It’s a good week to catch up on your favorite shows before the new TV season begins (Heroes Season Two) and a good week to satisfy your curiosity for a certain guilty pleasure (Uwe Boll‘s Postal). Read on for exclusive clips from Heroes Season Two and Postal, and find out what new releases you should be looking for this week on DVD, including Redbelt, What Happens in Vegas, Son of Rambow, and more!

NBC’s Heroes was a pop culture phenomenon from the get-go, a riveting comic book come to life that followed a host of heroes — and villains — as they gradually developed their powers. Season 2, on DVD this week, continues the epic story as the line between good and evil becomes blurred, new characters emerge, and the fate of the world once more lies in the hands of Peter Petrelli.

We’ve snagged an exclusive clip from the Heroes Season Two DVD release, in which cast member Zachary Quinto (who will also appear as Spock in next year’s Star Trek) sheds light into the motivations of the show’s preeminent villain: the all-powerful sociopath (we think he’s just misunderstood) Sylar.


But wait, there’s more! We’ve got another exclusive bonus clip for you from another of this week’s most anticipated — and notorious — titles: Postal, from director-businessman-pugilist Uwe Boll. (Get an intriguing rare glimpse into the mind of Boll in our interview here.) Postal, adapted from the video game of the same name, offers an irreverent, bawdy, and violent satire of American society and politics made the only way Uwe Boll could have done it: with a star-crossed romance between George W. and Osama bin Laden, full frontal Dave Foley, Verne Troyer as himself, and a cameo by none other than…Uwe Boll!

As a treat for our readers, we exclusively bring you a sneak peek at the full “Raging Boll” bonus feature from the DVD release of Postal. Watch and see why Uwe earned his pugilistic nickname, as he enters the ring to go head-to-head with Something Awful critic Richard “Lowtax” Kyanka!


Click on for this week’s exciting new releases, including What Happens in Vegas, Redbelt and more!

What Happens in Vegas



Tomatometer: 27%

If only this movie had stayed in Vegas. The unholy union of pretty boy Ashton Kutcher and bubbly blonde Cameron Diaz was a summer event destined for boffo box office returns, released smack dab in the middle of wedding season as the chick-friendly alternative to muscular blockbusters like Iron Man and Indiana Jones. And, thanks to their combined powers of evil — vapid good looks and daffy charm, the movie-star equivalent of a smile and nod — Ashton and Cameron raked in a whopping $211 million in worldwide returns.

Bonus Features:

A single-disc and an extended “Jackpot” edition are available, which begs the question: is it worth the gamble? You’ll find extra features galore on both DVD releases, though seven deleted and extended scenes are only available on Blu-ray.



Postal



Tomatometer: 9%

Shockingly, it would seem Uwe Boll‘s projections for Postal, his latest video game adaptation, is far from Fresh. Congrats are nevertheless in order, since Uwe Boll’s comically violent, self-referential political satire is, at nine percent on the Tomatometer — his highest-rated film since debuting with 2002’s Blackwoods (11%). So celebrate his career upswing (and satisfy your own morbid curiosity, dear reader) as Postal debuts on DVD this week.

Bonus Features:

Uwe Boll is a smart man. And he knows what we want. The media-savvy filmmaker includes a feature commentary on Postal‘s DVD release, footage of his infamous “Raging Boll” boxing matches, a clip of Verne Troyer as Indiana Jones, and more. Showing their support for what Boll hath wrought from their video game, the makers of Postal have included the complete PC game Postal 2 in the release (creator Vince Desi also cameos in the film as himself).

**Reminder: Buying Postal on DVD is exactly what Uwe Boll wants you to do. If you watch it, he wins…and we all lose.

Redbelt



Tomatometer: 71%

If you did a double take when you heard of Redbelt, join the club. A Mixed Martial Arts movie written and directed by…David Mamet?? Chiwetel Ejiofor, Tim Allen, and Randy Couture star in the favorably-reviewed morality play, written with less of Mamet’s signature talkiness. Watch it in a double feature with the other MMA drama of 2008, Never Back Down.

Bonus Features:

Featurettes on the making-of process and Mixed Martial Arts put the focus on the fighting, as do “Fighter Profiles” and an interview with UFC President Dana White. The crown jewel of Redbelt‘s DVD release is its feature-length commentary, which presents the unlikeliest of duos together, at long last: David Mamet and Randy Couture.


Son of Rambow


Tomatometer:
75%

Ever daydream as a child and find yourself smack dab in the middle of your favorite movie? Young Will (Bill Milner) does just that, as a chance viewing of Rambo: First Blood inspires him to let his imagination fly, leading him and his friends to make their own sequel for a local filmmaker’s competition. It’s a throwback to the sounds, sights, and great action flicks of the ’80s (and ladies, catch Gossip Girl‘s Ed Westwick in a supporting role). If you see one new release this week, make it this gem of a film, which is Certified Fresh to boot.

Bonus Features:

Director Garth Jennings and producer Nick Goldsmith (the filmmaking team known as Hammer & Tongs, who also made 2005’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) and their tremendously poised young actors Bill Milner and Will Poulter provide a commentary and look at the making of the film, including peeks inside their production offices, parked on barges on a London canal.



Where in the World is Osama bin Laden?


Tomatometer: 36%

The most interesting discovery in Morgan Spurlock‘s latest documentary isn’t whether or not he actually finds Osama bin Laden (guess what — he doesn’t) but what he learns along the way. As with his Oscar-nominated Super Size Me, Where in the World relies a bit too heavily on gimmicks (such as a faux-video game showdown between a pixilated Spurlock and bin Laden), but unearths common ground between Americans and the people of nations halfway around the world.

Bonus Features:

Additional interviews with political figures and an animated history of Afghanistan bolster Spurlock’s cross-cultural debate.


A/k/a Tommy Chong


Tomatometer: 70%

As one half of the duo Cheech & Chong, Tommy Chong became one of the biggest pro-cannabis celebrities in Hollywood; in 2003, that fame also made him one of the biggest targets in a $12 million DEA sting, one of the biggest “enemies” in the War on Drugs. Director Josh Gilbert’s involving documentary follows the actor-comedian as he grapples with the government, pleads guilty, and is sentenced to nine months in prison for financing a glass pipe company owned by his son — a conviction pursued and intentionally made harsher because of Chong’s famous onscreen persona. (Last May, 10,000 copies of A/K/A Tommy Chong DVDs were seized by federal agents under the direction of U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan, the same prosecutor who spearheaded Tommy Chong’s case.)

Bonus Features:

Chong appears with former partner Cheech Marin for an interview (the duo reunited for a road show following Chong’s incarceration) and sits down to discuss his case with his family in an additional featurette.


Heroes – Season Two


Tomatometer: N/A

Having aired only eleven episodes during its second season (thanks, writers’ strike!), Heroes didn’t have the chance to show us what it really had in store for Peter Petrelli, Claire Bennett, Hiro Nakamura and the rest of the super gang…until now. Snag Heroes Season Two on DVD to hear insightful episode commentaries and deleted scenes — but most importantly, learn of the Season Two that might have been. Think plague, contamination, and large-scale action set pieces — elements that might have saved Heroes from its perceived sophomore slump.

Bonus Features:

Watch the alternate ending and a featurette that delves deeper into the original story arcs planned for Season Two, plus deleted scenes, faux documentaries, and a sneak peek at Season Three!


Entourage – Season Four


Tomatometer: N/A

Vincent Chase (Adrian Grenier) and Co. go on location for a film about a Columbian drug lord, then take it all the way to the Cannes Film Festival in the Emmy-nominated fourth season of HBO’s Entourage. Watch for guest stars like Anna Faris, M. Night Shyamalan, Snoop Dogg, and Kanye West.

