Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Review: Piranha 3-D

Year: 2010
Director: Alexandre Aja
Screenplay: Alexandre Aja, Pete Goldfinger, Josh Stolberg
Starring: Elisabeth Shue, Adam Scott, Jerry O'Connell, Ving Rhames, Dina Meyer, Jessica Szohr, Steven R. McQueen, Christopher Lloyd,

In a recent interview, James Cameron has taken Piranha 3D to task over it's use of well... the 3D. The comments may feel slight but not only did it hit some of the makers a bit hard but it also comes across as a little hard to swallow considering the 3-D medium is nearly almost being reserved for animated movies with celebrity voices. It is true that certain directors with more pedigree are looking utilizing the idea of 3-D, Cameron's views come out during a re-release (less than a year after) of Avatar. So despite being the biggest selling movie in the world (with inflation etc.) Cameron wants you back in the cinemas (in 3-D) once more, after you've already brought the DVD (not 3-D) of his epic.

Cameron's words feel sillier to me still because there's still a lot of people out there who couldn't care less about 3-D. Not critics or wanker bloggers like me, but those who go to the flicks once very so often just to watch a flick. The hiked prices, the fussy glasses and the fact that to some, the effect just dosen't do that much, puts them off. "The best films are being made in 3-D" says the director, however, I do feel that films like Toy Story 3 could have done alright without needing to be in 3-D.

This in a around about way brings me to Piranha 3-D a shlocky affair with it an eye on it's target audience and tongue so firmly in it's cheek you'd need some flares, a mobile and some gas to dislodge it. Director Alexander Aja utilities the effect like Pixar do with their short film before the aforementioned Toy Story 3, as an amusing distraction, more than anything else. That train of thought may hurt someone like Cameron, but for a movie like this with it's cheeky references to Jaws and Girls gone Wild alike, it appears to catch the post-modern wave quite well. Quite simply, much like 3-D, the film is a guilty pleasure.

Piranha 3-D starts off with more build up than I expect, and while the fishy foe do make the odd appearance, Aja still saves enough time to give me some thin but fun characters who tuck into the goofy material enough to keep me going. The Expendables clearly wanted to capture this silly little bubble, but for me Piranha is not only more coherent, but also less full of it's self for my liking. Yes, better known stars like Elizabeth Shue and Ving Rhames are in this. They are however taking bites out of the scenery, but it doesn't feel like a grasp at relevance, more like a chance to let their hair down a bit. To be honest, all of the cast are in on the joke so to speak with adequate displays throughout. Yes. even Kelly Brook who is clearly used more for her coke bottle figure over any thespian talents is watchable here.

Also letting it all hang out is the film's director. Aja's film is no-way as intense as his earlier features (Switchblade Romance, The Hills have eyes remake), but this in no way hampers his inventive execution of set pieces. Some feel well known (the two kids on an island waiting for help), while others feel very fresh. The films centerpiece (the destruction of the Lake Victoria beach) has some creative comic death moments, showing the filmmaker at their most playful. With this said Piranha still manages to give off a certain level of threat (although no real full on scares) with some of it's many underwater scenes giving off just enough tension to remain interesting.

Piranha 3-D is a loving hark back to an eighties vibe of horror film-making, mixing the gore drenched splatter features of that era with an extra added Porky's vibe to it. Interestingly with all the gratuitous female features on display, Aja's film still manages to make the characters we're meant to be watching likable enough to forget about the boobs (depending on who you are). A fun, disposable flick with enough gore and laughs for genre fans, Piranha isn't going to make massive waves in the great horror circle, but manages to be a nice nibble for it's 88 minutes.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Review: Scott Pilgrim Vs The World

Year: 2010
Director: Edgar Wright
Screenplay: Michael Bacall, Edgar Wright
Starring: Michael Cera, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Ellen Wong, Kieran Culkin, Anna Kendrick, Jason Schwartzman, Alison Pill, Mark Webber, Johnny Simmons, Aubrey Plaza, Satya Bhabha, Chris Evans, Brie Larson, Roxy Richter, Brandon Routh, Keita Saitou, Shota Saito

It is now almost cliche for a film critic to comment on a film as "like a video game". It's a usual complaint from a reviewer (who is usually a non-gamer) to downgrade a modern film, which is mostly fueled by it's overtly flashy visuals, hack-slash editing, paper-thin characters and a liner plot. As movies have become more aggressively aimed towards the teenage male market (and all that disposable income), they have slowly started to take the form of their computer counter-parts.

