Monthly Archives June 2014

The Most Dangerous Game (1932)

The Most Dangerous Game - poster, Fay WrayWelcome to Cinematic Greens

#4 – The Most Dangerous Game (1932)

Director: Irving Pichel, Ernest B. Schoedsack

Writers: James Ashmore Creelman, Richard Connell (short story)

Cast: Joel McCrea, Leslie Banks, Fay Wray, Robert Armstrong, Noble Johnson

Cert: 12

Running time: 63mins

Year: 1932

Contemporary review:
“Banks grabs everything worth grabbing among performance honors. Fay Wray has no opportunity to be anything but decorative. With McCrea and Robert Armstrong (as a booze-guzzling simpleton) miscasting is evident.” – Variety, Dec 31st 1931

Electric Shadows rating:

The lowdown: Roaring RKO ripping yarn based on perhaps cinema’s most oft-filmed story...

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Walking on Sunshine

Walking on Sunshine - Arterton, Scholey posterDirectors: Max Giwa, Dania Pasquini

Writer: Joshua St Johnson

Cast: Annabel Scholey, Hannah Arterton, Greg Wise, Katy Brand, Guilio Berruti

Cert: 12

Running Time: 97mins

Year: 2014


The lowdown: Part extended music video, part travel guide, part Hollyoaks: The Musical. Directors Max and Dania (Street Dance, Street Dance2) have assembled a game ensemble (including X-Factor winner Leona Lewis in her don’t-give-up-your-day-job big screen debut) but the result is a discordant disaster unlikely to entice anyone away from the last gasps of summer sun.

Walking on Sunshine - Greg Wise, Annabel ScholeyWalking on Sunshine - Hannah Arterton , Annabel Scholey

The full verdict: From the bombastic opening blast of Madonna’s ‘Holiday’, this Mamma Mia wannabe relentlessly lashes the lugholes with a back catalogue of random eighties hits shoehorned in to fit the thong-thin plot.

While there’s courage in...

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The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window and Disappeared

100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out A Window - Robert Gustaffson, posterDirector: Felix Herngren

Writer: Felix Herngren, Hans Ingemansson, Jonas Jonasson (book)

Cast: Robert Gustafsson, Iwar Wiklander, Alan Ford

Running time: 114mins

Cert: 15

Year: 2013

The lowdown: One of the year’s biggest surprise, this Swedish Forrest Gump is a hoot from beginning to end. Robert Gustafsson delivers a knockout performance as Allan Karlsson, a sprightly centenarian and explosives expert who absconds from his drab care home. His subsequent adventures involve a like-minded OAP free spirit, mobsters, skinheads, a missing fortune, a love sick eternal student and an elephant. Flashbacks reveal Allan to be a central player on the 20th century stage, from the Spanish Civil to the Manhattan Project to Stalin’s Russia and beyond...

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Chef (2014)

Chef - Jon Favreau, posterDirector: Jon Favreau

Writer: Jon Favreau

Cast: Jon Favreau, John Leguizamo, Emjay Anthony, Sofia Vergara, Scarlett Johansson, Oliver Platt, Bobby Cannavale

Cert: 15

Running time: 114mins

Year: 2014


The lowdown: Iron Man director Jon Favreau goes personal and indie with a small movie that’s big on flavour. Favreau is renowned chef Carl Casper, tired of churning out the same old menu, looking to take his cuisine back to basics by taking his culinary arts on the road in a food truck. A tasty cast including John Leguizamo, Modern Family’s Sofia Vergara and Iron Man chums Scarlett Johansson and Robert Downey, Jr provide the filling in a lovingly crafted movie.

Chef - Jon Favreau, Bobby Cannavale, John LeguizamoChef - Jon Favreau, Sofia Vergara, Emjay Anthony

The full verdict: Chef writer, director, producer and star Jon Favreau sees the movie as an opportunity to reinvigorate his cr...

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How To Train Your Dragon 2

How To Train Your Dragon 2 - posterDirector: Dean DeBlois

Writer: Dean DeBlois, Cressida Cowell (book)

Cast: Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler, Cate Blanchett, Kit Harrington, Djimon Hounsou, America Ferrara, Jonah Hill, Kirsten Wiig, Christopher Mintz-Plasse

Cert: PG

Running time: 102mins

Year: 2014


The lowdown: Spirited sequel to the surprise 2010 hit, adding more adventure, more danger and a whole lot more dragons. Five years since uniting Vikings and dragons in his village of Berk, Hiccup and trusty sidekick Toothless, once more find themselves in danger when dragon hating warlord Drago threatens both humans and winged serpents. And then there is the mysterious Dragon Rider, with special ties to Hiccup...

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25 years with Empire

“I had it Marcus. I had it in my hands.”

Raiders Empire cover - yellow - web version

Fitting that a Raiders of the Lost Ark quote comes to mind when writing about Empire hitting its quarter century. Spielberg is their director of choice: he edited the 20th anniversary edition in June 2009, the magazine published a “Director’s Collection” one-shot dedicated to his work in 2001 and named him the greatest director of all time in 2005.

