If proof was ever needed that the opinions of critics aren’t the be all and end all when it comes to a film’s success, one need only look at last weekend’s big winner Nativity 2 : Danger in the Manger.

Much maligned by critics and savaged pretty much across the board, few (this humble writer included) gave it much notice and assumed it would struggle being released the same weekend as star-studded fair such as Silver Linings Playbook, End of Watch and Gambit.

Oh how little we know. Taking in an impressive £1.6 million in its opening weekend, Nativity 2 sits comfortably in third place in the Box Office Chart, making more than End of Watch and Gambit combined. With its broad family appeal and timely release date falling just when many folks are beginning to enter into the festive spirit, it looks set to dwarf the £5million total of its predecessor.  However the release of Dreamworks’ Rise of the Guardians this weekend may see a fairly sharp drop off in takings as the family audience begins to look elsewhere.

Of the aforementioned major Hollywood releases of last weekend, Silver Linings Playbook had the strongest opening, taking in around £1.2 million thanks to some thoroughly deserved positive word of mouth. I saw Silver Linings Playbook myself earlier in the week it was one of the most pleasant surprises of the year so far. Truth be told I didn’t have especially high hopes going into the screening but I was soon completely won over. Funny and heartfelt and never excessively schmaltzy or sappy, it had great performances all round but special praise must go to Jennifer Lawrence who was truly exceptional. It was also good to see De Niro actually putting in a good performance after phoning it in for the past fifteen years or so.

End of Watch also had a decent opening, taking in around £600,000 which isn’t bad for a relatively low-fi crime drama. I went to see this as well a few days ago and was really impressed. It’s gritty, realistic and powerful and has two great central performances from Pena and Gyllenhaal whose easy chemistry was undoubtedly a massive plus point. William Freidkin may have over-sold it slightly by suggesting it was the greatest cop movie ever, but it was certainly one of the most gripping and tense offerings we’ve seen in quite some time.

Unsurprisingly given its terrible reviews (the majority of the time, this does have some impact …..Damn you Nativity 2) and fairly limited appeal, Gambit had a pretty disappointing opening, taking in about the same as End of Watch but showing at around a hundred more screens. The film seems to have been hindered by its own lacklustre marketing and the fact that it doesn’t seem to be designed to appeal to anyone in particular. By loosely painting itself as a broad catch-all comedy, it in effect ensured it would struggle to find a niche at the box office and it’s opening takings suffered as a result. Expect Gambit to plummet out of the top ten for next week.

In other news, Skyfall remains in second spot and is now at the £89million marker (watch out Avatar, Bond is coming for you) and Twilight remains at the top of the pile despite a 66% drop off from the previous week. With a few fairly big releases out this weekend, it may be that Twilight starts sliding down the pecking order soon, though it may have just enough juice to hold out for another week.

This week’s big release is Dreamworks’ latest animated offering Rise of the Guardians. A big budget animated family comedy with Santa in a starring role is always going to play pretty well around this time of year and the studio will be hoping for some fairly hefty returns.

Also out this week is Mike Newell’s take on Great Expectations, cop thriller Alex Cross and black British comedy Sightseers.

If you want to check to see if any of these films are playing near you, you can visit Find Any Film and they’ll be able to help.


Rise of the Guardians

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With this 3D animated adventure expected to prove a fairly hefty smash at the box office just a few months after Madagascar 3 proved a to be a mega hit, it’s certainly shaping up to be a profitable year for Dreamworks Animation studios. Rise of the Guardians is loosely based on William Joyce’s The Guardians of Childhood series of books and sees the titular guardians, Santa (aka North), Tooth Fairy, Sandman and The Easter Bunny (aka Bunnymund), recruiting Jack Frost to their stable in order to help them in the fight against the villainous Pitch, an evil boogeyman hellbent on plunging the world into darkness.

It’s got a star-studded voice cast with Alec Baldwin, Ilsa Fisher, Hugh Jackman, Chris Pine and Jude Law all involved, and comes out at the ideal time to capture cinema going families with kids in tow who are after a dose of festive entertainment (though truth be told, despite the presence of Santa, it’s not really a Christmas film at all). Dreamworks Animation has hit a fairly rich vein of form of late with How To Train Your Dragon, Shrek Forever After, Megamind, Kung Fu Panda 2 and Puss in Boots all fairing pretty well with critics and audiences alike. There certainly seems no reason to doubt Guardians won’t continue that trend with  a host of positive reviews suggesting it should carry on the studio’s winning streak.

The animation itself has been highly praised for its intricate detail and eye-catching colour, and while primarily aimed at the kiddy market, there’s enough with in there for big kids to enjoy it too. Few reviews are absolutely raving about Guardians, it seems to be a steady 3-star type of film, but if you go in expecting an enjoyable and frenetic fantasy romp, you can’t go far wrong.