So while games have been doing their best to become more intricate in the telling of their stories and building as well as expanding their visual world. It seems to some that many mainstream films are becoming more and more like Daikatana, clumsy, awkward, ambling creatures which will only provide a quick fix than anything lasting.

However, it seems that there might be an generation of films that is doing it's best to try and combine film and game elements together. The over the shoulder visuals that were seen in such films as The Losers and Knight and Day (in between the extreme close ups) feel much like the third person shooters of Gears of war and Resident Evil 4/5, while I likened Paul Greengrass' Green Zone to Modern Warfare 2 earlier this year. There was also the case of Inception in which Patrick Goldstein's article in the Los Angles Times felt that Nolan's multi-leveled narrative feels much more at home with the younger audiences with their x-boxes and playstations than the older crowd.

And so, with Roger Ebert yelling that video games can never be art and reviewers such as the classy guys at filmspotting despising (or growing out of) gaming (with their balanced but dismissive review of this film) it's seems that Edgar Wright has took it on himself to make his "difficult third album" a crowning achievement of video game as part of the cinematic aesthetic.

I can say very easily this...I can see why it didn't blow the box office apart. Most films can usually be separated from their source material. Not here. This is a film which is so entrenched in it's sources, that it's almost impossible to split them. You might not have read the graphic novel the film is based on. But the Manga, the video games, the leisurely references to Canada? It's sown into the very fabric of the film, making sure Scott Pilgrim fits neatly into the pocket of niche.

Despite being the box office's bitch, Scott Pilgrim won me over in spades. Not only was I in love with it's ambition, but totally bowled over by it's execution. At every turn I was dazzled by it's visual style, offbeat rhythm and quick witted dialogue. This is Spaced goes Canadian, not only utilizing the same transitions that made Edgar Wrights sitcom so eye catching, but nabbing a whole range of ideas from other areas and films to make an astonishing slacker comedy pastiche. It's narrative is structured like a video game, it's fight sequences build and are almost executed like an musical while many of the transitions owe a debt to The Wachowskis' Speed Racer. This mixture shouldn't work and to some it really won't, but for me I found myself constantly grinning to myself.

It wasn't just because I got the references or found myself amusing by the 60's batman like words springing up like pop-art. But it was because how Wright manages to make sure that the film's humor and characters feel so unique to me. Not following the regular beats of a usual feature, Scott Pilgrim remixes the feel of the ordinary with the hyper-abstract, nabbing from a huge pop culture sandbox and rolling at a furious pace but still maintaining a wonderful coherence despite it's ridiculous (but playful) asides. Instead of talking down to you it merely asks you to keep up with it. Some have found some of this hipster pandering, only speaking to an ADD crowd. However, to me Wright's film is more layered than that, using this bold visual style and wry screenplay to ask us to suspend our belief for a selfish young man (difficult to do in film at the best of times) who must not take the easy way out in order achieve the ultimate goal.

Moments of the film do have a feeling of self-indulgence but this feels more because the film is set all in the main characters head most of the time rather than pompous posturing. What we get is a teen eye view of inner baggage and infatuation, and while it may feel alien to some, there is an endearment to be found within these characters. Ramona (A very sexy Mary Elizabeth Winstead) may seems aloof and bitchy, but the reasons why are very plausible. The same goes for the odd looking Micheal Cera whose pitch perfect comic timing once again becomes key into unlocking a girls heart and getting us on his side to root for him.

Even the secondary characters are great to watch even if a little one note at times. But then again, the supporting cast is a Daria-esque Alison Pill, a very game Chris Evans, an equally game Brandon Routh and yet another great performance from Kieran Culkin (See Igby goes down) whose gay roommate got a fair share of laughs from myself.

