Sunday, 25 September 2011

That was the week that was (19 September - 25 September)

Before I start this week's post, I'd like to have a moment's silence for beloved TV, 'Ruby', who tragically passed away this week, aged 20. Though Ruby has now been replaced with a younger, slimmer model, she will always have a place in my affections. Over the years, I've watched many a movie, TV show and football match on that set, and it was only due to the fact that she was making a worrying burning sound that I was forced to move on to newer, sharper pastures. Ruby - 1991 - 2011 RIP.

Final Destination 2 (2003)

This week's reviews start with not a bang, but a whimper; Final Destination 2 is the worst movie I've seen since watching Birdemic earlier this summer. Of course, it's nowhere near as terrible as that abomination - the cinematography and sound mixing is professional, for one thing - but as a follow up to a film I really enjoyed when it came out in 2000, it's a big step down. The set up for FD2 is very similar to its predecessor - the central character has a premonition that she and her friends are about to die in a motorway pile up.  As she freaks out, she blocks off a number of other motorists on the slip road, and inadvertently saves their lives when the aforementioned pile up takes place minutes later. Of course, Death isn't about to take this lying down, and starts bumping off the would be victims in a series of bizarre 'accidents'. Now, while this was basically the premise for the first movie, it all seemed to make much more sense the first time around. For some reason, they've tinkered with that underlying premise  - now Death has decided to make a list of the order in which those involved in the crash would have died, and work backwards. Tony Todd (better known as the Candyman), turns up for a brief scene in which he mumbles something about babies being born offering a loophole to 'Death's grand design'. Apparently the fact that he works in a mortuary gives him personal insight into the inner workings of the mind of the Grim Reaper. One of the film's biggest failings is that there are so many potential victims in this film that there's barely time to get even the vaguest outline of them as characters - meaning that you really don't care whether they make it or not. The acting performances in this movie are generally poor, with Ali 'MDF' Larter particularly culpable. The only enjoyment to be gleaned from this film is in the elaborate death scenes, and to be fair, they are generally inventive and well executed; particularly the initial motorway crash sequence and a scene in which one of the characters is chopped into three pieces by a flying fence. Other than that, though, marking this film on the Edna Krabappel scale, I would have to say 'very poor, even for you'.

Rating: 3/10

Buried (2010)

In which Ryan Reynolds plays Paul Conroy, a contractor working in Iraq who wakes to find himself buried in a coffin, with only a mobile phone, lighter and pen for company. He must use his wits and resources to get up out of his grave, before time - and air - runs out. This movie plays out like an alternative version of Kill Bill vol. 2, one where Uma Thurman never learned the five point palm exploding heart technique, so was forced to rely on more conventional methods to escape from her predicament...  From the first minute until the very end of film, we spend all our time in the coffin with Paul, as he makes increasingly desparate phone calls to his wife, boss and the US State Department. It's a testament to an engaging script and to the acting of Ryan Reynolds (who I hadn't rated particularly highly before) that this scenario works as well as it does, though it did take me a little time to get used to the fact that every scene in the film was going to be set in exactly the same location. (Pedant's corner - I did notice a bit of a plothole in this film - if the kidnapper was so keen on Paul using the phone to make videos of himself, why was he bound and gagged when he first awoke in the grave?) A suitably gripping thriller, but probably not one for claustrophobic viewers.

Rating: 7/10

The Dark Knight (2008)

I watched this movie to see how my new TV would handle a big blockbuster movie with plenty of special effects. Both the movie and TV passed with flying colours, though to be honest, having already seen TDK three times, that was no surprise - I was well aware of how good it was. Christopher Nolan takes this instalment of the Batman series into very dark territory, pitting Christian Bale's morally troubled hero against that wildly unpredictable 'agent of chaos', the Joker.  The Dark Knight works so well for a number of reasons - some excellent acting from a very strong cast (particularly from Heath Ledger), an interesting storyline, fantastic special effects (relying on real life stunts rather than CGI) and a wonderfully dark and moody atmosphere. Roll on next year when The Dark Knight Rises comes around; let's hope it can buck the trend of the Superman, Spiderman, The Godfather and Scream movies and deliver a worthy third entry in the series. As I may have noted here before, for my money The Dark Knight is probably the best superhero film of all time.