Bonus Features:

Three episode commentaries and the fake trailer for Vincent’s film, Medellin, should prove entertaining, but core fans will really love a panel filmed during the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival, featuring Entourage‘s cast and crew as interviewed by critic Elvis Mitchell.


Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas 2-Disc Collector’s Edition


Tomatometer: N/A

It always seems to happen this way; your favorite movie comes out in a special edition DVD, only to be upgraded years later with yet another, more special, collector’s edition! If you can come to terms with this inevitability, you’ll do a celebratory skeleton dance for the latest home video release of The Nightmare Before Christmas, which has been digitally restored (read: more vivid colors, previously unnoticeable visual details) and is available in a 2-disc Collector’s Edition, an Ultimate Collector’s Edition that comes with a talking Jack Skellington bust, and on Blu-ray.

Bonus Features:

The limited run Ultimate Collector’s Edition Skellington bust will be a must-have item for diehard fans, something the goth kids won’t be able to pick up at Hot Topic. Otherwise, a host of new featurettes accompany previously released DVD extras, including a tour of Disneyland’s Nightmare-themed Haunted Mansion, a newly recorded commentary track combining the memories of Tim Burton, director Henry Selick, and composer Danny Elfman, and the reading of Burton’s original Nightmare poem read by Christopher Lee, animated in 2-D with Burton’s early concept art.

Want another glimpse of this super-special, hand-painted Jack Skellington bust that doubles as a DVD set and comes with optional Sandy Claws dress-up gear? Disney’s put together a nifty stop-motion demo of their own to show you what it will be like to have Jack sitting on your mantle this Christmas. Watch below.


To read previous installments of RT on DVD, check out our column archives here. ‘Til next week, happy renting!

This week at the movies, we’ve got metal-plated superheroes (Iron Man,
starring Robert Downey Jr. and
Gwyneth Paltrow) and matrimonial mishaps (Made
of Honor
, starring
Patrick Dempsey and
Michelle Monaghan). What do the
critics have to say?

The summer movie season has officially begun — and it’s starting off with a big
bang. The critics say Iron Man is everything a blockbuster should be —
action-packed, witty, and thoughtful.
Robert Downey Jr. stars as Tony Stark, a
brilliant inventor and weapons manufacturer who is taken hostage by a terrorist
group and builds a suit of armor to free himself; realizing what a great idea he
had, Stark becomes Iron Man, a crime-fighting force to be reckoned with. The
pundits say Iron Man is a marvel (pun intended): Downey imbues his role
with smarts and good humor; director
Jon Favreau
stages several thrilling action set-pieces; and co-stars
Gwyneth Paltrow,
Terrence Howard, and
Jeff Bridges turn
in stellar supporting performances. Plus, the film mixes in a healthy dose of
politics for good measure. At 94 percent on the Tomatometer, Iron Man is
not only Certified Fresh; it’s the best-reviewed wide release of the year, and
one of the best-reviewed superhero movies of all time. (Check out this week’s
Total Recall, in which we recount other memorable Man movies here, and
take a look at our interview with Favreau here.)




“Miss one Family Circus and you’re totally out of the loop!”

Ah, counter-programming. When a superhero movie hits theaters, you can generally
expect that it will go up against a romantic comedy for box-office bounty. And
critics say you can expect every chick flick shtick imaginable to turn up in the
nondescript
Made
of Honor
.
Patrick Dempsey stars as Tom, a man who
realizes that he’s in love with his best friend Hannah — just as she’s become
engaged to a wealthy Scotsman. Naturally, an attempt to get her to love him
before the wedding ensues. Sound familiar? Critics say Made of Honor is
essentially a gender reversal on
My Best Friend’s Wedding
, and a mediocre
one at that; the performers are fine, but the script revels in cliché and
formula. At 15 percent on the Tomatometer, Made of Honor has the wedding
bell blues.




“Sure, you can cut in. But wait a second or I’ll drop her.”

Also opening this week in limited release:

Son of Rambow, a Britcom about a group of schoolboys’ attempt to make
their own homemade Rambo flick, is at 79 percent (check out our take from
Sundance here).

Fugitive Pieces, a drama about a man haunted by his childhood World War
II experiences, is at 63 percent.

Viva, the tale of a bored 1970s housewife who takes a walk on the wild
side, is at 60 percent.

The Argentine import XXY, about the life and loves of a intersex teen, is
at 60 percent.

David Mamet‘s
Redbelt
, starring
Chiwetel Ejiofor as Jiu-Jitsu teacher who
is forced to step into the ring, is at 62 percent.

And Harmony
Korine
‘s
Mister Lonely
, starring
Diego Luna,
Samantha Morton,
and Werner Herzog in the tale of a commune filled with celebrity impersonators,
is at 44 percent.




“So seriously, which is better: ‘Happy Birthday, Mr. President’ or ‘Happy Birthday Lisa?'”

Best-Reviewed Wide Releases of 2008:
—————————————————
95% — Iron Man
92% — U2 3D
85% — Forgetting Sarah Marshall
80% — The Spiderwick Chronicles
77% — Cloverfield

This week's UK Box Office Top EightThe failure of Daniel Craig‘s Flashbacks of a Fool is the big box office story of the week, with the film flopping so spectacularly it didn’t even make the top ten.

The film revolves around Daniel Craig’s fading Hollywood star Joe Scott, who returns home for a friends funeral and looks back over his life – cue self-obsessed naval gazing from a narcissistic Craig.

Critics were decidedly unsure about the film; many praised the performances and technical aspects, but slammed the general premise, with Little White Lies’ Danny Bangs labelling the film “a two-hour whining session” and Empire’s Sam Toy describing the screenplay as ‘malformed’.

However, maybe marketing was a bigger problem than bad reviews for the film — a silly title, an oblique, talky plot where little actually happens, and having the current James Bond in a role that isn’t James Bond must surely have confused the public to such an extent that they gave the film the widest of berths. And good luck to them.

To manufacture a laboured segue, another film with fool in the title made a much bigger splash in cinemas. Fool’s Gold — a daft rom-com with genre experts Matthew McConaughey and Kate Hudson playing estranged lovers bought together by a treasure hunt (genius!) obviously tickled audiences’ fancies, despite an almost insultingly ridiculous plot and slapdash direction from Andy Tennant (thought of by many as the worst director in Hollywood).

Nonetheless, with the rain pouring down and the threat of a looming recession, it seems our nation’s cinemagoers would love nothing more than some perky, sun-drenched, escapist nonsense to get them through these oh-so-troubling times.

That’s maybe the reason for another of these weeks’ theatrical success stories – Mike Leigh‘s Happy-Go-Lucky – which came in at number nine in the chart but took by far the highest amount of dough-per-screen. Leigh’s optimistic and cynicism-free tale of a school teacher from North London won of the hearts and minds of both jaded critics and audiences – a fact that makes the usually grumpy RT feel warm inside.

This week's UK Box Office Top EightSony certainly took a gamble (arf!) when they decided to adapt the true story of a group of MIT students who took on the Las Vegas casinos and won a shed-load of cash. 21‘s only star was Kevin Spacey in a supporting part, with virtual unknowns filling out he main roles.

But in hindsight the studios have played a great hand (boom boom!) and seem to have struck the jackpot (honk!) (That’s enough… -Ed), with the film romping to first place in the UK box office.

The movie, rather accurately described by Empire’s Olly Richards as “Ocean’s 11: The College Years”, took more than double the cash of its nearest rival – Son of Rambow – with the haul rather decent for the pre-summer period. Still, it’s good to see Rambow‘s continued presence amongst the box office big hitters, a fact almost as comforting and heart-warming as watching a fluffy dog tuck into a plate of warm, doughy cookies.