Scott Pilgrim vs The World has not set the world alight money wise, but then again, how can you market something that is so destined for cult? We should be too quick to judge comic-con reaction as real-life everyone reaction. However I must say (despite not really explaining in my review) I loved this movie. Not only I admired the ambition, as a teen comedy...there isn't anything like it, but because of it's audacity. Scott Pilgrim wears it's bizarre feel on it's shoulders and not giving a damn like it's love interest. The references? they are there and they're quite light. As I'm not a Manga fan I can't say I got them all (expect Routh's 3rd Ex going super sayian) and as a gamer(of sorts) I didn't feel they overloaded the movie. Dynamic visuals, fun characters, a great fantasy world with an interesting structure and characters I dug hanging out with. For or against? I'm Camp Pilgrim

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Review: Salt

Year: 201o
Director: Phillip Noyce
Screenplay: Kurt Wimmer
Starring: Angelina Jolie, Liev Schreiber and Chiwetel Ejiofor

Synopsis is here

Salt is a relatively enjoyable flick. It's less disjointed than the A-Teams, Expendables and Knight and Day's of the world. This seems to be because Phillip Noyce (director of the brilliant Rabbit Proof Fence) really wants to make a coherent movie. For the most part, he does fine. There's a sprinkling of Bourne here, a dab of Total Recall there, some spy gunk from the shoe of Pierce Brosnan's Bonds. It mixes well enough for an hour and then bang the third act smacks you in the face like a jilted ex.

The film holds no big surprises. All the cliches are there. I was well aware of the inevitable turns that a feature like this would bring, and for the most part I was fine with it. As an action film, it throws some solid punches and I was more than happy to roll with them. I really enjoyed the fact that the fight sequences took notice that Salt is more agile than strong. Considering that Tom Cruise was meant to take the role of Salt before he passed, it's the kind of thing that can easily slip a filmmakers mind.

Noyce's direction of the action and pacing of the story is more than competent, but suddenly like a flicking of a light switch, Kurt Wimmer's screenplay takes a detour into the town ludicrous and the mayor is Chris Bridges.

Salt was doing fine, even with it's hilarious Kennedy conspiracy theory near the beginning, but suddenly the film falls down on itself, and Noyce's direction could not cover up the crazy of the films climax. The film's "fridge logic" is all a little too clear and instead of asking certain questions during a midnight snack, your asking them IN THE MOVIE. This is never a good sign, and it played havoc with my general enjoyment of the movie.

I wondered if this is why so many people say you need to "switch your brain off" when watching a movie such as Salt. Maybe they know they'll get plagued with such questions and suddenly the illusion is ruined. Maybe the only questions they like asking is whether Angelina is better as a brunette or a blonde. Maybe merely sitting and glaring at average performances Liev Schreiber and Chiwetel Ejiofor (character actors now somnambulists it seems) helps stop those questions from setting in for others. Not me.

No for me Salt falls a little short at the last hurdle. The action sequences with an actual sense of place, the strong presence of Jolie as a female action star, the subtly (for a blockbuster) placed theme of identity melts away for a punchline that is a tad too overdone to feel fully satisfying. Salt isn't a junk food film of the highest order but like the title, too much of it (i.e a sequel) will not be good for you.

Monday, 16 August 2010

Review: The Last Airbender

Year: 2010
Director: M Night Shyamalan
Screenplay: M Night Shyamalan
Starring: Noah Ringer, Dev Patel, Nicola Peltz, Jackson Rathbone

Synopsis is here.

Ok. It's got a bad name. There's people in the film called benders, we can stop the giggling and what not. The Wackness (2008) had an awful name, but it was pretty good and I still find Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies to be an awful title for a movie. The Last Airbender is an unfortunate name but imagine a re-release of "Let us be gay" for a minute. Right. We done now?

M Night Shyamalan for me produced one of the most interesting "comic book" movies in Unbreakable. A film which caught the mood of where actual comic books films where going. All you young Dark Knight fans, you may do well to check out Shyamalan's somber effort. I still think it's his strongest movie with all the pieces coming together slowly but beautifully. That was ten years ago and since then his output has slowly become weaker and weaker. I could go through the titles but I'm sure other blogs/websites have done the same and better.

