Someone once said to me "Simon, what are your feelings on last week's major releases?". Well, in all honety they didnt. But what if they did, and I hadnt provided my musings in this weely column. Disaster, that's what. Unmitigated, unquantifiable disaster. Or they'd have to go on Amazon and read the weak-as-piss reviews on there or something. Rachel Getting Married Quirky schmaltz from Jonathon Demme. The best of it is in Anne Hathaway's pattern-breaking performance, and in the wonderful observationalist work surrounding the family- this is truly the best look into the agony and unavoidable love of the family environment since Little Miss Sunshine. Exasperating material, and witnessing Hathaway's Kym trying to struggle away from the tide of her family is compelling stuff- you really get the sense that she is a different animal entirely, and that her ultimate choice is one that we could all sympathise with in the same circumstances. If she continues to make movies like this, and avoid some of the more obviously bank-friendly choices (Bride Wars), I have a feeling Anne Hathaway can really be something. Revolutionary Road Even though I came away from Revolutionary Road knowing what Id seen was pretty good- I still felt like there was so much missing. As compelling an insight into stifling suburban claustrophobia as it is, it doesnt do any better than Far From Heaven did seven years ago, and probably got more attention than it deserved because of the reunion of the fresh-faced Titanic duo. There isnt the same level of emotional attachment, and the beauty of the filming doesnt atone for the lack- you can see the predicament the couple find themselves in, but its more difficult to feel it with them. The screenplay somewhat lets down the otherwise excellent performances by Kate and Leo, and is missing most of the subtlety of Yates' original story. Gran Torino Surprisingly not a film about fast cars driving through the suburban sprawl of the big cities as I initially thought it was going to be (why Eastwood would adapt a computer game didnt really come into it for some reason- after all he's making a Mandela biopic that is ostensibly about a few games of rugby!). Gran Torino at least proves that The Man With No Name is still willing to rock the boat with his subject matter- racism is a hard ball to play with, no matter what approach you take and it is nice to see that Eastwood wasnt concerned enough by Spike Lee's erroneous slurs on his name to steer well clear of race matters (I would argue that they may have influenced this and Eastwood's next projects in fact). Despite this initial bravery, the film gets all soft when the tension should be rising, and it becomes one of those stock buddy movies where an unlikely pair foster mutual feelings of respect and eventually a form of paternal love, which they apparently doubted could ever happen, but which was patently obvious to every member of the audience from their first meeting. There just isnt enough narrative intrigue, even despite the enormous promise, and I felt a little cheated at the end. Clint Eastwood is still mesmorising on screen though, and his appeal- unlike the majority of actors his age- seems never to be on the wane. I could watch his scowling, infinitely masculine figure on screen forever- if only the films had a little more to them than this. Confessions of a Shopaholic I'm a sucker for a good book to film adaptation because of an affinity with all writers everywhere (and a narcissistic and unwavering belief that I must surely join the ranks of the very highest esteemed of them before too long), but I know for a fact that you cant make a good film out of a bad book. Sophie Kinsella writes like Dan Brown- to the lowest common denominator, and very very consciously of the base desires and needs of her reading public- there will never be an original idea expressed, nor a radical style adopted in her Confessions series, yet it sells because, unlike me, publishers and writers like Kinsella never underestimate book buyers' capacity for moronic choices. How this was adapted (and poorly I might add), when modern marvels like The End of Mr Y or JM Koetzee'sDisgrace remain firmly tethered to their book shelves is plainly and painfully beyond me. You've seen it all before, and it probably starred someone exactly the same as Isla Fisher, in various "hilarious" situations brought about by her cheap idiosyncracies and flailing inability to conduct herself correctly in relationships. There are now so many "funny" neurotic female characters out there in the film world that it makes you long for the time when the real mentals reigned like Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction or Kathy Bates in Misery. Oh, for a sledge hammer to the ankles! Che- Part One & Two This should have been Benicio Del Toro's Magnum Opus- the one career defining performance that he will forever be remembered