Category Archives: 2011/12 UK Movies

Starlet (2012) – USA / UK

Review by: Andrew Chan FCCA AACTA FIPRESCI
Review Date: 12th March 2014

Directed by: Sean Baker
Starring: Dree Hemingway, Besedka Johnson

Support our decade of film scholarship on Asian Cinema by buying Official DVD or Blu-ray release from our Store


“Starlet” is one of those films that waits for you to embrace it, before totally overwhelming the audience with strong emotions and a thought-provoking finale. I really enjoyed this film and the best thing about it, is the manner director / writer Sean Baker goes about his business, without being flashy, pretentious, but simply creating the right moments for the actors to shine. Baker constantly allows and lingers on the actor’s facial expressions, their detail interactions and especially a sweet little story focusing on the young Dree Hemingway and the old granny Besedka Johnson. Despite the fact that Dree Hemingway works in the porn industry and scream out during explicit sex scene, nothing is ever over-done or over-cooked. In fact, Dree is able present a multi-facet performance, where she is able separate her work as a porn star and going about every life with her beloved puppy dog “Starlet” and her “sort-of” redemption of being indirectly being in possession of Besedka Johnson’s long lost money. “Starlet” is a beautiful little film that is able to capture the youth, the drugs, the sex, the life, the relationships and ultimately a story about two very different people, from a huge generation gap and how they grew closer. This is a wonderful film for the ages.

Considering this is a debut performance from the late Besedka Johnson, who shot the film when she was 85 years old. Johnson is simply wonderful and never over-acts. Her fragile figure belies a story to tell and her interactions with Dree Hemingway essentially made the film a success. Dree Hemingway is light-hearted and despite being around her best friend Stella Maeve who is totally drugged up and used up in the porn industry, Hemingway comes off rather loving and in fact, the most realistic character. Everyone have their struggles and the way she wants to discover the life of an unknown old granny is fascinating and believable to watch. Soon, we almost forgotten about the cash that she that took from the garage sale and instead we enjoy the performances of the two.

All in all, “Starlet” is wonderful little film that never fails to grow onto the audience. Like Dree, we are fascinated by Besedka Johnson’s old age and going her everyday life. The dog “Starlet” adds to the humor and some cute giggles and moments, but ultimately it is the relationship between the two different characters that made the film a joy to endure. “Starlet” succeeds in exploring the notion of humanity, friendship, redemption as well as perhaps suggesting a 2nd chance. A film for all ages and one that easily stays with you. (Neo 2014)

I rated it 8/10


Support our decade of film scholarship on Asian Cinema by buying Official DVD or Blu-ray release from our Store


Dredd 3D 新特警判官3D (2012) – United Kingdom / South Africa

Review by: Andrew Chan FCCA AACTA
Review Date: 24th October 2012
Releasing in cinemas across Hong Kong and Australia from October 18th

Few remakes stand up well with its predecessor, but the latest “Dredd” goes one better by being bloodier, more violent, more shocking and more relevant.

With the recent high profile remake failure of “Total Recall”, the expectations for Stallone’s “Judge Dredd” remake did not come with much expectation. However, “Dredd”, the $45 million British production, fits the bill; stand up in its own right by being grittier, bloodier and suitably engaging throughout. Karl Urban continues his “Doom” action form is almost Stallone-like as the title character and the film is enhanced by some exquisite bloody effects. The slashing of throats, arms and legs combines well with the skinned bodies and death defining bullet shots, all helps to make “Dredd” a true action blockbuster for all. Screenwriter Alex Garland who previous wrote the heavy and complicated “Never Let Me Go”, goes simpler this time around and let the film focus on what it does best – action.

Relatively newcomer Karl Urban (“Doom”) dons the helmet for the entire movie. Acting behind a helmet or mask that covers your eyes is never easy, think Tom Hardy as Bane in “The Dark Knight Rises”. However, Urban oozes in physical presences and his coarse voice combines well with his ironic smile making him a perfect action hero to follow. There are some scenes where Urban seems to be mimicking Stallone’s stoic style, but as a whole, it is exactly what you call a highly efficient performance. Another newcomer comes in the form of Olivia Thirlby (“Nobody Walks”) who reminds us of a young Milla Jovovich. There is something about the young heroine that makes her edgy, femme fatal and yet there is a sense of vulnerability underneath her. Not unlike Milla, Thirlby is tough and being the one of the two judges without a helmet, she carries the film particularly well, especially the numerous reaction after each brutal and totally gore-like killings. As villain, Lean Headey (“300”) is absolutely menacing and provides the film with the most complicated and flawed character to boot. It is a shame that not more of her past is being shown, as there are layers beneath her eyes which buries those unforgettable whoring years that made her essentially cold-blooded and driven.

