The Best and Worst of 2005

Best of 2005
I'm asked all the time, 'What's your favourite movie?' Tediously, I don't have a ready answer (although I do sometimes say Goodfellas for the sake of saying something, and I really do love Goodfellas), so in that spirit, although in no particular order and for all sorts of reasons, these are the movies I liked the best at the cinema this year.

If I had to pick one to recommend above all the others, it'd be The Downfall (Der Untergang). That took a few days to get over.

Kung Fu Hustle

The Twilight Samurai

Batman Begins

The Constant Gardener


Bad Education




The Assassination of Richard Nixon

A History of Violence

The Aviator


The Aristocrats

The Beat That My Heart Skipped

Wallace & Gromit: Curse of the Wererabbit

The Sea Inside

Broken Flowers


Pavee Lackeen

The Machinist

Million Dollar Baby


Cache (Hidden) - opens in the IFI 27th January

King Kong

The Descent

A Tale of Two Sisters

A Very Long Engagement

The Corporation

Worst of 2005
More than a few of these poisonous pieces of fosillized meso-stupid era Hollywood dog turds would have no trouble making the line-up in Worst of All Time List, should such a thing ever exist.

Especially Elizabethtown. That too took a couple of days to get over, but it was more like waking up to find yourself covered in your own shit and not having a clue how it got there...Kind of a thing that would stay with you.

Surviving Christmas




Are We There Yet?

Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo



The Island


The Wedding Date



Ocean’s 12

Brothers Grimm

The Pacifier

The Perfect Man

Hide and Seek

The Dukes of Hazzard


Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous


I don't want you to leave you with the foul hum of Guy Richie's bag of old kabollocks still in the air, so the best book about movies I read this year was The Stanley Kubrick Archives from Taschen and the best song I heard was "Let My People Go" by Darondo, from his soon-to-be-re-issued LP. Happy New Year.

Apocalypto Now

The first teaser trailer for Mel Gibson's Apocalypto is online. The new, aging Mel is some kind of something, but he's always had a reputation as a bit of a joker. The film might be about the bloody end of a Mayan society, but for now it just looks like a conventional enough trailer for a flashier take on John Boorman's Emerald Forest. Mel, (oh he's gas, Mel) won't actually appear in the movie, but does make a bizzare, fleeting appearance in the trailer (see the solitary framegrab above).

The sharp-eyed among you should go see for yourselves, wait for the second appearance of the white faced whatevers and use the Quicktime controls to find the frame he appears in. It's either that or play it a couple of times and blink quickly at the screen. I'm telling you, when he pops up, with the cigarette and the mad grin and the George Lucas directing plaid and the beard, it's weird. Does make you wonder how seriously he's going to treat the subject, maybe, a little bit? Can anyone think of another instance where an A-List director played a joke like this in a trailer?
via Cinemablend

The Kingmaker

A big star needs a big picture, and Peter Jackson’s wonderful reworking of the classic monster movie King Kong is as big a picture as could possibly fit on a cinema screen. Over three hours long, bursting with innovative digital special effects and coming with a price-tag of something like €230 million; from the unexpected tingle that accompanies the period opening credits through to the famous final battle on the Empire State building, you get to thinking that they don’t make them like this anymore.

The trouble is though, they did, once. Venerated as the first blockbuster movie, alluded to and parodied in everything from Jurassic Park to The Rugrats in Paris, the original 1933 Kong casts a suitably enormous shadow across the last seventy years of entertainment. The sensations aroused by witnessing a giant whatever thundering through skyscrapers and scattering all before it might just have been exhausted by the legion of films that have taken their inspiration from Merian Cooper’s sensational puppet show. Thankfully, Jackson succeeds in paying his homage and remaining true to his source while crafting a wholly modern, seat-grabbing crazy cinema thrill-ride.

What a mad story this is anyway. Carl Denham (Jack Black), a shyster filmmaker, driven to the edge of hysteria by his thirst for fame, drags his cobbled-together filming unit halfway across the Pacific Ocean, searching for a long-lost island where he hopes to find and film, a legend. His leading lady, plucked from starvation hours before, is Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts in the role made iconic by Fay Wray), who only agrees to go because she admires the political playwright Jack Driscoll (Adrien Brody), who has been shanghaied into writing the script. Denham tries to keep their destination a secret, but one crew member eventually demands to know. “It has a local name,” Denham says. “I'm warning you, it doesn't sound good.” Although it takes an hour to get there, there’s hardly time to catch your breath once the ship arrives at Skull Island. Quickly running into trouble with the natives, just as savage as they were in 1933, the frantic filmmakers and mutinous sailors meet the island's resident king of the jungle, King Kong, a hulking 30-foot gorilla with a mean streak a mile wide and a newfound weakness for petite blondes.

As your eyes adjust to the dazzling widescreen vistas, Jackson fills them with a dizzying array of chasing monsters, blistering gunfights, bottomless ravines and instant, squishy death. An elaborate set-piece with a pack of stampeding brontosaurus decimating the crew follows hot on the heels of Kong’s first escape, with Ann Darrow in hand. Before you have time to catch your breath, three vicious T-Rex battle Kong (still gripping his prize) up a mountain and down a vine-tangled ravine. Jackson’s carte blanche even gives him the time and space to include his take on Cooper’s legendary lost ‘arachnid pit’ sequence – a terrifying scene where the jungle explorers are devoured by giant spiders that the original director removed for ‘pacing reasons’ – but chiefly because no test audience in 1933 could bear to watch it, and fled the cinema, making the rest of that film somewhat redundant. Although Jackson’s version of the deleted scene is scary, there isn’t a pacing issue because there isn’t time to think. It’s suitably icky, but is followed by an attack of giant vampire bats, then more explosions and finally, a chase that leads all the way back to New York and an appointment on top of the Empire State. It’s the finest hour in action cinema for decades and one you simply cannot miss.

Jackson's astonishing talent with digital creations tends to overshadow the simple fact that he's pretty good with ordinary human actors too. To create his Kong, Jackson called again on actor Andy Serkis, who played Gollum in LOTR and has perfected this sort of motion-capture performance. He gives an extraordinary humanity to the role, making Kong unnervingly sympathetic. This is a big role for Naomi Watts – filling boots that proved far too big for Jessica Lange in the camp remake in 1976. Occasionally tender, always determined, Watts does much more than scream her way through what is a complicated set of character motivations. Is she in love with the monkey or what? She sure acts like it. At the heart of the film is Jack Black – the flailing Californian fatso – whose natural slyness is perfect for the oily, scheming Denham, who survives to write the ape’s epitaph, taken directly from the original.

As Denham says, it's the old story of beauty and the beast. But films are different things now, seventy years on. The $229 million dollar difference in the price tag, for one thing, but Hollywood’s requirement for bi-annual ‘event’ blockbusters, each bigger than the last, coupled with the modern cult of celebrity directors means that there has to be more to Jackson’s film than the act of making it, however impressive that feat is. In blockbuster cinema, the moviemaking is more important than narrative. The act, in effect, is the play. Although King Kong (which is, neatly, a film about making films) has since become an icon, there weren’t dot coms and video games and credit cards and all-pervading merchandising lines back in 1933. Today, you could live a comfortable all-Kong branded existence, from toothbrush and cereal in the morning to pyjamas and novelisation at night. What has happened to entertainment, and where is it going? Kong’s fatal fascination with glamour and novelty are pretty much the same ones that propel us into cinema seats today. The monster’s loneliness and isolation, his all-too-human desire to escape a threatening world through a glimpse of beauty and a taste of desire are the unspoken pulses in the heart of this film, and the heart of all films.

It has to be said Kong isn’t perfect, but it’s as near as makes no difference. Some of the chase sequences have a rushed, muddy look, a couple of the human actors (Colin Hanks in particular) don’t have much to say or do. The story staggers a couple of times, but then it is over 70, and could be forgiven the creaks. But these are nitpicks at best, Jackson is a jaw-dropping visualist in seemingly effortless control of the most unpredictable of all monsters, the modern big-budget blockbuster. That he manages to make these films at all is a thing of wonder, but that he can still tell a pulsating human story, no matter how fantastic, amongst the blizzard of zeros and ones, is nothing less than astonishing. In the end, Jackson has exceeded himself in delivering a wholly revitalised big-screen Kong (and it really must be seen on a big screen) that, like the petite object of his desire, will have you in the palm of its hairy hand.

