Thursday 29 April 2010

Review: Iron Man 2

Year: 2010
Director: Jon Favreau
Screenplay: Justin Theroux
Starring: Robert Downley jr, Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Sam Rockwell, Micky Rouke, Samuel L Jackson, Scarlett Johansson

I was talking to a friend (whose forgotten more about movies than I'll ever know) over the weekend about the marketing of Iron Man 2. He was quite surprised that heading into May (Summer Blockbuster territory) and the opening of the biggest film of the year (at the present moment), that the advertising seems a little lackluster. I hadn't really noticed because, being at the cinema almost constantly I've seen the trailer more than enough times. But in terms of promotions and tie ins, it has felt a little light on that aspect. He concluded that it's very interesting for an "event" movie to be released mostly on the basis that you liked the first film these days and I agree. I mean even Transformers 2 had Micheal Bay bemoaning the marketing of the movie despite the fact that it made shitloads of cash.

Advertising or no, it's safe to say that I really enjoyed the second chapter of the Iron man story. While the first Iron Man film was a very well crafted origin story (which surprised many who didn't expect much), this next entry puts more at stake, builds upon the already nicely defined characters and brings about actions scenes that are not only bigger than the previous film, but also more exciting. The film has some unfortunate cute moments (did we need THAT kid in the third act), and the second act at can feel a little stagnant, with the Warhammer vs Iron Man scene is obviously put in place to break up all the talking. However, for me the films faults were pretty minimal, considering some of the other perils that Favreau had to avoid.

Yes Iron Man 2 had to deal with such hazards like too-many-characters-syndrome. A common problem which has help take out other movies such as say Batman and Robin. Characters take a back seat but that didn't faze me. The film concentrates on the character of Stark and his wavering mortality. It highlights and advances certain relationships, but doesn't focus too hard on them, and for me this works. We don't get a top heavy feature a la Spiderman 3 in which we have everyone fighting for screen time, but a film in which characters neatly fit into the plot when needed and never overstay their welcome. I was never bothered that we hadn't seen enough of someone if they were off screen. The film does a good juggling act with so many characters.

With this said, it is called Iron Man 2 and Robert Downley jr isn't going to allow this movie to run away from him. He revels in Justin Theroux's (Tropic Thunder) sharply written banter and his facial tics and energy make sure that there's never a dull moment on the screen. The flaws of Tony Stark are brought to the surface this time around and it's the strength of an actor like him that makes this ovie tic. Your with him when he jokes and your with him at his moments of weakness. The clash of Starks swagger and his impending mortality is something your just don't get with Bruce Wayne and Batman. Such a conflict is warmly welcome.

This is not to say that the supporting cast don't get a say. Gwyneth Paltrow is a great foil to the eccentric antics of Downley jr, while the new casting of Don Cheadle is a welcoming change. Scarlett Johansson is mostly here for eye candy, but still brings a stronger display than this role than in some her recent films. I not only enjoyed the casting of Sam Rockwell and Micky Rourke but I also loved the banter and the threat they posed. The idea of bringing two villains together to kill the legacy of the hero? Far more interesting than merely killing the man. And the small cameo from Garry Shandling? Nicely done.

The first Iron Man surprised people who didn't expect too much from the material and what many got was a more colourful alternative to Batman. The second film doesn't match the scope of The Dark Knight, but as an expansion of Marvel universe as well as the Iron Man saga, this was an exciting watch.

Monday 26 April 2010

Review: Extract

Year: 2009 (U.K. release date)
Director: Mike Judge
Screenplay: Mike Judge
Starring: Jason Bateman, Mila Kunis, Kristen Wiig, JJ Simmonds, David Koechner

Synopsis is here

Some of the reviews I've read, remark the characters of Extract as archetypes or even stereotypes, and to this I do agree. These caricatures are pretty one note, and like a proverbial
Wild E Coyote, they ain't the sharpest scalpels for the surgery. However, Judge's talent is his ability to give these cutouts that uneasy sense of familiarity despite their apparent flatness. In the same way that teenagers (and adults) "got" Beavis and Butthead despite their lack of dimension, Extract gives us dopey gigolos, lazy middle aged racists and druggy bartenders that not only had me nodding in recognition but laughing often.

