Sunday 28 November 2010

Review: Unstoppable

Year: 2010
Director: Tony Scott
Screenplay: Mark Bomback
Starring: Denzel Washington, Chris Pine, Rosario Dawson

Synopsis is here 

I know that when you write reviews you should be totally unbiased (impossible* but as much as you can be) but after catching the trailer for Unstoppable I felt that straight away I was heading for a bad time. I was unimpressed with Tony Scott's uneven remake of The Taking of Pelham 123 and this not only looked like more of the same, but with a runaway train no doubt. Of course with a podcast to record and a co-host whose wish for us to sit through nonsense is far too strong I braved the British chill and headed to the cinema to brave Scott action overkill.

Or so I thought. It turns out that despite Unstoppable having one of those silly titles that has nearly all reviewers claiming false advertising (see also some cases of The Never Ending Story), the film itself is a good fun watch. I feel this is mostly because Scott; who's seemingly been on a quest to melt peoples eyeballs since 2004's Man on fire, tones down some of the visual tics (minus crash zooms and slow motion) to focus on the films premise. The outcome of this moderation is a tightly wound genre piece. The threat is set up quickly and efficiently, the set pieces seem sparse but they have more than enough punch and this is all combined with a likable and enjoyable cast that have fun with their quite generic character molds.

It's pretty safe to say that there's no surprises within the film. I won't lie to you and say there's something within the film that pulls the rug from you. But when you buy a ticket for a film like Unstoppable what do you want? Yes, so much of the movie has been done to death and yet Scott's direction of the material and the charm of the whole cast, keeps everything ticking over nicely.

While Unstoppable clearly shows signs of Scott "chilling out" a bit in terms of visual glitz, for some reason, the veteran director has decided to channel this extra energy into unnecessary exposition as told by countless news reporters reiterating story points in more layman terms as if your didn't understand that the train needs to stop. The theme of media coverage has poked it's head in his work before (Domino) but here it merely appears on screen as padding to help the film reach the 90 minute mark.

This is not to say that the film outstays it's welcome, as the pace is what you expect, racing to it's anticipated but fun finish. By the time this movie reaches it's destination it was hard not to throw a punch of pleasure to it's two heroes. But that's what I wanted from a film which has two leads bouncing off each other with as much ease as the two here. Denzel Washington makes sure that his experienced pro driver is seasoned as opposed to surly while Chris Pine is frustrated as opposed to cocky. This may not seem like much but it certainly helps us get on the side of these guys as typical as their backgrounds are. Their chemistry plays out well, as does Rosario Dawson's determined Connie who once again reminds us that Dawson should really have more lead roles. The rest of the cast is played by a handful of character actors you've liked (but may not have remembered their name) in a bunch of other movies (Please stand up Kevin Corrigan, Ethan Suplee, Kevin Dunn). Like I mentioned before, it's a fine mix and I could find anything to dislike in any of them. 

If you've had a problem with the U.K tubes/trains as of late, it may be wise to check out Unstoppable and see the large amount of issues the U.S have with their railroads. It's best not to think this film inspired by true events is sparked so easily by an hilarious comedy of errors. I do hope that the art didn't immediate life and that this almost tragic event is down to an extremely lazy gentleman who was more interesting in his gut than his job. But like me watching this films naff trailer and ending up enjoying this ride, stranger things have happened. 

*Impossible is the sense that as a viewer you never go into any film completely clean. Your past viewings, experiences, peers et all will always shape your viewings of course. 

Review: London Boulevard

Year: 2010
Director: William Monahan
Screenplay: William Monahan
Starring: Colin Farrell, Keira Knightley, Ray Winstone, David Thewlis, Anna Friel,

Synopsis is here

The reviews I've found for William Monahan's directional debut have not been kind at all. In fact it's obtained some particularly bad ones. It's understandable, the film has a few problems that do frustrate. Even I found myself questioning certain aspects of the movie due to the very disjointed feel to the whole thing. This shouldn't be a bad thing, as many great films want you to ask more questions then you answer. The issue seems to be that at times London Boulevard doesn't ask the right questions, and when it does, it doesn't truly care about the answers. Many characters are lumbered within scenes with almost no real point at all, scenes don't truly build and accumulate the way they should or how we think they should. The whole thing doesn't "blend" right.

However, with all this said the films flaws didn't distract me from the pulpy vibe I gained from it. While there's a certain amount of disconnect, individual scenes and moments bring a certain amount of interest to proceedings. This may not be enough for a proper recommendation, but it's safe to say that there was enough elements of this off-kilter piece for me not to hate it.

For me one of the things that stood out for me was brought up from one of the favorable reviews I found from Mark Kermode (this weeks Radio 5 Live), who brought up the fact that elements of the story (and it's title) is a riff on Billy Wilders Sunset Boulevard, with both films having a centralized relationship with an a closed off, disturbed celebrity.What I found appealing is not only how the film flips this aspect (Norma Desmond craves the attention, Charlotte is doing everything to deflect it) but how film comments on the negative aspect of the showbiz lifestyle. There's a few scenes with Keria Knightly as the distressed, strung out star, that bring out a nasty claustrophobic feel to proceedings. It is a shame that this isn't placed through enough of the film. London Boulevard would work better if Farrell's Mitchell shared the same feelings of entrapment as it would make their curiously flat relationship stronger. It would certainly help bring about those parallels between this and Nicolas Roeg's Performance. 

I also didn't mind the performances (save Farrell's Cock-er-ney accent) which I found had a varying amount of weight behind them. Standout's include David Thewlis and Ben Chaplin who chew away at the Ealing scenery with glee. Ray Winstone is sleepwalking though his part, but you wouldn't really want anyone else to give off that big bad moody gangster that only he can give. There's also loads of little parts for some good British character actors (Stephan Graham, Eddie Marsden, Anna Friel) but while they do fine with so little, there's a feeling that these people are cast because Monahan (An American) is familiar with them more than anything else. There's nothing particularly wrong with Knightly and Farrell either other than you just don't truly believe in the romance but for me this is due to the screenplay and it's dubious dialogue (some of it sounds very scripted) over anything else.
Despite it's flaws, I didn't find myself bored, which could be easy in a film such as this one. The theme of gangster as celebrity (when the film focus' on it), the performances and Monahan clean, matter of fact visual direction of it all sparked more than enough time investment for me. The thing is about London Boulevard is that it clearly has that sense that it's made by an American and what he feels LAN-DEN gangsters are all about and that does become an issue here an there (the film also feels a tad too long). However, as a fan of Danny Cannon's The Young Americans (1993), John Mackenzie's The Long Good Friday (1980) and Matt Vaughn's Layer Cake (2004) I found the film to have the right amount of rough edges to be a enjoyable slice of British thug life.