") to reclaim their treasure and homeland
from the dragon Smaug. Meanwhile, a malevolent presence returns to Middle-earth.

Review
All good stories deserve embellishment, Gandalf The Grey (Ian McKellen) tells Bilbo
(Martin Freeman) before the latter has even left the snug, leathery comfort of his Bag End
armchair and embarked on his Unexpected Journey. There is no way this line, a pithy
conclusion to a tall tale of Bilbos Tookish grandfather (beheads goblin, invents golf), could
have been written unknowingly. The Hobbit is a good story. And embellishment,
controversially for some, has been the order of Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens
and Guillermo Del Toros adaptation both narratively (An Unexpected Journey is now a
trilogy opener rather than part one of two) and visually; this sunnier, 60-years-younger
Middle-earth was digitally shot at double the frame rate of the three earlier movies which
concerned this mythic realms difficult autumn years.

To begin with the first form of embellishment is to immediately address the concern that
Jackson and co.s Hobbit may be a painful inflation of a slim, bedtime storybook, as opposed
to The Lord Of The Rings leaner interpretation of a vast fantasy-historical epic. Team
Jackson looks outside the novels narrative (which, while quicker than Rings, is still rich in
detail and packed with incident) to the Tolkienverse yonder, and unashamedly treats The
Hobbit as a prequel in which the return of Sauron The Deceiver is foreshadowed
ominously.

Yet the cutaways to guano-faced nature-wizard Radagast The Brown (Sylvester McCoy)
nursing hedgehogs, going boss-eyed and rabbit-sledging to creepy ruined forts do feel of
limited relevance to the main quest. Beyond Gandalf expressing to a sceptical Saruman
(Christopher Lee) his fear that dwarf economy-hoarding wyrm Smaug could come into play
as a fiery WMD for the enemy, the threads concerning the White Council, the
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Necromancer and aforementioned fort Dol Guldur all direct prequel material have yet
to be firmly twined with Bilbos relatively modest adventure. He may find the One Ring
here, but for now its connection to Sauron is known only by us and Howard Shores string
section.

Even so, this particular trek to a mountain has been smartly remoulded the final
destinations always a mountain, this one Lonely rather than Doomed. It is well-paced,
bringing in chief antagonist Azog (Manu Bennett), the albino orc-lord barely in the book,
who from the start is hunting the dwarf scum, soon giving the quest frantic chase movie
impetus. Existing set-pieces have been thoughtfully redrafted, so dont expect the encounter
with the trolls (a cockney Three Stooges) to play out as it does in the novel. And new
sequences have been added, such as a skirmish with warg-mounted orcs on Rivendells
borders. The Goblin Town diversion comes replete with Jacksonian grace notes, featuring a
neat swinging gantry gag that references King Kong although he doesnt let these set-
pieces breathe as freely as those in either Rings or Kong. While its good to see Gandalf get
stuck in like never before, this is no Moria. And despite the running time, there is still the
occasional sense that Jackson is rushing, underpinned by the fact that, for all their elaborate
individuality, the dwarves remain somewhat amorphous, with only Thorin (an impressive
Richard Armitage), Balin (Ken Stott), Bofur (James Nesbitt) and Fili/Kili (Dean
OGorman/Aidan Turner) given any special attention.

Still, thanks to an Ian Holm-presented prologue, were in no doubt as to the significance of
their mission. This isnt just a treasure hunt: this is a desperate gambit to reclaim a homeland
for a people who have suffered a generation of bitter diaspora. There is an appeal to the way
Tolkiens book begins small, seemingly trivial Bilbo the reluctant burglar off on a perilous
jaunt then rises out into something so huge that five armies roll up to the ultimate fracas.
But it is appropriate to Jacksons cinematic rendition of Middle-earth that we should swiftly
understand Thorins position (part Aragorn, part Boromir) in its weighty narrative history.
This comes not only via the prologue, in which we witness the full glory of Erebor and its
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nuking by malevolent bat-lizard Smaug (of whom there are glimpses), but also an impressive
flashback to Thorins hard-fought, albeit temporary, triumph over Azog on the slopes
outside Moria.

One question raised by the book is: why precisely did Bilbo, a homely fellow and appreciator
of simple comforts, agree to head off into such danger? And why didnt he bail when the
going got extreme? These are ingeniously addressed, and in fact form the arc of An
Unexpected Journey. The Hobbit Episode I is the story of how Bilbo commits to adventure,
how he realises his motive. And Team Jacksons answer is elegantly simple, a fine-brushed
masterstroke of scripting: the creature who just wants to go back home discovers that what
hes doing here is helping these homeless dwarves reclaim theirs.

Its a concept sold flawlessly by Martin Freeman, perfect casting for the fusty halfling. There
really is no other character like Bilbo in Tolkiens chronicles, and he is arguably this sagas
strongest: a proper, decent, everyday sort of chap (if a little on the conservative side) whose
resourcefulness is drawn from a deep well of inner strength. Not as beleaguered as Frodo,
nor as acquiescent as Samwise, nor as comical as Merry and/or Pippin. Im not a hero or a
warrior, Bilbo asserts. Hes us. And Freeman encapsulates that throughout, without
mugging or winking. His Bilbo does take his predicament seriously, and while this is the
jauntiest at times silliest, at times funniest, certainly the most child-friendly Middle-
earth movie yet, Freeman remains its emotional lodestone.

The most powerful moment comes during the Riddles In The Dark incident, which briefly
brings back Andy Serkis Gollum, the other arguably strongest character in the saga. It is a joy
and a thrill to once more see mo-cap master Serkis owning the role, and to have the
celebrated encounter brilliantly re-envisioned through the prism of the Smagol/Gollum
split personality. However, the true punch of poignancy comes at that most pivotal of
moments: when Bilbo, invisibly standing over Gollum with sword at his throat, exercises
mercy. Jackson holds on Freemans face. This isnt just Tim-from-The Office or Watson in
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pointy ears, but an actor at the height of his prowess finding every layer to a character it now
seems he was born to play.

So what, finally, of that other embellishment, the history-making visual treatment? 48 frames
per second is, as they say, something else. And you can take that both ways. On the one
hand, the crispness of detail is almost overwhelming, whether youre noticing the seam down
the back of Gandalfs hat, or repulsed by the scabby goitre dangling from the Great Goblins
(Barry Humphries) hideously distended face. On the other, theres something about the lack
of grain and motion blur that oddly makes the movie feel less epic its so immediate and
intimate that the distance between seat and screen is all but removed. This may make you
feel more thrillingly part of the action, or it may diminish the spectacle and unflatteringly
highlight the films more set-bound nature. Something to bear in mind when deciding if
youre going to seek out the upgraded experience.

Verdict
It may deal in part with a (literal) phantom menace, but this is thankfully not The Phantom
Menace. The Hobbit plays younger and lighter than Fellowship and its follow-ups, but does
right by the faithful and has a strength in Martin Freemans Bilbo that may yet see this trilogy
measure up to the last one. There is treasure here.

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Django Unchained
Once upon a time in the South


Plot
In 1858, bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz (Waltz) frees a slave named Django (Foxx) to help
him track down three outlaw brothers. The pair partner up, then conspire to rescue Djangos
wife (Washington) from a plantation owner (DiCaprio).

Review
Any new Quentin Tarantino release is an event. Like his latest protagonist, Tarantino is a
filmmaker Unchained (although, to be fair, he was never really Chained to begin with). He
has never exhibited any agenda beyond revelling in a seemingly boundless love of cult
cinema and sharing that with an audience whom he never patronises by assuming they know
less than he does. So, for good (Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown, Kill Bill,
Inglourious Basterds) or ill (Four Rooms, Death Proof), his movies, however wide their
scope, always come unhampered by studio fussiness and unvarnished by new trends: digital,
CGI, 3D IMAX, even. For a man credited with tearing up the rulebook, he is staunchly
traditional.

