Limitless ****

Imagine popping a pill that triggers total memory recall and information intake to allow you to achieve whatever you want in life. Sounds like superhuman power, the ultimate aphrodisiac, perhaps? But with such power come responsibility and an ugly side. This is the idea behind The Illusionist’s Neil Burger’s new psychological thriller, Limitless, starring The Hangover’s Bradley Cooper as failing writer Eddie and cinema stalwart Robert De Niro as a financial guru who wants to tap into Eddie’s new monetary potential.

The concept is cinematic gold that could go either way. Burger takes us on Eddie’s whirlwind journey, leading us through what’s going on in his mind when he’s intoxicated, as well as following his increasingly erratic actions. There are some compelling and beautifully seamless vortex shots as we ‘tunnel’ at speed though cars and buildings in a continuous travelling shot through the sights of New York. Burger also attempts to distinguish between ‘reality’ and Eddie’s NZT-drug-induced state by blurring the edges of the frame in a fish-eye lens effect that is often rendered unnoticeable to help confused matters and obscure the difference between ‘real’ and ‘high’ Eddie. Visually, the film is stunning, with grittier cinematography in the lows and glossier in the highs.

Such a film still needs a strong main character, and Cooper gets his opportunity in his first leading man role, virtually carrying every scene in a more serious affair than his usual supporting ‘buddy’ roles. Cooper excels in this, possibly because he is such a likeable personality who is believable as a success or a failure. Indeed, as we easily warm to him, we instantly root for Eddie throughout the story, even though the character is not always a likeable one and does some questionable acts. As Eddie’s primary goal is to make a comfortable future for him and his girlfriend, Lindy, commendably played by Abbie Cornish, we somehow excuse some of his more dubious decisions, and empathise with his weaker moments. Cooper also keeps Eddie as grounded as possible – ironic in a film about drugs, making sure Eddie never ventures into total arrogance and decadence that we lose our faith in him. It’s a demanding role that Cooper admirably makes his own.

This film is by no means condoning drug use, although suggesting all material problems can be solved by a super pill is borderline controversial. What the story sinisterly proposes, though, is Eddie remains physically and mentally vulnerable after encountering the drug. Hence the message, ‘say no to drugs’ stills triumphs. Furthermore, the compelling final standoff between Eddie and De Niro’s character, Van Loon, certainly implies drugs are not the answer, but there is ample scope for debate in this parting meeting that is bursting with inferences. Cooper as Eddie again demonstrates his rise in the acting ranks with some memorable boardroom confrontations opposite De Niro, who gives his usual impeccable performance in this.

Mirroring the good and bad points of drug taking – the pharmaceutical face and origin behind NZT is intriguingly absent in this film, all the main characters are shown in a good and bad light. Lindy appears to be an innocent victim, but could equally be criticised for only taking Eddie back when the affluent effects of the drug become apparent. Even the stereotypical baddie, Russian gangster Gennady, brilliantly played by the terrifying Andrew Howard of recent I Spit on Your Grave fame, may well be a brutal thug, but his goals are much the same as Eddie’s. Therefore, in the long run, is he any worse a character than the writer?

The escalation of greed is a major factor in the film, and the unsettling aspiration of always wanting more – the ugly side of the American Dream – is rife. Another fascinating implication is how many other people in power are on the wonder drug, which gradually comes to light as the plot thickens. This stays as the film’s enthralling revelation for the viewer that combined with the frantic pace, triggers the old grey matter in an analytical approach.

Stylish, cerebral, dynamic and packed with star talent, Burger competently further stamps his presence in the psychological film realm with Limitless, whilst showing a healthy new talent and detailed respect for action-based film-making.

4/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

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Chalet Girl ***

Are you ready for a fairy tale with a sporting kick to it? Chalet Girl is a modern-day ‘dreams come true’ story that anybody can easily relate to, the idea of finding love and success on the snowy Alps. As the beginning of 2011 slowly kicks in, many dream of getting away, so this film is ideal cinema fluff, but with a true Brit streak of sarcasm to it from All About Steve director Phil Traill.

