DIRECTOR; Kenneth Branagh

STARRING; Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Anthony Hopkins, Natalie Portman, Stellan Skarsgard

In the latest entry to the Marvel Universe, Thor, the Norse God of Thunder, is banished by Odin to New Mexico, where he helps save the world.

While other Marvel films have a gritty reality to them despite the ludicrous premises dreamt up by the writers, Thor is a fairy story, a myth that is cemented in campness by its very nature.  The film does very well with this, creating a lot of comedy using the well worn fish out of water premise.  If ever there was a film that needed to laugh at itself then Thor is it.  As a premise that involves a centuries old war with the Frost Giants, a machine/thing/state called the Biofrost, and a character Odin going to sleep in what is predictably called the Odinsleep, it is clear that Thor is not going to be an Iron Man or Dark Knight, but a whole new comic book beast completely, a genuinely enjoyably funny one, and not in the way Schwarzenegger managed in Batman and Robin.  Branagh wisely allows this to continue, although the scenes in Asgard do run like some Shakespearian tradition, and are played as such.  

As a technical exercise this film gets full marks.  In creating the world of Asgard the technical team have done a fine job, and when you see these visuals you cannot help but go wow.  There is also a fight scene against the Ice Giants, led by the ever impressive Colm Feore, and the melding of CGI and real characters is seamless.  Another character, if you could call it that is the Destroyer, a fire-shooting robot that wreaks havoc in New Mexico, is well designed and brilliantly executed.  This is in the 2D version.  In 3D Asgard looks murky and uninspiring, the Ice Giants fight scene is cluttered and hard to make out and the New Mexico sequence laughably fake looking.  Watch in 2D!

The one thing that Thor is missing is a truly memorable villain.  The Ice Giants are given little screen time, barely any of it with Thor, and so they are ineffectual.  The same happens with the Destroyer, although this does provide the best battle scene of the film.  Loki as a villain is never threatening enough, and the final battle sequence does not work in the way one has come to expect from Marvel Studios.  There is a good battle sequence around the camp where Thor’s hammer lies, which provides Marvel fans with a very welcome cameo just in time for The Avengers.

Chris Hemsworth looks good as Thor, and does the job well as the confused fish out of water.  He has the presence to be Thor, and has a handle on both the solemnity of the Asgardian realm and the silliness that the writers have installed into his earthly incarnation.  Tom Hiddleston as Loki is devious, sly, and brilliant.  If this film was to create a star it should be Hiddleston who does a surprising amount with not a lot of material.  Anthony Hopkins hams up brilliantly as Odin, a role he has seemingly been playing for many years.  I did not buy Natalie Portman as a scientist, but her performance did instill the heart of the film.  There were dependable performances as always by Stellan Skarsgard and Idris Elba, and Kat Dennings was scene stealingly funny.

The best of the Marvel Studios films, and a genuine surprise of a film that has it all and delivers on all of it.

Joe’s rating - 4 out of 5

Source Code

DIRECTOR; Duncan Jones

STARRING; Jake Gylenhaal, Michelle Monaghan, Vera Farmiga, Jeffrey Wright

A US Marine finds himself with another man’s identity, with a woman he doesn’t know, on a train he’s never seen, with a bomb on it.  He must find the bomber to stop further atrocities.

I don’t know whether it was like this before, but since Inception there appears to have been a rash of science fiction films using alternate realities and dream worlds.  I cannot tell whether this has gone up since Inception or whether the heights scaled by Inception have made them more noticeable.  This film has a Source Code, a computer program that can send Jake Gylenhaal back into the same train, for 8 minutes, the same 8 minutes, time and time again.  There is a slight Groundhog Day element in this, reliving the same period of time over and over again.  The difference is that this film takes itself far too seriously for such a concept, which can bore without the humour that Groundhog Day had.  

For an action film, which it was billed as, there is very little in the way of action, save for a chase and a couple of all to brief fight scenes.  What lies at the heart of this film is a race against time, as well as a morality tale.  The film taps well into the post 9/11 world, as almost all films of this ilk do now by firstly suspecting the East-Asian; Fifteen Years ago it was Arabs.  A great deal of suspense is drawn out of not much material and you do find that the premise works and stands up rather better than first impressions would give.  The real success of this film is that it knows its limitations and is 90 minutes long, not overstretching itself with huge set pieces but keeping it lean and finishing at precisely the right time.