And to see him tackle that most traditional of American cinematic genres, the Western,
makes Django Unchained a double-event. The importance of the Western, so rich with
mythic power, to Americas very sense of itself is not to be underestimated. Inglourious
Basterds was a riot, outrageously rewriting the history of the Second World War to the tune
of its own filmic re-presentation during Tarantinos formative years. But Django Unchained
digs deeper, into even more thematically fecund soil.
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Just as it was a thrill for late 60s counterculture kids to see it ploughed into Spaghetti by
European maestro Sergio Leone and those who followed (not least that other Sergio,
Corbucci, director of the original Django), there has been understandable anticipation for
QTs own spin.

Yet, strictly speaking, Django Unchained isnt a Western. Tarantino himself has said, if
anything, it should be tagged a Southern. Its events predate the Civil War by a few years,
whereas most Westerns squat between that devastating conflicts conclusion and the dawn of
the 20th century. (When, not coincidentally, cinema itself was born.) They also occur far
from the rugged frontier of American myth, with half the movie pinned to a single
Mississippi plantation a locale of faux-aristocratic if sinister elegance, rather than the slop
and dust of the prairie cattle-trail or timber-clad frontier camps. Tin star-sporting sheriffs do
feature, but are given almost comedically short shrift. Native Americans and border-
bothering banditos are notably absent.

So, Southern it is. Or rather, Spaghetti Southern. For, while Tarantino has skirted the
Westerns customary historic home, he has still embraced the style of the two Sergios and
their contemporary emulators, from the operatic grandeur of the score (Ennio Morricone
composed a piece for Django Unchained) to the oozy, lurid scarlet fountains that cascade
gorily with every gunfight.

It is also, interestingly, very much a fairy tale; more so, in fact, than myth. For the first time,
Tarantino plays it linear (although there are degraded-stock flashbacks) and portrays a single
characters journey. There are no shifts in perspective, no chopping up of the chronology, no
chapter separations. It is, essentially, a straightforward rescue the princess quest, heightened
by being located amid the Old World-pining feudal system of the Southern aristocracy.

The script even spells it out. Having relieved laconic slave Django (Jamie Foxx) of his irons,
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German bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz (a hirsute, dapper Christoph Waltz) is astonished to
learn that, not only is his new partner married, but also his wife (Kerry Washington) is
named Broomhilda von Shaft. Over a campfire, he tells Django of her namesake,
Broomhilda of German legend: how she is abducted by a dragon and taken to the top of a
mountain where she is surrounded by hellfire. It is then up to hero Siegfried, explains King,
to make the perilous journey to rescue her. And Django, he says, is a real, live Siegfried.
Thus Django has his own hellfire to contend with, and there is a dragon to battle.

Speaking of which, one of Django Unchaineds most exquisite pleasures is Leonardo
DiCaprios Calvin Candie, the owner of grand plantation Candie Land. Although he does
not breathe fire so much as hot air. When considering DiCaprio for the role, Tarantino
reimagined Candie as a petulant boy emperor. It is a role the actor plays to hateful
perfection: a spiteful, brown-toothed bully, avaricious, vain and prone to flattery, whose
sometimes unctuous civility is merely froth bobbing atop dark, poisonous waters. There is
always the sharp threat of violence when he is on screen, something Tarantino hones during
a dinner-table sequence which comes close to matching the German-bar scene in
Inglourious Basterds.

DiCaprio forms a superbly nefarious double act with Samuel L. Jackson as Stephen, the head
house-slave: white-haired and rickety, eye-bulgingly apoplectic at the sight of Django on
horseback, disgusted at the idea of a nigger being allowed to stay in the big house. And
Waltz is also excellent, as accomplished playing a hero for Tarantino as he was as the
villainous Hans Landa in Basterds despite residing at the opposite end of the moral
spectrum, Dr. King is just as brilliantly verbose.

Sadly, the weak link (ironically) is Jamie Foxx. The man has physical presence, that is
undeniable, and as Django he certainly looks the part. Yet he never feels entirely right as the
gritty, gunslinging hero or rather, sounds right. Foxx is gifted with a lilty, soft, musical
voice, but it jars against Djangos terse deliveries. I like the way you die, boy, should be a
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grit-spat humdinger of a zinger. But with Foxx it falls like a feather.

There are other problems, too. Tarantinos penchant for black comedy and hyperreal,
sometimes cartoonish violence runs up against his bold decision to depict the horrors of
slavery head on: the lashings, the terror of the hot box and, in one bone-chillingly nasty
scene, the pugilistic atrocity of a Mandingo fight. This, of course, is all part of Djangos
story, and utterly relevant. But it doesnt sit comfortably next to those more Tarantino
elements or his brand of Spaghettification.

Django Unchained is also, frankly, just too damn long. Or rather, its story is just too damn
short for the running time (which pushes three hours). There is nothing inherently bad about
long running times, and one of Tarantinos strengths is the way hes unafraid to let a scene
run and run, his reams of dialogue unfurling in luxuriously unhurried fashion. But that
tendency is here at its least tempered. Django could easily have moved faster without at all
harming the quality. It could have taken even more of a lead from its Italian-Western
inspirations and more often cut to the chase, and the action. To quote Tuco in Leones The
Good, The Bad And The Ugly: When you have to shoot, shoot. Dont talk.

Verdict
Another strong, sparky and bloody entry in the QT canon. Although, creaking under its
running time, its not quite as uproariously entertaining as his last pseudo-historical
adventure, Inglourious Basterds.


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Man Of Steel
The Clark Knight


Plot
During General Zods (Shannon) attempted coup on the dying world Krypton, chief
scientist Jor-El (Crowe) rockets his son Kal-El, the planets first natural-born child for
centuries, into space. Crashing on Earth, the child is raised by the loving Kents (Costner and
Lane) to keep his immense strength and super-sensory perception secret. But when the Kal-
seeking Zod appears on Earth 33 years later, it is surely time for Kal / Clark (Cavill) to reveal
himself.

Review
Superman has never seemed the easiest character to realise. Or at least, to make interesting on
screen. Thick-necked, square-jawed, serious and utterly benevolent, he hardly provides an
actor (or even a writer) chewy material. Not like Batman. Batmans someone to really get
your teeth into. Theres an interior to explore there, a whole murky cavern. The troubled
childhood, the phobia, the anger, the guilt, the discipline. With Batman, as Christian Bale
found and exploited so well, you can climb inside and get your hands dirty. He bruises, he
bleeds, he breaks. He doesnt fly, he falls with style.

Superman can literally jump over the moon. Bullets bounce off his boulder-like pectorals. It
is far harder to get inside that invulnerable and morally burnished exterior. Yes, he is, like
Wayne, an orphan, but one brought up by a loving couple in the heart of apple-pie country.
He is also, to all intents and purposes, a god. He may look Homo sapiens, but he is not human.
To misquote Shakespeare: try to prick him, he will not bleed. Were pretty sure he isnt even
ticklish.
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Christopher Reeve found his way in via Daily Planet reporter Clark Kent: in Reeves deft
hands, the humble, stuttering, bumbling side of Kal-El. Immediately likable, somebody
relatable, someone normal. But Henry Cavill doesnt have that luxury. Writer David Goyer,
under the aegis of Chris Nolan, isnt paying tribute to, or pastiching, the Richard Donner /
Richard Lester movies of old. Bryan Singer already tried that, and despite Superman Returns
many overlooked merits, it didnt connect with audiences. In Goyer, Nolan and director
Zack Snyders new take on the origin story, the Clark / Kal dichotomy is not a contrast
between a spectacled clown and a knight-in-primary-colour-armour, it is between a
Kryptonian and an Earthling: a child of two worlds, one deceased, one floundering. Its a
tough gig for the relatively green Cavill, and while there are some interesting touches (theres
a strong sense hes releasing long-suppressed rage when he first strikes Zod, a bully hes
allowed to hit), his Kal is a bit stiff and slow to thaw. As we said, he isnt even ticklish. And
the same is true of Goyers script. Dont expect many laughs in Man Of Steel.