The independent brit-flick almost maintained the form that took it to the top of the pile last week, with ticket sales only declining by 16% from its opening weekend — which, believe us, is pretty impressive.

Something that certainly was the opposite of impressive — unimpressive you might say — was the performance of George Clooney‘s 1920s-set American football comedy Leatherheads, which slunk in, tale-between-its-legs, at number six. Maybe it was the focus on a sport most Brits find baffling, perhaps it was the general indifference to the 1940s screwball comedies the film pastiched, or ultimately just the fact that Renee Zellwegger is just bloody annoying that persuaded Joe Public to steer wall clear from this lightweight effort.

Making a slightly more spirited showing was Martin Scorsese‘s glossy Rolling Stones’ film Shine a Light. The general feeling about the flick was that it was a competent concert movie, but not of the same calibre as Marty’s music masterpiece The Last Waltz. Still, fans of the freakish wrinkly rockers pulled together — as they did during the blitz – and showed up in large enough numbers to make this limited release number nine in the chart.

This week's UK Box Office Top EightIn a piece of news almost as heartwarming as the film itself, Son of Rambow came in at second place in the UK box office this week, with the British indie nabbing almost £1million in the first four days.

Set on a long, hot summer in 1982, the film revolves around two 11-year old scamps Will and Carter, who — after seeing First Blood for the first time, decide to film their own sequel with nothing more than a camcorder and, natch, some imagination.

The film has been in distribution limbo for the past year after its triumphant debut at last year’s Sundance Film Festival, due to issues surrounding the rights to the real Rambo films. But now it’s finally here and it seems a strong advertising push and good reviews (83% on the Tomatometer, compared to Rambo‘s 32%), has seen it rocket up the charts. Empire’s Dan Jolin summed up the critical consensus by saying: “If you only see one Rambo movie this year, make sure it’s this one.”

In fact, the film would surely have come in at number one had it played on more screens. Instead 27 Dresses, (which played on over 150 more theatres than Rambow), is still grimly hanging onto top spot, despite taking in almost 50% less cash than last week.

Meanwhile sweaty Karate Kid-meets-Fight Club-alike Never Back Downalso made a healthy opening debut this week, coming in at fourth place. Reviewers generally scorned this lightweight effort, with the movie’s laughable homoerotic undertones and checklist of clichés arousing particular critical ire. Greg Kirschling of Entertainment Weekly fame even branded the film as, “yet another product that makes you feel bad about today’s youth culture.” Sadly however ‘Grandad Greg’ and his ilk couldn’t stop the cool kids pouring into cinemas though, and the film made a healthy £840,000 over four days.

Garth Jennings - Jeff Vespa/Wireimage.comGarth Jennings, together with business partner Nick Goldsmith, is part of the successful creative double-act Hammer & Tongs. Beginning, as many feature filmmakers do these days, in the world of music videos, creating memorable short films for the likes of Blur and R.E.M., the pair burst into feature film with about as ambitious a project as one could imagine: Disney’s 2005 big-screen version of Douglas AdamsHitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.

Four years later and they present their follow-up, on a decidedly more pint-sized scale, Son of Rambow is a tribute to the sort of carefree youth film fans know only too well, as nippers Will and Carter take to the woods after a viewing of First Blood and decide to make their own sequel. A huge hit at Sundance, the film is out now in the UK and will find a release in the US on 2nd May and in Australia on 4th September. RT caught up with Jennings to find out more about the film, and how a certain other movie this year has had its own impact…

When we spoke to you about Hitchhikers three years ago, you were talking about this movie then…

Garth Jennings: Yeah, we were trying to get it made when we started Hitchhikers, and when you get offered a job like that you can’t not do it. Getting a chance to do a big movie that you love so much is the chance of a lifetime so we put this on hold and came back to it.

Son of Rambow

What was it about this idea that so excited you?

GJ: When Nick and I were first discussing the idea, it was kind-of funny the idea of kids making their own action movie. We all used to do it as kids. But there’s that thing, as well, of thinking back to that age when you have no fear and no concern for the consequences of your actions whether they’re dangerous or stupid or cruel, you know. You just kind-of go for it.

“When you see First Blood way before you’re supposed to be seeing it, you think this is the coolest thing you’ve ever seen.”

There’s a lovely, uplifting feeling about trying to capture that and that’s what we were trying to do, really, with Son of Rambow. Before we’d really worked out the plot we had this mission to make the film that made us feel like we used to do. It was never going to be slavish to reality – it was always going to be a romantic view of that time. Stand By Me has a similar sort of thing where it’s all heightened and they’re dodging big trains and it’s a little fantastical, but it’s got such a lovely feeling about it and even though I didn’t grow up in that period, that coming-of-age story is universal and timeless.

This particular coming-of-age story is also quite special for anyone who discovered film as a kid, because this is what we were doing.

GJ: Most of the fundamental influences come at that age. Whether they’re positive influences or negative ones they come around those formative years and when you see First Blood way before you’re supposed to be seeing it and you live on the edge of a forest you think this is the coolest thing you’ve ever seen. This man has a knife and a stick, he can sew up his own arm, he can do everything including take on 200 guys. I loved it.

Son of Rambow

I guess it’s the idea of escaping to this magical world where these things are possible as well…

GJ: Yeah, and having friends that you can do that with. It’s harder to keep that when you get older – things change, things become more serious, it’s about looking cool and all that sort of stuff. There’s this lovely window before all of that kicks in where you’re really uninhibited and you really can do anything you like. It’s sort-of lovely and you don’t even realise it when you’re going through it. It’s only after that you remember and you go, “That was brilliant.” We did whatever we wanted – eating as much ice cream as we wanted and making as many silly movies as we could.

You haven’t even got to the point where people are saying, “You have to pass this exam and if you don’t pass this exam you won’t work and if you can’t work you’ll be miserable.” You’d have said, “No, I’m going to make things like this for the rest of my life.” What more does there need to be to life, apart from making trenches in the forest and living there for a few days?

Did you get the opportunity to regress while you were making the film?

GJ: Not really, the regressing bit happens while you’re writing because you’re trying to remember what you’d have done in the situations you’re writing, but as soon as you start making it you’re right into, “We’re running out of time people! Let’s get a move on!” There’s no time to stop and soak up how it used to be!

Bill and Will are so brilliant in the film, I can’t imagine working with them was anything but a joy.

GJ: They were the big thing for us, because it’s tricky casting kids who’ve either never acted before or who have acted so much that they’re like little mini-adults. Professional tiny people. These guys hadn’t done anything, and it was lovely that they had the confidence to do whatever we asked them to do and to not try and show off in any way. They weren’t at all self-conscious.

They come from very solid families, the families were never interested in pushing them into show business, and that’s a big part of it. They’re so sweet, these kids, and they really were having the time of their lives. Their entire summer holiday was spent on the set of Son of Rambow jumping off trees and leaping about, it doesn’t get any better! I’d have loved to have been in their position!

And now, of course, this is an eye-opener for them because the posters are going up and you guys are coming to talk to them. We did all the auditions in here, I think, and after five months it was like, “That’s the kid.” They were just amazing.

Son of Rambow

It was a long process to find them, then?

