Man On A Ledge (2012)

New York. The Roosevelt Hotel’s twenty-first floor. Nick Cassidy (Sam Worthington) has some breakfast. Wipes the room of prints. Writes a suicide note. Opens the window. And steps out onto a ledge… When it comes to grabbing an audience’s attention, nothing does it quite like a bloke threatening to throw himself off the top of a Manhattan high-rise. It was true in Henry Hathaway’s 1951 drama Fourteen Hours, and it’s true for Man on a Ledge.

Except where Hathaway’s film earned plaudits for its portrayal of a man (Richard Basehart) grappling with his own inner-demons, Ledge has its sights set on less torturous thrills. Released a whole six months before the summer blockbuster season kicks off, it’s the first popcorn thriller of 2012. Worthington’s not even given a chance to scream ‘I’m gonna do it!’ before we’re treated to shaky-cam car chases, explosions, jail breaks and Ed Harris sneering away as a slithery scoundrel.

In an age when blockbusters are often suffocated by their bloated storylines, though, the plot of Danish director Asger Leth’s thriller is refreshingly straightforward. Stirring in the biggest of big movie themes – redemption and revenge – we discover that Cassidy is an ex-cop wrongly convicted of a crime (aren’t they all?). But his gamble with gravity is merely a diversionary tactic as his brother Joey (Jamie Bell) embarks on a diamond heist nearby.

Thrown into that mix is Elizabeth Banks as a police negotiator attempting to talk Cassidy down, while on the ground is Kyra Sedgwick as a Gale Weathers-like reporter whose final line is the film’s most gloriously ridiculous. Because, yes, Man on a Ledge is ridiculous, but the fact that it’s so acutely aware of that is what just about saves it.

This is pure bubblegum entertainment. Winking and nodding in almost all the right places, Leth coaxes out moments of genuine hilarity – in particular a snapshot in which desperate women brandish ‘Jump into my arms!’ placards. Sure, the film’s impractical heist logic doesn’t hold a crowbar to Ocean’s Eleven (air vents in air-tight vaults? Thieves who don’t wear gloves?), but the combined magnetism of its spot-on cast – not to mention Leth’s impressive, soaring cityscapes – gives Ledge a winsome kind of charm.

There are certain inexcusable shortcomings, of course. Though it’s nice to have a low-budget thriller come out of Hollywood, the flick occasionally suffers from those slight production values, and poor Elizabeth Banks struggles to escape the restrictions of her underdeveloped soap opera character.

Ledge also oversteps the mark in its final act, and the closing scenes are soppy to the point of embarrassment. Only Ed Harris’ viper-like caricature retains bite. His view on so-called ‘jumpers’? “Why don’t these people just shoot themselves in the head?”

Anticipation: Has Sam Worthington finally watched Clash of the Titans, then? 2

Enjoyment: Daft as an old brush but oddly, endearingly entertaining. 3

In Retrospect: A joyfully silly thriller that won’t win any awards for subtlety, but it already knows that. 3

Kaya Scodelario interview – Wuthering Heights

Since finding her acting feet in British teen soap Skins, Kaya Scodelario has notched up roles in a low-budget British sci-fi (Moon), a mega-bucks Hollywood blockbuster (Clash of the Titans) and now an art-house period drama. LWLies sat down with Scodelario recently to discuss the gravity of taking on the female lead in Andrea Arnold’s atmospheric Wuthering Heights.

Have you seen the film yet? What did you think?
I really liked it! It was weird because I never received a full script, we were given the lines the day before shooting. So watching the film was the first time I knew what was going on in the rest of the film! So it was really cool to watch. I took some friends as well, who I know would never have gone to see it if I wasn’t in it. They’d think, ‘That’s not my thing,’ and they really enjoyed it. It was nice to know that a younger generation enjoyed it.

It’s not your average period romp is it?
No, not at all. I like to think that Andrea’s kind of created this new genre, where it feels very modern, it’s not stuck to the rules. Everyone thought period drama had to be done a certain way and that’s the only way it can be done, people have to walk very slowly and speak properly, there has to be lots of sunshine and flowers. Andrea’s just turned that on its head completely and I love that she’s done that. It was wicked.

It felt like it could almost be modern day…
Yeah, exactly, that’s what was cool – it was kind of timeless.

Why did you only get your lines the day before filming?
It was a lot to do with helping the younger kids, obviously this was their first job so Andrea didn’t want to overwhelm them with a whole script. And I think she just likes things to be very fresh, and you to go into it very open. She asked me not to read the book or see any of the adaptations, so I think she just likes people to not know what they’re doing, go into it completely open-minded. Which is what I want people to do with the film, to go into it completely fresh not thinking about anyone else in it. It was a good way of working, it was different. It’s nice to push yourself and do thinks in a different way.