Working-class tomboy Kim Matthews (Felicity Jones) was once a champion skateboarder destined for greater things, until a family tragedy puts a premature end to her dream. Struggling to help pay the bills in a dead-end fast-food job and trying to support her down-on-his-luck father (Bill Bailey), she gets the opportunity to cater for a wealthy family (headed by Bill Nighy) in one of the most exclusive chalets in the Alps. It’s an alien lifestyle to her, full of posh people, champagne and skiing. She soon discovers a release that she’s good at and that’s similar to skateboarding; snowboarding, plus the chance to win some much-needed prize money in the big end-of-season competition. In the meantime, she makes new friends – and enemies – and falls for the family’s son, the handsome Jonny (Ed Westwick). Can she win the top prize and get the boy?

The outcome of the story is totally inevitable, but the journey getting there is incredibly good fun, from Kim’s clashes with the toffs and the decadent lifestyle, intermingled with the cosy wooden comfort of the chalet environment that’s the perfect catalyst for love to bloom. It’s a bit of Cinderella story, too, as Kim as Cinders must deal with the ‘uglier’ females of the brood, namely Jonny’s stepmother Caroline (Brooke Shields) and his fiancée Chloe (Sophia Bush).

Kim goes from rags to riches, but in a refreshingly contemporary twist, all of her own making. So, there’s a true ‘girl power’ aspect to the film that will be inspirational to younger females, too. In fact Kim is a true fighter and get-up-and-go character who you can empathise with straightway. Admittedly, there was a bit of scepticism about well-heeled Jones in the lead, trying to play a convincing working-class kid from South London. However, for her character to win the handsome prize at the end, there had to be some believability and not too big a stepping stone, and Jones makes the part of Kim her own, having some naughty fun along the way with her.

The comedy praise goes to Tamsin Egerton as the bitchy Georgie, ‘head’ chalet girl, but presumably born with a sliver spoon in her mouth. Her character is a little tragic, actually, as she’s a little older and still trying to party like a teen with no responsibilities, while ensnaring a wealthy man. As with all coming-of-age tales, through Kim’s frank outlook on life, Georgie learns a few home truths and develops a respect for Kim that allows them to bond in the most surreal of environments. Egerton is perfectly cast, possibly down to her schoolgirl days in St Trinian’s as the equally bitchy Chelsea. She’s basically a grown-up version who rubs shoulders with money, but doesn’t quite have it in her grasp.

Gossip Girl fans will be thrilled to hear that Westwick tones down the devilishly evil streak, and plays the sensitive dashing hero in this, only having to glance in the direction of the camera lens to set hearts swooning, opting for a 007 attire in one scene to get pulses rising, too. There is ample for Westwick fans to absorb and delight in. Shields and Nighy initially sounds like a bizarre pairing, but it works exceptionally well, each adding their own cutting observations into the equation, while Nighy plays on his eccentric qualities to bring businessman Richard to life with all the Nighy vigour you expect.

As for the snowboarding action, there’s plenty of it, from aerials and grinds to halfpipe tricks to wow any audience and spark a snowboarding craze – plus, if this is a date movie, the other-half has more than just the ladies to coo over. Indeed, real-life snowboarding champ Tara Dakides makes an appearance, too, adding some credibility to the sporting parts. There’s also a life-loving character in the shape of ‘dude’ Mikki, a mental Finn, played by German actor Ken Duken, who adds to the entertainment as the film’s lovable ‘fool’ and big soppy best friend, like a faithful St Bernard to the rescue.

Overall, Chalet Girl is inoffensive, feel-good escapism and high jinks in the midst of extravagant surroundings. It has all the right snowboarding and flirtageous moves – plus a shocking Bailey in a birthday suit scene – to keep most happy, even though it has some groan inducing and clichéd scenarios. The cast make the idyllic picture, though, and you get as much enjoyment out of them, as they obviously did making it.

3/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger ***

Focusing on the standard prediction from many a fortune-teller, Woody Allen offers his latest London-set relationship riddle, You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger, attracting the usual international talent that includes Naomi Watts, Josh Brolin, Freida Pinto, Anthony Hopkins, Antonio Banderas, Lucy Punch and Gemma Jones.

Though not of the high calibre of Allen’s heyday, and becoming entrenched in his relationship dramedies, as always, Allen’s casting is his films’ calling card and source of enjoyment when he gets it right. Indeed, one positive of any Allen affair is the age range of his characters, with the token, silly older male chasing younger skirt to fulfil a mature male fantasy. And this film is no exception, offering another crowd-pleaser in its study of deeply flawed human beings trying to make sense of their lot, in their (often) fruitless search for true love and fulfilment. Allen’s cast do not let him down.