GJ: Yeah, five months. Our casting director went off to the schools and saw hundreds and hundreds of kids, whittled that down to the best and we see round two. With Bill, who plays Will Proudfoot, there was one kid who we thought was going to play the lead part, and dropped out the night before the call-back because he didn’t want to be famous or anything like that. The casting agent called and said, “I’m really sorry, he’s dropped out, but I’ve found this other kid and you have to see him.” It was Bill and we got him in the next day knowing he wouldn’t have time to learn the lines. In walked this sweet kid who didn’t know what was going on, and he had learned the lines and then he walked out again. He was the only one who didn’t try to be our friend, he just walked in and did his thing and left. It was instant – that was the guy. And it was the same with Will Poulter, it was extraordinary and instant.

They sell the film in the end.

“I thought [the new Rambo] was funny, but I don’t think it was trying to be funny.”

GJ: I think you’re right. You do your best with the script and all the camerawork and the editing and all of the fancy bits, but if you don’t get them right it’s all worthless. It’s hard to get that right but because they’re so charming and because they became such great friends while making it, that comes across.

The release of Rambo this year is the elephant in the room a little bit, who saw that coming?

GJ: That was weird. When we started writing this eight years ago, as far as we were concerned that whole franchise – I hate that word, but it is – was well and truly over. The idea of another Rambo movie was a joke, because he would have been – as he is – in his sixties. It’s unbelievable that not only is it coming out in the same year but that they’re within months of each other. It’s crazy, but there you go.

Did you enjoy it?

GJ: I didn’t really enjoy it. I thought it was funny, but I don’t think it was trying to be funny. I don’t think it’s pretending to be anything other than what it is, that’s for sure, but as movies go it was a bit rubbish. People blew up a lot, I remember that, and I remember leaving before the emotional release. I could sense that coming, after the massacre when he’s just sitting on his big gun for ten minutes. He can’t move around anymore – it used to be a trap here, a trap there, “I’ll run around here and get you and then I’ll come over there.” None of that anymore, he just sits down for a bit. He’s dealt with the guy with the mirrored shades who’s so evil that he reflects the horror back at him and all that sort of stuff, but I couldn’t stick around for the last bit which was obviously going to tie back into the people of Burma and all that.

Son of Rambow

But he doesn’t make those films thinking they’re anything other than they are and he even introduced it by saying, “You know, let’s be frank, I didn’t think I’d be doing this. I’m really old now and I’ve done the best I can, so there you go.” And then he walked off.

Rocky was more successful, I think, at taking the idea that he was past it and running with that, but with Rambo he was still hammering nails with his hands and picking up snakes and doing all that stuff…

Did its release cause you any problems?

GJ: No, it was just a case of who owns what and then after we’d shown it at Sundance, making sure everyone was happy. We just worked out that instead of Paramount in the UK it would be distributed by Optimum because they’re owned by another company who own the rights to the Rambo movies. Those things all get worked out, but they just take forever, and in that time we got to go around all the film festivals and I’d never done that before and it was just marvellous.

The Times bfi 51st London Film Festival - RT Highlights
LondonWelcome to the Times bfi 51st London Film Festival, the capital’s annual event celebrating the best in cinema from around the globe. Running this year from 17th October to the 1st November, the festival will play host to many local, national and international films, premieres, actors and directors.

Unlike the hyper-competative and sales-led environments of Cannes and Sundance, the London Film Festival is an altogether simpler affair, inviting members of the public to sample the films on offer. And the festival’s timing puts it in the perfect position to pick early Oscar hopefuls; many of the films in the programme are already generating early buzz and for most in the UK it’ll be the first and only chance to see them before the end of the year.

So it’s with that in mind that RT-UK editor Joe Utichi and film critic Paul Anderson have been hitting the festival to cherry pick the twenty films from the festival you’re likely to be hearing a lot about in the coming months.

Click on the films below to find out more, or click here to browse through the feature from the beginning.The Assassination of Jesse James, The Darjeeling Limited, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Eastern Promises
Enchanted, Funny Games, Grace is Gone, I'm Not There
In the Shadow of the Moon, Into the Wild, Juno, Lions for Lambs
Lust, Caution, Planet Terror, The Savages, Sicko
Son of Rambow, Surprise Movie, Talk to Me, Things we Lost in the Fire

The Times bfi 51st London Film Festival - RT Highlights
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

It’s a long title, long film, long coats and a long time getting to the screen. There’s a lot of long going on here. It took two years to score a release once it was done, so what’s wrong with it? Well, er, nothing.

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Brad Pitt‘s labour of love, is slow; very slow. Slow and long. But good westerns should be. The best western is as much about the pace and the look as it is about anything, and this looks amazing. There are sumptuous shots of prairies and sepia tinted men in hats and (long) coats saying a lot without speaking much. The film feels poetic and meditative, like you could be doing yoga while it’s on.

Yes it is Pitt’s movie but the star is Casey Affleck as the titular coward. Robert Ford always wanted to be in the James Gang, he idolised Jesse, wanted to be him, dag nabit he probably fancied him. The poster boy of the 1880’s, so myth would tell us, was a Robin Hood figure and American icon, but Jesse James was a vicious killer and this film doesn’t shy away from that, the source being a fictional version of the story by Ron Hansen.

There aren’t many gunfights as such and those that do happen flash up are brutal and over with quickly, as one suspects they probably were at the time. The parallel with Pitt’s own celebrity is interesting, this is a film as much about fame and idolisation and in the end Robert Ford thought he was doing society a favour by shooting James in the back.

Andrew Dominik is the Australian director of Chopper and in what is only his second film, rivals John Hillcoat’s The Proposition in handling the Wild West with great skill, giving the story time to breathe. Pitt stalks around brooding dark violence and menace while Affleck’s Ford is baby faced, naïve and eager to please. It is evident on this example at least that Affleck is destined to outshine brother Ben in front of the camera.

Take a cushion, you’re in for a fair stretch, but it is worth every ass-numbing minute. Gorgeous to witness, with some modern day resonance, an interesting story and subtle yet lightening performances. Paul Anderson

The Darjeeling Limited

Wes Anderson makes a welcome return to intimately quirkily comedy after the outrageously quirky comedy The Life Aquatic. Or, Wes Anderson makes another one of those quirky comedy things. It largely depends on your point of view.

The Darjeeling Limited tells the tale of three brothers and their pilgrimage across India in search of their mother who abandoned them years prior. Former Anderson collaborators Jason Schwartzman and Owen Wilson join Adrien Brody as the three brothers exploring India aboard the titular train, along the way learning more about each other than they’d ever learnt before.

Like many of Anderson’s characters, not one of the brothers has much in the way of redeeming qualities, and like many of Anderson’s locations, India is presented as a country of bright colours and strange inhabitants. Indeed, it’s safe to say that if you’re a Wes Anderson fan you can’t go wrong with this film; it’s pretty-much more of the same. For anyone not so enamoured of Anderson, that’ll be a big problem as this certainly won’t be the film to change that.

In the mid to late nineties, Anderson championed the quirky American indie, but as box-office receipts and film-school grads have multiplied, so the quirky American indie is fast enveloping the entire American indie landscape, and whether Anderson’s particular brand of quirk has any originality left at this point is a big topic for debate.

Schwartzman, Wilson and Brody do fine jobs in their roles, and the film’s opener – a fifteen minute segment entitled Hotel Chevalier and co-starring Natalie Portman – makes the project worth checking out on its own. For cineastes, it’s a well-realised portrait of love and lust while Portman fans can admire the lack of clothing on display.

But Hotel Chevalier is available for free on iTunes in the US, and at this point it’s worth wondering if more of the same from Anderson in the film proper really justifies the cost of admission. Joe Utichi

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

Julian Schnabel is an artist in the truest sense; he makes art. He attracts like-minded individuals; Johnny Depp is not so much an admirer more a kindred spirit. Transforming a heart-breaking story into an entertaining film needed an artist’s hand and eye and luckily this film got it.