Nolans Dark Knight trilogy was accused of humourlessness, but that was unfair; it just took
itself seriously, which it needed to. Besides, Batman had Alfred, and Bales angst was
leavened by Michael Caines dry wit. He also had the Joker terrifying, but some good one-
liners then Selina Kyle, plus his own Clark Kent, that dim playboy persona. Surprisingly,
Man Of Steel features less levity than the Nolan Batmans. Cavills Kal-El is granted no such
wisecracking foils, only speechifying mentors: Kevin Costners Jonathan Kent gruffly telling
him, effectively, to keep his Y-fronts under his trousers; Russell Crowes hirsute Jor-El
imploring him to give Earth a chance. His nemesis is General Zod, played with impressive
ferocity and intensity by Michael Shannon, who with his space-black body armour, spiked
fringe and severe goatee could be a Roman dictator or the last survivor of David Lynchs
Dune. There is none of the snooty disinterest of Terence Stamps take here: Zod is all
agenda and fiery commitment, whose eugenically predetermined noble intentions
remorselessly square the circle of speciescide. He is a worthy, physically matched adversary
for Kal, but unlike nefarious fat cat Lex Luthor, he does not quip.

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You may have expected some flippancy from Lois Lane, who appears in the smart,
substantial form of Amy Adams, more redheaded even than John Byrnes 80s version for
his Man Of Steel comic-book mini-series (which must have been one of Goyers key texts).
But shes less sassy than edgy; theres no, Youve got me, whos got you? here. Still, you
cant really blame her for having less of a sense of humour than the Margot Kidder
incarnation. Not only is the internet trying to close her paper, a genocidal aliens landed in
her city and decided to terraform (Kryptoform?) all Earth-life into oblivion.

Man Of Steel, then, takes itself very seriously. But it arguably needs to. Apart from anything
else, with Superman returning to a cinematic landscape that now also has that other god-
alien Thor, not to mention Iron Man, Hulk hell, all the Avengers it wasnt a daft move
to avoid any winks to his inherent absurdity. In its recalibration of the mythos, Man Of Steel
allows a few irksome logic lapses (while the source and nature of our heros power is
explained, its unclear why the identical superabilities of Zod and his mega-goons manifest
themselves as they do), but you can appreciate the way Goyer considers Kal-El in a modern
geopolitical context. There is dramatic tension to be wrung from this: not only is he an illegal
immigrant, hes a man-sized weapon of mass destruction. Of course the US government will
distrust him. And while Man Of Steel wont outdo Avengers in its dialogue-snappiness and
sheer laughs, it certainly tops it when it comes tospectacle.
Man Of Steel is huge. It opens on Krypton, a fully realised biosphere of striated volcanic
rockscapes and huge, bellowing, reptilian monsters. Its an ecologically ravaged elder-world
which, with its biomechanical baby-growing pods, recalls The Matrixs horrifying desert of
the real. Immense, eclipse-dark spacecraft soar through its burnt skies, as do strange,
zoologically improbable creatures: when a movie features Russell Crowe riding a four-
winged dragon during its opening act, you have to take that as a statement of outrageously
epic intent. It is a space opera writ even larger, which slickly relocates its vast, unearthly
hyper-dramatics to the streets of America, both small-town and metropolitan.
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Either way, the collateral damage is immense, as Superman (which he is finally dubbed
almost two hours in) trades devastating, high-velocity blows with the black-caped Zod
squad, including Carrie-Anne Moss-alike Antje Traue as Zods slinky lieutenant, Faora.
Buildings crumble and collapse and explode, with the Earthling multitudes perishing amid
the dust and fire. When it comes to wide-scale urban destruction, the Chitauri and the
Decepticons should take notes from the Kryptonians (Superman included).
The robust and clearly confident Zack Snyder was certainly a good choice to call action on
this; it is just what youd expect of a Superman movie from the guy who made Watchmen. A
man, appropriately, whose favourite word is awesome... Closely followed by super-
awesome.

Verdict
It aches for more depth and warmth and humour, but this is spectacular sci-fi huge,
operatic, melodramatic, impressive. It feels the right Superman origin story for our era, and
teases what would be a welcome new superfranchise.

Argo
Director Producer Screenwriter Spy

Plot
November 4, 1979. As the US Embassy in post-revolution Tehran falls to a mob of
Ayatollah-supporting students, six officers slip out and seek sanctuary with the Canadians. It
is up to the CIAs Tony Mendez (Affleck) to extract them from the country before they are
discovered by the Revolutionary Guards. The plan? Create a fake movie, called Argo, and
pretend theyre the crew.
25

Review
Hollywood has always been partial to a good old spy yarn, especially since the genres
paranoiac, post-Watergate 70s heyday. It also enjoys taking sideways glances at its own
garish reflection (cf. The Player, Wag The Dog, State And Main). So, once the relevant CIA
documents became declassified in 1997, revealing the stunning, real reason for a certain Star
Wars rip-off once hyped in the pages of Variety never getting greenlit, Argo (working title
Escape From Tehran) was surely a cinematic inevitability. It is a great weirder than fiction
story. One, in fact, that was the subject of a feature in this very magazine almost five years
ago. Although, if youd told us then that its adaptation would star and be directed by Ben
Affleck rather than George Clooney (then attached, now only a producer), wed have been as
disbelieving as if youd told us, pre-declassification, the very facts of this strange case.

To be fair, Afflecks impressive directorial debut, Gone Baby Gone, was then already in the
can and earning approving nods in press-screening rooms. But neither that nor even his
follow-up, The Town another strong Boston-based crimer necessarily proved an
aptitude for international period-nailing dramas, let alone one, oddly, with a virtually
comedic middle act and a difficult climax. Yet here we are, just as Awards Season 2012 is
warming up and the glowing late-summer festival reviews have poured in. It is hard to
imagine Clooney, either in front of or behind the camera, doing a better job.

The Affleck of Argo couldnt be further removed from the hunk that cried crocodile tears
and jutted his mandible for Michael Bay all those years ago. Perhaps his ultimately
embarrassing travails in the BGBG (Before Gone Baby Gone) Era fed usefully into Argo.
You can imagine a crooked smile springing up on that square jaw as he pored over
newcomer Chris Terrios snappy script and clocked the zinger, You could teach a rhesus
monkey to be a director in a day.

Such bon mots are largely growled by Alan Arkin as (fictional) fading producer Lester Siegel,
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recruited by the CIA via amiable make-up genius John Chambers (John Goodman, playing
the man who won an Oscar for his work on Planet Of The Apes) to set up the fake space
opera that would provide the cover story for the Agencys Tehran-based exfiltration
operation. The Hollywood segment must have appealed to Affleck, and Clooney before him,
as much for its outcome as for its breezy, self-deprecatory tone: this was a rare occasion
where movies helped save the day for real, and where success went entirely unnoticed.

You cant begrudge Affleck giving himself the hero role of Company man Tony Mendez,
because in a sense its the most thankless. Hes a hunched, unshaven, bleary-eyed, rumpled-
shirted schlub, a man who wakes up in the morning fully clothed, surrounded by empty
Chinese food cartons. He has no big, shouty-speech moment, despite his earnest conviction
during the early CIA scenes that the Hollywood option is the best on offer. He simply
moves quietly around the storys dramedic triangle.

At one corner are the Tinseltown antics of Arkin and Goodman. At another are the CIA
office scenes, headed up by Bryan Cranston as Mendez boss, who gets all the great lines not
spoken by Arkin, including the films finest: This is the best bad idea we have, sir. And
then there is the sharpest vertex, involving the six American consular officers holed up at the
Canadian diplomats residence, whose journey takes them from narrowly escaping their
embassys fall to having to swallow Mendez plan, which involves each of them pretending
to be a department head of a non-existent B pic, who have simply visited the country for a
recce.

