(Photo by Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images for SBIFF)

Sam Claflin of the Hunger Games and Snow White and the Huntsman franchises stars in Their Finest, a historical drama about Catrin Cole (Gemma Arterton) and the propaganda film crew working in WWII London that employed her as a writer while the majority of the men were on the front lines. Claflin, who’s kept busy managing a successful career and being a new dad, is a huge movie fan himself.

“I could honestly talk about films all day,” he told us, when we asked him about his Five Favorite Films. “That list of five could easily fit between 700,000 that I like. The one thing, I have to say, I’m really upset in myself and quite disappointed by, is that my knowledge of a back catalog of films that were brought out a while ago is pretty lackluster. Purely because I try to keep up-to-date with filmmaking now and the filmmakers now and who I want to work with.” See which ones actually made the list right here:

Notting Hill (1999) 83%

One off the top of my head — I think a film that I have watched time and time again — and every time I watch it I feel that I kind of see something new. I love Notting Hill. It’s by Roger Michell. There’s sort of an English charm — [and] I’m English. There’s sort of that slight insight into the kind of acting world Julia Roberts is playing. The kind of celebrity — I suppose especially me being an actor — there’s a lot of relatable qualities about it. I have a huge entourage of people who are really far away from this industry. So, there’s a sort of connecting dots between myself and them — always sort of very similar to the the world Notting Hill is based in.

When you see a film or a play or read a book about the industry, are you more critical of it? Does it irritate you at all?

I think, honestly, when I watch any film, I tend to find myself very critical, and it’s sometimes very difficult to step out of the actor world and just enjoy it — for being it, you know? I think it is irritating, there’s no doubt about it. I sometimes — especially when I watch with, say, my brothers who aren’t actors, or my parents — if I start kind of being quite judgmental about a performance or about a way that something’s shot or whatever it is…

The one thing that I personally struggle with now more than ever, I suppose, is the amount of CGI that is sometimes used. Sometimes that takes me out. I don’t know if that’s the same, not being an actor. But I feel like, as an actor, having those things in front of you and kind of being able to live it and breathe it and sense every part of it is really important.

I prefer to watch the actors doing the physical acting myself, rather than animation.

Yeah. Well I find that animated films are probably — actually, the moment that I allow myself to kind of not think about being an actor, then I can kind of enjoy them. You know what I mean? They are what they are. I think I enjoy that kind of escapism, almost. The opportunity to not be judgmental and opinionated about someone’s performance. Especially the quality that they do them, the heart and soul that most of them have now — it’s really quite amazing.

A Prophet (2009) 96%

A Prophet is a film that I saw a few years back now. That completely blew my mind,  and I thought that could have easily been quite… Not cheesy; cheesy is the wrong word. They have this sort of ghost and kind of have this supernatural element of it in places. I feel that it could easily kind of be done to a point that it takes me out of the story, but I think they handled it so beautifully and subtly. The madness of it being in the prison system. I thought it was a really gritty, real film. I thought that the performances, in fact, were just wonderful. Very gritty. A Prophet, it’s a strange film. Yeah, it’s really a great film.

No Country for Old Men (2007) 93%

I think… No Country For Old Men. It was my introduction to Javier Bardem, and I think he is such a powerhouse on screen, but that performance, specifically, just kind of blew my mind completely, and it’s such an incredible thriller. It’s a film where not a huge amount happens. You could call it an action film, I suppose, but without — there’s not masses and masses of explosions. It’s a quite simple piece of storytelling, but it’s so beautifully done. And the Coen brothers [Ethan and Joel] did it. So I definitely say that.

The Departed (2006) 90%

I love The Departed. I was only talking about it the other day, in fact. I think it’s Scorsese at his best, in my opinion. I definitely love gangster films generally, like from Casino to the Godfathers. But I think The Departed, being in the modern day and being relatable — I think the cast is just amazing — but there’s something about being in the now that kind of made it a lot more… obviously relevant, but I suppose I connected with it in a much grander scale than I did with the likes of GoodFellas. I love all those films, but I think The Departed sort of resonated more than any of them.

Control (2007) 88%

Another film I really loved is Control. It was directed by Anton Corbijn. It was the story of Joy Division and it was black and white and it was so kind of picturesque. But the cinematography — I think that Anton Corbijn is a photographer who is [an] artist in many forms — some of the shots that he kind of captures in that film are absolutely stunning. I actually haven’t seen his most recent film that I think is called Life, which is a film about James Dean but Control is definitely one I recommend. To anybody.

Are you a fan of Joy Division?

I have to confess: I was a fan of their music before I knew who was singing the songs. So many of their songs, I’d sort of heard in my childhood without realizing they were called Joy Division. When I bought the album a few years before Control came out, I was in drama school — I just remember completely being in awe of their music. The story, I suppose, that follows them as well. I mean that’s why Control is so special. It’s really a wonderful film.


Their Finest opens on Friday, Apr, 7, 2017.

This weekend, director Clint Eastwood returns to theaters with Jersey Boys, an adaptation of the Tony-winning musical inspired by the story of 1960s singing sensations the Four Seasons. Boys puts the band in pretty good company: some of the most popular (as well as a few of the more obscure) musicians of all time have received the biopic treatment, and the results include some of the bigger critical and commercial successes in Hollywood’s history. In honor of Jersey Boys, we decided to take a look back at some of the most distinguished entries in the genre, and came up with a list that pays tribute to punk, classical, and everything in between. It’s time for Total Recall!

Amadeus

93%

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart had been dead for nearly 200 years by the time Milos Forman’s Amadeus bowed in 1984, but his story still proved utterly compelling — even if Peter Shaffer’s screenplay (adapted from his play of the same name) took significant artistic license with the facts of the composer’s life as we know them. Imagining a version of events in which Mozart’s quirky genius so enrages rival composer Antonio Salieri that he devotes himself to thwarting his nemesis personally as well as professionally, Amadeus may or may not be 100 percent accurate, but it’s still hugely entertaining — as evidenced by the whopping eight Academy Awards the movie took home (including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor for F. Murray Abraham, who played an older Salieri), as well as “Rock Me Amadeus,” the quirky, synth-fueled hit that Austrian pop sensation Falco took to the top of the worldwide charts in 1986 after being inspired by the film. “Forman’s tormented, iconoclastic subjects are often pitted against iconic or impersonal antagonists,” wrote Tasha Robinson for the A.V. Club, “but Amadeus‘ conflict remains rivetingly intimate, in spite of its sumptuous, larger-than-life settings.”

Bound for Glory

83%

Following his triple triumph of Harold and Maude, The Last Detail, and Shampoo, director Hal Ashby turned his attention to the life of legendary folk activist Woody Guthrie for 1976’s Bound for Glory. Strictly on biopic terms, Glory is a bit of a muddle, given that it alters, ignores, or just plain makes up much of what transpires on screen — but even as a fictional construct, Guthrie (played here by Kung Fu star David Carradine) proved compelling enough for most critics, many of whom perhaps recognized that any attempt at dramatizing the life of one of American music’s most important figures had to be worth watching. “Bound for Glory is outstanding biographical cinema,” decreed Variety, “not only of the late Woody Guthrie but also of the 1930s Depression era which served to disillusion, inspire and radicalize him and millions of other Americans.”

Coal Miner’s Daughter

86%

Sissy Spacek took home a mantel full of awards — including her only Best Actress Oscar to date — for her work in Coal Miner’s Daughter, and for good reason: she brings the life and music of country legend Loretta Lynn (who was only 48 when the movie was released) to vibrant life on the big screen, anchoring a sweetly triumphant biopic that was bolstered by all-around talent on both sides of the camera, including director Michael Apted and supporting players Tommy Lee Jones, Beverly D’Angelo (both nominated for Golden Globes), and Levon Helm. “The movie isn’t great art, but it has been made with great taste and style,” wrote Roger Ebert, adding that “it’s more intelligent and observant than movie biographies of singing stars used to be.”

Control

88%

Photographer Anton Corbijn’s work for post-punk pioneers Joy Division was (and remains) a crucial element of the band’s image, so it’s only fitting that when Corbijn decided to move into filmmaking, he chose to direct a biopic about frontman Ian Curtis, an infamously tragic figure whose frequently gloomy songwriting hinted at the crippling depression he struggled with even as the group started to make a name for itself. The end result benefits enormously from Corbijn’s distinctive cinematic eye, as well as Sam Riley’s career-launching work (including live musical performances), but it might be most noteworthy simply because Curtis’ 1980 suicide forces audiences to contemplate something other than your standard crowd-pleasing finale. As Garth Franklin observed for Dark Horizons, “Part of the reason this film works so splendidly is that, given its ending, it doesn’t have the luxury of pretend redemption.”