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly takes its name from the deeply moving book from Jean-Dominique Bauby, the editor of Elle magazine in France, who, at the age of 43, suffered a huge stroke that should have killed him but instead left him paralysed save for the ability to blink one eye. His brain was fine, he could understand, but he couldn’t speak. His condition was diagnosed as ‘locked in syndrome’.

The film begins as Bauby’s eyes open after a two-week coma, and for the opening segment the camera becomes his only working eye. Eventually we get to see the twisted, dribbling mouth of the wheelchair bound victim and Schnabel cleverly takes us on a comparison journey, in home movie style, with the ruggedly good looking Parisian Bauby living and loving life.

Beautiful women surround him; Celine, the mother of his three children, (Emmanuelle Seigner), to whom he is still cruel, is a saint. His speech therapist Henriette (Marie-Josee Croze) and the woman charged with dictating the book, Claude (Anne Consigny), are now beyond his once effortless seductive powers.

The narrative unfolds as an internal monologue from Matthew Amalric‘s Bauby, complete with snide remarks at the surgeon and a preoccupation with his nurse’s cleavage. His only releases are his flights of fancy; his imagination is not locked in and consequently he dines where he likes, seduces women, and travels wherever he wants, all the time cursing for being too selfish and unkind to his children.

Henriette and Claude could lend Job some patience, as the alphabet communication system is spelt out over and over until the correct letter, then word is reached. The most moving scenes are with Bauby’s father Papinou (Max Von Sydow) shown both in flashback and in an agonising post-stroke phone call, where a housebound elderly father likens his son’s situation to his own.

The book is a deeply moving, affecting and very funny masterpiece and Schnabel has replicated Bauby’s imagined world superbly to visually stunning effect. Flawless performances deserve a wide audience and make The Diving Bell and the Butterfly one of the Festival highlights. PA

Eastern Promises

A companion-piece to the excellent A History of Violence, David Cronenberg has enlisted the help of Viggo Mortensen again and directed a script from Steve Knight who brought us the story of the London people you see but ignore, Dirty Pretty Things. And he nearly gets away with it.

Mortensen is a Russian driver for an Eastern European gangland family and is tattooed to the max. A teenage girl dies while giving birth and Naomi Watts, a midwife, is so shaken by this she decides to find out more about her. This leads to a discovery of a diary, which in turn leads her to Mortensen. And do you know what? She really shouldn’t go there.

Vincent Cassel plays Mortensen’s tighter-than-tight buddy and in usual Cassel style can make you feel the need to change your underwear with just one look. This is an extremely violent film and although not a horror picture in Cronenberg’s usual sense, some scenes are certainly horrific.

Mortensen is brilliant (Aragorn… who knew?), and Watts her usual high standard, while Cassel is just nuts.

Unlike Dirty Pretty Things, Eastern Promises doesn’t capture the underbelly of the unseen so well. The homoeroticism is overplayed (why does Mortensen need to be naked to get a tattoo on the shoulder?) and there is no tangible sense of being an outsider looking into a closed world through the crack in the door, which would have made a half-decent thriller into a tense and buttock-clenching one.

Is this the end of horror for Cronenberg? Unlikely, but Eastern Promises is a disappointing follow-up to A History of Violence. Come on Dave, bring on the gore. PA

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Enchanted

Disney’s first attempt at hand-drawn animation in years, Enchanted, is perhaps one of this year’s family film highlights.

The tale of a tried and true Disney Princess, Gisele (Amy Adams), who finds her Prince Charming (James Marsden) before being sent to a faraway land by an evil stepmother (Susan Sarandon), is primarily live-action, book-ended by 20 minutes of hand-drawn Disney.

The faraway land in question is New York City, and so we open with an animated Gisele singing, dancing, and generally sickeningly happy as she engages a gaggle of woodland animals in some spring-cleaning. When she’s later sent down a well and into New York City we see her struggling with her surroundings and generally having trouble living a Disney life in a cold, harsh real world.

Fortunately, the film’s ultimate message, that real life isn’t a Disney cartoon, is unlikely to play to its young target audience, but it’s the biggest gag for parents and allows the whole family to enjoy the comedy and adventure without resorting to cheap and cheerful Dreamworks-esque innuendo.

Marsden is every inch the Prince Charming and Adams, while clearly not as beautiful as most outrageously sexy Disney princesses, moves with so many obvious Disney flairs that it’s a wonder they didn’t animate the whole thing and have her mime the animations.

The joke wears thin towards the end, and the film threatens to undermine years of classic animation from Disney of old, but when it works it really works, and it’s a joy to behold. It’s also worth a trip just for some hand-drawn animation, though on that score a CGI squirrel during the New York sequences rather ironically ends up stealing the show. JU

Funny Games

Funny Games is Michael Haneke‘s shot-for-shot remake of his German version for an American audience. It was just as nasty with subtitles.

A wealthy couple take peachy son and cuddly dog to summer home for a well-earned break. While dad and son sort out the sailing boat, that nice polite boy staying with friends’ next door pops round for some eggs. D’oh, he smashes them, asks for more and smashes those too. Hang on why is he wearing gloves?

So begins a descent into torture, bondage, humiliation, violence, blood and audience culpability. Yes, as an audience member one feels complicit and voyeuristic, as the so-called games are unveiled. Haneke wants to evoke this feeling; he wants the troubled youth and aggressive society in which they inhabit to be all your fault.

Funny Games is a deeply unlikeable film, but there is no criticism implicit in that, it is meant to be unlikeable. No one cries better on screen than Naomi Watts and as ever she is willing to visit the land of raw for her art and as usual does it brilliantly. Tim Roth as the husband is a bit-part once he gets clobbered with a golf club and it is Michael Pitt who steals the show as the creepily polite psychopath accomplice to Brady Corbet‘s egg-smasher. It was ever thus with cinema psychos that the more ‘normal’ they seem the more sinister they really are.

The nods and winks to the camera are a touch irritating as is the rewind bit in the middle but if you’ve seen the original you’ll be expecting all that. Funny Games is an uncomfortable, disturbing film perfect for festivals. PA

Grace is Gone

Lonesome Jim writer James C. Strouse marks his directorial debut with Grace is Gone, a moving portrait of a man struggling to come to terms with the death of his wife in Iraq and his role as a single parent to two young girls.

What’s most remarkable about the film is that it doesn’t attempt to politicise its story at all. As John Cusack‘s Stanley Philipps opens the film, leading his team at an out-of-town shopping complex in a chant about how the customer is always right, we instantly connect with him, and as he learns of his wife’s fate a couple of scenes later we’re already invested in his life. So when his brother, unaware of Grace’s passing, later attempts to chastise Stanley for his position on the war he’s quickly silenced. It’s a film about family conflict, not political conflict, and it’s all the stronger for it.

The film takes a journey with Stanley as he abandons his commitments, pulls his kids out of school and takes them on a road trip with the sole purpose of keeping the news of their mother’s death from them. It becomes an albatross that hangs over Stanley, but it’s just as much an enabler, for on the journey he gets to grips with his role as a parent and his relationship with his kids.

Cusack has never been better, his nack for engaging an audience more essential here than ever due to some of the more dubious decisions Stanley makes along the way, and Strouse directs with much-needed reserve, never allowing the film to get in the way of Stanley’s story. JU

I'm Not There

Velvet Goldmine, Todd Haynes‘ film about a seventies glam rock idol, split filmgoers down the middle. You either get it and it’s a masterpiece or you think there was nothing glamorous about the seventies and all bands look like bricklayers in make up. This time round Haynes is lucky, Bob Dylan already polarises people.

