Review: A Single Man

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The Pitch: Colin Firth is an English professor dealing with life after death (not his own, of course).

The Review: Long have I been haunted by the memory of my mother and her infatuation with a dripping wet Mr Darcy emerging from a lake in the BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. It felt that Colin Firth would forever be stuck in Bridget Jones and St Trinians sequels in an attempt to remove that memory, but here is finally something for him to get his teeth into.

In a career best performance, Firth conveys huge amounts of emotion with the most subtle of facial gestures. He runs the full gamut of emotions over the course of an eventful day, although it is the flashbacks which most truly allow him to flex his acting muscles.

Support is stong from Julianne Moore and Nicholas Hoult, but the other main focus is first time director Tom Ford, whose fashion background shows through clearly in the attention to shot construction and composition, and in the subtle and effective use of colour and contrast to illustrate the changes in Firth’s character’s moods. A memorable experience, if not the most lasting of impressions.

Why see it in the cinema: To experience up close the full subtleties and nuances of Firth’s compelling performance.

The Score: 8/10

Review: Up In The Air

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The Pitch: Can it be easier to hear you’re out of a job if Gorgeous George tells you?

The Review: George Clooney is the very definition of the modern leading man. Having struggled to find the right kind of roles during the early part of his film career post-ER, he settled into a groove in the last decade, able to deliver smooth sophistication for the Ocean’s movies, tense unpredictability in films such as Syriana and even various goofballs for the Coen brothers.

But this is something slightly new again, and marks him out as possibly the James Stewart of his generation – comfortable with the leading man role, but with other possibilities lurking underneath. Oscar talk is maybe a little flattering here, but nonetheless Clooney makes the most of what he’s given here, and that’s quite a lot.

It helps to have excellent support, and from the excellent Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick, through to small support roles from the likes of Danny McBride and J.K. Simmons, everyone’s on their game. The movie itself follows a familiar flight path, but takes enough twists and turns to keep it consistently enjoyable, and the dialogue constantly pleases and sparkles.

Jason Reitman keeps a good rhythm to proceedings; less of a flashy visualist, he still makes sure the plot always has forward momentum, even through to the redemptive but ultimately honest ending. A particularly resonant product of the current environment, especially if you’ve ever sat on the other side of that table.

Why see it at the cinema: So as not to put all the nice staff at the cinema out of a job if their takings are down. Also, they went to the effort of going to lots of different airports, rather than just the same one dressed up differently – if they made the effort, why shouldn’t you?

The Score: 9/10

Review: St Trinian’s 2: The Legend of Fritton’s Gold

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The Pitch: Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the girls’ dormitory…

The Review: So, David Tennant. I can understand you not wanting to get typecast as Doctor Who, even though yours is one of the best portrayals ever. And I can also understand you not wanting to be bogged down in Shakespeare forever. But this? Really?

The first St. Trinians remake was an often charmless affair that still had a number of redeeming features – Russell Brand, Gemma Arterton in schoolgirl uniform, Rupert Everett cross-dressing, Colin Firth being a total wassock. This either removes such elements, marginalises them to the point of uselessness or simply doesn’t know what to do with them this time round.

From the toe-curling pirate opening to a mortifying flash-mob recreation, through to a tedious finale at the Globe, this does no favours for the reputations of any involved. See the first if you must, but avoid this one at all costs.

Why see this at the cinema: If you’re an 8 year old girl who’s lost the DVD of the first one, or a serial masochist who’s too proud to be British.

The Score: 2/10

Review: The Road

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The Pitch: Apolcalypse just before Now. What are we going to do today?

The Review: Viggo Mortensen is making a career out of less than cheerful characters. Ever since he escaped from Middle Earth, he’s been wrapped up in stern moods and miserable looks, often in the company of David Cronenberg. Now he teams up with the director of The Proposition to bring to life, if that’s the right word, Cormac McCarthy’s novel.

By turns almost religiously faithful and carefully respectful to the source material, this somehow loses some of the power of the original prose. No sense is ever given of the exact nature of the apocalyptic event, but neither is strong reasoning given for the journey undertaken, which makes the whole enterprise feel unfocused.

Matters aren’t helped by the fact that the road movie feel is broken up by the constant flashbacks. Gradually the story is pieced together, but this doesn’t have the direction it needs, and cannot get by on mood alone, when the mood is bleak but actually would benefit occasionally from being bleaker.

Continuing the trend of movies with sprinklings of famous cameos, especially Guy Pearce and Robert Duvall in ‘is-that-really-them?’ layers of muck and make-up, this has many effective moments, that sadly do not all add up to being the sum of their parts.

Why see it at the cinema: The post-apocalyptic scenery, especially the occasional panoramic view, is stunning and deserves to be seen on the best screen possible.

The Score: 6/10

Review: A Prophet (Un prophète)

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The Pitch: A French Goodfellas, with less glamour and more ghosts.

The Review: The European answer to all those American crime and prison movies that Gomorrah tried so manfully to be, but didn’t quite manage. A mesmerising central performance by Tahar Rahim as he slowly takes control of his life and works out his place in the criminal hierarchy, then sets out to control it.

Coupled with this are elements of the fantastic which give a further fresh twist to the material, including one of his victims who can’t leave him alone and the strange prophecy alluded to by the title which comes in incredibly handy at a later stage.

The movie starts off largely confined by the prison walls, but gets to stretch its legs as the plot develops, using the divide between outside and inside for tension and to help drive events forward. While the most striking confrontations take place inside the walls, it’s the set-pieces outside that give the movie its energy and edge.

Tense and well paced, tautly plotted and different enough to stand on its own terms, this comes highly recommended for all fans of the genre.

Why see it at the cinema: To truly feel the claustrophobia of the prison cells, and the isolation of the prison yard, needs the biggest screen possible.

The Score: 9/10

Review: Ponyo (Gake no ue no Ponyo)

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The Pitch: Deranged child-friendly Japanese animation, available with or without subtitles.

The Review: The kind of movie that makes you wish you were taking drugs, as you may possibly get the most from the surreal, sometimes psychedelic imagery. Attempting to explain the plot is almost a lost cause, and actually this is a little lighter on plot than some other Miyazaki efforts, which makes it feel more slight.

Nonetheless, only the hardest of hearts could fail to be enchanted by a girlfish with a craving for ham, running on the top of a wave. Would recommend you avoid doing what I did, which was seeing the film in it’s subtitled Japanese version, along with four dozen children who had to have the subtitles explained to them as they can’t read quick enough.

There is a simple pleasure to the graphical style, and the story has that fairytale feel, while still retaining a more modern quirkiness. It’s just that there’s not a huge amount to make this live long in the memory. Still, the imagery and the music is never less than pleasantly entertaining, especially the tune over the end credits, which I was still humming 12 hours later.

I saw the subtitled version; as with many other Miyazaki movies, there is a version in the English language where the dub has been overseen by John ‘Pixar’ Lasseter. If that’s not a recommendation, I don’t know what is.

Why see it at the cinema: Watching lots of happy children and their bewildered parents staggering from the screening afterwards is always entertaining. Also, the collective experience of joy the film brings is much better in a larger group.

The Score: 7/10