Start Choppin’: X&HT Reviews 127 Hours

it took me ages to figure out that the pic here is
an hourglass...

Bottle
films are notoriously hard to carry off. Putting all of your action
in one cramped, isolated place, with a limited cast of characters
could be the recipe for a tense, claustrophobic thriller. Rodrigo
Cortés’ sweatily effective Buried springs to mind as the most
extreme recent example.

If you’re going to hem in your
actor to that kind of degree, then you’d better be sure that you’ve
got someone bloody good in front of the camera. Ryan Reynolds is
brilliant in Buried, and I’d have been interested to see him cast
as Aron Ralston in Danny Boyle’s 127 Hours. He has the proper sense
of physicality and goofy charm for the role. Instead, the face that
we see in a hole in the rock is James Franco. It’s a testament to
Franco’s skills as an actor, and of Boyle’s as a director, that
we’re convinced from the get-go of his capability, energy, skill
and knowledge of the desert that very nearly kills him.

We all know the story by now.
Aron Ralson, crag-hopper, mountain biker, all-round super-confident
hardbody makes a split second mistake while out on a weekend jaunt
in the deserts near Moab, Utah and ends up in a crevasse, his hand
mashed between the rock wall and a huge piece of
chalkstone.

His story, and what he has to do
to get back to civilisation, is the stuff of legend. In fact, there
were times when I found myself scoffing at the preposterous nature
of his escape. “There’s no way he could rappel down that cliff,” I
chuckled at one point. “He’s half-starved, desperately dehydrated
and quite possibly in shock. What do the writers take me for?”
Aron’s story is mind-boggling because you have to keep telling
yourself that all this actually happened, that he did free himself
from a predicament that would have 99.99% of us forming an
attractively spooky display of bleached bones in a cave somewhere.
He survived, and continues to do the things he used to, only now
with a rather cool looking climbing tool replacing his left hand.
Very post-human.

The trick to keeping a bottle
film interesting is to keep your viewpoint fluid. In Buried, the
director does this by exploring every nook and cranny of the set,
and cleverly by changing the size of the coffin to enable his
camera to get into places where there simply shouldn’t be room. in
127 Hours, Danny Boyle takes a different approach, and a lot of the
film isn’t in the canyon where Ralston is trapped at all.

With the use of flashbacks,
hallucinatory episodes and gorgeous tracking shots over the desert
terrain, I felt like I was on a guided tour of the trapped
climber’s interior geography. It’s cleverly done, and although you
lose something of the isolation and claustrophobia that he must
have felt, the end result is a dazzling, eye-popping feast. The
cinematography is wonderful, and every format from yummy 35mm to
grainy 2003-era DV is thrown into the mix. Kudos to Enrique Chediak
and Anthony Dod Mantle especially for the beautiful macro work,
slipping cameras into water bottles, the guts of cameras and
tracking the path of ants and insects through the cave.

Danny Boyle is one of the few
directors out there that loves colour, and uses it to it’s full
advantage on the big screen. I’m tired of the limited palettes that
are the thing in film these days, and heartily sick of the dreaded
cyan/orange cliche that makes modern films look underlit and boring
to watch. 127 Hours is a hard dose of pure sunshine after all that
drabness, and I felt like Aron, dipping my toe in blissful relief
into warmth and light, if only for a little while.

As for THAT moment: well, I’m a
horror film fan, so I’ve seen significantly worse. It’s nicely
done, and everyone around me seemed to be squirming. I loved the
way the arm breaks were accompanied by an almost subliminal flash
of light. As I watched, though, I realised that no matter how much
gore or screechy sound effects Boyle threw at us, there would be no
way of conveying more than a hundredth of what Aron Ralston went
through that day, in his cave, alone and close to death.

127 Hours is a worthy testament
to an astonishing feat of human endurance, but it doesn’t come near
to showing us what it must have been like. That’s a good thing.
It’s a remarkably positive movie, filled with light and colour and
life, and a happy ending. As a lesson in what we can survive and
achieve, 127 Hours is a triumph.