La Bamba

82%

A year before his work in Young Guns turned Wild West outlaw Jose Chavez y Chavez into swoonworthy fodder for bedroom walls, Lou Diamond Phillips turned in an interpretation of an altogether different real-life individual: Ritchie Valens, the seminal Mexican-American rock star whose musical achievements are all the more stunning considering he was only 17 when he died — and had only started his career eight months prior to his tragic death in the 1959 plane crash that also took Buddy Holly and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson. Although he did divert from the historic record on a number of occasions, writer-director Luis Valdez gave Valens his biopic due with La Bamba, delivering an engrossing musical drama led by Phillips’ outstanding performance and a bestselling soundtrack featuring Los Lobos’ convincing renditions of Valens classics. “As Valens, Lou Diamond Phillips has a sweetness and sincerity that in no way diminish the toughness of his onstage persona,” observed Janet Maslin for the New York Times. “The role is blandly written, but Mr. Phillips gives Valens backbone.”

Ray

79%

Long before he assured a generation of Pepsi drinkers that they were chugging the right one, baby, Ray Charles carved out one of the most brilliantly groundbreaking musical careers of the modern era, fusing rock, soul, country, and anything else he felt like playing into one inimitable sound. Charles’ refusal to be defined by his blindness made him an inspiration for the physically impaired, but Taylor Hackford’s 2004 biopic Ray is no mere hagiography — this is the warts-and-all story of an artist whose once-in-a-generation talent was part of a package that included some fairly significant personal foibles, led by an outstanding, Oscar-winning performance from Jamie Foxx. Calling it “A very good film, regardless of whether or not you love Ray Charles’ music,” the Apollo Guide’s Brian Webster argued, “Even if it was a lesser film, Jamie Foxx’s performance would have made it worth watching.”

Shine

91%

It takes an awful lot to get modern audiences to care about the work of a classical pianist — just ask a classical pianist. Fortunately, writer-director Scott Hicks was working with something truly extraordinary for 1996’s Shine: The fact-based story of David Helfgott, the Australian pianist whose triumph over a difficult upbringing and years spent in institutions offered Hicks the grist for one of the best-reviewed films of the year. It also offered the role of a lifetime for Geoffrey Rush, who took home an Oscar for his work as the adult Helfgott — and although like many biopics, Shine provoked outrage from some of the actual people involved, as well as some scathing criticism from classical critics who accused the movie of exaggerating the talents of a player they viewed as an average pianist, there’s no arguing with the compelling drama Hicks and his cast assembled. As Marjorie Baumgarten pointed out for the Austin Chronicle, “If, at times, Shine‘s luster reveals more elbow grease than internal radiance, the movie is still a moving tribute to the human capacity to overcome all odds.”

Sid & Nancy

88%

The tumultuous — and eventually fatal — love affair between Nancy Spungen and Sex Pistols bassist Sid Vicious is the stuff of legend, and although no one except the two of them ever really knew what happened on the night of her death in October of 1978, the grim details we do know are more than enough for a sickly compelling biopic/anti-drug movie, which is exactly what writer-director Alex Cox put together with 1986’s Sid & Nancy. Led by magnetic performances from Gary Oldman as Vicious and Chloe Webb as Spungen, it traces the rise and fall of their dysfunctional relationship, which started with a proposition and ended with a grisly stab wound. Vicious’ Sex Pistols bandmate John Lydon was openly (and forcefully) disdainful of the movie, but as far as most critics were concerned, the movie’s many harrowing moments outweighed any historical inaccuracies. As Roger Ebert put it, “[Cox] and his actors pull off the neat trick of creating a movie full of noise and fury, and telling a meticulous story right in the middle of it.”

Walk the Line

82%

Johnny Cash was a songwriting genius, a titan of country music, and half of one of pop culture’s greatest love stories, but he was also a tremendously flawed human being who endured some legendary personal and legal troubles before settling into a legacy whose impact continues to endure. Summing all that up in a 94-minute movie would seem just about impossible, but James Mangold pulled it off with 2005’s Walk the Line, starring Joaquin Phoenix as Cash and Reese Witherspoon (who walked away with a Best Actress Oscar) as the love of his life, June Carter Cash. A $186 million hit, Line benefited immensely from two incredibly committed performances by its leads: Not only did Phoenix and Witherspoon bring their acting chops to bear on the roles, they proved talented mimics in the recording studio, where they covered a number of Cash classics for the soundtrack. “Walk the Line is unusually moving without ever becoming mawkish, in the usual biopic way,” wrote Kurt Loder for MTV. “It’s a virtual reincarnation of a peerless American artist.”

What’s Love Got to Do with It

97%

To kids who grew up in the ’80s and beyond, Tina Turner was just another powerhouse singer with great legs and loads of glamour, but her story runs quite a bit deeper — and darker — than latter-day hits like “Typical Male” or “The Best” might indicate. Although Kate Lanier’s screenplay took fairly significant liberties with Turner’s true-life tale, director Brian Gibson’s 1993 biopic What’s Love Got to Do with It got some of the most important stuff right — and served as a showcase for tremendous performances from Angela Bassett (as Turner) and Laurence Fishburne (as her ex-husband Ike, the villain of the story). “It’s an astonishing movie,” wrote Stephen Hunter for the Baltimore Sun. “First because despite the pathology of the relationship, it’s not only about victimization; it’s a celebration of spirit, both religious and human, about a woman who finally found the guts (and the faith) to say ‘No more.'”

Take a look through the rest of our Total Recall archives. And don’t forget to check out Jersey Boys.

 

There’s a double dose of George Clooney news that’s emerged at Cannes yesterday.

Firstly, Variety reports that the greying star has signed on to topline A Very Private Gentleman — an adaptation of the Martin Booth novel — which will be directed by Control helmer Anton Corbijn.

The Cloon will play an assassin who hides out in a rustic Italian town before carrying out a final, murderous assignment. Against his better judgement, the cold-hearted killer starts to make friends and becomes entangled in a romantic relationship.

Secondly, his war movie Men Who Stare at Goats – which stars the actor as an ex-member of a secret US army unit that used paranormal tactics – has found itself a US distributor. Overture nabbed the domestic rights. Ewan McGregor, Kevin Spacey and Jeff Bridges also star in the movie.

Look out! Starship Troopers and Transformers are about to assault your senses in HD, and soon you can choose Harold and Kumar’s adventures. This week’s new releases are mostly stinkers (The Eye, Semi-Pro), but Dirty Harry’s got your back with a fantastic new box set. Are you feeling lucky, punk?


Make it a Blockbuster…download…night?

Are video stores headed the way of the dinosaur? Not if Blockbuster can help it. The rental chain has begun testing new in-store download kiosks where customers can zip in, ATM-style, and download movies right onto their digital media players. The goal is to have you in and loaded in 30 seconds — that is, only if you have the Archos media player, which you can buy in a Blockbuster store, which you can use portably or plug into a TV set…which sounds all too troublesome to us lazybones DVD buyers.

Choose Your Own Harold and Kumar Adventure!

Those folks over at New Line must be smoking the good stuff, because making the release of Harold and Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay a Choose Your Own Adventure-style DVD is inspired, to say the least. In addition to switching between new and alternate scenes, you can get up close and personal with the real Harold Lee and “the guy who plays George W. Bush.” Look for it July 25.

An HD Transformers extravaganza!

The web is abuzz with the official news that a Transformers Blu-Ray release will hit stores September 2, supervised by director/spectacle aficionado Michael Bay himself. The 2-Disc Special Edition is expected to boast no less than 30 extras, featurettes, trailers and Easter eggs — all in glorious, ear-shattering, eye-popping HD.

Another Starship Troopers sequel is coming…

Casper Van Dien is back as Johnny Rico, Roughneck soldier and extinguisher of space bugs, in the third installment of the saga that began with Paul Verhoeven‘s 1997 boob-, bomb-, and bug-filled satire. Ed Neumier makes his directorial debut with Starship Troopers: Marauder, which comes to DVD and Blu-Ray August 5; if you’re really Starship crazy, you can buy the entire trilogy the same day.

