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Small-Screen Jabber 17-23 January

Posted by Louise Bolotin | Sat, 17/01/2015 - 13:15

By Louise Bolotin

The Christmas special of Call the Midwife (Sun, BBC1, 8pm) dropped a few hints about the unfolding storylines for the fourth series, while last year’s run confirmed it could easily survive the departure of key cast and running out of original material from Jennie Lee’s memoirs. Another new midwife, Barbara (Charlotte Ritchie, left), joins the Nonnatus House team to replace Cynthia, who has joined the nuns. And will Trixie marry her vicar? The first of my two dramas of the week is The Eichmann Show (Tues, BBC2, 9pm), a feature length play about the 1961 trial of the notorious nazi. It stars Martin Freeman and Anthony LaPaglia as the two TV producers charged with broadcasting the court case daily to the world. It’s a shocking tale that includes haunting archive clips. Unmissable.

The other contender is Wolf Hall (Wed, BBC2, 9pm), the six-part compelling dramatisation of Hilary Mantel’s eponymous novel about the life of Thomas Cromwell, charting his rise from a humble blacksmith’s family to his appointment as King Henry VIII's chief minister. Mark Rylance stars as Cromwell, just one star among a glittering cast that includes Damian Lewis, Claire Foy, Mark Gatiss, Joanne Whalley, Jonathan Pryce and Anton Lesser. Wolf Hall is the first of Mantel’s trilogy, holding out the possibility of TV sequels. Let’s hope so. Cucumber (Thurs, C4, 9pm) marks the return of Russell T Davies exploring modern gay life for the first time since his 90s hit Queer as Folk. Like the latter, Cucumber is set in Manchester’s bustling gay community and the eight episodes centre around a pair of middle-aged men negotiating love in a milieu that worships young guys. Cucumber is part of a trilogy that includes Banana and Tofu (the three together describing the stages of men’s physical arousal). Banana follows on E4 at 10pm, looking at the younger characters in the story and you can watch Tofu on 4OD.

Sit down, brew yourself a cuppa and tune in to The Tea Trail with Simon Reeves (Sun, BBC2, 6pm). Reeves explores some of the facts behind the teabags, including where most of our leaves come from and how they are traded. The colonial legacy runs high in tea production, but it’s also an industry reliant on child labour. First shown a year ago but well worth catching again. Winterwatch (Mon-Thurs, BBC2, 9pm) runs nightly this week, with Chris Packham and his regular team broadcasting live from the Highlands and following what happens to grouse, eagles and otters in the coldest months.

The life and times of child prodigy Wolfgang Amadeus are explored in The Joy of Mozart (Sun, BBC4, 9pm). Tom Service goes behind the saccharine tourism in Salzburg, which exploits the composer’s mythology, visiting the key locations in which he lived and worked, looking at how the young boy was feted as an infant phenomenon around Europe's most glittering courts, and his golden decade in Vienna in which he scored innumerable masterpieces before his untimely death at 35. Contributors include Sir John Eliot Gardiner, Nicola Benedetti and Paul Morley.

Comic Greg Davies’ acclaimed live show, a sellout everywhere and a critics’ choice, has arrived on the small screen. Greg Davies - The Back of My Mum's Head (Sat, C4, 11.15pm) sees him scrutinise everyone to test how normal they are, after his mother said he wasn’t. An extremely funny and sharp observation on what passes for normal in society. Up the Women (Wed, BBC2, 10.05pm) returns for a much-deserved second series. Written by and starring Jessica Hynes and set in 1910, it’s a gentle poke at early feminism and the suffragettes as see through the eyes of a ladies’ crafts group in Oxfordshire.

We’re well into the gong season now, with The National Television Awards – Live! (Wed, ITV, 7.30pm) kicking off the UK small-screen prize-giving bashes. This is the public’s choices for awards and among the contenders are Benedict Cumberbatch versus Dame Maggie Smith for Best Drama Performance, Simon Cowell goes head to head with Mary Berry for Best TV Judge, and Game of Thrones competes with Geordie Shore in the Multichannel Award. Dermot O’Leary is MC at London’s O2 Arena.

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US Box Office Report

Posted by Stuart OConnor | Mon, 12/01/2015 - 09:43

The top is Taken 3 as Liam Neeson punches past Martin Luther King flick Selma

By Rich Matthews

While big Liam Neeson's threequel Taken 3 didn't quite match Taken 2 punch-for-punch at the US box office this weekend, it did almost match last year's record $41m January opening for Kevin Hart's Ride Along.

The Luc Besson-produced revenge actioner also performed well internationally, posting an early worldwide gross of $91.8m – considering it only cost $48m to make, Fox must be more than happy with the Olivier Megaton-directed picture's performance. It's certainly on course to get close to its predecessor's respective grosses of $145m ($226.8m global) and $139.9m ($376.1m).