Which brings me to The Last Airbender, a film based on a T.V that my younger brother enjoys and I know nothing about. If the film was a good one, then I probably would have given more of a damn about Avatar: The Last Airbender, However, Shyamalan's film is a total mess of a movie. I'm not saying this to have a go at a director because it's the "in" thing, I'm saying this because this really feels like a fall from grace. Where shall I start?

Well lets start by saying TLA as the kind of story in which characters of certain importance will be bypassed constantly so we can be introduced more characters who eat up precious screentime. Instead of any real building of characters within this world, we get dull montages, irritating narration and just lackadaisical storytelling in general. At no point in time does the screenplay (or direction) truly invite us into this world. At no point do you engage with these people, what they do, what they believe in, anything. There's no atmosphere to draw us in, nor does the film give us a reason to care, assaulting the viewer with truckloads of trite story and hollow dialogue but never anything of real investment.

I suppose Shyamalan was counting on the brand name and the films effects alone to make the film interesting. Not a great idea as while the computer effects aren't as bad was what many have stated, they do have to contend with the worst (I repeat THE WORST) 3D going. I cannot stress to you enough that the 3-D in this is terrible. If Hollywood are determined to make every film use this stupid gimmick I strongly urge they sort out pricing, particularly if it's rotoscoped as badly as this. I'm happy I didn't pay for this movie. If I did I would have been paying more money just to watch the film with glasses on. The 3-D does nothing. Zip. Nada. I repeat once more (sorry) THE 3-D IS BRUTAL AND BORDERLINE NON-EXISTENT. The combination of the films ok effects and terrible 3-D is one of the most frustrating things about the movie. But I haven't got to the acting.

Now before I get on to the acting I will have to mention the films casting which was (and still is) being attacked with accusations of racism. Now racism is a strong word which seems to be constantly misused. To say it's racist would also say it's truly hateful, no the casting is simply ignorant when it comes to race in the frame. I cannot tell you to the stupidity of having these three white kids stick out like a sore thumb against all the eastern aspects of the film. Seriously watching this "avatar" being the only Caucasian airbender against rows of Asian kids looks very dumb. There's also some "interesting" issues involving the Earthbenders (lol) all Asian, poor and sidelined while The Waterbenders are of course white, wealthy and highly knowledgeable.

But it's hard to take these racial issues with any seriousness when the acting is so laughably bad. It's bad enough that the script has them re-alliterating plot points needlessly (seriously the dialogue sounds childishly written) but it would help that the film actually picked strong actors for the leads. The performances are terrible, blank faced affairs which are so painfully awkward it becomes a little sad at times. The only person that seems to escape this is Dev Patel is does well but not only needs more to work with (annoyingly he has the most interesting character) he is very miscast. The less we say about the adult performances the better.

The Last Airbender is the worst entry I've seen from M Night Shyamalan. Even in The Happening or Lady in the Water had interesting scenes. I don't even see what the aim was here. Many who enjoy the show have appeared to distanced themselves from it and those who are new to Avatar: The Last Airbender won't batter an eyelid. Commercially, the film looks set to do what it needs to do (the 3-D money must have helped) but there's a reason why the critics blew this out of the water.

Saturday, 14 August 2010

Review: The Expendables

Year: 2010
Director: Silvester Stallone
Screenplay: Silvester Stallone
Starring: Silvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Terry Crews, Mickey Rourke, Randy Couture, Eric Roberts, David Zayas, Stone Cold Steve Austin.

Synopsis is here

I'm getting the sneaky suspicion that a few Hollywood players are worried about their relevance.

After Tom Cruise's lousy piece of film (Knight and Day) comes Silvester Stallone's last hurrah for the 80's action movie: The Expendables, A surprisingly mediocre vanity project, which at times manages to garner moments of entertainment but for the most part is a uninspired Merc on a mission flick that has been not only been done twice already this year (The Losers, The A-Team), but fails to even better them. For all it's big names and claims, ultimate action flick this is not.

Of course, my ramblings will be drowned out with yells off "just switch your brain off" and other cliches as well worn as the ones in the film, but the problem is, if you want this to be THE throwback to those past glories, you should at least remember why they were good in the first place. What we have here is a reaches the heights of the weaker comic book movies that saturated the market let alone the meathead flicks of the past.