Five Songs That Should Have Been On The Soundtrack To The King’s Speech





Yes. Right.
Well. Hope you’re enjoying the bump in quality as the daily post
schedge kicks in.

Everyday Heroes

Shooting People, the organisation that brings together like-minded film-makers across the country to collaborate on film projects, runs a film of the month competition. This month, it’s themed around Straight8. I’m very happy to report that the NO. 1 slot is currently filled by X&HTeam-mate Fiona Brownlie with her frankly astonishing superhero film Everyday Heroes. You can check the leaderboard and watch the film here.

You should bear in mind that everything you see here in Everyday Heroes was done in camera, in sequence, with no second takes. Yes, even the animation. It’s a remarkable achievement, and one that deserves your attention and applause. You may also notice that leading Man Clive has a cameo in the film. He’s the one in green spandex. I’ll repeat that. Watch this film and you get to see leading man Clive IN GREEN SPANDEX.

To vote it up you need to be a member of Shooting People. This link will help that process out somewhat. Go. Watch. Vote. And above all… ENJOY.

X&HT Reviews: Season Of The Witch

My esteemed colleague WDW and I seem to have made it a habit that, if we go to see a film together, it’s usually as a dare to watch something truly dreadful. Our last adventure, a trip to see Twilight: Eclipse exceeded all our expectations.

When we settled down in front of Season Of The Witch, a medieval action-horror boasting a Rotten Tomatoes score of 3%, we had no thought that it was going to be anything more than turgid nonsense, with light relief coming from seeing how unconvincing Nic Cage’s hair extensions were going to be.

Readership, we were labouring under a misapprehension, one that desperately needs clearing up. Season Of The Witch will never be a great film, but if you enjoy derring-do, sword-play and ye olde adventuring then you could do a lot worse.

The story concerns Nic Cage and his wig returning from the Crusades as a deserter, along with his best mate Ron Perlman and his giant forehead. They are talked/blackmailed into escorting a witch across country to an isolated monastery, whose monks will take away her powers and cure the land of the pestilence sweeping across it. It’s a dangerous cargo story, a kind of olde worde Wages Of Fear, and the package they carry turns out to be neither the innocent girl that our heroes initially see, nor the witch that the monk accompanying them believes.

At 97 minutes there’s no flab or dull patches. The film gallops from wild-eyed battle to preposterous encounter. There are swordfights, wolves, demons, and a sweatily tense bridge-crossing sequence. There’s a decent performance from Nathan off of Misfits, and Claire Foy as the witch does a fine job of flitting between innocence and evil. Nic Cage does his trademark flip-out, and Dominic Sena directs the whole thing with an eye to the gothic and grotesque.

Yes, ok, the dialogue is pretty dreadful (although there are a couple of great lines that WDW and I quoted back and forth to each other in the pub afterwards) but then you show me a medieval actioner where the lines are anything more than groanworthy.

Short conclusion – we walked out feeling utterly bemused by the rotten reviews this film has been getting. It’s a lot of fun and solidly old-fashioned in it’s approach in giving you thrills and jolts in equal measure. It’s likely to get knocked around at the box office, facing as it does the one-two punch of 127 Hours and The King’s Speech in it’s opening weekend. That’s a shame, because if you’re in the mood for scary action (admission: I’m ALWAYS in the mood for scary action) this fits the bill admirably.

WDW and I wanted to see a bad film this weekend. We failed dismally.

(Check out her take on the film here.)

X&HT Reviews: Love And Other Drugs

The ad campaign for Ed Zwick’s Love And Other
Drugs seem content to have you believe it’s a straight up rom com.
There’s a little comedy, a little tragedy, some saucy nonsense with
flirting and nakedness. Not the sort of thing I’d normally be seen
anywhere near.

However, I may have mentioned in
the past that TLC is something of a fan of the leading man of the
piece, Jake Gyllenhaal (pronounciation guide: it’s a “soft” G, like
the J in Jake. I learned the tough way. I pass my bruised knowledge
on to you, Readership). Hence, it was a no-brainer that I would be
called upon to escort her to her latest tryst.