Reviewing the acting is difficult as there are elements of the film I do not wish to divulge in the review.  Jake Gylenhaal is excellent, and he is moving nicely away from the niche he created for himself with Donnie Darko.  He is believable in his performance as a man who does not know anything about his situation, he has good chemistry with Michelle Monaghan in a rather slight role, and as the plot unfolds his character unfolds with it.  There is a scene with him making a phone call that is possibly the best acting I have seen him do.  His performance at times also reminds me of Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, which can hardly be a coincidence.  Vera Farmiga also does well to move her character from the stony commander to something else, and she is where the film’s ethical message lies.  Jeffrey Wright in a few scenes exhudes megalomaniacal tendancies, which for me took his character too far into parody.

While not a great film, there is enough here to recommend it, and Duncan Jones’ follow up to Moon works well and sets him up as a director of the future.

Joe’s rating - 3.5 out of 5

Sucker Punch

DIRECTOR; Zack Snyder

STARRING; Emily Browning, Abbie Cornish, Jena Malone, Vanessa Hudgens, Jamie Chung

A young girl, interred in an asylum and about to be lobotomised escapes into various flights of fantasy in an attempt to escape.

The phrase style over substance seems to have been created specifically for the directorial technique of Zack Snyder, whose films always look great despite having very little else going on.  Sucker Punch is his first self-penned idea and it does not appear that he has a flair for storytelling or dialogue.  What we get here is a titillating fantasy of five girls transported from the horrors of an asylum to the horrors of a burlesque club.  The film is misogynist as it depicts women as objects all the way through, yet this did not overly bother me as the film was so deeply rooted in fantasy that the realities of this did not strongly manifest themselves.

What did concern me about the film was the stark lack of originality that was used to build up an initially interesting premise.  In each of the fantasies, you get a different scenario faced by our protagonists, each of which have been seen done originally, and better, within the last ten years.  So we get a World War set piece with trenches, and robots, which has been done to death in the B-Movie World.  There is a scene that unbelievably melds together Shrek and Lord Of The Rings, what with dragons, castles and Orc-like creatures.  Finally there is a scene on a train that plays out very similarly to the also recently released Source Code, only with the androids from I Robot.  All the way through this feels like a riff on the Inception phenomenon, without ever coming close to those heights, although there is a sense of enjoyment to be had from the sheer overblownness of it all.

Acting is not a commodity in this film, looking pretty is.  The five leads, some of whom are indeed accomplished actresses doll themselves up, and give it their all but the dialogue is so clunky and the action so ludicrous that they are fighting a losing battle to gain some respectability from proceedings.  Scott Glenn looks decidedly bored in his cameo role, Oscar Issac’s efforts at sinister come off as high camp and do look out for Carla Gugino, her performance is effectively the Russian version of Dick Van Dyke, it is astoundingly bad.

This is not a great film at all, yet I would be lying if I said I did not elicit some enjoyment, not least from a soundtrack of covers of familiar classics.  As a piece of escapist trash, and nothing more, it works, a bit.

Joe’s rating - 2.5 out of 5 

Fair Game

DIRECTOR; Doug Liman

STARRING; Naomi Watts, Sean Penn

The true story of Valerie Plame-Wilson, a CIA agent whose identity was leaked following her husband’s criticism of the war in Iraq.

When a film makes you angry, it is not normally a good thing.  Take Hereafter for example, a film so muddled that it destroyed any good ideas, a film by a director who, although great fell into the trap of playing to generic racial stereotypes when a deeper approach really wasn’t that hard to see.  Fair Game made me angry, though not for its ineptitude of story, dialogue or direction.  Fair Game angered me because it is a true story, a true story that it is unbelievable that it could have, and was allowed to happen.  Indeed it reminded me of another Clint Eastwood film, Changeling, which also shows a woman whose life was torn apart by a corrupt higher agency, in this case the White House, through no fault of her own.

The major flaw of this film is that you become so engaged in the plight of the central character that the scenes showing her informants in Iraq basically being hung out to dry by her superiors become less engaging as we want to return to the lead character.  It is also hard to engage with Joe Wilson.  It is easy to agree with his motivations for his actions originally, as he plainly was wronged by the White House.  However, as he continues his unwinnable conquest against the men in power, his actions are more portrayed as self publicizing than for his original means and he seemingly forgets what his real motivation is, hence the safety and security of his family.

