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Review – The Lion King 3D (U) [2011; originally released in 1994]

Star Rating: 5/5

Many argue (and not without justification) that the re-release of old Disney films in 3D is simply a scam to make more money. Well, whether true or not, the magnificent 1994 The Lion King is fully worth paying to see again. (Warning, this review contains spoilers.)

Rafiki holding Simba at the latter’s birth presentation to the kingdom. Sarabi (voiced by Madge Sinclair) and Mufasa, Simba’s mother and father, respectively, watch on proudly.

The movie starts with the presentation of the birth of Simba, the future King of Pride Rock. From early on, cheeky young Simba (voiced by Jonathan Taylor Thomas) learns from his father, King Mufasa (voiced by James Earl Jones – Star Wars IV-VI, Criminal Intent, The Lion King II: Simba’s Pride), about the circle of life and how to become a responsible king. Simultaneously, Scar (voiced by Jeremy Irons – The Man In The Iron Mask, The Borgias, The Words), Mufasa’s younger brother and Simba’s uncle, secretly plots to kill both Mufasa and Simba. Using his three main hyena henchmen, Shenzi (voiced by Whoopi Goldberg – Sister Act I & II, For Coloured Girls, The Muppets), Banzai (voiced by Cheech Marin – From Dusk Til Dawn, Cars I & II, Machete) and Ed (voiced Jim Cummings – Aladdin I-III, Hercules, Zambezio), Scar intends to usurp the throne.

He half succeeds. Scar kills Mufasa, but Simba escapes, fleeing into exile. There, Simba meets a Meerkat, called Timon (voiced by Nathan Lane – The Producers, Stuart Little I & II, The English Teacher), and a Warthog, called Pumba (voiced by Ernie Sabella – The Lion King II & III, Listen To Your Heart). Simba grows up with them and enjoys life, forgetting that he is meant to be ruling the now-ravaged plains of Pride Rock. It is only when Nala (when young, voiced by Niketa Calame; when adult, voiced by Moira Kelly – The Lion King II: Simba’s Pride, Dangerous Beauty, One Tree Hill), Simba’s childhood friend, and Rafiki (Robert Guillaume – The Lion King II: Simba’s Pride), a wise baboon and an old family friend, find him that Simba realises that he must return to the Pride Lands and fight his uncle for the kingdom.

The Lion King’s storyline is easy to follow and gripping. Ostensibly for children, adults can like the movie just as much. (If not even more!) Whilst children may enjoy the sing-along-songs and the funny Timon and Pumba; adults can appreciate the intelligent, wry humour (not to mention how appalling some of Timon’s jokes are), as well as the satire in the film, such as Scar’s Hitler-like moment when he’s standing on a podium addressing his army of goose-step marching hyenas.

The silver-tongued, smiling Scar convincing his young, naive nephew, Simba, to stay and wait in gorge for his father, who has a ‘marvellous surprise’ for him. It’s apparently so good it’s ‘to die for.’ For once, Scar might even be telling the truth.

Adults and children may get pleasure from different aspects of the film; yet, everyone can equally be enamoured with the movie’s beautiful music, composed by Hans Zimmer (Gladiator, Pirates of the Caribbean I-IV, The Dark Knight Rises). Much of the film adopts Zulu-style music, which is not only apt for the setting (after-all, The Lion King is based in South Africa), it enriches every scene wonderfully.

The music, though, would not have the same impact if the characters and the dialogue were not so well defined, written and articulated. All the characters have great depth, from the cunning, forked-tongued, yet cowardly Scar (that he is such an offhandedly sinister villain, rather than a pantomime one gives him an added chilling dimension); to the mischievous-cum-deferent-cum-bold Simba; to the stupid, moaning hyenas; to the funny but sensitive Pumba, to mention four of many.