Its here that we find the films strongest performance, delivered by Monsters and Killing
Them Softlys Scoot McNairy, half-buried beneath bottle-glass peepers and a thick lip-brush.
The CIA has predicted that his older colleague Bob Anders (Tate Donovan) will assume
leadership of the group, but in fact its McNairys previously unassuming Joe Stafford who
exhibits the most mettle under these nerve-twanging circumstances. When Mendez lays out
his crazy scheme, it is Stafford who balks. In other hands this might have made him the,
27
Oh, just shuddup! guy; the twitchy doubter who in an Irwin Allen disaster movie would buy
it at around the 70-minute mark. But McNairy and Affleck ensure that during their
confrontations, it is with Stafford the sympathies lie. Hes not wrong: the plan was nuts. He
is the clearest thinking, most emotionally honest and relatable person here.

Argo, really, is a series of balancing acts. One virtuoso sequence begins with a freaky-
ludicrous public casting call, attended by various Hollybozos in sparkly motley. As these
blithe, cut-price Threepios, Mings and Flashes launch into a script-reading while champagne
flutes tinkle and cameras flash, Affleck intercuts with a chilling scene of trussed American
hostages being hustled to a dank basement with sacks over their heads, where they are
treated to a mock execution by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, their knees buckling as
rifle hammers dully snap down. This could jar horribly, but it works: the sense here is that
everyone is putting on a show. The CIA, in putting on a fake movie junket. Hollywood,
because, well, that is its very business. And the Khomeini-supporting Iranians, proving to a
decadent world that they are not to be taken lightly.

The theme pulls the film neatly together and gives it thrilling impetus when it could so easily
have stalled: during the final act. The truth is, there wasnt a particularly dramatic
denouement to the real events, but writer Terrio and Affleck here embellish the facts
sensitively and effectively, among other things giving McNairy his glory moment as he
hastily has to pitch this so-called cosmic conflagration, complete with comic-bookish
storyboards, to an itchy-trigger-fingered Iranian soldier. Elsewhere, tried-and-tested tension-
ramping techniques, while perhaps over-familiar, are applied judiciously, for example as the
terrified sextet has to suffer a tour of Tehrans bazaar in their flimsy show-people guises
(Rory Cochranes faux-cinematographer looking through a viewfinder the wrong way) amid
an increasingly ugly crowd; or when the irritating rhythms of movie production prove at one
point to have potentially fatal consequences.

As Cranstons character notes, there will be no applause for Mendez if his Escape From
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Tehran show is a success. But there will be for Affleck. And for a man shaping up to be one
of Americas smartest mainstream drama directors, any ovations will be thoroughly
deserved.

Verdict
An old-school espionage thriller with a movie-biz comedy twist, all the better for being
(almost) entirely true. It is to Ben Afflecks credit that the tension and laughs complement
rather than neutralise each other.


Thank You For Smoking
Aaron Eckhart is the ultimate spindoctor...



Plot
Nick Naylor (Eckhart) is the chief spokesman for cigarette-industry giant Big Tobacco. Hes
a fast-talking king of spin who can twist even the most unsympathetic audience around his
finger. But can he deal with a crusading senators (Macy) campaign to have every fag packet
labelled poison, while also doing right by his own impressionable son (Bright)?
Review
Dont pay too much heed to the plot synopsis above Thank You For Smoking isnt quite
that easy to encapsulate. Which is not entirely to its benefit. Jason Son Of Ivan Reitmans
feature debut is, like the novel on which its based, a scattershot satire thats a bit too
29
scattershot for its own good. Youre never entirely sure what journey Reitman via yuppie
ephistopheles Nick Naylor is taking us on here. We have Naylor versus William H.
Macys frustrated senator; Naylor tasked with getting cancer-sticks back in Hollywood
movies (resulting in a hilarious semi-cameo by Rob Lowe as an agent who just loves
Asian shit); Naylor sent to deal with a suit-threatening, Big C-stricken ex-Marlboro Man
(Sam Elliott); Naylors ill-advised relationship with a vampish journo (an embarrassingly
miscast Katie Holmes); the death-threats he receives from an extreme anti-smoking group;
the challenge of him having to suddenly give up nicotine And so on.

The problems not so much with the movies aim, as with
the number of targets its aiming at. Still, if you just treat it as a dark, political-comedy sketch
show, youll for the most part be choking with laughter. A sideways glance at Washingtons
more dubious lobby-groups, its wryest scenes are those in which Nick meets up with his
counterparts for the alcohol (Maria Bello) and firearms (David Koechner) industries a
trio who refer to themselves as the MOD squad, MOD standing for Merchants Of
Death.

Meanwhile, Reitman ensures that the script zings with great lines. You know the guy who
can pick up any girl? asks Naylor during his introductory voiceover. Im him on
crack.Given his seemingly reprehensible nature, it would have been a tough job for any
actor to make Naylor even halfway sympathetic. But Aaron Eckhart, all firm handshakes and
shit-eating grins, pulls it off. On the one hand we can laugh in disbelief as he points out to a
child that his mommy, who told him smoking is bad for him, is hardly a credible expert.

On the other, we can believe in him as a caring father himself, who genuinely wants the best
for his own son. Sure, it comes close to veering into schmaltz when dealing with Naylor
Jr., but its at least a useful device to make clear that what we have here isnt so much a pro-
tobacco movie using irony as a weak disguise, as a humorous albeit flawed
investigation into where the boundaries of personal choice should be set.
30

Verdict
Structural scrappiness aside, it remains a laudably amoral and superbly caustic comedy for
those who like their satire strong and unfiltered.


The Iron Lady
The neverending Tory


Plot
Margaret Thatcher (Streep), now in her eighties, has finally resolved to clear out her dead
husband Denis (Broadbent) clothes and thus finally release his ghost. As she does so,
she is hit by a flurry of memories of her extraordinary and controversial career.

Review
When Phyllida Lloyd - of Mamma Mia! fame was quizzed about the politics of The Iron
Lady, her entirely and deliberately subjective Margaret Thatcher pic, she replied that thats a
bit like asking, Did you approve of King Lears politics? Erm, no it isnt, Phyllida. Not
really.

The inescapable fact is that for all the boldness of its structural approach this country
still aches from the impact of Thatchers rule. There are many who will never forgive her for
what she did (the mines, the Falklands, the poll tax, and thats just the half of it) just as
there are many who still praise her strength, and applaud her emphasis on conviction rather
than compromise. Whichever way you lean, there will be baggage taken into British cinemas.
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That is simply not comparable with going to a performance of Lear. To think otherwise is, at
best, wishful.

Lloyd and writer Abi Morgans decision to try and disengage with Thatcherism, to focus on
the woman and to frame her career via the fractured memories conjured by an elderly
Thatcher as she tries to exorcise the ghost of her beloved husband, is ultimately the films
weakness. It plays like one long montage, a Greatest Hits featuring only each songs chorus
and one which, while not relentlessly lionising her (we see protests, riots and snatches of
her autocratic style), certainly reinforces the Thatcher myth to the Baroness benefit.

That is its weakness. You can easily guess its strength. Yes: Streep. Meryl realises Maggie
with almost terrifying fidelity, both at the height of her power, and in her twilight days. The
actress who did ABBA-karaoke for Lloyd in their last collaboration goes leagues beyond
impersonation here; she so inhabits the role, she may as well claim squatters rights.

Its a shame that another great performance Jim Broadbent as valued foil Denis gets
sidelined. And even more of a shame that their relationship, the most interesting element (if
you want to push the politics to the background), is so unsatisfyingly presented, unmoored
as it is from a chronological arc. It would be a welcome thing indeed if both actors and
Olivia Colman, excellent as daughter Carol could be cast again in an alternative Thatcher
movie by a different, spikier director. Oliver Stone perhaps?

Verdict
One of Streeps finest-ever performances. But beyond that whatever Morgan and Lloyds
intentions its little more than a myth-enshrining exercise.
32
Shrek The Third
Is a second return to Far, Far Away Far, Far Too Much?