 Naomi Watts is excellent here, and is the best I have seen her since she broke through in Mulholland Drive.  She shows the turmoil well not only at what is happening to her and her family, but also the turmoil that what is happening to her is being caused by her husband, and her interactions with Sean Penn are very realistic.  Penn is less convincing.  He overacts rather spectacularly and tries to steal every scene that he is in, often succeeding, further accentuating the Naomi Watts performance by her shining through this.  Penn appears to be using this as a Party Political Broadcast for the Famous Hollywood Liberals, and I could have done without this.  Where the film succeeds is by not casting household names as the villains of the piece, making their actions even more shocking.

Fair Game succeeds in angering but is not a successful film.  There is too much personal agenda and the material would probably have worked better as a documentary than a feature film with A-Listers.

Joe’s Rating - 2 out of 5

The Adjustment Bureau

DIRECTOR; George Nolfi

STARRING; Matt Damon, Emily Blunt, Terence Stamp, John Slattery, Anthony Mackie

A maverick young politician falls for a girl only to find their love thwarted at every turn by a mysterious agency for reasons unknown to them.

The works of Philip K. Dick have led to some great cinematic moments, with great films such as Blade Runner and Minority Report coming from his writings.  The Adjustment Bureau is another adaptation of Dick’s work, and while not reaching the dizzying highs of Blade Runner, this is a good deal better than Minority Report.  The reasons for this are that at the heart of these movies is a love story, surrounded by spellbinding science-fiction spectacle.  What The Adjustment Bureau does really well is put the love affair right at the centre of the picture, and have the love story support the sci-fi, rather than vice-versa.

The film looks brilliant and like last years The Ghost feels like an Alfred Hitchcock film at times.  The film does not play on its science fiction and rather than have Blade Runner-esque visuals, but rather portrays a contemporary New York with no real sci-fi allusions other than the books that are at the centre of the piece.  The outfits too look straight out of North By North-West, and indeed some of the action looks very Hitchcock-esque.  This is not to say that the piece is not original, like all Philip K. Dick adaptations it is the height of originality, although it does not rely on the spectacle, and will not be seen as visionary as Blade Runner still is. 

What is also great about the film is the ambiguity as to the aims and understanding of the villains.  For once it is not the generic taking over the world plot which seems far too fantastical to involve one US politician, indeed for much of the film it is unclear why the villains are there, as they themselves do not seem to know why they have to keep the two protagonists apart.  There is also an unusual religious allegory in the centre of it with the mysterious Chairman figure, and the painting of the agents as angels, which works well without being overplayed. 

The performances are uniformally excellent.  Matt Damon really has evolved into a truly likeable screen presence who is excellent consistently.  In this film he makes a politician with a good public persona but not much in the way of likeable qualities a really sympathetic character, and plays both facets of the character with equal brilliance.  He is obviously at home with the more action based scenes having served his apprenticeship as Jason Bourne, but he is careful to make these scenes really appear to be carried out by an amateur, not the trained killer we saw in the aforementioned Bourne movies.  The standout performance of the film is Emily Blunt.  Her beauty radiates across every frame she inhabits but she also manages to plumb the depths of her emotions to show the turmoil her repeatedly broken and confused heart leave her in.  She is also surprisingly friendly and sexy in the role, which I really didn’t expect from an actress who I have always considered to be rather one-dimensional.  Anthony Mackie is mysterious yet conveys his dissatisfaction well and does not play his role as a guardian like figure as generic.  John Slattery and Terence Stamp are both sinister and menacing as agents and display just the right amount of threat without becoming pastiches of genre trappings.  Michael Kelly is likeable as Damon’s best friend and colleague in a very limited role. 

This film is amazingly original despite bringing out memories of many great films for me.  If there are ten better films this year I will be astonished as I cannot fully convey my enjoyment of the film. 

Joe’s rating - 4 out of 5


DIRECTOR; Jaume Collet-Serra

STARRING; Liam Neeson, Diane Krueger, January Jones, Aidan Quinn, Bruno Ganz, Frank Langella

An eminent professor (Neeson) is in a car crash in a foreign country and wakes up from a coma to find his identity stolen, and has to team up with a taxi driver (Krueger) to find out why.