Rating: 9/10

Drive (2011)

This was one of those cases where I'd built a movie up in my mind so much that it couldn't possibly live up to expectations. Having seen so many strong reviews (particularly from US critics), I was expecting something absolutely sensational, and what I got was 'just' a very well made, stylish crime picture. Ryan Gosling plays the unnamed protagonist, a taciturn, thoughtful man in his late '20s who works by day as a mechanic and stunt driver for the movies, and by night as a getaway driver for hire. After the driver assists in a heist which goes wrong, he and his friends find themselves pursued by a pair of mid-level Jewish gangsters (Albert Brooks and Ron Perlman, both excellent).We never really find out too much about the driver's past, but it becomes apparent during the course of the movie that as well as being an accomplished wheelman, he is also an individual with the capacity for extremely violent acts if he or his loved ones are threatened. The loved ones in question are Irene ( played by Carey Mulligan, as delightful as ever) and her young son, neighbours who the driver begins to care for. If I was to be overly critical, I would say that the film is a little slow paced at times, but some breathtaking car chases and bloodcurdling brutal displays of violence more than make up for those quiet moments. Nicholas Winding Refn directs with great panache, with some beautiful overhead shots of unheralded parts of greater LA. This may not have been the absolute classic I was expecting, but was certainly an entertainingly visceral experience.

Rating: 8/10

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Best of 2011 (so far...)

Just a quick update to post a list of my favourite movies of the year, so far. I've only included films which I've seen in the cinema this year, and have excluded any re-released movies from the list.

On reflection, it hasn't been too bad a year to date - but though there are a number of films which have been very good, nothing has stood out as really outstanding (worthy of a 10/10). I've only seen each of the movies once and may find that certain of them hold up better than others on repeat viewing, so it's possible the order may change when I release my end of year rankings... Anyway, without any further preamble, here's my list:

1. Hanna
2. Senna
3. Super 8
4. Kill List
5. True Grit
6. Animal Kingdom
7. The King's Speech
8. Black Swan
9. Attack the Block
10. 127 Hours

Monday, 19 September 2011

That was the week that was (12 September - 18 September) - Part Two

Right then, I've got a bit of a cold at present, so if none of this post makes any sense, please accept my
humble, sincere regrets. I'll have a full written apology on your desk in the morning.

Dead Again (1991)

I watched this one on the recommendation of James Berardinelli (who runs the excellent website Reelviews). Just to clarify, I didn't receive a personal recommendation from Mr Berardinelli, but it did come highly recommended on his website, getting a glowing review and a place on his favourite 100 movies of all time. Anyway, for me, the film was a bit of a disappointment, possibly because I went in with such high expectations.  The film is directed by and stars Kenneth Branagh, who plays 1990s private eye Mike Church, who attempts to find out the true identity of a fetching amnesiac, who he has named Grace (played by Emma Thompson, who was married to Branagh at the time.) He is assisted into his investigation into her past by a mysterious psychic and antique dealer (Derek Jacobi), who reveals that Mike and Grace knew one another in a previous life - back in the 1940s, they were a famous composer and musician who were married to one another  - a marriage which ended in murder... I'm not entirely sure why this film didn't work for me - I suppose for a start, I find the whole idea of past lives to be a bit far fetched. I also found Branagh a little hard to buy as a private eye, and a number of the performances (particularly Jacobi) were rather campy and other the top. It generally engaged my interest for a couple of hours, but I would rather have been watching a genuine classic film noir, such as Double Indemnity or The Big Sleep.