Some distance behind (and a closer reflection of the usual New Year receipts) Paramount's Ava DuVernay-directed Selma, starring Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes' and The Butler's David Oyelowo as Martin Luther King Jr, expanded to across the US to land at second with $11.2m and a domestic tally of $13.5m, which may boost its Oscar visibility for Academy voters. Third, fourth and fifth were occupied by the kings (and queens) of Christmas – albeit in a shuffled order – with Disney's Sondheim song'n'dancer Into The Woods singing up a further $9.8m ($105.3m US, $120.6m worldwide), followed closely by Peter Jackson's Middle-earth swansong The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Fives Armies with $9.4m, taking it's homegrown total to $236.5m, which is nearly $30m off An Unexpected Journey at the same point and marginally ahead of The Desolation Of Smaug. With its opening in China (the second biggest film market in the world) just around the corner, it looks like to substantially add it is global gross of $781.8m and is likely to gross the $1bn mark by the end of its run.

Angelina Jolie's surprise world war survivor hit Unbroken took $8.4m to swell its domestic coffers to $101.6m and $115.6m worldwide. Also cracking the code to coin, Benedict Cumberbatch's turn as Alan Turing, The Imitation Game, puzzled out another $7.6m ($40.8m, $71.9m), while Ben Stiller and Shawn Levy's Night At The Museum: Secret Of The Tomb bagged seventh ($6.7m, $99.5m, $246.8m). Musical remake Annie ($4.9m, $79.4m, $98.8m) was eighth, with the non-Daniel Radcliffe-starring The Woman In Black 2: Angel Of Death ($4.8m, $22.3m) held at ninth, just managing to see off The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 ($3.8m, $329.5m, $701.1m), which is now clocking in at $50m behind the original and a mammoth $85m behind Catching Fire. It has past The Hunger Games' $691m worldwide total but it won't get close to the sequel's $864.9m, but should pass Guardians Of The Galaxy's $333m domestic total to become the biggest 2014 release in the US this year. Expect the final part of the closing story, Mockingjay Part 2, to restore sequel order to Panem.

A seeming new year loser is Paul Thomas Anderson's Inherent Vice, which expanded (still only to 645 theatres) but couldn't crack the top 10. Next weekend sees Michael Mann put Chris Hemsworth in a Blackhat, Paddington shows some bear-faced fun and Kevin Hart gets back in the game in The Wedding Ringer.

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US Box Office Report

Posted by Stuart OConnor | Mon, 05/01/2015 - 09:02

Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies holds strong but Woman in Black 2 surprises

By Rich Matthews

2014's US domestic box office may have ended up down 5 per cent on 2013 – and hit the lowest attendance levels in 20 years – but the first weekend of 2015 was actually up 8 per cent on the same frame as last year.

It was the summer that truly let down the final total, with the autumn and winter actually bringing that drop up a few notches, and it looks likely that summer 2015 will perform significantly better, with Disney's The Avengers: Age Of Ultron expected to outgross the first Avengers' $1.5bn (the size of hit that this summer lacked in the US), plus Pixar's first movie in two years, Inside Out. With the year set to round out with The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2, a second Pixar in The Good Dinosaur and Star Wars: The Force Awakens, 2015 could well bounce back significantly.

Peter Jackson's final JRR Tolkien adaptation, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, held onto the top spot for a third week with $21.9m to take its US total to $220.8m and its worldwide tally to $678.6m. In domestic terms, that places Battle ahead of the second Hobbit film, The Desolation of Smaug, but behind the first, An Unexpected Journey, and significantly off pace of the last Lord Of The Rings film, Return Of The King (not even adjusting for inflation or attendance). So, the last Middle-earth flick is likely to land firmly between the two with about $275 domestic – whether or not it can near Journey's $714m international gross and cross the magic billion dollar mark remains to be seen, but even Smaug only missed out by a meagre $42m.

Sitting close behind Bilbo, Thorin, Gandalf, Legolas and co, were their Christmas stablemates, Disney's adaptation of the Stephen Sondheim musical Into The Woods, starring Meryl Streep, with $19.1m ($91.2m US, $97m global), and Angelina Jolie's outperforming sophomore film as director, World War 2 survival drama Unbroken with $18.4m ($87.8m, $94.6m). Then, after a little gap, Hammer Films sequel The Woman In Black 2: Angel of Death surprised everyone by scaring up $15.1m, considering the original's star, Daniel Radcliffe, was absent. While the sequel is unlikely to match the first film's $127m global gross, it should nonetheless prove a decent little money spinner. In comparison, Shawn Levy's threequel, Night At The Museum: Secret of the Tomb, is inevitably going to disappoint, with its $14.5m taking its US gross up to $89.7m and global tally to $137.5m – nearly $75m behind the first film (unadjusted for inflation) and $38m off the less-successful sequel.