Disney To Make Movies for Fairies

After you’re done fueling your testosterone levels with Starship Troopers, get in touch with your softer side with the first of four all-new direct-to-DVD Disney films…about fairies! Disney’s had enough of the lame super sequels — Ariel’s racked up a lot of mileage over the years — so they’re turning their attentions to Peter Pan sprite Tinkerbell, who will appear along with her fairy BFFs and talk for the first time in Disney history — unless you count Julia Roberts in Hook, which we admittedly don’t count either.

Click for this week’s new releases!

The Eye


Tomatometer: 21%

One thing might appeal to you about this poor American rehashing of a decent Asian horror film, and that is its star: Jessica Alba. Thankfully, there’s plenty of her to be seen — and a perverse enjoyment to be had from watching her blind “concert violinist” emote around a darkened condo.

Bonus Features:

It’s a 2-disc release with precious little content to warrant the splurge. A digital copy of the film accompanies the DVD — but why, oh, why, would you want to watch it more than once?

Semi-Pro



Tomatometer: 20%

Will Ferrell is up to his usual tricks as Jackie Moon, a 1970s R&B singer (“Love Me Sexy”) turned hoops team owner/player/coach faced trying to lead his ragtag team to league victory; zaniness ensues. The comic’s faithful can forgive the film’s intermittent laughs just for the sight of Ferrell in short shorts, but what about everyone else?

Bonus Features:

You’ll get a digital copy and unrated version of the film in the 2-disc “Let’s Get Sweaty” Edition, plus extended and deleted scenes…but if you hate the film, these extras will just pour more Will Ferrell-flavored salt into the wound. Decide if you’re enough of a Ferrell fan first.



Meet the Spartans


Tomatometer: 02%

The guys behind the “Fill-In-the-Blank” Movies are back again, skewering all things 300. If you revel in gay Spartan jokes, and snort at yet another Britney Spears jab, then you and this movie deserve each other.

Bonus Features:

Pop-up trivia and a cast and crew commentary accompany this…who are we kidding. No amount of extra features could make this DVD worth your while.

Control

Tomatometer: 88%

Thank goodness for good movies! Anton Corbijn‘s stirring, excellent biopic of Joy Division singer Ian Curtis is finally here — a hauntingly intimate, jolting, and lyrical look at the tragic life and death of the pre-fame legend, cut short right as the band was on the brink of post-punk stardom.

Bonus Features:

Immerse yourself in an interview and commentary track with Corbijn, and then marvel at lead Sam Riley and fellow actors (who performed their own songs, filmed live for the movie) in extended concert scenes. Corbijn’s music videos for Joy Division and The Killers also appear on the release.


Boarding Gate

Tomatometer: 26%

The poster says it all: Asia Argento in her underwear and stilettos, pistol in hand. But, buyer be warned: there may be little else to redeem Olivier Assayas‘ stylized neo-thriller, which also features Michael Madsen and a strange turn by Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon.

Bonus Features:

A single making-of featurette makes this a skimpy DVD title; rent it, unless you’ve got to bolster your private Asia Argento home video collection.


Dirty Harry Ultimate Collector’s Edition

Tomatometer: N/A

Ask yourself one question: Do you feel lucky? You should, considering this “ultimate” set of all five Dirty Harry films comes with a passel of uber cool collector’s items, plus a feature-length documentary on the man himself, Clint Eastwood, and all-new commentaries by Eastwood, John Milius, James Fargo, and film critic Richard Schickel.

Bonus Features:

Here’s the loot: five reproduced lobby cards, a poster-sized map of San Francisco detailing Harry’s hunt for the Scorpio killer, never before seen production correspondence, a 40 page hardcover book, and — best of all — a replica Dirty Harry wallet with metal badge and I.D. card.


The Onion Movie

Tomatometer: N/A

America’s finest news source (and employer of hilarious headline writers) The Onion gets its own feature-length movie this week, skewering the news and entertainment industry with signature snark. With a nod to the Kentucky Fried Movie — though leagues below that mark in terms of, well, jokes that work — The Onion Movie won’t be the best new release of the week, but it will probably be more worth your while than Meet the Spartans.

Bonus Features:

Justly deleted scenes and outtakes aren’t funny if the material isn’t funny. But there is some hope, in the form of Mr. Steven Seagal (at the 1:00 mark):

‘Til next week, happy viewing!

The London Critics Circle has announced the nominees for its year-end awards, with Anton Corbijn‘s Control and Joe Wright‘s Atonement leading the pack at eight nominations apiece.

A full list of the nominees follows below, with Tomatometers in parentheses. Let the nitpicking begin!

FILM OF THE YEAR
No Country for Old Men (95 percent)
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (75 percent)
There Will Be Blood (94 percent)
Zodiac (89 percent)
The Bourne Ultimatum (93 percent)

ATTENBOROUGH AWARD FOR BRITISH FILM OF THE YEAR
Once (98 percent)
Control (89 percent)
Atonement (85 percent)
Eastern Promises (88 percent)
This Is England (93 percent)

DIRECTOR OF THE YEAR

Florian Henckel von DonnersmarckThe Lives of Others (93 percent)
Paul Thomas AndersonThere Will Be Blood
Joel and Ethan CoenNo Country for Old Men
David FincherZodiac
Cristian Mungui4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days (96 percent)

BRITISH DIRECTOR OF THE YEAR
Anton Corbijn — Control
Paul GreengrassThe Bourne Ultimatum
Shane MeadowsThis Is England
Joe Wright — Atonement
Danny BoyleSunshine (75 percent)

ACTOR OF THE YEAR
Ulrich MuheThe Lives of Others
Casey AffleckThe Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
George ClooneyMichael Clayton (90 percent)
Tommy Lee JonesIn the Valley of Elah (69 percent)
Daniel Day-LewisThere Will Be Blood

ACTRESS OF THE YEAR
Laura LinneyThe Savages (89 percent)
Marion CotillardLa Vie en rose (74 percent)
Maggie GyllenhaalSherrybaby (72 percent)
Angelina JolieA Mighty Heart (77 percent)
Anamaria Marinca4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days

BRITISH ACTOR OF THE YEAR
Sam RileyControl
James McAvoyAtonement
Christian Bale3:10 to Yuma (87 percent)
Jim BroadbentAnd When Did You Last See Your Father (81 percent)
Jonny Lee MillerThe Flying Scotsman (51 percent)

BRITISH ACTRESS OF THE YEAR
Samantha MortonControl
Julie ChristieAway From Her (95 percent)
Keira KnightleyAtonement
Helena Bonham CarterSweeney Todd (92 percent)
Sienna MillerInterview (57 percent)

BRITISH ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

Tom WilkinsonMichael Clayton
Toby JonesThe Painted Veil (75 percent)
Alfred MolinaThe Hoax (86 percent)
Tobey Kebell — Control
Albert FinneyBefore the Devil Knows You’re Dead (87 percent)

BRITISH ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
Saoirse RonanAtonement
Imelda StauntonHarry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (77 percent)
Tilda SwintonMichael Clayton
Kelly MacdonaldNo Country for Old Men
Vanessa RedgraveAtonement

SCREENWRITER OF THE YEAR
Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck — The Lives of Others
Joel and Ethan Coen — No Country for Old Men
Paul Thomas Anderson — There Will Be Blood
Ronald HarwoodThe Diving Bell and the Butterfly (94 percent)
Christopher HamptonAtonement

BRITISH BREAKTHROUGH — ACTING
Saoirse Ronan — Atonement
Sam Riley — Control
Thomas TurgooseThis Is England
Benedict CumberbatchAmazing Grace (71 percent)
Dakota Blue RichardsThe Golden Compass

BRITISH BREAKTHROUGH — FILMMAKING
John Carney, writer and director — Once
Sarah Gavron, director — Brick Lane (68 percent)
Anton Corbijn, director — Control
Matt Greenhalgh, writer — Control
Stevan Riley, writer, director, producer — Blue Blood

FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM OF THE YEAR
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days
The Lives of Others
Letters From Iwo Jima (91 percent)
Tell No One (93 percent)

Source: Variety

This week at the movies we got lawyer types (Michael
Clayton
, starring
George Clooney
and Tilda
Swinton
), dueling brothers (We Own the Night,
starring Joaquin Phoenix and
Mark Wahlberg),
virgin queens (Elizabeth:
The Golden Age
, starring
Cate Blanchett),
baseball hopefuls (The
Final Season
, starring
Sean Astin and
Powers Boothe),
Beatles-inspired lovers (Across the Universe,
starring Evan Rachel
Wood
and
Jim Sturgess),
and reunited college friends (Tyler Perry’s Why Did I
Get Married?
). What say ye, critics?