Joe Cunningham says:

Rise of the Guardians is certainly the most visually impressive animated flick of the year, if not the best full stop.

You can read Joe’s full review here.

Rotten Tomatoes Rating : 76%


Alex Cross

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Based on the character created by novelist James Patterson and previously portrayed by Morgan Freeman in Kiss the Girls and Along Came the Spider, the titular Dr Alex Cross is a deadly mix of  inquisitive psychologist and determined cop. It would appear from the trailer that compared to Cross’ previous outings, the action-anti has been well and truly upped.  With Alex being reinvented as a no-nonsense action hero,  the Studio made the glaringly obvious casting choice that we were all thinking of anyway, that’s right, cross-dressing light entertainment specialist Tyler Perry.

Perry’s Cross is brought in on the case of a psychotic serial killer called Picasso (Matthew Fox) a sadistic and brutal former special forces operative who has thus far alluded the police. The two are soon engaged in a tense cat and mouse chase as Picasso makes the case personal and involves Cross’ family.

The official blurb ensures us that:

“Cross is pushed to the edge of his moral and psychological limits in this taut and exciting action thriller.”

Funnily enough I haven’t yet seen any reviews which back up this assertion. In fact, most reviews seem to be in agreement that it’s a dull, poorly made and wholly un-exciting waste of everybody’s time. Everything from the predictable story, the clunky script and the shoddy and often unclear action sequences come in for some fairly serious stick. Perry and Fox’s performances are perhaps spared the worst of the critical lashing but even they are seen as being mediocre at best with many pointing out that Tyler Perry is not especially convincing as an action star. Who’d have thought it? All in all, one to avoid.

Rotten Tomatoes Rating : 13% – that’ll make Alex cross.


Great Expectations

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There have been plenty of adaptations of Charles Dickens’ seminal novel down the years, all of which sit in the considerable shadow of David Lean’s 1946 masterpiece. As if this latest stab at bringing Dickens’ story to life didn’t face enough of a challenge to stand out from the crowd, it also comes just a year after an extremely well received mini-series appeared on the BBC. Despite this stiff competition, director Mike Newell doesn’t try to offer any postmodern tricks or any sort of fresh take on the source material, his is a straight up and faithful adaptation with no apparent frills. The consensus appears to be that while nothing extraordinary or especially revolutionary, it’s a perfectly functional and watchable by-the-book take on the story.

Everything looks as it should, windswept and moody or lavish and grand when required, and the cast all do solid work with Ralph Fiennes’ Magwitch and Helena Bonham Carter’s Miss Havisham both as entertaining as you’d expect with both actors giving it full-thesp. It’s perhaps a bit generic for anyone who had their fill of Great Expectations with the BBC series, but for Dickens newcomers it will be an entertaining introduction to the classic tale.

You can read Lisa Giles-Keddie’s review here.

Rotten Tomatoes Rating : 71%


Sightseers *Pick of the Week*

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Written principally by stars Alice Lowe and Steve Oram and directed by Ben Wheatley, Sightseers is a deeply, deeply dark black comedy which is generating some mighty fine reviews. Wheatley’s Kill List was an outstanding piece of work, tense, disconcerting and just downright weird in places, so I for one am excited to see what he delivers next. This time round the subject matter is given a slightly lighter comic touch, but the story is nevertheless still fairly gruesome, dealing as it does with an odd couple whose relaxing caravan holiday soon takes a grisly turn for the worse.

Chris (Oram) decides that he wants to give Tina (Lowe) an insight into his world and so whisks her away on a romantic caravan holiday across the British Isles. Taking in such gems as the Crich Tramway Museum, the Ribblehead Viaduct, the Keswick Pencil Museum, the couple appear to have a quaint and peaceful holiday lined up. However, as the journey rolls on,  littering, bratty teenagers and annoying parents soon begin to grate on them both and before you know it, the trip stars accruing a body count. Sightseers appears to possess a quintessentially British style of comedy,  blending wit and humour with moments of farce and brutal violence. Reviews have been on the whole extremely positive, though while the majority of reviewers were mightily impressed, the odd one does suggest that the film runs out of steam somewhat by the third act. In general however, fans of Wheatley’s work, and fans of dark British comedies in general, can’t go far wrong.

You can read Ian Gilchrist’s review here.

Rotten Tomatoes Rating : 88%


The Hunt

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A hard-hitting Danish drama starring the excellent Mads Mikkelsen as Lucas, a recently divorced nursery school teacher who suddenly becomes a hate figure in his close knit local community after accusations of child abuse begin to rear their head. Lucas struggles to prove his innocence and as suspicions mounts he struggles to find anyone who believes him. It’s an interesting look at how the concept of ‘innocent until proven guilty’ goes out of the window when certain crimes are involved. Mikkelsen is a tremendous screen presence, best known perhaps to UK audiences as the baddie in Casino Royale, but he has also done great work in Danish pictures such as Flame and Citroen and A Royal Affair. His performance in The Hunt has received plenty of praise from the critics, much like the film in general in fact. A gripping and provocative drama, though perhaps not one for a fun festive night out at the movies.