You see my main problem with this film is not it's incoherent story or bad dialogue (you expect it in something like this) but it's the fact that Stallone as a director almost betrays those action flicks of old. The Expendables is more concerned about close ups of it's craggy stars and MTV editing that would make Micheal Bay blush than anything else. In a film where you have Dolph Lungdren and Jet Li scraping you should really be able to see the fight.

Unfortunately most of the action scenes within in the film are not only haphazardly edited but shot without a sense of place or direction. I'm all for big bombastic set pieces but Stallone is pretty aimless when it comes to capturing them on film. The films final assault is the best example of this with much of the scene accumulating as more of a series of randomized shots than an actually constructive action sequence. Another worrying issue of the action (as well as the horrible reliance of digital blood and fire) is how "normal" the actual scenes are. When compared to the OTT moments of The A-Team, The Losers and countless other movies of the same kind, The Expendables doesn't really hold up. It's good to see and action film wish to go back to the raw essence of those 80's movies, but if your going to use present-day filming techniques at least have the gaul to match present day spectacle.

Surprisingly, the movies more entertaining moments come from the energy of the cast rather than anything else. This melding of macho minds isn't Di Niro and Pacino in Heat (the meeting of Bruce, Sly and Arnie is actually pretty cringe worthy) but these guys have a do have a good comradely with each other. It's a shame however my favorite players are more bit parts than anything else as Stallone needs more screen time for his close ups.

From an acting point of view, Mickey Rouke looks like he's really enjoying his resurgence of popularity with a tight performance which makes Stallone's dodgy dialogue sound like poetry. Terry Crews is a man who clearly seems born to be in films like this, while Eric Roberts is on the right side of sleazy. These three aside, there isn't any real stand outs. Stallone is Stallone, Statham is Statham, Jet is uncomfortable with the English language and Dolph Lungdren really could be putting his Masters Degree to better use. It doesn't really matter that the performances are bad because most will be there for the action. It's just a shame that the action is so sub-par.

I didn't have massively high hopes for The Expendables but I really expected more. There's a horrible rushed feeling about the whole thing. A horrible inkling that as long as you have all the names turn up on the shoot, everything will be ok. A cliched plot, thin characterization and all the rest is a given here. In fact to some it may almost be a pass. But the lack of balls in something that's supposed to be so testosterone filled is a little embarrassing. I left the screen thinking...is that it? And wondering if John McTiernan can get his career back on track to direct the sequel.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Review: Knight and Day

Year: 2010
Director: James Mangold
Screenplay: Patrick O'Neill
Starring: Tom Cruise, Cameron Diaz, Peter Sarsgaard

I didn't expect to dislike Knight and Day as much as I did, but alas, as the film had me storming out out the cinema while it was trying desperately to be funny with a predictable post credit piece of nonsense.

Desperate is the perfect word for this. Knight and Day hopelessly struggles to be entertaining with it's homages to generally better films (see North by Northwest, Dr No). The problem is it's hard to be an entertaining movie when your nothing but a vanity project for it's leads.

I like Cameron Diaz and Tom Cruise. In fact I have a lot of time for them as stars. But this film, coming out months after the teen year old panty wetting farce that is Eclipse, almost suggest that both Diaz and Cruise are worried about their relevance. It would explain the CONSTANT close ups of the stars, which seemed to be used for the reason that the audience may be so dim witted that we'll forget who we're watching. Now I understand that audiences do enjoy looking at the beautiful people when they go to the cinema but sometimes, just sometimes they also enjoy a movie with something that resembles a story also. I know it's hard for some Hollywood executives to get that into their thick skulls...but seriously, I must ask...where the fucking screenplay to this movie?

This is a film with no real notion of plot at all. There's illusion of structure, but it is simply that, an illusion. What you get is a series of transitions, punctuated by CGI action and chase scenes and little else. Is the action exciting? No, because the over use of digital imagery gives very sequence a lack of physicality. However, when your watching a film which can't even be bothered to give it's characters actual character then how can you feel excited by the constant barrage of chaos? It is a film where I truly felt no risk at all.