Critics frequently bemoan the fact that movies are no
longer made for adults. Who better to come to their rescue than
George Clooney,
oft-called the Cary Grant of our generation? Clooney stars in
Michael Clayton
as
a washed-up legal consultant caught up in a pesticide case that isn’t quite what
it seems, with support from Tilda
Swinton
,
Tom Wilkinson, and
Sydney Pollack.
With strong performances all around, critics call this a challenging but
rewarding movie that also doesn’t skimp out on the popcorn factor.
At a Certified Fresh 89 percent, critics sustain Michael Clayton‘s appeal.



Wilkinson preparing to celebrate Bastille Day for the next 17
years.

Actors frequently re-team with directors they’ve worked with before. But two principal actors? Only once in a blue moon. Such an
event strikes for
We Own the Night
, a crime drama/thriller about two brothers on
opposite sides of the law. The film reunites
Joaquin Phoenix and
Mark Wahlberg
with director James Gray, who all previously created 2000’s
The Yards. But the
trio isn’t having as much luck the second time around: critics say Night cribs from
The Godfathers and
The Departed, while relying too heavily
on improbable plot turns to fuel the action.  But moviegoers who don’t expect
anything particularly original can have a reasonably good time. At 50 percent,
Night gets close, but doesn’t quite Own.



Who makes Mark Wahlberg a star? Who owns the night? We do, we do!

Cate Blanchett
is one of the best actresses on the planet today, and with
Elizabeth: The Golden Age
,
she revisits the role that made her a star. Big mistake, critics say. Age
picks up where its predecessor left off, with the Virgin Queen navigating the
rough waters of political unrest in 16th Century Europe, as well as palace
intrigue closer to home. The pundits say the costume and set design are
impeccable, but otherwise, this is a campy, bombastic flick, filled with silly
dialogue and featuring a script that’s more hysterical than historical. At 29 percent on the Tomatometer, this one ain’t golden. And it’s a steep drop from
the Certified Fresh
original
(at 79 percent).



Elizabeth contemplates conquering Narnia next.

It’s October, and that means it’s time for some
super-dramatic baseball action. Unfortunately, we’re talking about the MLB
playoffs, not
The Final Season
, which critics say is as predictable as
Alex Rodriguez failing in the clutch. Directed by
David Mickey Evans (who helmed
the cult-fave The Sandlot), Season is the story of a tiny Iowa
high school with a proud baseball tradition that may come to an end because of
redistricting. Season features a strong cast that includes
Sean Astin,
Powers Boothe, and
Rachael Leigh Cook, and the film oozes sincerity. But pundits
say it’s as safe as an intentional walk and as clichéd as a post-game interview.
At 11 percent on the Tomatometer, The Final Season is way below the
cinematic Mendoza line.



"11 percent?"

Is there anybody going to listen to this story, all about
Julie Taymor‘s attempt to capture the zeitgeist of the 1960s through the music
of the Beatles? As far as
Across the Universe
goes, some critics say
stop, others say go, go, go. Universe is the story of Lucy (Evan Rachel
Wood
) and Jude (Jim Sturgess), a young couple who stalk across the political and
social landscape of the tumultuous decade to the tune of such classics as "Come
Together," "Helter Skelter," and "All You Need is Love." The critics are pretty
split on Universe: some say the film is an audacious, beautiful movie
that will make you feel all right. But others say it’s all wrong (that is, they
think they disagree), calling the film an exercise in excess with bland
characters. We hope the film’s 52 percent Tomatometer will
Help!
you decide to see it or not.



An early incarnation of The Blue Man Group.

With his heartfelt domestic dramedies, Tyler Perry has
established himself as a commercial sure thing. But he’s yet to win over
critics, which may be why his latest,
Tyler Perry’s Why Did I
Get Married?
,
wasn’t screened before release. It’s the story of a reunion of college friends,
who, over the course of a long weekend together, begin to question their
marriages. Guess the Tomatometer.



"What happened to Steve Buscemi?"

Also opening this week in limited release:
Control
,
a
biopic of Joy Division singer Ian Curtis, is at 90 percent (check out our interview with director Anton Corbijn
here);
Terror’s Advocate
,
Barbet
Schroder
‘s documentary portrait of an
attorney for the undefendable, is at 83 percent on the Tomatometer;
Lars and
the Real Girl
, starring
Ryan Gosling as a delusional guy dating a female doll, is at 78 percent (check out our review from Toronto
here);
Canvas,
a drama about a family dealing with one member’s schizophrenia, is at 71
percent;
Golda’s Balcony
, about the Israeli prime minister, is at 64
percent; and Sleuth, an update of the 1972 murder mystery starring
Michael Caine and
Jude Law, is at 48 percent.



"We couldn’t quite afford Jessica Alba. But we got a good
replacement."

Recent Cate Blanchett Movies:

————————————-

69% —
I’m Not There
(2007)
32% —
The Good German
(2006)
87% —
Notes on a Scandal
(2006)
68% — Babel (2006) 
85% —
Little Fish
(2006)

Recent Mark Wahlberg Movies:

—————————————-

48% —
Shooter
(2007)
92% —
The Departed
(2006)
70% —
Invincible
(2006)
52% —
Four Brothers
(2005)
61% —
I Heart Huckabees
(2004)

Anton Corbijn, director of Control

Anton Corbijn was a 24-year-old professional photographer when he decided to move from his native Holland to England, partly to meet and shoot some of his favorite musicians. One such band was the post-punk outfit Joy Division, who Corbijn met within two weeks of his arrival. A subsequent photo shoot in a London subway station became one of the most iconic photos of the group, whose deep, melancholy music became more notorious when lead singer Ian Curtis committed suicide on the eve of the band’s first U.S. tour.

After Curtis’ death, Joy Division became New Order, and Corbijn went on to an acclaimed career in photography and directing music videos (including Depeche Mode’s “Personal Jesus,” Henry Rollins’ “Liar,” and Nirvana’s “Heart-Shaped Box”). When Corbijn’s attention turned to cinema, he initially turned down the chance to make Control — which is based on the memoir Touching from a Distance, by Ian’s widow Deborah Curtis — but came back to the film after realizing that his own emotional attachment to the story lingered, decades later.

The result is a true passion project, crafted with a photographer’s eye in starkly beautiful black and white shades. While known to use monochrome palettes in much of his still work, Corbijn says the cinematic choice simply made sense, as his recollections of Joy Division (and post-punk journalism in the late 1970s) are all black and white. Likewise, the stars seem to have aligned when it comes to Control‘s stirring central performance by newcomer Sam Riley, whose spot-on resemblance to Curtis in both image and sound lend Corbijn’s film an element of painful authenticity. Control deservingly nabbed directorial and acting honors at the Cannes and Edinburgh film festivals, and opens in limited release this week.

Rotten Tomatoes: How did you first meet Ian Curtis and Joy Division?

Anton Corbijn: Well, I was a photographer and I loved their music. I thought they were an amazing band, that’s why I moved from Holland to England. And I met up with them within two weeks of moving to England, and I did this picture that became later well known. But I was a photographer about seven years before I met Joy Division, so it was not the first thing that I did but it was the first thing I did when I moved to England.

RT: How did you prepare — or did you prepare at all — for backlash from Joy Division fans?

AC: No, not really. The thing is I knew I wanted to be correct, from my perspective, because I’d seen Joy Division live, and there are also visual references to their performances, so you knew that you could really work on it to get this correct. And that way I knew I would satisfy Joy Division fans who are anal about this sort of thing. So we just made sure we got it right; the other bits, with Ian [Curtis], there are no references to so that’s all about talking to people and getting it right. That was a very important part of the story, if not the most important part.

RT: The use of black and white is especially powerful in Control. Can you talk about why that choice was appropriate?

AC: I think it’s beneficial to the film, in a sense, because it’s very dramatic, the use of black and white in a film. But the real reason I chose it is that all my memories of that period and Joy Division in particular are black and white memories. If you go back to try to find official references, old photographs, of Joy Division, I would say without exception you’re going to find them to be in black and white. So combine that with their album sleeves being in black and white, the clothing being not very bright in the sense of colors, it just felt appropriate.


Sam Riley as Ian Curtis in Control

RT: What was it like to transition from photojournalist to artist?