This time, though, there is a touch of the Mike Leigh about the subject matter, with a slightly gritty ‘kitchen sink realism’ that was lost in the whimsical and decadent London-based Match Point. Bridget Jones’s Gemma Jones is the comical and neurotic Leigh ‘character-on-the-verge-of-a-nervous-breakdown’, Helena Shebritch, the older woman dumped in her latter years by her husband, Alfie (Hopkins), who fears impending mortality. Desperate to know what life holds next for her, Helena visits a fortune-teller (Pauline Collins), recommended by her daughter, Sally (Watts), who also has relationship problems with her frustrated, aspiring writer husband Roy (Brolin). What follows are the natural ups and downs, frank opinions and relationship upsets, as each character collides with another along the way in finding their own course.

The depressingly frank views on relationship survival rates reiterates the irony of the film’s title, and although hopeless and unresolved on the matter, which may unsettle or frustrate some who watch this, there is a certain lightness and frivolity running throughout to the whole affair that borders of cynicism. As the majority of the characters are self-absorbed and petty, we are openly invited to scorn or mock their futile attempts at finding happiness. However, there are times when their behaviour alienates any empathy we might otherwise feel, which is a problem for Allen in keeping the status quo credible.

That said, the rather fanciful pairing of Hopkins as an aging ‘playboy’ Alfie, opposite Punch as gold-digging escort Charmaine is always a bittersweet source of amusement. Both actors are superb in their scenes together; especially Punch who packs a namesake in this. Although the most cartoonish of the lot, Allen gives Hopkins as Alfie space to deliver the most heart-felt and candid monologue in the film that strikes the only real chord throughout.

In fact the most incredulous and silliest pairing is Brolin with Pinto playing the confused young music scholar, Dia, who falls for the oafish fumblings of older Roy that does seem a tad far-fetched. If you had a (dirty old) stranger watching your every move in your flat in London, agreeing to lunch with him would be the last thing on your agenda. It makes for a rather sour taste in the mouth, too, almost making a mockery of the daily disturbing cases of stalking in the capital. Even though there is a touch of Hitchcockian Rear Window about their budding acquaintance, those nostalgic and romantic days of carefree stranger meetings are long gone to be believable, nowadays.

Watts is the most credible of the lot as broody Sally, wanting to balance a career with having a family – a situation the majority of working women face at some stage in the metropolis; the ultimate sacrifice. Falling for her boss, Greg (Banderas) still seems plausible in this context, especially when things at home are not going smoothly, and she longs for a bit of adulation and escapism herself. Sally is the bedrock that the others congregate to and bounce off. She is the truth and reason barometer of the lot. However, Allen cuts her presence short in an unsatisfactory manner in the plot, giving her little time to put her affairs in order.

If the answer to eternal happiness is being explored and sought here, you may be sorely disappointed. Allen avoids giving any possible answers or resolutions – apart from ‘getting in touch with your spiritual side’, and instead, throws some suggestions out there, in the hope that one of them will appease the viewer. Although all the actors have their chance to shine and entertain, you can’t help but feel deflated at the end. Perhaps, like the characters, there are many expectations as to what the conclusions should be? However, whether this provocative ending is sheer mastery, or downright laziness on Allen’s part is always going to be subjective. But like our future, it all feels a little unset and incomplete.

3/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

Hall Pass ***

What happens when you give your horny hubby the week off marriage? He turns into a desirable sex god to the younger female, of course. This is the wild premise explored in the Farrelly Brothers’ latest ‘slap-and-tickle’, but equally sentimental comedy, Hall Pass, and it sounds ripe for the comedy taking. Depending on your version of ‘comedy’ that is, and the directors’ previous appeal – not counting the iconic There’s Something About Mary, you’ll either love or loathe this film. It all hangs on whether you can get past the first crass ‘gag’ that involves a young kid commenting on his mother’s lower figure to his father. If that irks you, the rest is lost in history. Expect the expected, and you’ll snigger with laughter. If you’ve long grown out of humour involving boobs, willies and bodily functions, all delivered by grown men and their fantasies, be warned; it’s going to be a long 105 minutes – and then some, with additional extras happening in the end credits.