The fine brilliance of the music and the dialogue is epitomised in the scene following Mufasa’s death. Seldom in Disney films (where death is surprisingly common) have audiences, in general, been reduced to tears. The empathy one has for Simba at that point is heart-breaking. That this is followed by Scar wickedly manipulating the situation to his advantage (as intelligent, psychopathic leaders always do) makes the dosage so much more potent. Since this scene, perhaps only the ending to the excellent Toy Story 3 has come close to making viewers feel the same way again, and for very different reasons.

The music and the dialogue in The Lion King has rightly been praised. Likewise, although it’s easily missed, should the expressions of the characters. Since the majority of the characters are not human-like, since they don’t have arms and legs, the producers/artists had to rely on the characters’ body-language and body-movements to make up for it. Indeed, the way each character moves is indicative of his/her personality and circumstance at any given point. For instance, mischievous little Simba walks (struts) very differently to when he is guilt-riddled in exile. The producers/artists should justifiably take credit for this, as it gives the characters greater subtlety and complexity.

Simba, all grown up now, happily singing, with Timon and Pumba, the joyful ‘Hakuna Matata.’ It means ‘no worries,’ which is exactly how Simba has been living in exile.

Similarly, the hard work that the producers/artists put into the graphics should also be recognised. 2011 viewers may find the graphics antiquated or unsatisfactory. If this is the case, it is most unfair. One has to remember that this film was initially released in the pre-Pixar era, at the time of Beauty & The Beast (1991) and Aladdin (1992), meaning one cannot compare the results of today’s technology with those of the early 1990s. And irrespective of the relative backwardness of the graphics, The Lion King has been converted magnificently into 3D. Unlike recent animations like Rio or The Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole, the 3D here makes a difference to the extent of making The Lion King spell-binding; especially, during the fight between Simba and Scar at the end.

All-in-all, The Lion King is a Disney classic for many reasons. Bringing it back to the cinemas in 3D may be a ploy to make more money, but one should see it anyway and treasure this encapsulating masterpiece once again.

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Review – Red State (18) [2011]

Star Rating: 3/5

When one arranges a one night stand with someone they have not met in person via the internet (especially from a dodgy website), one is never certain if he/she is going to be a victim of a scam or something worse. Red State, whilst not about the pros and cons of adult-dating websites, illustrates the potential risks involved.

Travis, Jarod and Billy-Ray reading a message from Jarod's phone. The thee of them are so happy that they are (finally) going to end their 'loser status' by breaking their virginities.

Red State is loosely-based on the Westboro Baptist Church, which Louis Theroux has done two documentaries on. Set in the ‘bible-belt’ of America, three social misfits – Travis (Michael Angarano – Almost Famous, 24: Day 6, Noah’s Ark: The New Beginning), Billy-Ray (Nicholas Braun – Love At First Hiccup, Chalet Girl, Neighbourhood Watch) and Jarod (Kyle Gallner – The Haunting in Connecticut, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Jennifer’s Body) – have organised, via an internet chat-room, for the three of them to enjoy, together, the pleasures of Sara (Melissa Leo – Frozen River, The Fighter, Predisposed). Little do they know, though, that Sara is a part of the Five Point Church, a cultist Christian sect. After driving to her caravan, Sara uses this as an opportunity to capture the three teenagers and bring them to the church to be ‘tried’ for homosexuality, a crime punishable by death for this sect.

The cops soon learn that the church has the boys. Led by Joseph Keenan (John Goodman – The Big Lebowski, Monsters, Inc., The Artist), the cops intend to take the compound by storm, leading to a bloody confrontation.

Red State is a strangely gripping, highly unpredictable film, and has some surprisingly intelligent humour (which would have been so much funnier had not all of the jokes been used in the trailer). At 88 minutes, the movie is short, so audiences are unlikely to lose focus; especially, since the last half an hour is virtually a shoot out.

Pastor Abin Cooper (Michael Parks) addressing his congregation, who hang on to his every word as if he is Jesus's modern day reincarnation.

