Thursday, 23 December 2010


We have reached a point in mainstream American Cinema in which original thought is now more often than not being looked past for brand recognition. In over 100 years of cinema, there has always been remakes, adaptations, and sequels. However, times have changed and in order to make money (it's called show business for a reason) the Hollywood machine are now really playing it safe. Looking at the top ten grossing movies of this year you will find that only two (Inception and Despicable Me) are based on original ideas. Ten years ago there were five. The change is only slight but still speaks in volumes. I mean just ten years ago there was more of a chance of an original screenplay being put through the machine right?

Well the answer to me is an awkward yes and no. It is more likely for me to get a draft of a 3D, sequel of a reboot optioned in this day and age over say my roman gladiator in space idea. On the flip side of this, are that many people actually going to watch the original ideas that are managing to slip though the cracks? I mean this honestly because we see a lot of big talk on teh tinterwebz from faceless commentators bemoaning the state of movies today. Usually quick to crap on the news of the next remake. Fair enough they can get frustrating. However, it was a bizarre feeling going up to the cinema on a Saturday afternoon with my girlfriend, her friends and my podcast co-host (total of five people) going to watch Whip It and being the only people in the screen. Granted it's primary target market is a particular one but it still didn't stop the film from being one of my hidden gems of the year. It's not just Drew Barrymore debut getting shafted. Here in England there's always talk about how crap (enter u.s film here) but a good search around and you can also see that they didn't really give a shit about the UKFC being scraped either.

It's not as clear cut as the half-baked reasons I've just placed above. When certain films come out they dominate more than one screen, pushing smaller films out the way. Also marketing has a huge hand in the process. Don R Lewis tweeted this about Tron: "The greatest trick the Disney ever played was making you think you ever gave a sh*t about Tron". To point I agree as Tron: Legacy is based on a 28 year old modest hit/cult movie, has no discernible entry point for new viewer with a poor storyline to boot. However with it's $200 Million had to be everywhere as it's not allowed to be an expensive flop. There's also the hilarious factor that most films are being made and targeted at the age of "young uns". But that's another story.

With all this said it is still down to Joe Six-pack to make the choice on what they're going to watch and to me the choice of many is quite simple. When you want to be entertained, are you going to take a risk and increase the chance of disappointment? Or do you go with what you know? So yes while 2010 has brought the amount of remake/reboot/sequel titles to critical amount and we can bitch about the lack of ideas as much as we want, we do enjoy the safety of what we know. We're not waiting for Bond 23 for no reason are we?

Here is my Top Ten Favorite movies of the year which features four adaptations and one semi-remake. Interestingly enough the trends within the ten are ones of fractured mindscapes, unreliable narrators with a couple of anti-heroes thrown in. As with last year, these are personal favorite choices so telling me that I'm wrong is folly as I don't do "best of the year".

Rambling over. Here we go:

Before I saw Inception I considered that this was the finest acting I've seen from DiCaprio. Looking back I still think it is. He is dominant here and it's through his performance he takes us through the wringer. The breakdown of DiCaprio's Teddy is heightened by the gorgeous visuals, deceptive editing and bombastic classical soundtrack. But it's the graceful melding of these elements by Martin Scorsese and his ability to tell a story that did it for me.

An OTT, comical semi-remake of Abel Ferrara grim character study. A subversion of the police procedural which makes full use of its outlandish humor and hallucinogenic imagery. Cage's cartoonish performance becomes hypnotic as you watch to see how just how much of the barrel Lieutenant Terence will scape with his bare hands.

I love Chris Morris' work because he captures the absurdity of our moral panics so accurately. His Brass Eye pedophile special (and the hilarious angry commentators in its aftermath) craftily show how quickly we can take things out of context and propagate our own fears in a blink of an eye. Four Lions is a cinematic extension of this; taking the touchy subject of terrorism and displaying it as the confused and stupid thing it can can. Morris (with help from the peep show writers) not only taps into the alienation and misplaced anger (and not the religious heretic)  that bestows many extremists but also reminds us that our fear-fueling world helps hide how truly random something like suicide bombing can be. It also helps that i found it constantly quotable and consistently funny.