I’m glad she did. Love And Other Drugs is much more than
the posters would have you believe. There’s plenty of dick jokes
and nekkid ladies to keep the neanderthal in you happy, as well as
a genuinely involving story with some striking performances. Love
And Other Drugs is a solidly entertaining movie that plays nice
with all the rom com cliches while at the same time bringing it’s
own ideas to the table.

Jake plays Jamie, a
salesman for Pfizer during the early years of the Viagra boom. He’s
a fast-talkin’, low-hustlin’ hard-lovin’ guy with serious brains
and a little more of a soul than he’s letting people see. That is,
up until the point where he meets, sleeps and eventually falls for
Maggie, an artist with early-onset Parkinson’s, and his life is
changed. This relationship is the heart of the film, and it would
be very easy for it to collapse into mush. It’s saved by the
utterly astonishing rapport between Jake and his co-star, the
luminous Anne Hathaway. To my mind, she’s very much the best thing
about this film, and lights up the screen every time she’s on (I
can happily report she’s on screen an awful lot, and often not
wearing very much)(yes, I do have a crush now, thank you for
noticing). She takes the annoying manic pixie girl trope and makes
something fresh out of it, flashing between moments of toughness,
sass, sexiness and desperate, strung-out vulnerability.

Together, Jake and Anne bounce lines, looks and tiny
moments off each with the dexterity and subtlety of world class
ping-pong players, always in the moment, always totally believable.
Watching the press kit reviews for the film (are you at all
surprised that I’ve seen quite a few of these?) that rapport
becomes more understandable, as they cook up an act that’s half
mickey-take of Inside The Actor’s Studio, and half Marx Brothers
word play. It’s sometimes surprising that the interviewers get a
word in at all.

Love And Other Drugs is most
interesting when it talks about the state of healthcare in the
States. Although you’re never beaten over the head with the
message, you become quietly aware that the system is corrupt and
fundamentally broken, ruled by Big Pharma and the insurance
companies. Hank Azaria nails his role as Doctor Stan Knight,
vacillating between sleazy opportunism and caring doc on the verge
of nervous collapse. The most moving moments deal with the patients
themselves. Maggie helps coachloads of senior citizens across the
border to Canada, the only place where they can afford to buy their
meds. Meanwhile, the scenes at an Patient’s Unconvention directly
across the street from a huge medical expo slides home the
difference between the slick tactics of the drug companies, and the
realities of what it’s like to be sick in America.

Director Ed Zwick and his co-writer Marshall Herskovitz
are best known these days for widescreen historical epics like The
Last Samurai and Defiance. But they got their break with the
seminal TV drama thirtysomething, and Love And
Other Drugs feels like a story that could easily fit into one of
that show’s arcs. It’s not afraid to be clever and treat it’s
audience as grown-ups. Above all, it doesn’t fall into the romcom
trap of assuming that there’s a happy ever after when Maggie and
Jamie finally get it together at the end of the film. There’s a
maturity and pleasing lack of sweetness to the ending that sits
nicely with what has gone before, although Zwick’s insistance on
playing the “chase the girl to make the speech” bit in the last ten
minutes forced me into an eye-roll.

I’m sorry to
say that I think Love And Other Drugs could become something of a
victim of it’s marketing campaign. It’s being sold as something
that it’s not, and although it’ll draw the romcom crowd in without
a problem (and in fact the screening TLC and I went to was stuffed
solid) it deserves a wider audience. So I’ve taken the liberty of
annotating the UK poster. Just to make sure that everyone who might
be interested in the film gets the message.

laod.jpg

There.
Isn’t that better?

+++Pronunciation Update+++
The Gyllenhaal G is soft, and matches the J. Thanks to TLC for pointing this out. I have amended the post accordingly.

(whimper)

Tron and The Conspiracy Of Surfaces

This post contains discussion of the plot
and characteristaion of Tron: Legacy.

Consider this to be your Spoiler
Warning.


I’m prepared to be an apologist for Tron: Legacy. I am, after all, the
perfect example of the film’s target audience. I clearly remember
going to see the film as an impressionable 15-year-old, and going
to an arcade afterwards that ACTUALLY HAD THE TRON GAME. I was a
late convert to the unsetting pleasures of girls. I drooled over
lightcycles instead.