Rating: 6/10

Wayne's World (1992)

I've seen Wayne's World far too many times for me to give any kind of unbiased review - I think I first saw it when I was around 12 or 13; I thought it was hilarious then, and my opinion of it hasn't changed since. (Perhaps this is an alarming indictment of my retarded mental state - who knows?) I know quite a few sections of the film by heart, and was shouting the lines out at the screen, which I'm sure delighted the two people with whom I was watching the movie. My favourite moment? Probably when Garth is trying to attack the donut man he's built at Stan Mikita's coffee shop: "Hey Mr Donut-head man, who's tryin' to kill ya? "I dunno, but they better not. Aaaahhh, that's not good...." Apparently Mike Myers isn't a very nice guy in real life, and he's made a few stinkers over the years, but for making Wayne's World, he'll always be OK with me. I'm sure he'll appreciate that sentiment as he counts his millions of dollars.

Rating: 8/10

Unforgiven (1991)

Clint Eastwood's excellent modern Western raises the question of whether a man is ever really able to change his ways. Eastwood stars as William Munny, formerly one of the meanest, drunkest villains of the Old West, but now attempting to live a new, sober life on a farm, as the widowed father of two young children. Into his path comes temptation, in the form of a young outlaw calling himself "The Schofield Kid", who is seeking a partner to collect a $1000 bounty put up for the man who kills a cowboy guilty of horribly disfiguring a prostitute. Although Munny is at first reluctant to go on this mission, the parlous state of his finances make him change his mind; he brings along his former partner Ned Logan (Morgan Freeman) along for the ride. Standing in their way is a loquacious but vicious sheriff played by Gene Hackman, who has already handed down a (desultory) sentence to the cowboy who attacked the prostitute, and is damned if any man is going to exact vigilante justice in his town. I'm not usually a huge fan of Westerns, but this movie is one of the exceptions to the rule. It features brilliant performances from Hackman, Eastwood and Freeman, a witty script which looks behind the legends of the West to the way things really were, and a fantastic, bloodsoaked finale, in which William Munny realises his true nature.

Rating: 8/10

The Secret In Their Eyes (2009)

This film caused a bit of an uproar when it won Best Foreign Film at the Oscars last year, ahead of some very strong candidates including A Prophet and The White Ribbon. However, it's a very good film in its own right, and it definitely holds its own in the company of the two movies mentioned above. (For my money, A Prophet is the better movie, but there isn't much in it). TSITE opens in present day Argentina, with world weary prosecutor Benjamin Esposito writing a novel based on a difficult murder case he was involved with in the 1970s, when dealing with the governing military Junta added a further layer of complication to his investigations. As we flash back to the '70s, we meet Benjamin's co-workers in the Buenos Aires courts - his young boss, the sharp witted Irene Menendez Hastings (who Benjamin clearly has a thing for), and his assistant, Pablo Sandoval, who is loyal but prone to going on drunken benders. As Benjamin gets deeper into the case, he must constantly deal with a corrupt and defective system. As well as offering a fascinating storyline, TSITE is very well directed and includes a wonderful sequence when Benjamin and Pablo search for a suspect in a crowded football stadium. The film keeps you guessing until the very end, with a surprising and chilling double twist ending, but also features some very touching scenes involving the unspoken love between Benjamin and Irene. As good as watching Racing Club beat Independiente 5-0 in a classico.

Rating: 9/10

Sunday, 18 September 2011

That was the week that was (12 September - 18 September) - Part One

Before I get on with the reviews this week, just a few words on my LOVEFiLM lists. Much like God, the lists work in mysterious ways. Having thoroughly enjoyed Fast Times at Ridgemont High last week, I recently added a couple of teen flicks (Clueless and Some Kind of Wonderful) onto the 'high priority' section of my account, and the films almost immediately arrived through the door, meaning that three of the last five films I've received have been in that genre. I'm not sure if there is any particular order to the films which are sent out, or why certain 'high priority' films remain unsent for years while others are sent out straight away. Unless I'm able to go undercover and infiltrate the secretive Peterborough based headquarters of LOVEFiLM, I suspect I will never find out.

