Red Tails (2012 dir Anthony Hemingway/ George Lucas)


Sandra’s Verdict

I was lucky enough to take my Year 7 Filmmaking Club to a special preview of Red Tails in June with leading man Cuba Gooding Junior. Cuba was on form as usual during the Q&A that followed the film and it is a pity that we do not get more dialogue from him in the actual film, instead we get lots of shots of him as Major Emanuelle Stance staring over an airfield smoking a pipe which is a great shame considering his acting potential. The more important role of Colonel Bullard is played by Terrence Howard, who lacks the charisma and worn wisdom that Cuba would have brought to the character, a poor casting judgement.

ImageWith support from George Lucas and a $58 million budget the production values in this film are excellent and the audience is utterly convinced that we are watching scenes unfold in 1940s Italy whilst watching the Tuskegee Airmen (the first African American squadron of fighter pilots) navigate through the high-definition skies as they escort the first American bombers attack over Berlin. The film covers the institutional racism endured by the pilots by the American military who saw them as a social and intellectual inferiors; but it also explores that camaraderie that was present amongst the men.

Both Neyo and British actor David Oyelowo are excellent as ‘Smokey’ and Lighting’ bringing comedy to this action film.

I enjoyed the film, not simply because it celebrated the influence and contribution of black people towards the Allied victory in WWII, but because of the charming characters depicted. I also feel that the film could benefit from tighter editing, at over 2 hours long my film kids were beginning to waver toward the end!

LUV (2012 dir Sheldon Candis)


Sandra’s Verdict

I saw LUV when The Sundance Film Festival came to London in April, partly because the film I really wanted to see was sold out and because it was starring Common; having been disappointed with his wooden performance along side Queen Latifah in 2010’s Just Wright I thought it was about time that I gave him a second chance!

According to the director, Sheldon Candis, LUV is a fable about a young boy’s admiration of his uncle, it partly deals with what Woody (Michael Rainy Jnr), the young boy, wants to see in the world rather than what is really there. As we follow Woody and his uncle Vincent (Common), who has recently come out of prison, around Baltimore for twenty-four hours it becomes clear that behind Vincent’s sharp suit and swanky car lies a desperate and tainted man.


There are some excellent African American actors in this film, Danny Glover and Dennis Haysbert make appearances as Vincent’s former gangland associates and Common is impressive too, but the real stand out performance comes from Rainy, who is utterly absorbing as 11 year old Woody.

The film is semi-biographical in that Candis’s own uncle was a notorious Baltimore drug dealer who used to drive around with a young Candis in the passenger seat to avoid being stopped by the police during drug errands. Originally called Learning Uncle Vincent, Candis decided to shorten the title to an acronym, I asked him about this after the screening and you can watch his response below.

I would definitely recommend this film, not only does it feature some excellent acting and superb cinematography but it also deals with a complicated subject which is often magnified in cinema and on television in a manner that is both original and delicate without compromising on its impact.

The Cabin in the Woods (2012 dir. Drew Godard)


Sandra’s Verdict

Okay so I’d waited for over a year to see this film, not only did it have the beautiful and very manly Jesse Williams in, from Grey’s Anatomy and Brooklyn’s Finest, but it was co-written and produced by Joss Whedon, the genius behind the TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, which I was addicted to throughout university; so, as you can imagine, I had very high expectation for this film. And post-film, having avoided all the trailers and spoiler reviews beforehand, I can say that the long wait was most definitely worth it!

According to Whedon the film was a critique of the horror genre; “I love being scared. I love that mixture of thrill, of horror, that objectification/identification thing of wanting definitely for the people to be alright but at the same time hoping they’ll go somewhere dark and face something awful. The things that I don’t like are kids acting like idiots, the devolution of the horror movie into torture porn and into a long series of sadistic comeuppances. Drew and I both felt that the pendulum had swung a little too far in that direction”  (  retrieved 17/04/12).

This desire to swing the pendulum in another direction has paid off as The Cabin in the Woods is brave and original in its ambition and the audience is kept in the loop about the layers involved in this story without spoiling the surprises. The film is aware of itself and the stereotypic aspects of the genre and while playing up to them in places manages not to take itself too seriously by subverting them with refreshing twists elsewhere.

The direction from Drew Goddard is strong and the characters are believable and likable with enough time to setting them up so that the audience roots for them while they face the delights offered up by the cabin.

This is a good escapism film, that will not bog you down with complicated back stories and spend three-quarters of its running time giving you clues with a short ten minute battle or chase sequence at the end; instead it is laden with gory treats that will trick and tease you keeping you entertained and  amused throughout.

Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (2011 dir. Nuri Bilge Ceylan)

Quite possibly the best film I’ve seen this year so far and strangely enough I’m not going to recommend it because of its length. I don’t know how many people can concentrate and enjoy a film of this length and more than a few people left the cinema within the first 20 minutes. Not a great start for the film or this review to mention this but I think if you’re the type of person who’s willing to read on and likely to brave three hours of cinema time then you’ll be well rewarded with what is one of the simplest yet divinely well made films I’ve seen in years. The director Nuri Bilge Ceylan writes and directs so well that the only other description I want to use is beautifully. I have never come across a film that used sound so well and to such an extent that entire scenes can be remembered by the noise that emanated from the screen. I am quite specific in my use of the word noise because I think the very texture of the film would be lost without this idea. There was a crispness of background noises that attuned the watcher to the very atmosphere of the film and in a way that wasn’t indulgent so that the each sound was the scene brought to life. All of this and the visual aspects in terms of lighting and colour, and to an extent the pace of the film combined in such a way that they created the essence of real smell, movement and memory of lives and stories that made the entire experience seem real.
The main story is told in 15 minute intervals where we are fed more information about the characters but not about the murder: the reason why the characters are brought together in the Anatolian countryside to find the body of the victim. Within the 15 minute intervals we get an illuminating conversation that reveals a little more about each of the characters, sometimes in funny Tarantino style dialogue and other times a more emphatic and deeper dialogue about the characters’ lives. The brilliance of this film is the real life aspect of having so many unanswered questions and our consistent search for the answers.
We’re never told the why of the murder, how the presumed murderer is captured and his interrogation and confession. We are left in an assumed state and still as the film draws to an end many of the answers to our questions remain light and almost fleeting as we don’t quite grasp the full meaning of what we see unfold. Despite this we’re not disappointed but rather like the character in the film we are instead left reflective. The men are full of personal questions and soul-searching as they move from one site to another in search of the buried victim and we bear witness to their thoughts as they’re voiced. We see the prosecutor coming to terms with the death or his wife and the doctor’s stoic yet pining for a lost love. We also witness what would seem to be the trivial parts of the police chief’s arguments with his wife and what is in fact a deeper problem of circumstance that puts him and, in their own ways all these men, in situations beyond their control and understanding. Perhaps this is what the story is showing us: how we cope and deal with loss as the circumstances of life either take from us or take us from one moment to another.

21 Jump Street (2012)


Andrew’s Verdict
Anyone who remembers the original 21 Jump Street series as a kid will immediately jump to see this film and after seeing it will probably have mixed feelings. The film is good, enjoyable to watch and plays on high school stereotypes in an original and amusing way, but at the same time is stupid to an extent that may leave some people thinking “what was that all about”. However, it’s simply a good lighthearted comedy that tells an underlying story of the misfit going back to school, becoming one of the cool kids and getting the girl. The script is witty and for me there are some excellent moments of the stupid humour that I describe above and I was laughing from the get go.

The performance by Jonah Hill was compelling and interesting and having seen him in Money Ball most recently, I can honestly say he’s a very good actor.

Personally I always find Channing Tatum hard to watch because (not that anyone else would) I can never fault him in his roles as he always delivers, but I find that he’s almost playing a cameo of himself (big, strong, handsome, leader). Well in this film they make a distinct point about not over playing to these strengths and we see something a little different in places and it works.

Overall Tatum and Hill play the best buddies role excellently. I could imagine them as Devito and Schwarznegger in a reprisal of Twins for example, and believe me this is a complement despite whatever connotations of acting or physic you might think I’m making. I am in fact eluding to the on-screen chemistry of 21 Jump Street which reminded me of being at school or what I wish school could have been (busting school drug rings, messing up the school play and yes, winning the girl at the end of the night) .

An easy to follow plot with stupidly funny humour and a little romance. What more could you want from a laid back friday night.

Trishna (2012 dir. Michael Winterbottom)


Sandra’s Verdict
Pinto is mesmerising as the naive and delicate Trishna, in this loose adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles, and even though I hadn’t read the book I was still throughly impressed with the universal issues within this film.

A key line from the film, which also features in the trailer, has Jay, the wealthy son of a businessman, saying to Trishna that The Karma Sutra
says there are three types of heroines that you’re allowed to make love to, the maid, the single lady and the courtesan. So which one are you?’ Themes of unfairness, social expectation and male dominance are explored when Jay embarks on a passionate affair with Trishna. As they travel from Jaipur to modern Mumbai their relationship seems to transcend that of master and servant, and at times it looks as though Jay wants to elevate Trishna to his equal. However as the film develops we see both characters struggle with their feelings and social position.