Hollywood Animation Archive Project Blog

Cartoons are great. The International Animated Film Society have a fascinating online blog that might be in it's early stages now but will expand, over time, into an online archive of images, museum and encyclopedia/wiki thing, with downloads like the cheeky number above . The link is here.

Frequent Flier

An increasingly stringy-looking Jodie Foster plays another threatened mother (as she did to middling effect in David Fincher’s Panic Room), in the taut airborne thriller Flight Plan, a high-concept titty-twister we will call ‘Hitchcockian’ for the lack of another neat descriptive word that means ‘movie that picks your pocket through pat co-incidence, suspense and plot twists’ The seriously flinty Foster plays Kyle Pratt, an aeronautical engineer who boards the same enormous jet she has spent the past year working on, in order to bring the coffin containing her recently deceased husband back to the US. A couple of hours after takeoff from a snowbound Berlin, Kyle and her six year old daughter Julia (Marlene Lawston) fall asleep. When mommy wakes up, the kid has vanished.

Watching her every move is federal air marshal Carson (Peter Sarsgaard), concerned about the safety of the flight after Kyle, teetering on the edge of hysteria, sees an Arab passenger (Michael Irby) and tells him she is convinced he is spying on her. Already barely holding it together, Kyle methodically searches the airplane, having the advantage of knowing it inside out. Appearing far more sane and rational to the cabin crew than the cinema audience, who have the advantage of knowing her mind inside out, Kyle’s search appears over when a stewardess (Erika Christensen) tells her that Julia’s name doesn’t appear on the passenger manifest, the departure gate at Munich says she did not get on the plane, her boarding pass and backpack are nowhere to be found and that the girl was never on board. The flight captain, played by a suitably square-jawed Sean Bean, while initially concerned about the disappearance, applies strict procedure when told the child wasn’t on the plane and that this bereaved woman has lost her senses.

And that's all you'll get from me. Regardless of the films qualities, it wouldn’t be fair to tell you any more. With this kind of thriller, the more you know in advance, the less effective the film will be. With such strong story elements at his disposal; separation, claustrophobia, unsympathetic officials and shifty-eyed, suspicious passengers, German director Robert Schwentke constructs a sweaty, cleverly convoluted story that is nevertheless a touch too cold and remote to connect with the impact it could have had.

Foster is good as the tough, resilient woman who uses her strengths to defend her child against an unknown threat, but she is in danger of running herself into a groove here. It’s the torturous unravelling of the exact nature of that threat that this film balances precariously upon, with the ultimate revelation bound to dismay as many as it delights. Why this is hapenning to her, out of all the people on the plane, is the key here and as with any other ‘sealed room’ Agatha Christie body-in-the-library mystery, that individually fashioned key might just barely fit the logical lock the storytellers have constructed around it. The great debt here is to Alfred Hitchcock's The Lady Vanishes, and the novel that inspired it, Ethel Lina White's The Wheel Spins, from where the central notions have been extracted, without credit. Like the train itself in Hitchcock's yarn, the Titanic-sized aircraft becomes a character, initially a suffocating, claustrophobic presence, but as the film explores every nook and cranny of the metal tube, there is far more made of it than is entirely necessary.

Cunningly, and crucially for interest levels, Schwentke and his screenwriters Peter Dowling and Billy Ray ask the audience another, deeper question, one that adds a sustaining nuance to Kyle’s motivations and makes our heroine completely, and satisfyingly, unreliable. Is she mad, from grief, or just madness itself, unexpected and terrible. For her part, when faced with this nightmare, Foster's character asks the same questions as we the viewers would, and for the most part, does what we would expect a woman in her position to do, keeping pace with the audience’s own internal logic as the plot unravels itself. But, and there’s almost always a but, the rush of unlikely co-incidences and hysterical revelations in the final third of the film go way too far, taking most of the painstakingly generated tension along with them. For all its shiny production values, A-list cast and swooping widescreen photography, Flightplan ultimately touches down on a well-worn runway about twenty minutes after you will.

Trial And Error

It would appear the Americans won’t be happy until God himself appears astride a beam of divine light, wrapped in Old Glory and swearing on his autobiography, to testify against Satan and Charles Darwin and Michael Moore and Harry Potter and anyone else, real or unreal, who doesn’t fit with their increasingly monochromatic notions of what constitutes right and wrong. As right-wing and reactionary as it’s possible to be without being composed of aborted stem cells, the daft horror The Exorcism of Emily Rose, directed by Scott Derrickson from a script he wrote with Paul Harris Boardman, is a bewilderingly empirical discussion about the existence of cosmic good guys and bad guys wrapped in a shabby splatter movie, itself stapled to a moribund and seemingly eternal courtroom drama.

An understandably worried-looking Catholic priest (played by Tom Wilkinson) is accused of manslaughter because a devout young student (Jennifer Carpenter), who believed herself to be possessed by demons, has died after a failed exorcism ritual. Appearing for the defence is Laura Linney, playing the ambitious lawyer Erin Bruner, all trendy atheism, sharp tailoring and minimalist furnishings. For the state, subtlety grey and moustachioed, is the patrician Campbell Scott, whose efforts to imprison the priest for negligently denying her medication, become increasingly strained. “Your honour, I object!” he shouts in true courtroom-drama lawyer style. On what grounds? “Well, silliness, for one.”


Based on a true story, in the same way as The Cat In The Hat might have a real-life counterpart somewhere licking it’s own arse in a jaunty beret, the film employs a succession of cross-genre techniques to try and have it’s audience accept as real the supernatural, specially-effected events it depicts. Never for a moment just another spooky November release, Emily Rose posits itself as being a matter of (eternal) life or death, a frothing evangelical tract rejecting science and championing faith through well-timed lightning storms, cawing ravens, black cats and hooded devils.

We know from the first scene that the stigmata-carrying martyr Emily didn’t survive the experience; that the priest (astonishingly, neither Irish nor alcoholic) is in jug and that the defence is having trouble believing there is a celestial battle being waged in the battered body of a theology student. It is left to Laura Linney to carry the story, and while her grace and intelligence are occasionally well served, she can do nothing about the pre-ordained direction the film takes. Presenting itself as a debate, it is anything but. As a horror movie, it has its moments. As a courtroom drama, it is especially dull. But as propaganda bedecked in the familiar raiments of popular entertainment, in the days of powerful politicians on missions from God and ‘intelligent design’, Emily Rose is priceless.

Pavee Lackeen

Perry Ogden has the unblinking eye of a cinema sniper and the soul of an angry poet. His debut film is a portrait of a people set apart, adrift in poverty and indifference, whose whole story can’t be told in a soundbite and once seen, somehow remains forever indelible. As Ireland & Co. Ltd (well, we have decided to live in an economy, rather than a society) rushes forward, those who, for whatever reason, can’t keep pace are being left behind, and for that shameful, sobering reason Pavee Lackeen: The Traveller Girl is a film that’s as necessary as oxygen.

Influenced by the ultra-naturalistic films of the Dardenne Brothers (most notably Rosetta), in seamlessly melding documentary and fiction, Ogden tells the story of Winnie Maughan, a tough, sensitive 10-year-old traveller living with her mother Rose and the rest of the family in a small camp of caravans beside an industrial road in North Dublin. Excluded from school for fighting, and with little else to do but shoplift and sniff solvents, Winnie spends her days messing about with her sister while their bewildered mother tries to deal with the council representatives (who want to move her to a different spot) and the Guards (who are there to do what the council wants) and tired-looking social workers and busy doctors concerned about the children’s health and welfare. There is nothing that represents a plot or narrative in the classical sense, just an unsentimental look at real life for these people.

The cast are excellent without exception, little wonder as they are essentially playing themselves. Where Pavee Lackeen stands out is in its beautiful photography, sensitive editing and a moving soundtrack, all well above standard for homegrown cinema. But for all that I found the film hard to watch. It is uncomfortable to say the least to have one’s own blithe middle-class prejudices and attitudes challenged, but far worse is the sense of hopelessness and irreparable isolation, that coppery tang that comes from the realisation that these are lives lived without any hope of a future unless significant changes are made. It should be screened for the Dáil.