Does it matter if Banksy's film takes you round the houses? It manages to say more about the state of art, be it graffiti, hip-hop or movies themselves than than it should. Toying with the idea of art as identity and how commerce and celebrity can distort such things. I found Banksy's "documentary" holds the same reckless spirit that his street art has.

It's lead performance is a stoic and selfless one from Jennifer Lawrence, who portrays a heroism that needs to be seen more often in female driven movies. The surroundings are barren and the family "community" within it almost make the Texas Chainsaw family look homely but Lawrence's Ree Dolly fights on no matter what the odds in this Ozark mountain based fable. The outcome is much like the films screenplay: sparse, uncomplicated but quietly touching.

I know it's cheating (it's released in the U.K next year) but I had to rebel a bit as this film gave me the most visceral impact this year. The techniques may hint towards the Wrestler but Arononfsky decides to direct things towards psychological horror. The naive performance; perfectly articulated by Natalie Portman leads us into a dark, claustrophobic tale of sexual awaking, social isolation and grueling routine. The early reviews have a touch of the marmite to them, but this film made it hard for me to stand up afterward.

Speaking of Marmite...Not everyone liked this clearly cult, hyper-active, sugar fueled, little upstart of a movie. Hell, it wasn't even caught at the cinema by most people! I however did manage to catch this on the big screen and fell in love with it instantly. Scott Pilgrim's rapid firing dialogue, dazzling visuals and bold ambition bowled me over, while it's game cast had me grinning like a loon without. As a teen comedy, I've seen nothing like it.

Playing out like an absurd, European Clockwork Orange, Dogtooth plays out like a mixture of Haneke and Palahniuk. Thing is...the weirder it got the more absorbing the film became. Hilariously deadpan with some provocative imagery, Dogtooth is one of those off the beaten track movies that I urge those who are into the films that are truly nuts should try and watch once.

The moment Trent Reznor's pulsating soundtrack kicks after an unflinching and brutal break-up, I knew the "facebook" movie wasn't going to be just a flash in the pan product. Fincher's Rashomon-like feature; plays out it's power plays and pride filled arguments with glee, but is ultimately tells the story of how one of the worlds most social web based program built it's foundations out of the blood, sweat and tears of other peoples fractured relationships. The ensemble cast are immense, the screenplay is zippy and the direction of story is as razor sharp as Fincher gets. It doesn't matter how much of it is true as it's damn fine fiction.

So much has been said about this little film that it's worth keeping this as short as possible. I do wonder that in a another world where more original screenplays were given the backing and trust that Nolan gained, would we be ranting an raving over this one? I do believe that we would. It's not just the amount of ideas that flow through the movie that make it so interesting, but also the execution, the visual scope and the general thrill that I (and many others) felt when watching the movie. It's interesting that so much emphasis was placed on how complex the film is. It's not, but it's ability to take themes what could be considered as lofty and make them palatable and enjoyable for a general audience? That's a skill.

Damn Fine Honourable Mentions:
Toy Story 3 

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Review: Tron: Legacy

Year: 2010
Director: Joseph Kosinski
Screenplay: Edward Kitsis, Adam Horowitz
Starring: Jeff Bridges, Garrett Hedlund, Olivia Wilde, Michael Sheen

Synopsis is here

Tron: Legacy is a quite a vapid feature. One wrapped in it's 28 year old history and brand name to keep it warm. Oh yes there's certain people who will think it's the best thing since sliced bread, but unfortunately some of these people who shout the loudest may have that horrid nostalgia effect playing with their judgment/emotions. Case in point the amusingly biased review from Jay Maynard (A.K.A Tron Guy) whose laments film critics and their reading of the film but has spent 28 years of his programming life waiting for this sequel. I really do not mean to cause offense in any way, that's not my style. However, when a guy who made net fame by making a tron suit states that this movie almost brought him to tears then you know that judgment is tipped in the brands favor.