Another also-ran, the update of Annie starring Cameron Diaz and Jamie Foxx, took in $11.4m to raise its home gross to $72.6m ($80.8m global), which isn't bad – until you inflation adjust the 1982 John Huston version's $57.1m to 2014 dollars... which would be $191.1m in the US alone. Benedict Cumberbatch's codebreaking biopic The Imitation Game stepped up amid Oscar buzz to gross $8.1m ($30.8m, $53m), while Katniss Everdean's aim stayed true to the tune of $7.7m to take The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 to $323.9m in the US, but that still leaves it nearly $50 behind the original Hunger Games and more than $80m behind the second entry, Catching Fire. Likewise, Mockingjay uno's worldwide tally of $695.5m is a hefty $170m off Fire's pace, but is luckily already ahead of the first film's $691m. However, expect the concluding part of the saga – and the second half of the actual Mockingjay book – to overtake Catching Fire when it opens at the close of the year, much as Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows Part 2 and The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2 also did previously. Rounding out the chart were Mark Wahlberg in low-key crime drama The Gambler ($6.3m, $27.6m US) and Disney's slow-burn global release, Big Hero 6 ($4.8m, $211.3m, $378.7m), which should continue to grow as it adds more and more international territories, including key family markets such as the UK.

Next weekend should finally see The Hobbit shaken from number one as Liam Neeson growls his way to the top spot in Taken 3. Happy new year!

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That's Showbiz with Jenny

Posted by Jenny Priestley | Sun, 04/01/2015 - 13:15

By Jenny Priestley

★ The Interview has been included in the shortlist for Worst Film at the Golden Raspberry - or Razzie - Awards. Stars James Franco and Seth Rogen are also under consideration for Worst Screen Combination. Other films on the short list for Worst Film include Sex Tape, A Million Ways to Die in the West and Transcendence. The nominees for the annual awards will be announced on January 14.

Lots of big awards season events happening in the coming week. On Friday the nominees for the British Academy Film Awards (or BAFTA's) will be announced at 7.35am. Then next Sunday (or January 11) is the Golden Globes hosted by Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. So lots to get exited about!

★ Bill Murray has recorded a new version of The Bear Necessities for the new adaptation of the Jungle Book. He's voicing Baloo the Bear in the film which is being directed by Jon Favreau. Other stars voicing characters in the film include Idris Elba, Lupita N'yongo, Scarlett Johansson and Ben Kingsley. The film is due to be released in October.

★ Sylvester Stallone will spend 2015 reprising his two most iconic roles. He's about to play Rocky once again in the new film Creed. Rocky will be the trainer to an up-and-coming boxer play by Michael B Jordan. Ryan Coogler directs. Then later this year Stallone will play Rambo once again in Rambo: Last Blood. He last played the character seven years ago with the film making $113 million globally.

The Frozen phenomenon shows no signs of abating. The Dominion Theatre in London will be hosting a series of sing-along screenings of the Oscar-winning film during half term (February 18 to 28). Screenings will take place twice daily with three on Saturday. Tickets are on sale now.

This year's London Film and Comic Con will include a Back To The Future reunion, with Christopher Lloyd and Lea Thompson confirmed to attend. Other talent confirmed for the event, which takes place July 17-19, include Charles Dance, Sylvester McCoy, Robert Englund and John Ratzenberger.

★ Barkhad Abdi, who was Oscar-nominated for his performance in Captain Phillips, is joining the cast of Hawaii Five-0. Abdi will play Roko Contee, a Congolese warlord who, at one time, was the most wanted man in the world. The character will appear in the 15th episode of the show's current season. 

A new stage show based on Shaun of the Dead will tour the South West later this year. The show has already had an endorsement from Simon Pegg. It was put together after Gloucestershire-based Almost Legal Productions secured the stage rights to the 2004 zombie rom-com. The 110-minute show involves lots of audience participation, audience members are given a "goodie bag" of props so they can take part and are encouraged to dress as zombies or other characters from the movie. The tour begins in Stroud on April 10.

★ Ethan Hawke will be the latest star to have his hand and footprints immortalised in cement on Thursday. He'll be taking part in the ceremony outside Grauman's Chinese Theatre at 10am.

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Small-Screen Jabber 3-9 January

Posted by Louise Bolotin | Sat, 03/01/2015 - 09:00

By Louise Bolotin

The scriptwriters were on to a good thing when they moved DCS Christopher Foyle from wartime Hastings to post-war MI5. The new series of Foyle’s War (Sun, ITV, 8pm), the second of this new era, is sharp as ever – the war is never too far behind, as Foyle hunts down a couple of ex-Nazis after the body of a Nuremberg trials translator turns up. It’s back and it’s the drama of the week: 2013’s Broadchurch (Mon, ITV, 9pm) was grown-up, clever without being knowing and suspenseful – a riveting masterpiece. David Tennant and Olivia Colman (left) return as detectives Hardy and Miller, as do many of the rest of the cast. No previews were available but hints and teasers suggest that the close-knit seaside community is still rent asunder by the murder of young Danny Latimer, while Hardy is haunted by an old case.

Two of the elements – fire and water – are explored this week. In Kate Humble: Into the Volcano (Sun, BBC2, 8pm) the presenter joins a team of vulcanologists on the Pacific archipelago of Vanuatu – Yasur is in a constant state of eruption but also due to blow spectacularly. Their dangerous mission is to collect a lava bomb as it is flung from the roiling crater of the volcano – analysis could predict when the big explosion is coming. Walking the Nile (Sun, C4, 9pm) is more sedate. British explorer Levison Wood walks the entire length of the Nile – all 7,000km of it, over nine months. Apart from the camera crew, it’s mostly just Wood and a guide – no chatty travelogue or touristic porn, just a close-up exploration of what you sense is the true Africa. Gritty and beautiful.  

