Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Gnomeo & Juliet - Kelly Asbury - 2011

Romeo and Juliet replayed by garden gnomes? In an animated film for kids? Well as original concepts go this certainly takes the biscuit and at the very least marks Gnomeo & Juliet out from the glut of saccharine kids’ fare that seems to be clogging up the cinemas at the moment but in practice most of this imagination seems to have been crushed in the studios usual quest for mediocrity. The story is quite sweet but given the genre and the incredible range of talent involved its strangely light on laughs; a film that includes Michael Caine and Maggie Smith alongside Jason Statham and Ozzy Osbourne is always going to be entertaining but it seems the writers were depending so much on the casting that they didn’t bother to write anything good and so once the novelty of the concept and the fun of recognising the voices has died away there is little more than the predictably cute to go on. Director Kelly Asbury earned his spurs on the first two Shrek films and although he delivers some beautifully detailed animation he has missed a lot of the wit that made those films so much fun. At the very least Asbury remains resolutely faithful to the original tale, even throwing in a few quotes to keep the bard fans happy (the writer even makes a cameo with the highly apt voice of Patrick Stewart), but in the end genre conventions demand that Shakespeare is put aside in favour of the inevitable song and dance routine (courtesy of some cheesy but quite catchy numbers from producer Elton John) and the film is left looking like every other factory line generated film of this generation. Now garden gnomes committing suicide, maybe with weed killer and a pitchfork, that would be original.

Glorious 39 - Stephen Poliakoff - 2009

A period thriller set in the idyllic summer of 1939 before the outbreak of World War Two, Stephen Poliakoff's return to the big screen is a treat not to be missed. Following the fortunes of Anne (Romola Garai), an adopted sibling of a sprawling well-to-do family, Poliakoff takes her on a journey of lost innocence and shocking discovery that shatters the idyllic paradise in which she lives with surprisingly brutal consequences.   Admittedly when the plot is subjected to rational logic afterwards the big conspiracy might seem negligible compared to the intensity of the threat built up, but it is Anne's journey to realisation that is the important thread, an arc that represents Britain as a whole coming to terms with the dark reality of the upcoming conflict. Poliakoff demonstrates an amazing ability to wring menace from absolutely anything, helped and hindered by Adrian Johnston's often overblown score. In his hands, seemingly ordinary scenes like a beautiful cornfield, a ruined abbey, a children's choir and even a man on a bike take on a level of threat that keeps the audience of the edge of their seats. Poliakoff's real success however is his cast: from old hands like Bill Nighy and Julie Christie to newcomers Eddie Redmayne and Juno Temple, the actors deliver warmly engaging performances that turn on a hair's breadth from honesty to insincerity as Anne unravels more of the conspiracy. Richard Cordery's alarmingly sinister vet and Sam Kubrick-Finney, the creepiest child actor since The Shining are also worth mentioning but the film as a whole belongs to Romola Garai's Anne. A rising British star having recently saved the BBC's Emma from sinking without trace, Garai delivers a spirited and winning performance that demonstrates a dedication and intensity that should see her set for years to come. Approximately three people went to see this in the cinema but its worth seeing as a calling card for Garai if nothing else.

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Mission: Impossible II - John Woo - 2000

Legendary action director John Woo takes the helm for the second impossible mission of IMF agent Ethan Hunt but sadly he doesn't really achieve anything fresh. Tom Cruise flashes that grin and strains those muscles even harder in an effort to distract from his new mullet (does it work, does it look ridiculous? The debates could go on for hours) and acquits himself well enough on the action front – a motorbike chase rivals the finest that the Bond franchise can muster, while a pre-credits scramble up a rock face is pointless but visually quite impressive. Thandie Newton sizzles in possibly her sexiest role to date as the suspiciously Bond girl like Nyah (she even has the weird name to boot) but Dougray Scott's weird villain never really convinces in a 007/006 like plot thread and Ving Rhames has nothing to do which just seems rude. Woo keeps the plot ticking away nicely and pulls off a couple off good twists with the classic Mission: Impossible facemasks but fatally misses any of the intrigue and suspense that made the first film so much fun. In fact with the girl, the shiny vehicles and the dodgy villain all in place this does at times feel like John Woo has tried to make a Bond movie with sweaty Ethan Hunt rather than suave James Bond. Obviously this isn't necessarily a bad thing but why not just go watch a Bond film and see how it should be done?