You’ve got to get over the idea that a fashion photographer can go to a halting site and point his camera and not be compromised. Opening himself up to an accusation of exploitation is courageous to say the least, yet the director and his co-writer Mark Venner make no moral judgements, on anyone, and neatly avoid being patronising or romantic. Pavee Lackeen is a tough sell to any audience but one that will simultaneously reward and anger those adventurous enough to seek it out. The dinner-party revolutionaries who cooed over Paul Haggis’ Crash and bleated on about racism and discrimination in Black America should put down their salad forks and go see it right now.

"One of these days the sun's gonna come up and burn a hole clean through the planet like a giant electrical x-ray".

Ever wonder what the weather is like in LA? David Lynch provides a personal, daily, remarkably coherent 10 second report on his website, so we need wonder no more.

Curiously, the fascinating 'outsider' artist Henry Darger was also obsessed with the weather and kept a comprehensive weather log.

Thin Lizzy

The aggressively non-filmic, anti-entertainment precedent established in American goo-merchant Cameron Crowe’s last effort, the vacant and pretentious Vanilla Sky, continues unabated with this awful romantic comedy, as plain-old-bad a movie as the Hollywood schmaltz machine will puke up this year and unarguable proof that Orlando Bloom is near helpless on screen without the cover provided by a pair of pointy prosthetic ears.

Although presumably in development for years, the basic set-up of Elizabethtown is essentially a more optimistic, focus-grouped version of Zach Braff's infinitely more interesting and complete Garden State, where a depressed young man returning home for a family funeral falls in love with a gorgeous local girl. But where that film had an angsty, contemporary mood and offbeat, prickly characters, Crowe’s approach is to fire indiscriminate love-bombs at his madly meandering story and then, after a few studio-mandated re-edits and a trim of twenty minutes, attempt to present a film from the resulting rainbow-drenched carnage.

The plot is an absolute mess. Bloom is Drew Baylor, an introverted shoe designer who just lost his Nike-inspired company a billion dollars. Later, while preparing a meticulously planned suicide, he gets a call from his neurotic sister (Judy Greer) to tell him his father has died while visiting his family in Kentucky and Drew must go and collect his remains. On the plane, he meets the pushy, free-spirited air stewardess Claire (Kirsten Dunst), with the two inexplicably linked from that point forward. Together Dunst and Bloom register an absolute zero on the chemistry gauge, and little wonder. The one-dimensional characters they're forced to play couldn't be more teeth-grindingly irritating if they were street charity muggers hustling your sort-code while playing Bohemian Rhapsody on broken kazoos and kicking you in the shins. Bloom's Drew is an inert, mostly re-active cipher for Crowe’s own fixations and never once a fully formed, three-dimensional cinema character. Dunst, saddled with some awful dialogue and struggling with the eye-lash fluttering Southern Belle accent, nervously grins and mugs her way through the elaborate staging, rescuing what she can from the resulting inferno before the ceiling collapses. That smoking crash comes when Susan Sarandon, playing the very merry Widow Baylor, gives a simpleminded five minute eulogy before a spontaneous, and similarly lengthy, tap dance at her dead husband’s memorial. What is supposed to be charming and quirky is just wrong and weird and worse, terminally boring.

A whole other movies worth of subplots frame the smoking craters here, offering fox-holes for Crowe and his wide-eyed cast to briefly escape the devastation but adding absolutely nothing to the drama while bloating the already patience-testing running-time to a fantastically grand level. The writer/director then adds a Ghandi-esque crowd of supporting players; Drew’s co-workers, extended family and childhood friends, all playing high notes in full voice. There’s barely room to move with cameos from a host of yet another level of supporting players, non-actors (TV chefs and folk singers among them) delivering every gumbo-stained stereotype imaginable, and then some. Whatever hopes Crowe had for his lead cutie-pies burgeoning romance is lost in the scrum of wise elders, eccentrics, screeching children and affectionate drunks.

This is jukebox cinema; a meandering mix tape of Crowe’s own back catalogue rattled out in an uncomfortably arch and distracted style and edited, apparently, by a combine harvester with no sense of comic timing. Elizabethtown is littered throughout with the chaff of Crowe’s peculiar obsessions – a never-ending soundtrack of dinosaur rock music (every scene has it’s own accompaniment), quirky girls in red hats and that golden 35mm lens flare flashing off the asphalt on the lumbering director’s well-travelled road to nowhere. Crowe’s dwindling efforts to mine the rich seam of screwball comedy that his heroes Preston Sturges, Frank Capra and Billy Wilder could tap into, seemingly at will but actually through hard graft at the typewriter and clarity of vision, is both bafflingly obtuse and criminally negligent of his own clumsy conceit. Very little gets resolved, but very few will care.

When, finally, Drew takes a sentimental road trip back across America - in what felt to me like real time - and Elizabethtown sputtered to its idiosyncratically candyfloss conclusion I hardly had the strength left to protest. “There's a difference between a failure and a fiasco”, someone says early on. Not from where I’m sitting.

Foxy Boxing

Z for Zorro! Z for Zzzz, more like. A hero of American cinema since the 1920s, the swashbuckling Latino Batman has protected the innocent and championed the poor in a countless parade of films, in the process becoming one of the first comic-strip big screen super-hero crossovers and dishing out masked vigilante justice with his signature sword-scrawled initial. Back in 1998 the Spaniard Antonio Banderas gave an updated, ironic take on the role in a flashy comedy action adventure, The Mask of Zorro. Seven years on from that profitable outing, and a good five years since anyone stopped caring, a now rapidly aging Banderas and his corseted co-star Catherine Zeta-Jones return for a tepid, childish sequel The Legend of Zorro, that like tequila, is best taken with a pinch of salt but in my experience, better avoided altogether.

Socially-conscious aristocrat Don Alejandro de la Vega (Zorro’s alter-ego) is juggling marriage to Elena and the duties of fatherhood with the business of derring-do. With the local village voting to join the state of California and the Confederate half of the newly-minted United States arming itself for civil war, Zorro has promised his wife he will hang up his mask and retire to spend more time with the family. She’s raising their son virtually alone, with Zorro departing the family hacienda every time trouble brews in the surprisingly volatile village. But once the bad guys, led by God-bothering maniac McGivvins (Nick Chinlund), attack the village on election day, brave Zorro cannot ignore the plight of his people and once more rides to the rescue. The argument spills over into divorce, and Zorro, broken-hearted, takes to the bottle. Leaning against a wall in an alleyway, drunk and on horseback, there’s a nod to another jalapeno-flavoured Western comedy adventure, Cat Ballou but Banderas, for all the tongue-in-cheek brio he displays here, is no Lee Marvin; he barely approaches Hank. He’s far from alone with the remainder of the cast delivering woefully uneven performances composed of thick slices of jamon, although none as fragrant or appetising. Zorro’s mentor, played by Anthony Hopkins in the original, doesn’t return but in his place comes the audience-friendly son Joaquin, a precocious 10 year old played to within a decibel of annoyance by Adrian Alonso.

The legend trumpeted in the title isn’t Zorro’s hardly-insurmountable marital problems, rather it’s another complicated conspiracy to cause havoc and rob the poor. Armand (Rufus Sewell), the evil genius behind it is French, because the European accent is shorthand for villainy, and because vineyards are vital to the plot. The rest of the story concerns itself with citizenship, stealing land, building a railroad track and a Da Vinci Code secret society with a new weapon of mass destruction. I didn’t care about any of it. While the first movie was intended for a family audience, it came to us as PG-13 and had perhaps a flailing death or two too many for that catch-almost-all rating, this one is firmly a PG movie, and as a result there’s a lot of frantically choreographed swordplay in which no one gets a scratch and a barrage of high-octane explosions that somehow avoid blowing everyone within the radius of a mile to atoms. I found the many fight scenes tedious and repetitive, with the regular, percussive detonations on the soundtrack making a lot of noise over special effects work that is far from what’s expected in an $80 million dollar action movie. It looks and feels more like a south-of-the-border episode of The A-Team.

