Monday, 28 March 2011

Review: Limitless

Year: 2011
Director: Neil Burger
Screenplay: Leslie Dixon
Starring: Bradley Cooper, Abby Cornish, Robert Di Niro

Synopsis is here:

Limitless s about forward momentum and has enough drive to it that I didn't worry about those silly questions that could have tripped a different film up. It it also coming from a focal point of a narrator who spends most of his story on drugs, so when you ask yourself "how did that pill get there?" the film calmly states "you shouldn't be worrying too much about that lets see what happens next". Energy is key to the movie (hell even one of the characters deals in it) and Limitless has more than enough for the ride it's taking you on.

Limitless is a pulpy film which zips along due to two reasons; one you have a charismatic front man in Bradley Cooper who is showing off his range well and two, director Neil Burger and his crew bring a certain amount of visual flair to the film while keeping enough track on the story. Some elements aren't the best (Coopers constant narration of the story is at times unneeded) but the films hustle gets it through. Washed out city streets wrap into to bright colourful places with a swallow of a pill. Visual tics which could easily remind one of Darren Anofsky's Requiem for a Dream are used here, not to overwhelm the film but to enhance the pill popping nature of whole situation.

This is combined with Bradley Cooper, who is on top form here. The slick back hair and the slightly smug smile is heightened by the fact that Cooper walks the walk very well. It's no surprise the film delves into stocks and shares because Cooper's performance is one of a coked up broker. While he may not have that Gecko aggression (we still have to side with him), Coopers performance is best when the pill up's his confidence. It's a swagger that we've seen parts of in The Hangover and The A-Team but it's in full force here and great fun to watch.

An interesting factor for me is that as much of this film is just a mainstream thriller (and one that enjoys the execution of it's conventions) but there appears to be an interesting side note on America and it's taking of drugs as a whole. Not lest the fact that the pills effects make it a natural side-kick for wall street and that the drug and some of it's side-effects had me thinking to myself "Extreme Ritalin?" And yes, drug itself is a fictional beast and also illegal in it's universe, but there's a cynical nature to the films last moments that does enough to tickle the brain somewhat. The film main climax almost betrays this with a climax that's a bit neat. But the film manages to pull itself back somewhat with a nice amount of ambiguity. 

Limitless is enjoyable, fast paced ride with a charismatic leading actor and a solid supporting cast to go with him. It may not have the comeback performance that many are expecting from Bobby Di Niro (to be honest he's fine here), but its visuals, solid storytelling and breeziness of it all make it a fun watch.

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Review: Submarine

Year: 2010 (U.K release 2011)
Director: Richard Ayoade
Screenplay: Richard Ayoade
Starring: Craig Roberts, Sally Hawkins, Paddy Considine, Noah Taylor

Synopsis is here:

The best way to describe Richard Ayoade's (Moss of I.T crowd) feature directional debut is with one word: Awkward. This a both a good and bad thing to the film as a whole because while much of the film is meant to bring a certain amount of discomfort in tone (much of the amusement comes from its thorniness), certain aspects stick out like a sore thumb. Other moments are just plain hard to like. I wasn't surprised that the film had two walkouts in the cinema I watched it in. I stuck with the film because A: I don't do walkouts, B: My girlfriend was with me, but mostly importantly C: in that there is something amusing about the films quirks and a certain amount of emotion which gets wrought out of the situation put in place. However, I really had to work at it to get invested.

I found my slight detachment odd being a fan of Rushmore; the film that Submarine is being routinely compared to. Like Andersons feature and more recently Scott Pilgrim vs The World, the film is a coming of age feature dealing with lead characters that are not easy to warm to. The issue I have is while these protagonists are all very similar (misguided, self-absorbed to the point of delusion) Submarine has darker themes roaming it's corridors. This is by no way a bad thing, but it does mean that the stakes are higher, so while Scott Pilgrim and Max Fischer have a dopey charm about them that helped me connect, Submarine's Oliver doesn't have such an easy entry point. To some this may be the film's saving grace as the film eschews a lot of the surface gloss that litters some other films of it's ilk. However when the film gets to the final third I found it hard to truly engage with the lead. Perhaps I felt that Oliver is maybe too selfish with all things considered.