Mission: Impossible III - J.J. Abrams - 2006

Taking the helm for a third Mission: Impossible film was a bold choice for TV guru J.J. Abrams to make for his big screen directorial debut but happily he steps up to the mark to create a bolder and more exciting film than John Woo's last comparatively limp entry. Although a plot twist that is essentially recycled from the first film shows a certain lack of imagination from the new writing team, the set pieces which include a smash and grab rescue on a bridge and an extended sequence in which Hunt and his team break into the Vatican, are among the finest in the series so far. Cruise does as good a job as ever, this time with a more reasonable haircut and less of the ridiculous grin thanks to a serious and actually convincing relationship with the lovely Michelle Monaghan – a relationship that serves to make Hunt a little more of a human if still entirely conventional action hero. Philip Seymour Hoffman has a ball playing the most dastardly and genuinely hateful villain yet and if his grand plan and the macguffin it revolves around aren’t entirely understandable this is simply because Abrams is trying too hard to keep the film from getting bogged down in unnecessary plot contrivances. Abrams closes the film in a way that would seemingly bring Ethan’s story to a close (it would be a whole five years before Ghost Protocol was conceived) and although this might seem awkwardly sentimental for an action franchise it finishes the initial trilogy on a high, kick starting what is turning out to be a significant big screen career for Abrams along the way.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines - Jonathan Mostow - 2003

It was inevitable given the success of the first two films that despite their apparent destruction at the end of T2, the Terminators would be back. Sure enough twelve years down the line a new model Terminator is sent back in time to kill John Connor yet again and once more Arnie is sent back to try and protect him. The sad fact is though that Jonathan Mostow is no James Cameron and without the latter’s imaginative eye the film feels resolutely workmanlike, determined to simply follow the formula set by T2 to the letter. Thus we have scenes of action followed by scenes of exposition and then action, exposition and so on with no real attempt to break the mould until the end. Kristanna Loken's Terminatrix makes for an interesting and sexy twist on the T-1000 but doesn't have enough fresh concepts to make it truly memorable. That said the writers do attempt to insert a few interesting twists in the plot, such as the revelation about who sent this particular Arnie back in time, but these bright spots are marred by feeble comic references to the previous films. Possibly the finest part of the film though is the ending which, given the clichéd blockbuster quality of most of the movie, surprisingly pushes on for a downbeat coda after the action has finished. This does at least make for a pleasingly unexpected finale but is almost more frustrating as it hints at how great the film might have been in the hands of true craftsman.

Terminator Salvation - McG - 2009

Six years after Terminator 3 failed to live up to expectations the franchise is back with Charlie's Angels director McG at the helm but for the first time no Arnie to draw in the crowds. Instead we have Christian Bale at his most gruff playing the now grown up John Connor finally fighting the war that has been endlessly hinted at in flash forwards in the previous films. McG creates this apocalyptic world in impressively gritty detail but sadly doesn't have the imagination to use it as anything other than a playground for big special effects orientated action sequences. Whilst these are undeniably exciting, they are also sadly rather repetitive since in this dying world of greys and browns practically every machine looks the same and thus there are only so many explosions McG can pull off before the audience loses interest. The plot such as it is, is rather interesting, introducing a new type of infiltrator terminator, but it has no real significance within the overarching story; John Connor is the same character at the end as he was at the beginning and thus is never as interesting a protagonist as he was when the franchise began. With so little to work with Bale resorts to repeating the gruff intensity he uses to play Batman which is a further fatal error since now the image of John Connor will be irrevocably mixed up with that of the Dark Knight. The original Terminator films broke new ground in both science-fiction and action cinema; Terminator Salvation with its intricately conceived world deserves to stand along side them but ultimately can do little more than scratch the surface.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Toy Story - John Lasseter - 1995