So, for the most part, I had no problem with the reboot (yes, I’m going there). Tron
is perfectly tooled and cheerfully blatant nostalgia bait. The
acting is significantly better than in the original. The cast do a
sterling job of playing the absurdities of the plot and dialogue
absolutely straight. Apart from Michael Sheen’s green-screen
chewing performance as the treacherous Zeus. Ziggy meets David
Frost. Jeff Bridges somehow gets away with being The Dude again,
and Olivia Wilde plays action pixie girl Quorra with the right
level of crush-inducing flair.

The film sports a perfectly serviceable script that hits the right beats at the right
time. The characters are properly motivated and have a bit of
depth. And I like the idea of the villain of the piece being a not
very good copy of the star. CLU is the creepy new textbook
definition of the Uncanny Valley, and I applaud Digital Domain for
not getting it right.

I mean, I’m under no illusions. Tron: Legacy is rubbish. There are some supremely dumb
bits and longeurs. It’s over-long, and over-earnest. But the
original had what Leading Man Clive called “plateaus”. I, being
less charitable, consider Tron to be a film of one half that slows
to a crawl when Flynn and Tron reach the portal. Legacy is pacier,
prettier, and understands the audience. The little nods to the
earlier film and to eighties rivals such as WarGames made me
smile.

So why, then, did I walk out of the BFI IMAX with a frown and a headache?

It’s that bloody stereoscopy again.

Tron: Legacy should be the perfect film for 3D. It is a film about transparent
surfaces, of action glimpsed through slabs of glass, of characters
framed through the empty centre of discs. It It provides us with
the illusion of depth.

This is, in essence, my problem with the 3D process. It’s the “deck of cards” effect. There is no real sense of depth and solidity. Instead elements in the frame are
placed in a series of flat planes, much like a toy theatre where
paper cut-outs are slotted in and out of a proscenium arch. This
isn’t such a great idea when all you have to play with is a
close-up, and the nose is on a different plane to the
cheeks.

There are tricks to make this less apparent. Selective
focus becomes vital. Objects that we are supposed to perceive as
being further from the viewing plane are carefully defocused in
post. The problem is that this is frequently misjudged, especially
in shots where you are looking through windows, or in the case of
Tron, transparent walls. There are innumerable shots where
characters will walk towards camera and stay in focus throughout.
It’s as jarring as the split-screen effect used to keep two actors
sharp when they’re at opposite ends of a room.

3D claims to be a technique for enhancing storytelling, for involving the viewer more
deeply in the story. All it does is constantly remind you that you
are watching a 3D film. Things are shoved in your face – sort of.
Things rocket overhead – kind of. You have to wear a silly pair of
plastic shades. And then you have to pay extra for the privilege.
Tickets for the IMAX set me back £15, and got me a seat that was so
close to the screen that my eyes were watering after ten minutes.
And I can tell you, it’s disconcerting when odd eye-protein amoebas
start swimming around in the imaging plane and bumping into Jeff
Bridges. I can see a situation where you’re asked to pay extra
extra for the seats in the central sweet spot of the
range.

The sad thing is, that IMAX projection does a much better
job of allowing you to lose yourself in the image. 3D depends on
the proscenium arch effect, pushing elements backwards and forwards
from a flat imaging plane, the screen. An IMAX image is so big that
it extends past your field of vision. You are engulfed in the
picture. You are not being poked at, or peering through a window.
You are inside the picture, and it’s an utterly overwhelming
experience.

A reminiscence. There was a fairground attraction when I
was young that involved a 70mm film of a rollercoaster ride
projected onto the inside of a canvas dome. You stood in the dome,
gripping rails that had been driven into the ground. You needed
them. When the film started, the huge image fooled the brain into
thinking that you were on the ride, and you tilted and swayed
accordingly. No specs needed. You were elsewhere, and it was an
amazing ride.