Be it tv shows or movies Judge's timing and pacing has always been key to getting the most out his jokes. For me it's never been the dialogue that's attracted me to Judges work, but the extra half a beat he'll place on a characters reaction that got a reaction out of me as a viewer. There's also an element of reality Judge manages to extract from those moments and help bring out humor of the air headed views and decisions of the characters on screen. Watch how these people look when they're working things out in their head, the screws are turning as slow as their thinking. It's an amusing watch.

Many film writers are comparing this to Judges cult hit Office Space, however, they shouldn't. While similarities surface between the two, Extract is a film that deals with ignorance within communication. While Office Space is a satire of the daily grind, how it effects us and our escapism fantasies, Extract deals with ignorance within communication. From the early scenes involving Mila Kunis' drifting criminal being drooled over by two young "suitors" to Joel's (Bateman again back in great Micheal Bluth form) constantly frustrating conversations with his next door neighbor Nathan (an hilarious David Koechner).

If they're not listening then they're not talking; as Joel manager of an extract bottling plant can't even talk to his wife (another nicely noted display from Kristen Wiig) about their lack of sex life. Much like the extract he sells, Joel is packed up too tight to actually give himself relief and would rather listen to the drug hazed jabbering of his bartender friend (a delightfully dopey Ben Affleck) than sit and do the simple thing. The lack of communication slowly turns to farce and all because is waiting for their time to speak. In the factory this ignorance leads to smashed bottles, outside the factory, it leads to affairs with fake pool cleaners. I do enjoy the material.

Once again Mike Judge delivers a film that may find its fans on the DVD market and for me deserves more than just one watch. The easy going and light feel is a shell for another sharp look at how misguided we can be as people be it work or at home. Stupid people don't notice there's something wrong until there's a mess on the floor. Extract gives us plenty of mess, both literally and symbolically.

Sunday 25 April 2010

Review: Centurion

Year: 2010
Director: Neil Marshall
Screenplay: Neil Marshall
Starring: Micheal Fassbender, Dominic West, Olga Kurylenko

Synopsis is here

If there's one thing i love about Neil Marshall, it's that he's not afraid to get his hands dirty, and Centurion once again has the man jumping back into the bloodbath with a claret covered tale about the 9th Legion, the roman military unit who disappeared during Romes invasion of Britain. Don't expect too much of a complex narrative to tell (this is Neil "Dog Soldiers" Marshall) this is Gladiators wilder and more feral cousin. It's a straight up, streamlined, men on a mission flick which doesn't shy away from brutality.

Marshall, a British, writer/director that I'm particularly fond of, has once again gone back into what he would like to see in a simple action thriller and brought it to the forefront. The pacing is tight, it's set pieces have some nice moments to them (usually involving a beheading) and what more interesting (to me any way) is that the characters in the film have the comradeship that was sorely missing from bigger budgeted movies such as...clash of the titans.

Yes this is a movie in which the general of the legion drinks (heavily) with his men before starting a bar brawl and when dying means dying together. This kinship within the characters is one the strong spurs which drive the movie forward and kept me well as the balls to the wall gore. Marshall has written this film with a modern audience in mind and shows us a group of soldiers that interact like a group of soldiers would. While certain films like to believe that films of a certain period were full of well spoken British actors who wouldn't dare speak a word out of place; Marshall's script has a rough, workman like feel to the proceedings with its loutish swearing and banter. At first it felt little off, and I thought to myself "why would it?" In fact Marshall's idea not only modernizes the film but it helps us connect with the characters with it's "just-like-us" mentality. While I don't swear like a sailor to everything, the idea that these soldiers come from a more blue collar circle, fits the surroundings more than one would think.

Casting wise, Marshall mostly hits home, as these character actors are not only on the right side of rugged, but also help put across the workman nature of the piece. Actors like Liam Cunningham and JJ Field who show up put in small but solid turns that help pad the film out. Noel Clarke unfortunately hits a bum note, not due to effort but more down to miscasting, as his voice is just a little too "kidulthood" to be truly believable. Olga Kurylenko unfortunately says nothing in this film and there's a slight inkling that either a man or woman could play the role. She does however do the action well and still has enough charm in her silence to push the idea that she is revenge incarnate.

Of course the leads however, are leads for a reason and the placement of Dominic West as the raw edged Titus and Micheal Fassbender's wonderfully reluctant Quintus are perfect. Fassbender in particular once again shows that he is one of the most interesting new actors on the scene with a display that is miles away from his turn in Inglorious Basterds and not at all like his intense role in Fish Tank. Here he shows that he doesn't just carry scenes, but whole films.