A breakthrough in film animation and the film that marked the debut of Pixar Studios as the world's current premier animation company, Toy Story is a true classic that crosses boundaries of age and genre. Initiating a bright, blocky and colourful animation style that has since been much imitated by never matched for its flawless detail, the film sets out to tell Pixar's predominant priority: a good story. For the first part the film can seem a bit clever but in a quaint and cutesy way, as a classic rivalry between neurotic old time toy Woody and flash new arrival Buzz Lightyear is established in a children's bedroom that everyone would love to imagine their own. Via the way of some sly in-jokes (kudos to the Full Metal Jacket fan) the film continues, following the traditional genre tropes of the reluctant friendship begun when the rivals are forced to work together, but with such breeziness and charm that it’s hard not to become drawn in and involved. Culminating in a car chase that by this stage becomes more gripping than a lot of live action equivalents, Toy Story has what at this stage was a uniquely cross-generational appeal that subsequent lame copy cat attempts have reduced to feeble references blended with toilet humour. Both in finding a formula to appeal to both excitable children and nostalgic adults and clearly defining the moment when animation moved  by and large into working completely with CGI, this is the first and still one of the best works of modern animation.

Toy Story 2 - John Lasseter - 1999

Toy Story was one of the most innovative and successful animated films ever made so it was perhaps inevitable that a sequel would come along sooner or later: happily though Toy Story 2 is that rare thing, a sequel that matches the original in every way for style, inventiveness and sheer entertainment value. Following an opening sequence of pure genius in which we're transported into the fantasy world of Buzz Lightyear (complete with some neatly placed Star Wars references), the film settles into a classic rescue mission scenario in which the gang have to rescue a kidnapped Woody from a rare toy collector (one of Pixar’s less unconvincing plot catalysts), giving the directors the chance to introduce some interesting new characters whilst having fun finding new takes on jokes from the first film – scenes of Buzz confronted by a whole shelf of Buzz toys are hilarious. Best of all though are the moments of poignancy when the toys are forced to confront the fact that their lives can't continue so good forever. Cowgirl Jesse's mid-film song about being abandoned by her owner is genuinely heartbreaking, encapsulating in one perfect moment both the bittersweet inevitability of growing up and the nostalgia this leaves and it is this emotional depth that raises Pixar’s work far above standard animated fare. Long may it continue to do so.

Friday, 18 May 2012

The Hunger Games - Gary Ross - 2012

The latest in the factory line of bestselling franchise novels to be adapted for the big screen, The Hunger Games might not have the same extensive reach as Harry Potter or Twilight but it is inevitably subject to the same judgement: does it work as a film? Set in a non-specific futuristic world in which the population is sharply divided between the filthy rich in the central city and the suppressed poor in the outlying regions, the film tries hard to play up the cruel differences between them. Shooting District 12 where the story opens in cold monotonous greys, director Gary Ross creates a sharp contrast with the garish colours on display later on when even the friendliest characters sport gold eyeliner or blue hair, but can only hint at the dark explanations for the two extremes. More to the point though this extended build up only serves to prolong the beginning of the titular Games themselves, a Battle Royale style combat arena in which twenty-four teenagers or tributes must fight to the death (because Donald Sutherland says so) that forms the basis of the story. To start with at least, it’s worth the wait. The film is anchored by a tremendous performance for Jennifer Lawrence as the heroine Katniss Everdene, a child who’s been forced to find a well of internal strength and grow up too quickly, and it is largely thanks to her and not Ross that the action is so excruciatingly tense when it finally arrives. Lawrence undercuts Katniss’ no nonsense attitude with a streak of sad desperation that makes the character a charismatic figure that anyone would instinctively root for and so the scenes of her being threatened feel almost terrifying to watch. However the Games take up two thirds of a very long film and despite having Lawrence on side Ross is not a good enough director to maintain this tension. This being a story with a large teenage fan base it makes sense to cut around the deaths but Ross takes this as a cue to keep the camera moving so much that for the most part its hard to keep a grip on anyone besides Katniss. This isn’t helped by the fact that the other tributes have paper thin characterisations (if any at all) and so apart from one emotional salute over a fallen ally the inevitable deaths don’t really have any impact. Then as the film enters the final phase the dreaded spectre of romance lurks its flowery head, driving the plot towards the finale and setting up a possible triangle for the second film (the story’s appeal for Twilight fans suddenly becomes clear), a move that is sweetly played by Lawrence and co-star Josh Hutcherson but lessens the tension and makes the film less engaging as a whole. A final twist ending feels a little abrupt after so long but is at least handled with the irony it’s due, wrapping up a film that is very interesting but not as great as its reputation might suggest.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel - John Madden - 2012