Worse than the watery action and hammy acting is the astonishingly generous running time, never a problem when you’re enjoying yourself but very death when you’re not. What might have been a zippy 90 minute reunion with old heroes is padded out to almost two soggy hours of tip-swivelling tomfoolery that still leaves manages to leave massive gaps scattered throughout the story. Returning director Martin Campbell, (now preparing the new Bond, Casino Royale) can deliver the big set-pieces well enough but loses complete control of his overcomplicated narrative with any sympathy for his mugging characters lost in the quieter bits. Que malo.

Arse City Blues

Not so much a thriller as a teenage boy’s bedroom wall brought to life, the beautifully photographed but entirely empty treasure-hunt potboiler Into the Blue offers Jessica Alba (above, jesus) gambolling around in a skimpy bikini as a welcome distraction from trying to make sense of an unhinged and derivative plot that is woefully overextended.

Paul Walker stars alongside Alba as Jared and Sam, young lovers who live humbly on houseboat in the Bahamas. She appears to work feeding fish to orcas at an aquarium, while he is repairing an old boat to search for buried treasure. Their rival in the doubloon hunt is Bates (played by Josh Brolin), who has a bigger boat and a nasty piratical sneer. In a pair of crippling coincidences straight out of 1977's The Deep, Jared and his friends discover the remains of a legendary Spanish shipwreck, chock full of golden artefacts, and conveniently less than 100 metres away, a recently crashed drug-running plane with 800lbs of cocaine on board. Sam and Jared, clean-living surf-warriors, want nothing to do with the coke. Somewhat less principled, his lawyer buddy Bryce (Scott Caan) and new girlfriend Amanda (Alba's former co-star on Alias, Ashley Scott) suggest fishing out and selling the coke to a local drug dealer to buy the equipment necessary to excavate the treasure. It’s Catch 22, but none of these people give the impression they can count that high.

Alba is infintely more beautiful woman than beautiful actress. She might be the hottest young starlet in Hollywood, but she hasn’t yet delivered a wholly realised, convincing performance. Junior Caan, like his father before him, can play your typical annoying, macho Yank well enough, with the superficial Walker doing what he can with his highly principled beach bum character. Acting aside, the film is further hamstrung by a long list of clanging absurdities – not least of which is the gang’s discovery, in 60 feet of crystal clear Caribbean ocean, of the long-lost treasure ship – in a world where the waters are busier than the roads. As for Walker holding his breath indefinitely underwater, well, despite what Alba thinks, we’re not here for an anatomy lesson.

Director John Stockwell presents characters that are tissue thin, so the clunky second-half suspenses and artificially mounted tension evaporate off them like sea water from warm skin. The four principals bravely soldier on, reeling from the weight of the thing, bouncing off shock character developments and skipping over the enormous potholes in the plot. When the final reel asks us to follow two separate, but interwoven threads of narrative come to their violent conclusions, with harpoons, explosives and strategically timed shark bites all coming into play, its easier to just sit back and let the luxuriant underwater photography wash over you, like a chilly October dream of a week on a hot white beach.

Into the Blue is the opposite of an essential film, being more an opportunity for some much-needed cinematic sightseeing, but there are mild action thrills and Alba-inspired thigh-rubbings to be had as long as you keep expectations low.

Clay Idols

It’s been ten years since the last proper Wallace and Gromit film, 1995’s A Close Shave but time seems to stand still in this most intricate world, with creator and director Nick Park having spent about half of the intervening decade manipulating his plasticine pals for their feature length debut.

Occupying a trim terraced house along a red-bricked backstreet of a small Northern English town, a place stuck somehow in a time loop between the present and the 1940s, this beautifully matched duo – the bumbling inventor Wallace and his surefooted pet, Gromit – represent an archetypal chalk-and-cheese double act; a Laurel & Hardy whose cosy familiarity and set routines are as much of a source of their appeal as their cute appearance and gentle humour.

Curse of the Were-Rabbit finds the pair, previously astronauts, crime-fighters and sheep-shearers, with a new business venture: Anti-Pesto, a humane pest-control company, which specialises in relocating rabbits whose thirst for greens would otherwise devastate their green-fingered neighbourhoods verdant garden plots. The hotly-contested annual giant vegetable competition is approaching, and Wallace and Gromit are kept busy extracting the plague of pests from the ground with their Bun-Vac 6000, a kind of barnyard Dyson. When Wallace, with his dog’s help, successfully removes the bunnies from the garden of pretty local aristocrat Lady Tottington (Helena Bonham Carter, on her second animated outing this month after Corpse Bride), he gets a flutter of her animated eyelashes for his troubles.

Wallace’s rival for the plummy toffs affections is the trigger-happy hunter Lord Victor Quartermaine (hilariously voiced by Ralph Fiennes). In a typically rash act of misplaced genius, the well-meaning Wallace creates a monster when he connects the innocuous Bun-Vac to his other greatest invention, the Heath Robinson-esque Mind-O-Matic, a kind of electrical mind reader, in the hopes of brain-washing the rabbits into not wanting to eat vegetables anymore. The experiment, naturally, backfires, and soon a giant “were-rabbit” stalks the allotments and window boxes of the terrified population.

The film is beautifully written with Park’s understated, natural humour bolstered by co-writer Mark Burton, who penned DreamWorks' Madagascar; a Katzenberg favourite who brings with him that company’s taste for broader comic touches and pop-culture references.
These knowing puns and contemporary gags include the titles of a row of books that hide Wallace's secret cheese stash (like “East of Edam” and “Grated Expectations”.) Another big laugh comes when a snatch of the dreary Art Garfunkel ballad “Bright Eyes” the theme from 70s bunny-disaster cartoon Watership Down, appears on the soundtrack, cuing a perfectly judged stare to camera from a sighing Gromit, breaking the fourth wall in a joke more sophisticated than Park has attempted before. Wallace reads Aye-Up magazine, and fetches his milk from a fridge made by the Smug company. These rib-nudging jokes fit perfectly well in the hermetically sealed universe Park creates, with W&G retaining their own peculiar charm without being corrupted by DreamWorks desire to broaden their appeal as they extend the running-time. They also, thankfully, manage to extend the half-hour, episodic nature of the work into a three act feature, a challenge in itself. The boisterous script keeps things moving briskly from start to finish and displays all the wit we've come to expect. It is smart, snappy, pun laden, and intensely British, glorying in the world of the toolshed inventor, the giant marrow grower and the angry torchlit mob set on destroying the monster.

The glorious stop-motion animation, a process more akin to medieval torture than filmmaking, is astonishing, even by the high standards Park has set himself. His team of artists effortlessly create big, complicated crowd scenes, with a hoard of cute hopping extras and literally hundreds of tiny, individual moving elements. The best of all the jumping bits of plasticine is Gromit’s eyebrow, a tiny roll of brown marla that Parks raises with a maestro’s finesse, giving full voice to the silent Gromit through gesture alone. It’s as if Park is manipulating the fabric of cinema time for his own peculiar comedic aims, with gag after gag relying on split second timing. If that’s something to be admired in real-life, human actors it is cause for amazement when delivered by the deft hands of a model maker working with equal parts patience and inspiration. Park and Aardman have taken the plunge into computer generated images, but these touches are so subtle as to be almost imperceptible and never jar with the consciously clunky foreground action. The voice work is likewise, a treat. The camera moves beautifully through the action, sharply angled from time to time, paying a sweet homage to its camp Hammer Horror influences. The action is supplemented by finely judged genre lighting and a suitably creepy, but never too creepy, soundtrack.

Five years work for an 85 minute children’s film might seem like an awful lot of laborious drudge, but when the results are so good, so true to their origins and suffused with the frame-by-frame glory of cinema, it is worth every second.

Serenity Now!

Taken off the airwaves back in 2002, before the end of its first season and after just eleven episodes, Buffy creator Joss Whedon's sci-fi television show Firefly has gone on to develop a sizeable cult following, an internet-based community vocal and sizeable enough to spur Universal Pictures into making a mid-budget big-screen spin-off, Serenity.

Whedon’s rollicking, rambling space-set six-gun adventure fully deserves its second chance.

