Thursday, 28 October 2010


Next Thursday 4th November at the Bush Hall, a global YouTube phenomenon will be appearing on stage in London. Axis of Awesome; Australia's biggest comedy band will be giving a full performance of their stagecraft. Having garnered 15million hits of their song '4 Chord Song' where they riff saying that every great song uses the same chord sequence - featuring Natalie Imbruglia, to Enrique Iglesias to Tim Minchin.

It is telling that they riff Minchin in the five minute marathon through pop history; as Minchin along with Axis' fellow antipodean's 'Flight of the Conchords' have brought back comedy rock to the mainstream and to the big theatres - the Conchords sold out Wembley Arena.  Now the history is endebted to Spinal Tap, but comedians always aspire to be rock stars and vice versa, you need not look any further than 'The Blues Brothers' for more evidence.

Following on from three sold out seasons at the Edinburgh fringe and performing at the prestigious Just for Laughs comedy gala at Montreal; they intend to conquer England and this is their first live show in London. It is something not to be missed.

To book tickets call 08432 210 100 or visit Tickets cost £15, show starts at 7.30pm with support from Marcel Lucont

Monday, 25 October 2010

THE TOWN is Ben's Town

'Sometimes you can't change who you are. You have to live with what you've done'.

Words spoken by Ben Affleck's character, Doug MacRay in a voiceover to conclude Affleck's second directorial effort - a spirited and atypical cops and robbers movie; with shootouts, double crosses, love interests and well acted/directed set pieces.

The reason I quote that line of dialogue is that I found it oddly fitting for Affleck's career that went into a very weird direction with Bennifer/Gigli and the 'Daredevil' venture (which in time I feel will begin to earn some praise), has finally found some credibility and some respect. It started with 'Hollywoodland' and then with his first directing bow 'Gone Baby Gone', that garnered greater praise than some of the films he acted in.  Critics were blown away by the expertise shown in the film which featured his brother, Casey, in the leading role, Affleck now returns with another crime picture set in Boston but with him in front of the camera; this step is inevitable and will ultimately lead to comparisons with Clint Eastwood who also took control of his career by directing pictures he was comfortable with and sometimes reserved his best performances for himself.

Affleck leads a group of four hoodlums who rob banks and security trucks, all done in disguise and professionally done leaving no trace of DNA evidence to limit forensic techniques, they get away with cash and leave no trace of their existence. This frustrates the chief detective of FBI Adam Frawley (Jon Hamm) who wants to get results and after some leads he starts to track down Doug and his crew, including the sociopathic Coughlin (Jeremy Renner on electrifying form).  We start the movie at the start of a new heist on the bank run by Claire Keesey (Rebecca Hall), after she opens the vault in their scheme she is taken hostage, which is not normally part of the plan.

After the crew worries, MacRay follows her and makes contact to make sure she does not know anything. The only thing she does remember is a Fighting Irish tattoo on the back of Coughlin's neck, and this is used as a brilliant red herring when there is a conversation between him, MacRay and Claire - you feel the truth will come out at some point and Affleck frames the tattoo in the centre of the picture, to make us really on edge but this proves a ruse for us all, but this is indicative of Affleck's burgeoning creativity with the source material. A tattoo may be a trick/motif put into the screenplay, but the director chooses to put it front and centre to trick his audience.  MacRay and Claire fall in love leading him to doing one last big job for his boss, the Florist (Pete Posthelwaite) who tells him if he doesn't do the job, his new girl will look a whole lot different.

The stakes are raised and the net tightens as Frawley gets closer to the crew to take them down on the last job, which is taking a 4 day takings of Fenway Park ('Boston's cathedral') which is close to $3.5m.  The action set pieces as the crew try to escape are expertly done, and there is an even pace throughout the film with no rushing or manipulating of the audience's investment into the film - we have come so far with the characters we are entitled to a perfect ending and resolution.

The ending may be a bit unusual in that it is not what we expected, and it may not be perfect. And to paraphrase the quote at the start of this review, you may not be able to change. But maybe Affleck is done with that chapter of his life, and is ready to be reborn as a renowned actor-director, and 'The Town' makes sure that 'Gone Baby Gone' was no fluke.


The long anticipated and hoped for sequel of the 1999 box office success 'East is East' gained its European premiere at the London Film Festival last week in a red carpet event at Leicester Square's Vue cinema with bhangra music, elephants and stars in attendance.