All this aside; Ayoade has a strong vision in mind and while the illusions of Wes Anderson and French New Wave influences are clearly present, the film is all Ayoade's. The film's mixture of setting and retro mise en scene (sorry for using the dreaded word) give the film a timeless feel, while it's muted colours and combination of ugly industrial estates and gorgeous beach landscapes match our protagonists perfectly. Ayoade also has a certain flair for set pieces with a highlight being a well crafted two weeks of romance scene that's full of youthful nostalgia and a sweetness that is lacking within recent Brit flick affair.

The film is also well casted. Craig Roberts downcast expression and quick spoken ramblings capture the gawky inelegance that comes from being the uncool school drifter.Yasmine Paige is well matched foil for this as the unsentimental and bad tempered love interest, Jordana. Without some of the more common indicators, their romance has very natural feel to it. Sally Hawkins (Jill) and Noah Taylor (Lloyd) are almost unrecognizable as Oliver's parents, while Paddy Considine once again reminds us that he has comic chops to match his more dramatic intensity, channeling Jemaine Clements Chevalier with a very amusing star gazing ex-lover of Jills.

Leaving the cinema afterward almost left me at a loss. Submarine is witty, stylish and on the right side of nostalgia. However, this isn't meant to be as observational as something like Archipelago and there are moments that kept me at an arms length. Sometimes it's down to the character, other times it's just elements that just don't feel right such as the chapter titles, its odd pacing, and an end that feels too neat. But despite this the film has left me aching to rewatch it as I have a feeling the slight imperfections may be the reason the film is so appealing.  

Note: I was not prepared for Alex Turners score, which I really enjoyed.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Review: Archipelago

Year: 2010 (U.K release 2011)
Director: Joanna Hogg
Screenplay: Joanna Hogg
Starring: Christopher Baker, Kate Fahy, Tom Hiddleston

Synopsis is here

I can honestly say this without a doubt...I don't know anyone I could recommend this movie to. I find this a bit of a shame because I would love to pick their brain. In fact saying that I enjoyed Archipelago almost has a shade of sadomasochist to it. The film itself is about a middle class family who have clearly spent years doing their best to pick each other apart. This is perhaps nothing new to some who were fans of films like American Beauty, The Ice Storm, Festen et all. However, such films have a certain element of warmth or connectivity to them. Archipelago has a chilliness as glacial as it's pace. For me its cold shoulder and British stiff upper lip is what makes the film so interesting.

Comparisons to Hanke and Bergman have been made and are very apt but gone is the dehumanization and existential crisis and is replaced with a repressed insecurity that only the British middle class could bring to proceedings. Hoggs film works best when it highlights those slight, recognizable intricacies that some families would love to hide.

Told in static, unwavering shots (combined with some beautiful blocking/framing of characters) Joanne Hogg sets and maintains the films focus and tone with remarkable precision. We learn much about these characters through their placement and coupling alone. Such aspects are important as despite it's naturalistic and often economic dialogue, most of the films kick comes from their restraint and body language. An example of this is Edward (Huddlestone) whose gawky stance and positioning constantly betray his feelings towards his other family members. It's also worth noting that one of the films domineering characters is an unseen, absent father who is given an eerie omnipresence by the family's one sided phone calls with him. The reason I bring this up is due to Edwards presence (or lack there of) when the calls are made. When the revelation that the family are on holiday for one last get together with Edward before he goes to Africa for 11 months, the lack of communication speak volumes. 

Conversation with the film are often polite pleasantries, masking a bitterness and anxiety that's clearly been felt for years. Hogg manages to seize upon this aspect time and time again throughout. The films main highlight involving Edwards sister Cynthia (a wonderfully scrabulous Lydia Leonard), a restaurant and some cooked guinea fowl is not only a well observed moment of humor, but also a deftly timed release of restrained emotion that truly feels like it's been back up since the helicopter landed on the island. You get the feeling that the missing father micromanages every relationship within the family.
Archipelago is carefully handled affair with Joanna Hogg who makes use her own directional discipline to take hold of a family who has lost their own. It is a film without a "regular" narrative structure but this is a film that doesn't need one. Keeping us at an arms distance at all times, we can merely watch in cringe-worthy detail a brief moment in this family's life. We will never know what's made them this way, only speculate. You don't get the relief of a usual cliched ending you can only hope that things can get better. The film by no way perfect; it's pace is beyond slow, there characters are be no means likable and it suffers from a very irritating artist character whose pretensions are almost as insufferable as my own. But Hogg's ability to open a door to these people, stir such fascination about them before shutting us off with nothing but our own thoughts to ponder, allows Archipelago to be one of the most stimulating films I've taken in this years first quarter. I don't know anyone I can recommend this to, but those who have the patience may absorb much from viewing it.