Made with considerably less money than your typical ‘tentpole’ blockbuster, the film starts explosively and doesn’t let up. We're 500 years in the future, in the aftermath of a war that destroyed Earth, in a newly colonized solar system run by an Orwellian cabal called the Alliance. Resisting the Alliance's totalitarian control is Capt. Mal (Nathan Fillion) of the starship Serenity and his ragbag crew of rebels. They are joined on board by Dr. Simon (Sean Maher) and his newly-liberated 17-year-old telepath sister River Tam (Summer Glau), who has been secretly trained by the Alliance as a superweapon, a one-woman army. Naturally they want their experiment back, so they send chief bad guy The Operator (Chiwetel Ejiofor) in hot pursuit. This serene, mannered villain is resolute and unstoppable, firmly believing his cause is necessary and vital. With the heroic captain likewise convinced that he’s got something worth fighting for; Whedon introduces a suitable theme of belief and perseverance, perfect for a movie based on an original idea that Hollywood belatedly fished out of a rubbish skip.

The remainder of the story follows a path based on secrets and revelations, and is worth discovering for yourself, so I won’t spoil it.

Fans of his various television shows will recognise Whedon’s trademark pithy wit; mock-heroic, bombastic monologues punctured by snide remarks and sharp rejoinders. That superb dialogue is the key to this space-opera, quick fire and dripping with sarcasm, and not what you’d expect at all. Whedon has crafted an elaborate nomenclature here, based on the drawling, agricultural tones of classic Westerns and the high, odd-sounding syntax of Edwardian costume drama. It flows like music and perfectly fits the quirky story, which firmly remains a sci-fi while bumping off John Wayne and Kung Fu and Zombie Horror and, it has to be said, all points in between.

It's not all glory though. The film is not without its flaws - major structural gaps are barely held together with explosive misdirection and vast reams of story are rushed through with scant regard for newcomers. There are a few too many bad guys, far too many premises and a spiky legion of characters to keep track of. Most damaging is the overwhelming feeling that the events in the film take place in the middle of something much bigger but Whedon blithely assumes his audience is familiar enough with the Serenity crew and the situations they find themselves in that he can skimp on the niceties of character development. It's tough shit to first-timers, like me.

Curiously for a balls-out Hollywood adventure movie, it’s genuinely funny, but writing a gag is in Whedon’s blood. His grandfather John was a television comedy writer for early sitcoms like Leave it to Beaver while his father Tom wrote Benson and The Golden Girls. He also has the rare gift of knowing precisely when to pull an audiences internal strings, with real tension and palpable danger seemingly appearing out of nowhere, and a couple of frantic high-octane set-pieces that glue you to your seat.

Most of science-fiction is old westerns in snazzy jumpsuits. The first wave of Asian directors revered the vast Fordian mesas of those monochrome oaters and adapted the heroic stories wholesale into samurai cinema. Together these two genres provided the foundation for Lucas and Star Wars and almost everything similar since. Whedon has consciously come full circle, ripping his references magpie-like from everything he likes that has gone before and still managing to be both wildly original and tellingly obvious.

Whedon is no gom and grabbed his chance to tell the rest of his abbreviated story with both hands, but makes the rookie mistake of trying to cram everything into two hours. His might be a complicated, half-explained story that still manages to have about five different endings but none of this matters when it is told with innate charm and is thoroughly entertaining.

How Bigalow Can You Go?

This wholly unmerited and unwelcome sequel to 1999s reviled comedy Deuce Bigalow washes up on our shores with writer and star Rob Schneider owing considerable compensation to cinemagoers unlucky enough to see it under the ‘polluter pays’ principle. I emerged from his latest laugh-free effort with an immediate need to wash my eyes, having seen his ‘he-whore’ character relocate to Europe, or the stoned Amsterdam bit of it anyway, to track down a serial killer who is decimating the gigolo herd.

Clumsy, dim-witted Deuce along with his pimp and friend T.J. Hicks (the shrieking Eddie Griffin) try to track the immediately obvious killer involving a brief parade of grotesque female suspects and you can figure out the rest for yourself. Troublingly, during his tiresome investigations Deuce meets a woman with a penis instead of a nose. You don’t want me to describe what happens when she, inevitably, sneezes. Having said that, if you are the kind of person who finds that unlucky image funny, then it’s safe to say you’re not reading this. Or anything else for that matter. But Schneider thinks it’s hilarious that this condition is a result of the Chernobyl nuclear accident, so stupid and offensive doesn’t come into it; this primordial thing is like something you’d scrape off your shoe.

The only good thing is that, at a merciful 75 minutes, it would appear to have had about a quarter of its childish skits excised by somebody with a sharp scissors and a lingering trace of humanity. My own act of compassion would be to bundle every existing reel of this awful film into a sack, leaving plenty of room for Schneider, and bury it, at night and in secret, at the bottom of the ocean. This unimaginative, mean-spirited effluent does not deserve to exist as a film and most certainly doesn’t deserve your attention.

I Eat Dead People...

Cinemagoers are hardly starved for zombie flesh. In the same week that Irish filmmaker Stephen Bradley brings us his High School zombie movie Boy Eats Girl, the maestro of the genre, George A Romero opens Land of the Dead, the fourth in his series of flesh-eating flicks. Although they are very different films, Bradley’s underwritten suburban comedy slash horror slash waste of time doesn’t bear the comparison well.

Seventeen year-old Nathan (David Leon) has fallen in love with his school friend, local fox Jessica (Samantha Mumba) but he just can't pluck up the courage to ask her out. Their friends, geeky sidekicks Henry and Diggs (Laurence Kinlan and Tadhg Murphy) decide to help cupid along by setting up a date where Nathan can, er, spill his guts to his nascent love. However, Jessica’s interfering father (played by Bryan Murray) discovers the plan and she misses their date. Later, while running through a movie-friendly rainstorm, Nathan thinks he spots Jessica having sex in a car with a sleazebag classmate. Distraught, the unrequited Romeo drinks a naggin of whiskey, plays a few depressing heartache records and winds up hanging himself in his bedroom. On finding his lifeless body, his mother Grace (played by the directors wife, Deirdre O’Kane) seizes on an old book of voodoo spells she has discovered in the bowels of a ruined church. She performs a restorative ritual in their kitchen, using teapots, newspapers and chicken hearts, and magically brings him back to life. When he wakes up the next morning, Nathan knows nothing of what has happened, but has a new found hunger for human flesh, superhuman strength and an even more remote attitude to life than his listless, disenfranchised pals. Later, outside the school disco, Nathan acts on his new desires, taking chunks out of the student body and setting in train a series of events that spreads his infection through the student body, with gory results. As mom tries to find a way to reverse the spell, having discovered the book had a vital page missing, Nathan struggles to rein in his new desires, save his friends from the advancing horde of revenants and win the heart of the gorgeous Jessica.

Bradley uses the tropes of zombie cinema to explore the real horrors of teenage existence; classroom bullies, peer pressure, social awkwardness and the stomach-clenching anxieties that whirl around the first flush of love. As penned by Derek Handy (Dead Bodies), Girl is a wholly self-aware teenage romp that takes as its inspiration the American high school comedies and screaming horrors. With his tongue firmly planted in his cheek, Nandy trots out a familiar series of off-the-shelf characters, lilting dialogue and clichéd set ups. None of it is all that inspired, the jokes are weak and predictable and the whole enterprise suffers badly from not having any real balance between its American inspiration and Irish setting. The splattering special effects work from Image Effects is a little more successful, culminating in an entertaining free-for-all with a tractor-mounted hedge strimmer and a small army of stumbling zombies.