The film with the wish of Aybu Khan-Din is written not so much as a sequel but as a stand-alone film in its own right, and for the most part it proves a successful follow-up to the film that won a Bafta for Outstanding British Film.  The cast return en masse (although Jimi Mistry fans will feel slightly short changed).

The original film was ground breaking in that it brought subject matter previously unheralded to the big screen; inter-racial marriage set against the backdrop of 1970s working class Salford,Manchester with all its contexts of class and social status.  The idea of a white woman marrying a Pakistani and the hatred that such things may incite were addressed, but the violence is reserved for the cold hand of George Khan (Om Puri) who beats up his wife in the back office of their chip shop.  Whilst played and marketed for laughs, the original did have its darker moments.

'West is West' focuses on Sajid (Aqib Khan - in his first role), the youngest son, who is rebellious playing truant from school and avoiding bullies who berate him as a 'Paki' thus causing worries about his identiy and reluctance to accept his mixed heritage and hating his father.  The need for discipline and restraint in the young tearaway leads George to take him to his homeland in Pakistan to the family home he abandoned 30 years previously to marry Ella (Linda Bassett).

Mostly played for laughs, but asking genuine questions about identity and belonging not just to your race but your family home; the film has these major questions but has a lovely parallel narrative surrounding Nemar (the middle son) and his quest for a wife. This narrative garners the most laughs as the bride he chooses proves to be more than meets the eye.  Sajid and George's narrative journeys are directed with a humility and subtlety which is with thanks to the direction of Andy de Emmony, who has a long track record in television drama, and this comes to the fore in his feature length debut effort.

Beautifully shot by Peter Robinson, again making Pakistan (though the film was shot in Indian Punjab for insurance purposes) look as beautiful as Chris Menges did for 'Slumdog' and it is this debt to that Oscar winning film that gives this film not a rose-tinted view of the world, but a serious enough tone to go in balance with the humour that comes from Sajid's escapades as a hermit attempts to teach him lessons about life by stating the obvious and making the youngster discover it for himself.

Great performances by all concerned, most notably Aqid Khan who with no training instills Sajid with a bit of Malcolm McDowell mixed with Alex Turner, giving poetry to such profanity he sometimes spouts and Ila Arun, as Basheera Khan, the first wife who shows the vulnerability of her husband's abandonment in her aged face; though talking only Punjab she instills the character with such grandeur and poise it is striking and the scene with her and the second Mrs. Khan are startling.

Khan-Din (and the producer, Leslie Unwin) gets the wish of having the film stand on its own, and though it might not garner the same box office and clamour as its predecessor did it still deserves credit for being a work of supreme technical accomplishment and maturity. A straight drama with comedic appeal in this day and age of hook and gimmicks.

There may be a third film to complete the trifecta, possibly following Sajid's attempts to get married himself - maybe this will be played for laughs; but as long as this cast remains the same, there remains the key to its ever growing appeal.

Distributed by Icon Productions, the film is scheduled for a general release in February 2011

Friday, 15 October 2010

The Other Guys

On a cold miserable Wednesday, and some convincing to my loyal girlfriend, and after watching a trailer of the film we went to a very empty cinema to watch something that promised a lot of laughs and hilarity. And as my girlfriend was feeling a bit under the weather I used the old cliche of laughter being the best medicine plus the timing of the screening was convenient.  I just wish that halfway through the production of this film, someone from the money men turned to each other and went I wonder what the script looks like. Because as is the norm about Will Ferrell/Adam McKay films, there is no scripted film per se - just a pick'n'mix of improvisation with sketch comedy.  The idea of a plot is meant to be there, and in this instance the Bernie Madoff role is played by Steve Coogan, a foriegner, so the fact that he is literally unAmerican makes him the enemy.

The film starts off as this inversion of the buddy cop movie, laughing at action movies that over indulgent and over the top (much like Bad Boys 2).  The cameos of Samuel L. Jackson and Dwayne Johnson, as two honored and decorated policeman who take city landscapes as their prisoner in the face of law and order - they are also shy of paperwork which they leave to 'the other guys' in this case Gamble (Ferrell) and Hoitz (badly cast Mark Wahlberg) - policeman with past history who will never trouble the spotlight. Hoitz wants to taste it, but Gamble a forensic accountant wants to sit at his desk and go home to his 'average' wife.
Initially, the chemistry between the two - Hoitz screaming at Gamble for humming reminds of the Odd Couple and you hope that the buddy movie cliche will arise and they learn to embrace each other's faults whilst cracking a big case.  Weirdly though, the filmmakers make sure Hoitz spends the entire film shouting and screaming ('I'm a peacock. Let me fly') just to be heard in an office that where he feels tarred with the same brush as Gamble, a man who believes a desk pop (shouting his gun in the office) is a means of being embraced into the office fraternity.  The emmasculation of him by giving him a wooden gun is funny but infantile.