The story follows happily married Rick (Owen Wilson) and Fred (Jason Sudeikis of Saturday Night Live fame) who are given a week off their respective marriages to get their lusting for hotter, younger females off their chests, once and for all, after being caught eyeing women’s posteriors by their spouses. At the same time, their wives, Maggie (Jenna Fischer) and Grace (Christina Applegate), discover they, too, have a free pass to ‘explore’ possibilities. When things don’t go to plan, both sexes discover that age-old wisdom that ‘home is where the heart is’.

The first two things this viewer couldn’t get past was Owen Wilson’s oddly shaped ‘conservative’ hairstyle – to try and depict him as a responsible father, perhaps, and putting the wives in gaudy dresses for a launch party would, somehow, render the highly attractive Applegate and Fischer bland and undesirable. We are (eventually) meant to believe that both men ‘have steak at home, but want to sample a dirty burger out’. So, quite why both wives are dressed in this way is strange and doesn’t serve any purpose.

As a female, too, the other thing that was disappointing was not getting to see more screen-time of Applegate who is a power force of comedy talent, and whose character Grace is woefully underused. Fischer just plays cute and sensitive with ease, but the feisty Applegate has a lot more tricks to have really made the couples’ dynamic and marriage tedium exploration more interesting. Still, it is a film about the boys, made by boys, so the Farrellys stay put in familiar goofball territory.

There are the inevitable ‘shock tactics’ and running masturbation joke. But if you know the Farrellys’ style, these shouldn’t really surprise you. Apart from boobs on show, there is a prolonged shot of two apposing-sized male appendages, plus a bathtub ‘explosion’ when a girl sneezes. The latter was unexpected and admittedly hilarious, regardless of all the post-tasteless comments. It’s all very juvenile, but still raises a giggle, regardless of the cynics.

In comparison to his other hair-brained characters, Wilson seems to play down the idiot in this, trying to portray an adult side, and letting his new sidekick Sudeikis take over the crazy reigns. Wilson adopts his usual ‘little boy wounded’ mode of acting, though, keeping it all formulaic. But the pair has a good and believable bond in the film as best friends and ‘hunting partners’. Teamed up with Richard Jenkins playing the free-loving womaniser Coakley, the trio really seem burnt-out and pathetic, adding to the delicious irony of their chosen parts. Bizarrely-cast as a token Brit, Stephen Merchant is the biggest fool of them all, going into overdrive as Gary, as though he’s making up for lost comedy infantile time – and, thankfully, no Gervais in sight. Again, depending on your patience, Merchant will either delight or grate. Thankfully, it was the latter, possibly because his character, along with the other pals, disappears for a bit, after creating a golf club incident, leaving the ‘Wilson and Sudeikis’ show to navigate until the end when they all pop back up again.

Hall Pass is like a poor man’s The Hangover from the same studio that gave us the former, in terms of grown men going forth to explore one last time. But it isn’t without its own enjoyment factor, even though it heavily relies on cheap stereotypes to bolster the laughs. Ironically, what it does have is an enthusiastic affection and respect for committed couples, tied up in a rather sappy ending. It may well be that it will appeal more to those in a lengthy relationships who may have recognised some ‘humdrum’ signs, and considering this hitched viewer went along with the hubby, it was an entertaining date movie offering. So, like the Farrelly Brothers’ gags in it, there won’t be any apologies for admitting that.

3/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

The Resident ***

If you live alone this film is targeting you, playing on that feeling of foreboding you might experience when things go bump in the night, or the landlord gets a bit too familiar. In addition to the celebrated return of the Hammer Films with this film, The Resident also rejoices in the idea of creepy old buildings, full of history, with an unexplained presence ever watching, brought up to date with modern society’s obsession with CCTV. Debut feature writer/director Antti Jokinen attempts to prey on our senses with a disquieting ease, using voyeuristic Hitchcockian crafts to deliver a film-noir style with sinister shadows, creaking interiors and mysterious, cavernous old walls.

The story follows young Brooklyn surgeon Juliet (Hilary Swank) who is getting over a messy break-up with her husband, Jack (Lee Pace), and decides to move into a new apartment. She cannot believe her luck when she discovers a character-filled loft with stunning views of the river that’s going cheap – plus its handsome landlord, Max (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), is incredibly supportive, generous and sensitive, too. Things begin to quickly sour, though, after the pair have a brief and intimate moment, and Max begins to form a frightening obsession with her, made worse by Jack coming back into Juliet’s life.