Knight and Day is also (supposedly) a comedy, but it's "best joke" is a running gag involving Diaz's June being drugged...constantly. Amusing. If your looking for anything particularly witty or droll you'd be better off renting all the films Knight and Day wishes it could be. If only this film had the gull to even consider having an actual script, then they wouldn't have had to rely on improvised dialogue thought up before the days shooting. Tom Cruise ain't no Will Farrell.

Bland, Garish and not at all entertaining, Knight and Day is an uninteresting mess. That's it. No witty finishing aside, no clever last line, nothing. If the film can't be bothered to try, I don't think I should either.

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Review: Cop Out

Year: 2010
Director: Kevin Smith
Screenplay: Robb & Mark Cullen
Starring: Bruce Willis, Tracey Morgan

Synopsis is here:

If you were to buy/rent the Clerks X special edition DVD you would find on one of the bonus discs, a delightful little documentary called "The Snowball Effect". The doc chronicles the making of Smith's first indie feature, made for parley $28,000 . One of the most interesting sections, details how this crude, black and white feature, funded mostly off Smith's own back with maxed out credit cards, suddenly made a splash at Cannes. But the start of it all stemmed from a disappointing first screening and some lucky word of mouth to some indie film writers. Yes Clerks did come good at the end but if it were not for a stroke of luck by some writers and CRITICS who took a chance, watched the film and enjoyed it.

Skip forward 16 years.

Smith is a well known filmmaker, with 8 features (before this one) to his name and a formidable fan base. His Smodcast is extremely popular and he's also managed to have a side career as a comic book writer and novelist (3 books one making the bestsellers list). His latest film Cop Out gets trounced by U.S reviewers (as well as one or two UK ones). He hits the roof.

To his 1,678,899 twitter followers he types a 16 tweet tirade blasting film theory students, film students and critics about their take on the film. Stating that they should pay to watch the film as their opinion is not higher than any average Joe.

I say this.

Mr Smith I am a fan of yours. I follow your feed, I own many of your movies. I showed them to friends and got them interested in your films. I was a film student and now I am an average joe....

I found Cop Out to be a piece of crap and I did pay for it...with time. That ok?

It's in watching Cop Out, I realise how important Smith's writing can be to the projects he takes. Never the visual storyteller (he himself has admitted he's pretty much a point and shoot man) Smith's writing has always elevated much of what he's made. Crude he maybe, but from Clerks to Chasing Amy to Jay and Silent Bob, I've always found his dialogue to be witty and what he writes about, entertaining. This film, written by two brothers (and unbelievably on a 2008 list of best unproduced screenplays) is a shoddy display of writing. Crammed filled with unfunny "jokes", stiff dialogue, terrible characters and a preposterous story that's not even appealing let alone amusing. Two cops are chasing after a missing baseball card and a gun? Really? That all 2008 had for best unproduced scripts? Well if that's all there is then lets hope the talent can cover over the cracks.

Well they should...but unfortunately the clearly over capable cast appear to be zapped of charisma. This is a film where Bruce Willis (still one of the coolest actors working) and Tracey Morgan (One of the hottest comic talents on T.V right now) act around each other like strangers. This is despite the fact that their characters are supposed have worked with each other for 9 years. This is a film completely devoid any type of charm and it really hurts to watch. The idea of humor here is that if Willis looks bored and Morgan talks in that funny way he talks in 30 Rock then laughs are bound to follow. However with a script that believes that Tracy Morgan merely explaining pakour to Bruce Willis is funny. Hilarity ensues.

Smith clearly tries his best to give his film the throw back feel of the buddy comedy films of the 80's with crash zooms and electro score but to no avail. In fact for some reason, Smith decides it would be a good idea to have this excruciating music throughout the film even when it's not needed. It adds nothing to what you see on the screen, mostly because the film hardly has as visual humor to speak of either. Although kudos for the use of Rakim and Run DMC on the soundtrack.

I won't lie. As a man who is usually quite easily amused I did titter three times and actually laugh twice but in doing the math that only just beats MacGruber...and that ain't great in my books. I will also say, I found it funny that this film decides to underuse the abilities of the following: Adam Brody, Kevin Pollock and Jason Lee. However, it's funny meaning odd rather than ha ha.