With seven venerable British character actors setting off for retirement in India on his hands it sounds like John Madden, director of popular hits like Shakespeare in Love and Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, has another success on his hands, but initially it seems that this may not be the case. The introductions to the various characters and then India are written and played too broadly to be really enjoyable with scenes of Maggie Smith’s racism and Ronald Pickup and Celia Imrie screaming like children at an oncoming bus coming across as embarrassing rather than funny but the film eventually begins to mature as the characters settle into their new lives. Imrie and Pickup’s quest for love is never as funny as Madden would like and Penelope Wilton is typecast again as the culturally obstinate harridan, but the rest of the cast is fantastic. Judi Dench and Bill Nighy are as charming and brilliantly subtle as ever, playing their characters’ emotional awakening to new experiences with beautiful British understatement, while Tom Wilkinson delivers an equally touching portrait of a man in search of a past to reconnect with. Smith’s journey of racial understanding is rather more predictable but she gets plenty of laughs playing her unexpected saviour role with wonderful comic relish. Injecting a burst of youthful energy Dev Patel’s manically incompetent hotel manager is a delight, talking his elderly guests into a daze and negotiating a potentially clichéd romance with enough charm to keep the audience smiling. Although the film is an ensemble piece, Dench’s Evelyn is the nominal lead with some randomly interspersed pieces of narration that verge for the most part towards the bite size life lesson school of writing but include one wonderful line about India washing over you, a sentiment that accurately sums up the film itself. It may often feel contrived but with an evocative depiction of an exciting country and a rare chance afforded for some great actors to comment (however broadly) on how it feels to grow old, the film is eventually very engrossing.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger - Woody Allen - 2011

Another year, another Woody Allen film that surprise surprise, peers into the complicated tangle that humans make out of their relationships and has a quiet chuckle at what we see. Its instantly obvious from the incredible roster of recognisable faces that despite not making a truly successful film in years actors are still queuing up to work with the legendary comedian, but sadly it seems the blight of dodgy dialogue that has plagued him ever since he started working in London for 2005's Match Point has still not completely died away. The great TV actor Philip Glenister is granted one key scene with such woefully written lines that he is visibly embarrassed to be present while an entire subplot in which Josh Brolin becomes infatuated with a nubile Freida Pinto entirely fails to convince. The idea that Pinto would not be phased by him telling her that he found watching her through a window erotic and would then go on to develop a relationship with him is not only ridiculous in the extreme but feels disturbingly like the fantasies of a dirty old man. Apart from these sidelines however, Allen has drawn up some neat plot threads: Naomi Watts yearns for boss Antonio Banderas while being frustrated by mum Gemma Jones' dependence on a medium and dad Anthony Hopkins' lust for gold-digger Lucy Punch. Like in most of his better films Allen doesn't feel the need to tie all of these up in a neat bow, understanding that a lack of resolution is both more ironic and realistic and thus in a strange way more satisfactory. He wraps up instead with a fresh idea that suggests that sometimes people can actually be happier with illusions rather than the truth and that we should thus think twice before we break them. Allen might not be such an astute writer anymore given that he seems to be increasingly trying to justify he own messy personal life but its nice to see that he can nevertheless still come up with something thought provoking.