Writing comedy is difficult and time-consuming, and without being too po-faced about it, requires a careful hand in making jokes about teenage depression and death. In the scene that gave the Irish film censor reason for pause, Nathan is driven to his suicide in the most asinine way. If heartache and whiskey were all that were required to top oneself, very few of us would have escaped adolescence. I know it’s a movie, and as a zombie movie, requires a death as a starting point for mayhem, but it’s so clumsy and illogical, so foolish at its core that the remainder of the film must collapse, built as it is on straws. As a heartbroken teenager, Leon is a bit of a flop, overly mannered and self-aware. As the object of his desire, the kick-boxing Mumba does much better, even if her tough-girl character is occasionally poorly served by offering nothing beyond a wonky grin and some tender eyelash flapping. The remainder of the ravenous undead, a budget-restricted army of about seven, hardly a horde at all and a complete misunderstanding of the true psychology of zombie cinema, play their one-note characters well within themselves. Sara James as class slut Cheryl is the sole stand-out. See, zombies are frightening because they congregate as a mob, all with one thought in their minds. A handful of undead revenants, no matter how tongue-in-cheek, just cannot offer any sense of dread. Rather than approach the scale and knuckle-chewing vision of Romero, Bradley takes his inspiration from the backyard splatter of Peter Jackson’s Braindead. Even when compared to that Boy Eats Girl barely passes muster.

I was deeply disappointed by Boy Eats Girl, thinking that it offered an opportunity to send Irish film in a new direction, but it actually sets the cause back by failing to match the low standards required for a B Movie, never mind inventing a new genre for home grown cinema. There’s a good case to be made for increasing production on cheap, quick genre films in the Irish industry, taking the international success of Korean and Australian cinema as a touchstone. But, and it’s a big but, genre doesn’t have to mean second rate and Bradley’s lacklustre film is exactly that.

Immoveable Object

The Guardian's excellent website has a rare interview with the venerated Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki, the freewheeling genius behind Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke, and the imminent Howl's Moving Castle, where he offers his considerable opinions on modern animation, his creative process, the state of the planet's ecology and the unusual methods he was forced to employ in dealing with The Great Satan, or Harvey Weinstein as he is known in this dimensional incarnation. It's the reclusive Miyazaki's first interview with a journalist in over a decade. Check it here...

Punching Above Their Weight

A sepia-toned portrait of a working-class hero, Cinderella Man takes the almost impossibly perfect elements of the saga of underdog boxer James J. Braddock and fills it with emotional gravitas, grim triumph and a palpable sense of the disintegration of American life during the Great Depression in the 20s and 30s. The bare bones of Braddock’s life constitute an almost perfect arc of triumph – from a battling contender to friendless, poverty-stricken washout back to world heavyweight championship challenger – that would read as unbelievably trite and convenient were it not true.

As the film opens, Jim Braddock is a successful boxer, providing a good life for his wife Mae (played by Renee Zellweger) and their three young children. Then Braddock breaks a hand and is beaten so badly in his subsequent fights that his license to box is revoked and he is forced into abject poverty in the early days of the Depression. He ends up looking for work as a daily stevedore on the Hoboken docks where he finds a friend in co-worker Mike (Paddy Considine), a former Wall Street stockbroker who has turned to trades unionism, one of the few fictional characters in the film and one whose dramatic arc serves as an explicit comment on the politics of the times, with a resonance for today’s America, where the call has again gone out that a headless government has failed their people.

The Braddock’s helpless poverty means Jim has little time to develop a radical politics; he’s too busy trying to find enough for them to eat, although the square-jawed Considine does very well in his few scenes. Braddock’s wife Mae would prefer he quit boxing, but knows how badly they need the money to get by with their three kids. They cannot pay bills, or feed their children with Howard showing the depth of the family’s collapse in a heart-breaking scene where Braddock passes a hat around a roomful of his former peers, looking for donations. With nothing left to lose, when Braddock is given hope of a comeback and the media pick up his story, he becomes the inspiration, a last beacon of hope for Americans who had forgotten hope existed. Through the tribulation, Braddock gets his chance at a fighting comeback, as his tender-hearted, and similarly broke manager Joe Gould (Paul Giamatti) pushes him past the sneering boxing commission, who think he’s a broken washout, and towards a shot at the title. Without enough time to train, or the nutrition to rebuild his strength, Braddock takes on the heavyweight champion Max Baer (Craig Bierko), a monster who has already killed two of his opponents and seems likely to put a halt to his outsized, outclassed and out of luck opponent’s return to the top.

Sounds slushy, doesn’t it? Thankfully, a tougher, more sober Howard and his regular scenarist Akiva Goldsman have reined in their tendency to pile on the schmaltz in delivering a beautifully developed story about pride and determination that provides the perfect platform for a career-defining performance from a beefed-up Crowe, with exceptional support from Zellwegger as the long-suffering wife and Paul Giamatti as Braddock’s manager and friend, Joe Gould. Both are revelatory, with Giamatti in particular delivering another note-perfect performance, but the film belongs to Crowe, who shows his mettle in the ring and his courage in the face of economic adversity. In making an explicit connection between Braddock's wavering career trajectory and disintegrating family life and America’s Great Depression and the rise of the trade union movement, the film sounds a depth that approaches the operatic majesty of Raging Bull and at all time feels real and never forced. Rather than try to punch above their weight, Howard and Crowe don’t attempt to ape the long tradition of brutal boxing films, although their film is both fierce and violent. What they have done is give their sports movie a convincing and affecting emotional core that might occasionally teeter on the edge of sentimentality but never falls into soppiness. The many fights are consistently finely paced and beautifully choreographed. Although fight fans are hardly short on cinematic pugilists, Cinderella Man doesn’t abandon its duty to provide some teeth-rattling fight scenes, with the ultimate fight providing some genuine tension and thrills. Crowe, unsurprisingly a convincing bruiser, proves again his ability to give great humanity and heart to what is a classically drawn one-note cinema hero, his eyes full of sadness and his pain altogether palpable. Cinderella Man is a rousing, heartbreaking film that inexplicably failed on its release in the US but fully deserves it’s more discerning autumn audience here.

Holiday in Cambodia

Another week, another uninspired movie taken from an old television show and an object lesson, should it be required, in The Honeymooners, that Hollywood is continuing to mine a long-exhausted seam. Part-time hapless entrepreneur and full-time funk-loving New York bus driver Ralph Kramden (Cedric The Entertainer) and his feisty, long-suffering wife Alice (Gabrielle Union), who works as a waitress are stuck in the two-income trap, in that whatever income they derive from their two jobs is squandered on one of Ralph's many, desperately unfunny get-rich-quick schemes.

When the opportunity to buy an old lady’s duplex house in Brooklyn presents itself, together with their best friends and neighbours Ed and Trixie Norton (Mike Epps and Regina Hall) they have just enough money for a down payment. That is until Ralph and Ed get involved in a faintly ridiculous scheme to simultaneously enter the both the greyhound and tourism industries, putting the mortgage, and their marriages, at risk. Jackie Gleason’s monochrome domestic battleground, a simple stage set covered with two cameras but still considered one of the best television comedies of all time has been given a colourful urban makeover, replete with bouncing hip-hop soundtrack, rolling eyes, yo-mamma and fried chicken jokes and even a reference to Beyoncé’s fabulous booty. These hip-hop clichés are squeezed into a ludicrous and crushingly artless series of sketches and montages that emphases the cast’s clumsy attempts at slapstick above the blue-collar frustrations and effortless wordplay that the original is justly famed for.

Cedric the Entertainer huffs and puffs but loses stamina ten minutes in. Some honeymooner. His comic foil Mike Epps isn’t thrown a single genuinely funny line throughout the ninety minutes. The greyhound fares better. To be overly fair to both of them, and to the similarly underserved Union and Hall, the material doesn’t give them a chance. They literally have nothing to play with. Circling the chaos are the freeloading Eric Stoltz playing Davis, a yuppie scum property developer also looking to but the old lady's house and the unfortunate John Leguizamo as Dodge, a local grifter turned dog trainer, neither of whom ever convinces.

Director John Schultz, who filmed part of the movie last summer in Dublin and was previously the hand behind the ghastly, unwatchable Like Mike, doesn’t seem to have improved on his sense of scenario, his ear for dialogue or his comic timing. They’re all way off beam. Worst of all is the film’s last-reel grab for pathos, undeserved and sickeningly forced, that is just desperate to watch.