Kevin Smith can complain all he wants about the film students, the critics or whoever and yes those who blog and write seriously about movies are tiny in comparison to the mass audience. But as a fan of his films (Yep nothing wrong with Jersey Girl in my view) this is way below the bar. Zack and Miri was middling but this is something else. Mr Smith it was you that likened this movie to a retarded kid and if your going to say that then yes I agree. It's a little slow on the uptake.

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Review: The A Team

Year: 2010
Director: Joe Carnahan
Screenplay: Joe Carnahan, Brian Bloom, Skip Woods
Starring: Liam Neeson, Bradley Cooper, Jessica Biel, Quinton 'Rampage' Jackson, Patrick Wilson

Synopsis is here

Like many recent features before it, an A Team movie doesn't really need to be good to be enjoyed as it's got that beautiful nostalgia factor that everyone loves. In the same way many bitched about The Karate Kid for being a remake, an A-team movie could get away with being a bog standard movie by nabbing motifs from the T.V series and those who shunned one, will embrace the other. The nostalgia factor revels the fact it can take away your subjectivity with a familiar face or theme tune, or like fans of the Transformers movies say to me: "It's got robots fighting innit! What more to you need!?"

Despite "watching" the series when I was young, I clearly wasn't watching hard enough as I really couldn't remember it that well. I consider this a great thing, as this means, the nostalgia factor cannot penetrate as deep and mind fuck me into believing that every aspect of Joe Carnham's (Narc) film is a piece of genius.

With this said The A Team while silly and cliched still manages to be quite fun. Don't ask me to try and remember any of it. Like an injection of pure sugar it's a brief rush to the head before crashing out into nothing. Choc-full of eye melting CGI, quick cuts and hollywood sheen, it has a "braindead" which many action fans who usually hate reading reviews will love. It's loud and full of action, but I keep feeling that perhaps Carnahan was missing a trick somewhat. I think it's down to the story which follows a similar (if not the same) suit as this years earlier entry: The Losers.

The A team lacks the tightness of The Losers, but I feel this is because the latter didn't really have anyone to answer to. The A Team appears to restricted by it's sly winks to remind you of yesteryear than anything else. Case in point the open 15 minutes. We all know that Hannibal Smith is the man with the plan, the screenplay here makes a drinking game out of it which would have you comatose before the second act. I'm not watching this film for narrative (not that you could hear what it was down to a dubious sound mix), but there's something about the film which feels more like three loosely connected T.V episodes than something of a conclusive whole. We have a bit of a giggle at a cheeky line, a bit of action breaks up the action and such but there's a glue that seems to be missing.

I'm being a tad negative here, and I shouldn't be. The A Team is not trying to be the next cinematic revolution and there's some some nice moments which makes it shine a bit brighter than some of the more duff b-movie features. The way Carnahan uses montage to visually create the teams plan while the narration plays over it is a nice touch. The film has three set pieces that will no doubt have the 15 year old boy in the viewer grinning with glee (the skyscraper sequence is surprisingly not ruined by the trailer) and the cast have the camaraderie that was sorely missing from that other nostalgia factor movie Predators.

The four leads all have a chance to shine and with the exception of Rampage Jackson (the dudes just not an actor) everyone hits a relatively strong mark. Liam Neeson in a sage-like leader role? Please! One eye closed and a hand tired behind his back. Bradley Cooper and Sharlto Copley are superb additions. Cooper has bags of charm, while Copley has the right balance of craziness to keep the humor going throughout, although his character seems to fade a little bit near the end. Unfortunately while the team take the plaudits the support are left to the wayside, Jessica Biel has less to do here than in Stealth (that's saying something) while Patrick Wilson lacks the edginess that made Jason Patric's character so interesting in The Losers.