Plot
With the frog-king (Cleese) dying, it dawns on Shrek (Myers) that hes next in line to be
monarch something hes keen to avoid. When he sets off to track down the only other
living heir, Fionas cousin Artie (Timberlake), Prince Charming (Everett) unites all the fairy-
tale worlds bad guys and takes Far, Far Away by storm. Even worse, Fiona (Diaz) tells
Shrek shes pregnant

Review
Materials veryimportant. Ask
any CGI animator. Sure, they have to force their AMD Opteron processors to conjure up all
that flashy ooh and aah stuff, like, say swishy-whizzy magic-spell effects, or the impressive
orange glow of dragonflame, but if you cant make the texture of Fionas shimmery dress
capture the light properly, if the audience dont truly feel they can reach out and caress that
silky fabric, then the animators might as well all shut down their DL145 ProLiant servers,
pack up their HP nx6125 notebooks (based, it says in the films fascinating production
notes, on AMD Turion 64x dual-core mobile technology to streamline a variety of
production activities) and go home.

Yes, materials very important. Ask any screenwriter. Like, say, the team behind Shrek The
Third, tasked by DreamWorks to come up with a second sequel to the hit movie that was
based on a single short story by one William Steig. Steig gave previous directors Andrew
Adamson and Vicky Jenson great material in the tale of a grumpy ogre who reluctantly takes
up the cause of banished fairy-tale creatures. Adamson and his crew stretched it satisfyingly
for a box-office-busting sequel, and then passed it on to new boy Chris Miller before

33
disappearing, with a laugh and wave, into a wardrobe. And now Millers been left to discover
that even good material can only stretch so far before it starts to tear.

If were honest, fun as they were, neither of the previous Shreks offered particularly durable
central story-threads. Whenever Shrek (Mike Myers) is sent away on a quest be it to rescue
a princess, find a potion or, in the case of this movie, seek out a royal heir its never more
than a case of brief, breezy there-and-back-again, with one or two minor diversions (usually
some kind of ambush in a forest), plus perhaps a campfire-side heart-to-heart, during which
the irascible ogre will at least partially come to terms with whichever self-doubt thats
plaguing him this time his confidence in himself as a father. But where the films excelled
was in their tuning of the background noise, making stars of support characters. Hand on
your heart: do you remember spluttering a guffaw at anything Shrek or Fiona (Cameron
Diaz) said? No, it was Donkeys (Eddie Murphy) frantic gabbing, or Puss In Boots (Antonio
Banderas) dilated-pupils cute act, or the stumbling blind mice, or the gingerbread-man
torture scenes that had us laughing out loud.

So it would be somewhat unfair to criticise Shrek The Third for its uninspired main plot
(Shrek goes questing while the bad guys Charming (Rupert Everett), Captain Hook (Ian
McShane) some talking trees and a cyclops get together and decided to seize //their//
happily ever after). Its the fact that the big laughs we expect from the small characters are so
damn //sparse// thats unforgivable. Not that Shrek The Third is without its moments. As
Fionas amphibian father, John Cleese performs one of the most hilariously protracted and
overwrought death scenes youll ever see, while elsewhere the gingerbread man is granted a
superb life-flashes-before-eyes sequence.

The films most telling fault is the fact that it simply doesnt know what to do with either
Donkey or Puss, who ran away with the first and second movies respectively. Here, they
dont even have anywhere to run //to//, and the desperate scrabbling for some
Donkey/Puss action results in something thats less of a brainwave than a mind-ripple: as
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the result of a misfired spell, they swap bodies! Donkey talks with Puss voice! Puss
talks with Donkeys! The comic possibilities are, frankly, limited. Donkey/Pusss tail fluffs
up and he hisses; Puss/Donkey cracks wise about being relegated to second sidekick and the
joys of licking himself. By the obligatory end-credits number, in which they do a funky disco
duet and dance like tipsy uncles around the big names, you find yourself experiencing a most
curious emotion: actually feeling //embarrassed// for cartoon characters.

Similarly threadbare are the pop-culture references and satirical swipes that peppered Shreks
1 and 2, while the few that are present are just too vaguely aimed. Prince Charming, it seems,
is merely driven by a craving for celebrity, which culminates in a suitably atrocious stage-
musical; the Eric Idle-voiced Mr Merlin (the perpetrator of the body-swap farrago) is a daffy,
New Age mumbo-jumbo-dribbling type who hard-peddles wacky group therapies;
Worcestershire High the school at which Artie (Justin Timberlake) studies should
provide plenty of jabs at any number of teenage subcultures but instead we get a pair of
dorks playing a boardgame, a token jock and some girls who chew bubblegum and say, like,
totally, lots. Hell, even the groan-inducing puns which have always appeared on Far, Far
Aways street signs are few and far, far between (the only one we can recall is Versarchery).

And what of that other material? The kind woven from pixels? From Fiona and her fellow
princess togs right up to all the aforementioned ooh and ahh business, Dreamworks
Animation once again affirms itself as Pixars worthiest CG toon competitor in terms of
striving for artful photo-realism. Although, in this pinsharp, so-perfect-its-like-giving-your-
eyes-blow-jobs HD era, weve now reached the point where bold stylistic choices should
impress more than simply straining for the clearest reality xerox, and Shrek isnt really in a
position to do that. Its faintly stylised human forms, with their big hands, small feet, long
faces and invariably rectangular jaws, do remain disconcertingly mannequinish. No ones yet
done stylised humans as well as Pixar did with The Incredibles, but then Shrek is
unfortunately limited by keeping its characters look consistent with pre-Incredibles
technology and aesthetics.
35

Question is will the ankle-biting target audience notice any of Shrek The Thirds
shortcomings? Probably not. Scenes flit jauntily by, allowing just enough time for a
punchline to settle; the pace is fleetfooted and the action suitably slapsticky. Early on, Miller
and his team cause a stumbling, tumbling Shrek, restricted by a ludicrous wig, frill and corset,
to send a royal function literally up in flames; and later they channel Raising Arizona with a
sequence involving a gurgling, burbling multiplicity of innocently destructive Shrek-babies
(expect the cuddly toy versions to fly off the toystore shelves). Theres farting, theres
belching and theres plenty of silly high voices. Plus, moral-wise, kids will find the be true to
thyself message simple enough to swallow.

So it will prove sufficiently diverting for the littleuns. But lets remember that the Shrek
franchise hasnt so far reaped more than $1 billion worldwide by simply catering to the
kiddies: you need to keep the people who pay for the tickets happy, too. And with the
material now stretched so thin, theres no dressing up the fact that this third installment
really does let its older audience down.

Verdict
Another summer threequel, another case of slipping standards not so much in the visuals,
which remain predictably impressive, but in the all-important gag rate. To waste both
Donkey and Puss is a crime
36
Labor Day
Blood, sweat and tears and more sweat


Plot
Massachusetts, Labor Day weekend, 1987. Twelve year-old Henry (Griffith) lives with his
mentally fragile, housebound divorcee mother Adele (Winslet). Then escaped convict Frank
(Brolin) forces the pair to shelter and hide him becoming a very unexpected father figure
in the process...

Review
Jason Reitman has always
specialised in making us like difficult-to-like protagonists: the tobacco-industry lobbyist; the
professional downsizer; the wannabe manstealer. (Even Juno had her edge, blithely going
through a pregnancy knowing shed give the kid away.) Though they mostly hit the end-
credits unreformed, we always come round to them, or at least find some sympathy.
True to form, in Labor Day were presented with the errant Frank, a laconic, brooding,
threatening presence who, in the burly, dark-browed form of Josh Brolin, is easily Reitmans
most dangerous character yet. And this brutal, criminal intruder to the sad, hermetic life of
mother Adele (Kate Winslet) and son Henry (Gattlin Griffith) becomes a source not of
imminent violence but, it seems, of flowering love.
That is where the similarities to Reitmans earlier work end. For all the dark pull of their
undercurrents, Thank You For Smoking, Juno, Up In The Air and Young Adult were
essentially comedies: spiky, snarky, snappy and smart-assed. Labor Day may share some
chromosomes (the new girl in town who becomes a third-act proto-girlfriend for young