Rocking the Classroom

In a world where music has gradually been processed like so much cheap cheese, where whole nations sit down on Saturday nights to exercise their right to text fresh meat through the awful karaoke mincer, those of us who love music, real music, should go down on out knees and thank Paul Green. He’d love that. In Don Argott’s documentary Rock School, Green is the founder, principal and apparently the only teacher at the Paul Green School of Rock, a Philadelphia-based after-school club that takes local youngsters from the age of 9 to 17 and trains them to become rock musicians. Green, who turns out to be the biggest kid in the bunch, is a curious mix of motivational speaker, ringmaster, educator and mentor wrapped in a malodorous-looking, XXL Jethro Tull t-shirt. In between sweary rants at the listless kids and frantic ducking and diving to keep the operation going, Green, who started the school in 1998 when his own dreams of rock stardom didn’t pan out, leads us on a warts-and-all tour of the school and its pupils.

Among the trainees we meet are the all-rocking 9-year-old twins, Asa and Tucker Collins, a Joni Mitchell-like crooning Quaker named Madi Diaz-Svalgard, a depressed, mislabelled philosopher named Will O’Connor who chose Rock School over suicide and an astonishing 12-year-old prodigy, C.J. Tywoniak, whose guitar is a foot taller than him. What emerges most strongly from Rock School, apart from the jaw-dropping talents of some of the kids, is that Green is determined to treat them like adults. He refuses to pander to their whining, or talk down to them and is absolutely serious about their progress as musicians. It’s easy to see how readily his pupils respond to him, and how conducive the ramshackle, paper-strewn school is to fostering their talents, but, thinking back, it’s hard to see what Green does exactly. We never see him teaching chords, or giving voice lessons or tips on performance. He seems to play the role of vibes-master, a Pied Piper who has given himself the responsibility of finding and developing the next wave of axe-wielding rock gods. If all this sounds familiar, that's because Green’s antics were the basis for Richard Linklater's 2003 Jack Black vehicle School of Rock, but as usual, the real story is far more interesting.

Green, for all his verbose bluster and uncomfortable fits of arm-waving frenzy, comes across as a proud teacher, an intelligent and articulate musical historian and a highly efficient motivator. With all the shouting and roaring, it’s as if Green is training the kids for the inevitable hearing loss that a lifetime of strutting in front of a Marshall stack will inevitably result in. However, his results speak for themselves, with the film building towards Green taking a band of his best and brightest on a road trip to a Frank Zappa festival in Germany. Once there, he harries his well-practised charges into performing Zappa’s convoluted jazz-rock to an gob-smacked and highly appreciative audience. It’s the high point of a wholly satisfying, occasionally thoughtful and frequently hilarious movie.

Rock School is a delight; a palate-cleansing benzene sorbet that cuts through the gloopy starch of the recent run of bad films and the monstrous production-line of modern democratic pop.

Taradise Lost

Now officially classified as a casualty of the celebrity wars, the scar-tissue covered American Pie actress and newly crowned Queen of the B-List Skanks Tara Reid (AKA Frankenboobies, AKA If The Wind Changes Your Face Will Stay Like That, you get the idea) has booked her seat on the unstoppable death-train to self-destruction, taking in What Career, Desperate Boob Job and, a new stop on the route, Shut Your Fat Yap.

Currently, bafflingly, employed to spill her guts on a cable reality travel television show called, with a heavy dose of irony I sincerely fucking hope, Taradise, the full on raging alcoholic and all out screaming disaster (whose trade now appears to be her dimpled arse, seeing as it's sad , pockmarked droop is a permanent feature in the American supermarket tabloids), is busy proving conclusively that the part of her brain not devoted to blinking, breathing and operating her drinking elbow is not otherwise engaged in pondering the issues of the day. Reid recently took a breather from her unfettered Caligulian debauchery to bark on about the London bombings in a slurred monologue delivered straight to camera, eye-balls akimbo; a fervent plea for peace and love familiar to tired greeting card writers and mohair-clad kindergarten teachers.

“I wish all the mean people would just buy a country together and blow each other up”, she squeaked. “Then we’d have no terrorists left. Like, don’t kill innocent people for no reason. It’s not fair. We love everybody. We’d even like them if they said they’re sorry. It’s not fair that innocent people are getting hurt. It makes me sad.” While delivering this astonishing fairy-land foot-stomp, Reid is filmed quaffing champagne and tearing the claws off a lobster at a shore-line restaurant in Monaco, as far from the ‘mean people’ as it’s possible to be while remaining on Planet Earth, although it doesn't appear that Reid visits here much anymore anyway.

Spelling Test

When you spend most of your supposedly working life in the plush embrace of a cinema seat, you don’t see a lot of daytime television. Not that I feel I’m missing out, it’s that the result is sizeable gaps in my pop culture education, one of which is sit-com Bewitched, like the similarly naïve I Dream of Jeannie and Mr Ed one of a rash of supernaturally inspired shows from the early days of American television that still make the rounds of the outer reaches of the cable stations 40 years after they were originally broadcast, but a slice of Americana that means little or nothing to me.

Expectations are pretty low to begin with, so when inevitably and tiresomely the central concept behind Bewitched, a witch tries her hand at being a suburan housewife, is recycled by the Hollywood machine (busily spewing out retro-fitted big screen TV show makeovers for twenty years now and with no end in sight) in the shape of director Norah Ephron, you’d imagine looking at it with fresh eyes would help. It doesn’t. For these fractured, ironic, post-modern times a straight remake isn’t going to work. Ephron feels she needs an original kink, or at least let’s pretend its original, so this time the set up is Hollywood’s favourite topic, Hollywood.

The steamy cauldron of LA being increasingly the only source of magic in our snake’s belly shallow culture, it is entirely fitting that white witch Isobel Bigelow (Nicole Kidman) bases herself in a typical suburban house in the San Fernando Valley as she starts her new life, eschewing all of her magical powers to live instead an ordinary life as an ordinary woman. She wants to find cute pink sunhats, a yellow VW Beetle and her true love, and preferably in that order. The man she settles on, for reasons the film never makes clear, is the bigheaded, delusional Jack Wyatt (Will Ferrell), a faded former movie star whose career temperature has hit absolute zero, the same number as the sales of his last DVD. On the advice of his sleazy and increasingly desperate agent (Jason Schwartzman), Jack reverts to recurring television comedy drama and finds himself starring as the mild mannered husband in a remake of Bewitched. Countless audition montages fails to find an appropriately twitchy actress who can replicate Samantha’s nose movements until Jack sees Isabel in a bookshop. He wants her to take the role so he’ll get all the attention, she’s gorgeous and he’s recently divorced and, crucially, because of her ability to twitch her nose. What everyone doesn’t know is that Isabel is in fact a real life witch, an example of what I believe the Americans call ironing.

Following her ruminant appearance in The Hours, Bewitched is the second concoction built around Nicole Kidman’s nose – she was forbidden from twitching it in public by a studio nervous that doing so would deprive most of the audience of the reason for going to see the movie. But the twitch was the ultimate sit-com contrivance, in story terms it’s the equivalent of waving a wand around but far more discreet, perfect for a close up and not at all threatening. In terms of the drama, and the serial nature of the sit-com, it is, literally, a character tic designed to provide a couple of moments of small-screen intimacy in each episode between the pretty girl and the viewing audience and, funny or not, a spurt of canned laughter and a drumming twinkle of piano perfectly fit the crack in the soundtrack. It’s not nearly so much fun when the glacier-smooth nose is 70 foot tall and there doesn’t seem to be anything else happening.

Kidman is likeably frisky and sexily breathless, but perky and bright didn’t save The Stepford Wives and it doesn’t save Bewitched. For a man who has only recently risen to A List status, Ferrell is worrying repetitive and altogether ordinary. They both get to crack a few funny lines occasionally (Ferrell’s demand for 200 cappuccinos…“and bring me the best one!” is hilarious), but the whole misguided conceit has them headed in opposite directions, robotically executing parallel story lines that never intersect, not even for a moment. He never gives her a reason to find him even remotely loveable and she never looks at another man. The movie has been directed in her signature style by Nora Ephron (Sleepless in Seattle, You've Got Mail), that is to say anonymously. Together with her sister and co-screenwriter Delia, the Ephron’s present a cute parade of individual scenes, for all I know straight from the original material, but nothing approaching a film as such. It’s a traditionally structured movie, it has a start at the start and an ending at the end, but what either of Ephron’s stars are doing at either point I could not tell you.