Fans of Marshall's earlier work will be happy again here as once again his set pieces are solid, tight sequences that revel in their bloodiness. They're are visceral, realistic and wouldn't look out of place in a good horror film. It is also Marshall's best looking film, utilizing all of the surroundings to emphasize the isolation and wildness of the land. Although at time you will wonder (like the soldiers) how do certain characters find each other...

However if your thinking that after the movies finished and your on the way home, then the directors work is done and you were far too focused on the guts, gore and viscera to care. Marshall once again shows that when it comes to Brit flicks, he is our B movie man and if anyone can bring us something different to our usual gravitas to Rom-coms and kitchen sink dramas, it's him...when Shane Meadows is busy*.

NOTE: This may be the only film about Roman's that has a reference to Under Siege.

*Not counting

Review: The Joneses

Year: 2009 (2010 UK release)
Director: Derrick Borte
Screenplay: Derrick Borte
Starring: David Duchovny, Demi Moore, Amber Heard, Ben Hollingworth, Gary Cole

Synopsis is here

NOTE: This review may give away a touch of the films "twist", HOWEVER, the trailer alone gives away much of the film so it might not be that much of a surprise.

Bit of a surprise for me this one. The trailer was pretty unassuming, the leads haven't been seen in any recent movie of note, I had never heard of the director and I felt I knew too much about the movie before I went into it. Bad Times.

Not so however, as The Joneses was quite an interesting watch despite the movie slightly losing it's nerve near the end. It's not angry film, but it's shot with enough cynicism to feel quite squirmy at times. Borte (an advertising man, so I've read) has eye for the subject matter and he quickly sets up the cloak of smoke and mirrors with well placed shots of characters in front of mirrors. Nothing too subtle, but it sets the mind working and helps push the ideas through.

As an veiled attack on marketing, at times the Joneses does quite well. As we settle into the idea of the plastic family, one slowly begins to wonder how easy this could be to be placed into practice and how easily lead we would be to such a design. Borte's scenes at times are both quietly droll and unsettling at the same time. The focus on the teens worked best with me, with both teenagers being beyond good looking (one of them the ridiculously hot Amber Heard). The scenes quickly set these characters up as popular and then trendsetters, and have a touch of realism about it, mostly because the teens being targeted at just right to be plucked and a quick smile and chat could easily have them gasping for what these guys want. With this said there's a nice battle set up between the lead character Steve (Duchovny) and Larry (very watchable Gary Cole) leads to a climax that is (once again) not subtle but still very timely and hits the nail on the head.

There are issues however, with the film, such as the movies product placement, which is pushed to the forefront due to the films story. Problem is of course it also serves as nice set up for whatever the brand is that is lucky enough to be placed in the forefront. Awkward as that may sound considering the subject matter, it is not as not as bad as the films latter moments in which emotional response does battle with Hollywood cookie cutter film production. You get the feeling that the film could push this material all the way, however it recedes and plays the film safer than it should have, but then how far could the film push, considering the position it's put in.

With this said, the film's performances keep enough fuel in the tank, until the films last moments and the well picked choices of Demi Moore and David Duchovny are a refreshing change from the typical A list choices that could have been picked for this endeavor. Kudos also goes to Amber Heard, who clearly has a little teen wild child role. One low note would be Ben Hollingsworth, who becomes pretty anonymous when the film really comes to the crunch.

As a whole, The Joneses has it's moments and is more than playful enough with them. It had enough wit to keep me grinning and sharp enough to keep me involved and engaged. I'm sure my brain will push out this movie come next week when I get to see Iron Man 2, but until then The Joneses will remain an interesting watch with a nice concept.

Friday 23 April 2010

Review: Date Night

Year: 2010
Director: Shaun Levy
Screenplay: Josh Klausner
Starring: Steve Carell, Tina Fey

Synopsis is here

I HATE safe movies! Blegh, the worst thing about safe movies like this is the middling reviews I write for them after I've seen them. I deal with extremes; good or bad, that's how it works with me. Date night has decided to stick it's tongue out and sit in the middle, lounging between interesting and irritating. Some critics have said it's good, others have said otherwise and for me, the film gyrates between the two. Date Night is one of those unassuming movies that merely exists for it's opening weekend before (presumably) evaporating into the either. A date movie you can take in on a Friday night with someone before you can address more pressing matters like their place or yours.