The Resident is a beautifully shot character-driven piece that attempts to break the horror mould by concentrating on the leads’ psychological battles, using endless point-of-view shots, rather than blatant terror thrills. Admittedly, the surprise element of who/what the evil is is known from the start. So, it’s just a question of waiting to see how and when Dean Morgan’s character, Max, spirals out of control. This makes some of voyeuristic shots of someone watching Max and Juliet together fairly redundant, even as red herrings. There is the standard fear of what’s on the other side of the mirror that’s carried throughout the film with good effect, even if it’s been done to death in the past.

The film has a nice pace to it as it tries to flesh out a believable relationship between Juliet and Max, taking Max out of the environment that he controls, at times. But it does feel like there are large plot holes, especially towards the end with Jack’s character, as though Jokinen is concerned about the audience’s attention span, and some premature editing has been employed to get it around the 90-minute mark. In terms of aiming for the psychological aspect, too, the film still falls back on the standard, dramatic chords to signify the frights that render it amusing and very formulaic; homage to Hammer, perhaps, or just designed to highlight the obvious?

The casting is a mixed bag, although we fully respect Jokinen’s aim to make Max as realistic a person as possible, and not turn him into a caricature. Swank provides her usual strong female lead, commendably carrying us through her story and Juliet’s post-break-up pain and subsequent chilling nightmare. She is suitably cast. But there does seem to be a certain lack of really credible vulnerability to her method sometimes, even after she finds out some shocking truths from the recorded CCTV footage in her flat.

Dean Morgan has all the sweet shyness and puppy-dog vulnerability to lure us into a false sense of security, but he doesn’t fully convince as a psychopath, as well as we might have hoped for. Indeed, as a female who should be appalled by Max’s malevolent methods in this, he still doesn’t put the fear of God into you at end. Dean Morgan is simply big-screen ‘hunky hero’ material by nature, hence trying to see him in another light is nigh impossible. However, it posed an interesting experiment by Jokinen and co-producer Swank to cast Dean Morgan in the role, and he does admirable attempt at keeping a balance on the difficult portrayal of a mentally ill person, without over-cooking it. Back to the lack of plot, though, there needs to be more explanation into Max’s background to get a clearer picture of where his insecurities lie? Just when you think Hammer icon Christopher Lee’s character August, Max’s grandfather, will provide this, this avenue is abruptly closed off, leaving more questions than answers.

The Resident serves as a worthy feature-film debut for Antti Jokinen, with plenty of ‘suggestive’ parts that are far more effective and disturbing than the action being played out. Perhaps, with more suggestion to allow the viewer’s mind to wander, the film could have outsmarted others in the genre, rather than resorting to type in places. Also, less is not necessarily more – as in the case of Max, with further insight needed to fully understand his torment. For The Resident to truly work, we need to empathise with both leads for their tragic dynamic to pay off.

3/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

Rango – 4*

Pirates of the Caribbean colleagues, director Gore Verbinski and actor Johnny Depp are the headliners on this new animation’s poster. But in all honesty, you really wouldn’t recognise Depp’s vocals, were you not in the know. Depp is like a voice chameleon himself as the optimistic lizard lead, Rango, the latest bestial hero sent to capture our hearts. Emotions aside, what instantly sets this animation apart is the striking, near photo-realistic quality to the production. Another added bonus is 3D glasses are not included, which comes as a welcome relief, and merely demonstrates that the right story and a little imagination ought to go to determine a film’s marketability – not the medium.

Rango is a domestic pet and aspiring thespian in a loud Hawaiian shirt (not sure why?) that crash-lands in a desert. Naturally, to get us on his side from the start, Rango’s like a ‘lizard out of water’ and adorably scatty and accident-prone. After a run-in with the local flying terror, an overly determined hawk, Rango walks into an animal-run, Western-style town called Dirt, where the local currency is water. After telling the colourful locals a few porkies about his so-called heroics, Rango is made the local sheriff, and when the water in the bank goes missing, he and others must ride out to track its whereabouts. But there are other flies in the ointment and dark secrets to be uncovered, before the townsfolk finally get a drop to drink. Plus Rango must deal with his growing feelings for the feisty and sporadically dumbstruck female lizard called Beans (Isla Fisher).

Rango is similar to a coming-of-age animal story that pokes fun at the formulaic nature of other animations that deliver the usual, tired cross-country adventure to find salvation and purpose – complete with its own serenading band of gringo owls. It is, perhaps, one of the first ‘animal-animated Westerns’ for all ages. But this is where it may not translate so well for a younger audience. As with the Western genre, Rango has a lot of ‘breathing space’ to it to capture the mood. However, the youngsters at the screening were getting noticeably restless, as the wisecracking and conversation lulls began to wear thin for their attention spans.