And 25 years ago, in Wakefield General Store in Raunds, Northamptonshire (don’t look for it, it’s not there anymore), I held Empire issue #1. The one with Dennis Quaid and Winona Ryder on the front. I had it in my hands. And I put it back.

The name of the cheaper film magazine I plumped for has long since evaporated from my pre-frontal cortex (Melanie Griffith in Working Girl graced the cover though), but the memory of having that premiere issue of Empire in my mitts has not.

My first Empire moment proper occurred in July 1989, laid up in Kettering Hospital recovering from an asthma attack. Mum was being splendid and buying me anything with Tim Burton’s Batman on the cover to cheer me up.Empire 25 feature - issue 2

This is how I came to have issue #2. An issue that featured a set-report on Burton’s Batman, a feature on Ghostbusters 2, a piece on a young upstart named Steven Soderbergh whose first film had just won the Palme D’Or, an interview with a 27 year old Jodie Foster, and a skewering of Meryl Streep in the late Tom Hibbert’s short-lived but amusing “glittering career” hatchet job series. Danny Baker may have even had a back-of-the-issue column.

And I realise it’s an indication of our infantalised, pop-culture obsessed era that one of my most committed, successful relationships is with a film magazine (albeit the world’s most popular one).

There were movie mags pre-Empire. The Monthly Film Bulletin, Sight and Sound (originally a quarterly that went monthly in 1991 after absorbing MFB) and Film Review are notable examples, but they rarely reached my sleepy commuter town.

Yet, like Facebook’s appeal to those indifferent to Bebo or MySpace, Empire’s tone, layout and focus struck a chord, just as its big sister music mag Q had done before it.

Despite being launched at Cannes it is ashamedly populist, but with quality writing and classy design the magazine has shaped opinion and created debate from the get-go. I remember a letter criticising the political nature of an early Heartbreak Ridge review. Apparently the two-star Silence of the Lambs video review (by that man Hibbert again) cooked up a banquet of hate mail.

And issue #2’s letter pages featured five angry missives about Hibbert’s evisceration of Mickey Rourke in the premiere issue. I’ve never read the piece; it sounds hilarious.

Empire 25 feature - Star Wars coversEmpire 25 feature - Lambs IssueEmpire helped shape geek culture by making the magazine as cool as the films it covered. And they also knew how to make an event an event (or a ploy to get more money out your wallet) by doing those multiple cover issues, beginning with the Star Wars Special Editions in 1997.

The trademark white cover, used religiously up to issue 100 (for the newsagent shelf magazine at least, if not subscriber issues), was distinctive and recognizable. Though not used as much anymore they flirt with it from time to time.

And is it me or is the masthead (and name) based on the Empire Diner glimpsed in the opening montage of Manhattan?

Like any relationship, the beginning is always the most exciting part and those early issues evoke fond memories still.

As a teen developing a love of cinema, it was thrilling to have a feature on cult movies in issue #8 when few were available on VHS and DVD (or ordering from America) was near sci-fi.

A weird and wonderful extended profile of David Lynch and his work in issue #15 was read and re-read.

The striking double page close up of Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter in a Silence of the Lambs piece entitled, “The doctor will see you now…” in issue #24 promised a horror film like no other.

And Empire has spotted talent early, awarding Reservoir Dogs, Shallow Grave and Memento five stars upon release and remaining good friends with their creators ever since. Handy when you need an exclusive.

There have been rough spells. Many of us will remember a less than purple patch in the mid-90s when the magazine devolved into endless lists. Imagine issue #301’s mammoth Greatest Movies of All-Time feature every other issue. Although at least the Empire staff would include 1968’s if…., the greatest movie of all-time.  I mean, Christ guys, The Fifth Element was on that 301 list, and voted above Suspiria, The Seventh Sign, My Neighbour Totoro, JFK, and M.

Empire feature - dinerLike every other incumbent, the internet has caused the magazine to rethink strategies. Wistfully I look back on the days when the cover story would involve a film out that month or next, rather than in a year’s time. Oddly, it seemed to make the mag seem more immediate and relevant.

But, the internet has created a culture of getting there first being as important as getting it right. Meaning last year an Empire interview with JJ Abrams had him assuring the mag (and its readers) he was all about Trekking the Stars, having no plans to War with them…

This drive for first position means wagons are hitched to a movie long before cameras roll. Optimism reigns supreme; what’s the point in covering a movie you think will be a dog?

Then, after months of features and teasers, it is fun to play the “veracity of the review” game. We knew the Farce would be strong with The Phantom Menace when Empire originally awarded it 4 out of 5 stars. There had been too much coverage, too much build up, too much excitement at the idea of another Star Wars movie (imagine that), for it to be a 4 star flick. It had to be 5; anything less meant there was something wrong with it.

The same goes for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. Both those films’ follow-ups received the crimson celestial quintet. Smaug was generous but understandable, Attack of the Clones a sign of enthusiasm dulling the senses.

In some ways though, ‘twas ever thus. Empire’s cinema reviews have often had their critical edge blunted by the heat of publicity and anticipation.

An Empire video review of an over-praised movie back in 1994 nailed this dilemma with, “Are we allowed to say Philadelphia is not very good yet?”