Year One - Harold Ramis - 2009

The comic mind behind Ghostbusters and Groundhog Day tackling a Judd Apatow style film, set in biblical times? If the premise sounds ridiculous the results are depressingly tragic. Harold Ramis overcame the silliness that blighted his very early career to write characters that have become timeless comedy treasures but after watching Year One it’s hard to believe that the director has learnt anything in the intervening years since the diabolical Caddyshack. Jack Black and Michael Cera play Zed and Oh, two stupid hunter/gatherers who are essentially another variation of Black’s arrogant buffoon character and yet another rehash of Cera’s awkward dweeb persona and distressingly Ramis apparently assumed that with these guys in front of the camera he didn’t need to bother writing any funny lines. Of the two Cera’s sadness is slightly more appealing than Black’s hamming (after all Oh’s misery often reflects our own) but its no where near enough to make the film funny or even worth watching. Ramis takes care not to offend Christians by avoiding practically all mention of God in his characterisations of Old Testament characters like Cain and Abel and Abraham and Isaac but they are all rewritten so poorly that it almost feels more offensive than if he hadn’t made the effort. Hopefully one day a producer will learn that turning a character into a cameo for Paul Rudd or Hank Azaria doesn’t automatically make it funny. The film bounces along nicely enough with an inevitable increase in cheap innuendos when the characters reach Sodom and encounter a lascivious high priest (Oliver Platt should be ashamed), but never really generates any laughs until the final moment when Ramis actually tries to tag on a moral message as if this is some sort of Hollywood kids film. The concept of a biblical comedy is certainly fresh and exciting but the whole idea is approached with such a general lack of wit or intelligence that all the effort that’s clearly gone in to creating this world is wasted. The whole mess is completely harmless of course but sometimes it’s hard not to wish Ramis had stuck with his original ending and just carried on smiting the set until everything was destroyed.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

The Nightmare Before Christmas - Henry Selick - 1993

Although it maybe isn’t as laugh-out-loud funny as you'd expect, The Nightmare Before Christmas is a brilliant example of what happens when two creative minds meet - in this case the Gothic imagination of Tim Burton and the stop-motion genius of Henry Selick. Creating a land where holidays are alive, the pair imagines what would happen if two celebrations collide and the scary but sweet denizens of Halloween Town try and take over Christmas. The stop-motion, painstakingly created a frame at a time by Selick allows Burton a much greater freedom than live-action to unleash his crazy visual ideas and create characters like the (literally) two-faced mayor, Zero the ghost dog and elegant skeletal star Jack Skellington that have now become cult favourites. Although Halloween town is filled with numerous creepy and disgusting monsters, Burton laces the dark and twisted imagery with an innocence and sense of fun that makes the characters accessible for kids of all ages. Only the sinister Oogie Boogie Man is really evil, trapping Santa Claus in a neon lit lair that looks like a penny arcade and serenading him with blues music! Christmas town on the other hand is a vision of sweetness and delight, filled with twinkling lights and a myriad of Christmas clichés that are joyfully discovered by Jack in the glorious musical number What’s This? This song is the highlight of Danny Elfman's wacky soundtrack, but practically all the songs are far catchier than some of the more fluffy Disney equivalents and perfectly match the strange, surreal, yet always darkly funny imagery on screen. Although the film is now remembered as a Burton creation with Selick largely forgotten, the film stands as a testament to their united imaginations. Burton would return to this medium with Corpse Bride and Selick most notably with Coraline but The Nightmare Before Christmas has a staying power that overcomes its somewhat lightweight sense of humour and makes it a true original.