Monday, 21 March 2011

Review: The Lincoln Lawyer

Year: 2011
Director: Brad Furman
Screenplay: John Romano
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Marisa Tomei, Ryan Phillippe, William H. Macy, Josh Lucas, John Leguizamo, Michael Peña, Bryan Cranston, Bob Gunton

Synopsis is here:

The Lincoln Lawyer is an unfortunate soul, but not for the reasons one may think. Coming out in the middle of March with not much to contest it speaks volumes. The combination of Mr McConaughey's recent work (I've mostly seen him shilling smellys more than anything), first quarter dumping ground release and an oddly weak advertising campaign (the strongest marketing appears to be tweets over TV spots or anything else for that matter) seem to suggest that The Lincoln Lawyer isn't worth anyone's time. Someone could alert Lionsgate however to up their game slightly for the DVD release as The Lincoln Lawyer is quite the smooth operator.

The Lincoln Lawyer's premise has a certain appeal to it. I really enjoyed the idea of this "back seat" lawyer landing this highly unlikely case and seeing how well he can use his smarts to navigate the situation. It doesn't sound like much but the film sells this by giving us a formidable display from Matthew McConaughey.  It's the charm he gives to this character that really drives the film throughout. We see him defending reprehensible scum but not without an admirable sense of justice. In a world where even in real life we enjoy trying to shoe horn everything into simple black and white, McConaughey manages to direct this character into the awkward crawl space that is the moral gray area, while keeping us on his side throughout. We are willing to follow Mick Haller as he is not only charismatic with where he takes us, but he is also smart. We want to see where this going because Haller moves forward logically and with a knowledge other lawyers may not have. You couldn't imagine the prosecution behaving in the way he does. The screenplay and McConaughey make this feel organic and unscripted. It's what you want from a character like this.

This does cause a few issues within the movie as the narrative wishes to tie everything up far too neatly and goes against what we've just seen. It's very frustrating watching how this man operates only for the plot to fall down, as it's not willing to follow through on it's own convictions. However considering the board scope of the proceedings it's understandable, as the film does suffer from tell-us-again syndrome. An example is one scene in which McConaughey and William H Macy twice mentioning information we could have easily worked out visually. 

The films broadness doesn't mean boredom however, and the films execution (despite some oddly placed shutter speed moments) is always appealing. Brad Furman gives the look of the film enough flourish and keeps the moral issue in the forefront. Despite some of the narrative short comings; it is a courtroom thriller that mixes it's elements well enough to keep an eye on things until the end. McConaughey's turn plays well against the Beverly Hills bravado of Ryan Phillippe, an actor who doesn't get enough dues. To add to this, the large array of character actors on show here all do well with what they have to do despite one major role clearly being streamlined (Tomei) to "fit in".

The Lincoln Lawyer should hopefully find a good home on the DVD market where those who have avoided cinemas for various reasons will pick this up for a good Friday night without prejudice. With an overcrowded blockbuster season approaching quicker than one may expect, this maybe the one of the more interesting mainstream adult films that some may see in sometime. 

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Review: Inside Job

Year: 2010 (U.K Release 2011)
Director: Charles Ferguson
Narration: Matt Damon

Many have considered Inside Job as scary. I however do not. This is not because I find the film to be a bad one, but because it once again reminded me that money talks, absolute power corrupts absolutely and for those not in the top 1% in terms of wealth we are royally screwed nearly always in some roundabout. I guess the knowledge in the fact that these people can't take their wealth with them after they die help subside any anger that could have come from watching the movie.

Inside Job tells the story of the economic crisis in a very typical way for a documentary. There is nothing out of the ordinary in it's set up. It wishes to use it's stats and facts to drive the movie home and for that unfortunately it's a little dry. In fact the set up of the crisis (despite some interesting insight) is the most difficult to get through. This is the worst and best thing about Inside Job in someway as it's not the most joyous thing to watch but it also speaks in volumes on how easily the trouble was allowed to start. To have us as the  "bewildered herd" is best for these people as then only the "saviors" could help us by sorting it out. This is even though our best interests are about the size of a penny in the ocean in comparison to the money they wish to make.