Many people were surprised in 2008 when Taken was a major hit and seemingly opened a new career for Liam Neeson as a viable action hero.  This film seemingly follows the same path of putting Neeson into a situation in a major European city and has him deal with evil forces, using an amount of bullets not much removed from the British Army’s annual consumption.  However, whereas Taken knew that it was a dumb generic action thriller Unknown tries to be something more clever, with an apparently well thought out concept powering the action, but it doesn’t have the intelligence in the screenplay to pull it off.  As an action film I felt rather short changed.  The opening of the film and the set up of the scenario is slow and rather too wordy.  For about the first 45 minutes I felt rather bored with the whole affair.  There is not enough of Neeson in action mode, rather Neeson in worried mode.  From memory there are two car chases, one of which was truly thrilling and led to one feeling a sense of danger, Neeson barely ever has a gun in the film, and the climactic one on one combat scene with the villain of the piece was over almost as soon as it begun.  There was also a severe lack of a memorable death for the villains, further nullifying the emotional impact of the film.

The premise of the film is interesting and had the makings of a really intriguing movie.  The trailers of this movie did make it appear to be an action film similar to Taken when it actually appears to be more of a psychological thriller and a piece that seemingly explores the idea of the importance of identity.  While one can understand why the trailers were so action heavy the studios should really be stopped from doing this as often a film fails due to its trailer causing it to miss its target audience.  However, the film also takes advantage of its German setting to have an ex STASI spy refer to Germany’s past, which is kind of an interesting idea, but it is only given two sentences in the whole movie, when surely it should be given greater prominence to highlight the subject, not merely be reduced to a plot device for a Liam Neeson action thriller.  The problem with this kind of film is that it is like watching an M. Night Shyamalan movie in the fact that you are constantly waiting for the twist to come.  When it does come however, it is not a twist but a leap into a whole other movie and it turns into a poor man’s Bourne film.  It is really disappointing that the film does not have the strength to follow the story through to its logical conclusion, one that was becoming apparent with about 30 minutes to go to all who weren’t involved in the film, yet astonishingly no-one making the film saw it.

As far as the performances are concerned, there is not much for the actors to get their teeth into.  Liam Neeson never fully convinces as a man in turmoil with a loss of identity.  His performance is one note, and is almost emotionless and I never found him to have chemistry with either Jones or Krueger.  He had none of the action scenes that so delighted in Taken to play with and so his credentials as an action hero can not be appraised further on the basis of Unknown.  Diane Krueger is adequate in her role as the sidekick, not forgetting that we have seen her do action in the National Treasure films.  I found this casting odd in that she is German, in a German set film, playing Bosnian.  January Jones is slight in her few scenes, Aidan Quinn tries to do menacing and it turns out being wooden, with the motivations for his character still unclear as the credits rolled.  Frank Langella is odd, he is obviously trying to do friendly elderly man, but this ends up being sinister throughout his ten minute spell in the film, and it is hard to believe that this is the man so convincing as Richard Nixon.  Bruno Ganz, playing the ex spy brings some respectability to proceedings, delightfully underplaying the role amid all the overacting.

This film disappointed me not just because of its boring mediocrity, but because it had such promise and rather spectacularly failed to live up to it, to an even greater degree than Hereafter.  Poor film!

Joe’s rating - 1 out of 5

Drive Angry 3D

 DIRECTOR; Patrick Lussier

STARRING; Nicolas Cage, Amber Heard, William Fichter, Billy Burke, David Morse

John Milton (Cage) escapes from Hell to avenge his daughter and rescue his granddaughter from an evil Satanic cult, while being pursued by Satan’s recovery man (Fichter)

Is there such a thing as escapist cinema?  If you think so you will look at Drive Angry 3D in a much better light than if you don’t.  Drive Angry 3D is one of those films that is so trashy that it almost becomes parody, rather like Pierre Morel’s Taken a few years ago.  It is one of those films that after the first five or ten minutes you have been introduced to the main characters of the film and you now know their motivations and can map out the film and watch it on autopilot.  There is not one moment in the film where the plot urges you to think, this is merely a technical exercise.