There are also some incredibly frightening sequences, and obvious references to ‘killing someone’ and death, which certainly make it PG, and set it apart from the U-rated films like Toy Story 3, where any sinister intentions are diluted. And those fearful of snakes, especially Nagini in Harry Potter, are being forewarned: Enhanced by the impressive photo-realism, Rattlesnake Jake (voiced by Bill Nighy) is more strikingly terrifying than any other animated serpent seen – the Potter basilisk aside, complete with a sudden coiling momentum that will make any grown-up shudder, let alone a small kid.

Indeed, Rango is probably more accurately described as an ‘adult-geared animation’ because of its Western make-up and its dry humour, revelling in some mild crudity, drinking (albeit ‘cactus juice’ that looks decidedly like moonshine) and smoking. Of course these are unavoidable and celebrated elements of cowboy films, and to be honest kids today are certainly better equipped to deal with such matters. But parents, be just warned. Oh, and make sure you’re equipped with enough fluids too last the 107 minutes, too, because Rango and its dusty imagery makes for thirsty work.

Some odd lip-synching with some of the characters aside, namely Beans, that actually gives her an even quirkier appeal, Rango is an energetic hoot, complete with its very own water-wishing hoedown. In fact, the blatant environmental shout-out about preserving our most precious asset – water – is, thankfully, never reiterated in the script for the ‘hard of thinking’, but trickles along nicely though the plot crevices. Rango turns out to be a master of adaptability and good will in the end, ­in fact, an educating and entertaining little ambassador for all with an addictive personality.

4/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

The Adjustment Bureau – 3*

Matt Damon has certainly earned our respect as an action hero in the series of Bourne films, combining intelligence and athleticism into one complex character. And his performance in The Adjustment Bureau as US Senator-to-be David Norris is no exception. The film ought to be the perfect vehicle for allowing the acclaimed actor to play to his strengths. Apart from teaming up with the stunning and talented Emily Blunt, the added appeal is the possibility of an intelligent sci-fi thriller full of deception and tangled lies, with the tantalising tagline of: “They stole his future. Now he’s taking it back”. It sounds like this year’s contender for an Inception-style film of destiny-altering events, acted out by a stellar cast – as with the 2010 hit.

Writer/director George Nolfi’s vision starts out according to plan, combining political intrigue with the suggestion of a greater power at play, and there is a galvanising ‘pause’ in the plot that kick-starts events into motion. The Adjustment Bureau also mixes an intoxicating retro charm with a contemporary urban vitality, pointing to influences from early 50s and 60s thrillers in their heyday. It also boasts an equally ‘wow-factor-making’ cast of 60s-set Mad Men’s John Slattery and iconic Superman villain Terence Stamp. And the plot that begins with a full head of steam and scintillating mystery gives nods to previous sci-fi thrillers’ ideas – including those in J.J. Abrams‘s Fringe, as well as The Matrix, while keeping you in the dark about its own eventual plan.

However, unlike the Oscar-winning Inception that had the full imagination of Nolan behind it, Nolfi’s offering, rather disappointingly, loses its puff with an abrupt and deflating ending. Ironically, it wants to champion the conundrum of free will verses fate throughout, introducing us to some potentially meaty characters in Norris and his love interest, dancer Elise Sellas (Blunt) who are both determined and assertive. But it seems to break down their spirit, turning Blunt’s character into a wretched, clichéd, former shell of herself, and Norris into Bourne on a rooftop, rather than trying anything different.

Possibly, the issue is The Adjustment Bureau is more of a ‘futuristic romance’, than a cerebral sci-fi puzzle of The Matrix proportions. Nolfi’s intent may well be to deceive us into thinking otherwise. But with all its happenings, our curious side needs greater appeasement, especially when the 60s-dressed Bureau men in Trilby hats whose job it is to keep every human on their chosen path in life each carry a ‘plan book’ that looks like a complex wiring schedule or Tube map, as well as go around threatening the brainwashing of any ‘stray human’ that learns the truth behind the bigger picture.