The film illustrates the greedy ideals of these people efficiently enough with it's overheard shots of the Hamptons and as one commentator quotes "pissing contests" that these investors and bankers have. One of the most intriguing aspects I found in the film is the simple fact that for many decades after the great depression America appeared to be financially sound. So why is it that the powers that be decide to restructure and deregulate the banking sector? Don't answer that question. The film knows why and answers it well. Ferguson builds the unjust and greedy world these character inhibit well. He also does this with a damning attack on the U.S governments that have allowed this. Liberal or Conservative is crucially not the point here as it shows (particularly in the last third) that Ferguson wishes only for a fairer and just America over anything else. 

What I enjoyed about the movie isn't so much how well it deals with the financial crisis, but the backtracking and bullshit that comes with these people. Greed isn't a sin that stirs me as much as pride and the talk of chemical reactions in the brain of the wall street types when risks are taken provide the most revealing. The lust for power and wealth is one thing, but the delusional thoughts of grander, self belief that they are above the law and the sheer amorality that bolsters this drive provide the most striking moments. The films final third in which the academics and consultants of top colleges stumble and fume over their words when questioned on conflict of interests are very entertaining. It's amusing to think that Jeff Gerstmann was fired for his integrity  over a measly video game, while the bigwigs of Harvard and Columbia happily take huge pay offs to give positive financial advice on the very people who just paid them.

For me once you get past the babble and talk of it all (I hated economics at college and dropped it for film and media) Inside Jobs main argument is a sound one. It is a worrying thought that the financial bulk of greedy bankers and their lobbyists appear to have more control in the state of country than it's politicians, particularly when they only give a damn about profit by any means necessary. Throughout the films opening sequences, many shots are of skyscrapers pointing upwards to the sky, which help paint an interesting visual picture (consider the fact they are always trying to build higher ones). I'm surprised that Ferguson doesn't feature any shots of the Wall Street Bull at all. As obvious as the metaphor is it's still an immensely apt one.

Monday, 14 March 2011

Review: Battle: Los Angeles

Year: 2011
Director: Jonathan Liebesman
Screenplay: Christopher Bertolini
Starring: Aaron Eckhart, Michelle Rodriguez

Synopsis is here:

One of the complaints I heard about Battle L.A over on the twitter was that the film is much like watching a video game. This is because the film appears to be structured exactly like one. Unlike other films I've mentioned with reference to video games (The Losers, Green Zone) this film seems to have completely lifted not only very typical cliche that comes with this type of affair, but also the plot from generic Playstation 1 game. I say Playstation 2 because owning both a PS3 and Xbox 360, I can almost safely state that even generic games on the current platforms are getting better with telling a basic story. I spent the last third of the film waiting for the film to hurry up and finish so I could go home and play Gears of War/Resistance/Killzone for the simple reason that would be far more entertaining.

Battle L.A believes that its cliche ridden narrative, infodump dialogue and stock characters are more than enough for the audience. Reason being that it's "visceral" camera work and action will distract everyone from the very fact that the script doesn't try hard. The problem is that director Jonathan Liebesman's action set pieces have no sense of place. Add this to the characters distinct lack of...well character; and you find yourself watching people you don't care about fighting/dying in a situation that you can't follow.

One of the more increasingly troubling elements with the modern action film isn't that they are nothing but explosion sequences (although this can be annoying), but that the actual footage within these scenes look as if it's been picked at random. It doesn't matter that you as a viewer have no idea whats going on because all you care about is explosions and gunfire. The reasoning behind this chaos is obviously to replicate the confusion and disorder of war. But even the video games that this film has nabbed from (check out all the down the sight shots for example) keep your character in view in order for you to remain in control. I am willing to sacrifice a certain amount of realism (in a film about alien invasion for Christ sakes) as long as the film realizes that I am watching the people on screen.

Such disorganized action only makes the the opening introduction of identikit soldiers feel even more ridiculous. It's bad enough that the film wishes to labor these guys with flat one note characterizations (none of the so-called back stories mean anything in the long run anyway), it only makes things worse that after the initial first wave of alien attacks you don't know whose dead or alive anyway. None of the actors infuse these grunts with any personality (considering that one of them is played by Ne-yo what was I expecting?) and the closest thing to an actual character is Aaron Eckhart's Micheal Nantz. This is a wasted performance from a talent actor giving his all to something that doesn't deserve it.