Was it difficult to learn your lines that quickly?
No, there’s not a lot of dialogue in the film which helps! Surprisingly, I thought I would, but it kind of worked out okay in the end, thank god.

You have quite an emotional role to play, did you get lots of direction there?
I think Andrea wanted me to do it how I wanted to do it. It was never, ‘You have to cry in this scene.’ It was more, if you feel like crying, cry, if you don’t, don’t. it was one of the lines that Heathcliff said to me that really affected me on a personal level, that brought the emotion out quite naturally. I feel quite upset and we cut, and I said to Andrea, ‘I really feel like this should be quite an intense moment for her.’ She kind of slips into this mental illness, she goes a bit crazy, and I wanted to show that in the scene in the kitchen when Heathcliff and Edgar are fighting. I got James, who played Heathcliff, to sit behind the camera and just scream abuse at me for 10 minutes. On a personal level as me, not as Cathy, cos I just wanted to go a bit crazy for a while.

Did he know you well enough to throw some good things at you?
No, I think it’s easy, it was better than he didn’t know me. It kind of takes you back to the playground, that kind of little things that people say can really affect you. ‘Oh, you’re so skinny’, all of these things that you have personal issues with just come out quite naturally. It was strange, it took me two days to get back to normal. But I was glad I did it. It felt right to be in that scene.

It’s James’ first film as well. How was that?
At first it was difficult, I’m not going to pretend it was all great. There were certain days that he didn’t want to be there, he didn’t want to act, but it was really beautiful to watch him grow into it, to grow into wanting to do well. Every day he’d come in and be a bit more on the ball, more focussed. It was nice to watch him develop as an actor. It was wicked to see. I can’t imagine what it was like for him, although I was 14 when I started on Skins and I felt completely out of place, I felt like I didn’t deserve to be there, everyone was a lot older than me, I felt very insecure about it. So I knew what he was going through. But I didn’t want to be too sensitive with him, I knew I had to push him. There was a scene where I had to slap him, and he didn’t want me to actually slap him, he wanted me to pretend. I said, ‘I ‘m not going to pretend! Cos I’m screaming at you, I’m not going to be able to go from screaming at you to pretending to slap you, so I’m going to hit you.’

He was like, ‘No, no, don’t fucking do that,’ and we got into a bit of an argument over it. I said to him, ‘Trust me, I’m going to hit you harder than I’ve ever hit anyone in my life, and you’re going to like it because you’re going to prefer your performance! It’ll be a natural performance.’ He was like ‘Arrrgh’ being a proper man about it, and Andrea was like, ‘Hit him hard!’ I slapped him, and honestly I’ve never heard a sound like it in my life. It was so hard to keep a straight face. I thought, ‘Oh God, he’s going to punch me now!’ He came up to me afterwards in typical manly style and was like, ‘Yeah that was good, you were right.’

So you didn’t give him too many tips?
Andrea cast him for who was, and that’s all he needed to be. He’s quite wild. It’s a really intimidating thing, my background is very similar to his. You grow up on an estate and you’re in this bubble. Being on a film set, you don’t learn about that at school, you don’t know those jobs are available. It’s a strange industry, quite hidden I think. To be pushed into it must’ve been terrifying for him. He did so well to do it. Especially the little kids as well. The kids were beautiful cos they had this sort of the way kids are, they don’t feel any pressure. Just like, yeah this is fun, they don’t stress themselves, which you tend to do when you get older. They had that complete natural go for it vibe that really rippled through the set and made everyone relax a lot more.

Were you on set with the kids a lot, then, even though you don’t share scenes?
I was around them a lot for pre-production, I love them. I loved Shannon [Beer] to pieces, I wish she was my little sister. She’s what I wish I could’ve been like. She’s gobby, she’s confident, she’s a naughty little kid, but she knows who she is as a person, and she’s comfortable with that. I really like that about her.

It must’ve been weird sharing a character with another actress. Did you work together creating the character?
No, Andrea didn’t want us to. Very strangely. She didn’t want us to get technical with it, or sit down and have little things that we both do. She’s a big believer of just letting things happen, and doing the edit and finding those moments. Natural looks that you give without noticing. She just let us go with the flow.

You don’t look massively similar…
No. Well, it was funny, Shannon was like, ‘You don’t look like me!’ I don’t, but I don’t think that matters.

How was shooting Wuthering Heights different from shooting Skins?
It’s hard. Obviously it was different, but it wasn’t so much so that I particularly noticed it. With Skins, it wasn’t a job at all. It was me growing up, it was my university, the crew knew me since I was 14, they were like family to me. I think Effy helped me personally gain confidence. I enjoyed playing her because it took me out of my depression that I had myself, my subconscious and all that. It gave me a bit more confidence and a bit more fun. Leaving her behind was quite hard, quite scary. She was like this cloak that I’d wear, I would feel cool, even though deep down I’m not at all. It was very scary to leave, but Skins as a whole was this very, very strange thing that happened that wasn’t work. Leaving that, any job would’ve been different. You realise, ‘This is work, I have to behave, be professional.’