Much in the same way as The Dark Knight moved between
35mm and Imax to pull the audience into the action sequences, it
would be interesting to see what would happen if, rather than 2/3D
to show the differences between our world and The Grid, Kosinsky
had chosen to shoot the Grid in IMAX. Imagine that first shot of
the Recogniser coming down through the clouds suddenly filling the
whole height of the cinema.

I think you know where I stand on 3D by now, Readership. I find it distracting, irritating and until my eyes settle it simply doesn’t work for me. I spent the first 45
minutes of Avatar thinking that there was either something wrong
with me, or that some pranker had swapped the lenses of the glasses
over (if you do this, according to Mark Kermode, the 3D is
cancelled out. Might have to try that).

I’ve given it a try, and I can now state as a New Year Resolution that I will never
see a film in 3D again. It’s a fake, a parlour trick, a conspiracy
of surfaces that makes a poor shadow play out of the most immersive
form of entertainment there is. 3D adds nothing to a film, and in
my opinion distracts from its pleasures. I was quite prepared for
Tron: Legacy to be a bit of silly fun. I walked out of the cinema
feeling both frustrated and disappointed, for reasons that had
nothing to do with the film.

IMG_1000000776.JPG

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Also, I look ridiculous in the glasses.

Blu-Ray Is Dead (At Least For Me)

Christopher Nolan’s Inception is out to own this week, on good ol’ DVD and brandspanking new sexy eye-meltingly gorgeous Blu-Ray. Oh, you must buy it on Blu-Ray. Otherwise you’re missing out. The detail. The clarity. Oh, the colours. It’s almost an insult to everyone who worked on the film not to buy it in it’s purest, most perfect form.

Yes, alright, I’m taking the piss. I lived through the whole VHS-Beta thing, the whole vinyl-CD handover, so excuse me if I’m a little less than whelmed by the urgent push by the movie companies to have me rebuy films I already own. Or worse, pay a premium to watch new material, which would include an investment in new kit that I don’t need or particularly want. I have a halfway decent telly and an upscaling DVD player which delivers lovely results. We watched UP last week (yes, I know, right up on the moment here at X&HTowers) and the pictures were gorgeous.

But a lot of the supposed benefits are down to the way the end user (that’s you, Readership) has set up their telly and player. Are you going in HDMI? A lot of people still use the Scart connection, apparently. And have you calibrated your telly? If you’re now asking what calibrated means, then no, you haven’t. Which means that your lovely pricy digital telly is running with the factory presets. These won’t be right for your room, and in most cases will be waaaay too bright and saturated. Or, if you set up a TV the way my dad does, not bright and saturated enough. He doesn’t own a 3DTV. You just need sunglasses to watch the telly in Mum and Dad’s place. (sorry, pater.)

How do you calibrate a HDTV? Funny you should ask.

My major problem with Blu-Ray is that it is a transitional format. It’s high-density, high-capacity storage, and that’s all. It’s a carrier for content, and it’s the way that content is formatted in the first place that is important. A recent re-issue of Gladiator used exactly the same video files as were on an earlier, carelessly encoded DVD, with predictably horrible results. But very few people either noticed or cared, and as a result that disc is still on the shelves. You have to wonder how many reissues that people are paying a premium for have been put together the same way, with the odd “special feature” whopped on to make it seem bright, shiny and new.

The thing is that a lot of movie content sits on servers and hard drives in high definition quality and has done for quite a while. For DVD, that content has been compressed and down-converted to allow it to fit on a disc. There was a push a few years ago to “cinephile” editions (of such cinematic masterpieces as “I, Robot”) that had the highest resolution version of the movie that could be crammed onto a single disc, with extras either on a separate coaster or excised completely. Then Blu-Ray and HD-DVD appeared, and it seemed that we could have it all. Full, high-quality transfers and hours and hours of supplementary features that no one ever watches. But the fact remains that the content has not changed. It’s the same 1080p file that was originally created.