Whilst gunfire and explosions uphold (or regain) the attention of the viewers, it is the acting of two members of the supporting cast, Melissa Leo and Michael Parks (From Dusk Till Dawn, Kill Bill I & II, Argo), that make Red State worth watching. After her Oscar-winning performance in The Fighter, Leo gives another fantastic performance as one of the mad members of the church. As Sara, the fanaticism in Leo’s eyes is frightening, as is her belief in the cult. Parks, playing Pastor Abin Cooper, also plays very well, even if he is not spectacular. The passion he shows for the ideals of the church (without bursting into laughter) could easily make one believe that he is crazy in real life.

The rest of the cast are pathetic. The acting from the three social oddballs is atrocious, and the dialogue between them is just as bad. The amount of swearing, before and during captivity, is disgraceful. That the dialogue between them may reflect the language used by teenagers in ‘middle America’ or elsewhere is not the point. As a consequence of this, and their general performances throughout the film, viewers are unlikely to feel any empathy towards their characters.

Indeed, audiences are unlikely to come away feeling empathy for any of the characters, regardless of what they may think of the acting. In Red State, no-one is portrayed as a ‘good guy’, even the cops that are sent in to deal with the hostage situation. As one watches the melee unfold, one is likely to wonder if events like this actually take place in America, or if this is just a gross and gory exaggeration of the truth; for this film does not shy away from graphic bloodshed.

A man (Cooper Thornton) given a 'fair trial' for the 'crime' of homosexuality before the members of the church.

Although one may find the amount of violence a trifle unnecessary (not that that is grounds for criticism), one will almost certainly feel that the film needs better production. The choreography is appalling to the point of amateur, since many of the scenes jerk into place rather than smoothly link. Just as sloppy are the special effects, which appear painted in as an afterthought by the director, Kevin Smith (Dogma, Clerks II, Zack & Miri Make A Porno). The music may not be awful, but it is certainly nothing noteworthy either.

Over-all, Red State is an oddly enjoyable movie. Many aspects of the film are pitiable, but the performances of Melissa Leo and Michael Parks save the movie from near disaster. That there are people in real life who believe in similar ideals as zealously as members of the Five Point Church gives Red State some chilling realism. Moreover, the film may even have a (strong) message: don’t arrange a one night stand on the internet without knowing who you’re getting into bed with.

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Review – Warrior (15) [2011]

Star Rating: 3.5/5

The trailer for Warrior gives the movie the air of another-The Fighter. The comparison is quite natural; both films appear, ostensibly, to be about fighters in a ring. But for many reasons Warrior cannot be equated with the excellent The Fighter.

Tess (Jennifer Morrison) with her husband, Brendan (Joel Edgerton), discussing the idea of him fighting again.

Warrior is about two estranged and very different brothers, Brendan (Joel Edgerton – Animal Kingdom, Wish You Were Here, Zero Dark Thirty) and Tommy (Tom Hardy – Bronson, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, This Means War), who compete in a mixed martial arts competition. Brendan is a former fighter, but now married to the pretty Tess (Jennifer Morrison – Mr. & Mrs. Smith, Star Trek, Knife Fight), and a high-school teacher by trade. He and his wife are struggling with debts, and the bank is threatening to evict them from their home. Such is their plight, Brendan hires a personal trainer, Frank (Frank Grillo – Minority Report, Mother’s Day, End of Watch), and returns to the ring to make some money.

Tommy enters the competition for different reasons. Tommy has returned home from army duty in Iraq, and needs to be cleaned up from his pill-taking, alcoholic lifestyle. Using his now-sober father, Paddy (Nick Nolte – The Thin Red Line, Hotel Rwanda, The Gangster Squad), who was a boxer in his day, as his trainer, Tommy gets in shape for the competition.