AC: Well you know, all these changes evolve over time, and quite slowly. My photography changed from being more documentary-like to arranging things more and that came into being partly because I started doing music videos, and I incorporated some things from the music videos into my photography again, by arranging things more. So my later work is more conceptual, and I also do design and both graphic and stasis, and I’m keen on trying other forms of visual discipline; a film is such a big thing that you tend to push it in front of you, you don’t think you can do it, you don’t also think that you can find the time to do it — it will take a year of your life, at least, to make a film. So it’s very hard to commit to that while you’re working on something else.

A lot of scripts that I was given I didn’t feel were right for me, because I didn’t feel anything for them — I didn’t feel like I was going to change in life and start directing. But then this came along. Having initially said no, I came back to it because I felt it resonated so much with a lot of my life, especially when I was younger, so I felt that I had at least an emotional connection to the story that would maybe compensate for the lack of knowledge of filmmaking.

RT: Seeing as this is your first feature film, and first time directors often start with passion projects, was that a factor in determining what your first film would be?

AC: I think if you don’t feel passionate about the first movie you’re doing, in the end the project will lack something because you don’t have enough experience to make the movie something special. I think if you have the passion, that becomes such a drive for everything else that you can feel it in the movie, and it also drives other people that you work with in other departments of filmmaking. For my next project I can do a story that I don’t feel emotionally connected to — because you learn so much from making your first film that you learn the craftsmanship, that you can also apply to something that you think is a great story, without having the personal emotional connection to it.


Joy Division signs with Factory Records’ Tony Wilson in Control

RT: Are you deciding on your next project already?

AC: Well I don’t have the story yet, but I have the idea of the story.

RT: Will you write it yourself?

AC: No, I need somebody to either work with me or work for me, as it were.

RT: I saw in the press notes you mentioned possibly looking into a thriller.

AC: Right. I didn’t realize it was in the press notes! [Laughs.] So much for trying to keep it a secret!

RT: Do you find that a lot of people that have seen the movie so far are enthusiastic about it?

AC: Yeah, I mean I just keep my fingers crossed. Now we’re getting a bunch of people who say they really hate it but it’s been really positive. Also there are a lot of women, I have to say, which I really like because initially people said “Oh, it’s going to be a biopic of Joy Division,” which it really isn’t of course. But when you say that, you expect a guy’s film because it’s a band, but now I find that women really take to the story because it’s really a tragic love story, that’s what the story’s about. It’s not a movie about Joy Division. I saw people at the screening that I knew, from England, and they really loved it. It’s just unbelievable. It’s really so powerful, the performances are so compelling and it’s a very sad ending.

RT: You should claim credit for a lot of that praise. The compositions are beautiful —

AC: Yeah, but that’s easy! I think if I lay any claim it’s that I managed to work well with the actors, and that for me is the real work. That was new for me, and that’s what I put all my energy into. The look of it, I knew I could do that. Anybody can sort of do that.


Sam Riley as Ian Curtis in Control

RT: Is it strange getting all this attention now as a director, when you’ve been directing music videos for a while?

AC: Yeah, but music videos are…they’re little hobbies, in a way. It’s not a matter of life and death, and I think filmmaking is much more serious; you can change people’s perception of things and really have an emotional impact. It’s very hard to do that with music videos. There’s only one music video that had an emotional impact on me, and that’s “Hurt” by Johnny Cash. That’s exceptional. There is no music video I can think of apart from that one that really reaches you inside.

RT: Do you think that’s something that’s really dismissed too easily with music videos, that they’re not taken very seriously?

AC: Yes, I think there was a period in the 1980s and 1990s, that it was an art form to some people. But now — well actually I don’t watch them anymore, I shouldn’t comment on it. But it doesn’t mean much in my life.

RT: This is probably one of my favorite films of the year so far.

AC: Thank you. [Smiles] It’s a shame it’s not December.

RT: Have you begun thinking about awards season?

AC: Well, we got some awards already, but…you don’t make a film for awards. We managed at the Edinburgh Film Festival to get best film, and best actor for Sam [Riley] so that was beautiful. And at Cannes we got some stuff [Control won awards for best European film, best film in the Director’s Fortnight sidebar, and best first or second directed feature]. So, it’s all great. When you make a film without any of these expectations, it’s all beautiful, and that’s what happened. We had no expectations; we just wanted to make this film.

Control is out this week in limited release and is Certified Fresh with a 90 percent Tomatometer.

Ryan Phillippe, Eva Green, and Sam Riley are heading into the future.

Variety reports that the trio has signed on to star in Franklyn, the feature-length debut from director Gerald McMorrow. The film’s synopsis, from the article:

Pic, set in contemporary London and a future metropolis dominated by faith, weaves the tale of four lost souls divided by two parallel worlds on course for an explosive collision when a single bullet will decide all their fates.

Yeah, we don’t really understand it either. But McMorrow’s previous effort, a short film titled Thespian X, won the Turner Classic Short Film Festival prize at the London Film Festival, as well as awards at the Tribeca and Berlin festivals, so he must know what he’s doing. Franklyn will be Riley’s first feature since appearing as doomed Joy Division frontman Ian Curtis in Anton Corbijn‘s Control.

Source: Variety

Well, it certainly hasn’t been a dull festival. Tons of films big (Michael Clayton) and small (Juno) have screened to kudos, and on the whole there haven’t been very many outright disappointments (notwithstanding George Romero‘s Diary of the Dead and a few others).

It’s now a week into the Toronto Film Festival, and we definitely have our favorites. They include, in no particular order: the Ian Curtis biopic Control, the quirky teen comedy Juno, Lars and the Real Girl starring Ryan Gosling, and Julie Taymor‘s ambitious Beatles-infused Across the Universe. Many other entries are good as well (No Country for Old Men, Michael Clayton, Lust, Caution, Disengagement). A few in particular are unconventionally enjoyable (Sukiyaki Western Django, Nothing is Private).


Across the Universe

I just came from a press screening of Brian DePalma‘s Redacted, anticipation of which stemmed from its second-place showing last week at the Venice Film Festival (where Ang Lee‘s Lust, Caution took the Golden Lion prize). With an unconventional format that combines a French-narrated faux-documentary, a deployed soldier’s home videos, local Arab television reports and fictional video-hosting websites, Redacted tells the (based-on-a-true) story of a group of U.S. Army soldiers involved in the rape and murder of an Iraqi girl. DePalma’s film is at least rife with meaning, though there are so many divisive issues concerning Iraq in Redacted that it’s hard to know where to start. Are U.S. peace-keeping procedures dangerously confusing to Iraqis? Does mutual misunderstanding often lead to tragic civilian casualties? Do the media keep the rest of us adequately informed about a war that is happening on the other side of the world? Redacted is likely to split critics (one journalist warned me off, calling it straight-up “bad,” while a smattering of applause erupted at the end of my screening).

Plenty of other films have gotten mixed receptions as well. Julie Taymor notoriously battled with studio execs over her Across the Universe, which combines a 1960s-1970s love story with historical events, all set to a near non-stop soundtrack of Beatles songs. Sound good to you, fellas? Unsurprisingly, Across the Universe seems to leave many male reviewers cold, while women (and predisposed lovers of musicals) enjoy it much more. The film is out in limited release this week. Full review to come!

Speaking of high profile cinematic gambles, I’m headed out to the late night screening of Todd HaynesI’m Not There. Cate Blanchett nabbed Venice honors for her portrayal of Bob Dylan; six more actors take on different aspects of the legendary musician’s life and persona, including Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, and Richard Gere. More on that very shortly.


Ah, Edinburgh, a city known for contrast, vibrancy, comedy, castles and, for a couple of weeks in August, a little congestion. You see, the Edinburgh International Film Festival competes with the infamous Fringe comedy festival, as well as half a dozen other festivals, and no-doubt a couple of weddings and a stag do. Hotel rooms are as scarce as A-listers from the film and comedy world are abundant and restaurants are practicing their, “I’m sorry sir, you should have booked in February,” routine.

Edinburgh Castle

The festival has, in the past, played home to the world premiere of Serenity and the European first-show for Clerks II. Its programme is open to the public, and provides a wide variety of home-grown, European, American and international cinema. This festival sees two of the freshest movies of the year from the US play to UK audiences for the first time – Knocked Up and Ratatouille and they’re joined by the indie likes of Hallam Foe and French warbler Les Chansons d’Amour.

In short, there’s something for everyone of every age, gender and nationality, and it’s probably one of the most relaxed and, in turn, exciting festivals on the calendar. It’s also a good place to start or join in that ever-exciting early awards buzz, and with that in mind we thought it’d be a good idea to let you know what we and the critics think of the films on display so you can add them to your wish-list.