Frailty (2001)

Bill Paxton's directorial debut is a killer on the loose yarn set in the wilds of Texas; in the present day, a man calling himself Fenton Meiks (Matthew McConnaughey) enters FBI headquarters and tells the agent in charge (Powers Boothe) that he is the brother of the notorious 'God's Hand' serial murderer. As Meiks tells his story, the film flicks back and forth between his childhood in smalltown Texas in the 1970s and the present day, as the initially sceptical FBI man is increasingly drawn in by Meiks' tale. Back in the '70s, Meiks' father (Paxton) announced to his two sons that he had been visited by an angel who demanded that he rid the world of a number of demons on Earth. Meiks fears that his brother has been continuing his father's work in the present day. This is the type of movie which focusses more on the killer himself than the men trying to catch him. For the first hour or so, I liked the film, though it was the kind of story which I've seen told on several occasions as MOTW episodes of the X-Files, as well as various episodes of Millennium. Unfortunately, I felt a little let down by the twist ending, which takes things in a implausible direction. Still, Paxton does a good job at building atmosphere and suspense for most of the film, and it certainly isn't a disaster, by any stretch of the imagination.

Rating: 6/10

Clueless (1995)

I'd never seen this quintessentially '90s movie, but having enjoyed director Amy Heckerling's work on Fast Times at Ridgemont High, I decided it was high time I gave it a go. The plot of the film is based on Jane Austen's classic novel Emma, but the action is transplanted into the soulless, plastic heart of a 1990s Beverley Hills high school. Alicia Silverstone plays high school queen bee Cher Horowitz, a pretty vacant (but generally kind hearted) girl who decides to play matchmaker for her classmates and teachers. I'm a little unsure how I feel about this movie - on the one hand, for all that the film appears to wish to satrise the lives of fabulously well to do Californian teenagers, it also feels to some extent like a celebration of the airheaded consumerist culture that Cher and her friends represent. I much preferred the savage treatment which Heathers (in my view, the all time champ of teen movies) dished out to similar characters. I also found it a little unsettling that Cher ended up getting together with her former stepbrother. On the other hand, the film did have its moments. Despite, like, a surfeit of irritating '90s slang or whatever, the script is very funny in places ( I particularly liked Cher's father's comment to a prospective suitor: "Anything happens to my daughter, I got a .45 and a shovel, I doubt anybody would miss you.") Silverstone is very sweet in the title role, and it's difficult to wish the same end for her as that suffered by Heather McNamara. She's also well supported by a number of familiar faces, including Paul Rudd, Brittany Murphy, Donald Faison and Wallace Shawn. On balance, then, fair to middling.

Rating: 6/10

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (2011)

Tomas Alfredsson follows up his excellent 2008 vampire movie, Let The Right One In, with this engrossing spy thriller, based on John Le Carre's novel. The film features an all star cast of top notch British and Irish acting talent - Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch, Stephen Graham, Ciarin Hinds, John Hurt, Tom Hardy... it's hard to believe that so many great actors signed on to appear in the same movie, but I guess with the end of the Harry Potter series, British actors need to look elsewhere for parts in big productions. The film is a rather different pace to the type of Bond or Bourne spy thriller which is most common at the cinema - it deals with the grey, bureaucratic inner workings of MI6 (described throughout the movie as 'The Circus'), rather than chases and shoot outs in exotic locales. The plot centres on the efforts of George Smiley (Oldman), as he attempts to identify a Soviet mole who has infiltrated the top echelons of the British secret service. This follows a disastrous mission in Budapest, where a British agent (Mark Strong) was shot in the back and Smiley and his boss were forced to retire. Now, however, Smiley is back, and he is forced to use all of this cunning to track down the double agent in his own ranks. This is the kind of film where you have to pay full attention the entire time - there are no exposition heavy conversations - all of the characters, as spies, are constantly hiding something from one another, and when they speak they are terse, hesitant to give away anything which might compromise their own position. The movie is shot in desaturated colours, in the drab and grey Britain of the '70s; this lack of colour is reflected in the characters - you feel that George Smiley has been a spy for so long that he feels little joy in anything anymore, even when he is finally able to root out the mole. A very well made film, with strong performances from the ensemble cast, TTSS is well worth seeking out.