There is the undeniably inviting supernatural and biblical element to the film, almost Wings of Desire in stance, as a disgruntled Bureau worker or ‘angel’ called Harry (Anthony Mackie) gets tired of his boss, ‘The Chairman’s plan, and seeks to help the fated couple achieve free will by rewriting the rule book. Indeed, you could argue what conceivable conclusion could Nolfi give, lest to suggest that ‘The Chairman’ or God, has a heart of stone, and cynically doesn’t believe in love or his own creation, Man. That said this is still suggested, with no chance for the boss upstairs to defend such an accusation. Perhaps, we have been spoilt with the momentous, fire-and-brimstone PacinoReeves showdown in The Devil’s Advocate that we need some visual comeback? It just doesn’t seem to sit comfortably, and smacks of Nolfi running out of ideas – or budget.

There are many more strands that just don’t get addressed, let alone taken further in The Adjustment Bureau that make the whole affair a tad frustrating, to say the least. Being mesmerised by the film’s technical beauty is just not enough. It’s as though Nolfi is testing the water and holding his cards close to his chest to see if a sequel is possible, but one that may not come for him to develop his ideas further. Like any film with biblical references, The Adjustment Bureau is sure to spark a debate, long after the hats come off – and if nothing else, the topic of the coolness of Trilbys fuelled by Mad Men, in particular, will keep some entertained afterwards.

3/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

Ironclad – 4*

Now and then, there are films that need to show raw violence, in order to recreate the reality of a situation, contrary to the sensitivity of some. Writer/director Jonathan English may have never experienced 13th Century Britain, but it’s safe to suggest that the blade resolved most disputes – be that of the sword or axe variety. English’s Ironclad is a medieval maniacal massacre with a desperate, ferocious and no-holds-barred bloodlust that surpasses even last year’s Centurion that relished in its body count and blood spillage.

Ironclad’s story has a significant purpose, though, that captures the contemporary imagination: freedom for every man. It’s for this reason that we empathise with its characters’ determination to defend this ideal from the tyrannical rule of the Roman Catholic Church and the King. Hence, we easily commit to the grounds for the barbarity.

After the Oscar-winning The King’s Speech, Ironclad is – in the simplest of terms – predominantly anti-royal and republican in nature. The story picks up in 1215, after debauched King John (Paul Giamatti) is forced to meet the demands of his discontented barons and sign the Magna Carta. Even though this document was more about taxation hikes and the nobility’s treatment, English plays to the romantic notion of it being about human rights protection against royal rule. A furious King John then decides to reinforce his rule and slaughter the barons involved, with the dubious blessing of the Pope and the Vatican, plus a little Viking manpower from some disgruntled Danes angered by the Church’s involvement in their lands.

However, one plucky Baron Albany (Brian Cox) and his mishmash of a half a dozen men decide to make a stand against the King and his thugs. They defend the common man’s honour from Britain’s pinnacle of power, Castle Rochester in Kent, until the French Army arrives to liberate the land, and install a French Prince on the English throne. It’s glorious, heroic and epic stuff to prompt a defiant roar from every English lion.

Ironclad recreates the grim scene well, but has a few surprises. It goes a step further than previous historical efforts, by placing the viewer directly within the relentless battle action, and creating a terrifying sense of claustrophobia and threat of axe attack at any moment. In fact, we see men hacked in half before us, from head to toe, and others losing limbs, which are subsequently used to beat others senseless, whilst the camera lens gets sprayed in claret. It has a thrillingly destructive momentum to it.

That said English’s preference for Michael Bay‘s favourite cinematic tool of 5D cameras to reproduce erratic action – as in Transformers – greatly jars, making watching the action unbearable and nauseating in parts. In fact, this lessens the authenticity somewhat, creating an experience like that of a video game, which is a shame and probably not really necessary.

The reality of the siege the Baron’s resistance fighters face is greatly heightened by the testing length of the film (121 minutes) and its equally testing weather conditions. But the latter helps recreate some magnificently extravagant and quite stunning panoramic views to show the gloomy conditions of the era, even if the former falls prey to some lagging moments in the story, as our ‘heroes’ await the next onslaught.

One thing is for certain: Ironclad would not be half the film it is, if it were not for some memorable and quite captivating talent. Giamatti is a tonic as the deranged and bile-spewing King John verses Cox as audacious Albany. Deliciously overplayed to the hilt, their performances mark the key points, with one momentous confrontation near the end, in a film that sensibly places moments of ironic humour throughout to provide a respite from all the death.