In watching Battle L.A. I am reminded on why Aliens stands out heads and shoulders above other features in the genre. Despite being 25 years old, it's understanding of story, stakes, character and action should not be dismissed. Not only does Battle L.A. not understand such simple mechanics, it simply doesn't care. 

Monday, 7 March 2011

Review: Unknown

Year: 2011
Director: Jaume Collet-Serra
Screenplay: Oliver Butcher, Stephen Cornwell
Starring: Liam Neeson, Diane Kruger, January Jones

Synopsis is here:

If films could fight, I'm guessing Unknown would be the blood stained aftermath of Total Recall and Frantic smacking each other for almost two hours. The problem is as much as that as much as I wouldn't mind this idea in my own twisted mind; Unknown is too sanitized for it's own good. Oh the violence is there but while Frantic had a certain sense of despair throughout; and Total Recall's OTT story was matched by it's ambiguity. Unknown slips through those gaps leaving us with quite a mediocre affair. The marketing/casting suggests a follow on to Taken, however, Unknown is no way near as kinetic, nor as fun. It is twice as ludicrous though so there's that.

I had two problems with Taken. The first is the pacing, which is not quick enough to wrap someone up into the film's character, his situation or any of the red herrings put in place. Unknown runs (quite slowly) on rails and it doesn't help that it borrows way too much off Frantic (which I had unfortunately seen quite recently) to not only make its thrills its own but to actually distract you. If you do thrillers well then you know exactly where this film is going...before the characters. Far too often people were introduced into the mix and I had their conclusions planned out way before they said their first line.

The second issue is I kept asking why. Too many times things just didn't add up and the script and the direction do nothing to not only wrap the right elements up (there is a BIG change of heart that really doesn't ring true) but do nothing to make you forget these lapses in logic. Nor does the film patch over them. If your thinking there's enough action to help you brush past such things, your wrong. So when everything builds to it's climax I found myself laughing my backside off.

What I didn't find funny however is the wastefulness of the cast on screen. Everyone on screen aren't bad, but they bring nothing to the material. It's almost as if they are just as dissatisfied with the script as I was. The biggest upset for me was January Jones; an actress that's starting to make waves due to Mad Men, who've I've not seen in any substantial role as of yet. Unknown makes sure that I still have not.

As mentioned before, Unknown reminded me more of Frantic than Taken. However, Frantic was a film placed in the hands of a man who made two men, one woman, a boat and a knife thrilling. Unknown doesn't really care about turning the screw and it really shows.

Link: 10 Best Movie Dream Sequences

I received a lovely email  from Miss Jessica Lynch (not that one) who works with Top Online asking me if I could share a link for them as it movies. The link (10 Best Movie Dream Sequences) is a nice mixture of dream scenes old and new (with a great shout to Wild Strawberries) and defiantly worth a look and a comment. HOWEVER...

Where is Un Chien Andalou?

You know I'm right on this!

Review: The Adjustment Bureau

Year: 2011
Director: George Nolfi
Screenplay: George Nolfi
Starring: Matt Damon, Emily Blunt, Anthony Mackie

Synopsis is here

Is awards season over for another year? Because here's a late entry for "most misguided film comparison". The Adjustment Bureau (based in Phillip K Dick's The Adjustment Team) has had a quote plastered on the posters (attributed to Total Film) labeling the film "Inception meets Bourne". Regardless of whether or not it was a hasty quote slapped on by the mag because of what they knew at the time (I do not have the issue and I ain't looking for it) or it was a a touch of lazy writing picked up by lazy marketing people, it's clear to most people that the quote is WRONG.

Such dodgy wordsmithery (copyright LBP) can cause frustration because it paints the wrong picture of the film. However, in terms of much of the film's marketing, we can clearly see that painting a true portrayal doesn't appear to be a high on the list. Sure enough, checking out some of my friends facebook status over the weekend roused alarm bells.

The only ties to Bourne is that the film has Matt Damon claiming an aspect of his life (Nolfi also wrote Ultimatum). There is little to no relationship with Nolan's extravagant feature; however, one of the most fascinating aspects of The Adjustment Bureau is that it has grander themes than Inception. Dreamworlds are one thing, but fatalism? The film may have the upper hand.

