Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Review: The Inbetweeners Movie

Year: 2011
Director: Ben Palmer
Screenplay: Iain Morris, Damon Beesley
Starring:  Simon Bird, James Buckley, Blake Harrison, Joe Thomas

Synopsis is here:

Any readership outside of the U.K will probably shrug their shoulders at this review as I can't see it making waves at their shores. However for us Brits, The inbetweeners is sitting pretty at the top of the U.K box office at time of writing. It's not hard to see why, as the show has been a bit of a revelation for some of the generation here. From an overzealous yell of "BUS WANKERS!" from some twonk in a Nova, to the double thumbs up "friend" comment you get from mates after you suggest your going to see someone else. There's sayings and moments from the shows three seasons that have just got absorbed into our conscious and are likely to stay there as E4 will repeat the show as much as they do Friends, as is the method of channels these days.

The fact that a film of these four failures didn't really surprise me as much as the speed of the turnaround. I swear I only just heard about the film being made about 9 months ago. But then when dealing with a show that's at it's peak of popularity and a cast that can only pretend to be 18 for so long (lead Simon Bird is only a year younger than myself at 26) it's probably the best time to strike.

The Inbetweeners movie is perfect for people who are fans of the show. While it doesn't alienate newcomers with nothing but in jokes, it does display the friendship and closeness built by the main cast members. This and the films writing by the shows creators are what the film what it is; coming off like a English version of porky's but with a familiarly that made the show a hit in the first place.  We like these saps because we all knew versions of them at school. They're harmless and the mean well, but they're so struck dumb by their social awkwardness that it hurts. Yes, they are crude but their lack of knowing any better does get them through. The spiritedness and knowing naivety of of the characters overwhelm the more base elements and while it's clear that the leads are still a little T.V green, the chemistry is there throughout.  It's what makes the inbetweeners what they are; the lack of mean spiritedness that resides in many American counterparts.

It's good that the dialogue and set pieces are also on par with the show as they still have the ability to hit the funny bone, especially if you're a fan. Not only it's needed in a comedy, but it takes away from the fact that the film could have easily been a made for T.V movie and be just as successful. The film is very televisual in design, and save for a couple of moments, it doesn't not feel very cinematic. Moments of sentimentality are often cumbersome, plot strands stand out awkwardly and there were more than one moment in which neither laughter nor sympathy could be displayed as the story struggles to win us over with it's thinly spread narrative.

I will say however that I've laughed harder in this than many of the comedies that have come out recently. This was everything that Hangover 2 was not in my opinion, lacking the spitefulness that features in that film (and Due Date for that matter) but playing up the hype and disappointment of those "lads" holidays, embarrassing parents and the genuine awkwardness of place that came with the show. It'll find it's place on the shelves of fans and to be honest, that's what it was looking for.

Monday, 29 August 2011

Review: Cowboys and Aliens

Year: 2011
Director: Jon Favreau
Screenplay:  Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, Damon Lindelof, Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby
Starring: Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, Olivia Wilde, Sam Rockwell

Synopsis is here

When I first posted the trailer for Cowboys and Aliens on my facebook wall, my favourite reaction was from a good friend of mine who was perplexed by the sheer fact that the film had even been greenlighted. I must admit that I chucked at his outcry. As a film fan it's no real surprise to me that things like Cowboys & Aliens get made. One only needs such to search the the imdb for such cinematic delights such as I Know who Killed Me, Ballistic: Ecks vs Sever or Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun Li. They may considered badly executed ideas by many and there's a good chance that people considered them a bad idea beforehand too. The thing is if producers and/or executives think there's an audience out there for the idea, then they'll push for it. Often the wackiest ideas may work with a good mesh of crew, cast and vision. Often however we get crap like American Pyshco 2: All American Girl. The thing is, you cannot be sure until it's made.

Which brings us to Cowboys and Aliens, a film based on a comic book of the same name. Such a comic book sounds quite niche to a guy like me, however as so other film coming out appears to be connected to a comic book somehow, you can see where the exec suits were going with things. Add to the fact that you've got the western genre; a classic american genre and aliens (who seem to be cropping up everywhere at the moment) and I'm sure that the studio heads felt they had something special up their sleeves. The film hasn't set the box office alight as much as I feel the film makers would have liked, but it hasn't been a total failure. With this said however, after reading Mark Kermode's embittered article about modern movies I have started to ask myself when was the last time you felt a film really, truly flop?