Whilst simple, Warrior’s plot is (painfully) slow. The film is 140 minutes long, and it could feel a lot longer for those who become bored with the movie’s sluggish pace. Also, the last hour becomes predictable and cliché. Some thought that The Fighter became ‘too Hollywood’ by the end. There might be some truth in that; nevertheless that movie is based on a true story, so it cannot, to an extent, be helped. This is not the case for Warrior, meaning it has no excuse for becoming cliché.

Brendan making his comeback in the ring.

Moreover, there are inconsistencies in the storyline, which become ridiculous during the fighting scenes. The background of the main characters, despite being hinted at often, is also (irritatingly) not explained. By the end of the movie, one is no closer to understanding why the brothers became estranged from each other, and their father.

Warrior’s storyline may have its flaws, but the dialogue is very well written and feels realistic. This is aided by the main actors delivering strong and convincing performances. As Brendan, Joel Edgerton does a fine and consistent job, playing a level-headed and resilient man, despite his understandable stresses. No-one would realise that Edgerton is Australian either from this performance, as his soft Pittsburgh accent remains intact throughout the film.

Similarly, no-one would know that Tom Hardy is English from Warrior. As Tommy, Hardy admirably plays a troubled, insecure and aloof individual, who gets through his days by drinking and taking drugs. Tommy may not be a kind character, but the way he walks with his head down, and the dark circles under his eyes are indicative of his internal difficulties.

It is a shame for Hardy (and Edgerton for that matter) that their characters’ backgrounds are not dealt with, because that would have, perhaps, enhanced their respective characters from two-and-a-half to three dimensions. Furthermore, for Hardy, playing a drug addict draws (unfair) parallels with Christian Bale’s Oscar-winning performance in The Fighter. In this proxy fight before they go head-to-head in The Dark Knight Rises, as Bane and Batman, respectively, it is the latter who comes out on top. This is because Hardy has a less-challenging role as the lazy, slurring stoner, whilst Bale played the demanding crazy, brimming-with-energy crack addict.

The leading actors give worthwhile performances in Warrior, and the same can be said for the supporting cast, particularly Nick Nolte and Jennifer Morrison, even if they vary slightly in quality. Nolte, playing a reforming alcoholic who has found Jesus, plays very well when on screen. When he shows emotion, one does genuinely empathise with Paddy’s predicament (even if he has brought most of his problems upon himself). Surprisingly, one does not feel similarly vis-à-vis Morrison’s character, Tess. This is partly because Tess has not been given much personality, and because Morrison doesn’t make one feel the desperate nature of Tess’s situation.

The younger brother, Tommy (Tom Hardy), at the tournament. His muscular frame suggests that he’s ready to take on anyone.

Lastly, director Gavin O’Connor (Tumbleweeds, Miracle, Pride & Glory) has put Warrior together quite well. The scenes flow smoothly one after the other, but the choice of music is perplexing. For much of the first half of the film, there is little music (which is fine); yet, the second half is filled with a bizarre mix of standard boxing music and a Beethoven symphony. Beethoven and martial arts are a curious mix.

All-in-all, Warrior is an agonisingly slow film and pitiably cliché. It has acting of great quality, but by not elucidating upon the characters properly O’Connor misses the chance for his movie to be potentially nominated for awards. The Fighter had no such deficiencies. One nil to Batman.

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Review – Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (15) [2011]

Star Rating: 4/5

The Bourne series, 24 and Munich, in their different ways, show audiences that the world of the secret services is a murky one, where mistrust and paranoia are rife. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (TTSS) may not be a standard catch-and-shoot the bad guy thriller. Nevertheless, with a star-studded cast, TTSS is an excellent, if puzzling, portrayal of the nature of the top echelons of the secret services.

George Smiley (Gary Oldman), adopting his standard pose, explains a few things to his assistant, Peter Guillam, in one of the secret places where they do their work.