Haynes has taken six moments in Dylan’s life in I’m Not There, married them to what he believes is the musician’s personality at the time, and cast six different actors to play him, including a woman and a black kid.

Littered throughout the piece are references to characters in Dylan songs and well-documented events throughout his life. None of the characters is called Bob Dylan however. Ben Whishaw is Arthur Rimbaud, reflecting the singer’s love for the poet, Heath Ledger plays him as an actor troubled by his success and disappearing from view; Richard Gere, whose sequence is the weakest in the film, is Billy The Kid, a nod to Dylan’s appearance in Pat Garrett and Billy The Kid, and Marcus Carl Franklin is supposedly a black 12 year-old Woody Guthrie, a youth out of time. The stand-out performance and the one that takes up most screen time is Cate Blanchett‘s as Jude, a singer at the height of fame struggling with the constant barrage of questions about the meaning of the songs and the singer’s authenticity. To her credit, five minutes in you forget she’s a woman.

Ambitious and inspired, it’s a little long and full of too many Dylan in-jokes and references. It won’t change your mind either way about Dylan but it might encourage other filmmakers to try future biopics in this way. PA

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In the Shadow of the Moon

Theory: There’s nothing more exciting than listening to the former astronauts for the Apollo missions tell their tales of visiting the lunar surface. Except perhaps being one of them. Yes, David Sington‘s In the Shadow of the Moon is a little heavy on the America-the-Great, but it’s also one of the best documentaries of the year; a fascinating portrait of men so brave that most regular Joes couldn’t possible comprehend their journey.

And, to its credit, it allows them to get on with it – there’s no narrator – we’re just shown fascinating footage from the moon’s surface, from the launch pad, from the shuttle, and in between these men tell us their story.

For the real space-junkies, there’s doubtless little in here to learn, but for the rest of us the film is full of fascinating factoids and, like the best movies set in space – fictional or not – it’ll leave you feeling smaller than the smallest needle in the biggest haystack. JU
Into the Wild

While most outside America will be unfamiliar with the name Christopher McCandless, the story of his abandonment of civilisation in favour of hiking across America on his way to Alaska is one we can probably all relate to. Who hasn’t thought about throwing off the shackles and experiencing nature in all its glory?

Of course most of us are either too scared or too sensible ever to attempt to do that and that’s perhaps why McCandless’ tale is so intoxicating; his journey is one we all wish we had the courage to take.

Sean Penn directs Emile Hirsch in this adaptation of Jon Krakauer’s book, Into the Wild, about McCandless, and while it runs a little long, at 140 minutes, in takes in some of the most breathtaking scenery imaginable and keeps us gripped throughout as we join our young lead on his journey into either enlightenment or insanity.

Penn deifies McCandless a little too readily, encouraging us to make an idol out of him, and while most will happily do just that, it also makes it hard for us to engage with the film. Penn’s embrace of no-frills solitariness is flawed by the trailers, catering and crew we know to be behind single shot.

No, real credit must go to Hirsch, who goes out of his way to inhabit McCandless regardless of the creature comforts available to him off-screen, for it’s with him and him alone we must ultimately spend two hours of our time with. JU

Juno

Jason Reitman‘s debut feature, Thank You For Smoking, coming, as it did, in the same year as his father Ivan’s My Super Ex Girlfriend, was a brilliantly biting satire about the tobacco industry and suggested that perhaps dad’s talent had been well and truly passed on.

His second, Juno, continues his trend for witty comedy, casting Ellen Page as a high-school girl whose desire to lose her virginity leads to an unfortunate bout of pregnancy. She meets Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner through an ad in the Penny Saver and agrees to adopt the infant their way. But nine months is a long time, and pregnancy seems sure to bring with it a whole heap of inconvenience.

Page is brilliant as Juno, and a cast of recognisable supporting players back her up with aplomb. It’s definitely full of quirk – it’s an American indie after all – but, like Thank You For Smoking, there’s something real at the film’s heart and we’re encouraged to believe the quirk rather than let it wash over us. JU

Lions for Lambs

The most high profile of the recent glut of war themed releases – due mainly to its stellar cast – Lions For Lambs gets its title from an alleged quote from a World War One German General who said of the British troops, “never before have I seen such lions led by such lambs”. Apocryphal or not the debate over right against might is real enough.

There are three layers to the film. The first is a moral, ethical, hypothetical discourse with Robert Redford as a scarily convincing looking college Professor and Andrew Garfield as the owner of a fine mind behind a surfer exterior; the second is a political and strategic debate with media and PR consequences featuring an electrifying face off between Meryl Streep and Tom Cruise. Thirdly is the actuality of the troops in a war zone.

The performances are flawless with Cruise on his best smarmy bastard form as the ambitious senator and cheerleader for the masters of war trading blows with Streep’s journalist, over a new plan for the war in Afghanistan. Streep pleads mea culpa over the media’s acquiescence during the first Iraq/Afghan surge, but is less compliant this time even in the face of an exclusive story. Redford and Garfield debate whether seriously smart people should ‘do something’ with specific reference to two soldiers, Redford’s ex pupils, from neighbourhoods ignored by Uncle Sam who worked hard for their college grades then enlisted to make a real change.

And yes it is those same soldiers we see in the war zone, injured and low on ammo. Lions for Lambs is a one eyed view on the futility of the war on terror. Redford’s politics are all over it despite his best efforts at balance with Cruise’s hawk view. Nothing happens in the film in terms of action bar a few exchanges from the pinned down troops; it’s all about the dialogue and its evident that this is what Redford wants to achieve. When you leave the cinema and go to the pub he wants you to engage and discuss the politics of a war that few in the US want anymore.

There are many Vietnam references and lots of questions needing answers and decisions to be made as a consequence. What do you want to do? Do you want to end the war on terror? Do you think you should act/protest/enlist/run for the Senate? America’s liberal, artsy intelligentsia is pricking consciences but does anyone or should anyone outside the US care? PA

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Lust, Caution

Ang Lee‘s startling ability to jump between projects as diverse as Hulk, Crouching Tiger and Brokeback Mountain is almost as exciting to behold as every new film from the director is.

Lust, Caution is no exception; it’s a thrilling, breathtaking, dramatic, devastating and enrapturing film about a young girl who goes undercover in World War II-era Shanghai in an attempt to woo and then assassinate a key political figure.

Based on an Eileen Chang story, Tony Leung is Mr. Yee, a seemingly untouchable man whose heart is won by Tang Wei‘s Wang Jiazhi. And while Leung is outstanding, it’s Tang Wei, in her first role, who really steals the show, delivering a nuanced and emotional performance as a girl torn apart by politics and her heart, two elements that rarely see eye-to-eye.

Key sexual moments between Yee and Wang are shot explicitly, though never exploitatively, and it’s interesting to note that the film will be released as an NC-17 in the US. The rating is commercial suicide, but the film simply wouldn’t have the power it has without the sex scenes so it helps that it’s penned by the exec in charge of the studio, long time Lee collaborator James Schamus.

Breaking box-office records in Hong Kong and Taiwan, Lust, Caution deserves to have the same cross-over effect as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and here’s hoping this is the NC-17 film that breaks down the confines of the curious American ratings system. JU

Planet Terror

Let’s get the disappointment out of the way first; Machete is the only fake trailer attached to the theatrical standalone print of Planet Terror. It makes sense that it’s Robert Rodriguez‘ trailer that made the cut, but for those of us outside the United States for whom the idea of pirating the camcorder jobs done on Grindhouse doesn’t sit right, it’s a crying shame. We’re missing out on Edgar Wright’s brilliant Don’t, Eli Roth’s inspired Thanksgiving, and Rob Zombie’s brilliantly-titled Werewolf Women of the S.S. You can sit all the way through the credits; you’ll be wasting your time.