So I guess I have to start talking about the film itself then don't I? And I'll start by stating the obvious, in that the film doesn't skimp on it's promise of Cowboys and Aliens. They all present and accounted for, hell there's even some Native Indians thrown in for good measure, the trouble is all these guys are piled together in a narrative that doesn't have the legs to make things work and are given set pieces that while pretty enough, seem to lack that punch and crunch that would make them stand out. The film is relatively fun at points but so unremarkable that I had to bore you with those over-long paragraphs above this one while I try and remember what happened in the film.

A lot of my issues with the film lie with the plot itself, in that I had no problem with the western aspect and would love more of it (seriously the idea of Ford and Craig in a straight western would have me drooling) but the sci-fi element feels clunky and shoehorned. Characters and information drop in and out at convenient moments and none of it feels organic. At one point a reveal is given that feels so frustratingly wedged in it's beyond annoying, particularly as a character has waited for such a ridiculous amount of time before mentioning the matter. Silly things happen in movies like this all the time (Think Independence Day = Apple Mac Virus) however if the momentums carries you and the action hits the sweet spots then we often don't realise. I know for a fact I don't. Despite what my reviews read, I don't consciously go looking for flaws. But if they're willing jump at you then clearly the film isn't doing it's job. The problem is that Cowboys and Aliens is only sometimes effective. Jon Favreau is not doing his best work here and it shows. It says a lot when I'm watching the competent yet vanilla set pieces of the film and thinking to myself how much more fun Rango* was than this.

The idea that the humans within the movie are severely underwhelmed  in terms of fire-power (save one element), never really comes into play. In fact it never feels like these characters are in any particular danger or worry. They have a goal and it all feels quite achievable. But then again considering the amount of cliché lines the film manages to turf out, I shouldn't be surprised at the lack of...well surprise.

So we thank the stars for the stars, in that Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford are damn good at what they do, delivering presence. Both have the right amount of gravel in their faces to be believable cinematic cowboys. Ford's tetchy, guff and 12a rated racist Dolarhyde hits the mark consistently. Craig's stoic man with no name character mixes the characters volatile past with the quiet and intense and brooding nature that works. The less said about Olivia Wilde however, the better. An attractive actress, Wilde hasn't made a mark on me acting wise in any real way. In earlier films, this can be argued that they were just smaller roles. Now in films like Tron: Legacy and this she seems to be picking characters that are just boring in general and do nothing to stretch the talents she may hold. I really don't blame her, as some of the material in the larger films will get you noticed but unfortunately for some (especially for a few unfortunate Hollywood females) they may not doing anything for their craft.

But then again speaking of material, we're dealing with a film that has been handled by five different screenwriters. When the ratio gets that high, many often get weary. You can see why, with so many cooks looking to add elements to the broth, it's probably best just to play things safe.

*I watched Rango earlier this year but didn't blog it as I don't really review "kids" films. The thing is, Rango actually has more going on than a few of the blockbusters this year. I should have reviewed it.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Review: Hobo with a shotgun

Year: 2011
Director: Jason Eisener
Screenplay: John Davies, Jason Eisener
Starring: Rutger Hauer

Synopsis is here (as if the film needs it)

Hobo with a shotgun delivers what it says it delivers. To knock the film technically is almost silly and there will be many out there who have not seen any kind of exploitation feature asking themselves; "what kind of screw loose would even try to enjoy a film like this". To them I will say "hey at least it's short."

I liked Hobo for what it was; extremely OTT nonsense, it's shot with knowledge of those gritty shlock features and yet still has a certain amount of flair in the cinematography that defies some of the films it's paying homage to. It isn't a deconstruction like Deathproof, nor is it following the genre as close to the bone as Planet terror, but there's something about it's cartoony madness that works well enough to be although you may want to wash the nihilism of you.

I think one of the main reasons that I like the film is that it almost plays out like an antithesis to films like Harry Brown, a film which celebrates the idea of vigilantism as completely fine and worthy idea. Hobo, like a florescent Taxi Driver depicts the whole situation as the horrid and vile mess it actually is. Nobody gets away clean no matter what your intentions are. I won't lie however by saying my viewing of this reminded me of the films of one Michael Haneke. And yet despite my love for his essays on the west glorifying violence (something many could say this film does at times) the films lead character, his dreams and the outcome still managed to sway me not only as entertaining (the violence is SO out there one can't take seriously) but strangely affecting due to what happens. I won't lie, I knew where the film was going and yet when it reached it's destination I wasn't as disappointed as i would be with many other more mainstream affair. Mostly because it's outcome comes off more as a trope than lazy writing.

That aside I liked the nuttiness of it all; the silly dialogue, the over the top sleaze used to portray the despicable of it all, the wonderfully garish colour scheme that felt right at home with the material and of course, Rutgar Huaers ability to hold a viewers attention with his presence.