Starring two of the biggest comic actors on television at the current time; Date Night believes that overusing Fey's and Carell's usual shtick will guarantee laughs throughout the whole movie. Not so. As much as I enjoy the two performers on display and I did laugh sporadically throughout the duration, there just wasn't enough material to make this thing a truly memorable comedy. While I was happy that this movie wasn't clearly targeted at the frat boy/man child audiences that many Steve Carell films appear to be aiming for, there's only so much of that Carell shouting-the-obvious-with-a-straight-face-thing I can take. Fey is a different creature altogether, a talented writer (30 Rock, Mean Girls) and a actress with great comic timing, it's a shame that her best moments are the ad-libbed outtakes during the credits. Fey here is muted somewhat and while she is still an amusing watch, you are constantly wondering what SHE would do with the material and not Josh Klausner (Sherk 3, 4).

However, what the two do have is Chemistry and while the material isn't their best, the relationship that is shared is believable and at times sweet. It's watchable enough to get you through some of the weaker jokes that the film spews up.

Although director Shaun Levy doesn't go mad with the visuals or story telling in any way, he does manage to put together some nice scenes that work well with Fey and Carell. The short scene with James Franco and Mila Kunis is silly little diversion, while the centerpiece of the film -a car chase involving conjoined cars, is more enjoyable than it should be. Also, despite some of the films more "cheesier" moments, Date Night feels at times that the film could be aimed towards a more "adult" audience. I say that last line hesitantly but honestly, this isn't anchorman and despite being silly, the idea of a marital couple stuck in routine isn't really subject matter for Anchorman fans. Date Night takes note of that and if it wasn't for some of the jokes, this could have easily been aimed at the "older" market.

It's this unevenness that really upsets Date Night. At times it's feels like it should be targeted towards the tired couples it mimics, but is filled with jokes that may be a tad immature for them. The lead couple are fun, but don't stretch themselves at any point, and despite some OK moments (with one or two laugh out loud jokes), this is a film that even fans of Fey and Carell could easily miss with not too much worry. Those looking for after hours action should go back to it.

Tuesday 20 April 2010

Review: Micmacs

Year: 2009 (UK release 2010)
Director: Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Screenplay: Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Guillaume Laurant
Starring: Dany Boon, André Dussollier, Nicolas Marié, Julie Ferrier

Synopsis is here

The first few scenes at the beginning of Micmacs, not only tell us all we need to know about the our lead and his back story, but they are so cinematic in design that it does so without the need of dialogue. These early scenes don't waste a thing and like many of Jeunet's movies skews the viewpoint just enough that you know what sort of a ride your going to be in for. It's going to be oddball, it's going to be quirky and of course, way out of left field.

Tonally the film reminded me of Jeunet's Delicatessen, tittering over its dark territory (weapon manufacturing), and using humor to shed light on a subject that is usually reserved for more serious affair. This approach (much like his 1991 cult hit) works. Much like Delicatessen (which the film craftily makes a reference to); a dystopian feature about cannibalism features an amusing, rhythmic, bed squeaking scene that was nabbed by advertising very quickly (if I recall, i may be wrong). Micmac has scenes that maintain the same surreal nature. I tell you this may be the only film where an adopted group of homeless people with seemingly useless skills, band together in their scrapyard home to take on two weapon conglomerates. To add to this, they do it Ocean's 11 style. The simulates become apparent when we meet the very flexible contortionist played with an amusing amount of spunk by Julie Ferrier.

While I make silly comparisons to Steven Sodenbergh, it's clearly older films which get Jeunet going. The film loves to make neat little references to more silent features with most of the leads playing their roles with Keaton like dead pan, and of course the film is french so expect the obligatory Bogart moment.

The film's social commentary isn't as damming as possible but with this said the film doesn't want it to be. Also later on, when the film appears to want to make a massive point about the evils of these mercenaries, the film suddenly feels a little off, it's not what we signed up for. Fortunately Jeunet makes up for this very soon after.

What else to say about Micmacs? Well it is very funny, that's one thing. The movie has it's fair share of giggles, particularly with the actors playful performances. Even the love story within the plot has more smirk moments than your usual rom-com movie. The film is also gorgeous to look at. There some beautiful set design with our heroes scrapyard being a charming "palace" of clutter, with surroundings that wouldn't look too out of place if they shared a fence with the backyard of Terry Gilliam's head.