TTSS is based on the novel by John Le Carré, who worked for the best part of 20 years in MI5 and MI6; the movie is also a shortened remake of the 1979 TV series. TTSS is set in early-1970s Britain, during the Cold War. There is a mole in the ‘Circus’, the MI6 internal nickname for the highest levels of the British intelligence services. Someone is giving classified information to a Soviet agent called Polyakov (Konstantin Khabenskiy – Wanted). But who is it?

Control (John Hurt – V For Vendetta, Harry Potter VII(i) & VII(ii), Immortals) brings back his former colleague, George Smiley (Gary Oldman – Air Force One, Harry Potter III-V & VII(ii), The Dark Knight Rises), from retirement in order to discover who is behind the leak. But Smiley and his personal assistant, Peter Guillam (Benedict Cumberbatch – Atonemment, Star Trek II, The Hobbit II), must do their work in secret. This is to make sure that the other members of the ‘Circus’ – Percy Alleline (Toby Jones – Frost/Nixon, Captain America: The First Avenger, Snow White and the Huntsman), Bill Hayden (Colin Firth – The Importance of Being Earnest, The King’s Speech, Before I Go To Sleep), Roy Bland (Ciarán Hinds – Munich, Harry Potter VII(ii), The Debt) and Toby Esterhase (David Denick – War Horse, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) – don’t find out what they’re up to. Any one of them could be the traitor.

The plot for TTSS may sound straight forward, but it is not. Rather, it is slow and very confusing. The movie is also hard to follow because it does not follow a linear timeframe. Viewers are rarely certain if they’re watching the past or the present. Moreover, the director, Tomas Alfredson (Let The Right One In), does not give the complete context of the story; for example, there is no hint of the five Cambridge pro-Soviet traitors that riddles the book.

Peter Guillam (Benedict Cumberbatch) looking through files to find information on the mole.

This is not to say that Alfredson has made a bad film. On the contrary, the slowness of TTSS is, arguably, a reflection of the world of espionage, which Le Carré, who assisted in the movie’s production, understands so well. Seen in this light, even the many seemingly pointless short, silent scenes of Smiley going into a room or a house on his own have a purpose, since they give TTSS a greater feel for the workings of MI6.

In addition, the brilliant acting throughout the movie aids our understanding of the type of people that tend to be at the top echelons of the secret services. A lecturer of mine at university told me that Hilter’s military intelligence chief (and double-agent), Wilhelm Canaris, upheld a persona to make it seem to others that he was not on the ball. In a similar vein, all the men in the ‘Circus’ in TTSS have their manufactured character guises. No-one in the film has this more than Smiley. In the lead role, the ever-sound Gary Oldman plays Smiley exceptionally well. Whilst no James Bond, Oldman never loses his concentration as Smiley; he always remains head-down, calm and monotonous, yet perspicacious, even when there is emotion stirring within him. It is a shame for Oldman that many subtleties of Smiley’s character, from the book and the TV series, have been taken out by Alfredson.

All of the supporting cast suffer from the same problems. Everyone plays very well, but since the film is only 127 minutes (and may seem longer to those not enjoying it), there is not enough time for all of the nine main characters, including Jim Prideaux (Mark Strong – Kick-Ass, The Eagle, Zero Dark Thirty) and Ricki Tarr (Tom Hardy – Layer Cake, Inception, Warrior), to have real depth. To the cast’s credit, none of them appear shallow on screen, and some of them are given the time to express themselves to a degree.

Ricki Tarr (Tom Hardy) as the active secret agent on the streets to help find people who may be connected to the mole.

The impressive acting is matched by the settings throughout TTSS. From the clothes; to the hairstyles; to the cars; to the fax machines (and lack of mobile phones); to the smoking, everything has the appearance of the late-1960s/early-1970s. Remarkably, nothing is out of place.

The music used throughout the film is, perhaps, the exception to this. While the music is not of its era, its strangeness, more often than not, enhances the confounding plot and the tension in some of the scenes.