I wlll say however, for a film that healthy acknowledges that it's an exploitation flick and is made now in the 21 century, why is it that Hobo with a shotgun couldn't have made it's female lead a stronger one? I'm not looking for role models but Molly Dunsworth's Abby starts off as a streetwise prostitute before decending very quickly into a screaming damsel in distress who can't seem to function with her Hobo hero. Considering that some of the most well known exploitations have very strong female characters (Day of the woman/I spit on your grave, nearly anything Pam Grier was in in the 70's, slasher movies in general) you get the feeling the film missed a trick.

But then again, has it? It's called Hobo with a shotgun, and has a Hobo with a shotgun. He puts it to great use. This isn't the sort of film that gives you a title with a metaphor or has any alterer motive. It does what it says it does. If your arguing about it, you really should have paid closer attention to the title.

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Review: Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Year: 2011
Director: Rupert Wyatt
Screenplay: Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver
Starring: James Franco, Frida Pinto, John Lithgow, Brian Cox, Tom Felton, David Oyelowo

Synopsis is here

Once again this oddball glut of summer films has surprised me. I had no expectations for Rise of the Planet of the apes at all, neither high or low.  Coming out nearer the back end of the summer after all the bigger films have had their way, ROTPOTA looked lucky to just be hanging out with the so called big boys. The trailer didn't look like anything special, while a small part of my brain kept reminding me that it's a reboot of a franchise, whose last entry nearly killed it's chances of survival (and may have cause the whole reboot mania to some ) due to it's frustrating ending and mixed critical praise (it was successful at the box office however). I was merely hoping that ROTPOTA didn't go the way of Burton's dry and tasteless re-imaging.

It turns out that Rupert Wyatt and his screenwriters have really looked into what they could do to make sure that there film didn't feel like a cynical cash grab. In fact by the time we reach the films strikingly kinetic Golden gate Bridge climax, I had released that my mouth had dropped more than once. This is a film that brings it's preposterous spectacle to the foreground (some brilliant CGI effects from Weta) but doesn't do so at the sacrifice of story or emotion. Throughout the film I found myself constantly wanted to know what happens next to Caesar (Andy Serkis once again bringing his ape knowledge and skills to much aplomb) and where this story was going to take me. It's very clear from the overlong title alone that the film is looking for sequels, however Wyatt's film tell the tale of nature going awry with a visual sharpness and zeal that i found missing from other summer hits that concentrated on stunts alone.

I loved how Caesar's tale is crafted and how his relationships between humans and other apes slowly shifts and shapes itself. The politics within the film are pretty basic but what the film lacks in hard talk is made up with expression. This film could have easily had Caesar as a flat character with only anger as his only characteristic. The performance from Serkis and the writing avoid this. We not only feel for Caesar and his persecution from his aggressors but we also condone his actions against his ignorant "owner". Despite being underwritten Franco makes sure that his role of Will has enough nativity within it to make the choices made by Caesar believable ones. It is a shame however that despite this, the human characters are so awkwardly shoehorned into the film. Freida Pinto is pushed into a sensible eye candy role spouting typical voice of reason quotes while Brian Cox (the best Hannibal Lecktor) has played better antagonists in his sleep the less said about Tom Felton the better.

The film is all about the apes and to be fair, this isn't too much of a bad thing. As the film slowly places the foundation for a bigger picture in the background (involving space shuttles and viruses no doubt) we get to see the sociological aspects build within the society of the apes and it's already interesting to see the friendships created and where the cracks will show. Not only that, but the film's visuals of the apes may show how heavily the film relies upon CGI, but the wide open spaces and forest surroundings that allow the apes to run rampant is exhilarating. The set pieces are vigorous with their pace and the film may be light on more complex politics, its heavy on delivering an exciting blockbuster about nature going awry. When things kick off, I was never disinterested. This combined with the films decent storytelling has made for me ROTPOTA one of the more compelling blockbusters this year.

Monday, 15 August 2011

Review: Essential Killing

Year: 2010 (UK Release 2011)
Director: Jerzy Skolimowski
Screenplay: Ewa Piaskowska, Jerzy Skolimowski
Starring: Vincent Gallo

The synopsis is here

Writer, Director, Painter, Musican and resident nutjob Vincent Gallo reminds me of Roman Polanski; in that despite some of his more bizarre actions (also includes hexing Roger Ebert and now no longer showing his films to a public audience), his talent is something I cannot ignore. As a writer/director his indie feature Buffalo 66 (1998) is one of the most alluring American independents of recent times. To me Gallo is that worst type of person in which his ego is only matched by his talent....and his ego is pretty huge.