BBC2’s super-rich season has some eye-watering documentaries. The capital’s oligarchs are examined in Rich, Russian and Living in London (Mon, BBC2, 9pm). These super-rich émigrés are pushing up property prices, by buying vast mansions in cash, and inserting themselves into the upper classes by way of private schools, polo and country shoots. It’s an absorbing and at times nauseating depiction of the increasing polarisation of London and some of those driving it. In The Super-Rich and Us (Thurs, BBC2, 9pm), Jacques Peretti’s two-parter investigates how Britain is becoming more unequal than ever as our glut of billionaires are making property unaffordable for ordinary people and turning us into a nation of renters. Peretti takes a hatchet to trickle-down theory and successive governments’ policy of enticing the wealthy to the UK.

The world of LARPing (live action role play) is one that mostly focuses on battle re-enactments and can attract hardcore obsessives who get anoraky over stuff like costume detail. Weekend Warriors (Wed, Yesterday, 9pm) meets the people whose idea of fun is recreating English Civil War battles in muddy fields. It’s a strange world to the uninitiated, often unintentionally hilarious.

Jim Steinman’s Bat Out of Hell album propelled Meat Loaf to superstardom in the 80s but Loaf’s route to the top was a catalogue of epic disasters - childhood domestic violence, rejection, bankruptcy, health scares and bust-ups. Meat Loaf: In and Out of Hell (Fri, BBC4, 9pm) is a very candid portrait of the artist in which he discusses his inspirations, passions and struggles. There are interviews with those who’ve worked with him, close friends and critics, plus the obligatory backstage footage, archive clips and more.

Famous for his portraits of buxom naked women, Baroque artist Peter Paul Rubens is profiled in Rubens: an Extra Large Story (Sat, BBC2, 8pm). His eye for the voluptuous has been both praised and vilified – detractors included Lord Byron and William Blake. Art critic Waldemar Januszczak aims to rehabilitate Rubens’ standing, arguing that he has been a victim of changing tastes and that his place among the Masters is truly deserved. The museum at the Winter Palace in St Petersburg is a vast treasure trove of more than three million artefacts. Hermitage Revealed (Sun, BBC4, 9pm) only scratches the surface of its delights, which survived the Russian Revolution and World War Two by being removed and hidden, then returned years later. Not many people know this but Frances de la Tour, Miss Jones in 70s sitcom Rising Damp, was once lined up to play the seventh Doctor Who (the role went to Sylvester McCoy). Mark Lawson Talks to Frances de la Tour (Wed, BBC4, 10.50pm) about her lengthy and distinguished acting career in an entertaining interview – she trained with the Royal Shakespeare Company in the 1960s, has worked with all our finest playwrights and played Madame Maxine in the Harry Potter films.

Bill Bailey is on a par with Eddie Izzard for surreal flights of fantasy, although edgier in many ways. Recorded at the Hammersmith Apollo on his 2013 tour, Bill Bailey’s Qualmpeddler (Sat, C4, 10.50pm) is a delight – a blend of riffed monologues and clever musical takes – his reggae version of the Downton Abbey theme, toasting types of cutlery, is the  highlight. Izzard’s own tour of 2013-14, Eddie Izzard: Force Majeure (Sat, Dave, 10pm), is also entertaining but his respinning of his regular themes (God, history and celebrities) is started to look a little tired round the edges. Judge for yourself. Steve Delaney’s Count Arthur Strong (Mon, BBC1, 10.35pm) was a deserved hit last year after transferring from radio to TV. Delaney stars in the title role as the jaded and deluded former variety star and in the opening episode is trying to peddle a racy and racist self-penned novel.

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Stuart O'Connor's Top 10 Films of 2014

Posted by Stuart OConnor | Wed, 31/12/2014 - 17:28

By Stuart O'Connor

Film is subjective, and so are these Top 10 lists that pop up about this time each year. And it is fair to say that 2014 was a very good year for cinema – my favourites list easily outweighs my "hated" list. The following may not be the BEST films of the year just gone, but among the ones I actually got to see, they were the ones that I enjoyed the most. As usual, they are listed in no particular order (although the top one may well be my favourite of the lot).

As I described it upon leaving the screening, Boyhood is probably the most extraordinary film ever made about the ordinary. Filmed over 12 years by Richard Linklater and his cast, it does nothing more than tell the story of a young boy growing up and going off to college. It's a story of life – the ordinary, day-to-day business of living that we all deal with in our own lives. Boyhood is stunning and exquisite.

The LEGO Movie
The LEGO Movie is that rare beast: a virtually perfect film. It speaks to the child in all of us, yet is full of sly satire and sharp digs at corporate branding that adults will embrace. It's very smart, incredibly funny and a true delight for all ages. And you didn't walk out of the cinema singing Everything Is Awesome, then your heart must be made of plastic.