Director Peter Travis (“Vantage Point”) uses shock, blood and violence to captivate the audience attention from start to finish. This is done particularly well to the maximum effect, through some startling and creative death designs and plenty of well-timed slow-mo effects. Slow motion can easily be overused and becomes all the most annoying, but rather in this film, it signals the terrible effects of drugs that prolong the agony in the process of falling to death. The scene near the end is suitably ironic as Headey met her fate.

All in all, “Dredd” is exactly what it wants to be, to be brutally violent, filled with non-stop bullet counts and some truly heart-stopping ways of blowing off a head/body part or everything else you can imagine. The film falls short of explaining more about the differences between making a differences and the reality of the situation and the critical dilemma that people like Judge Dredd faces. There is really not much wrong with “Dredd”, although the manner, in which Dredd is saved near the end, seems rather illogical and unbelievable. Still, “Dredd” as a whole is good entertainment and if you are thirsting for unlimited blood, condemning violence and pure gore and straight on brutality, then this film does exactly that. (Neo 2012)

I rated it 8/10

The Lady (2011) – France / UK


A feature of Luc Besson’s is that he is never shy of portraying woman as powerful, strong willed and independent. Here in The Lady, Besson goes half-baked and skimmed the film real central issue of freedom and opted for a love story. To say Michelle Yeoh’s performance as good is rather underrated as she oozes with fine screen presence and created a character that is not only able to relate to the audience, but also carries the film with strong willed temperament. The Lady ultimate is a film of unfulfilled potential, it wrongfully focuses on a love story, rather than how freedom is so crucial to the people of Burma.


Michelle Yeoh brings her character to life and possesses an uncanny resemblance to the actual Aung San Suu Kyi. In fact Yeoh has aged well and in the process able to depict a person that is calm, collected, inspired and extremely strong willed mindset. There is no moment of doubt in the audience mind that Yeoh will not go through with what she believes in so strongly, despite the hardship and harsh moments along the way. It is probably Ms Yeoh’s best rounded performance in years. Likewise, her husband played by (David Thewlis) is extremely effective as the supportive partner and father of the two children. Although there is nothing flashy about the role, the manner he approached the character is a perfect complement to Yeoh’s determination.


All in all, The Lady is a without doubt beautiful to look at as with most Luc Besson’s films. However the film loses its focus by spending too much time on the love story rather than the political situation in Burma instead. It is a shame as far too often, there are scenes of Thewlis cooking and washing, when those minutes could either be cut or provide a little more insight into the brutal Burma’s military regime. Still, The Lady remains a fine piece of cinema, even if it is a little flawed…


Neo rates it 7.5/10

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011) – UK


“Connie Sachs: I don’t know about you George, but I’m feeling seriously under-fucked!”


It’s been a long time running since the last time I did not follow or get a movie. I am proud to announce that my latest espionage spying experience has ended in tatters as I somehow never out into it, involved or understanding the whole point of a waste of two and a half hours of my time. It is that disappointing and even more so, considering the performance of Gary Oldman (getting an Oscar nomination for the role). At the end of the day, this film is far too inaccessible for mainstream audience and even for those that do get it, I cannot see the joy of the ride.


Despite Gary Oldman best efforts and probably deserved Oscar nod, the film sense of direction, pacing, editing and story are all borderline boredom. Perhaps it is not targeted at the general public, but for even a festival film experience, it is an hour too long and tad too daunting to endure. Don’t get me wrong, the locations, the film sets and the film as a whole actually looks great and it is clear that the director and producers have out a lot of effort into the details. In fact most of the dialogues are cleverly written. However the problem exists in its inability to engage the audience and transcends them from boredom.


All in all, to say Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a bore fest is probably an understatement, but it is probably safe to say that the film has good intentions and a decent display from Gary Oldman. In spite of this, the film fails where it matters most, namely assuming everyone in the audience knows the historical backdrop of the 70s and resulting in losing the audience in the process. As much as I wanted to like and embrace this part of work, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy just doesn’t work or click with me. A disappointing experience to say the least…

Neo rates it 5/10