The film looks actually quite good.  It is simply a tribute to redneck Deep South America.  All the bars are country bars serving Bud, much like Bob’s Country Bunker in The Blues Brothers.  The film seems to insinuate that all these seedy motels are havens for two bit criminals and hookers, and infact its attitude to women is horrifyingly sexist for a 21st Century film.  The driving seems to be a strange hybrid of a tribute to Vanishing Point, indeed a better one than Tarantino managed in his Grindhouse project, Death Proof, and a rip off of The Dukes Of Hazzard, the whole experience is quite surreal.  there is actually a car chase sequence that did remind me of The Blues Brothers.  Indeed, all the female characters look, dress and talk like Daisy Duke, making the movie actually quite funny.  The 3D effects were actually used quite well, and I am normally one who hates 3D.  Maybe it was that I was so utterly on autopilot I forgot about 3D or maybe it was just that I enjoyed the amount of blood, guts and flying body parts on screen enough to forget about it.

There was not a lot to do in this film acting wise.  I think that this is the film where Nicolas Cage finally went mad.  He channels the spirit of Con Air and Bad Lieutenant, with additional Bringing Out The Dead and a surprisingly distracting blonde haircut into a truly demented performance, one that should probably see him sectioned.  I am a Nicolas Cage fan, and although I do prefer his high-brow work, there is nothing funnier than a traditional bit of Nic Cage overacting.  Amber Heard looked good and acted hard as she was meant to, at times distracting from the sheer stupidity of proceedings with her enticing appearance, one for the 15 year old males, which is a pity seeing as the film is rated 18.  Billy Burke was seemingly doing an impression of Benicio Del Toro in The Usual Suspects and causes problems for the already contrived plot as he is the key villain of the piece, and at least 85% of his dialog was unintelligible.  David Morse had almost nothing to do.  Indeed the most interesting performance was that of William Fichter, who kept appearing out of nowhere, and for all the world looked, acted and sounded like Christopher Walken.  It was a Walken-esque role and was good yet constantly had me thinking of Vincent Coccotti from True Romance.

There are certain scenes from this film which I will not divulge due to their utter hilarious stupidity.  This film had the potential to be BAD.  It actually turned out to be surprisingly watchable.  It is still a poor, unimaginatively plotted film with a flair for visuals and for sheer male titillation on all 3 fronts; hot engines, hot girls and hot shooters, but has to be ever so slightly recommended, not to film lovers, but for someone wanting 90 minutes of fun exploitation cinema, a rare treat.

Joe’s rating - 3 out of 5



 DIRECTOR; Greg Mottola

STARRING; Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Seth Rogen

Two British comic book fans travel across the American Alien Highway…with an alien, a Creationist and the FBI in tow

Previously, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost have found success together by taking a traditional genre and spoofing the life out of it, with zombie movies for Shaun Of The Dead and buddy cop movies in Hot Fuzz.  The difference between these two movies and Paul is that rather than a flat out parody, this plays upon the buddy element that Pegg and Frost have shown previously and also play upon the nerdiness of their TV show Spaced with the alien element.

Where Paul works is the traditional element of Pegg and Frost chewing the fat together in the early scenes of the film.  The scenes in Comic-Con with the sci-fi writer are genius and show the classic best that these two actors can produce.  The presence of Paul is the undoing of the film.  Not only does he distract you from the central relationship of the two characters but his humour is completely off kilter with that of Pegg and Frost and so it makes for a distracting juxtaposition.  I understand that this is a Pegg/Frost script but it feels more like a film with Judd Apatow as the main force behind it.  I found myself longing for Edgar Wright to take over and steer them away from the lowbrow humour of Rogen and make the opening hour a bit less boring.  The film does however take on the issue of Creationism in a way only the British could and succeeds admirably in tackling an issue in a comedy that 9 times out of 10 would have ended disastrously.

This is not a film that requires great acting talent as it is basically a chase movie with little character development required.  Both Pegg and Frost work well in these type of roles, although it was nice to see Simon Pegg loosening up more than he has done in previous films.  Rogen is a problem for me but then I have a general dislike for his humour and that has not been changed here.  The motion capture on his character is good and transitions well however the design was rather Lord Voldemortish.  The supporting players have so little to do it is untrue but their presence does help to up the ante level away from bad buddy comedy and makes the last half an hour the funniest I have seen in cinema for quite a while.  Kristen Wiig has the hardest supporting role as a Creationist forced to question her faith which she does well within the confines of a script that allows her one minute to do so, before supplementing this with needless swearing.  The three FBI agents were the best things about the film, and I really do believe that Jason Bateman is one of the most watchable actors working today.  The film wastes the talents of John Carroll Lynch and Blythe Danner by lumbering them with lifeless non-entities of roles.  Also check out the amazing cameo at the end of the film, it gave me the biggest laugh in the film, think Bill Murray in Zombieland but better.