Essential Killing has an extreme person like Gallo running through the wilds of an unnamed European country, trying desperately to escape his captors and survive the harsh terrain ahead of him. It's quite obvious with a little knowledge of the man and the way this film starts; with Gallo's character blowing three U.S soldiers sky high with a rocket launcher mounted on his shoulder, the man is clearly in his element.

Essential Killing is all about Gallos favourite subject, himself. This isn't a bad thing however because his prize winning performance is one of knife edge intensity. Gallo's sharp features and could-be-from-anywhere face only bolster his compelling (yet muted) display. I love watching acting like this as to me it truly becomes about the performance. The setting, the situation, the desperation and the unbridled need to continue on, is played out within the face and not with trite dialogue. It's great to cleanse the palate with a film like Essential Killing; as while the character is not complex in the slightest (the streamlined plot restricts this), the expressions speak volumes. It reminds me how often I'm trying to keep up with "lets do this to do that" strands of dialogue.

Jerzy Skolimowski complements Gallo's performance with crisp cinematography which highlights the unforgiving landscape as the bright blue skies of an unknown area of the middle east gave way to a vast blanketed winterland scenery of white. the only food appears to be bark and berries and almost any interaction with other people alludes to the films title, although the film isn't as gruesome as you would expect. Skolimowski's wisest decision is to keep the film as apolitical as he could. We merely observe an Arab insurgent trying to survive in alien surrounding and the lack of a agenda illustrates the fight or flee nature we are all hardwired into and yet take for granted.

The film does spill over into abstract weirdness at times, and we are given prolonged moose shots,  hallucinations of dogs (appearing almost like nightmarish echoes of Guantanamo) and at one point the lead character having to suckle a woman's breast at gunpoint for the milk that she was feeding her child. Despite this, the tale of extreme survival of this foreign "alien" in a no man's land (no real geography places us in the same disorientated state as the lead character) kept me at attention. The films foreshadowing brings forth a feel of doom (maybe) but at no point do we feel this man's tale is truly on tracks.

The films abrupt climax will madden some and attract others but in order to get the most out of it, and the film as a whole, one must remember the old cliché that it may not be about the destination but the journey. While I may revel in such commonplace writings, Essential Killing and Gallo's intense performance remind us that cliché is definitely not what the man's about.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Review: Super 8

Year: 2011
Director: JJ Abrams
Screenplay: JJ Abrams
Starring:  Amanda Michalka, Elle Fanning, Gabriel Basso, Joel Courtney, Kyle Chandler, Noah Emmerich, Riley Griffiths, Ron Eldard, Ryan Lee, Zach Mills

Synopsis is here:

Note: A part of my review doesn't reveal any plot points but it does give a slight description of the films creature. Might spoil. Been Warned

Maybe it's the amount of expectation that Super 8 (one of them there original screenplays) brought with it, once people knew of it's conception. Perhaps it's the fact that I'm the kind of Spielberg fan that has no problem with Tom Hanks and his dodgy accent (The Terminal), or the general oddball awkwardness of a grown up Pan (Hook). However something with Super 8 doesn't sit right. The films mixture of JJ Abrams and Spielberg sensibilities don't quite gel completely for me.

I didn't not dislike the film as there's a lot of fun to be had with the films dialogue, the chemistry of the young cast and a bit of the mystery, but Abrams stylistic ticks (think lens flare), a meandering second act (12 minutes shorter than Captain America but strangely feels longer) and the films wish to be a Spielberg movie so much that it almost feels slightly too conscious of the fact, somewhat damage the affair slightly. I am reminded of Paul whose pop culture references to the movie brat are plenty but are utilised in a far more playful matter. Super 8's DNA is almost inherently Spielberg from the Single minded, stubborn, and/or separated father figures to the gang of kids and their Goonie like manner.

And yet something is missing slightly. The family relationships are the same in structure but don't feel as developed in their scenes. The kids (one or two feeling a tad more one-note than even their 80's counterparts)  look the part but seem to be missing that little touch that Spielberg films have. I am definitely in the minority here but these guys over Thud Butt, Rufio and rest of the lost boys? Not so sure.

It's definitely not all bad as the cast that's put in place are certainly fun to be with. Abrams introduces us to these guys well enough and they may not be the most remarkable pre-teens in a Spielberg universe but they have the right amount of energy. It also helps that any time love interest Elle Fanning (also brilliant in Somewhere) is on screen, she shines. The cast help set up the films exciting first act a treat, with Abrams giving us a chaotic train crash that doesn't better the destruction of Hogwarts but does well to show the intent.