Micmac's has been out for a little while now and will probably disappear from theaters, soon be a rental for those who know of Jeunet's work or the slightly curious. To them I say go for it. To those who may not have heard of the guy or still have a severe Alien Resurrection hangover, I say the same thing. It just might be the cure.

Saturday 17 April 2010

Review: Repo Men

Year: 2010
Director: Miguel Sapochnik
Screenplay: Eric Garica, Garrett Lerner
Starring: Jude Law, Forrest Whitaker, Liev Schreiber, Alice Braga

Synopsis is here

Loud, bloody and gratuitous, Repo Men was something I expected to get nothing out of and came out with an idiotic grin on my face. It has all the low, brainless, expectations that a film like this would bring but managed to squeeze out some interesting elements due to it's well as the standard, beer with the mate fueled action that you must have with this sort of thing. Genre expectations and context eh?

Repo men had it's fair share of detectors before it even left the block as it's plot apparently shares a few similarities with Repo! The Genetic Opera, which of course has similarities with Equilibrium which reminded people of Fahrenheit see where I'm going with this? While I understand why fans and makers of Repo! should be more than a little frustrated, it's very easy to see why the studios bulked at Darren Lynn Bousman's vision but were ok with something a little more straightforward. Hopefully, the stars will align and more people will watch Repo! even if it is to compare the film with this one.

Despite being a sci-fi action flick, what made Repo Men work for me is the buddy chemistry that occurs between Jude Law's (Remy) and Forrest Whitaker's (Jake). It's the friendship between the two that kept the interest up and drove the movie forward for me. Credit is due to the performances because I did really dig both Law and Whitaker. Law is always more interesting when a bit scuzzy, while Whitaker's presence and general likability. Their blue collar brother relationship is so smooth, that even when they're BBQing for bikers (Whitatker's Jake forever focused on the job in a gory sequence) it gives the film a reasonable grounding.

Grounding it certainly needs for it's interestingly timed high concept. The films "price of life" themes aren't very stretching, but the OTT aspect of it all has a certain appeal. The idea that these artificial organs not only cost the price of a house but with an APR that would make a banker blush is one thing, it's made even more amusing when you find out that it's Liev Schreiber (on oil slick form) that's selling these things. It's those tiny little moments that make the film quite appealing. That is until the introduction of the cumbersome love interest.

Alice Braga stumbles into the sci-fi and the film shifts from a silly but fun sci-fi satire into even more standard affair. But while the first hour had moments that stood out well enough on it's own, the introduction of Braga's bionic woman bogs the film down into "get character A to B territory". The punches and kicks do have that solid feel to them, but they restrict the film down a narrow and familiar path. You get the feeling more can be done with the material than what transpires, and while the ending is ballsy enough to not be as neat as it could be, the lead up to it is pretty forgettable...although the soundtrack is nice.

Despite it's flaws however, Repo Men did enough to keep my eyes open before it ran out of steam. Those who enjoyed Equilibrium may find some something in this, however those who like their sci-fi a bit hard may have to go else where.

Review: The Ghost (A.K.A The Ghost Writer)

Year: 2010
Director: Roman Polanski
Screenplay: Robert Harris, Roman Polanski
Starring: Ewan McGregor, Olivia Williams, Kim Cattrall, Pierce Brosnan

Synopsis is here

Reviews of this movie from some of my usual haunts have been full of praise for this movie. Lots of talk of metaphors and likening to Hitchcock as well as the usual cries of POLANSKI IS BACK! However throughout this plodding, dull film, there was a voice in my ear whispering: "If this wasn't Polanski, would all this gushing be heaped upon this movie?" This niggle got louder and louder until the films final scene which will be considered genius by fans and pointless by philistines such as my self.

However with it's lethargic pace and frustratingly boring characters, The Ghost did nothing to even ENGAGE me let alone entertain me. Despite having a story that should be full of intrigue, I was left with a bog standard thriller filled with dubious plot moments and listless characters who initiate jarring conversations. The scenes aren't awkward in the way they should be in a movie like this, they feel unfinished, as if the takes used weren't the best ones filmed. This continues throughout the movie giving the movie and uneven stiffness that had me at odds with everyone in the movie. It's obvious why McGregor's character is called the ghost but as he is also our eyes and ears of this piece why does he seem so uninterested? Polanski's film gives us nothing in this film to invest in. There's hints towards more successful endeavors (The Tenant, Rosemary's Baby et all) but no point do we feel the tightening grip that features in those earlier films.