The chemistry of the team combined with the out and out chaos comes thick and fast to keep you engaged and for the most part it does it job. But the fractured feeling of the proceeds as well as a serious lack of risk (or a good villain) really does hamper matters. Carnahan's breakout film Narc (2002) was an unoriginal but bold genre piece, which took many well treaded ideas and injected a gritty energy that come out just at the right time of the U.S cop drama explosion. Eight years on and while the budgets have got bigger the attention feels to have dropped a little. A little more focus and detail and The A Team could may have had it's cake and eaten it. Unfortunately it feels that it's eaten only part of the main course before sneaking off the snack on sweets. The sugar rush doesn't last long.

Review: The Karate Kid

Year: 2010
Director: Harald Zwart
Screenplay: Christopher Murphey
Starring: Jaden Smith, Jackie Chan, Taraji P. Henson

It's a remake, made well and truly on commerce alone and suffers from one of the worst cases of nepotism since Francis Ford Coppola decided that his daughter could act. This updated version of the 1984 hit, plays the same notes as the original film, and will most likely entertain those who have never heard of being "the best around". There will be many however, who won't be able to get past the obvious issues the film has. It's understandable but it's doesn't make the film as terrible as many supporters of the original film will probably make it sound.

The idea that 11-12 year old kids are martial art gods, who fall in love like those teenagers do is a cute idea in theory I guess, but a difficult one to put in practice. Even in the fictional world of Hollywood flicks, there has to be an air of plausibility that rings slightly true. TKK 2010 struggles with this believability for the simple reason that while the world feels quite real, the characters don't. The original film had Ralph Macchio's Daniel at the perfect age for what he experiences. By taking away those extra years, the movie falters in not only it's fight scenes (Jackie Chan beating on pre-teens anyone?) but from an emotional aspect. The relationship which blossoms between the two lead pre-teens would have much stronger if they just a little older. This really hits home during an scene in an arcade where the love interest Meiying (Wenwen Han) performs a dance routine which tries to be cute but as a westernized sexuality about it that just feels a tad wrong.

The film also suffers from an uneven performance by it's lead. Jaden Smith is clearly his fathers son and there's clearly an air of charm about him that shines through at the best of times. unfortunately this is clouded by awkward pauses, odd glances and general inexperience. It's refreshing to see a child actor who isn't older than their years (see early Dakota Fanning) but it is frustrating to see someone who hasn't got the emotional range fight against the material. Once again...a couple of years in the future and who know.

This however is just two strands of a film which is stronger than I gave it credit for. The film doesn't stray too far from the original feature in terms of basic structure (a good thing for those who love an underdog story) and the idea of setting the film outside of the the U.S is a nice touch which helps enhance the feeling of alienation that the young Dre feels. It also provides an a refreshing look at race relations. The film doesn't feel the need to shoehorn Caucasian characters within the film to "reach an audience" nor does it feel like an "urban" movie (Pop locking and hip-hop soundtrack aside). The film is confident that it's story will win people over, rather than the colour of the actors skin. There's certain elements that definitely helped (Brand name, Jackie Chan, Fresh Prince producing) but to be honest these aspects really do melt away and the film does enough to stand on it's own two feet. Other strong points include the cast around Jaden Smith help a lot during weaker moments and that the film is not only colorful and bright but zips along at a nice pace. For a family film that is nearing two and a half hours long, I certainly didn't feel it.

The films real revelation for however, is Jackie Chan as maintenance man Mr Hun . An actor known more for his comedic displays gives his best western film performance to date. His best scene (also the films strongest), involves a tearful monologue involving an accident with his character family. Like a few of his films of the past decade, it seems to be clear to Chan he can now take that energy from his infamous fight scenes (which must be becoming increasingly difficult with age) and direct it elsewhere. If this is the result, then Chan may have a beautiful renaissance as a "serious" actor.

It has enough 80's charm (read cheese) who remain watchable, and more than enough of it's own moments to not cheapen any memories of the original film. Fun to watch, well put together fight choreography and a heart in the right place. It is clear that like I said, the film is clearly based on brand recognition* and commerce over everything. However in watching those small moments and taking in the little aspects of charm the film as, you can see at least this one is trying.

*Note: It is called The Karate Kid in America clearly because it's a remake and people know the name. However, throughout the film they preform Kung Fu. A part of me really does believe it could have been called the Kung Fu Kid and survived commercially.