Rating: 8/10

Some Kind of Wonderful (1987)

Maybe it's teen movie fatigue setting in, but I was utterly unmoved by this one. It was just all so predictable - I felt as though I knew exactly what would happen at the conclusion about a third of the way through the movie, and as it transpired, most of my predictions were spot on. Eric Stoltz plays arty high schooler Keith Nelson, whose only friend is tomboy drum enthusiast played by Mary Stuart Masterson. Despite it being obvious that his best friend has the hots for him, Stoltz pursues the class beauty, played by Lea Thompson - who is currently in a relationship with some sort of '80s yuppie Don Johnson wannabe. Will Stoltz realise that his true feelings are for his best friend, rather than some idealised dream girl? Will the gang of tough kids he conveniently befriends in detention come to his aid in a face off with his love rival? It isn't hard to work out what's going to happen. The predictability of the plot wouldn't be so bad if you cared about the characters, but it's difficult to feel much interest in the fates of Stoltz, Masterson and Thompson who spend most of the time whining about how awful their lives are, and are only symnpathetic in comparison with the evil yuppie currently dating Thompson. The film's soundtrack is also really bad - full of crappy '80s synth pop rock (sorry to keep harking back to Fast Times at Ridgemont High, but that movie had a really good soundtrack; see also Say Anything and Adventureland).  As a sidenote: Lea Thompson looked much better in the '50s get up she wore in Back To The Future than with the '80s feather cut she sports in this movie. Of the John Hughes movies I've seen, this one would have to come bottom of the list.

Rating: 4/10

I think I'll leave it there for the time being - but there are four more movies to review this week. I shall return tomorrow with ramblings tenuously connected to the following films:

Dead Again
Wayne's World
And one more (probably Boogie Nights or The Secret In Their Eyes, depending on my choice of film tonight).

Monday, 12 September 2011

That was the week that was (5 September - 11 September)

As it's getting (fairly) close to Halloween, I thought it might be worth starting off this week's blog with a few words on horror movies. In particular, having seen Kill List on Wednesday, a film billed as 'utterly terrifying' and so forth, it feels like it's much rarer for me to be properly scared by a horror film than it used to. Although I really enjoyed Kill List (see below for the full review) and found it to be disturbing and creepy, at no stage did I feel genuinely frightened. The only films I can remember in the last six months or so which really profoundly scared me were Rec (particularly the last fifteen minutes) and Suspiria (particularly the first ten minutes). I suppose it's just a question of my watching far more horror films than I used to, and getting used to the way the films work - it now takes something unusual to frighten me. Still, there is one film in my DVD collection which I haven't yet had the guts to watch - the French film Ils (Them). I bought the movie to watch as part of my weekend o' horror (TM) last year, but it will instead be a part of this year's Halloween extravaganza.

Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story (2007)

A fitfully amusing pastiche of the music biopic genre, Walk Hard tells the tale of Johnny Cash-a-like Dewey Cox, whose climb to the top of the music industry is beset by problems and by Dewey's own personal demons. For you see, Dewey is constantly haunted by memories of accidentally cutting his brother in half during an innocent machete fight in the barn of his parents' Alabama home... Based purely on the lame pun(s) built into this movie's title, I wasn't sure whether I would care for it. On the other hand, Judd Apatow co-wrote and produced Walk Hard, and his batting average is generally more hit than miss. I really enjoyed the funny middle section of the film (in which Dewey experiments with various different types of music, running into Elvis, Buddy Holly and The Beatles en route), but found the beginning and end to be a little dull and lacking in laughs. I suppose the movie is a bit like a day old steak sandwich - in order to savour the tasty filling, you have to work through the stale white bread at either end.