TTSS is not a conventional spy/secret-agent thriller. The film moves at a measured pace and is very confusing to the extent that one may go home without having completely understood the movie. One may even need to be a fan of this niche genre to truly appreciate it. Yet, with fantastic acting – particularly from Gary Oldman – TTSS depicts its era and the underhandedness of the inner workings of the top levels of the secret services down to a tee.

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Review – The Skin I Live In (15) [2011]

Star Rating: 4/5

For a psychological thriller to be worth its while, it invariably has to venture into disturbing realms to the extent that one wonders what sort of a person came up with the ideas. This was arguably the case with Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island and Darren Aranofsky’s Requiem For A Dream and Black Swan. The Skin I Live In, despite being very different to the above-mentioned films, successfully takes us once again into this unsettling territory.

Dr. Robert Ledgard (Antonio Banderas) giving the classic 007 pose.

The Skin I Live In (La Piel Que Habito) is a Spanish film, based on Thierry Jonquet’s book, Tarantula. The movie centres round Dr. Robert Ledgard (Antonio Banderas – The Mask of Zorro, Shrek I-IV, Puss In Boots), a genius but deeply troubled plastic surgeon, who specialises in (unethical) skin repair and enhancement. After his teenage daughter, Norma (Blanca Suárez – Shiver, Cowards, The Pelayos), is raped by a boy her own age, called Vicente (Jan Cornet – The Night of the Brother, Camino, Red Lights), Robert decides to kidnap Vicente and punish him. But what does Robert plan to do with Vicente? Does the former wish to use the latter as his laboratorial guinea pig? Or does Robert have something more distressing in mind?

The plot is intelligent and absorbing, with a very unnerving twist. (Don’t worry, no spoilers in this review.) Yet, the storyline suffers from a general lack of clarity. First, one has difficulty knowing which year he/she is watching. Scenes may roll into one another smoothly, but the film skips regularly back and forth over a six year period in a confusing way. Second, one is never sure of Robert’s intentions, even by the end.

Moreover, there are some loose-ends in the plot, and other parts of it are left without purpose or proper explanation, such as the sub-story near the beginning about Robert’s half-brother, Zeca (Roberto Álamo – Football Days, Take My Eyes). Arguably, the reason for the lack of clarity is because the director, Pedro Almodóvar (Talk To Her, Volver, Mina), has gone for a more artistic-style of film, like Lost In Translation and The American. This means that there is relatively little dialogue throughout The Skin I Live In. Instead, one has to figure out the message of the scene via, at times, ambiguous expressions and body-language, particularly from the main character, Robert.

Robert after finding his daughter, Norma (Blanca Suárez), raped.

Playing Robert, the James Bond-/George Clooney-esq Banderas is without doubt the star of the film. In a superb display, Banderas exemplifies an intelligent, stony-faced man filled with tragedy, spite and (perturbing) ambition. No other member of the cast comes close to his level of performance. Marisa Paredes (All About My Mother, The Devil’s Backbone, Mina) may not do a bad job playing Robert’s mother, Marilia. But Marilia lacks the depth of Robert’s personality, which is revealed when she is given the chance to explain herself during a heart-to-heart with the gorgeous Vera (Elena Anaya – Talk To Her, Van Helsing, Room In Rome). Similarly, Elena Anaya, Jan Corbit and Roberto Álamo suffer from the same problems, and aren’t given ample time to express themselves. This, just like aspects of the plot, is to the movie’s detriment.

The quality of some of the acting lets the film down; yet, the same cannot be said for the music. It might sound unconventional and strange, but apart from the one scene with techno music (which is completely out of place) the music achieves Almodóvar’s ambition of giving the scene an ominous and tense feel. (One strike at high a piano key every few seconds; one hit of the drum over the same amount of time; and regular short, sharp notes from string-instruments are not classic ways of building eeriness or tension. Then again, it makes a refreshing change from tacky horror films, like Scream and The Eye, which adopt unbearably long notes from string-instruments, followed by a sudden crescendo to make viewers jump out of their skin.)