37
Henry could be another Diablo Cody avatar), but it is a far more sombre affair, with
melodramatic tendencies. Less dependent on the rhythm and flow of sharp dialogue volleys,
more reliant on the energy of action over words. It is a more tactile film than Reitman has
ever made before, sensual even, and raw the thinly clothed characters sheened with high-
summer sweat rather than armoured in irony.
Schmaltz hoves close at moments, but never crashes through. The storys unlikely centre-set-
piece sees Frank, an artist with pastry, patiently guiding Adele and Henry through his peach
pie recipe. Despite the presence of a 12-year-old, all that kneading and shaping, with Frank
and Adeles arms linked together in a shared act of creation, becomes strongly erotic. It
kinda shouldnt work, but Reitman pulls it off. He sure knows how to cast films, and
between them Winslet (desperate, frowzy but never weak or hysterical) and Brolin (a study in
restrained passion) provide all the necessary alchemical reactions.
Griffith, meanwhile, proves something of a discovery: the awkward, sad-eyed heart of the
film, whose central coming-of-age thread located in that Amblin heyday (Close
Encounters cameos) gives the film a warm, welcome Spielbergian spin. At times it feels
more like the non-alien-monster bits of J. J. Abrams Super 8 than it does any another
Reitman movie.
Some of it doesnt work so well. A coda with a cameo pushes things a tad too saccharine
(Simon Birch springs to mind), and the story too occasionally clings to overt contrivances.
But Labor Days strengths outweigh its weaknesses, and in fact its flaws become part of its
appeal. Somehow it is both Reitmans most mature movie to date, the first step out of his
careers wiseacre adolescence, but also his most innocent and naive the result, in part, of
its admirable adherence to a childs-eye view of the tense, difficult, dangerous and powerful
relationship that blossoms convincingly between Frank and Adele.

Verdict
A tender, nostalgic and warm family drama which also quietly seethes with the threat and
38
tension of imminent danger. Labor Day shows a new side to Jason Reitman as a filmmaker,
and we like it.



Toy Story 3
Or Di e Anot her Dayc are

Plot
After years of being stowed in Andys toy chest, the time has finally come for Woody
(Hanks), Buzz (Allen) and friends to move on. But after theyre welcomed to Sunnyside
Daycare Centre by the kindly Lots-O-Huggin Bear (Beatty) they realise this seeming toys
paradise is actually something closer to hell...

Review
How adult can a commercial family movie be pushed before it starts alienating its core
audience? Lay on too many mature pop culture references (see Shark Tales emphasis on
Mafia movie clichs), and you leave the smaller ones fidgeting. Go too dark, and that
theatre will be awash with trauma-induced tears. Works the other way too: play it too young,
and adult eyes glaze. Its a fine balance. And Pixar remains the master of that particular
tightrope walk.

The studio certainly set the delicate course with Toy Story, a movie which not only
contrasted the glee of imaginative play with the terrors of plaything-torture, but which,
crucially, imagined its anthropomorphised, secret-life-living protagonists as adults just doing
39
a job the child Andy being their boss. While audience children could simply enjoy the
toys coming to life and having adventures, the wage-slave grown-ups could, among other
things, relate to the workplace anxiety generated by an impressive new employee (in the
first film), or the idea of being promoted to somewhere where you think youll be more
valued, but where the reality is youll no longer be doing the very thing you love most about
your job (in the second). Continuing the theme, the third Toy Story is very much a movie
about retirement. In Disney Digital 3D.

The set-up has a 17 year-old Andy preparing to leave for college, his few remaining favourite
toys (oddly after all these years still including a Mrs. Potato Head, but hey, we aint
judging) making desperate Woody-corralled gambits for his attention. The sight, in the
first few minutes, of the ever-determined cowboy doll clinging on to an old mobile phone as
he listens to Andys confused Hellos is just one of several near-heartbreaking moments.
(Just to give you an idea, we learn only a few minutes later that Woodys long-time girlfriend
Bo Peep is one of the many toys Andys long-since chucked out.) Naturally, Woody refuses
to accept his destiny, which as the other survivors (The Potato Heads, Rex, Hamm, Jessie,
Slinky, Bullseye, the Ooooh alien triplets and Buzz) point out, will lead them either to the
attic, a daycare centre or the dreaded trash.

And, via the wonderful quick-beat action-plot contortions that characterised both previous
Toy Stories miss a single second at your peril its to daycare they go, to a place with
the blandly sinister name of Sunnyside, appropriately making it sound as much like an old
peoples home as a nursery.

The resulting caper is, like its predecessor, a paragon of good sequel-making. It moves the
story on (take note, Iron Man 2 writers), while keeping its characters and plotting
comfortingly familiar, and it brings in new characters without neglecting the originals. You
could criticise it for merely offering a new variation on the previous films displaced toys
require rescue structure, but the reality is that the riffs on Toy Stories 1 and 2 prove joyous.
40
Woodys to-the-rescue whistle for faithful dog Buster this time yields a greying, sagging
hound who merely flops exhaustedly to the floor. A third encounter with a deluded Buzz
Lightyear is spiced with a hilarious dash of Latin flavour. The bitter, twisted-toy bad guy who
initially appears friendly a flashback to another playthings cruel abandonment a
desperate climactic chase in a setting that would dwarf even a full-grown human (in the last
movie an airport, in this movie, with equal aptness, a trash-processing facility)... Maybe it is
ticking boxes, but each tick comes with its own fresh twist. The latter, in particular, offers up
a scene of such intense, exquisite end-of-the-line poignancy also the scariest moment of
the whole series that it deserves comparison with Snow Whites terrified forest flight, or
the shooting of Bambis mother. Without giving too much away, you could call it this
trilogys Mount Doom sequence.

But hey, dont worry, theres still plenty of laughs. A prison-break movie structure is deftly
constructed around the toys trapped-in-daycare predicament (Sunnyside is a place of ruin
and despair... gravely intones Timothy Daltons thespianic lederhosen-wearing hedgehog,
Mr. Pricklepants), leading to one supremely funny escape-plan montage narrated by a
Fisher-Price phone and starring a screeching, cymbal-crashing, mad-eye-popping monkey.
Elsewhere we have new star Ken (Michael Keaton), shuffling stiffly around in fey poses and
complaining that no-one appreciates clothes here!, while repeatedly insisting hes not a
girls toy.

Just as the action comes thick and fast, the wisecracks and visual gags are high-volume and
high hit-rate. Combined with the kind of state-of-the-artistry we now take for granted with
Pixar (interestingly restrained when it comes to the main characters, thus keeping
consistency with the previous films), they ensure that every last frame counts, each a
firework-burst of fine detail. In all likelihood, though, it wont be the rendering of Lots-O-
Huggin Bears plush puce fur or Hamms dry asides that will earn this Pixar its sure plaudits;
itll be its powerful tenderness as a fond farewell to some of cinemas best-drawn characters.
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Verdict
A kids movie for grown-ups. A grown-up movie for kids. Exactly what youd expect and
hope for from the latest, and were guessing final, Woody and Buzz adventure.

Dear Wendy
A stylish exploration of Americas gun fetish.

Plot
Dick (Bell) lives in the rundown mining town of Estherslope. A sensitive young soul, he
works as a shelf-stacker rather than toiling in the pits. After finding a small six-shooter one
day, he and a bunch of fellow misfits form The Dandies, a gang who describe themselves as
"pacifists with guns"

Review
For us Europeans, the gun problem in America is somewhat perplexing. The nation has
stratospheric levels of firearms-related crime, while maintaining a constitutional right for
each and every citizen to bear arms. Surely it's logical to assume that the negation of that
right would reduce the crime rate? After all, it ain't the Wild West anymore. No, comes the
US right-wing insta-reply: its not guns that kill people, its people that kill people.

This question and that response have clearly been frothing around the brains of
Danish filmmaker collaborators Lars von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg, the result being this
curious fable. Set in an economically desperate community, it very deliberately could be
anywhere in smalltown America and it could be anywhen, too. The Zombies' monopoly
of the soundtrack, along with the main characters' countercultural tendencies, makes it feel
42
very '60s; the economic tone summons up the Depression era; while the sepia-tinged
cinematography suggests the mythical Old West.