Despite this, The Adjustment Bureau is mostly confined to the frames of romance. In watching the film, it appeared to be more of a melding of A Life less ordinary, Serendipity and Minority Report than anything else. Those who have looked that mesh of films in disgust/confusion shouldn't click close on your windows just yet as despite being softer than one may expect from it's trailers and tv spots, The Adjustment Bureau is an enjoyably lighthearted piece of fluff. One that has funnier than it should be and has a romance more palatable than a thousand Katherine Heigl/Jennifer Aniston/Matthew McConaughey (delete where appropriate)  features. Inception is way more effective with it's beefed up sci-fi action and mind breaking visuals/effects. What TAB has however is warmth.

The center of the feature has a relationship that not only feels tangible (the chemistry between Damon and Blunt is smooth and natural.), but due to the sci-fi element put in place (with it's explanations rightly placed in the shade) we are able to get over certain tropes that can often derail cinematic romances. The film does have that "movie love" touch to it, however, the way it's is placed as part of the films universe works.

In fact much of the movie works. Despite the fact that the last third comes off as quite trite, the film rolls by at a pace brisker than the running time suggests and holds a core relationship that's worth bothering about on a Friday night out. Nolfis climatic scenes have a great energy to them that unfortunately goes limp with it's last moments but it's not enough to truly deter the film as a whole.

Those looking for something more substantial with the ideas of fate and free will, may be very put off by the light touch placed on such deep themes. However The Adjustment Bureau is a fun distraction which once again reminds me that Anthony Mackie needs to be given something substantial in the future.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Review: I Am Number Four

Year: 2011
Director: D.J. Caruso
Screenplay: Alfred Gough, Miles Millar, Marti Noxon
Starring: Alex Pettyfer, Timothy Olyphant, Dianna Agron, Teresa Palmer

Synopsis is here

I took a quick scan of the I Am Number Four novel wiki after watching the movie and although one should not take Wikipedia as the gospel, this entry had me stumped. Why is it that the wiki of the novel appears to be more appealing? I'm not joking those who are really that interested should take a look for themselves. Almost any aspect that looks like it give off the slightest bit of attraction has been sanded down smooth. There's nothing edgy here; and while I don't expect cutting edge wit and inception like plot turns, when your film is being toted as "Twilight with Aliens" you should be bringing something to the party.

Unlike the misery-fest bestows that vampire saga, I Am Number Four does try to have something that resembles a human relationship...I say human when I may mean interplanetary. Our John Smith is an Alien and so has to behave as such. This can explain some of Alex Pettyfer's board n bland responses in certain scenes. However, the chemistry between John and his love interest Sarah (Dianna Agron) has a small amount of spark. It's enough to make the vanilla experience of the film less painful to bear. In fact if the film had the balls to bolster the narrative, rise the character stakes or at least give us interesting secondary characters I may have had more time for it.

Alas D.J Caruso's film is plain Jane of a film which builds to a crescendo of cliche and pre-predicted  moments. The second we see the gray hairs in Timothy Olyphant's sideburns, we know where his future lies. It doesn't help that the screenplay believes that the best way to divulge information is by dry exposition as opposed to visually or even with any type of wit in the words. D.J Caruso takes it up a notch in the action stakes later on in the film but with the foundation being so shaky it's hard to take any real notice. 

Let's not lie to ourselves. This film was almost destined for my indifference; described as "Twilight with Aliens" and produced by one Micheal Bay, the film was hardly going to appear on my favorites of the year. However, to be honest why would it? While not a grand masterpiece, it's also not a film for myself in terms of target audience. But the problem still remains that while Twilight has many faults, it has a certain sense of scope. I Am Number Four has a central relationship that is more likable than Bella and Edward as it's not based on games, manipulation an a naff explanation. However this alone does not excuse it from it's generic origin story execution.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Review: The Rite

Year: 2011
Director: Mikael Håfström
Screenplay: Michael Petroni
Starring: Anthony Hopkins, Colin O'Donoghue

Synopsis is here

It's safe to say that I couldn't stand The Rite. For me it failed in all areas. Supernatural Thriller? I wasn't thrilled. Horror film? I wasn't scared. Drama? Those elements left me cold. Of course for many, Anthony Hopkins would be a draw unfortunately this will not be one of his crowning achievements. In fact The Rite reminds me why I sometimes dislike Hopkins as an actor. Here, Sir Hopkins is a teeth gnashing, scene chomping irritant; thundering in with a performance so hammy during the final third that the only thing missing from it is a honey glaze. Such a performance this is that it makes the "based on a true story" credits at the beginning even more snort worthy.