Robert's captive, Vicente (Jan Cornet), chained to a wall and drinking from a bucket.

Just as the music sounds odd throughout The Skin I Live In, so too are the aesthetics. Robert’s stunning mansion-cum-residency for his ‘patients’ is filled with large paintings of naked people, with unnaturally round heads and no faces. Just by seeing these, one gets the impression that Robert has some weird tastes long before the film comes to its mentally repelling and horrifying conclusion.

Ultimately, The Skin I Live In has its drawbacks and could have been less confusing. Nevertheless, Antonio Banderas performs brilliantly; and the unconventional nature of the film and the unusual storyline make for psychosomatically disturbing viewing. To Almodóvar’s credit, the film is not just a spin-off of an Aranofsky movie, and adds something new to the genre. Still though, just like with other psychological thrillers, by the end of The Skin I Live In one is likely to question the (in)sanity of the man who put this film together.

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Review – Friends With Benefits (15) [2011]

Star Rating: 3/5

Six months ago, the light-hearted No Strings Attached came out. It starred Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher, and explored the idea of whether or not friends could have sexual relations devoid of emotion. Friends With Benefits deals again with this issue, just with better jokes and more sex.

Dylan and Jamie making their pact to have 'no emotions, just sex.'

Friends With Benefits centres round Jamie (Mila Kunis – Family Guy, Black Swan, Oz: The Great and Powerful) and Dylan (Justin Timberlake – Alpha Dog, The Social Network, In Time), both of whom are ‘emotionally damaged’ after being dumped by their respective boyfriend and girlfriend. Jamie is a head-hunter, who flies Dylan over from LA to New York to recruit him for the advertising firm, GQ. No sooner does Dylan get off the plane, the two of them strike up a friendship that soon goes beyond the borders of a platonic relationship. The question is: can they keep it up without falling for one another?

The storyline is enjoyable and far from intense. Friends With Benefits is filled with sex scenes, but lacks the volume of nudity seen in Love & Other Drugs. However, just like in No Strings Attached, Friends With Benefits becomes predictable and a little cliché by the end (as is to be expected from a romantic comedy). Even the key song of the film, the normally very pleasant Closing Time by Semisonic, feels a little overused and cheesy by the end.

Dylan's sister, Annie (Jenna Elfman). She cannot believe that her brother is not going out with Jamie.

Over-all, director-producer, Will Gluck (Easy A, Fired Up!), has put the film together nicely. There are some corny moments and conveniences in the plot, but it could have been so much worse, as The Back-Up Plan and Valentine’s Day illustrate. Likewise, the dialogue and the acting are not terrible either. There is some good banter between the appealing Jamie and Dylan, which will make the audience laugh. The humour in Friends With Benefits may lack the sophistication of that in One Day; nevertheless, it is not slapstick.

Out of the two main characters, Mila Kunis steals the show. Indeed, she is the star of the movie. Not only is Kunis strikingly attractive (even in the mornings after a steamy night), her character, Jamie, has a fun and lively personality that is the envy of single men (and possibly some married ones too). Additionally, when Jamie needs to be severe or upset, Kunis makes it look genuine. This is not the case with Justin Timberlake. Playing the young, up-coming, smooth-talking manager, he does just fine. Yet, when he attempts to be serious he looks like a petulant child not getting his way.

Dylan and Jamie going for a walk in the park.

The characters and the storyline in Friends With Benefits have their flaws. Both of the key players lack depth; as does the rest of the cast, with perhaps the exception of Dylan’s father (Richard Jenkins – Changing Lanes, Burn After Reading, The Cabin in the Woods). Moreover, the movie does not adequately explain why Dylan and Jamie are ‘emotionally screwed up’. (Then again, this is a romantic comedy. What was one expecting?)