Which of course makes me look at iTunes, Netflix and the like and start to wonder why we need the disc in the first place. Up until a couple of years ago, a wall of our house was dedicated to our CD collection. In some places, the shelving was beginning to double-stack. At the same time, the books in the back room were making an attempt to break through the wall. We were swimming in content, much of which had been listened to or read once, if at all. I bought a big external hard drive, digitised the CDs, backed up that hard drive at least twice, and stored all the discs in the loft. We now have a lot more room for books we don’t read. But that process changed the relationship we have to music. It’s much less album based. We pick and choose, shuffle, build playlists. A cheap subscription to Spotify means that I rarely ever buy music anymore. I don’t need to.

It would be a more time-intensive job, but I could do exactly the same thing for the DVD collection that now takes up the wall where the CDs used to live. Dump everything onto a cheap media server and a back-up drive, and who knows, I might even start watching the discs that are shelved and still in their wrapping. Build playlists and mood reels with them. As someone in love with the on-demand services that the plusboxes offer, I love that flexibility. As with music, I’d then look at ways to buy my content in a form that doesn’t come in a box.

To my mind, the film companies are missing a trick. I’m usually a bit behind the curve on this kind of stuff. This means there are already hundreds and thousands of people who are not only thinking the same as me, but have done something about it. iTunes is a good first step, but I see no reason why the studios don’t have their own portals, or club together to create something that could do the job as well. I’d love to see something like Netflix’s streaming service in the UK. As a huge advocate of Lovefilm’s disc-on-demand service, this has to be the logical next step, doesn’t it? (I’d note that while Sky Movies and Virgin’s Front Row deliver something similar, they’re still not providing the depth of service and the ability to source esoterica that Lovefilm can. Plus, they’re both crippled by embargoes on when they can start showing movies – usually well after the coasters have hit the shops).

Yes, I know it would be a massive undertaking to get all that material onto servers that can reliably squirt it down the pipe and into your front room, but if it works, it’s a service I’d happily pay for, much in the way Spotify get money off me every month.

Certainly, I have no plans to buy a Blu-Ray player, which means I have no reason to buy coasters. Instead, if I want the absolute best quality image available, I do the right thing and go to the cinema. Project a Blu-Ray next to a 35mm print on the big screen, and you’ll soon see which one’s better. Even when, sadly, projection is done using big hard drives, the image quality of those files will still show that the disc is a massive compromise for the domestic market. Bear that in mind, and the argument that Blu-Ray is the ultimate viewing experience starts to look a bit thin.

And don’t get me started on bloody 3D…

+++UPDATE+++

Simon Aitken reminds me that while his most excellent horror Blood + Roses is currently available for rental, it will roll over to digital download and DVD purchase through Amazon in the new year. The metrics on who’s buying what should make for very interesting reading.

Life After Nano: and then this happened

First things first, then.

nano_10_winner_240x120-7.png

 

 

 

 

 

I hit 50, 000 words on the evening of November 29th, which is slow by my standards, but perfectly acceptable in the scheme of things. As ever, the moment when I upload wordcount to the Nanowrimo site (painfully slow on the first and last couple of the days of November, a phenomenon we refer to as “the robust nature of the nano servers”) to get redirected to the winners page is a bittersweet one.  You expect fireworks, or a party, and what you get is… well, a very nice round of applause from the Nano staff, and a couple of downloads. But then the point is not to have the world fall at your feet at the enormity of your achievement. If you’re anything like me, the end of Nano is not the end of the story. Nowhere near, in my case. Ghosts is dangling on a massive cliffhanger. The casual reader may consider that I have written myself into a corner. Not the case, kids. But if you want to find out what happens next, you’re going to have to let me know.

Work on Ghosts will now continue behind the scenes. The first draft will stay up until the new year, at which point it’s being pulled into Scrivener so I can start work on the second draft. As for the first part of the story, Pirates of The Moon – well, I have plans for that, which I’ll share with you in due course.

 

On the same subject, you can now view Simon Aitken’s brilliant Blood + Roses on a rental pass at the all new revamped site. I can’t recommend it enough, and I’m not alone. Critical Film called it “a turning point, for the better, in the constant evolution of the modern cinematic vampire”, and I agree. This is a great opportunity to support an acclaimed independent horror, and you should run, not walk (well, metaphorically speaking, as you’re no doubt reading this at home in your slippers with no intention of budging off the sofa) to the site and check it out.