The narrative is no better. Like Chinatown we have a character that goes for the money and stays for the mystery but features little or no involvement. Plot points are telegraphed from far, twists are not only late coming, but unsurprising and throughout your left at an arms length distanced from the story. Bad times from the man who turned New York City into a satanic tomb for Mia Farrow. In no way did I feel involved in what was going on and nor did it seem to matter and while I'm not looking for a cliched car chase or explosion to grab my attention, I was more than a little miffed that none of the films talk gripped me. The film is also a little insulting with some of the films moments of plot. Not to ruin the film on purpose but, considering how sensitive the material often is this man left alone?

Performance wise, the film varied from dead eyed (McGregor), to miscast (Cattrall). Other displays fared better; Brosnan and Williams are high points, but all in all the there wasn't really anything to write home about. The same can be said from the films drab visuals which did as much to isolate me as a viewer as the characters relationships.

The Ghost is full of nods to the filmmakers earlier works but unfortunately the whole film feels Polanski-lite to me. It's a film that did little to excite or involve me in the slightest. A film I expected more from but gained nothing out of it. Philistine I may be, but at least this philistine has a copy of Chinatown at home to enjoy.

Sunday 11 April 2010

Review: Whip It

Year: 2009 (U.K. release 2010)
Director: Drew Barrymore
Screenplay: Shauna Cross
Starring: Ellen Page, Marcia Gay Harden, Kristen Wiig, Jullette Lewis, Eve, Alia Shawkat

Synopsis is here

Drew Barrymore's directional debut unfortunately only reached #6 in the U.S box office when it was released. It's takings in the U.S, a mere $13 million. This summer the Sex in the city movie sequel will be unleashed to an army of women and will easily top the charts. It's a sad state of affairs that something so fundamentally shallow, so irritatingly vapid will be watched by females of all ages, while Whip It; a film that truly believe there's more to women than just shoes, cocktails and men has been seen by hardly anyone.

Made by women (both screenwriter and director), for women, Whip It is a warming tale about a young girl who is looking to find her place in the world. She knows it's not with the beauty pageants and the almost repressed 50's ideals that her mother clings on to and it's certainly not with her dead end dinner job she partakes in when not at school. So what is it? She spies a poster for Roller Derby poster and believes that this sport may the thing for her.

While the film is formulaic and there's nothing special about the actual story, Barrymore makes sure that there's more going on within the film than Bliss moving from A to B. This is a film full of strong females defined by more than a wedding (Bride Wars, 27 Dresses), a man (sex in the city) or otherwise. These are women with real character, women that base their actions due to who they are, not because the "script tells them" or because they get a chiseled hunk at the end.

No this is a film about women who not only wish to buck social norms but also defend them. It's no surprise that some of the films strongest moments are when it focuses on the central family particularly through Page's neatly restrained Bliss and her forceful yet loving mother played by the wonderful Marcia Gay Harden. The tug of war battle of ideals works because it's not simply labeled in black and white. We can see from BOTH sides why they fight for what they want and we care about the characters because they care about each other.

Whip It also works because of it's humor, which is drawn from the characters because of who they are. Barrymore's small role as Smashley Simpson can be considered as a great example. The idea of a woman as cute as Barrymore becoming a screaming harpy, every time she's wronged on the pitch is something that's not only funny but something that stems from the characters passion of the game she plays, as well as herself.

Whip it works because quite simply it's sweet in nature and honest in execution. It's story may be complacent but there's not a shred of manipulation within the movie. The films performances are all watchable that even Zoe Bell who was god awful in Death Proof is good fun here. The eclectic soundtrack fits the story and for those who hated Juno and expected the same thing just because it stars the same main actress, will also be pleasantly surprised by the lack of sass.

I must once again stress how upset I am that this film is being slept on. After film after film of tiresome rom-coms that bring nothing to the female table other than another entry into empty headed, moronic materialism. Along comes a film that wants girls to make a stand on their own terms, that's watched by no one. Is it true that miserable, glittery stalkers and four rich, vapid, slags are the only thing the female audience want when they go to the cinema? Box-office figures seem to say so.