Night at the Museum - Shawn Levy - 2006

A vaguely fun-sounding concept is wrenched into relentless mediocrity in this hit family film that has already spawned one sequel and (heaven forbid) potentially a franchise. Ben Stiller is a likable enough straight man as new museum guard Larry Daley who discovers that the exhibits come to life at night but he has to fight a constant battle against a plethora of comedy cameos and a tired script that can’t conjure up any fresh jokes. It’s probable that most of the audience came to see this for the exhibits coming to life and so it is frustrating that director Shawn Levy spends so much time outside the museum setting up a by-the-numbers back story complete with a clichéd cute child (Jake Cherry) that Larry must reconnect with. And then once we eventually get inside the museum the first question everyone is likely to be wondering is what sort of natural history museum has cavemen, Huns and an Ancient Egyptian Pharaoh alongside the traditional dinosaur and wildlife exhibits. Maybe American museums are different to British ones but it feels suspiciously like the writers just threw in everything they thought might be fun with no thought to internal logic. Dick Van Dyke is surprisingly good fun as a retiring guard with a hidden agenda, lacing every line with a twinkle-eyed charm that’s underlined with menace and he’s ably supported by Bill Cobbs and an ancient Mickey Rooney. However Ricky Gervais as the humourless museum director is ironically not funny at all, while Robin Williams as Teddy Roosevelt actually has little to do other than gallop around on a horse and dispense most of the inevitably tedious life lessons. Quibbling aside though it must be admitted that the initial scenes of the waxworks coming to life are fairly spectacular (aside from the annoying monkey) and a climactic carriage chase through a snowy Central Park is quite exciting. It rapidly becomes clear however that aside from these moments Levy has little imagination and less wit when it comes to keeping the story going and so the humour and the wonder dissipates quickly and the film is reduced to the level of a bog-standard moralistic adventure story. Given the magical possibilities of the concept, this is a shame.

Monday, 7 May 2012

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl - Gore Verbinski - 2003

The film that made pirates a viable subject for movies for the first time since the forties, made stars out of Keira Knightley and (briefly) Orlando Bloom and a superstar out of Johnny Depp, The Curse of the Black Pearl contains everything that should be fun and exciting in summer blockbusters. The Seventeenth Century Caribbean is rendered in loving and exquisite detail to create a world on screen that feels rich and exciting but also crucially real and thus convincingly rough and dangerous unlike the very stagy pirate movies of the past. Happily this courtesy is extended towards the villainous cursed pirates who appear as skeletons when the moon is shining and as such blend in perfectly with the rather complex environments to create genuinely believable and thus all the more menacing monsters. This is only the background though for the remarkable gallery of characters that director Gore Verbinski, entering the blockbuster arena for the first time, has assembled to deliver the remarkably witty and well plotted script from the writers of Shrek. Bloom and Knightley are not yet as irritating as they would become, playing the classic dashing hero and plucky heroine, great British character actors Geoffrey Rush and Kevin McNally have tremendous fun hamming up everything that people expect from pirates and Johnny Depp turns in the performance of a lifetime as the now legendary Captain Jack Sparrow. Sly yet strangely innocent, apparently consistently drunk but never quite able to keep his hands on a drink and always hilariously funny physically, verbally and mentally, Captain Jack is one of the most truly original characters to grace a summer blockbuster. Pushing the classic hero (Bloom) into a secondary role and making this lovable anti-hero the principal protagonist is Verbinski's boldest move and probably the principal reason why this classic adventure story feels so fresh and original. It seems that, just sometimes, they do make them like they used to.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest - Gore Verbinski - 2006