 

Finally, a little self-promotion that I can’t believe slipped through the gaps. Time Out is now available to view at Raindance.TV, at significantly improved quality from the YouTube link. Those who sniff that it was only shot on Super 8 in the first place are so very missing the point it’s not even funny. Go check it out, and witness the glory. Also, we get a tiny morsel of cash for every view, so that’s nice, isn’t it?

Right, back to work. The twist I have in mind won’t write itself…

My 15 Favourite Horror Things

This is all Simon Aitken’s fault. He tagged me in a Facebook post, as part of an ongoing meme which seems appropriate for this, The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year. In short, he challenged me and his friends to list our top 15 horror films, and give a reason why we like them so much. His list is here, and I can’t argue with any of his choices.

As I started thinking about my list, I realised that some of my favourite horror moments weren’t films at all. So, as it’s me, and I believe in doing things a little differently, what comes next is a countdown of my favourite horror things. I hope you’ll find some surprises. In no particular order, then…

Continue reading My 15 Favourite Horror Things

RED and the finer points of growing up rather than old

TLC and I went to the pictures yesterday, and thoroughly enjoyed RED, a movie about Special Ops killers coming out of retirement after their lives are threatened by a spectre from their past. This makes it sounds all grim-faced and dark, and that’s exactly how the graphic novel by Warren Ellis and Cully Hamner reads. It is a dark little tale with very little in the way of humour or even light patches, and a very unhappy ending.

The film is nothing like that. It takes Warren’s themes and setpieces and ties them into a story that bears only passing resemblance to the book. This is a very good thing. It’s one of the most entertaining films I’ve seen in a while, with a script that understands the mechanics of the action movie, but winks and blows them a kiss as it breezes by. It’s a lot of fun, but it also has a heart and backbone, and takes time to make the point that being retired doesn’t make you useless. Far from it. Frank Moses, the RED of the title, played as Bruce Willis by Bruce Willis, is always one step ahead, always capable of thinking on his feet. He’s not an impotent old man or an easy target. And he’s even mature enough to shrug off the jibes about his hair.

There’s a wonderful moment towards the end of the film when he explains to his opponent Cooper (played with aplomb and empathy by Karl Urban, who I’m now very excited to see as Judge Dredd) about what it has taken to bring him here, and the awful lessons he’s had to learn. He is the lonely, unstoppable ronin because he has lost everything he’s ever cared about. The last hurrah that RED documents so entertainingly is his last chance at redemption, rather than revenge. It’s a chilling moment that brings home a few home truths about the process of growing up and growing old, and the things we have to lose along the way.

For me, RED’s major strength is in the casting of its female characters. These are front and centre, the engine of the story rather than the brakes. Rebecca Pidgeon is sharply efficient as the cold Control of Urban’s killer. Helen Mirren is regal and deadly, and you can just tell she was having a blast with the heavy artillery. [SPOILER ALERT] Even the commuter that John Malkovich’s character threatens with a gun comes back at him with a rocket launcher. [/SPOILER ALERT]

But it’s Mary-Louise Parker that makes the show for me. Goofy, sweet and tough all at once, always ready for a challenge and an adventure. There are no simpering dolly-birds here. You can see from the first minute of the film why Frank is so smitten with her. I am too.

Interestingly, there were a bunch of screensurfers in the back row. You know the sort, kids that’ll get in for one film then stick around all day moving from screen to screen. They were clearly intent on just chatting and pissing around, until the cinema as a whole made their feelings perfectly plain. A cinema, incidentally, full of people in their thirties and forties – the target audience for RED. An aural eye-roll (how do kids DO that?) and a muttered “Cuh, old people” was the closest we got to rebellion, and they sloped away minutes before the explosive end to the film. Their loss, in all kinds of ways. There was a lesson to be learned, if they could have been bothered to listen.

Warren gives us his insight into the story and themes of RED in a piece for the Guardian HERE. The figure of the Unretired Hero isn’t going away anytime soon.