This is not to say that whatever the author of the book that The Rite is based on is an outright lie. Far from it. The true life account of a want-away priest gaining a new perceptive after witnessing real exorcisms appeals to a person like myself. I'm not a man of faith per say but the lives of those who have faith I find quite compelling. The problem however, is that these events are shoved into a very by-the-numbers execution. Don't look for ambiguity within The Rite, as it wishes to follow down all same routes that we've seen in features such as The Exorcism of Emily Rose et all.

Of course shades of The Exorcist appear within the films DNA, but it is clear to the viewer that the film wishes to take a less hysterical approach. A throw away line sets us straight when Hopkins' Father Lucas states after the first event we see "what did you expect? Spinning heads?". For the most part wants us to question what we see as the devil or mental illness. However, The Rite's approach to this is so lackluster that one doesn't need to question it (the film plays an obvious hand very quickly) nor does one indeed care. The young priest (O'Donoghue) whose eyes we are meant to see this story through not only lacks faith but any kind of charisma to keep us interested. O'Donoghue doesn't appear to be a bad actor, however, this a role with no characteristics to make it stand out. But with this said, The Rite is a film which believes that the old cat at the window jump scare is creative enough for it's audience.

This uninspired approach takes us all the way through the film. O'Donoghue gives us the seriously concerned face throughout, while director Mikael Håfström trudges us through very familiar territory at a snails pace. Hopkins only frustrates by giving us an impression of a Hannibal Lector impersonator. Once again reminding me that I'd rather watch Manhunter over Red Dragon.

Some ok visuals aside (the red eyed horse and the possessed 16 year old provide evocative imagery) there is nothing truly of note within The Rite. The Exorcist still provides the richness needed for the themes in place (it is also based on alleged elements of truth). To add to this, there are other films in recent times that may not have succeeded with completely but have at least been daring enough to play with certain features. At least with those films they sought out to seek a reaction.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Review: Drive Angry

Year: 2011
Director: Patrick Lussier
Screenplay: Patrick Lussier, Todd Farmer
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Amber Heard, William Fichtner

Synopsis is here

Drive Angry is a trashy little exploitation flick that for the most part does exactly what it says on the tin. Sex? Check. Blood and Gore? Check. Nic Cage walking away from an explosion in slow motion? Double check. It's silly, ridiculous and for the most part it's kinda fun in a schlocky sort of way. Don't go looking for "serious" write up of a film like this because it doesn't take itself seriously. Unfortunately despite it's b-movie intentions I'm quite surprised it doesn't go for broke.

The film is about a man named John Milton (geddit?) escaping hell to seek bloody revenge on those who have killed his daughter. So why is it that we have Nic Cage in the lead role not chewing the scenery like a child chomping on taffy? In fact why are we seeing not only Cage but the script itself so restrained? This is a film that need not copy Planet Terror but defiantly needs to get hold of the same energy. Unfortunately this lack of verve (right word to use for a grindhouse pic?) display the films main weakness. This is a film that suffers from too much downtime and not enough lunacy. We can forgive Drive Angry for a patchy narrative if it promises not to be dull. But tell that to the films middle act, which goes nowhere. It's fairly obvious that in the hands of Roger Corman; 15 minutes would have been yanked out of it's 104 minute run time.

We must also add that despite a story which features god guns, breaking out of hell, lunatic priests and the like, why are are the set pieces so uninspiring? Is it because there's TOO much money for something like this? We used to see films like this at your local video store; costing less but having way more nuttiness throughout. Hell, compare this even Hostel and you could be surprised at how little this film does to turn heads. But at least Lussier understands that 3D is best used as a gimmick.

The reason to see this if any it seems is the two performances from Amber Heard and William Fichtner, as they seem to understand that Drive Angry is supposed to be a laugh and get the tone right. Least not Heard who has a character that not only wants to be a strong ass kicking female but also wishes to titillate like an Zoo magazine model. Let's not lie here as most men in the screen will be watching to see how far those hot pants ride up Miss Heard's pert posterior. Heard however manages to be more interesting to watch than Cage just by being up for the role. Fichtner in the meanwhile steals most scenes he's in by not only getting all the best lines, but also having fun with the films most intriguing character.

Driver Angry may gain more fans on DVD and fair play to it. However those who enjoy their grindhouse without a certain amount of gloss may look elsewhere. Just think about that for a minute...grindhouse with gloss...see where the problems lie?