Ezequiel Gutierrez says:

Mikkelsen is absolutely on fire in ‘The Hunt’ and it’s a true showcase of how incredibly talented he truly is.  He takes Lucas on a journey from optimistic family man to broken outcast and never misses a step.  It’s equally terrible and mesmerizing watching him go through this ordeal all the while you know he’s completely innocent……Vinterberg makes a delightfully conscious decision to keep the law out of the equation almost entirely, a decision I’m certain a lesser filmmaker would have mistakenly included. ‘The Hunt’ is not about justice or the law. Vinterberg throws out all the “big picture” clichés in favor of dealing with the story at hand. ‘The Hunt’ is an emotionally tense head butt of a film, demonstrating societies capacity to be persuaded and proving yet again why Mads Mikkelsen deserves your attention.

Rotten Tomatoes Rating : 91%

You can read Ian Gilchrist’s review here.

Trouble With the Curve

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Ok, time for me to lay my cards on the table here, I went to see this when I was in America (check me out) and didn’t know much about it at all going into the theatre. I knew it was the film which tempted Clint back to the acting game for the first time in years,and that he was playing an ageing baseball scout. That was about it.  The verdict? Complete and utter dross.  It actually annoyed me how glaringly predictable and clichéd the whole film was. I’ll finish my rant in a second, first of all a brief synopsis.

Clint stars as Gus Lobel, an ageing baseball scout who is under pressure from young upstarts who no longer trust his methods. The management at the team Gus works for are growing unsure of his abilities in the rapidly evolving world of baseball but his pal Pete (John Goodman) assures them all that he’s still the man for the job. Gus is also concealing the fact that he is suffering from rapidly deteriorating eyesight, a fact which would obviously seriously hinder his scouting abilities (so you’d think). Peter ropes in Gus’ daughter Mickey (Amy Adams), a succesful business lady who herself knows a thing or two about baseball, to join him on the road as he watches a hot new talent the big teams are all fighting over. Gus and Mickey have a fraught relationship, not helped by the former being a cantankerous old so-and-so, and they both struggle to be in each other’s company. A former draft pick of Gus’, Johnny Flanagan (Justin Timberlake), now a scout himself, soon enters proceedings and he and Mickey begin to grow close. As draft day draws close, Gus has a big call to make and is also forced to reevaluate his relationship with his daughter.

You think at first that this is going to be a film looking at the perils of ageing and the difficulties of being an octangenarian in modern baseball. However that soon takes a back seat and what follows is a pedestrian melodrama with some truly cringe-worthy plot developments. The romance between Mickey and Johnny can be telegraphed a mile off and has all the heat and passion of an episode of Last of the Summer Wine, only without the excitement. Gus and Mickey’s relationship is straight out of ‘family relationship drama 101’ and there’s an event which happens at the film’s climax which is so frustratingly cliché I genuinely let out a resounding “oh come onnnnnn” in the cinema.

I should say for the sake of balance that a lot of reviewers didn’t have as big of a problem with it as me, but even then, none of them were raving about it. If I was scrambling around for a silver lining I’d say that Eastwood is suitably cranky and does a decent job in a fairly thankless role, but really that’s about it. Adams and Timberlake are both hindered by being given such bland caricatures of characters to play. I think I was most annoyed because the talent was there and there’s the nucleus of an interesting story and it was wasted on a dull and by-the numbers snore fest that felt like a massive waste of my time and money.

As you may be able to tell…..I wouldn’t recommend it.

Joe Cunningham adds:

Trouble with the Curve on the other hand is a bit of a mess. Good performances (particularly from Amy Adams, as always) but the final act is woeful.


Rotten Tomatoes Rating 55% ….Keeling Rating….10%

You can read Joe Cunningham’s review right here.

Laurence Anyways

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Winner of the best Canadian feature film at the Toronto Film Festival this year, Laurence Anyways is an intense drama focusing on Laurence Alia, an English professor with a long-term girlfriend who stuns those closest to him by announcing he plans to become a woman. Some critics seem keener than others, our very own Jamie Neish is highly complimentary and there are plenty of others who also enjoyed this deeply dramatic love story. Several critics however have suggested it’s a bit bloated and perhaps even a little smug in parts. It would appear it’s time for the long overdue grand return of my Marmite Movie of the Week. It’ll be a thing. You’ll all see.

Jamie Neish writes:

For those willing to tackle the onslaught of ideas thrown at the screen and discover the effusive, prudent and purposeful heart at its core, Laurence Anyways is a rewarding piece of cinema busting with ideas, realism and two of the years most committed performances.

You can read Jamie Neish’s full review here.

Rotten Tomatoes Rating 68%