The film has received mixed reviews with some critics claiming that the film fails to make a big enough impact on the audience. I disagree, I found this to be both an intricate and compelling film. The film also boasts an excellent musical score by Shigeru Umebayashi and Bollywood composer Amit Trivedi that creates a perfect bed on which to navigate through the narrative’s complex themes.

Rampart (2011 dir. Oren Moverman)


Sandra’s Verdict

I have never sat in a cinema and thought I’d rather be at the dentist before, but this film really did induce filling fantasies! Not because it had anything to do with teeth, but rather because I couldn’t help but wonder which was more painful!

The film begins with Dave Brown (Woody Harrelson) smoking and driving around in his police car, in fact he is sucking on a cigarette in nearly every scene, if tobacco advertising wasn’t illegal there would definitely be lots of opportunities for product placement here. Brown is a self-possessed, deluded and corrupt policeman from LA’s Rampart department, which was found to be riddled with corruption in the 1990s. Brown convinces himself that he is administering justice during his many fracases with unsuspecting criminals. His relationships are all unsuccessful with his eldest daughter amusingly addressing him as ‘Date Rape’, a nickname he obtained after supposedly ridding the streets of bad guys a few years earlier.

Ice Cube makes an appearance as Kyle Timkins who is assigned to investigate the corruption charges against Brown but is not on screen long enough, instead we are forced to endure the twisted exploits of the deranged and unlikable Brown. It’s not that Harrelson’s acting is unconvincing or inadequate, in fact he plays the role very well and has received praise from newspapers such as The Guardian for his performance, it is rather that, unlike similar characters in films like Training Day and Bad Lieutenant, his character does not make enough of an emotional impact for us to care about whether he is brought down by his arrogance or sacrifices himself in repentance. One of the best things for me about seeing this movie was that it only cost £3.50 courtesy of The Coronet Cinema’s discounted ticket prices on a Tuesday!

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2012 dir. John Madden)


Sandra’s Verdict

A film based on the novel These Foolish Things by Deborah Moggach, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel portrays an alternative image of retirement through a colourful bunch of over sixties who have abandoned the UK for the warm and eventful surroundings of Jaipur, India. The film’s cast of talented stars like Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Tom Wilkinson and Dev Patel, as well as the backing of Fox Searchlight Pictures will ensure that this is a hit with the marketing campaign having started as far back as November 2011.

Nevertheless this film is a real gem not simply because of the budget and acting talent but also due to the wit and charm of the characters, the wonderful and modern story it relays and the beautiful pictures created by cinematographer Ben Davis.

 Another great thing about going to see this film was that it left you feeling hopeful, that there was more to life than worry and in deed more to old age than urine soaked undies and senility. At the end of the film I enjoyed turning round and seeing an audience that were made up of all ages but more wonderfully, an audience that included more mature cinemagoers. This film rejoices love, life and living for the moment.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2011)


Andrew’s Verdict

There’s one thing the British know how to do well and that’s a rom-com. What a fantastic film and I say this in the knowledge that there will be people who disagree with that superlative. I came from a reasonably hard day of work and within 20 minutes of watching The Best Exotic, I was delighting at the wit of the script, I was calm and relaxed and laughing along with the crowded cinema as I watched the stories of British retirees coming to terms with their pasts and finding a new lease of life in India. The all-star cast including Maggie Smith, Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, together with Slumdog’s Dev Patel deliver a story that adeptly avoids cringe filled moments of cliché and has instead memorable lines abound. I stared out of the window this morning thinking of India and all of life; and at the cinema, I really wanted the Best Exotic to exist and this rag-tag bunch of characters to have their awakenings. I can’t help but believe that if all it takes to be pleasantly enlightened is a trip to India, to see its beautiful vibrant colours, and its smiling people, then the entire world would be a far better place if we all took that journey and spent some time reflecting on our lives.Image

Safe House (2012)


Andy’s Verdict

A Bourne like film that has a pace that keeps you engaged but won’t leave you feeling like you’ve seen anything new. Safe House promises much with the calibre of an actor like Denzel Washington in the co-lead role opposite a rather good Ryan Reynolds who plays the CIA newbie tasked with running the Cape Town Safe House where Washington’s character is placed after he comes in from the cold. A very typical conspiratorial plot plays out and this is a disappointment as the film promised more. We get glimpses of a film that could have been a psychological thriller between Washington and Reynolds or a masterful spy conspiracy piece. However, neither of these things happen. Think a watered-down version of Washington in the film Man on Fire and Reynolds doing some Bourne type stunts and this is Safe House. An easy action film that’s a little too formulaic to truly get the blood pumping.