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Sunday, December 11, 2011

Roundup of New Films Released 9 December 2011

Arthur Christmas certainly wasn't the only film to come out this week. It wasn't even the only good one. On with the show, then...

Don't Be Afraid of the Dark may be produced and co-written by dark-fantasy master, Guillermo Del Torro, but Pan's Labyrinth it ain't. Hell, it's not even half as good as Chronos. The problem isn't so much that it's badly made - performances, direction and production values are all perfectly solid - but that it's boring where it's supposed to be scary; never building up so much as a passingly creepy atmosphere. At least, it doesn't once you get past the film's 5 minute pre-credits sequence, which manages to be more unsettling than the rest of the film put together. Aside for occasionally evoking Pan's Labyrinth, which is a risky move for even better horror flicks, the film's biggest mistake is assuming that tiny CGI creatures are scary. This is hardly the first genre work to feature "scary tooth fairies" but it's easily one of the least effective. Without a viable threat, director Troy Nixey falls back on the worst tendencies of sub-par horror: cheap jumps and plenty of shrieking - neither of which are any sort of substitution for proper scares. Don't be afraid of the dark? Don't worry, you won't be.


Brighton Rock doesn't start off all that well. The opening scenes seem to be ripped straight out of a Guy Ritchie gangster flick - not the good ones, though: think Rock n' Rolla rather than Snatch. This being based on a Graham Greene novel, though, means that it doesn't take too long to get away from the sub-par crime stuff and move onto something far more interesting. Moving the book's setting up a couple of decades to the 1960s, gives the film a backdrop that reflects the violent turmoil going on in the lives of its chief protagonists. In essence, this is Brighton Rock set to The Who's Quadrophenia, as clashes between rival gangs, the Mods and Rockers, provide a fresh new twist to a classic story. At its heart, though, Brighton Rock is a film about the thin line between love and obsession and, however good the film's many supporting cast is (Helen Mirren, John Hurt) and, however much Sam Riley isn't as good here as he was in the Joy Division biopic Control, the film truly belongs to Andrea Riseborough. She is nothing short of brilliant as the virginal, innocent young woman who is corrupted by her unwavering, frankly psychotic devotion to the young gangster whose interest in her is more sinister than romantic. In the end, it's a rather uneven film but for her performance alone, Brighton Rock is well worth seeing.       

Brighton Rock is a twisted and tough film but it's certainly a lot more digestible than the rom-com vomit-fest that is New Year's Eve. If you've seen Valentine's Day - by the same writer and director - you will know what to expect from New Year's Eve. If you haven't, don't spoil your perfectly good record by watching its unofficial remake/ sequel. Staunch fans of typical Hollywood romantic comedies may well enjoy the concoction of lame humour and sickly sentiment but, make no mistake, this is slick Hollywood formula at its most cynical and uninspired. Like Valentine's Day, New Year's Eve is essentially Love Actually once you remove Richard Curtis' witty and at time touching script and replace its A-grade Brit cast with a mixture of B-or-C-list stars and a handful of actors who are clearly slumming it for the promise of a bigger house of fancier car. Not that being uniformly badly written, badly acted, manipulative, unfunny and utterly vapid will stop the film from making an absolute mint, of course. See you all next year for its inevitable followup... Arbor Day, perhaps?

Fortunately, for those of us who are tired of formulaic fluff, there is always a film like Drive to restore our faith in cinema. What we have here is a deliberately paced, brutally violent and coolly unsettling slice of hard hitting film-noir. Nicolas Winding Refn directs this simple story of a lowly stunt-driver caught up in a murderous plot with an odd but immensely effective mix of stylish visuals and quiet restraint. This is reflected perfectly by its two primary performers. Carey Mulligan shines once again as a young mother who faces a less than idyllic life with calm dignity and warm, heart-on-her-sleeve vulnerability. Ryan Gosling, on the other hand - in what seems to be his eleventh or twelfth great role this year - plays the guarded, quietly intense anti-hero of the film. Needless to say, romantic feelings develop between the two characters even as his own life spirals out of control. There's nothing particularly outstanding about the basic plot of Drive but between a brace of spectacular performances (including the likes of Bryan Crangston and a totally-against-type Albert Brooks), the understated minimalism of the script and Refn's intense direction, Drive ends up being a freshly invigorating and really rather special entry into a well-worn genre. 

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