Honestly, the idea of experiencing the whole, balls-to-the-wall grindhouse experience was the biggest disappointment facing fans outside North America, but the Weinsteins’ needs must, and their decision to split the flicks could have been forgiven had the full experience, at the very least, survived two ticket prices. We got some extra time with Death Proof, but the Planet Terror that’s hitting cinemas is the same cut premièred as part of Grindhouse, providing ample opportunity to queue up all the fake trailers within it. As it is most theatregoers outside of the US will, in fact, be missing that full experience at the very least until the DVD arrival of Planet Terror. So why bother?

Well, for starters, perspective is important. As much as the brothers Weinstein plan to reap the rewards that come from double-dipping the Grindhouse experience internationally, we are still getting two films from a pair of the most creative film-makers on the planet. Death Proof is unadulterated Tarantino, and Planet Terror is the funniest zombie movie since Shaun and the goriest since 28 Days.

The films exist in something of a shared universe. For those who’ve seen Death Proof first, nods to Jungle Julia’s fate and an expansion of that somewhat cryptic Dr. Block/Earl McGraw scene will bond the two films even if they’re covered by separate admissions, and the fake film grime and dodgy projection effects cross both features.

Multi-hyphenate Rodriguez creates a stunning world in which he unleashes his zombie plague, draws delicious characters straight out of seventies B-movies, and lets his actors run wild with them. Freddy Rodriguez Rose McGowan shine, but with the remaining cast performing so brilliantly around them it’s the ensemble that sells it. JU

The Savages

It’s a tricky thing, the what-to-do-with-the-old-folks-when-they-start-to-lose-it movie. Filmmakers are always battling with the question of balance between dark humour and pathos, not forgetting to allow just enough dignity to prick everybody’s conscience about dealing with the elderly. One of the better more recent attempts was Away From Her based on the short story by Alice Munro with Julie Christie as an Alzheimer’s victim. The Savages nails the balance beautifully.

Directing her own script, Tamara Jenkins has landed two of cinema’s best in the lead roles. Philip Seymour Hoffman and Laura Linney are John and Wendy Savage, siblings suddenly thrown together after years of non-communication, to take care of their father who is rapidly descending into dementia. John is writing a book on Brecht, he is also about to end a long-term relationship and Wendy is a penniless playwright in an unfulfilling relationship with a married man.

So they’re pretty uptight people, right? What plays out is a beautifully told story of responsibility, guilt, communication and selfishness with a heavy dose of realism. Philip Bosco is dad Lenny, a heady mix of deaf, cantankerous and incontinent, who beat his kids when mum left and wasn’t as bothered about caring for them as they are about him now.

Hoffman plays the pragmatist, managing the situation with the adroitness of a nursing home administrator. Linney’s Wendy is more emotional and tries to get dad into a beautifully landscaped home but sadly dad fails the test, so she buys a lava lamp for his room. What is prevalent throughout is the brilliant comedic touch in Jenkins’s script, which allows some hilarious bickering between Hoffman and Linney, especially when he puts his neck out playing tennis.

To its credit The Savages doesn’t bash you over the head with its message about being good to the old folks. Some people get ill and old, Lenny cuts a pathetic and pitiful character, but we all die and luckily the script is funny and nuanced enough, while being executed brilliantly by the leads, not to make it maudlin. PA

Sicko

Michael Moore is back with a new documentary about the healthcare system in America and its ill-treatment of patients who are paying through the nose for medical cover.

Sicko presents a compelling case against HMOs, but as with most of Moore’s work it is more than obvious that while the facts are indisputable there are plenty more he’s chosen to ignore. For this British critic, his portrayal of the socialised system of our NHS made that abundantly clear. Yes, as Moore shows us, we don’t pay for our hospital visits, and the cashier in hospitals gives us money for transport home after an operation, and our doctors are, indeed, incentivised to offer the best care to their patients.

But Moore neglects to ask how long we need to wait for a hospital bed in many cases. Or if people ever get sick because the hospitals they’re staying in aren’t clean enough. This is where our NHS fails, but because it doesn’t support Moore’s case it’s simply not mentioned.

That the treatment of patients in America is shockingly inhuman in many cases is obvious, and Moore uncovers a huge number and variety of horror stories about it. Like much of his work, though, while the film will inspire plenty of discussion through its accessibility, the discussion about Moore himself will outweigh that of the subject he examines. JU

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Son of Rambow

You can tell that Son of Rambow came from a pair of creative types. There’s something about the notion of a couple of friends getting together after school with a video camera and a vague memory of cool things they’d seen in movies and putting together their own tribute that just screams creativity and one wonders how much of the film came from Nick Goldsmith and Garth Jennings‘ own experiences as kids.

When his parents strict religious beliefs force him out of a Geography lesson and into the hallway, Will meets troublemaker Carter and strikes up an unlikely friendship. Carter teaches Will a little of his streetwise attitude and, when he’s shown First Blood, Will convinces himself he’s Rambo’s son and shows Carter a sketchbook full of colourful illustrations which tell a slightly odd but rather wonderful story.

The pair set out to make a sequel in which Will, as the Son of Rambow, attempts to rescue his dad and save the world. Along the way they pick up some collaborators, but when tensions fray on set their friendship, Carter’s relationship with his brother, and Will’s relationship with the church are all called into question.

Best known for producing and directing Hitchhiker’s Guide as well as any number of the nineties greatest music videos as Hammer and Tongs, Goldsmith and Jennings bring their creative flair to an independent level with this heart-warming coming-of-age story that’s been gathering momentum since its debut at this year’s Sundance.

But what’s most important is that Son of Rambow is so much more than its basic premise. Those of us who grew up with grand designs to make the next Indiana Jones will identify with Will and Carter, but all can identify with the film’s grander themes. Lead brilliantly by its two confident young leads, Son of Rambow may well be the best British movie of the year. JU

Surprise Movie: No Country for Old Men

The last few years haven’t been kind to the Brothers Coen. Indeed, you have to go back to 2001 – past The Ladykillers and Intolerable Cruelty – to get back onto comfortable ground when it comes to their work, and considering these are the guys who brought the world Raising Arizona, Miller’s Crossing and The Big Lebowski, that’s a crying shame. Fortunately with this year’s offering, which played as the surprise movie at the LFF, the Coens have gone back to those roots and have delivered a film worthy of the standards they’ve previously set. No Country for Old Men is classic Coen, both sumptuously involving and wickedly funny.

Based on the book by Cormac McCarthy, the Coens have brought their unique sensibilities to bear on a tale of a drug deal gone wrong and the $2 million in cash found at the scene by a hunter living a modest life in Texas. His name is Llewellyn Moss and he’s smart enough to know that someone will be coming for the loot. But it soon becomes obvious you can’t prepare for Chigurh, an assassin with a flair for creative execution and an enthusiasm for high body counts.

On the trail, too, is an aging Sheriff called Bell who’s convinced the world has changed on him a little too much as he jumps from crime scene to crime scene hoping to track Moss down before Chigurh has a chance.

Full of just the right mix of drama, action and comedy, this is the sort of movie that’ll have you engrossed until its final moments. And if it does get a little bogged down in Texan philosophizing in those final moments, they do nothing to touch what’s come before. JU

Talk to Me

It’s easy to forget in this multimedia, mass media, and global communications world just how important radio used to be at times of major unrest or trauma. The 1960s was a turbulent decade of change and 1968 in particular was the most incredible year. Martin Luther King was assassinated, so too Bobby Kennedy and, in Washington DC at least, there was a man who gave hope to those with a sense of hopelessness following those two tragedies. Talk to Me is his story.