The film does what Pegg and Frost do best, but what Pegg does better with Edgar Wright in referencing classic movies that the writers love, but doing so through the dialog rather than through flashy visual gags as many directors seem bound to go down.  The costumes alone look to have been bought from one of those T-Shirt websites advertised in the back of Empire.  The film has a great sequence at the start of it that plays upon the homoerotic nature of the performances that Pegg and Frost put in opposite one another, and it is clear that they are very self aware of the limitations of their output, but allowed this to be overrun by the Americans hijacking their movie.

This is a misjudged mess of a film that packs enough laughs in its final act to redeem it and make it recommendable as a comedy.

Joe’s rating - 3 out of 5

Brighton Rock

 DIRECTOR; Rowan Joffe

STARRING; Sam Riley, Andrea Riseborough, Helen Mirren, John Hurt, Andy Serkis

A gangster in Brighton becomes involved with a sheltered young waitress in order to stop her implicating him in a murder, with devastating consequences.

As with True Grit, I have no knowledge of the original version of this film, and so only passing reference will be made to it in the review.  Much has been made in the press about the moving of the picture from the 1930s to the 1960s, and the midst of the Mod craze.  For me, this appears to be the natural place in British twentieth century history to place this tale, as it was the crux of the staid old Britain being overtaken by Beatlemania and youth liberation.  This is shown by the two central characters.  The gangster, Pinkie is a radical new thing, symbolising the liberation of the young with new subcultures that he himself can be seen to dabble in.  This is married with the stiff, uptight, Catholic Rose symbolising the rose-tinted view of the England of yesteryear.  Although this new setting removes what I expect is an interesting juxtaposition of senseless violence in a period where such acts were very rare, thus making it even more appalling, I feel that this new setting works well.  In the new setting, along with the subject matter, one can see much of Paul McGuigan’s Gangster No. 1 with the sociopathic central gangster figure, as well as the at times senseless violence, although this film goes nowhere near as close to the edge as that particular picture does.

The picture is beautifully designed, recreating 1960s southern England well, especially as far as the costumes and settings are concerned.  It is a thoughtful picture, that does not fall into the trap of just being about the plot contrivances, but provokes thoughts about the nature of gang violence, a pertinent subject in 21st Century England, and how it affects all, not just those involved.  What provokes most interest is that the main characters all inhabit the same world, yet all appear to be of a different time to one another, showcasing the differences in how they are affected as well as emphasizing the crossroads that the time of the setting was.  There is also a great deal of tension in the picture, especially in the final scenes of the main narrative, and the final conflict.  

Sam Riley is excellent in this film.  His interpretation of Pinkie is as menacing as his Ian Curtis was vulnerable and he is turning into one of Britain’s great acting talents.  He managed to do what few actors have successfully done by showing evil by doing very little.  This is probably a very individual interpretation but I saw a lot of Javier Bardem’s Anton Chigurh from No Country For Old Men, and he left me truly shaken and unsettled.  Andrea Riseborough on the other hand has been horribly miscast in this film.  Her character is one of vulnerability and has a naturally timid personality.  Riseborough has far too much flair and charisma to do this, and in trying to do this I found her performance to alternate between her more natural, forward acting style and then totally disappearing almost, having no presence whatsoever.

The main problem the film has is that it has a great supporting cast yet it is used completely wrongly, although that may be an integral flaw from the source material.  Helen  Mirren is good as the caring mother figure to Rose, yet her involvement and motivations are really rather vague and I spent a lot of time watching her wondering how she came to be acquainted with the people she was or why she was willing to risk her safety so often.  If I had had some back story on the character I would possibly have emphasised more.  I cannot for the life of me understand why the John Hurt character, who apparently has next to no connection with the main narrative, was so prominent in the movie, yet so underwritten.  It seemed as well my feelings were shared by Hurt, who spent the movie staggering from scene to scene with a bemused look on his face, as he, and the audience could not fathom his motivation or need to be there.  Andy Serkis and Sean Harris were creepy and menacing in all too brief appearances.  The film also has a pay off epilogue that has no need to be there, and I for one would have found the film more satisfying had the last ten minutes not been there.

