Graham Young and Roz Laws review the latest films
* * * *
Cert 18, 109 mins
It’s 40 years today since Sam Peckinpah’s controversial thriller Straw Dogs was originally released in the UK, before being banned for release on the small screen under the Video Recordings Act 1984.
Notoriety, then, will breed inquisitiveness for a silver screen remake which also contains a double rape sequence where the victim, it could again be argued, has been “asking for it”
While satisfying the more visceral demands of the post-Saw era, the new film cleverly retains many original touches for those who like to make comparisons.
Even motoring enthusiasts will surely be happy to see a classic Jaguar replacing the topless Triumph sports car of old.
Writer-director Rod Lurie’s career hasn’t flowered since he directed Jeff Bridges in the underrated political thriller The Contender and then Robert Redford’s The Last Castle.
But the latter movie featured an underdog, just like Straw Dogs.
Again based on Gordon Williams’ novel The Siege of Trencher’s Farm, the script is surprisingly faithful towards the original screenplay written by David Zelag Goodman (who died aged 81 on September 26).
Peckinpah made Straw Dogs in Cornwall when it could be said that he, too, was fighting the system.
Prior to that, he’d fallen out with Warner Bros after going seriously over budget with The Ballad of Cable Hogue (1970), his first film after being lauded for The Wild Bunch.
Straw Dogs 2011 doesn’t really justify being remade. But, given the enduring controversy of the Tony Martin court case, about a Norfolk farmer jailed for shooting a burglar, its dripping sense of menace still feels socially relevant, not only in terms of how quiet men can only be pushed so far and how much trouble they might bring upon themselves but also by illustrating what women can wear and when.
Relocated to the heat of America’s Deep South, the new film also has a Frankenstein-infused, mob rule paedophile story which is again detonated with a glass-crushing incident in a bar.
Retained lines like “every chair’s my daddy’s chair” from Amy remind us that the main character of David – now a screenplay writer played by James Marsden – is starting off from a position of weakness in his wife’s inherited property.
Scarcely seen since Any Given Sunday (1999), the supporting cast includes the great James Woods as Tom Heddon, with Stellan Skarsgård’s son Alexander Skarsgård looking promising as leading protagonist Charlie.
Instead of Susan George bravely twice going topless as Amy, former Razzie award nominee Kate Bosworth (Superman Returns) keeps her skimpier clothes on – even for that sofa scene which will still anger and confuse many. GY
* * *
Cert 12A, 109 mins
There’s an intriguing premise to this sci-fi thriller which hooks you in, even if it fails to completely deliver or explain itself.
In the future, we are genetically engineered to stop ageing at 25. That’s when a fluorescent green clock on your forearm starts counting down.
You are given another year of life until you’re “timed out”, but you can extend your existence by buying more precious days.
Time is the new currency which you earn and spend. A coffee costs four minutes, a bus journey an hour.
When people say “Have you got a minute?” they’re not asking for a word, they want your money.
Everyone looks 25 but some are actually over 100, which can be confusing. It’s laughable that Olivia Wilde should play factory worker Will’s (Justin Timberlake) mother.
They live in the ghetto but when Will saves a millionaire from a gang, he gives him more than a century of time. That enables him to cross time zones into posh New Greenwich, where he falls for rich Sylvia (Amanda Seyfried). Her father isn’t worth billions, but ‘eons’, which I can’t imagine is actually possible.
They team up to become selfless Bonnie and Clyde types, robbing to give to the poor, but “timekeeper” (ie cop) Cillian Murphy is on their tail.
The continual references to time get a little wearing. Most of the performances are under par – Timberlake seems to have forgotten how to act, while gangster Alex Pettyfer is one of the least convincing villains ever.
There are too many annoying holes in the plot. Why doesn’t anyone die of disease? And just how do the rich steal time from the poor?
It’s a shame the story and script aren’t strong enough to sustain the whole film.
If time really were currency, I’m not sure I’d use up 109 precious minutes on this – and yet, it’s just watchable enough to not be a complete waste of time. RL
Machine Gun Preacher
Cert 15, 129 mins
If I didn’t know that this was based on real events, I wouldn’t believe it. At least not the way the story is told in this film.
Gerard Butler stars as Sam Childers, a real Hells Angel, alcoholic, drug-addicted criminal. Yet not long after being released from prison, and returning to his bad old ways of robbing and stabbing people, he finds God.
We are meant to believe that he suddenly sees the light and gets clean and sober overnight after being baptised.
He goes from swearing in front of his little girl to reading her bedtime stories. And when his ex-stripper wife Lynn (Michelle Monaghan) spots needle marks on his arm? He’s not been doing drugs, he’s been giving blood!
It is frustrating that this crucial character change happens so abruptly, yet events in the rest of the choppy film play out relatively slowly.
A visiting pastor sparks Childers’ interest in missionary work in Africa, so he flies out there and is shocked by the violence occurring in the civil war taking place in southern Sudan and northern Uganda.
God then “speaks to him”, telling him to build a church for sinners in his local town and an orphanage in Sudan. Fortunately his building business seems to have taken off, though it’s never quite explained how he can afford all the air fares to Africa, let alone the materials.
Childers starts preaching in his own church and, after his readiness to take up arms against the militia in Africa, he becomes known as the machine gun preacher.
We can admire Childers’ determination in the face of danger, but that doesn’t make this a good film, despite the decent cast (including an underused Michael Shannon) and director. Marc Foster’s CV, which includes The Kite Runner and Quantum of Solace, led us to expect more.
The hackneyed script is full of clichés like: “There are too many, you can’t help them all.”
None of the action scenes are gripping and the story doesn’t really go anywhere, or build to the emotional climax it badly needs after two rather dull hours. RL
Cert 12A, 130 mins
This steadfastly dull film about somebody else writing the plays of William Shakespeare (Rafe Spall) might have been taken more seriously...
If only the cowardly distributors had let regional critics see it before release.
If only it wasn’t 20 minutes too long and didn’t feel as if it had been shot in the dark during a series of power cuts.
And if only it had an ounce of Shakespearean wit and had not been directed by a German director called Roland Emmerich, whose career amounts to special effects teams destroying US landmarks during Independence Day and The Day After Tomorrow.
According to Emmerich, Edward De Vere, Earl of Oxford (Rhys Ifans) wrote the plays against the backdrop of the succession of Queen Elizabeth I (Vanessa Redgrave) and her incestuous secrets.
But if you are not familiar with many of the characters such as Ben Jonson (Sebastian Armesto), William Cecil (David Thewlis) and Robert Cecil (Edward Hogg) then Anonymous will feel like a stodgy mess.
Shakespeare’s work proves that imagination is more important than fact – Anonymous stumbles badly while trying the opposite approach.
Read James Shapiro’s book, Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare? instead. GY
Cert PG, 102 mins
Co-written and directed by documentary maker Ellen Perry, Will is the name of an 11-year-old orphan (Perry Eggleton) who travels across Europe to see Liverpool in the 2005 Champions League Final.
Sensibly leaving behind the guffawing Bob Hoskins, his tour includes meeting former Yugoslavian football star called Alek (Kristian Kiehling).
There is some fruity language for a PG-rated film and there’s also a scene in which a mother is distraught after her Bosnian son is killed by a landmine.
This superficial family drama will appeal to many Reds’ fans, but it’s also so twee compared with Danny Boyle’s Millions (2004) that it’s unlikely anybody else will want to go near.
While lines like “These must have cost you a bomb” and “You have rights – I’ve been reading up on the Magna Carta” echo adult words in the mouths of children, the song You’ll Never Walk Alone will clearly stir Red hearts of all ages for ever. GY