You mentioned feeling depressed when you were younger. Was Cathy a slight exorcism where those feelings are concerned?
Yeah, I guess so. Filming the whole Effy mental illness stuff took me to a place. My mum suffers from depression, she has her whole life, and doing that storyline with Effy helped me understand it a lot more. With Cathy again, I always tend to get the crazy roles! I like interesting parts, I couldn’t ever be one of those actresses where they look pretty and their hair looks great all the time, I hate that. What’s the point of being an actor if you just want to look nice all the time? I love the fact that I’m not wearing any make-up at all in Wuthering Heights, my cheeks are pink and my nose looks like Rudolph. I love it! I’d rather throw myself into someone and completely lose me as a person for a while, I love the psychology behind it all. I find it really fascinating.

Andrew Haigh interview: Weekend

Weekend is only Andrew Haigh’s second feature film, a no-budget romance set in Nottingham, but that hasn’t stopped it causing a stir Stateside. Surfing waves of rave reviews, the film’s been celebrated as a smart and honest examination of gay life in the modern world, and is now expanding its UK theatrical run after an impressive openning weekend. LWLies sat down for a chat with the writer/director recently to gauge his response to all the attention.

LWLies: Can you believe that you’re off around the world talking about your little movie?
Haigh: No, I can’t believe it at all. I find, because it’s happening and you’re in the middle of it, sometimes I stop and think, ‘What? How’s this happened?’

Your first film, Greek Pete, was quite a small movie that not many people saw…
Greek Pete was tiny, miniscule, and I suppose we sort of thought this would be again small, and some people might see it and that would be it. Obviously you always hope for more. And then, it’s been out in America for a couple of weeks and it’s… it’s weird. It’s like, ‘Is this my…? Is this the same film we’re talking about?’

How do you think a little film like this suddenly hits the big time?
I don’t know! It really helped that we played it at SXSW, we went into that festival, and nobody really knew what the film was. I think we built up something, a steam. There were a core group of people, like Indiewire, they really got behind the film and they just wouldn’t stop talking about it. It was a little bit embarrassing, but they really helped it getting out to different people and it took off.

Are you surprised by the different types of media that are interested?
Absolutely, even when I wrote the film – it’s in the film when Glen’s character is talking about people not being interested in [gay cinema], that was borne out of frustration. It was the expectation that nobody would be interested in it. So I feel a bit embarrassed now that I put it in the film! It’s showed me that I’m wrong, because people have been [interested]. It’s amazing, but I’m still not entirely sure how it’s happened. We had big articles in the New York Times and LA Times. I think basically there’s been such a gap of these kind of films about gay people, and I think I’ve hit a good point in time and it’s been quite lucky. I know a lot of other filmmakers, especially Americans, who are gay, and they’re making a lot more naturalistic gay dramas. I think there’s gonna be quite a lot of them coming out, and I’ve just managed to get there first.

Weekend’s quite refreshing compared to a lot of STV low-budget gay films.
I just had no interest in my film being a… I want to be a proper filmmaker, I don’t want my film to be a shitty DVD that 10 people see. It’s not interesting to me. The films I like aren’t within that genre. Maybe that’s the problem, it’s hard for filmmakers to make films with gay content. I think maybe a lot of them aren’t as interested in cinema as they are interested in getting this film made and to DVD.

A lot of the cheesy American gay films are all about the nudity.
And they’re always people that are like super hot guys with muscles. I don’t know anyone like that! I don’t know who those people are. It’s weird. I wanted to tell a story that was like, ‘Gay people are also normal people, they do normal jobs and don’t look like perfect specimens of men.’ Even though Tom and Chris are quite good-looking. They’re just a bit messy, which I guess is the new gay look anyway. It’s bearded and scruffy.

You’ve got a good beard on you, did you copy it off Tom?
I made him grow a beard! I said you’ve got to grow a beard for it. I just like beards I think. And he’s kept it! He didn’t have one when I first met him.

Sex is quite integral to Weekend and Greek Pete. Is that something that interests you?
My short films are nothing like that at all. I think it definitely interests me, but only because sex is so integral to everybody’s lives, it’s such an important part of everybody’s lives. Either you’re not having it, or sex is a part of your relationship. I think it’s just not dealt with in a serious enough way in films, it’s either just for titillation or it’s deathly serious rather than just being, it’s part of someone’s life and it’s just sex, and it’s not just sex, it shows a lot about your character. How you talk about sex, what you do, everything. So it’s trying to look at sexual relationships in a wider context.