Saturday 3 April 2010

Review: Clash of the Titans

Year: 2010
Director: Louis Leterrier
Screenplay: Travis Beacham, Matt Manfredi, Phil Fay
Starring: Sam Worthington, Gemma Arterton, Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes, Mads Mikkelsen, Pete Postlethwaite

Synopsis is here

Well what to say about Clash of the Titans? I will say I was happy to watch it in 2-D the way it was supposed to be viewed and not in the rushed, outsourced £-D that has been cynically placed during the 11th hour in order to boost the box office. Watching it in 2-D was a plus because instead of bitching about terrible £-D, I could bitch about the film instead.

So what aspects of the film will I bitch about? Not much. Oh. So what will I gush about? Not much either. COTT is a main meal of meh with a side order of shrug. There's nothing amazing about it, and nothing truly terrible. I'd love to write a review that goes either way but unfortunately Louis Leterrier's film sits stubbornly in the middle, doing no more, no less. I'm sure I could probably end the review there to be honest. But I feel I must finish for the seven people who enjoy my writing and press on.

My main issue with Clash may be that even though I'm not a scholar on Greek Myth, I still get the feeling that the film is still quite light on it's source material. In fact when looking back at the film, there really only is three scenes of interest and even then they feel usually light considering A) what the films about and B) what a film like this should contain. I understand that many don't go to a movie like this for dense plotting but even the (admittedly well captured) action feels more lightweight than expected. I'm not sure about yourselves but I expect a film with the name clash of the titans to feel more epic. Never the less, Clash isn't a terrible film. Leterrier handles his visuals well and manages to bring about enough excitement to the films set pieces to keep it watchable, although those who expect immense Kracken action may actually be slightly disappointed.

Once again, when it comes to the acting, I didn't expecting grand, epic displays but I was just hoping for the film to deliver something not awful. Once again Clash does merely OK. Sam Worthington can't get rid of his Oz accent which distracts from a moderately spunky everyman part. He doesn't suck, but he doesn't astound. Gemma Arterton holds enough screen presence to make me sightly more interested in the upcoming Prince of Persia blockbuster. Other displays of interest include a solid display of badassery from Mads Mikkelsen while Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes ham up proceedings more than a pig on a spit. Nicolas Hoult and Kaya Scodelario (both from Skins) turn up and look a bit lost in the surroundings but at least they have more to do than Danny Huston who appears to have had all his lines end up on the cutting room floor. There's a similar feeling for the sparse appearance for Pete Postlethwaite who could have done with more screen presence considering that his role is quite pivotal.

Clash of the Titans is the kind of forgettable fluff you expect to come out at this time of year. If you have a younger sibling or haven't let the child within you die then you may get more than enough enjoyment out of it. A lot of people however, just may be happy enough that it's shorter than Troy.

Review: Remember Me

Year: 2010
Director: Allen Coulter
Screenplay: Will Fetter
Starring: Robert Patterson, Emilie de Ravin, Chris Cooper, Pierce Brosnan

Synopsis is here

It didn't take me more than a few minutes to guess the ending of Remember me. When the film's Gorgonzola cheese ending took place I had my head in my hands. I was slightly frustrated with what had took place. The reason? It almost undid all the good this movie has within it.

OK. Now don't laugh. As a straight, 26 year old man, who had so many issues with twilight I would need a therapist to get through them, I find this a hard thing to say...I really dug this movie. Now if I didn't write a film review blog and co-host a podcast I probably wouldn't go near a movie like this. Hell my girlfriend wouldn't touch it (she thinks Robert Patterson is ugly). However as a film reviewer with a podcast in tow, you do find yourself watching stuff you'd scoff at in real life.

The film has a tried and tested formula, the ending is not only predictable but cheesy and don't expect any visual mastery or epic storytelling. However, as a romantic drama, a date movie and a showcase for Robert Patterson...the film WORKS. Instead of being bored out of my mind, I found myself quite involved with the characters and the drama of the movie. This is a movie about guarded people who despite their losses, are given the chance to open up due to the connections they make, no matter how insignificant. It's not spectacular, it's not a high art, but it is thoroughly entertaining for what it is.

The reason for this is director Allen Coulter manages to coax convincing drama from the films actors and Will Fetter's mostly good natured script. It follows the right beats and hits the right mark. Coulter's time as a TV director clearly allows the people within film to breathe. The characters aren't special, but their well rounded and likable. We're not watching award winning stuff, but it is very manageable and goes down a hell of a lot smoother than I imagined.