So without further ado we present, in no particular order, our fifteen favourites of the festival. We’ve gathered quotes from the Tomatometer and our critic friends too to spotlight the cream of the cinematic crop as chosen by our international pool of critics and ourselves respectively.

THE BEST OF BRITISH
Five films that represent the best the UK has to offer at the Edinburgh Film Festival – whether produced in the UK, directed by British talent or starring British actors.

Hallam Foe – dir. David Mackenzie

Hallam Foe

You may remember director David Mackenzie‘s previous films, Young Adam and Asylum, with respective Tomatometers favouring fresh and rotten. In the eyes of the critics we’ve spoken to, and this dashing RT-UK editor, Hallam Foe looks set to do away with any doubts and land firmly as one of the year’s freshest.

Being the tale of a rather strange teenager, the titular Hallam, who escapes a devilish stepmother for the lofty heights of Edinburgh and falls in love with a woman who’s the spitting image of his mother, the oedipal tale is at turns hilarious and heart-rending. As is Mackenzie’s wont, it’s about real people with unique lives and as a coming-of-age drama there is none finer. Its depiction of this festival’s host city, Edinburgh, isn’t troubled by big-screen sheen – this is the real Edinburgh, and it’s beautiful.

Bell and Myles are outstanding, and Claire Forlani reaches a level of wicked sadism that only Claire Forlani could accomplish and still have you falling madly in love with her. It’s quirky, but not so quirky that it becomes ridiculous, and it’s probably one of the finest films you’ll see this year.

“Affirms the raw talents of both David Mackenzie and Jamie Bell (who’s come a long way since Billy Elliot).”
Rich Cline, SHADOWS ON THE WALL

“An intriguing rites-of-passage story with a delirious, skewed perspective and an almost palpable sexual pulse.”
Damon Wise, EMPIRE MAGAZINE

Stardust – dir. Matthew Vaughn

Stardust

We first experienced a sprinkle of Stardust courtesy of director Matthew Vaughn‘s invitation to the edit suite and while we loved what we saw we were curious to see if the film could maintain the pitch of the footage for its entire runtime. Having taken two trips to see the unfinished version, we’d say we’re fairly enthusiastic about the results.

Based on the novel by Neil Gaiman (to settle the argument before it starts, it began life as an illustrated novel before being published without the illustrations), Stardust follows young Tristan Thorn (newcomer Charlie Cox) as he journeys across “the wall” into a magical land in quest of a falling star to retrieve for the beautiful Victoria (Sienna Miller) in exchange for her hand in marriage. When he discovers the star is actually a young woman (Claire Danes), they begin a quest back home and, along the way, are pursued by a handsome prince (Mark Strong), a wicked witch (Michelle Pfeiffer) and a devilish pirate (Robert De Niro), all of whom have their own designs on the star.

And if that cast list isn’t enough to woo you, pray silence as we barrage you with Peter O’Toole, Ian McKellen, Mark Williams, Ricky Gervais, David Walliams and Rupert Everett.

And we have a Princess Bride fan in the office who’s convinced he’s found a movie to rival his classic. You can start queuing now.

“With its heart worn proudly on its sleeve, it’s one of the best date movies of the year, a compatibility litmus test for starry-eyed romantics.”
Kevin Crust, LOS ANGELES TIMES

“The antic spirit of The Princess Bride looms large over Stardust, creatively adapted from Neil Gaiman’s much more sober 1998 graphic novel. That’s probably a good call.”
Joshua Rothkopf, TIME OUT NEW YORK

WAZ – dir. Tom Shankland

Waz

On paper WAZ (the A is actually a Delta symbol so it’s pronounced Was or W-Delta-Z depending on the mood you’re in) looks like every other torture porn movie cluttering cinemas at the moment. But to lump it in with Saw and Hostel would be to do it a disservice, because this debut feature from director Tom Shankland is much more inventive.

Detective Eddie Argo and his new partner, Helen Westcott, begin investigating a series of grisly murders with one thing in common; a mathematical equation has been carved into each of the victims. When they learn that the equation – the WAZ of the title is a part of it – is designed to test altruism, and that the victims are being offed in pairs, forced to kill each other to “save” themselves, the case turns even nastier, and as Westcott gets to know her new precinct she’s seeing things that don’t add up in the police department’s handling of previous cases.

Set in New York but filmed, predominantly, in Belfast, with a cast that includes a Swede, an Australian and a Brit, the accents are a touch on the unpredictable side, but stirring performances from Stellan Skarsgard, Melissa George, Ashley Walters and Selma Blair make you forget those troubles, and the film creates a visually arresting universe and ramping tension that keep you glued to the screen.

“Director Tom Shankland launches himself into the industry with a fierce sense of style and energy to spare.”
Rich Cline, SHADOWS ON THE WALL

WAZ distastefully delivers.”
Derek Elley, VARIETY

Sugarhouse – dir. Gary Love

Sugarhouse

Lest you think we have a thing for Ashley Walters, it’s worth pointing out that Sugarhouse and WAZ mark genuinely impressive turns by the young actor following his stunning breakthrough in Bullet Boy. We’d make some sort of So Solid Career pun but that’d be annoying.

Sugarhouse, another debut film this time from director Gary Love, is a smarter kind of Brit gangster flick. Walters is crackhead D who is looking to sell a gun to Steven Mackintosh’s city worker. D’s motives are money, his client’s are revenge. But there’s a third in the form of Andy Serkis as this year’s most terrifying baddie, Hoodwink. The gun’s his and he’s damn sure not going to let D sell it on.

Based on a play, Sugarhouse is decidedly intimate, most of the action collected around D’s crack den, and its sense of realism – lacking in the works of Guy Ritchie and Matthew Vaughn – is refreshing. It’s not about effing and blinding, it’s about the seedier side of life.

“Despite thin caricatures and dodgy dialogue, this still stands out on the street.”
Kat Brown, EMPIRE MAGAZINE

“Andy Serkis delivers a performance that makes his turn as King Kong look like Johnny Vegas’s knitted monkey sidekick.”
Stella Papamichael, BBC

Control – dir. Anton Corbijn

Control

Starring Sam Riley, Samantha Morton, Craig Parkinson and Alexandra Maria Lara

Anton Corbijn‘s Control captivated audiences upon its Cannes debut earlier this year, and with good reason; the biopic of Joy Division’s late lead singer, Ian Curtis, delivers a somber but beautiful glimpse into the life of the tortured musician that should enrich fans of the Manchester band and move the uninitiated in comparable measure.

Shot in gorgeously stark black and white monochrome, Control follows Curtis (Sam Riley), a sensitive working-class daydreamer in 1970s England, as he falls into the role of lead singer for a local band. That band, of course, soon becomes post-punk legend Joy Division; the lads sign a record deal, go on tour, and get big. But life gets in the way of fame for Curtis, and the demands of his budding fame – a young wife (Samantha Morton) and child, and a new girlfriend (Alexandra Maria Lara) on the side – paired with recurring epileptic seizures that render him helpless sometimes mid-concert, become too much for him to juggle.

With its pulsating score (all songs performed, and well, by the actors themselves) and a transcendent central performance by Curtis doppelganger Riley, Control paints a sensitive portrait of a tragic artist whose legacy lived on for decades after his untimely death at the age of 23.

“Corbijn has done his research during 30 years as a photographer, striking a realistic balance between farce and tragedy.”
Stephen Dalton, THE TIMES

“Somber, sad and compelling.”
Russell Edwards, VARIETY

THE BEST OF THE US
We cross the Atlantic (figuratively) to take a look at the five top films playing in Edinburgh from the US of A.

In the Shadow of the Moon – dir. David Sington

In the Shadow of the Moon

Featuring Buzz Aldrin, Alan Bean, Michael Collins and Jim Lovell

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.

“The excitement, majesty and extraordinary human accomplishment of the American lunar program of the ’60s and early ’70s is rousingly captured in In the Shadow of the Moon.”
Todd McCarthy, VARIETY

“This exquisite documentary about the Apollo program takes the magic of moon flight and miraculously makes it downright down-to-Earth.”
Frank Lovece, FILM JOURNAL INTERNATIONAL

Ratatouille – dir. Brad Bird

Ratatouille

Starring Patton Oswalt, Ian Holm, Lou Romano and Peter O’Toole

Films about rats, it seems, don’t tend to go down well with the squeamish movie-going public. That’s just about the only way to explain the poorer-than-expected box office returns for the gem that is Ratatouille. Of course, we’re not talking bomb here – it’s currently sitting at around $300m so they won’t be remortgaging – but it’s a surprise considering it’s one of Pixar’s finest movies in a crop of fine movies.