Rating: 7/10

Blue Valentine (2010)

Blue Valentine is a fine film, and one in which I can appreciate the craft and skill involved in its making, but due to the heartbreaking nature of a number of its scenes, it isn't a film I feel I'm likely to return to in the near future. The film is set partly in the present day, and partly six years beforehand, and flicks backwards and forwards between the early, promising days of a relationship between Dean and Cindy (Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams), and death throes of the couple's marriage. I would argue that Gosling and Williams are two of the best young actors working in the movies today, and both put in highly impressive performances as two very different people. Dean is a painter and decorator from a working class background, a romantic and a good father to his daughter, but also a man of modest ambition who has increasingly taken to drinking before breakfast as a way of getting through his tedious days at work. Cindy is pragmatic and rather more ambitious; she is working as a nurse and ultimately hoping to become a doctor. Both of them have been damaged by their respective difficult childhoods; Cindy's parents stayed together, but were trapped in a loveless and abusive marriage. Dean's mother left when he was young, something which caused him great pain. It is possible that these different childhood experiences are reflected in the way in which the pair respond to their ever more serious marital problems: Dean is determined to stay together as a family unit, no matter what, whilst Michelle is more realistic, appreciating that their relationship is irreparably damaged and that it must come to an end. Although the film is generally very bleak, there are a few sweet and funny scenes, most notably Dean's rendition of "You Always Hurt The One You Love" on ukelele. Recommended (but probably for one viewing only).

Rating: 8/10

Kill List (2011)

One of the best British films I've seen for a while, Kill List is a strange hybrid of hitman thriller, domestic drama and disturbing horror movie. The antiheroes of the movie are Jay and Gal (Neil Maskell and Michael 'Tyres' Smiley), a pair of former soldiers now making a living as killers for hire. Following a disastrous mission to Kiev (details of which are never revealed to the viewer), Jay has been taking a self imposed break from his work, but growing financial concerns and pressure from his wife, Shel, (MyAnna Buring) lead to him taking on a new job from a sinister client. Director Ben Wheatley is able to make the film so successful in large part because he grounds the creepy and macabre elements of the film in the drab everyday setting of modern day Britain, suggesting that in the rooms of chain hotels and the disused areas of industrial estates, something evil is lurking. The actors also deserve a great deal of credit for making the characters interesting and believable. Somewhat surprisingly, the movie is also very amusing, particularly in the opening scene, a brilliantly awful dinner party. Only a slightly disappointing final quarter detracts from what is otherwise a fantastic movie, albeit one which the squeamish (or those with a phobia of hammers) may not enjoy.

Rating: 9/10

Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)

An impressive ensemble of young '80s talent came together for this classic teen comedy, based on a script from Cameron Crowe (working on his first feature film). Set in the San Fernando Valley, it focuses on the lives of a number of high schoolers who are working in service industry jobs, dealing with some eccentric teachers and negotiating relationships with the opposite sex. For me, the film works so well because it creates a number of interesting and rather unusual characters, rather than just the broad 'jock', 'nerd', 'cheerleader' stereotypes you get in some teen comedies.  Some of the actors, such as Jennifer Jason Leigh, Forrest Whitaker and Sean Penn, have gone on to have highly successful careers. Others, like Brian Backer, Judge Reinhold and Phoebe Cates haven't been doing too much since the '80s ended - but there's hardly a weak link to be spotted in this movie. It's funny, it's touching and a little sad in places, and it's well worth a watch.

Rating: 8/10

Sunday, 4 September 2011

That was the week that was (29 August - 4 September)

After rather a barren summer, there's quite a glut of films which I'm interested in seeing at the moment. I caught two of them this week (The Guard and The Skin I Live In), but there's still the Inbetweeners Movie, Kill List and Drive to see in the near future, so things are looking up.

Aliens (1986)

I'm not generally a huge fan of James Cameron, but he has made two or three films which I think are great: this one, Terminator and T2. I suppose I've got a bit of a soft spot forTrue Lies too, but I certainly wouldn't call it a 'great' movie. Anyway, I think Cameron is certainly to be applauded for the way in which he took the sequel to the original movie in a completely different direction. Many horror sequels (well, many sequels in general) take the easy way out and just attempt to carry out a complete retread of the original movie, but in the case of Aliens, the story is taken on in a way and expanded in a satisfying way which makes sense in terms of the Alien universe. In this movie, rather than have a single Alien let loose on board a spaceship, a whole host of Aliens have overrun the human colony which was established on the far flung outpost where the original Alien eggs were found. By the time Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) and a team of gung ho marines have arrived, the human colonists have been almost completely wiped out, used as hosts for a nest full of Aliens. Ripley has to use her knowledge of the Alien from the first movie to assist the marines, who have no idea of the terrible foe which they will have to battle.  One of the interesting things about this film is that it shows how the Alien society works - in many ways, its rather like a bee hive or ant's nest operates, with a queen at the top, laying eggs and an army of worker drones carrying out their duties as part of a hive mind. The movie is also a great success in moving the focus away from horror (though there are still a few scary moments), into a terrific action picture, as the marines work to wipe the Aliens off the planet. Ripley uses her knowledge of the Alien from the first movie to great effect. A brilliant follow up to the original classic.