Infantile is an appropriate word as some of the humour is childish to the point of them taking the first joke that came into the head.  The bad cop/bad cop miscommunication between the two of them as they interrogate Steve Coogan's evil businessman ('I'll give you both $10,000. It is not a bribe') is something I have seen before; a grown man yelling incessantly and trashing a room, and not the first time in a Ferrell film either.

There are funny moments but they all come in the first half of the film when it is still establishing characters and dynamics; the relationship and the banter between Gamble and Hoitz is put to the test by an exchange over Hoitz being a lion and not even eating him even though he is not in his food chain, when Ferrell comes back with an explanation faulting Hoitz's logic, the rambling becomes incessant and hysterical. The other hilarity comes from the casting of Eva Mendes as Sheila, Gamble's wife; the fun with the placing of the exotic Mendes with the not necessarily attractive Ferrell leaves Hoitz flummoxed and open mouthed (No, who are you, really?'), his disbelief leading to a sequence of extended laughs. These laughs are retreaden over the film and for most of the film that is it, jokes are rehashed and retold - the peacock gaff, the infatuation between Hoitz and his partner's wife, the Captain who keeps quoting TLC lyrics without realising (four times) and Grand Theft Auto gets a laugh. At times I was thinking, was this film written in the last year or were they throw away gags from National Lampoon Loaded Weapon. 

It had me laughing for 20 minutes, but soon enough it flags and by the end it struggles to reach a conclusion it fully deserves, but not without more chases and action sequences which bring it back down to Cop Out's level. Maybe police work just is not meant to be funny.

Monday, 11 October 2010


'This ain't London, it's not even f***ing Nottingham. It is Sneanton.'

A voiceover from Shane Meadows that serves as a statement of intent and purpose.  A voiceover to rival Ewan McGregor's in 'Trainspotting' - Meadows first feature film 'Small Time' gets a DVD release from the BFI today and following on from the success of his television debut, 'This is England '86' it serves as a timely reminder of how a young talent was cultivated and developed.

Full of humour, sight gags, funny characters but with an underlying dark context it reminds of what is achievable when you mix talent with patience and with proper financial backing.

With more than a touch of naturalism or 'fly-on-the-wall' about it due to the energetic handheld camerawork and location shooting, Meadows is able to weave in his typical inclination for eccentric characters; the movie also serves as a time capsule for the moment (the women dropping in Power Rangers and Nintendo into a conversation) and the dress code of shellsuits and mad hair from the BritPop era.

The accomplishment of the film must be admired as it does smack of improvisation coupled with a sheer frenzy of guerilla movie-making but something that is better than it appears; it looks cheap in its production but the riches are in the layers; the ingenious comic dialogue, the acting (from professionals and unknown actors) and the direction.

Meadows has always been his own voice, never leaving his East Midlands homestead for the money and comfort of London; he is his own director and along with Danny Boyle the closest thing Britain has to an auteur from their generation.  His authorial fingerprint of gritty realism with a flash of whimsical sensibilites are heralded here and serve notice of what else was to come from his formidable filmography.

The DVD includes the extras of 'Where's the Money Ronnie!' Meadows short film homage to Akira Kursosawa's 'Rashomon', where four suspects give differing versions of a robbery
Also film notes and credits for both films.

SMALL TIME is released by BFI on DVD from 11 October for £12.99 RRP. Available from

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Untouchable memories

The last few weeks Ive watched two films that I thought i knew pretty well and my assumptions of them were set in stone..but it is odd that in the weird world of your mind how things can change due to the sands of time (and i dont mean that CGI sand in 'Prince of Persia')

The films in question are THE UNTOUCHABLES (Brian de Palma, US, 1987) and CASINO (Martin Scorsese, US, 1995) - two familiar and popular films from two directors who are esteemed in their fields.