The project, about a gastronomic rat named Remy who finds himself the sous-sous-chef at a posh restaurant, has a troubled history; original director Jan Pinkava was replaced by Brad Bird with barely a year of the seven-year development time left on the clock. Pinkava left Pixar and has “no comment” on the whole affair, but given last year’s troubled Cars the tabloid tales have knocked a little of the sheen from Pixar.

Fortunately the film – credit to Bird and Pinkava – is astonishing and more than settles any doubts about the affair affecting the movie. As is traditional with Pixar, the actors are chosen because they’re right for their characters and the film’s visuals shame every other CG movie released this year. Bring on Wall-E.

“Displaying the usual meticulousness associated with the Pixar brand, Ratatouille is a nearly flawless piece of popular art.”
A.O. Scott, NEW YORK TIMES

“A film as rich as a sauce béarnaise, as refreshing as a raspberry sorbet, and a lot less predictable than the damn food metaphors and adjectives all us critics will churn out to describe it. OK, one more and then I’ll be done: it’s yummy.”
David Ansen, NEWSWEEK

Death Proof – dir. Quentin Tarantino

Death Proof

Caught up in this year’s Grindhouse scandal – Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez made two back-to-back flicks to be put out as one and then no-one in America went to see them – Death Proof is the Weinstein Company’s first attempt at recouping some of the expense internationally. It’s Tarantino’s half, which means lots of talking, lots of references to classic pop-culture, and plenty of hot women with well-manicured feet.

The film follows Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell) as he crosses country to do damage to a bevy of beauties in his “death proof” car – he can crash it at any speed and live to tell the tale. So we first meet Jungle Julia (Sydney Poitier) and her posse (Vanessa Ferlito, Jordan Ladd and, notsomuch, Rose McGowan) before the film shifts state and introduces us to stuntgirls Tracie Thoms and Zoe Bell (who was Uma’s stunt-double on Kill Bill and their friends Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Rosario Dawson.

But it’s not so much about the story or the characters as it is about the Tarantino dialogue, the homages to seventies B-movies and the fake film grain added to make it look like the print has been kicked around a bit. One segment is even in black-and-white suggesting it’s not even a complete print and the missing reel has been substituted with one from a black-and-white version of the film.

Death Proof, the standalone, replaces a title card pointing to a missing reel in the Grindhouse version with the full version, a seedy lap dance from Ferlito. And it’s steamy-hot but, of course, all the good frames have been ripped out – presumably stolen by projectionists as the print gathered dust. It’s all a very heart-warming reference to classic B cinema.

As a standalone, Death Proof is far more satisfying than it is as part of Grindhouse, though a scene with Michael Parks, while far too good to cut out, doesn’t working without the audience having seen Planet Terror. The irony is that, because Planet Terror builds to a crescendo ending and is followed by a film that takes a while to get going, Death Proof should have been the first part of Grindhouse and Planet Terror should have been the first to be released independently. Still, forgive the Weinstein mistakes and be sure you see Death Proof, even if you’re one of the lucky ones to have already seen Grindhouse.

“All the nutrition of a narcotic compound.”
James Rocchi, CINEMATICAL

“A beautiful piece of Americana. Stupid, and brilliant.”
– Alistair McKay, SCOTLAND ON SUNDAY

Knocked Up – dir. Judd Apatow

Knocked Up

There’s a reason this comedy – usually a tough genre with the critics – is currently sitting in the nineties on the Tomatometer; it’s genuinely that good. From The 40-Year-Old Virgin helmer Judd Apatow, Seth Rogen stars as a man whose one-night-stand turns into a twenty-year commitment when his beau, Katherine Heigl, turns up pregnant. Oops.

Perhaps the buzziest film of the year – an R-rated trailer first circulated virally ages ago – it’s a laugh-a-minute romp through hysterically inappropriate gags with Rogen chewing the scenery at every opportunity, and fantastic supporting performances from Paul Rudd and Alan Tudyk.

Keep an eye out for Jonah Hill – you’re about to hear his name a lot when Superbad hits cinemas – and be sure to bring the girlfriend. Knocked Up‘s real success is that it appeals to every demographic, with just the right mix of cheap laughs and heartfelt drama that both sexes will fall in love with it, and it’s loveable “hero”.

“A refreshingly frank, funny odd-couple comedy with engaging leads and too many belly laughs to count.”
Tom Charity, CNN.COM

“Apatow’s gleefully raunchy movies are, in an odd and charming way, extremely family-friendly.”
Joe Leydon, VARIETY

Paranoid Park – dir. Gus van Sant

Paranoid Park

Starring Gabe Nevins, Taylor Momsen, Daniel Liu and Dillon Hines

Gus van Sant is fascinated with adolescence, and his fascination has thrown out some deeply meditative films in the last few years. From his Cannes triumph Elephant, through Last Days and now Paranoid Park, van Sant’s stoic trilogy is a labour of love that seems to shun convention at every turn.

While Last Days, ostensibly a biopic of the final hours of Kurt Cobain, and Elephant, about high-school serial killers, have courted controversy, Paranoid Park plays things decidedly safer, adapting Blake Nelson’s novel about a skater boy who accidentally kills a security guard while venturing out-of-bounds on Portland’s rail network.

And because it’s safer it’s also probably his most accessible of the three – Elephant and Last Days did little until their powerful endings while Paranoid Park first introduces us to Alex (played by newcomer Gave Nevins) before exploring how the accident affects his life.

The film looks beautiful and is rather unconventionally shot in the square 4:3 aspect ratio, while 8mm cutaways punctuate the film gracefully. It’s a testament to van Sant’s ability that he can say so much by doing so little; you could collect the film’s dialogue on a postage stamp.

“Van Sant has composed an emotional mosaic that brings you inside Alex.”
Kirk Honeycutt, HOLLYWOOD REPORTER

“Bears some similarities with Elephant. A similarly photogenic teen milieu is shot with fluid, graceful camerawork; a non-linear structure slots together like a puzzle to reveal the panicked mindset of a boy under agreat deal of stress.”
Wendy Ide, THE TIMES

THE BEST OF THE REST
Of course, Edinburgh is about more than British and American movies – here we take a look at some top titles from the rest of the world, as well as a few British and American flicks that we couldn’t quite squeeze into the first two categories.

Day Watch – dir. Timur Bekmambetov

Day Watch

Starring Konstantin Khabensky, Mariya Poroshina, Aleksei Chadov and Dima Martynov

Timur Bekmambetov‘s follow-up to his masterful Night Watch – a film which came out of left field from Russia and gave Hollywood a run for its money – is possibly even less accessible than its predecessor. Day Watch cuts straight into the universe, grabbing its audience by the lapels and forcing us to remind ourselves of the story so far.

It’s also decidedly more heartfelt than Night Watch; Khabensky’s Anton wrestling with a son who’s deserted him for the Day Watch and his responsibilities to his unit. The line Anton walks is blurrier than anything to come out of the big American studios, and it’s refreshing to see a little ambiguity.

Jeannette Catsoulis says it best in the New York Times. Day Watch “dazzles and confuses with equal determination.”

“Spectaculars don’t come much more bombastic than this goth-Russian supernatural epic.”
Colin Covert, MINNEAPOLIS STAR TRIBUNE

“The filmmakers destroy Moscow with the same glee that Godzilla has in stomping Tokyo. Even though Day Watch is probably a good 20 minutes too long, it’s easy to forgive its excesses because Bekmambetov just seems to be having so much fun.”
Beth Accomando, KPBS.ORG

A Mighty Heart – dir. Michael Winterbottom

A Mighty Heart

When A Mighty Heart was first announced the reaction seemed to be shock – Angelina Jolie as a black woman? But it’s the story here that has the power, and her fine performance ensures nothing else matters.

Still, it’s an odd project to see Michael Winterbottom direct. Considering he’s recently crafted films as varied as Road to Guantanamo, A Cock and Bull Story and, erm, 9 Songs we should be long past the point of surprise when it comes to the projects he works on, and yet who could have foreseen him direct Angelina Jolie in a film produced by Brad Pitt?

Nevertheless, it wowed critics in Cannes and sent doubters – both from camps Jolie-isn’t-black and Winterbottom-doesn’t-do-Jolie – running. It’s a Winterbottom film through-and-through and the smart turns of the supporting cast – including Dan Futterman and Irfan Khan – make an impressive film even more impressive.