Weekend is similar to My Beautiful Laundrette in that it’s set in a recognisable time. Was exploring modern gay identity something that appealed to you?
Yeah, I think it’s changed so dramatically being gay, and acceptance and equality since Beautiful Laundrette. It’s changed amazingly. But in many ways it hasn’t changed, which is quite interesting. While discrimination has obviously gone down and prejudice has gone down, and things are different, there are still things that are problems, and issues that exist with being gay in the modern world. It was definitely about incorporating, having that as a background to the story, rather than it being all about that. It is funny, you speak to people and they work in the media in London, they’re like, ‘It’s fine being gay! There’s no problems!’ But there are still problems. And even if you work in London in the media.

It’s usually straight people that say that, like, ‘Oh, it’s fine for you lot now, isn’t it? For you gays! Everybody loves you!’ I’ve never really fitted in with that, I’ve never really been part of the gay scene. Obviously I went out, but it’s never really been part of my life fully, and neither is the straight scene. I think a lot of gay people, if they don’t fit a certain stereotype, they just meander around all over the place not really knowing where they fit in. You’re stranded a little bit, which is what I think Russell is. And Glen to a certain extent.

Do you know people quite similar to Russell and Glen?
Not really, I think maybe they’re parts of me to some extent. If there was a line I’d kind of vary between the two depending on my mood, how angry I am with the world.

What are you angry about?
I’m always angry about something. I’m quite an angry person. Everything! I can be quite calm, but I don’t live in London anymore, and as soon as I come to London my rage level starts building up. I live in Norwich now so it’s a very different town, I love it. It’s a really interesting city, but I come to London and you notice the massive inequality that exists here. When you’re in somewhere like Norwich it’s a lot more equal, there’s not massive wealth and massive poverty. There’s more things to make me angry.

Russell and Glen are polar opposites, was that a conscious effort?
I knew they had to be opposites because it’s a drama, and otherwise that wouldn’t be very interesting. It had to be that their characters were well-rounded enough that it wasn’t just me writing two opposite characters. It would just be pointless. I spent so long doing backstories for the characters, because your ideas and your philosophies don’t exist in a vacuum, they’re based on your how your life has been and where you’ve been. So it was just about really working that out, so that when they were together they felt like real people. And the fact that they’re different is what attracts them to each other, they’re grasping at bits of each other. That’s what makes relationships interesting.

Was the documentary look intended to blur fiction and reality?
Definitely, and I always wanted Weekend to be as real as possible. It was scripted, but we approached it like it was a documentary. So shooting everything in long takes, I wanted to imagine that this was happening right now in front of me and I could capture it for this instant and then it would never happen again. So that’s why there’s no coverage. Not having extras. In the club it’s a normal night in the club. They’d be dancing to the camera and you’d be like, ‘No!’ It’s all just real people.

You’re pretty much a guerrilla filmmaker, then?
Pretty much. We used the guerrilla process but I didn’t want it to look like guerrilla filmmaking, it had to feel like it was very thought out, but at the same time captured footage.

It looks amazing, though. How did you strike that balance?
I wanted it to look good and nice and professional. I never understand, just because you’ve got no money doesn’t mean it doesn’t have to look good. We shot on the 5D Canon, a stills camera essentially that shoots video, we had this big rig thing that keeps it steady. But just because you’ve got no money, it doesn’t have to look shit. We didn’t have any lights, but Uma was a good DP. You just make an effort.

Gareth Edwards’ Monsters is quite similar in terms of no-frills filmmaking. Are you a fan?
Yeah, definitely. I was a big fan of all those American mumblecore type films, low-budget character dramas. They’re kind of like an update of Cassavette’s films with modern settings. Monsters is a good example, I think it’s a good film, it’s an indie relationship drama with aliens. Which is amazing. I still don’t understand how he made that film. There was like three of them on the crew. Crazy! He’s doing Godzilla now isn’t he? I’ve heard him speak and he seems like a really nice guy. Let’s face it, a lot of directors can be arseholes. If I like a film and I hear the director talk and he’s a wanker, it really puts me off.

Being a director, are you a bit of a control freak?
Yeah, I am a total control freak. You have to be. The hard thing is when you make something that’s really small budget and then it’s out in the world and distribution companies take it on, you’ve had so much control on the early days, and then you have to give that control away, which is really hard. I sometimes have to stop myself. The posters were great. I know the designer, but again that was me sticking my oar in and making sure they use Sam and giving the posters to the Americans saying, ‘This is really nice.’ Also, you know you have to compromise sometimes, and there’s times when you’re shooting where everybody’s focussing on something and you know actually it’s not that important. It’s about being a control freak about the right things.

You’ve made a strong point about gay life with Weekend. Is it now time to move on to other topics? Can you better it?
No, in terms of my desire to explore that kind of world it’s probably done. Doesn’t mean I won’t be making films about gay people, but there’d be no point in me doing that again. There’s themes that are there, whether they’re about gay people or straight people, old people or young people, there will be similar themes. But I need to do other different films. I don’t just want to make small films about gay people talking to each other!