James Purefoy as disillusioned Templar Knight Marshall again demonstrates why he’s first choice in any historical affair. Purefoy has a rousing and magnetic presence as the great, unsung anti-hero, cultivated by his stint in Rome and other such period roles. His role greatly bolsters the romantic notion of story – and he should also be commended for swinging around a five-foot Templar Knight sword replica.

Nevertheless, one casting does not sit comfortably. 127 Hours actress Kate Mara plays opposite Purefoy as Marshall’s love interest, Lady Isabel. Isabel is like a ‘Maid Marion on heat’, delivering some of the corniest lines in the lull moments to seduce her knight. Mara appears a little too youthful and not nearly naive enough to be fully credible in the role, even though she’s meant to be a young wife. Her cringe-worthy attempts at getting Marshall in the sack seem almost immaturely ludicrous and definitely unladylike in the spate of things. If she is trying to be portrayed as a strong female for that contingent of the audience to identity with, her casting sadly backfires. That said there are some excellent performances to enjoy from Mackenzie Crook, Jason Flemyng, Jamie Foreman and Casualty’s Aneurin Barnard as Albany’s band of merry mutilators, as well as British acting royalty Derek Jacobi and Charles Dance.

Ironclad is an unapologetic, bold and praiseworthy piece from English, considering the independent nature of the production and its ‘cheaper’ budget (£20 million). It’s designed to bang the patriotic drum, not only in the story, but also for British film-making that’s taken a battering in itself in the past year. Indeed, it provides a healthy example of a true British epic contender to rival those of the mainstream variety that are out soon, like a lone voice of resilience that you can’t help but root for.

4/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

Watch the trailer HERE

Carmen in 3D – 4*

Regardless of how it’s sold, opera is an acquired taste, and to see any such production suggests an initial glimmer of interest from the start. This is both the fascinating experiment of Julian Napier’s ‘RealD’ (3D)-shot film of the Royal Opera House’s production of Carmen and its Achilles’ Heel. It poses a vicious cycle to break, to rouse the interest of the average, non-opera-participant and cinema buff to pay to see it on the big screen.

But Carmen in 3D should not be dismissed off hand as a ‘lost big screen cause’ as it offers awe-inspiring and striking depth of vision and perspective that really places the viewer in on the action on stage, helped by strikingly colourful and simplistic set designs. It actually brings a new visual life and enhanced sensation to one of the best-loved and most emotive operas by Georges Bizet – like watching a Great Master’s painting come alive. It also goes to connect a wider audience with some of the iconic music, such as Carmen’s Habanera and the Toreador song.

In brief, the story is set in 1820’s Seville, Spain. Carmen is a beautiful and alluring gypsy with a fiery temper. She craves what she initially cannot get, and that’s the affections of inexperienced corporal Don José. She succeeds, and their tempestuous and passionate relationship leads to his rejection of his former love from his hometown, a mutiny against his superiors, and him absconding to join Carmen’s gang of bandits. When she begins to lose interest in him, and falls for the affections of another, bullfighter Escamillo, José’s jealousy is ignited, leading him to murder Carmen, his one true love.

The cast of acclaimed director Francesca Zambello’s interpretation of the classic are superb, and the crème de la crème of operatic talent. Christine Rice is full of engaging menace as the enigmatic Carmen, Bryan Hymel is the spurred Don José and Aris Argiris is the conceited Escamillo. The dynamic camera swoops into the orchestral pit, just before the curtain lifts, in full 3D motion glory, to introduce us to conductor Constantinos Carydis and his company in full flow. It is an energising feeling that firmly sets the scene.

We did watch the 3D film, all 175 minutes of it, without the reported 20-minute interval/intermission. Like any trip to the theatre, this is certainly needed to fully appreciate, and not tire of the power and drama the music provokes. Also, the story involves acts of violence that are not magnified for screen purposes, and remain loyal to the stage production.

Seeing Carmen in 3D is a unique opportunity. Whether it’s successful in drawing the attention of a new audience remains to be seen. You could argue that the cost of a theatre opera seat far outweighs that of a 3D cinema ticket, making this option more affordable to most, whilst having Carmen reach out to and virtually ‘touch you’ in the process. Opera fans need not worry about the experience altering the aesthetics of the real live performance as Napier merely transports you onto the stage and back into your audience seat, at times, giving you the best view in the house.

4/5 stars

By @FilmGazer