Ralph ‘Petey’ Green was an ex con, raised by his maternal Grandmother, who learned to DJ in jail playing records his Grandma sent him. Between songs he would speak the felon’s point of view. A recovering junkie and alcoholic he spoke the same language and had been to the same places. Released early thanks to a deal he cut with the warden, he bullied his way into a job at Washington radio station WOL, whose head of programming, Dewey Hughes, was the brother of a fellow inmate. Don Cheadle plays Green and Chiwetel Ejiofor is Hughes.

The film plays out as a ‘what Petey did next’ to a glorious soundtrack of soul and funk music over two decades. Cheadle plays Petey with such exuberance, even when showing his many flaws, that all thoughts of ‘that accent’ in Ocean’s are banished forever. This guy was bling way before bling existed. Green set up volunteer programmes all over the city and encouraged poor kids from the projects to get educated and avoid the path leading to incarceration. Can you imagine Wogan having the same effect? TV snapped him up and he became a big star and eventually quit drinking.

he performances of the two leads are what save the film from becoming a plodding catalogue of Petey adventures. Ejiofor plays the black man working in the white man’s world brilliantly; the initial exchanges between him and Cheadle when Petey derides him by calling him Mr Tibbs are lightning. Hughes went out on a limb for Green and the two became firm and lifelong friends.

The studio boss is Martin Sheen; comically corporate and at first exasperated by Hughes’s decision to employ Green. But it soon becomes apparent to everyone that Green has a connection to the street and the listeners the station wants to reach, through his own experiences and his articulation of the civil rights issues and the plight of the Afro-American; evidenced by his heartfelt announcement of the shooting of Dr King, equal parts sad and angry. Suddenly the voice of the street was being heard by ‘The Man’.

Green had bucket loads of self-belief which the film overall lacks. Take the lead performances away and Talk to Me doesn’t go anywhere, which is a shame because the story deserves better. PA

Things we Lost in the Fire

Are there any better ‘lived in’ faces than Benicio Del Toro‘s? If he saw you at the bus stop and introduced himself as a recovering heroin addict you’d believe him right? Conversely Halle Berry is too beautiful, that smile, those cheekbones, that skin! Luckily they got cast in the right roles, then.

Berry and David Duchovny are prosperous and sexy and utterly devoted to each other and their two kids. Then he gets shot and killed trying to help a woman being attacked and suddenly lives are shattered and the people involved are ill equipped to pick up the pieces. Del Toro plays Jerry, he and Duchovny’s Brian have been best friends forever. He’s a failed lawyer and junkie going to his addict meetings and working as a janitor. Berry turns to him after the shooting to help her get her life back on track. She asks him to come live in the garage, converted after the fire of the title, so they can lean on each other and patch up their lives. This works up to a point but their relationship is strained as Del Toro gets on with the kids really well, knows some of their secrets (because their dad told him), and fulfils some of the role that Duchovny hadn’t a chance to. Berry’s character Audrey is in denial and not coping with her loss.

It is a gently humorous film with a brilliantly convincing performance from Del Toro, especially during cold turkey after a relapse into the old ways. Berry is tearful and luminous but it seems as if it’s nothing more than just a job, emotionally there is no depth. Yes there is a lot of sad, and a drizzle of schmaltz and a surprising amount of emotional intimacy; Bier handles the pace, relationships and chemistry with the actors with expert ease. The kids are really cute too.

Overall it’s unclear what Things We Lost in the Fire is trying to say. Life goes on? We all suffer loss and face traumatic events and sharing is good? Whatever the message, it would be ignored without Del Toro’s mighty performance. PA


Passport? Check. Pants? Check. Camera, laptop, and voice recorder? Check, check,
and check. The Toronto International Film Festival (September 6 – 15)
may still be a few weeks away, but we’re already planning out our itinerary.
Below are a few films we’ll be lining up for in Canada.

With the minor controversy
surrounding
Across the
Universe
(director
Julie Taymor
reportedly had final cut taken away from her), we’re curious to see how the
Beatles-inspired epic turned out.  Universe is among numerous major films
world premiering at Toronto, including
Eastern Promises

(which reunites
History of Violence
‘s
David
Cronenberg
and
Viggo
Mortensen
) and
Lars
and the Real Girl
, whose trailer suggests a delicately twisted time
with Ryan
Gosling
and a blow-up doll. 





While this only recently
registered on our radars, we’re already intrigued with the comedy-drama,
Juno
.  It stars
Ellen Page and
Michael Cera,
as two soon-to-be teenage parents reassessing their lives, and
Jason Bateman

Arrested Development
fans, rejoice!

After squandering his
Match Point
cred
on Scoop, can
Woody Allen
make another late-career recovery?  We’ll see with his new drama,
Cassandra’s Dream
,
about two warring brothers (Ewan
McGregor
,
Colin Ferrel
).  In addition, both rising heavyweights — like
Noah Baumbach
(Margot
at the Wedding
) and
Garth Jennings
(Son of Rambow) — and contemporary masters — such as the
Coen Brothers (No
Country For Old Men
) and
Ang Lee (Lust,
Caution
) — will be hosting their North American premieres.





While we enjoy the festival
night parties as much as anyone else, we may have to cut the nocturnal
revelries short: this year’s Midnight Madness program looks impossibly
awesome.  It’s going to be a marathon of premiering cult cinema, like
Sukiyaki Western Django
(directed by
Takashi Miike),
Stuck (Stuart
Gordon
), The Mother of Tears (Dario
Argento
), and
George A.
Romero’s

The Diary of
the Dead
.  Toronto Film Fest: come for the art, stay for the gore!

Click here for the full TIFF program list. And remember to keep an eye out for our
coverage once the festival starts September 6!

Read on for short reviews of films playing at Sundance: "Son of Rambow" is a delightful Brit-com about some youngsters making a "First Blood"-style action movie, and "Broken English," is a solid romantic comedy, buoyed by Parker Posey‘s charming lead performance.

"Son of Rambow" is Brit-com of a high order. In other words, it’s a scrappy underdog story that’s more than a little predictable but completely charming. "Rambow" tells the story of Will (Bill Milner), a young boy who, as the member of a strict religious order, isn’t allowed to watch TV or movies. His world changes when, after meeting school troublemaker Carter (Will Poulter), he sees a bootleg copy of "First Blood" and is instantly transfixed. The two boys, with the help of a well-coiffed David Gahan-esque French exchange student, set out to make a new Rambo movie, to the consternation of Will’s loving but concerned mother (Jessica Stevenson), who gets an earful about her son’s behavior from church members. "Son of Rambow" is delightful, filled with well-drawn characters, delirious sight gags, and more than a little heart. Writer/ Director Garth Jennings has created a wonderful satire of low budget filmmaking, as well as a poignant coming-of-age tale.


Parker Posey (left) in "Broken English."

"Even I can’t stand the scent of my own desperation," says Nora (Parker Posey) early in Zoe Cassavetes’ "Broken English." Nora has an alcohol problem and terrible luck with the men in her life, which include a self-absorbed TV actor (Justin Theroux), a seemingly nice guy obsessed with his ex (Josh Hamilton), and even, suggests Nora’s mother (Gena Rowlands), the husband of her best friend. She meets an overly romantic Frenchman (Melvil Poupard) at a party, and slowly succumbs to his charms; after he leaves the country, Nora and her best friend (Drea de Matteo) go to Paris to find him, and learn about themselves in the process. "Broken English" isn’t particularly profound, but it’s an enjoyable enough ride, especially because of Posey’s charming performance. She’s the type of girl who could be a catch, if she just took a deep breath.

Check out our full Fundance at Sundance coverage!

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