Have you been approached by people about your next film?
Yeah, I’m writing some stuff, I’ve got an agent now. Americans are crazy, I’ve got a team of like 10 people now. You’re like, ‘Okay!’ You get so many scripts. It’s an amazing thing about America, they see this film but it doesn’t limit what they think you can do, they say you can do anything now. Whereas in England there’s that sense of you could only do really small films about gay people. In America they’re sending me scripts like… not quite alien scripts, but things that are bigger. They’re still not big studio pictures, but bigger stuff. Nine out of 10 directors that make a good first or second little film, end up going to America and making a piece of shit. It’s a real common thing. I don’t know why that is.

Perhaps America is too interested in this idea that films are products, whereas small indies worship storytelling.
Maybe there’s just too many people get involved. But also it’s about bad decisions. Those directors have gotten a script, gone, ‘Oh, it’s alright, it’ll do, I’ll do it because it’ll get me into America,’ but it’s never gonna work unless they really care about it. So I’m only going to do something if it’s somebody else’s script that I absolutely fall in love with. Other than that, I don’t just wanna do something just for the sake of getting paid, even if that would be nice.

Greek Pete was quite a small little cult film, do you count Weekend as your first proper film?
In America they’re trying to pretend that Greek Pete wasn’t my first film, because then you can get on first feature lists. But for me, that was my first feature and it is. I really enjoy it, I’m proud of that film, I like that film. Yeah, this is my second feature, I can’t say it’s my first because that belittles what I did before. This is obviously scripted and different, but it’s still my second feature.

Do you think the label of ‘gay film’ is a reductive or restrictive term?
It’s so difficult to know what it is. For me, Weekend’s a film about gay people. Whether people call that a gay film is up to them, really. It’s funny, because the film partly is about how you struggle to define yourself, and you continually try to define yourself. So it’s funny to me that as soon as you make a film, it’s like ‘It’s a gay film!’, people throw it in a pigeon-hole. I suppose it’s inevitable, and I’m not embarrassed that it’s gay. If people want to call it a gay film, that’s fine. I think it’s going to be like that for quite a long time, it will take a while I feel before it’s just ‘a film’. Also because it’s very much about gay sexuality and it’s got sex in, it’s automatically going to be pigeon-holed.

It’ll probably be like blaxploitation, films about black people are not called ‘black films’…
You wouldn’t call a Spike Lee film a black film. He’d be like, ‘Fuck off!’ When you do make a gay film it’s suddenly, people say, well it’s gay. I should slap people every time they say it!

Wuthering Heights (2011)

Fish Tank director Andrea Arnold isn’t the most obvious choice for a new adaptation of ‘Wuthering Heights’, Emily Brontë’s rousingly romantic nineteenth-century novel. But by breaking away from the sterilised likes of Laurence Olivier’s 1939 rendition, Arnold returns Heights to its grubby, twisted roots.

Confidently making Brontë’s story her own, Arnold’s film is at once a modernisation (her characters hurl F-bombs and C-grenades that would have made the author herself blush), a respectful adaptation and a gutsy re-imagining.

If Brontë evoked the barren Yorkshire moors as a representation of central character Heathcliff’s innately wild nature, Arnold takes the metaphor one step further by casting the traditionally white role anew. Here, Heathcliff (Solomon Glave) is a young black boy who’s dragged in from the moors (“It was the Christian thing to do”) and befriends twin spirit Catherine (Shannon Beer). But with Catherine’s brother Hindley (Lee Shaw) crippled by jealous rage, Heathcliff’s in for a tough time.

Music-less and virtually dialogue free, Arnold’s film relies on helter-skelter images and meaningful glances for its impetus. Filmed in a loose, hand-held fashion, Heights is best in its superior first half when it unites the coarse beauty of the Yorkshire moors with an impressive cast of young first-timers, all of whom deliver raw, unsentimental turns that pulsate with feeling.

Despite her exceptional players, there’s no question who Arnold thinks the real star is. The director is in love with her turbulent Yorkshire landscapes, and embraces the elements almost to a fault. While the rain-lashed imagery kindles a fittingly feral mood, her repetitive use of certain images derails any sense of pace. At times, Heights nearly resembles a David Attenborough documentary.

Something to be respected more than enjoyed, Heights is too long by a good 30 minutes (its second half struggles to hit Brontë’s emotional beats), and would have packed more punch with a little careful pruning.

Anticipation: Andrea Arnold skips from kitchen sink drama to period tragedy. Intriguing. 4

Enjoyment: Passionate and faithful, Arnold’s film is striking but staggers toward a lethargic climax. 3

In Retrospect: A gutsy if not entirely successful interpretation of Brontë’s tome. 3

Via Little White Lies

Troll Hunter (2011)

With its big hairy feet planted firmly in two worlds, horror-comedy Troll Hunter strives for both titters and trembles. It’s Norway’s belated answer to The Blair Witch Project, as well as any number of CGI monster movies – a down-and-dirty mock doc shot entirely from the perspective of a hapless crew of student filmmakers. They’re following huntsman Hans (Otto Jespersen), who’s spent his life covertly tracking and killing trolls in western Norway.