There is about half a good film in here.  However it unfortunately has to vie for screen time with about a third of a bad film and so the whole experience is a bit disappointing.

Joe’s rating - 2.5 out of 5

Never Let Me Go

 DIRECTOR; Mark Romanek

STARRING; Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley, Andrew Garfield

In an alternative version of twentieth century Britain, three young people who have been raised for a terrible fate go through the throes of love and loss.

When you think of the general tone of alternate reality science fiction movies, one immediately thinks of the futuristic tomes such as Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner and Steven Spielberg’s Minority Report.  Even though this film has the science fiction usage of humanity for alternative purposes, it is set in the twee locations of the British countryside throughout the mid to late twentieth century.  Indeed, the film makes a point of almost exclusively avoiding urban settings and technology, as an antithesis of the tradition of sci-fi, and when it does it uses idyllic traditional British seaside towns.

The film appears at the beginning to be a British period piece, and with Knightley, the first lady of British costume drama, and Mulligan and Sally Hawkins, who in the past two years have broken through having appeared in British-based Sixties films.  However, the title cards make reference to the breakthroughs in medical science that have created the scenario in the film of the main characters and many others being bred and raised for the purpose of growing and harvesting organs.  This is where the film is best at holding and challenging the viewer.  The idea of the harvesting of organs, and how they are raised and programmed to accept this makes it pertinent with recent scientific breakthroughs.  However, the problem is that this angle is for large parts sidelined for the love triangle that develops between the three protagonists, and the scenes at the halfway house type retreat do not work in advancing the plot, or really the characters.  

The film makes various references to how the children came to be how they are, and where they came from, without ever explaining it to the audience.  It is implied that they are clones from society’s down and outs, but this only really serves to take them to the Norfolk Coast to eat sausage, egg and chips.  This has echoes of Rachel, the Sean Young character in Blade Runner, who is a clone, or Replicant without realising it, even though she, like the characters of this film, has emotions.  The role of the school where they grow up, Hailsham, is also very blurred, although they are referred to as a special school with privileges.  Oddly, the film I saw most in the school, an institution set out of time with the period, with a sense of lingering manufactured fear of the outside was M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village, especially with the scene of Tommy’s fear of retrieving the ball.

Performance wise, the young children who play the protagonists for the beginnings of the story are very realistic in their portrayal of the three older actors, and the girl who plays Keira Knightley really invokes her through her expression and posture.  They play the parts as children at school, and so some of the innocence that is needed, especially in the reveal scene towards the end of the first act is terribly genuine and an astonishment to behold.  As adults, the leads are two-thirds there.  Keira Knightley is the best of the three leads, with the least well written or likeable part.  She comes across poorly to the audience as a character for being the spanner in the works of the narrator’s happiness.  She is very bitchy and yet is engaging in how she comes across.  Also astonishing is the bitterness and physical performance that she has to resort to towards the end of the story.  These are ranges that I have never seen a hint of from Knightley before and so I can only hope for the best for her future, especially as her next project is helmed by the great David Cronenberg.  Carey Mulligan basically recycles her performance from An Education, with added cynicism.  She however holds the other two performances together in the same arc and is turning into a very dependable actress, although I would like to see her begin to attempt the range Knightley is starting to show.  Garfield is the one weak link in the film.  In the second act I find him to be totally disengaged from the other characters in the film, and there is absolutely no chemistry between him and his on-screen girlfriend, Knightley.  In the final part he does begin to show desperation but overplays it so badly that he just destroys the two major emotional scenes of the movie, which I was surprised by as I found him so good in The Social Network.  Both Sally Hawkins and Charlotte Rampling make a lot of small, yet well developed roles.

There is unfortunately in the film a point which I saw as a natural ending for the story.  However, there is a full twenty five minutes left that diminishes the pathos that has built up by the point which I have made reference to.  I know that the film is an adaptation from a novel but since when was it a rule that adaptations must stick to the source material to the letter.  

There are a lot of components to like and think about in this film.  However, of the two major ideas, the wrong one is pushed to the fore, and all are not held together interestingly, and at times the film is plodding, and when you should be feeling great emotional turmoil for the loss of love, I was left yearning for the science fiction that is oddly forgotten by the end of the film.

Joe’s rating - 2.5 out of 5