Brand is the best word to describe Tron: Legacy because that really is the only thing going for it in my point of view. It's a film that really relies on it's name and what you've known before in order to get the most out of it. This is true for many sequels but with a gap between films that is older than myself and with some wondering if Disney are doing their best to hide the original film, we're left at in a bizarre limbo. Tron: Legacy hasn't got much of an entry point for new viewers, with much of the film talking about past events and techno babble as if everyone is on the same page. Unfortunately this is not Harry Potter 7, but a sequel on what is considered a modest hit almost 30 years ago the achieved cult status with the most important word being cult. For a $200 million film looking to make it's money back I was very surprised on the route this movie decided to take.

It's clear that the visuals are the main aspect of Tron: Legacy and director Joseph Kosinski has not only replicated the original films settings, but bolstered it to the what can only be considered as the most definitive Tron look. Kosinski who has said he's looked toward architecture to bring about the visuals gives us very interesting scenery to view throughout Tron: Legacy. Areas of the grid have a certain charm and the advancements of CGI have helped give everything the gloss a big budget movie like this needs. The problem for me is I really didn't care enough. If Tron: Legacy had an interesting story with some narrative drive and characters with at least some depth then we'd be in business. Kosinski isn't really using the visuals to tell the story; as they are there to show how pretty everything is. No anything narrative based is down to it's dull screenplay which is full of very uninteresting talk. It doesn't help that most of the film is full of this talk, with less action than one would expect. The lightcycles and flying discs were not my favorite film moments of the year, but were fun enough to provide a much needed distraction from it's "lets go to A to do B" screenplay.

Hints of interesting themes crop up at points, a moment in Flynn's off-grid home suggests that as creator, Flynn is also God. Clu as the creation picks up a sliver apple and thus implicates the idea of him as Adam and obviously original sin. I also liked the idea of Clu as an unknowingly fascist leader programmed to provide perfection but missing the vital fact that imperfection makes us who we are. The idea of lightcycle/discgames being futuristic gladiator-esque arenas is also an interesting element. While all this may sound a tad heavy (read: over thinking it), if Tron fully integrated these aspects into the film properly, I would have found the whole exercise a far more appealing one.

However, Tron: Legacy doesn't have time for such things (despite being 127 minutes long) as it's struggling to find a way to make Sam Flynn (Hedlund) an interesting person. With many films like this if you believe in the character, his stake and his goals, you believe in the world. I had no interest in Sam Flynn, nor his flat relationship with Quorra (Olivia Wilde) which is a shame as this lack of appeal dulls The Grids neon city. It's not really the fault of the actors as they don't have much to work with, however when watching Jeff Bridges and Micheal Sheen in the film who give do their best to illuminate their performances, you do see the gap in talent and experience. Case in point: Sheen is only on screen for around ten minutes and is still more memorable than most things within the movie.

For me Tron: Legacy was quite a forgettable experience all around. Another film that is quick to push CGI and 3D but less willing to provide an interesting storyline, strong dramatic conflict or appealing characters. I have an increasing sense of worry that soon; every December, we will be given a tent-pole, expensive, pretty release which will be marketed to death as it cannot afford to fail. I fret that these features will be hyped as the greatest thing since the last best thing but with only a different colour scheme to provide any difference. The early box office numbers have stated that Tron: Legacy is "on target" in financial terms, but from a personal point of view all I saw was what I can only describe as: Avatar's New Clothing.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Review: Frozen

Year: 2010
Director: Adam Green
Screenplay: Adam Green
Starring: Shaun Ashmore, Emma Bell, Kevin Segers

Synopsis is here

Despite my interest in the genre, I haven't watched many horror films this year. Paranormal Activity 2? Could wait for the DVD. Saw 7? Stopped at Saw 5. A Serbian Film? Just came out in London and not spending that much on a ticket to see it. Despite coming with those half arsed excuses on why I haven't watched these movies; the main answer is clear: I just wasn't interested in that much this year. Some titles have aroused a certain amount of interest (The Ward, Human Centipede etc) but nothing really came out and grabbed me...Well, there was Black Swan but that's another story.