As the title suggests, Hans is the star (Jespersen blends John Wayne bravado with Jeff Bridges charisma), but the real pin-ups are the trolls themselves. Stomping, mountainous hell-beasts, they’re part Dahlian nightmare, part something else, divided into different species (Darwin would have a heart attack) and suitably savage in nature.

Less savage is Hunter’s wit. The dry humour works in places (a troll can sniff out a Christian at 10 paces), and writer/director André Øvredal has fun playing around with fairytale mythology. Sadly, the arid nudge-winks only truly come into their own in Hunter’s third act, early jokes either getting lost in translation or simply not hitting their mark.

More successful are Hunter’s shaky-cam action scenes. Thought Blair Witch’s careering camera was difficult to stomach? Hunter pushes the boundaries of topsy-turvy framing to the max – and though Øvredal had a budget that barely scraped the two million pound mark, his film doesn’t scrimp on the thrills. Forest chases, cave stakeouts and one heck of a frosty finale all ensure that Hunter is no troll when it comes to set-pieces.

Last year, newbie director Gareth Edwards took guerrilla filmmaking to new highs with the made-for-peanuts Monsters. Troll Hunter takes the same equation – innocent nobodies minus big production values plus big beasties – and delivers something entirely different. Monsters turned out to be a love story. Troll Hunter turns out to be about hunting trolls; and not much else besides.

Anticipation: The memory of 1986 snorefest Troll is still fresh… 3

Enjoyment: Shaky cam with subtitles might prove too much for some, but the trolls are a towering achievement. 4

In Retrospect: Fun, funny and fearless. Hunt it out if you’re after something different. 3

Via Little White Lies

Colombiana (2011)

Revenge may be a dish best served cold, but thanks to a sizzling Zoe Saldana, Luc Besson’s latest shoot-’em-up is a sure-fire scorcher. Teaming with the feisty femme of the moment, Besson has a writer/producer credit on Colombiana, but it’s quite clearly his bambino. Once envisioned as a sequel to Léon starring a grown-up Mathilda, but reworked into a Nikita-aping, assassin-on-a-mission vengeance flick, Colombiana combines both the best and worst of Besson.

The best? Well, in the wake of Angelina Jolie’s so-so Salt, Colombiana knows how to have a good time and get its hands grubby. Director Olivier Megaton’s mission statement is ‘Bourne with boobs’, and he very nearly hits that target. With its opening shot cradling an endless sea of favelas, not to mention Colombiana’s handful of dusty, dirty fist fights (choreographed by The Bourne Identity’s Alain Figlarz), Megaton’s film is a refined style-oozer that doesn’t beat around the bush.

A pacy but patchy opening introduces us to 10-year-old Cataleya, whose parents have just been shot dead. She escapes alive – but only just. Fifteen years later, Cataleya is working as an assassin for her gangster uncle, offing bad guys on his behalf while secretly planning to avenge her dead parents. Which is when Saldana makes her killer entrance, ploughing into a police car and giggling drunkenly when she’s arrested. As she’s thrown into the clink to sober up, Colombiana’s finest set piece unravels – a near-wordless jail assassination that shows us what Cataleya (and Saldana) is made of.

A wily, wiry waster, Saldana holds her own in a massively physical role – most impressively during a brutal final hour bathroom brawl that has her going 10 rounds with a guy twice her size. Shame, then, that Megaton chooses to fetishise her so much; popping Saldana in nipple-enhancing vests and having her suck on lollipops only works to trivialise our otherwise fierce and fearsome anti-heroine.

Because, yes, Colombiana is the kind of subtlety-free movie where guns are strapped under tables, gates are smashed open by rampaging trucks, and doors are blown up instead of kicked in. Megaton’s film would have done well to stick to the punchy, chat-free approach of its jail segment.

As dodgy dialogue pinched from the Big Book Of Crime Thriller Clichés is repeatedly stuffed down our throats (‘She’s the mist under the door, you won’t see her until it’s too late!”), it’s clear that Colombiana would’ve worked better as a sexy, sultry silent movie. With a bare bones story set out in a visually snappy way, the dialogue only serves to sour the dish.

Anticipation: A post-Avatar Zoe Saldana nabs her first mo-cap-free lead role and Besson’s producing? Where do we sign up? 4

Enjoyment: Saldana sizzles as a feisty fatal femme, making up for the duff dialogue. 3

In Retrospect:
Colombiana wants to be Bourne with boobs, but its connect-the-dots narrative and silted script means it can’t quite reach those bone-crunching heights. 3

The Messenger (2009)

Don’t shoot ‘em, goes the adage. But what if a messenger pitched up on your doorstep to deliver the worst news of your life? Not that director Oren Moverman’s intimate, heavy-hearted drama actually involves any such gunfire. No, it’s emotional fireworks that are the priority here, with Messenger following two army officers tasked with delivering bad news to the family members of dead soldiers.