A small amount of praise must go out to the two young leads who take something that should be quite tired passable. Robert Patterson with his wannabe James Dean brood and restraint quieter moments shows that when the material is stronger than "stand and look pretty" he is a capable actor. His most "showy" moment does show he weaknesses but his smile and all round charm minimize the damage. Emilie de Ravin's Ally is not only cute but a nice fit for Patterson's moody Tyler and levitates the role above the one note love interest display that it could have been. The chemistry works from the off and keeps the movie on it's path.

Seasoned pros Chris Cooper and Pierce Brosnan are slumming it a bit but still bring in the gravitas needed for their roles to be interesting. It was quite amusing to see Brosnan lose it in an office, as was Cooper going medieval on R-Patz ass. But I think that may be Twilight residue still inside me.

Unfortunately Remember Me suffers from having an obvious ending, badly executed, with an event that many critics have considered offensive. I'd love to say it's trying to deal with something that many would still find difficult...but alas it falls flatter than the pancakes that everyone is so interested in eating in the film.

But in all honesty, from a moral standpoint, I've seen far worse in the twilight films than anything that appears here. Before going in I was embarrassed to tell my girlfriend on the phone what i was going in to see. At the end of the film I phone her again and told her to watch it. The charm of the R-Patz eh?

Friday 2 April 2010

Review: The House of the Devil

Year: 2009 (UK release date 2010)
Director: Ti West
Screenplay: Ti West
Starring: Jocelin Donahue, Tom Doolan, Mary Woronov

Plot synopsis is here

A modern horror, which takes its aesthetics from the films of the 70's and 80's; to try and recreate that same retro feeling of days gone by. In hearing a description like that, one may think that House of the Devil dwells from the stable of a certain Eli Roth. It doesn't. Although from a certain stand point, Ti West's piece of retro chic terror could be bundled in with the Hostels and Cabin Fever's of this world*. However with it's slow burn execution and satanic moral panic theme West has created a different beast. A clear homage to older horror but not with pastiche or irony. It will not be for everyone, particularly those who like their horror films to play out thick and fast. But those who have patience may find this to be a very rewarding genre flick.

At this moment, Mainstream America appears to be very preoccupied with remaking everything it can. Updating the "classics" with horror beats that lean more towards the modern generation. This way of thinking has altered the landscape of horror slightly, taking the likes of Dawn of the dead and changing it from an socially satirical horror film, to more of an action thriller. West's film is a regression, a modern horror filmmaker making a very deliberate 80's horror, in every sense of the word from the film stock (16mm) to the techniques themselves; which include zooms, extreme close ups and electro synth scoring among other things. This threw me off as a viewer and helped with West's build up of the films tension and story. I truly feel that if this approach was put in place in remakes such as Last house on the Left or The Texas Chainsaw Massacre I would have enjoyed them more.

It's the lack of slickness that made house of the devil so effective for me. A shot will last a half a beat too long, camera movements that lack their usual smoothness and music that doesn't just build up towards zinger moments (jump scares) but builds dread when there's no need. This is film making that harks back to the days of The Exorcist and Rosemary's Baby, in which even the movie's "nothing" moments don't feel right. For me, West's film kept that feeling of unease though out the film, using technique to generate atmosphere and install dread as opposed to excessive gore effects or cheap jumps.

West's film also features a neatly crafted, screenplay with a descriptively simple narrative naturalistic dialogue for it's protagonists and more than a hint of the sinister when it comes to it's villains. Working together with the atmosphere of the piece, the script not only introduces and builds a character that I can cared about and makes it hard not to feel for her as the rabbit hole gets deeper. The film really benefits in spending time with her

However it's the solid performance placed by Jocelin Donahue as Sam that completes the package for me. Channeling Mia Farrow and Jamie Lee Curtis, Donahue gives a likable performance, that reminded me of horror films with lead characters who are vulnerable, not just virgins. The film also features sinister performances from Tom Doolan and Mary Woronov. Displays, which unsettle, not with grand, OTT gestures but subtle glances and inflections on their lines.

Nowadays we expect "more" (in terms of actual action) to happen in our horror movies and for me this was a refreshing change. It has a feel that reminds me of some of my favorites of the genre with an climax which while feels a tad short, revels in it's satanic what-the-fuckery. There's a sense of dread throughout this film that we don't get in that many horror films these days but I wish a few more had. The house of the devil will have a hard time effecting the Saw generation but should hopefully find itself a nice little cult audience that will enjoy it's deliberate approach.

*Ironically Ti West directed the straight to video sequel to Cabin Fever. He's disowned it.