So distanced from the genre was I, that it was quite surprising I even bothered with Adam Green's Frozen. There wasn't anything in particular that made me want to see it other than it looks a bit different from the current slew of remakes and sequels baying for attention. It helps that Green himself appears to be an interesting horror director, with an affection to horror cinema that rivals one Eli Roth.

After the his debut slasher Hatchet, it seems that Green has decided to go in a very different direction for his next feature. A non-supernatural tale of survival horror; Frozen works on an very interesting premise. The idea of getting stuck on a sky-lift may not have crossed too many peoples minds for an idea for a horror film, however, Green pulls it off quite well with a generous amount of dread and likable characters to feel for. How everything comes off is far fetched, but still manages to give a certain amount of plausibility to it's universe.

One of the most interesting things I found about the movie is that; while here in England one of the biggest news stories going on is of course the student protests, Frozen reminded me of the kind of students I remember knowing and that I still see around town. One of the big themes here play on what we've seen before in many a slasher flick, in which know it all students with their casual deceits get more than they bargained for. It works a treat here. Our three leads have enjoyed not having to pay "top dollar" and getting a free ride, but the idea that human error and nature itself doesn't swing to these rules just gives this movie the right amount of cynicism to keep things ticking along. The idea that you shouldn't get anything for free runs not only through the films beginning, but also when the tension reaches peak (pun not intended) later on when pleasantries have turned into bitterness and then grief after the fate of one of the characters is ultimately decided.

Green keeps everything compact, keeping the action with these people and keeping the tension there with you. There's enough worry in the film that when the most outrageous element comes into play (Wolves) I  generally wanted to know what would happen to these people. There's also pivotal moment that had me cringing with glee as it kept the stakes high enough.

I can't say the film stayed with me too long. As you can read, I have had a hard time writing about the feature. It's not something that I could even imagine many horror fans rushing out to watch again straight after their first viewing. But there's was enough in this to give the film a rent and possibly have a talk everything afterward. I enjoyed Ashmore's performance, liked Emma Bell enough and didn't disagree with Kevin Zegers too much. I also enjoyed the effects of the cold on these people as well as the banter (which turns into bitching). The visuals are fine and I can't say at any time I was bored. Full faith restored in horror films...still not seeing a lot on the horizon but with stuff like this coming out, I haven't lost loyalty completely.

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Review: Somwhere

Year: 2010
Director: Sophia Coppola
Screenplay: Sophia Coppola
Starring: Stephen Dorff, Elly Fanning, Chris Pointius

Synopsis is here

Somewhere has Stephen Dorff playing an actor broken both physically and mentally. After breaking his wrist in a drunken stumble we find him posing for marketing pictures with his female lead who detests him for his womanizing and partying with his equally immature friends. It's clear from the drinks, hotels and poledancing hotties that this man can pretty much do what he wants, and yet he is incredibly empty inside. We really shouldn't give a damn about a guy like this because he is living the life that we pay to read in those risible celeb rags. However, while it takes a bit to get there, Sophia Coppola manages draw out a certain amount of worth empathy for someone that we really shouldn't like.

Somewhere comes off like a prologue to Lost in Translation with Stephen Dorff's Johnny Marco heading towards the same stages of loneliness that Bill Murray's Bob had in Coppola's Award winning second feature. Marco despite being so popular lives in a life as fractured as his wrist. He gets anonymous texts which spit venom at him, his work life is a blurry haze of flashing lights and portentous questions from foreign journos. Coppola coming from such a life captures this bizarre other world with accuracy that only someone like herself could bring about. Many scenes brilliantly send up how artificial everything has become to Marco, so much so that he can only sit there and take it each day at a time..if he can remember which day it is. Highlights of this include a scene where Marco and his daughter Cleo in an Italian hotel; sit down to watch Friends in countries language.  Neither know the language but it's familiarly gives the comfort. Another scene involves Marco sitting in a plaster cast to get a mold of his face. When the cast is taken off to reveal a mold of Marco as an aged man, his reaction is a Keanu like "whoa!" suggesting that only now he's released that one day his looks will fade. The scene also plays with the idea that Marco is masked and it'll only be at the end of his life he'll release that he's done nothing. Such moments are simple, but effective. Often they hit the mark a become quite touching.