“I’m not gonna be offering any hugs, sir,” gripes Will (Ben Foster), whose life has been the definition of ‘spiralling despair’ ever since he got back from Iraq. The sir in question, meanwhile, is Captain Tony (Woody Harrelson), the kind of guy who makes the bad-ass marines in Aliens look like fluffy, frisky kittens. Together, they do the job nobody else wants to.

It’s a smart premise, the character-inclined slant affording Messenger a freshness that the bullet-riddled, war-wail likes of The Kingdom couldn’t hope to attain. Of course, it helps to have had a man on the inside. An ex-paratrooper himself, Moverman clearly has demons to exorcise with his directorial debut.

Unforgiving in his endeavours to capture the pain and horror of those left behind during times of war, Moverman extracts white hot performances from his cast (“You fucking cowards!” screams a terrific Steve Buscemi, the father of a dead soldier), while also unearthing the midnight humour in the harrowing happenings (“Could be worse, could be Christmas,” deadpans Tony during one rough job).

Though Harrelson was the one nominated for an Academy Award, Foster is the eye of the storm here. Through him, Moverman enacts his testimonial against war, and Foster’s never anything less than 100% up to the task – a bold, fierce star in waiting. Is The Messenger a movie with a message? Yup, and one many are probably not going to like.

Another war movie, but starring a resurgent, Oscar-nominated Woody Harrelson… 4

Well-crafted, taut with emotion, but vaguely directionless. Foster’s a blinder, though. 3

In Retrospect
It stumbles a little, loosening its grip in the bromantic final stretch, but if impenitent heartstring pluckage is what you’re after, this is where it’s at. 4

Via Little White Lies

Incendies (2010)

When the feeling’s gone and you can’t go on, it’s tragedy. Never were the Bee Gees more insightful, and you can bet your life that if Incendies had been a musical, that shrewd ‘70s classic would have been its powerhouse theme tune.

Instead, Incendies (meaning ‘Fire’ in French) is a grim, involving drama that plays it straight. Canadian twins Jeanne (Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin) and Simon (Maxim Gaudette) have just lost their mother. In her will, Nawal (Lubna Azabal) leaves her children two letters – one for the father they believe is dead, the other for a brother they didn’t even know they had.

It’s Nawal’s dying wish that these letters be delivered by Jeanne and Simon. As they set out on a seemingly impossible mission to the Middle East in search of their roots, the twins’ travels are mirrored with the story of their mother’s origins – the devastating events that shaped her into the distant, troubled woman her children grew up with.

Set against the backdrop of a fictional – but devastatingly familiar – civil war in an unnamed region, Incendies plays with massive themes on a heart-wrenchingly intimate scale. While evocative images of broken buildings and bombed-out buses stoke the anti-war flames, it’s Lubna Azabal who burns the brightest. As a mother who’s suffered through unimaginable trauma – and been unable to explain it to those closest to her – Azabal is a revelation. She plays both the younger and older versions of her character, and drives the narrative with a fiery passion; we feel every trembling lip, every pang of uncertainty as Nawal pitches from one disaster to another.

True, the film’s second half loses energy without her; as the story shifts to focus on her children’s increasingly bizarre expedition, the pacing begins to slow. But in the place of Nawal’s dramatic backstory stirs a far more disturbing exploration of her children’s origins, as the twins learn truth after devastating truth about Nawal’s tragic upbringing.

It’s a downer, to be sure. Credit must also be attributed to director Denis Villeneuve, then, who ensures that his slowly unfolding mystery is carefully measured out, and lifted by across-the-board terrific performances. The result is utterly absorbing, revelling in dusty visuals and intimate framing. Crucially, Incendies never falls into the trap of becoming just another movie about the futility of war, refusing to overtly comment on the heartbreak of conflict, while letting its upsetting content speak for itself.

Only the film’s final sucker punch revelation threatens the melodrama barometer, relying as it does on really unfortunately coincidences for its power. By then, though, you’ll be too wrapped up in Nawal’s story to really mind. As tragedy goes, it’s hard to bear – but it’s definitely worth it.

Oscar-nominated drama that had Roger Ebert’s backing. Must be good. 4

Harrowing, beautiful and disturbing, though the second hour drags. 4

In Retrospect
Elemental and expertly directed, Nawal’s story haunts long after the credits have rolled. 4

Via Little White Lies

The Extraordinary Adventures Of Adèle Blanc-Sec (2010)

Luc Besson knows his heroines. From Nikita’s tortured assassin to Léon’s vengeful tween, the French filmmaker is no stranger to bum-kicking babes. And after an all-too-long absence from the directing landscape, Besson’s back with another.