A brilliant sequel to an even more brilliant original, it is perhaps inevitable that Dead Man's Chest can't quite live up to the sheer genius of The Curse of the Black Pearl. Happily Captain Jack is back and hilarious as ever; be it flirting with Keira, running away from cannibals or cringing at his own destiny, Jack always has a marvellously idiotic witticism or spontaneous escape for every situation. Excitingly the character of Jack Davenport's Commodore Norrington is taken in an intriguing new direction, leaving the pompous voice of authority to be filled by Tom Hollander's altogether more sinister Lord Beckett and a rather more complex net of shaky alliances to be set up for the trilogy's climax. Bill Nighy is a CGI enhanced joy as the principal villain, legendary sea captain Davy Jones, but with a fishy crew who do little more than snarl at his every word they can't quite live up to Geoffrey Rush's skeleton crew with their individually recognisable little characters. Only Orlando Bloom really suffers at the hands of a tedious father/son subplot with Stellan Skarsgard's Bootstrap Bill that sees his repeated attempts to be noble start to become irritating rather than engaging and the audience to start writing him off. It’s in the plotting though that the holes are starting to appear in the franchise. In attempting to up the ante the writers have conjured up an increasingly complicated plot with the larger number of characters which in itself is no bad thing (we do love these characters) but starts to noticeably draw out the running time, especially since one of the most entertaining sequences on an island of cannibals doesn't actually contribute to the plot. As long as the writers don't completely forget how to meld entertainment and exposition together in the same instance then the franchise is likely to remain afloat and avoid the ever present danger of sinking under its own weight.

Saturday, 5 May 2012

American Pie - Chris Weitz & Paul Weitz - 1999

A relentlessly crude comedy about the attempts of four teenagers to get laid, American Pie delights in awkward adolescent humour but often wastes its potential by going for the cheapest laughs possible. In a rather unlikely scenario the four guys talk about sex and especially their own penises so relentlessly that none of it sounds convincing – the film only lifts off when directly tackling the excruciating awkwardness everyone goes through when trying to chat up the opposite sex for the first time. Thus the funniest moments are not those based around toilet humour, but rather scenes that get the audience laughing with horrified recognition; less successful at this is Eugene Levy whose performance as Jim's dad is so overly awkward that he just ridiculous, but Jim himself (Jason Biggs) is much better – the best moment of the film is an extended sequence of Jim struggling to cope with the pressure of a beautiful girl undressing in his room while the whole school tunes in online. Come the end of course everyone has grown up a little and learned the usual life lessons with a very sweet romance developing between Chris Klein (wooden as an oak) and Mena Suvari and Jim ending up with the kooky Alyson Hannigan who neatly plays up her Willow persona to pull of the biggest and funniest twist of the film. Clever this certainly isn't, but an affectionate look at teenagers growing up? Just maybe.

Headhunters - Morten Tyldum - 2012

After the international success of the film adaptations of Stieg Larsson's Millennium Trilogy the producers have now turned to Jo Nesbo's similarly styled novel Headhunters, a delirious black comedy thriller that's lighter in tone than The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo but no less entertaining. Amoral antihero Roger Brown (Askel Hennie) is a corporation head hunter who moonlights as an art thief in order to maintain his glamorous wife Diana (Synnøve Macody Lund); smugly confident in his luxurious existence Roger is knocked sideways when he meets Clas Greve (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), a mark who turns out to be even more amoral and dangerous than he is. Soon Roger is forced to go on the run as he is relentlessly hunted through a succession of bizarre and increasingly violent situations that force him to adapt to previously unimaginable extremes in order to survive. How many films find their anti-hero covered from head to foot in shit and escaping down a road in a tractor with a dead dog impaled on the front? Or surviving a cliff top plunge because he’s sandwiched in a backseat by two obese cops? Crucially though director Morten Tyldum takes enough time for character beats amongst the madness, developing a touching relationship between Roger and Diana that helps the audience care about him even as they laugh at his misfortunes. Like a lot of Scandinavian Crime Drama (Scan-Crim-Dram?), Headhunters is often disturbingly causal with its sex and strong violence but Tyldum balances all the disparate elements with such skilful ease (even the vaguely sci-fi sounding micro-trackers are believable) that the film remains thrillingly tense and often scary right up until the beautifully plotted ending when all the pieces slot together with satisfying precision. With Headhunters chalked up as yet another great entry in the Scan-Crim-Dram renaissance, we can only hope that it thrives for a long time.