This is all said without the main reason why we get behind Johnny Marco: his 11 year old daughter Cleo. A neatly level headed performance by Elly Fanning (counterbalancing the  Dorff's laid back near adolescent behavior) is one that reminds us of her older sister Dakota. Wise beyond her years but enough childhood nativity and concern to give the movie restrained emotion the film needs. Two wonderfully telling moments include Fanning's Cleo joking with both her father and his friend Sammy and a quietly awkward "fake family" moment involving a disproving Cleo, Marco himself and one of his conquests. Scenes like this also show that Somewhere isn't without humor with scenes often being funnier than they should be.

Somewhere isn't without it's flaws. At first Coppola utilizes early scenes well to mark the frustration of the character and we too absorb the idea that the easy life is hard when the perks are repeated and money is no object. The problem is that Coppola draws out a few of these scenes too long for their own good and while  they wish to be lyrical, they end up being more of an annoyance. It doesn't help that the film feels like it could have ended three times before it actually does. Others have stated a lack of character development within the film, which has an element of truth but also shows Coppola taking something that could have been quite saccharine and taking away the easy answers.

Somewhere has a wry eye on celebrity isolation and manages to crave out a subtly touching tale about someone we wouldn't like in real life losing touch with his own reality. We may not like to hear it but sometimes it's hard having the easy life.

Review: The Tourist

Year: 2010
Director: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
Screenplay: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, Christopher McQuarrie
Starring: Angelina Jolie, Johnny Depp

Synopsis is here.

As with many films these days; The Tourist is of course a remake, but as most people haven't even heard of the original film, it manages to get away with all that nasty outrage that a Let me in gets. I find this to be a little unfortunate as this film with it's popular stars and gloss will get less of a drubbing than some of it's more known retreads. I guess it's because I wish for a just world in where if someone is going to bitch at America for it's lack of ideas, I hope they do the research on all the films going and rightly lambaste all the movies and not just the ones they know about and like. They should also remember it goes both ways, and they should really check out some Turkish features. Quite simply, imitation is the most sincere form of flattery.

Shame I found The Tourist to be a bore.

Despite a wealth of writing, acting and directing* talent, much like an adolescent relationship making love for the second time; the whole situation leaves you frustrated and strangely unsatisfied. That's not the best visual metaphor I've used for describing a movie, however if what I said made you crack even the slightest grin then you had more fun then, than I did in the entirety of this movie. It's not for lack of trying as it's clear that Angelina Jolie is using all her feminine charms to give the film some kind of allure, while Johnny Depp does that lower end Depp act he does when he's not bringing out his best work and together it should work.

However, it's hard for them as they are fighting a pointless story. It's bad enough that the direction isn't strong enough to distract me from the naff plot points and the clear Deus Ex Machina moments (Poor Timothy Dalton), but the simple fact that the reasons behind the films whole narrative are so weak makes the whole thing an incredible waste of time. I found myself asking, is that really why we're going round the houses?  It almost makes the shenanigans in Knight and Day seem straightforward and level-headed.

Can the chemistry between main performers take my mind off all of this? Can it fuck. You don't believe in their relationship for one second, mostly because Depp is hilariously miscast. Depp could take many peoples girlfriends away with a wink, so you'd think the film would do it's best to make him the schlub that they wish us to believe. It seems the reaction to that thought is? Why bother? This is a film that just wants two good looking people in exotic places on screen, who needs chemistry to give the make shift story at least feel like it had a chance?