But, the writing remains never less than enjoyable and often electric, forever putting clear blue water between it and the infinite monkeys flinging their thoughts into the cybersphere.The Hobbit - The Desolation of Smaug - Bilbo, Cumberbatch, Freeman

The monthly Masterpiece section provides fresh opinions on thoroughly dissected titles. A recent feature on The Master of Disaster Irwin Allen was an engaging, bouncy overview of a (semi)forgotten filmmaking legend.

And for anyone hurling brickbats that Empire’s mantra is “more pictures, fewer words” check out this snippet from Ian Nathan’s bizarre, irresistible psycho-critique of Matthew McConaughey in True Detective:

“(McConaughey) has got this whole post-rational prophet vibe going down, a man of deep and curdled thought riffing on Nietzsche, Poe, Lovecraft and oddball, deep-Google mystical brooders like Thomas Ligotti or neo-Darwinian, empathy-is-extinction shaman-anthropologist Carlos Castaneda.”

What would the reader moaning about Heartbreak Ridge’s write-up have made of that?

Empire 25 feature - issue 30018546I have held many issues of Empire in my hands since that almost-had #1. There were a few missed months during my years living in Japan. But, not The Last Samurai edition that had my Japanese colleagues giggling when I asked them to translate the spine quote – Tom Cruise’s “Respect the cock!” credo from Magnolia rendered in Japanese.

Still, it made me knuckle down with my s...

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The Art of the Steal

The Art of the Steal poster - Kurt RussellDirector: Jonathan Sobol

Writer: Jonathan Sobol

Cast: Kurt Russell, Matt Dillon, Jay Baruchel, Terence Stamp, Kenneth Welsh, Katheryn Winnick

Cert: 15

Running time: 90mins

Year: 2013


The lowdown: Modest, agreeable crime caper with the evergreen Kurt Russell as the wheelman in a crew of art thieves and conmen led up by half-brother Matt Dillon. Years after a betrayal sees Russell doing hard jail time, Dillon returns, with one last job that will put them all on easy street. But, can he be trusted? Environmentally conscious in the way it recycles plot and characters from The Sting, Jackie Brown, and even 21, the steal is still done with no small amount of artistry. Even if the title itself is nicked from the name of Catch Me If You Can inspiration Frank Abagnale’s autobiography.

Art of the Steal - Kurt Russell, Jay BaruchelArt of the Steal - Matt Dillon

The f...

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The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet

TS Spivet - posterDirector: Jean-Pierre Jeunet

Writer: Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Guillaume Laurant, Reif Larson (novel)

Cast: Kyle Catlett, Helena Bonham Carter, Callum Keith Rennie, Niamh Wilson, Jakob Davies, Judy Davis

Cert: 12

Running time: 105mins

Year: 2013


The lowdown: Director Jean-Pierre Jeunet returns to English language movies 17 years after his unhappy experience on Alien: Resurrection sent him back to France and into the arms of Amelie. The cumbersomely titled The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet feels like Amelie for kids, with a similarly quirky lead and visual spark. But, while charming, this is missing the edge of Jeunet’s most successful films. Often beautiful, particularly in the crisply shot 3D, T.S. Spivet is like a handsomely crafted automobile… that never shifts out of 2nd gear.

"The Selected works of T.S.Spivet" © Photo: Jan Thijs 2012"The Selected Works of T.S.Spivet"   Day 41 Photo: Jan Thijs 2012


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The Sacrament

The Sacrament - Ti West, posterDirector: Ti West

Writer: Ti West

Cast: AJ Bowen, Joe Swanberg, Kentucker Audley, Amy Seimetz, Gene Jones

Cert: 15

Running time: 99mins

Year: 2013


The lowdown: House of the Devil and The Innkeepers director Ti West unofficially recreates the Jonestown Massacre in this mockumentary chiller. Three Vice magazine journalists venture into a Christian commune founded in a foreign jungle on the invitation of the photographer’s sister. Initially living up to its name of Eden Parish, frightening signals of what is occurring behind closed doors soon become apparent. Effective, but too familiar a cult story to be anything more than a minor addition to West’s filmography.

The Sacrament - Kentucker AudleyThe Sacrament - Gene Jones

The full verdict: The Sacrament follows the major events of Jonestown so closely, it seems to be budgetary reasons why the ...

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The Possession

The Possession - posterDirector: Ole Bornedal

Writer: Juliet Snowden, Stiles White

Cast: Jeffery Dean Morgan, Natasha Calis, Kyra Sedgwick, Madison Davenport

Cert: 15

Running time: 92mins

Year: 2012


The lowdown: Watchmen’s Jeffrey Dean Morgan is a divorcee who discovers his youngest daughter has been possessed by a dybbuk, a spirit locked in an ornate wooded box she bought from a yard sale. Denied entry into the afterlife, it’s after a human host to keep warm in. Before you can say spinning heads, the demon is unleashed and the horror hits the fan in this CGI laden chiller.

The full verdict: The Possession is the latest film to expect us to believe the horror hokum we are about to see is “based on true events”...

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