It's all very stagey and contrived, but thought-provoking nevertheless. The Dandies, founded
by narrator Dick (Jamie Bell, proving, after June's Undertow, that hes now a dab hand at the
surly youth act), provide a parallel with modern-day American gun groups and militias. They
meet on a regular basis, wear uniforms (in this case daft, Dick Turpin-esque fancy dress),
perfect their firing techniques and discuss their passion for guns all with the implicit
approval of the authorities, represented by Bill Pullmans Sheriff, who even describes Dick
as the kind of man who made America great; exactly how the modern-day militias see
themselves. And when, inevitably, it all goes tits-up, the Dandies have to decide what means
more to them: their oath never to draw their weapons on others (after all, guns dont kill
people) or their 'right' to prevent the lawmen from taking those weapons from them.

The problem with Dear Wendy isn't so much that its message becomes muddled (especially
when race is thrown into the mix via Danso Gordon's bad-boy) but that, frankly, theres not
a lot to love here. It's a cold, brittle film, capable of grabbing attention but unable to
emotionally absorb. Consequently, widespread culty appeal is something it'll fail to achieve,
even if it gives those of us who do choose to peer down its barrel something to talk about.

Verdict
A stylish exploration of Americas gun fetish which engages the brain, but sadly leaves your
heart in neutral.
43
Warrior King
Great warrioring but the plot and setting lets this down

Plot
Young Kham (Jaa) lives in rural bliss with his dad and two elephants, honing the martial-arts
techniques passed down to him as the descendant of royal Thai warriors of old. But when
the elephants are kidnapped and taken to Sydney, Khams world is shattered. Filled with
anger, he heads to Australia to kick some ass and take back his beloved pachyderms.

Review
Last year, the astonishingly
brutal Thai action movie Ong-Bak failed to make the box-office splash it deserved. Even so,
its star Tony Jaa is already set to join that martial-arts crossover pantheon occupied by Bruce
Lee and Jackie Chan. This year, Jaas back alongside director Prachya Pinkaew and tubby
comedy sidekick Petchtai Wongkamlao, though this is no sequel (thats to follow). Its more
of a remake, substituting a pair of elephants for the originals stolen Buddha head and
moving the action from Bangkok to Sydney.

The location-shift is sadly the films big letdown. Half of Wongkamlaos lines are in English,
and he struggles painfully with every risibly ADRd syllable. Furthermore, all the English
dialogue is just embarrassing to an English-speaking audience.

Thankfully, the bits that matter most the dust-ups are superb. One wow sequence is
a five-minute glide up a buildings spiralling balcony, following Jaa as he elbows and knees
his way through a wave of goons. Another sees him face-off with Aussie strongman Nathan
Jones, a reinforced concrete shithouse who tosses Jaa around like a ragdoll. As youd expect,
plot and character recede into irrelevance during action of this calibre.

44

Verdict
The move to Australia is a mistake and the plottings a mess, but Jaa proves fully deserving
of the titles honour.

Borat
Jagshemash! My name a Borat!

Plot
Kazakhstani TV presenter Borat Sagdiyev is commissioned to travel to New York to learn
about American culture. While there he goes rogue, setting off for LA to follow his dream of
making nice sexytime with Pamela Anderson

Review
If you were ever partial to a bit of Ali G, you can be forgiven any trepidation you may feel
towards Sacha Baron Cohens latest small-to-big-screen translation. With his juvenile
observations and clueless gangsta-isms, Ali G was an amusing enough creation, but what
made him work satirically was seeing him interact with real people. It wasnt so much that he
was a ludicrous yoof TV presenter, but that his unsuspecting interviewees thought he was a
yoof TV presenter. So when Cohen took him out of that context and placed him in his own
fictional world, the result wasnt quite the comedy riot it could have been. You might have
slapped an ASBO on it for indecent exposure, but it was certainly no riot

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With the Borat movie, Cohens learned his lesson. Like Ali G, Borat who made his debut
on Da Ali G Show, instantly becoming the funniest thing on it works by being thrown in
front of real people who, somehow, think hes for real. So Cohens simply taken the format
of the Borat sketches on the show and expanded them into episodes on a sorta-
mockumentary East-to-West Coast road trip.

Perhaps its easy for us to say this, being in on the joke from the start, but Borats such an
inherently funny character, its hard to believe that anyone could think hes bona fide. Still,
he is constructed with astounding precision. Clad in cheap grey suit, with grey tie and two-
tone grey striped shirt, he walks in awkward little steps, his body language stuttering
uncomfortable deference as an apologetic smile beams out from beneath his heavy tache.
The accent drawls and lilts erratically, the broken English dribbling out plenty of
catchphrases (Jagshemash, naiiiice, haigh faive!) and some gobsmackingly offensive
comments.

Because, yes, as amiable as Borat is, hes also sexist, deeply anti-Semitic and has an irrational
hatred of gypsies. The film doesnt exactly ease you into this gently: early on we see a
depiction of his villages traditional Running Of The Jew, in which we witness children
playfully stamping on a huge egg laid by a she-Jew, encouraged by their elders to smash it
before it hatches. To know that Cohen himself is Jewish may not, for some, be enough to
excuse such outrageous humour, but this is all part of the set-up: the outrageousness isnt so
much in Borats prejudices, but in how those prejudices go unchallenged by his American
interviewees.

Example: Borat walks into a gun shop. Which gun is best for killing Jew? he asks. The
salesman doesnt bat an eyelid. Thatd be a 9mm or .38, comes the unhesitant reply.
Cohen has impressively scant regard for his own well-being, but hes sharp enough to know
when to keep Borat schtum, too; in one instance he lets an ageing Texan cowboy hang
himself with his own lariat, nodding silently as the objectionable old bigot lectures Borat on
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how he should shave off his moustache because it makes him look like a Muslim. (Borat, it
should be noted, isnt actually a Muslim; In Kazakhstan, we worship hawk, he solemnly
tells the rodeo guy). Such ignorance provides very rich fuel for Cohen, and it keeps the
comedy powerful both in the strength of the laughs and the shock of the disbelief
throughout.

This isnt just a few smirks and chuckles. Instead, its rib-crackingly, face-hurtingly,
endorphin-flushingly hilarious. Empire laughed so hard we had a full-blown asthma attack.
They should slap a health warning on this movie. And, all the while, youre getting a very
disturbing insight into the casual prejudices of the average American (although we recognise
that Cohen was hardly going to include footage of those people who lambasted Borat for his
views, or rumbled the ruse).

Its tough to fault. One or two of the sketches are admittedly reworks of wind-ups Cohen
performed as Borat for Da Ali G Show here in the UK, while some of his interviews do feel
either a tad clipped or too crowbarred into the coast-to-coast format. But you cant ignore
the force or the regularity of those laughs. This is Sacha Baron Cohens finest hour, a cult
comedy that will likely endure and mature like an Airplane! or a This Is Spinal Tap. Just
dont go along if youre easily offended

Verdict
Absurd, outrageous, gross, disturbing, insightful, and so funny itll burst half the blood
vessels in your face.


47
The Moguls
Jeff Bridges and his mates have a crack a producing stag-flicks.


Plot
Midlife crisis-suffering Andy Sargentee (Bridges) is constantly coming up with get-rich-quick
schemes to compete with his son's well off stepfather, for which his not-too-bright friends
are more than happy to back him up. The latest is to produce amateur porn...

Review
Aint pornography sweet?
Theres nothing better to warm the cockles than a bit of double-anal Er, right? Well, go
ask debut feature writer-director Michael Traeger, whos used the concept of a bunch of
pleasant small-towners making an amateur stag flick as an excuse to foist some sticky love n
hugs nonsense on us.

Which is a shame, as this could have been a cheekyBoogie Nights-via-Ealing diversion,
especially with the perpetually rumpled Jeff Bridges in the lead as the fella with the big, crazy
idea who drags his all-too-draggable chums (Tim Blake Nelsons mini-oaf, Ted Dansons
faux-macho closet gay, Joe Pantoliano as Some Idiot yes, that is the characters name)
into the world of basement porn. But a lack of solid laughs, a smidgin of racism and an
infuriating overuse of voiceover leave this seriously lacking wood.
Verdict
An amiable enough micro-caper which offers savoury titters over out-and-out laughs
without ever living up to the concepts comedic potential.