“The director’s rapid-fire and choppy editing gives you a genuine feel for the many different sides of Karachi, and the urgency of the investigation.”
James Christopher, THE TIMES

“What is best about A Mighty Heart is that it doesn’t reduce the Daniel Pearl story to a plot, but elevates it to a tragedy.”
Roger Ebert, CHICAGO SUN-TIMES

Weirdsville – dir. Allan Moyle

Weirdsville

Allan Moyle‘s Weirdsville imagines a scenario that defines the term, “bad day.” When Royce and Dexter find the latter’s dead girlfriend following an overdose, it’s a simple trip to a seedy basement to bury the evidence. Only a group of satan-worshipping ne’er-do-wells happen to be doing their own ill deeds at the same time. And when the girlfriend can’t stay dead it seems like nothing is going to go their way.

What follows is nothing short of riotous as the pair of hapless losers beg, steal and borrow their way to morning. Moyle, whose last big hit was 1995’s Empire Records serves up a devilishly intriguing black comedy that keeps you on tenterhooks ’til the end. Weirdsville may well be another cult classic in the making.

Wes Bentley and Scott Speedman are brilliant as Royce and Dexter, while support from some cultists, a dead girlfriend, a bunch of drug dealers and a midget security guard keep them on their toes throughout.

“A cleverly constructed, capably crafted and often uproarious shaggy-dog black comedy.”
Joe Leydon, VARIETY

“So much gonzo enthusiasm that it’s impossible not to enjoy watching these crazed characters bounce off of each other.”
Rich Cline, SHADOWS ON THE WALL

Two Days in Paris – dir. Julie Delpy

Two Days in Paris

It’s rather fitting that actress Julie Delpy’s feature film debut would be Two Days in Paris. You can imagine the financiers meetings as she explained that it was about a couple, a French girl and an American boy, and their brief stay in the City of Love. The dollar signs in their eyes are as clear as day.

And it’s with a brilliantly witty sense of irony that we behold the end result. If Before Sunset is one of the most romantic movies ever set in the French capital, its female lead has gone on to deliver one of the most unromantic. The culture clash is the source of much comedy between Delpy and the brilliantly on-form Adam Goldberg, but if Sunset is about how communication can reignite a relationship, Days is about how misreading it can be disastrous.

It’s not very often a journalist will imply that watching a film is like witnessing a car crash powerless to do anything and mean that as a compliment, but in this case it’s definitely fitting. Two Days in Paris marks Delpy as a director to watch and its sharp wit will leave it resonating with anyone who’s ever found even the slightest fault in their partner.

“Julie Delpy’s and Adam Goldberg’s performances are so assured and spontaneous that they don’t even seem to be acting.”
Stephen Holden, NEW YORK TIMES

“[Delpy has] created two original, quirky characters so obsessed with their differences that Paris is almost a distraction. I don’t think I heard a single accordion in the whole film.”
Roger Ebert, CHICAGO SUN-TIMES

Rocket Science – dir. Jeffrey Blitz

Rocket Science

Jeffrey Blitz first examined kids under the stress of hormones and intellectual competition in documentary form with Spellbound. With Rocket Science he this time spins a fictional yarn, but it nevertheless still manages to capture the real emotional minefield that is adolescence.

Hal Heffner’s stutter is incurable by any therapist-recommended treatment, but when he meets Ginny Ryerson and she introduces him to the world of high school debating, he finds a project to immerse himself in; one that, he’s sure, will rid him of his impediment. But when Ginny starts playing truant from their meetings and the stress of his parents’ divorce begins to take its toll he wanders whether getting even is preferable to getting mad. Enlisting the help of former debating champion Ben Wekselbaum, he becomes determined to beat his former tutor at her own game.

Reece Thompson’s nuanced performance as Hal betrays a talent beyond his age and Anna Kendrick’s Ginny is as beguiling as she is infuriating. It’s these two key performances that cement the emotional core of a film that succeeds through subtlety without ever having to hold back from its comedy. It’s certainly not the first quirky American indie to release, and its quirk threatens to alienate audiences who believe they’re tired of that sort of thing. Rocket Science matches its quirk with real emotional truth and that’s enough to separate it from the herd.

“It may gross as little as Welcome to the Dollhouse or as much as Clueless, but whichever it does, it’s in the same league.”
Roger Ebert, CHICAGO SUN-TIMES

“A fiercely personal and yet engaging–and often outright hysterical–look into a young man on the brink of adulthood.”
Rich Cline, SHADOWS ON THE WALL

Check the website for more details about the festival and use the links below to find out more about the movies, directors and stars referenced within!

Gus Van Sant, a Romanian abortion drama, and a biopic about the late Joy Division singer Ian Curtis led awardees in the South of France as the 60th Cannes Film Festival came to a close last weekend.

Despite competing in a field packed with veteran (and many American) directors, Romania’s Cristian Mungiu nabbed the Palme d’Or for his film "4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days." The abortion drama, Mungiu’s second feature length film, had played early in the festival and built strong critical support and word of mouth; it currently has five reviews tallied, all positive.

Awards in the main Competition were decided by this year’s jury, led by director Stephen Frears, including Maggie Cheung, Toni Collette, Maria de Medeiros, Sarah Polley, Michel Piccoli, Marco Bellocchio, Abderrahmane Sissako and Orhan Pamuk. The jury’s selection of "4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days" for the festival’s top prize came after days of speculation that the honor could also go to fellow frontrunners like the Coen Brothers‘ riveting neo-Western "No Country For Old Men" or Julian Schnabel’s paralysis drama, "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly."

Gus Van Sant ("My Own Private Idaho," "Good Will Hunting") received the one time 60th Anniversary Award for his "Paranoid Park," a drama about a teen who accidentally kills a security guard. The film, also playing in Competition with films from Wong Kar Wai, Quentin Tarantino, David Fincher, and the Coen Brothers, among others, garnered mostly positive reviews but was far from unanimously loved by critics.

The award for Best Director went to Julian Schnabel ("Basquiat") for the widely liked "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly," a film based on the experience of a man who, paralyzed by a stroke, used his left eye to blink out his memoirs. Miramax bought the French film during the festival for a reported $3 million.

The festival’s only tie occurred as the Jury Prize went to both Marjane Satrapi’s black and white animated drama "Persepolis" and Carlos Reygadas‘ Mexican Mennonite temptation pic "Silent Light." "Persepolis," based on director Satrapi’s own graphic novel memoirs of life as a young girl in Iran, garnered raves from many at the festival and currently has five unanimous positive reviews. With voice acting by Catherine Deneuve and her daughter, Chiara Mastroianni, "Persepolis" will be released by Sony Pictures Classics.


"Persepolis"

In the Director’s Fortnight sidebar competition, Anton Corbijn‘s "Control" nabbed three awards: the CICAE Art & Essai prize for best film, the Young Eyes Prize for best first or second-time director and the Label Europa Cinema Prize for best European film. The black and white rock biopic, about the tragic life and death of Ian Curtis, lead singer of the post-punk band Joy Division, is an impressive directorial debut for acclaimed photographer and music video director Corbijn (and features a breakout central performance by actor Sam Riley). The Weinstein Co. won rights to the film late last week.


"Control"

Additional honorees:

Grand Prize: Naomi Kawase, "The Mourning Forest"

Best Screenplay: Fatih Akin, "The Edge of Heaven"

Best Leading Actor: Konstantin Lavronenko, "The Banishment"

Best Leading Actress: Jeon Do-yeon, "Secret Sunshine"

Camera d’or: Etgar Keret and Shira Geffen , "Meduzot (Jellyfish)" [In Critic’s Week]
Special mention, Anton Corbijn’s "Control" [In Director’s Fortnight]

Director’s Fortnight:
Young Eyes Prize (for first or second feature length film): Anton Corbijn, "Control"
Label Europa Cinema Prize (best European film): Anton Corbijn, "Control"
Prix Art et Essai: Lenny Abrahamson, "Garage"

International Critics’ Week Grand Prize: Lucia Puenzo, "XXY"

International Critics’ Week Prize (FIPRESCI): Cristian Mungiu, "4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days"
Honorable mention: Eran Kolirin, "The Band’s Visit"

Un Certain Regard: Cristian Nemescu, "California Dreamin’"
Special Jury Prize: Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi, "Actresses"
Prix Coup de Coeur: Eran Kolirin, "The Band’s Visit"

Career Achievement Palme d’Or: Jane Fonda

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