For those who enjoyed No Strings Attached, there is little doubt that they will enjoy Friends With Benefits too. The latter film is fun and, in Jamie (Mila Kunis), has a girl that is the stuff of dreams. Furthermore, the movie has some amusing jokes, and enables the audience to switch off whilst watching two good-looking people making out with one another regularly. Whether one will come out believing that a friend with benefits is possible is another matter.

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Review – One Day (12a) [2011]

Star Rating: 3/5

Romantic comedies (better known as ‘chick flicks’), such as Ghosts of Girlfriends Past and He’s Just Not That Into You, tend to be sweet, sentimental (cringe-worthy) and predictable. One Day is nothing of the kind, and has a twist that few will see coming. (Don’t worry, no spoilers in this review.)

Dexter and Emma, with those geeky 1980s-glasses, out on a countryside walk on that fateful day in 1989, when their bewildering relationship started.

One Day is based on the book by David Nichols. Set in grim and rainy England, the storyline revolves round the self-obsessed Dexter (Jim Sturgess – The Other Boleyn Girl, The Way Back, Ashes) and the innocent, geeky-looking Emma (Anne Hathaway – Bride Wars, Rio, The Dark Knight Rises), two individuals who are hopelessly (and, to some extent, tragically) in love with one another, but decide to be ‘friends’ rather than lovers. Dexter and Emma get with one another on the 15th July 1989, the day of their graduation from university, and decide to keep in contact. They write and call one another quite regularly, and meet up for their ‘anniversary’ every year on the same day for years, sustaining a varying relationship, despite moving on with their lives.

The film’s plot may not be entirely faithful to the book. Nevertheless, the movie is absorbing and not difficult to follow, even if one occasionally forgets which year he/she is in. One Day is captivating primarily because it does not have the feel of a predictable romantic comedy. One never knows what direction the (dismaying) relationship between Dexter and Emma will take. In addition, Emma’s intelligent, wry humour is very amusing, and distinctively unlike the standard slap-stick comedy that is habitual in ‘chick flicks’.

Dexter getting touchy with Emma, as he rubs suncream into her back on their ‘anniversary’.

Playing Dexter and Emma, Jim Sturgess and Anne Hathaway, respectively, do themselves no harm. But Sturgess’s character, Dexter, is far from the most challenging of roles. The same can be said for Hathaway’s character, Emma. Additionally, Hathaway’s Yorkshire accent may fluctuate between a Leeds-based one, a Scottish one, and a posh-English one, but on the whole it is acceptable.

Yet, even though Sturgess and Hathaway perform decently enough throughout One Day, there is little character depth and almost no character development throughout the film. This means that Dexter and Emma hardly change or mature in twenty-odd years. (Then again, in reality nor do most people.) It is the same for the other members of the cast too, such as the goofy Ian (Rafe Spall – Kidulthood, Hot Fuzz, Anonymous) and the bimbo Tara (Amanda Fairbank-Hynes – An Education, Monte Carlo, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy). This is a shame for the actors, as the script (despite already being laid out in a book) simply isn’t good enough and does not give them the adequate tools to make the movie unique.

As remarkable as it may seem that the characters remain virtually the same throughout One Day, the same can be said for Emma’s hairstyle and fashion sense. Both look like they’re locked in the era of Saved By The Bell. By the mid-2000s, she looks wholly anachronistic. The same can be said for Ian too. Surely the director, Lone Scherfig (Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself, An Education), noticed this whilst making the film? Evidently not.

Dexter and Emma, both looking glamorous, catching up with one another years later.

Other noticeable faults with One Day are that it feels rushed and, in places, poorly put together. The film may have to cover two decades in the space of 107 minutes, but that is not an excuse for scenes not being stitched well together. Furthermore, some of the music adopted appears badly chosen and does not fit with the scenes at all.

One Day is far from the norm for a romantic comedy. The film has its flaws and could have been much more, but Sturgess and Hathaway perform well enough with what they are given to make it worthwhile viewing. For One Day is witty, entertaining and unpredictable. Wait for the twist.

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