Another stellar achievement from the brilliant Christopher Nolan – a big, bold and compelling film that tries to do something new and original with a huge concept and an interesting interpretation of the nature of humanity, time, space ... and love.

Begin Again
Begin Again is a right little charmer of a film, one that sneaks up on you and takes you firmly by the ears (the soundtrack is amazing, with several songs that are guaranteed to become earworms). It's an ode to the romance of song and the restorative power of music. It may seem to be a fairly convetional musical romantic comedy, but writer-director John Carney does not do conventional, and the film does not take some of the turns that you would expect. Begin again is a real uplifting experience, a film that hits all the right notes.

Right from the opening black-and-white newsreel footage of an English explorer bravely traipsing through darkest Peru to a climactic rooftop confrontation, Paddington is chock-full of big belly-laughs. It's also sweet, beautiful, beguiling, genuinely touching and utterly charming, full of innocence and with a massive heart at its core. Paddington is easily one of the best family films to grace the big screen in the past decade, and very possibly the best British film of 2014.

How To Train Your Dragon 2
A truly exceptional sequel, How To Train Your Dragon 2 is loads of fun and often very funny, but it doesn't forget to also include some powerful messages about love, family and leadership. It's a film that manages to be big and exciting when it needs to be, but it doesn't forget about the quiet moments too.

The Guest
Downton Abbey posh-boy Dan Stevens is perfect as the clean-cut, all-American soldier with a secret. A deadly secret. The Guest is a smart, gruesome and very funny film from the same guys who gave us the brilliant You're Next in 2013. It's a clever throwback to the Carpenter films of the 1980s, a trashy exploitation flick with a wide streak of black comedy.

The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Grand Budapest Hotel is a glorious piece of eye candy, full of whimsy and wonder – and a surprising amount of emotion. It's a film that will stay with you long after you wattch it, and one that you will want to see again. It's a lovely, wonderful confection – a clever caper film, and a fantastic farce to boot. But most of all, it's a stunning comic performance from Ralph Fiennes that holds it all together.

What We Do in the Shadows
This mockumentary about a group of vampires who share a house in modern-day Wellington, New Zealand, is an absolute hoot. What We Do In The Shadows is solidly packed with all manner of clever jokes, smart puns, visual gags and slapstick. The beauty is that we are laughing along as the entire cast plays it completely straight – there is not a camp performance from anyone. And it cleverly mocks the horror conventions of vampires, werewolves, zombies and witches while being full conversant with said conventions and knowing how they work.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
This is a very smart, tense, engaging and exciting sequel to 2011's surprising Rise of the Planet of the Apes. A clever story combined with amazing motion-capture technology delivers an exciting and intelligent blockbuster. And isn't it about time the amazing Andy Serkis won an Oscar?

HONOURABLE MENTIONS: Guardians of the Galaxy, Under the Skin, Gone Girl, The Raid 2, Edge of Tomorrow, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, The Babadook, X-Men: Days of Future Past, Only Lovers Left Alive, Tracks, The Wolf of Wall Street, American Hustle, 22 Jump Street, Blue Ruin, Starred Up, Locke, The 100 Year-Old-Man Who Climbed Out The Window And Disappeared, The Boxtrolls, Cold In July, Penguins of Madagascar, '71, Fruitvale Station, The Rover, The Drop, Mystery Road, Cheap Thrills, Birddman, The Theory of Everything, Lucy, The Skeleton Twins, Mr Turner, The Wind Rises, Maleficent, Get Santa, Dead Snow 2: Red vs Dead, What If, Life After Beth, 12 Years A Slave.

DISHONOURABLE MENTIONS (the disappointments of 2014): Blended, Noah, A New York Winter's Tale, Need For Speed, Tammy, Ride Along, Before I Go to Sleep, The Amazing Spider-Man 2, The Inbetweeners 2, Zombeavers.

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Doug Cooper's Top 10 Films of 2014

Posted by Stuart OConnor | Tue, 30/12/2014 - 20:33

By Doug Cooper

The Theory of Everything
Exquisitely done drama telling of the relationship between physicist Stephen Hawking and his first wife, Jane, that boasts knockout turns from Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones. It's a beauty.

Jake Gyllenhaal gives a terrific performance as the disturbed videographer Lou Bloom, crazed journalist of the digital age, in Dan Gilroy's riveting drama.

A gloriously enjoyable wallow in the life of a former superhero icon turned dissolute broadway actor/director. It's bitchy, biting and barnstorming with fun flights of fancy and a marvellous Michael Keaton well deserving of an Oscar.

Fruitvale Station
Absorbing true-life tale that sends one out of the cinema enraged with the injustice of the subject matter, the shooting death of 22-year-old Oscar Grant by Californian police. It confidently builds to a shattering conclusion.

Gone Girl
Rosamund Pike's turn here as the troubled wife of Ben Affleck is a career best for the actress, in David Fincher's dark and smartly engrossing version of Gillian Flynn's bestseller.