Her name is Adèle Blanc-Sec. Single-minded and no-nonsense, she’s a period crossbreed of Lara Croft and Murder, She Wrote’s Jessica Fletcher – a cheerfully colourful antidote to Lisbeth Salander’s gothy inclinations.

Trading in the gloom of his grainy ’90s thrillers, Adèle finds Besson revelling in whimsy and wonder. Adapted from Jacques Tardi’s early ’70s comic book series, Adèle’s first movie adventure begins in 1912 Paris. She’s working overtime to find a cure for her sister, who’s been rendered little more than a pale vegetable after a freak accident.

In her quest, Adèle needs the help of expert telepath Espérandieu, who’s just used his powers to hatch a 136 million year old egg, giving birth to a real life pterodactyl.

Mixing in mummies, buffoon-like police inspectors and a mélange of comedy disguises, it would be easy to dismiss Adèle as a fanciful kiddy romp from the same Besson who made Arthur and the Invisibles. But Besson’s film isn’t without its own insidious charms.

Our heroine unrobes in a moody bathroom scene lifted straight from the comic, while the humour is black as the devil’s soul, with giant hatpins embedded in skulls and accidental decapitation inducing guffaws and grimaces in equal measure.

Relative newcomer Louise Bourgoin is also a delight as the titular heroine; fun sidebars following her treks to Egypt and attempted costumed jail breaks prove she’s a dab hand at both comedy and drama. But Adèle does suffer a slightly fractured feel, blending meandering Amelie-style narrative offshoots with cartoon-like energy. And despite some lavish visuals, there are some embarrassing moments of low-grade CGI – not least when a character attempts to ride the pterodactyl.

For Besson, Adèle is clearly the first in what he hopes will become a franchise. While a trip to our heroine’s first big screen adventure reaps some fine moments, it’s hard to say if anybody will be pressing for a return ticket. 3

Fair Game (2011)

Iraq. Bush. Al-Qaeda. Three things that a post-9/11 America is probably sick to death of hearing about. Mainly because, aside from the persistently hyperbolic headlines, Hollywood has spent the last decade or so wrestling the tricky subject of the Iraq War into cinemas. The result? Some good movies (The Hurt Locker). Some rubbish (Badland). Do we really need another?

Director Doug Liman thinks so. Except he’s no longer interested in breakneck action (The Bourne Identity), colossal explosions (Mr. & Mrs. Smith) or, uh, extravagant knitwear (Jumper). Instead, he’s taken a cue from emotion-inclined dramas The Messenger and Brothers, choosing to trace the war’s insidious influence as it creates rifts in family kitchens, at dinner parties and in office high-rises.

That those offices happen to belong to the CIA is par for the course in this story based on the real-life scandal of undercover agent Valerie Plame (Naomi Watts). Leading a double existence, Plame’s involvement in the Iraq investigation between 2001 and 2003 exposes deep-seated corruption and a government that is feeding erroneous raw data to the press as fact. But when things get nasty, hubbie Joe (Sean Penn), a former diplomat embroiled in the scandal, won’t go down without a very public fight.

Splicing shot footage with real-life clips of Bush and his administration (the latter, naturally, often played for laughs), this is Liman keeping it real. Intimacy is key, as hot topics are debated over dinner and human drama is pushed to the front line. Watts and Penn are more than up to the material’s demands, the former extraordinary as a woman who just wants to do right, the latter striving for the same with all the subtlety of a bulldozer.

Just as Watts and Penn’s performances are typically focussed, so is their director’s purposeful framing. When Liman loosens the leash – such as during a brief Baghdad bombing scene – he does so with a heart-hammering, terrifyingly intimate approach, showing the action entirely from the POV of a man and his son trapped in a car. He’s also unafraid of fun visual flourishes, among them a nifty view of Penn writing an email from inside the screen. Unlike previous effort Jumper, these are mere garnishes for a taut tale that is never frivolously showy.

Fair Game only trips in its attempts to harmoniously marry searing government condemnation, domestic strife and a more action-flavoured Baghdad plot. The outcome is a film that never quite cranks the tension up enough, especially if you’re already familiar with the upshot of the real Plame’s plight. Still, if all of the Iraq dramas that Hollywood crafts in the future are this entertaining, we’re game if you are.

Anticipation: Not the ’90s Cindy Crawford thriller, but a back-to-basics Doug Liman who’s reeled himself in after the CG-overloaded Jumper. 3

Enjoyment: Fact and fiction snake together, but where’s the real tension? 3

In Retrospect: Watts and Penn are first rate as a married couple divided by their desperation to do right, while stylistically it’s top notch. Could’ve done with more meat on its bones, though. 4

Via Little White Lies