It's unfortunate that nothing matches this opening gambit. It's a big way to open the film and the material struggles to to maintain the momentum. The second act is patchy in it's pacing and features the kind of cliffhangers that persuaded me to stop wondering about the those Oceanic guys who crashed on that crazy island. Abrams tries hard to keep us on tenderhooks with some decent enough 12a scares and some neat moments but as we make our way towards the finishing point the end of the mystery and the emotional payoff is weak. When I think of the aliens that have appeared in Spielberg movies, I'm always reminded of how memorable that are, through sound (Close encounters) or look (ET, War of the worlds). The revelation we see here feels much like a left over design of a certain other Abrams involved feature.

But this is the hand we are dealt. The Amblin sign crops up cheerfully at the beginning of the movie but nothing   comes up as strong. Everything is competent and faithful and that seems to be enough here. Super 8's ending belies my main problem with the film that although everything seems to be in the right place, the heart isn't given the emotional twack that you'd get if the executive producer was the director.

Despite my issues with the film there is an innocence within the film that a miserable blogger like I really cannot knock. When asked what he's doing; the wide eyed lead proclaims as clear as day "I'm trying my best to save your life".  When Super 8 falls on those little moments you can feel the 'berg watching over

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Review: Captain America: The First Avenger

Year: 2011
Director: Joe Johnston
Screenplay: Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely
Starring: Chris Evans, Hayley Atwell, Tommy Lee Jones, Hugo Weaving, Stanley Tucci

Synopsis is here:

Captain America brought a warming sensation to me after I watched it. Here is a movie that is just as earnest as Tree of Life, but this is no art-house feature. No, this is a comic book movie in which you'd think some audiences  are probably getting slightly tired of seeing. There's the origin story here, the fresh faced hero there and everything else that comes pre packaged with these marvel flicks.

The interesting prospect here is that this not only a film that feels more well rounded than some of it's brothers and sisters (although it clearly has an eye on the upcoming avengers movie next year), but the films innocence in it's portrayal of it's character and the telling of his plight is so fresh at a time where we're now seeing all our heroes being "dark" "gritty" and more importantly, cynical. I won't be surprised if the biggest defenders of the Transformers movies sneer at the old fashioned aw shucks nature of the Capts exploits, but there's something joyfully upstanding seeing this heroes pluck over the wise ass antics of Sam Witwicky or even The Dark Knights angst.

The reason the film work for me is that the storytelling, set pieces and cast were as straight forward as the Captain himself. It's a shame that the spectacle aren't as big or memorable as one would have hoped, but that's not really the point. Here we're given a righteous and mature hero who is willing to pull us through his adventure. His guts are what makes the character raise above so many of the reluctant protagonists that have plodded through their tales, generally being told what to do and how to do it. The fact that Captain America places his life in his own hands as much as he does is invigorating. It helps that Chris Evans' honest and hopeful portrayal of the character is one that Henry Cavill and the DC camp may do well with pinching. Evans sells truth, justice and the american way well. He also sells some decent chemistry with the spunky Hayley Atwell whose role of love interest is part of her but doesn't define her (compare her character to poor Blake Lively's in Green Lantern) . Although she and the some of the supporting cast (a criminally wasted Neal McDonough) don't get enough time to truly show themselves off.

It is a shame that despite all the good that the Capt does, with the wonderful sepia toned 1940's setting and Joe Johnston's pulpy execution of it all, that the Captain's villain isn't as villainous as he is virtuous. Due to the Captain's commitments to The Avengers movie we get an evil doer whose more of a figurehead than a fully formed character.The Red Skull has the right look and actor (A delectably scene chewing Weaving) behind him but hardly any anything else. We sense Captain Americas heart and by the films last words I was right behind him However will it comes to the evil he has to face I was severely underwhelmed. I understand that this is the beginnings of a regime that should be more evil than the Nazis, but why don't we see it? They have the power but there's very little demonstration. But then I say this about a film that has two montages of Captain America  in action to substitute more intricate set pieces. Why? Because Capt's big film will be The Avengers. With such a cloud looming over the film we see a Captain America film that shoots from the hip but is also streamlined due to other commitments.

It seems that much of what Matt Singer (IFC) says is right. Marvel seem far to bothered about what's next to truly invest on the singular efforts. This is not to say that Captain America isn't good. It's bold, brash, old serial way of film making is refreshing and fun and I can't say I didn't leave with a smile on my face (I even didn't mind it in 3D and that says a lot)  The problem is Marvels constant Brand pushing short changes a film which is entertaining on its own right.  Unfortunately the movie is held back from truly being the best it can be. Captain America himself, really would expect more.