But the problem with Bewitched isn’t the acting, or even the ongoing dredging of the cultural silt settled in the museum of television. The problem is the script. To all intents and purposes, there isn’t one. For a film that just scrapes 100 minutes, Bewitched drags along like November. The longer it drags, the less there is going on and everything gets sucked into the resulting narrative coriolis effect long before the point of boredom. The real interest in Bewitched might lie in the surrounding cast, reduced to cameos at the expense of the blundering top-line talent. Michael Caine has a handful of scenes as Kidman’s flirtatious old rogue of a father, Shirley McClaine, who famously thinks of herself as a mystic in real life, provides a few laughs as a showboating co-star who has a few tricks up her own sleeve. More of both might have helped things along enormously, but seeing as so little of their performances appears to have made it to the screen, we will never know. The litter of lost opportunities continues with bafflingly brief and random appearances from the likes of Ephron’s regular comic character foil Michael Badalucco and the upbeat and energetic Kristen Chenoweth.

Whatever magic there was here, and from where I'm standing there wasn’t all that much, has been evaporated – regardless of the tricks of modern conceptualisation, the moebius strip of overlapping storylines swallows up any opportunity to show where Isobel’s uncanny gift comes from or offer any real sense (beyond Kidman’s dreamy, orgiastic sighing) of other-worldliness. It’s all well and good for the first half hour but then everything seems to stall and the characters have nowhere to go. The set-ups continue, but they are so horribly fractured there’s no reason to care, or to pay much attention, even when someone is paying you to be there. Ferrell gets to do his comic riff on a rampant ego at the edge of hysteria; Kidman does the nose thing and learns to assert herself without magic and that’s about it. If Kidman and to a lesser extent Ferrell, insist on paddling in the shallows they can’t complain when they occasionally run aground. As there would appear to be no end to this tide of remakes inspired by old television, perhaps instead of leaving the house I should spend a bit more time on the couch, remote in hand, and call it research.

Subterranean Hole-sick Blues

In The Perfect Man, glum teenager Holly Hamilton (Hilary Duff) must up sticks and move city every time her single mother Jean (Heather Locklear) breaks up with one of her unsuitable men. To ease the pain of the metronomic heartache, Holly conceives the notion, inspired by Cyrano de Bergerac no doubt, to invent a secret e-mail admirer (played eventually by Chris Noth) and boost mommy’s shattered self-esteem.

What follows is the epitome of those time-wasting, gooey Hollywood tween audience-pleasers that completely fails to connect as entertainment or engage any of the senses or emotions in any way. Cliché follows cliché as the actors race around trying to find something tangible to hold on to. There is nothing to find; this is a comedy without a single joke (beyond the meta-joke of Duff’s tortured performance), a single original idea or even the merest flash of cinematic inspiration. Its mush; pre-chewed pap for unimaginative children, and worse, part of the same string of deep-rooted cultural enzymes that are poisoning our waters with consumerist, ambitious and deeply cynical stories of the American teenage experience. Its oily professionalism and deliberate messaging is just one part of a complex, gangrenous social venom that has a generation of Irish children speaking like air headed San Fernando Valley cheerleaders, an ear-wrenching intonation that turns every statement into a lilting question, peppered with like…totally…whatever.

This is a film that is beyond criticism in that it knows full well that it’s a piece of aspirational fluff with as much depth as a paddling pool and all the impact of a pillow fight. There is really nothing further to say, beyond noting that Hilary Duff has surely entered into some kind of diabolical contract as her success is otherwise a mystery. Duff represents all that is wrong in children’s cinema. Here is a teenage actress of extraordinary limitation, with no perceivable emotional range and the inability to deliver even the most straightforward line reading, elevated to the status of an icon. Every squeaky word spewed torturously from between Duff’s trembling pout, emerges from beneath her pert nose and furrowed brow to fall gasping on the floor, bereft. The rest of the cast stand around to watch it die. She is the mashed potatoes of cinema: white, bland and starchy. Like in the similarly Geneva Convention–defying Cinderella Story or The Lizzie Maguire Movie, Duff offers nothing because she has nothing to offer. Although she gives every impression that someone with a sandblaster has given her smooth head the once over, both inside and out, faded beauty queen Heather Locklear as the man-crazy mother somehow manages to transcend the dire nature of the material to offer fragmentary glimpses of a woman lost and alone in middle age, fearful of the future and desperate for happiness. But she’s drowning, adrift in the overwhelming pointlessness of the thing. Whatever indeed.

The physical impossibility of Stealth in the mind of someone living.

In the same week that the animalistic high-concept director Michael Bay likens the failure of his new blockbuster The Island to the setbacks suffered by Stanley Kubrick during his career, his counterpart in the art of blowing the shit out of things, The Fast & The Furious director Rob Cohen steals the central concept from the great man’s 2001 in presenting Stealth or 'Machines Are Bad: Any Questions?'

In the near future, everything is covered in blinking red lights and everybody is really stupid. That’s the lesson gleaned from this awful film, by some considerable distance the worst movie I have ever seen and a worthless cinematic endurance test of SAS survival-training proportions. I saw it a week ago and it still hurts, like a blister or an earache. The plot can be disposed of in two lines. The warmongering Yanks have developed a high-tech fighter plane operated by an artificial intelligence called EDI but it gets hit by lightning while on manoeuvres and turns evil. Three human pilots, whose character names are unimportant but are portrayed by the cartoonishly heroic Josh Lucas, the it's-better-than-lapdancing Jessica Biel and the Jesus help us Oscar winner Jamie Foxx, are charged with bringing Hal 9000, sorry, EDI back from the brink of full scale war and, while they're at it, employ their big noisy guns to blow the everloving tar out of the ululating ‘terrorists’ in North Korea, Myanmar and Tajikistan - all in the name of Uncle Sam and all on the same busy day. The rest of the thing is indecipherable, but it is jet-engine loud, pit-bull aggressive and day-old stupid. It actually doesn’t matter who these steroidal goons are, or what war crimes they get up to because the whole sorry mess is thrashed to shreds in the digital tumble dryer of frenzied, whiplash editing, slow-motion explosions and lingering military pornography. How dense does a film have to be to make Top Gun look smart?

To refer to Rob Cohen as a filmmaker is incorrect. He assembles slow-witted, belligerent, politically disgusting and noisy cock fights, not movies. Rather than concentrate on those elements that make films interesting; like plot, dialogue and character, Cohen's approach is to tack ten minutes of grisly chit-chat into a shoddy, juddering genre action scene extended over two hours. It is an assault, not entertainment. For an expensive special-effects driven piece, the final results are just shocking (think: the chroma key experimentation of late-period Wanderly Wagon) with every single visual element of the production horribly over-designed and childishly executed. The dialogue is just bilge and the characterisation entirely absent. Stealth is what $150 million buys you in today’s Hollywood: nine reels of dog dirt masquerading as a motion picture. At one stage Lucas roars at his superior officer that he “doesn’t want to see war turned into a video game.” I feel the same way about movies. The only thing noteworthy about Stealth is that it gave me a pain in my head and a pain in my arse at the same time. As for Jamie Foxx, he might find his career going into what the fuck mode after this baffling outing. This is exactly the opposite of the ideal film for an Oscar winning follow up and he might find himself comparing notes with Cuba Gooding Jr if he’s not careful. He's terrible, ridiculous really: they all are, but Foxx is the one with the most to lose.

Banging on about another piece of shit Hollywood turkey, so what? Am I missing the point completely? I don't think so. I believe that cinema has a legacy to protect and allowing modern directors, but specifically testosterone-fuelled goons like Bay, Cohen and, God help us, McG (the talentless bollocks) to remake Kubrick’s films, even in this cackhandedly sneaky way, has to be discouraged right from the outset. They haven't the wits or the desire to properly handle the kind of ideas Kubrick effortlessly put across, without relying on crappy computer animations or the demographic-chasing delights in having every scene with the 'smart' machine battered with a pounding soundtrack of bubblegum metal pop (I closed my eyes for most of those, and thought instead about a meadow on a sunny day, but they are astonishingly loud and persistent). Paying over your hard-eared money to watch this kind of unmitigated rubbish will only provide these hacks with the excuse they need to keep plundering.