Rating: 9/10

Alien 3 (1992)

Unfortunately, the second follow up to Alien was not nearly as good. This was David Fincher's first feature, but he can't really be blamed too much for the movie's failings as he was brought in an attempt to save the troubled production which had already been through a number of different directors and scripts before he took over. In the end, a compromise was made in relation to the script, combining two ideas - that of an Alien set loose in a prison planet, and that of an Alien running amok amongst a remote space monastery. This was actually the first Alien film which I saw, and I remember enjoying it very much when I was 16. However, having subsequently seen the first two movies, Alien 3 can only suffer by comparison. Alien 3 has its moments, including some very strikingly directed scenes, but on the whole it is hamstrung by a rather confusing plot and a number of supporting characters who look very similar and are entirely indistinguishable from one another - to the extent where there is very little emotional impact when they are picked off by the Alien. It also kills off one of the few interesting characters too early on (Clemens, a doctor played by Charles Dance who enters into a relationship with Ripley).

Rating: 6/10

The Guard (2011)

A sporadically amusing Irish buddy cop film from John Michael McDonough (whose brother directed In Bruges), The Guard is anchored by two very strong performances by the two lead actors, Brendan Gleeson and Don Cheadle. Gleeson plays Gerry Boyle, a sergeant in the Irish police (Garda) stationed in a rather remote part of Western Ireland, who is unexpectedly partnered with a visiting FBI agent (Cheadle), attempting to intercept a boatload of cocaine due to arrive somewhere in the vicinity in the near future. Gleeson is a somewhat contradictory figure; as Cheadle puts it at one point: "You're either really motherfucking dumb, or really motherfucking smart"... On the one hand, he affects the attitude of a bigoted small town cop, albeit one who also has a taste for prositutes, drugs and whatever else he can get his hands on in the course of carrying out his duties. On the other hand, it becomes apparent that there is much more to Boyle than meets the eye. He is well read, kind to his dying mother and the wife of a missing colleague, is a shrewd investigator and is apparently the only Garda in Western Ireland who won't take a bribe from drug smugglers. Although billed as a black comedy, I didn't find myself laughing out loud too often, and the film is a little uneven in tone, with some extremely dark material placed alongside more straightforward buffoonery. Still, the script is very witty in places and as mentioned above, Gleeson and Cheadle are both excellent. It's almost enough to forgive Don Cheadle for his atrocious 'cockney' accent in Ocean's Eleven...

Rating: 7/10

The Skin I Live In (2011)

Pedro Almodovar's latest effort tells the story of a brilliant but highly disturbed plastic surgeon, played by Antonio Banderas, who is keeping a beautiful woman (Elena Anaya) prisoner/ patient captive in his large country estate. This is a film which is very difficult to review - discussing the details of how Anaya came to be a captive guinea pig for Banderas would necessarily mean giving away specifics of the plot, which is both twisted and full of twists. On the other hand, it is preferable to see this film whilst knowing as little as possible about the plot, so I don't want to be guilty of spoiling it for anybody. What can I say about this movie then? Well, it's beautifully shot and directed, with both Banderas and Anaya providing strong turns. On the other hand, what transpires during the course of the film does rather stretch credulity, though as the story is so well told, it's really only when you emerge from the cinema that you start to wonder whether the events you have just witnessed are at all possible. A good film, but not one of Almodovar's very best (my personal favourites being Talk To Her, Live Flesh and Bad Education).

Rating: 7/10