STATE OF PLAY * * * *
Cert 12A, 126 mins
Last week it was In The Loop. Now a second TV series has been successfully turned into a movie.
British television is a rich source of material for Hollywood. Paul Abbott’s 2003 BBC1 series was acclaimed by critics. Thankfully the move across the Atlantic has not diluted the thriller’s power nor put a Hollywood gloss on its characters.
In the BBC version they were played by John Simm, David Morrissey, Kelly Macdonald and Bill Nighy. Their roles are now taken by Russell Crowe, Ben Affleck, Rachel McAdams and Helen Mirren.
Cal McAffrey (Crowe) is still an old-fashioned journalist, who uses a notebook rather than a Dictaphone, has a messy desk, an old computer and a healthy disrespect for his blogging colleagues.
The six-part story has been condensed into two hours so you have to concentrate to keep up with the convoluted plot.It is basically the same thriller, about high-level corruption involving corporations and the government, although the oil industry has been replaced by a more topical military component industry.
Congressman Stephen Collins (Affleck) is investigating the shady dealings of a company which hires its private army to the US Defense Department. Then his researcher falls in front of a train.
It emerges that Stephen was having an affair with her, a fact he admits to his old friend Cal. The journalist starts digging and teams up with young reporter Della (McAdams), but loyalty to his friend is tested as he has to decide what to print.
Director Kevin Macdonald, who also brought us The Last King of Scotland, cranks up the tension levels in a well-made, intelligent and gripping thriller.
Performances are good, although Helen Mirren is surprisingly lacklustre.
State of Play becomes too far-fetched and overdramatic by the end, but it’s still an entertaining journey getting there. RL
SHIFTY * * * *
Cert 15, 85mins
Made for just £100,000 under the first-time filmmakers’ Microwave scheme, this is the pound-for-pound film of the year in sterling terms.
While Hollywood can waste millions at the drop of a hat, writer-director Eran Creevy uses his home town of Harlow as a drug-infused, racist template for a fictional place called Dudlowe.
Inspired by his heroes Martin Scorsese and Woody Allen, he even managed to shoot this on film instead of on digital as the Microwave scheme originally intended.
Returning to where he grew up, Chris (Danny Mays) meets up with old friend Shifty (Riz Ahmed), whose lack of career success after gaining four A-levels is masked by a £3,000 per week drug-dealing business.
Jay Simpson plays builder and cocaine addict Trevor, who is married with children, Jason Flemyng is the potentially psychopathic Glen and who’s that sucking on a blow pipe? Why, Francesca Annis, of course.
Even though the action is set across 24 hours, Creevy manages to allow his characters the chance to develop.
And, while the basic story is familiar, he is also able to pierce its darkest moments with shafts of humour. GY
OUTLANDER * * *
Cert 15, 115 mins
An alien spaceship crashlands in eighth-century Norway. Its passenger is not a bug-eyed little green man but the surprisingly human Kainan (Jim Caviezel).
He blends in with the native Vikings pretty well, especially as, thanks to a high-tech gadget, he learns to speak Norse (or English, as we hear it) in mere seconds.
The Vikings are suspicious of the ‘outlander’. But when they discover what he has unwittingly brought with him – a tentacled, clawed, glow-in-the-dark monster – they are forced to team up to vanquish it.
The good cast, including John Hurt and Sophia Myles, is actually better than the film, which is full of clichés. At one point they actually say: “Let’s go kill this thing!”
The monster is scarily impressive and the scenery is stunning. The fights are well-choreographed, including one on the edge of a waterfall.
But it failed to keep my attention, especially towards the end which takes an absolute age to arrive. RL
OBSERVE & REPORT *
Cert 15, 86 mins
Writer-director Jody Hill follows up his debut The Foot Fist Way with a film that would be equally forgettable were it not for the fact that it stars Seth Rogen and Goodfellas’ Ray Liotta.
Rogen has been helping to redefine the boundaries of ‘gross out’ comedy with hits such as Knocked Up, Superbad and Pineapple Express, and here the barriers are lowered depressingly further still.
As Ronnie Barnhardt, he is a foul-mouthed shopping centre guard who fancies himself as a cop. So when Det Harrison (Liotta) arrives to investigate a car park flasher, he is not amused.
Actor Randy Gambill runs through a shopping centre wearing only a mac, with a mobile camera pointing at his flailing nether regions. True, he is playing a flasher, but there is nothing flash about delivering one of the most demeaning cameos in cinema history. GY