This one really divided opinion – part CGI fantasy adventure, part old school biblical tale. Darren Aronofsky's audacious reimagining is an absorbing and wholly satisfying effort well worth seeing.

The Riot Club
Consistently involving look at reprehensible posh university toffs indulging in a drunken and drug-fuelled display of bacchanalian carnage, classily performed by a fine cast of young Brits.

Who would've thought that a movie consisting of little more than Tom Hardy driving along the motorway at night could be so gripping? His superb performance, ably assisted by voice actors on his mobile phone, provides the answer.

The Wolf of Wall Street
The great Leonardo DiCaprio is wonderful as arch hedonist Jordan Belfort and Martin Scorsese brings real verve to his telling of the stockbroker's decadent lifestyle. Overlong but done with engaging in-your-face bravado.

Big Eyes
This is one of Tim Burton's strongest movies in years – kitschy and very entertaining – with vibrant turns from Christoph Waltz and Amy Adams as the disgraced art couple Walter and Margaret Keane. Excellent.

Most over-rated movie of the year: Boyhood
Most under-rated movie of the year: Downhill
Worst movie of the year: The Judge

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Mark Searby's Top 10 Films of 2014

Posted by Mark Searby | Mon, 29/12/2014 - 21:00

By Mark Searby

Christopher Nolan triumphs again with a blockbuster that had everything I wanted: action, emotion, space and engaging characters that actually get real dialogue. Its intelligent film making and Nolan is the only A-list director currently plying that trade in the movie world. It’s also his most beautiful looking film since Insomnia, thanks to his new cinematographer, Hoyte Van Hoytema. Interstellar will get better with each watch, and I for one cannot wait to see it again... and again... and again...

A trip through the formative years of a boy shouldn’t be interesting, but Richard Linklater’s ambitious movie is utterly spellbinding. It’s tender, caring, emotional and packed with intricate moments that we can all relate to. Even after nearly three hours I still wanted to see more. This is real life and it’s wonderful.

A so-dark-its-beyond-black thriller that crawls under the skin and makes you feel uncomfortable throughout. A hot shower was needed afterwards to wash away the repugnant stench. Jake Gyllenhaal’s performance as the twisted Lou Bloom is his finest role to date. Nightcrawler made me feel sick, yet I could not take my eyes of the screen for one second. It makes for very interesting viewing in these days of 24-hour news feeds.

The Wolf Of Wall Street
An almighty explosion of sex, drugs and the stock market. Martin Scorsese directs the film is continued upward motion for each scene topping the last. Much like the drugs Jordan Belfort is on, there is no come down during this. Leonardo DiCaprio looks to be having the time of his life in a role that requires him to go gung-ho non-stop. It’s a movie that is completely off the chain in every aspect.

The Raid 2
As if The Raid wasn’t a game-changer, Gareth Evans went and upped the ante even further this year. An all-out action assault beautifully crafted in a great twisty crime plot. The full-blown fight scenes are some of the greatest of the past decade, especially the car chase. Hollywood action movies might as well fall back now as The Raid 2 just changed the game, again!

X-Men: Days Of Futures Past
An intelligent comic book movie that uses actual scientific theories for its time travel. A stellar cast that all work off each other with perfect aplomb – James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender especially. It doesn’t resort to blowing up big cities as a finale, but does have some absolutely cracking CGI action moments. The best X-Men movie by far.

Criminally unavailable in the UK (but freely available to buy in nearly every other country on the planet), this piece of film making is a class unto itself as it strips apart the echelon structure in society, yet manages to do that aboard a non-stop train. A stellar performance by Tilda Swinton, playing a Margaret Thatcher-esque character, and some excellent down and dirty work from Chris Evans. Also visually beautiful, director Joon-Ho Bong captures the crispness of the freezing outside world and the grime filled interior to play off each other. Importing this amazing piece of film-making really is the only way to see it as a UK release is looking less and less likely.

Cold In July
Much like Nightcrawler, Cold In July made me feel disgusted that I had watched it. A decent twisty-turny crime film turns into something completely different after about an hour – a nasty look at the world of revenge. Comedy relief comes from Don Johnson, but soon even that disappears and we are left with seedy pulp movie.

Gone Girl
More dramatic crime on the list this year. How to film that twist in the book was what I was wondering? Director David Fincher makes it happen and, even though I knew it was coming, it was still a huge shock. Ben Affleck is completely left behind in the acting stakes because of such an astoundingly psychotic performance from Rosamund Pike. Twisted and thrilling.

What Maisie Knew
Pushed out on DVD at the beginning of January without any fanfare, this movie really caught my emotions as it looks at a marriage fallen apart because of celebrity status. But it’s all shown through the eyes of the child caught in the centre of it all. It’s a depressingly bleak but all too real film that will sincerely tug at the heartstrings.

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Dave Watson's Best and Worst Films of 2014

Posted by Mark Searby | Mon, 29/12/2014 - 21:00

By Dave Watson

It’s generally accepted that I am, well, a bit of a prick – a hard-to-please movie snob who hates anything popular.