The Untouchables I watched when I was much younger, one of those films you felt naughty watching because it had that 18 certificate and you were like 12 years old staying up late..but like most memories of my film my chronological grip of the film was all over the place.  I do not remember Charles Martin Smith gettting killed off first in the lift and thought the Canadian border shootout occured nearer the end which led to the Battleship Potemkin ripoff. 
The film was on Film4 and it was gripping; I was watching it with my girlfriend who I felt would not like it that much but she loved it. Picking out actors like Connery and Costner (before he ruined Robin Hood) and loving the action and gruesomeness of DeNiro's attack on his colleague with a baseball bat.
The film has much substance in equal to its style which you expect from De Palma, but there was things I just did not expect. Like Ness (Costner, never being better) throwing a criminal off the roof and therefore ruining his chances of conviction; the glory of Connery's death (gift wrapping an Oscar for himself) but it is also thanks to David Mamet's script - economical, clever (using fact as entertainment, 'Oh, I'm an accountant') and funny on occasions.  And De Palma has fun with audience expectations, when Ness rushes into his daughter's bedroom and sees her not there, your heart is in your mouth and then the camera pans to the right and there she is at her dollhouse - simplicity and brilliantly effective.

Casino, when I first saw it was an equal of Goodfellas, now having watched it again I found it to be incredibly flawed and a film that runs out of legs by the film's end. Whereas Goodfellas did not seek to make martyrs of those hoodlums, and actually did not make you think everyone would die; in Casino, you know everyone is doomed. Maybe it is the opening sequence and seeing DeNiro blow up in that car - the sheer fatalism of it is forebearing.
DeNiro is great as Ace - all style and plenty of layers, but Pesci is like a clown, bursting on to screen beating up anyone that moves or looks at him funny. I felt sorry for Ace on occasion, he wants to do everything legitamately before the carpet gets pulled from under him; whilst his 'friends' intend on ruining him.  And Sharon Stone's performance was Oscar-baiting before Witherspoon, Paltrow, Swank even thought of it.  A whore who attempts to grow a heart of gold, or a wolf in sheep's clothing bought for her by Ace, but Ace must know you got to have a heart first.  I felt somewhat disappointed once Pesci came out to Vegas, before that when Ace explains everything you see Scorsese having fun with the Vegas milieu, eyes in the sky, cheats at the tables and the violence is fun such as when they catch the guy with the wire on his leg.  But then Pesci beats up Irish hoodlums and its gets silly.  And when there are a lot of holes in the desert, you know someone will end up there.

Memories can cloud your judgment of films, something you thought run-of-the-mill might be better than you thought, and something you thought brilliant might be run-of-the mill.


GREENBERG (Noah Baumach, US, 2010)

Ben Stiller is attempting to go all serious on us all, and do one funny film for one serious film - like a one for me, one for you policy - and here he links up with the indie director Noah Baumach (The Squid and the Whale) in this film about a man returning to his routes in Los Angeles after not fulfilling his dream whilst in New York.

Stiller plays Roger Greenberg, a part-time carpenter and former member of an up and coming band, who is a depressive thrust back in tho LA to house sit his brother's house whilst he is away. The brother's personal assistant Florence pops in now and again, and a gradual connection occurs between the two whilst Greenberg attempts to put himself back into a social climate encountering old bandmates who still resent him for putting the kaboosh on their record deal nearly 20 years previously.

Ben Stiller melts into the role brilliantly, playing a bit kooky with a bit of whimsy, his doe-eyes a benefit to this role. At times he does look lost in this big city and they sometimes admit that he really should not be here.  Greenberg feels isolated and alienated from a younger crowd, much like when he goes to a party with Florence's friends and feels pushed to the side in the film's first party scene, culminating in the key sequence when he is surrounded by a group of 20 year olds and drops head first into the hedonism of it all - taking drugs and drunk dialling Florence.

Baumach has fun with the script, being both witty and insightful; developing characters who are fully rounded in a short space of time (both narratively and in screen terms) and having a plot centered on a character who is both neurotic but in search of life.  Baumach who also directed the undervalued 'Margot at the Wedding' (another collection of characters not fulfilling roles admist a social event mixed with personal reflection), does do a bit of canny casting with Greta Gerwig - who plays Florence. Gerwig a graduate of the film genre, mumblecore, is perfect for this style of filmmaking.  This is mumblecore with a proper budget and professional cast, the sensiblities of mumblecore are seen in the formality of the process.

The film follows a narrative with Greenberg willing to runaway again, but it is a genuine fear of being alone that drives him to remain with Florence - maybe this is just an acceptance that he is growing up and that maybe the homecoming means you have come back for good.

GREENBERG is on general sale from October 4th from Universal Pictures for £15.99 RRP