If there is any good points about then film, I will say that the speedboat set piece does what it can to give the illusion of fun and some of the dialogue exchanges aren't bad for what they are. But really, is that all I can take from this movie? Unfortunately yes.

This is for purists only. Fans of the leads who can talk at length about how great Secret Window is, or quote you the entire script of Life or something like it. To others, they may find it more substantial to rewatch the Bourne trilogy again.

Monday, 6 December 2010

Review: Monsters

Year: 2010
Director: Garteh Edwards
Screenplay: Garteh Edwards
Starring: Scoot McNairy, Whitney Able

Synopsis is here

I know someone, somewhere is whining about Monsters because "there's hardly any monsters!". To that person I say read film reviews. So many people love to gripe about film reviews because "they have their own opinion" However, other than the fact that reading others view can re-enforce your own conceptions and understanding on matters (be it politics or films), they also warn about certain things like THAT TITLE I ALLEGORY AND THAT TRAILER IS LIES! Ahem, sorry.

Yes once again, the trailer of the film is used to try and sell something it's not and those looking for the next Cloverfield may find themselves a little confused. The title is one of those blatant misleads that reminds one of those old twilight zone episodes. Oh yes there are monsters....and they ain't who you think! etc. Such a tactic may be seen a mile off for a disgruntled cynical cinephile; but with that said, Monsters has more to say than a slight nod to old school sci-fi. It is an interesting movie that helps continue this trend of recent sci-fi that not only utilizes it's CGI in an interesting (and cheap) way but presents an thoughtful (although slightly obvious) metaphor about how we view the alien other.

Much has said about the films cost and it's computer graphics so I'll be brief with this. The film not only looks gorgeous but just just as expensive as say War of the Worlds. Monsters cost $500,000 while Spielberg's 2005 feature cost $130 million but at times you'll be hard pressed to see how big that gulf really is. It is quite clear that Visual effects artist-cum Director Gareth Edwards knows what he's doing with CGI, with his digital shots looking better than some of the weaker efforts seen in other films. But what sets Edwards apart is he has a good hold a certain amount of cinematic language. His shots of the (rarely seen) aliens are mostly at night; not only show the capability of his CGI, But to remind us that it's things that bump in the night that still unsettle us the most. His use of location is also well considered. Like District 9 (2007), the film is enhanced by it's setting. It's not a typical urban landscape that we see constantly in films like this, but something that is also still quite alien to those who may or may not watch art-house features which delve into the central Americas more than often.

It is the location that sets up the metaphor splendidly. At a time when certain voices are highlighting that a change in ethnicity may approaching the U.K and the U.S.  It's pretty revealing that Edwards decides that it is in Mexico (where recent troubles have reared their head involving the state of Arizona) that no only the majority of the film takes place but also where we as an audience discover the the conflicting nature of these beings. I won't say any more, but think of it like Solaris (1972 & 2002) where intent to harm collides with communication.

Lets not get this ahead of ourselves however, as in some ways comparing Edwards to Tarkovskiy is extraordinarily naive. But while there films bounce around in a similar ballpark at points, Edwards is a filmmaker who is seemingly more in touch with his contemporaries than anyone else. All this talk about aliens and least we forget that this is really a romantic road movie, with it's use of setting and characters feeling more a mixture Y Tu Mama Tambien and Lost in Translation more than anything else. When Edwards' camera is focused on the smaller moments (a visit to a 400 year old church is nicely put together) these particles of culture and character work extremely well. These creatures no longer cause large impact on the world, they have been assimilated into part of it. These two leads are now finding new parts of themselves within this  background and the combination of the old and new shows the film at it's most watchable.

It's a shame that while these moments stand out Edwards shows that he is more than a little rough around the edges with other aspects. Monsters (mostly improvised) screenplay is full of forced dialogue with one unfortunate moment having the lead spell out much of underlying subtext upon viewing America's new great wall. Also as a romance I can't say that the meandering pace of the love story and the small chit chat make me believe in the central relationship much. This may be because I've been forced fed sickly sweet rom-coms since mainstream cinema gave up on trying to give us anything different, but with all that said, I didn't just truly buy it.