At a preview screening of 15 minutes of footage from the Rock’s awful Hercules movie, another critic refused to sit next to me with the words: “I can’t sit next to you Dave, you’re a cunt, you’ll suck all the joy out of this for me!”

And she was right, I would have. I radiate displeasure. But despite the overwhelming mediocrity of most of this year’s big films, for the first time in decades, I saw more films I loved than hated and any of these films could’ve made it onto this list – The Rover, Blue Ruin, The Drop, Stranger By The Lake, the still unreleased-in-the-UK Snowpiercer, The Signal, The Purge: Anarchy, Stations Of The Cross, The Machine, Cheap Thrills, The Guest, and Oculus – but below are a baker’s dozen of the films I’m glad I saw at the movies.

Silent Sonata (Circus Fantasticus)
A lyrical, surreal, near perfect work of melancholy beauty, Slovenian writer/director Janez Burger's dialogue-free magical-realist fairytale is an eloquent visually gorgeous reflection on the significance of art and its power to transform our lives.

Starred Up
It’s been quite a year for Skins graduate Jack O’Connell: starring in Yann Demange’s Troubles-set thriller ’71, giving the Spartans a run for their money in cartoonish swords-and-sandals epic 300: Rise Of An Empire, and being handpicked by Angelina Jolie to carry her WW2 tale of endurance Unbroken. But as he struts defiantly into prison in the opening scene of David Mackenzie’s Starred Up, members of the audience are in no doubt that they’re watching the future of British cinema.

Nymphomaniac Volume 1 & 2
There’s plenty of tit but very little titillation in Lars von Trier’s darkly funny, subversive, erotic odyssey, a cheeky, intelligent, deliberate provocation from an artist at the top of his game and a refreshingly adult film in a cinematic landscape choked with children’s superhero films.

How well can we ever know the ones we love? Modern horror is rarely as intimate as newlywed Harry Treadaway coming to suspect there’s something very, very wrong with his new bride, the phenomenal Rose Leslie, in writer/director Leigh Janiak’s slow-burning, creepy little nightmare Honeymoon.

Goodbye To Language 3D
It’s a fine line between genius and bollocks and, at 83, French cinema’s oldest enfant terrible Jean-Luc Godard is still skipping merrily along it with the playfully subversive, eye-boggling Goodbye To Language.

Under The Skin
Dark, hypnotic and squalidly beautiful, Jonathan Glazer’s tale of Scarlett Johansson’s sexy alien predator adrift in Glasgow, Under The Skin, is unique in today’s cinema – a head-scratching poetic riddle willing to dazzle and disappoint audiences in equal measure.

Edge Of Tomorrow
It’s Groundhog D-Day as a quirk of fate condemns Tom Cruise’s cowardly army spin doctor to relive the same fateful day again and again, fighting, dying and being reborn, trapped in a closed loop of time as he struggles to save the world from an alien invasion in the only intelligent, funny and exciting blockbuster of the summer (that’s right, screw Guardians Of The Galaxy and Yawn Of The Planet Of The Apes): Doug Liman’s Edge Of Tomorrow.

Cold In July
Starts out dark and just gets murkier as Stake Land director Jim Mickle serves up a morally complex, gritty, atmospheric thriller punctuated by sudden, percussive, almost matter-of-fact bursts of violence that’s not afraid to go to a really unexpected, dark and nasty place right out of the grindhouse with great performances from Michael C Hall and the iconic Sam Shepard and the joy of watching Don Johnson, DON FREAKING JOHNSON, steal the film right from under them as a sleazy, pig-farming, rhinestone cowboy private eye.

A heartfelt coming-of-age drama and the year’s most chilling, and most ordinary, horror film, writer/director Lucía Puenzo’s (XXY, The Fish Child) Wakolda is a quietly terrifying portrait of the creeping, insidious nature of evil as a young, underdeveloped Argentine girl bonds with the silkily seductive German doctor staying at her family’s hotel in a small resort town high in the Patagonian mountains. It’s 1960, the town is full of convalescing Nazi war criminals and the doctor’s name is Mengele…

Mystery Road
Both a tense, sweaty, murder mystery and a fascinating study of the institutionalised racism and bigotry that lies at the heart of Australian society, Ivan Sen’s neo-noir trades on the iconography of the American West as Aboriginal detective Aaron Pedersen finds himself caught between the white community who are openly contemptuous of him and ostracised by the Aboriginal community as he uncovers a sinister underworld of rural meth labs, police corruption, racism and casual murder while investigating the killing of a local prostitute.

It’s almost impossible to review James Ward Byrkit’s low budget, slow-burning, cerebral headscratcher Coherence without offering spoilers so all I’ll say is that it’s like an episode of The Twilight Zone directed by Bunuel as a mismatched bunch of successful, middle class, middle aged creative types meet for dinner and find reality spiraling out of control as the Earth passes through the tail of a mysterious comet. Subtle and low-key, Coherence may not always be coherent but it’s an unnerving little mindbender that crawls under your skin.