for; every superstar has to have one- Brando had On The Waterfront, James Dean had Rebel Without a Cause, and Audrey Hepburn had her Breakfast at Tiffany's. Yet, despite the grandeur of the project(s), this is not career defining stuff- it is admittedly good, and the artistic vision is suitably sizeable considering the subject matter, but the films fail to really get beneath their subject. The decision to reflect the utter attrition of a revolutionary war, rather than an aggrandising biopic that would propel Che to a deified status (think Mr Burns' self-penned biopic in the Simpsons), is an admirable choice, but I have to say it becomes a little bit of a toil, and even, dare I say it, tedious after a while. So what is Del Toro's defining work? Personally, I'd say it has to be his performance in Fear & Loathing In Las Vegas. Nothing else comes close. Push A movie about superpowered folks on the run from a secret government agency- headed by a menacing, and somewhat pantomimey African-American bad-guy. Isnt that Jump? How 2008 of the film-makers to essentially remake something so new. And to make it almost impenetrably confusing in places that any enjoyment at the inane but flashy action sequences dries up pretty sharpish. Some things in cinema are arrogant: it is one thing to include a post-credits teaser that hints at a forthcoming sequel (comic book adaptations fucking love doing it, but then they have the force behind them to back up the possibility), but to end the film on a cliff hanger when the film doesnt have any real credentials, and a limited fanbase to work with is just the worst. It's like ending a massively popular series like My Name Is Earl on some huge revelation that would need development- it just wouldnt happen. Oh, wait... American Teen Styles itself as the factual sibling of The Breakfast Club, but comes off as merely another fictional high school movie. There is no way this is a documentary- and it really gripes with me that the faintly disgusting new trend towards "manufactured reality" (think The Hills) can work its way into cinema without a massive hoohah. The fact is a real warts and all documentary looking at American High School may have been vaguely fascinating- though nowhere near original- but a manufactured one like this is just another MTV-esque retread that already clogs up that so-called music channel. Flame & Citron The best European release so far this year? Probably. Although slightly long, the episodic feel helps the flow and there is a surprising and refreshing amount of depth for a war movie- there is a very obvious attempt to develop a psychological richness that underpins the action and makes for a tense atmosphere. It looks fabulous thanks to some understated but exceptional camera work, and the two central figures- played by Mads Mikkelsen and Thure Lindhardt are excellent- a real hidden gem from Danish cinema. Also AvailableNew in Town, Surveillance, I Know How Many Runs You Scored Last Summer, The Cell 2And On TV?The Life & Times of TimScreening in the UK on Virgin 1 The bastard child of Curb Your Enthusiasm and South Park, The Life & Times of Timpurports to be about a regular guy who has the worst luck- he bounces from one scandalous crisis to another. The first episode- delightfully entitled Angry Unpaid Hooker (for which creator Steve Dildarian had previously won the Best Animated Short at the 2006 Comedy Arts Festival- is hilarious, and the best introduction to this unconventional series that anyone could have wanted. The agony as Tim attempts to explain to his girlfriend's parents why there is an irate street walker in his apartment is palpable, and in certain exchanges you get a real feel that Dildarian has created an ingenius modern comic character. A lot of criticism will be levelled at the amateurishness of the project- the animation is self-consciously bad (never stopped South Park though did it?!) and some of the jokes are inches away from the gutter, but both characteristics are part of its appeal for me. It feels a lot like a mongrelised Adult Swim production, and I fundamentally dont agree that the programme aims its humour squarely at the basest of all funny bones- simply slipping in obligatory four-letter words and toilet humour to appeal to the evergreen sophomores who govern this indie TV land. This might not be the most intellectual comedy series you'll ever see, but it's bloody hilarious all the same and the insanity of its observationalist and situational comedy is just diamond. In a climate in which programmes like The Black Donnellys cant get a second season, and My Name Is Earl is cancelled despite an avid following, to see The Life & Times of Tim being taken into a second season is both refreshing and testament to the confidence with which HBO obviously view it. And based on the first few episodes that I have been lucky enough to see in advance, the decision was good one.