This is not due to the two wide eye performances of the leads with Scoot McNairy being the standout. It is his character that is given the most development and he runs with it well, with the films more emotional moments stemming from him. This is not to say that Whitney Able's role isn't any less important, it is merely more subdued. The two are more than natural in front of the camera it's just together in this vicinity the real life couple are just a tad too restrained when together.

But this doesn't distract Monsters from being a eye-opening opener. It is beautiful to look at and the film's commentary is not only topical but competently placed through out. Edwards has come out alongside Duncan Jones (Moon) as a Brit director whose view on the sci-fi aesthetic is more than the mere superficial. Whether or not or not a mainstream audience can look beyond the title is a different story.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Review: The Next Three Days

Year: 2010
Director: Paul Haggis
Screenplay: Paul Haggis
Starring: Russell Crowe, Elizabeth Banks

Synopsis is here

I have not seen Anything for her (French original of this U.S Remake), however a glimpse of it's running time and the two reviews I quickly read from two national papers reveal more than they suspect. The 96 minute feature is considered by Phillip French (Observer) to be:
"The movie invites the audience to empathise with a decent man driven by despair into dangerous criminal activities and we're on his side from start to finish."
Tim Robey of The Telegraph states:
"The dangers of being out of your depth in criminal dealings give Fred CavayƩ's film plenty of pulse and urgency"
So with this knowledge in mind I find it difficult to figure out what was so necessary in the extra 26 minutes that reside within this movie. However, with the films intricate plotting being so incredibly neat (far too neat), I'm guessing the added plotting is to ensure that everything is covered and no questions can be asked. In a thriller like this, such hand holding is a weakness. We know so much that risk is taken from us. Everything is perfect, too perfect. We're wrapped the situation up and have already got our coats on for the car. I may be very wrong, but at no point throughout the The Next Three Days did I find myself feel the stake rise above boiling point. It's all far too controlled.

But of course I could feel that. From what I've seen, Paul Haggis as a director doesn't seem to be one to rock the boat. Crash did as much as possible to open and shut cans before a worm even saw a light of day. In casting Russell Crowe, Haggis makes what could be considered quite a large error to some. Not because Crowe is a bad actor (I'm a fan) but because he's safe hands. At what point do you feel any trouble when your wrapped up tight in the hands of Maximus Decimus Meridius?

Crowe is a great actor to show a determined man. From Gladiator to Proof of Life, to L.A Confidential and even in this; Crowe is brilliant at showing a man whose willing to do anything for his cause. The problem however is this performance is lopsided. We're treated by lots of Maximus from a character who is supposed be a vulnerable English teacher. Crowe channels much of his strongest roles into this character but forgets that we are meant to be watching someone who is a reluctant hero. Once that steely purpose begins to burn in his eyes, we know that everything is going to be fine. Trouble is that fire was started far too early on.

Knowing that Crowe isn't going let that burden bother any of us also hinders Elizabeth Banks role (it doesn't help that she still looks too good to be in prison) as all her performance is shoved to the latter half of the movie. This is also is a plot issue, however once Crowe's John has become an Internet Macgyver (thanks youtube) there isn't too much for her to do. This is a shame as one pivotal revelation (or red herring) shows her ability to switch emotions naturally with ease.

Lack of conviction aside, there's some well directed moments within the movie that hold interest. Haggis' latter third runs at such a frantic pace that a bravura car sequence leaves one a little breathless and makes you wonder why Haggis felt the need to puncture the scene with such an unfortunate broad moment of humor. Not that The Next Three Days has to be that somber as Haggis' dialogue has enough wit early on to provide an above average lead in during the films earlier stages.

The Next Three Days is competent in it's creation and will be a passable diversion to many. However there may be other people looking for a thriller for a little more bite. This may not be the feature for them.