In Order Of Disappearance
Imagine Death Wish crossed with Yojimbo with Homer Simpson’s Mr Plow in place of the taciturn samurai and you’re within a snowball’s toss of Hans Petter Moland’s blackly funny revenge thriller In Order Of Disappearance which sees vengeful father and local Citizen Of The Year of his small snowbound town, Stellan Skarsgard, spark a brutal gang war and a spiral of tit-for-tat killings as he takes out the gangsters who murdered his son. Spiritually closer to the anarchic spirit of Jo Nesbo’s Headhunters and Jackpot than po-faced Nordic Noir, In Order Of Disappearance is a joy.

“We used to look up at the sky and wonder at our place in the stars… Now we just look down and worry about our place in the dirt.” We may spend the first third or so of Interstellar contemplating the dirt as an eco apocalypse blights the Earth, but for Christopher Nolan the stars are our destination in an intimately epic space opera that’s as much about the problems of absentee fathers working away from home as it is saving the world.

And the rest…

It would be wrong to call these films The Worst Of The Year – none of them are as inept as Scar Tissue, as awful as No Good Deed, as laughably offensive as Sabotage – but each and every one of them is a banal, idiotic triumph of mediocrity.

The Guardians Of The Galaxy
Yup, I’m gonna go there coz no one else will, I’m calling bullshit on The Guardians Of The Galaxy! Despite my healthy 40-year-old adult’s aversion to children’s superhero films, I actually was looking forward to this one. The trailers looked fun, it had a rodent firing a machine gun and Karen Gillan as a sleek, sexy and bald, evil alien assassin. But every idea it stole from the likes of Star Wars, Serenity, Indiana Jones et al, just reminded me how good those films were and how much I’d rather be watching them. By the film’s unnoticeable climax I realised that I’d rather be watching the Roger Corman-produced Battle Beyond The Stars. And as soon as the film finished, I went home and did just that and had a much better time. And I’m sorry all you geeky fanboys and girls, to me Star Lord will always be the douchebag buddy James McAvoy lamps with a keyboard in Wanted.

Self-indulgent misogyny for hipsters who’ve rubbed one out over Siri.

I’m not sure how you manage to make a beautiful young naked girl wandering the streets of Paris in only hooker high heels while bleeding from her torn, ravaged vagina not just boring but unsympathetic but somehow Claire Denis has managed it.

12 Years A Slave
Two-plus hours of very pretty, photogenic misery porn precision tooled to engender hand wringing and guilt in what will probably be it’s predominately white middle class audience, a better title than 12 Years A Slave may have been Terrence Malick’s Roots. Except Roots was good.

The Zero Theorem
Anyone still wondering why Terry Gilliam finds it so hard to get films made need look no further than the stillborn The Zero Theorem. Gilliam films just aren’t very good.

The Raid 2: Berandal
Bigger, bloodier and more brutal than the first film, The Raid 2 is also pretty boring, aimed squarely at fanboy geeks who want nothing more than the next "cool" fight scene. And NO chop-socky film needs to be TWO-AND-A-HALF HOURS LONG!

Self-consciously kookier than Zooey Deschanel tap dancing down a flight of stairs while playing Smells Like Teen Spirit on the ukulele, Frank is wank.

Not even as good as the ‘80s TV ad for Chewits where a city-trashing monster is distracted by a lorry-load of sweeties.

Possibly the most universally fellated, vastly over-rated film in living memory, everyone loves Boyhood. Everyone but me. Richard Linklater points a camera at an uncharismatic kid who can’t act and films him a couple days a year, every year, for 12 years AND NOTHING HAPPENS! The cinematic equivalent of a YouTube montage where someone takes a daily photo of themselves, there’s no story to speak off, the kid never learns to act and God, time has not been kind to Ethan Hawke! These days, he looks like Dorian Gray’s picture. It’s not even a fresh idea, Michael Winterbottom having gotten there first with 2012’s far more effective Everyday. If you really want to watch bad actors age before your eyes, just watch the Harry Potter movies in a marathon over a weekend. At least over the decade it took to make them, the kids learned to act.

Sin City 2: A Dame To Kill For
A repellently nasty, sleazy exercise in misogyny, Sin City 2: A Dame To Kill For is simply vile. The seconds you have spent reading this are more than the steaming pile of woman-hating excrement deserves.

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Screenjabber Pubcast Finale: It was a very good year

Posted by Stuart OConnor | Mon, 29/12/2014 - 19:01

Join Andrew Jones, Christa Ktorides, Doug Cooper, Mark Searby and host Stuart O'Connor down the pub for a look back at 2014. From Boyhood, Guardians of The Galaxy and Gone Girl to The LEGO Movie, Interstellar and Paddington, it was a very good year for cinema.

You can listen to and download the podcast – or subscribe to it on iTunes ... plus you can follow us on Twitter and join us on Facebook.

PubQuest: We're looking to take the Screenjabber Pubcast on the road, and want your input. Know a great pub in London we should visit to record the show? Drop us a line and let us know.

WriterQuest: We're seeking some more writers, particularly those who want to cover video games for us. Please get in touch if you're keen.

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