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X-Men: The Last Stand
The t hi rd f i l m i n t he mut ant f ranc hi se.

Plot
Mutants are on the verge of X-tinction, it seems, when US business Worthington Industries
discovers a cure for mutation. This scientific breakthrough complicates and intensifies the
battle both physical and ideological between Professor Xs (Stewart) integration-
friendly X-Men and the human-hating muties let by Magneto (McKellen)...

Review
One reason why action
franchises are so prone to failure is because its so easy for them to collapse under their own
weight. Each new instalment feels it has to outdo the last, delivering bigger set-pieces and
cramming in more characters while such piffles as structure, pace, dialogue and all-round
coherence are thrown to the wind. This was true of the pre-Begins Batmans, the Christopher
Reeve Supermans and the Blade flicks. But X-Men, like its Marvel stablemate Spider-Man,
has thus far managed to withstand the added strain.
X2 was, above all, a masterful juggling/balancing act on the part of Bryan Singer. He
expanded the X-universe while simultaneously taking us deeper into the characters from
frontline heroes like Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) down to supporting players like Iceman
(Shawn Ashmore) and Pyro (Aaron Stanford). Well, Brett Ratners stepped onto the
tightrope Singer vacated, and Fox/Marvel have chucked him even more balls to juggle. So
alongside the discovery of the cure and the renewed mutant-versus-mutant battle that
ensues, we have the drama of now-schizo bermutant Jean Greys (Famke Janssen) return
from her watery grave, plus all the small soapy strands that concern the teenies will love-

49
rival Kitty Pryde (Hard Candys Ellen Page) persuade Rogue (Anna Paquin) to take the cure
so boyfriend Iceman can finally cop a feel?
Perhaps understandably, Ratners not even sure where to start we jump from a 20
years ago prologue (enticing) to a 10 years ago prologue (less so) to the not-too-distant
future before our first popped corn hits stomach acid. He and his scriptwriters then get
round the surfeit-of-characters problem by, almost admirably, throwing a few balls away;
lets just say the X-mansion grows a few gravestones.

Yet, Ratner is missing Singers versatility, and X3 lacks the sharp focus if its predecessor,
as if unclear what it should be doing when not delivering a set-piece. The script, too, lacks
the polish of Singers second X, and even the esteemed Ian McKellen has trouble with a few
of his clunkier lines. Meanwhile, Vinnie Jones as towering powerhouse Juggernaut is just
wrong, wrong, WRONG. Why shove some old footballer in a leathery bodysuit when one
phone call to WWE supremo Vince McMahon would throw up any number of genuine oily
manbeast-machines?
Two things rescue this so-called Last Stand. First, its shameless pandering to the
fanboys. Theyre tossed plenty of treats, including a glimpse (finally) inside the X-mansions
Danger Room and the introduction of various new muties like Beast (Kelsey Grammer
excellent), Angel (Ben Foster forgettable) and Leech (the ubiquitous Cameron Bright).
Oh, and if the words fastball special mean anything to you, rest assured, Ratners been
thinking of you during the action scenes.

Which brings us to X3s second saving grace those aforementioned set-pieces. This is
where Ratner gets it totally right. Whether its that big show-off Magneto flying the Golden
Gate Bridge to Alcatraz, Wolverine and Beast going feral on a bunch of baddie mutants, or
Jean Grey reducing people and buildings to their constituent atoms, theres enough smash-
bang fun and CG-savvy here to make you happy its summer again. Just dont expect it to get
under your skin the way X2 did.
50
Verdict
Singers absence is felt but not fatal. By adding too much new blood Ratner loses some of
the original DNA, but with its nifty set-pieces and a few nasty surprises, X3s still a worthy
enough sequel to ensure its no Last Stand.


V For Vendetta
The Wachowski-led adaptation of Alan Moore's graphic novel.


Plot
In the not-too-distant future, Britain has become a fascist, totalitarian state, its population
cowed and apathetic. But the nation receives a wake-up call when mysterious masked
terrorist "V" (Weaving) blows up the Old Bailey and calls for the citizens to rise up against
their oppressors.

Review
Graphic novelist Alan Moore hasnt had much luck with the movie adaptations of his work:
The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen was downright risible and From Hell deeply so-so,
while Watchmen Moores masterpiece has stalled, spluttering somewhere in the pre-
production netherworld. Or rather, its fans of Alan Moore who havent had much luck with
movie adaptations of his work. The man himself has given up caring, and is so uninterested
in this take on his 80s serial
V For Vendetta that he declined any involvement and ordered his name off the credits. The
irony being, this is the best Moore-to-big-screen translation yet.

51
Which does sound horribly like faint praise. But what marks V out from its Moore-ish
predecessors is that its been far less compromised by bottom-line concerns.

So much so that the result is decidedly uncommercial. Despite the trailers promise of slo-
mo action scenes with swooshing knives pirouetting through the air while bullet casings
bounce artfully off concrete, this is no teen-pleasing slam-banger. Rather its a very talky,
deliberately paced political thriller; yes, V is handy with a stiletto, but said scenes occupy
fewer than five minutes of screen time, while his preferred method of assassination is lethal
injection; no need to draft in Yuen Wo-Ping to assist with that.

We have a protagonist whose face eyes included is hidden beneath an inexpressive
Guy Fawkes mask throughout and who packs his lengthy monologues with as many multi-
syllabled words as possible. We have a leading lady who spends half the film with an
unflattering skinhead. And we have a plot which makes a hero of a man who wears bomb-
belts and makes his political points turning major landmarks into fireworks displays.

That all these landmarks are found in London arguably makes V For Vendetta an even
trickier sell in the UK. One sequence involves a tube train carriage packed with explosives
Thats not going to go down well with a fair chunk of British cinemagoers. Yet we shouldnt
get too hot under the collar, as all this is taking place in a nightmare UK of the future a
Daily Mail heaven of a nation, if you like: God-fearing, racially pure and purged of all its
sexual deviants. In Moores comics, this society was a post-apocalyptic reflection of
Thatchers Britain, Moores way of launching a simplistic left-wing attack on the then-
seemingly unyielding Conservative power-grip. In his world, the only justifiable response was
that of an enlightened anarchist, a Fawkes for the modern era. Moores V For Vendetta,
Moores politics, were firmly rooted in the 80s (where the writer obviously wants them to
stay).

The Wachowskis version is post-9/11 and proud of it. Their Britain is portrayed as a
52
potential end-point for the current reactionary trend towards the restriction of personal
liberty and for the Western medias fear-frenzy; avian flu and anti-Muslim sentiment are both
mentioned while, crucially, V is never referred to as an anarchist, only as a terrorist. Still, the
Fawkes parallels are played up (a prologue outlining the Gunpowder Plot has been included
for the benefit of American audiences) and the brothers remain respectful of the material
theyre playing with; indeed, the comics most powerful episode we dont want to give it
away; suffice to say it involves Natalie Portmans Alien3 do survives largely intact,
providing one of the heftiest gut-punches youll see in a movie this year.

Yet the film does have its problems. Debut helmer James McTeigue (former first assistant
director to the Wachowskis and George Lucas) doesnt quite recapture the grimy, neo-
Dickensian feel that characterised the comic, his future Britain largely looking rather plain
and everyday perhaps the point, but it leaves the picture feeling somewhat bereft of style.
And while physically good casting for Evey, the doe-eyed innocent who has to conquer her
fears just as the populace should to overwhelm their oppressors, Portmans accent flounders,
trembling painfully at every vowel enunciation.

Opposite her, though, Hugo Weaving proves compelling as V, even if his performance is
largely vocal. He has some clumsy moments to deal with (Vs overly alliterative entrance
speech is a dire scripting mis-step), but he overcomes them to make this borderline
psychotic vigilante a memorable and unsettlingly charismatic anti-hero. Alan Moore may be
snubbing Weavings vicious cabaret, but that doesnt mean everyone else should.

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