Friday, 18 December 2009

Carriers - Dir. Alex and David Pastor

The key, unequivocal problem with the Pastor Brothers film ‘Carriers’ is that it just doesn’t go anywhere: it begins, eighty minutes go by, and then the credits roll. The narrative just trudges along from start to finish without further challenging the audience or without placing further emphasis on the dramatic choices at hand. Which is disappointing as this film had a lot of unearthed potential that would have certainly set it apart from simply being ‘just another zombie/pandemic’ film. Instead, it is unfortunately, just another viral pandemic flick.

Brian (Chris Pine), his brother Danny (Lou Pucci) and their two female friends Bobby (Piper Perabo) and Kate (Emily VanCamp) are your four typical just-out-of-college kids who are on the road to nowhere, literally. After a viral outbreak incapacitates almost the entire population of the United States and potentially the world, they decide to hit the road and hopefully find somewhere to stay or somebody to engage with who is free of the virus.

‘Carriers’ would be more aptly placed in the drama genre than the horror or thriller section of the local video store as nothing as note actually takes place in regards to the latter genres. There are maybe two or three scenes ranging from two to three minutes in length which contain some suspenseful elements, however the rest of the film is rather conventional. Even regarding the lack of blood and onscreen violence, after all, the central onscreen element is the deteriorating relationships between the characters.

When the teens encounter Frank (Christopher Meloni) and his infected, young daughter Jodie (Kiernan Shipka) in the middle of a desolate stretch of road just waiting for somebody to “lend them some fuel,” the first of a few moralistic situations are shoved towards the audience. Would you leave them? Would you help them? The crux of ‘Carriers’ is based around one simple principle; don’t help anybody infected, not matter how young or how vulnerable they are and YOU will stay alive. And it’s how the characters engage with these various situations which they encounter along their journey, and this manages to breathe a little life into this heavily deflated film.

Chris Pine, pre Star Trek, gives a brilliant performance as the brother who has had the emotional consciousness beaten out of him throughout the pandemic to the point the where the survival of himself and his younger brother is the only objective. While Lou Pucci, who portrays Brian’s younger brother Danny, also pulls out an equally inspiring performance as the younger brother who is constantly fighting with his conscience with regards to the tough decisions that Brian has to make.

If Alex and David Pastor were given the opportunity to go back and shoot around thirty-to-forty minutes worth of extra footage, then ‘Carriers’ would have the potential to be a very good film. Instead, however, we are left with a film so short in length that once we have just connected and engaged with the characters and their desperate situations the credits begin to roll and the lights come up leaving you feeling incredibly empty inside and asking one brief question; “Is that it?”

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Avatar - Dir. James Cameron

‘Avatar’ is an action-packed, pulse-pounding, visually astounding, multi-million dollar blockbuster that assaults every available human sense violently for two hours and thirty minutes leaving the audience with a grin the size of Pandora on their faces. You have probably seen incarnations of the story, heard the B-Movie-esque terrible dialogue and experienced the structure of ‘Avatar’ numerous times before. But the real beauty, the real of heart of this film lies in the wonderful world of Pandora that James Cameron has created.

In 2154, Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) a paraplegic ex-marine is sent to take his brothers place in the Avatar program on a planet named Pandora. Pandora is home to the Na’vi, a sentient alien race that is currently living upon the largest unobtainium (1kg is worth over $20 million) deposit within travelling distance to Earth. The Avatar program, run by Dr Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver) and financed by the Resources Development Administration, is focused around producing and controlling genetically engineered human-Na’vi hybrids.

These human-Na’vi hybrid characters, controlled by the human surrogate’s consciousness, allow the humans to enter the Na’vi’s community and engage, teach and learn from the race. With the sole intention of the RDA being to remove the Na’vi from their home through diplomacy so they may obtain the unobtainium with minimal causalities as the complete annihilation of a race “does not play well with the media.” However, old-school Military Colonel Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang) simply wants to go in quick and with an iron fist. As Jake starts to become more and more attached to the Na’vi community, his loyalties become increasingly torn between that of his initial objectives and his adopted race, including his alien love-interest Neytiri (Zoe Saldana).

The narrative, structure and human characters are recycled components from the various hundreds, if not thousands, of Sci-Fi Action films made previous to ‘Avatar’. From the slow-developing inter-galactic relationship between Jake and Neytiri, to the stereotypical ‘hard-ass’ Marine leader Colonel Quaritch (he’s Sgt Hartman’s second cousin) and climaxing with a predictable, yet comfortable conclusion. You will have seen and experienced it all before, including the terrible script which contains many cringe-worthy one-liners. However, technically Cameron has created a very proficient film overall. He paces the film perfectly and continually drives the narrative forward with some concise editing, while the cinematography and special effects, well, they truly bring forth the world of Pandora and immerse the audience within.

From the first scene in which Jake’s Na’vi avatar is let loose in the forest under the midnight sky, to the final beautiful concluding scene, the stunning landscape of Pandora is what creates, combines and blends together the mythical nature of James Cameron’s ‘Avatar’. Every scene, every animal, every organism, is crafted in huge detail and depth to create an astonishing world of beauty that you just can’t help but sit back and admire. And this allows you to forget about the fact that the story is thin and clichéd or that the majority of the characters are two-dimensional pieces of computer wizardry and simply enjoy what can only be called; a filmmaking spectacle. Cameron hasn’t created anything revolutionary here, but with the technology he has created and bestowed upon the cinematic community, it will certainly help along the three-dimensional train, and hopefully win over those who think 3D is nothing more than a cheap gimmick.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Dead Man Running - Dir. Alex De Rakoff

‘Dead Man Running’ sees the cinematic Cockney wide boys Tamer Hassan and Danny Dyer join together for yet another jolly boys outing on the big screen. Except this time instead of playing raging football hooligans destroying East London one shop window at a time, they are instead pushed into the world of the British Gangster flick. Which sounds like potential entertainment, but it really isn’t. It’ll help you fill an hour and thirty minutes of free time, but you won’t be rushing to see it again at the Cinema, or out to buy the DVD, or see to it on pay-television...

The opening scene of the film shows that the recession has had far and wide reaching consequences across the economic board as the underworld boss Mr Thigo (Curtis ‘50’ Jackson) decides to draw in every penny from all the outstanding loans he is currently owed. While Nick (Hassan) is the unfortunate customer who is going to be made an example of by Thigo to make sure everybody pays up promptly and without hassle – Barclays Banking this is not. Nick is given twenty-four hours to acquire the hundred grand he owes Thigo otherwise he and his mother (Brenda Blethyn) will be sleeping with the fishes. Cue a frantic race across London with his business partner and working-class friend Bing (Danny Dyer) in tow as they attempt various different activities while trying to raise the debt and stay alive.

Hassan and Dyer play the typical characters you have seen them time and time again, and it is now becoming a little annoying as well as entirely predictable and boring. Nick is a former ‘hardman’ who was a resident at Her Majesty’s service before taking the legal and law-abiding route so he could care for his family. While Bing is his right-hand man who is willing to do almost anything to help Nick obtain the £100,000 that he owes. Yet there is one gleaming performance in this stiff, wooden cast which is that of veteran British actress Brenda Blethyn who plays Nick’s caring, soft, yet incredibly versatile mother who provides not only the biggest laugh of the film, but also the tensest scene as we uncover a secret she has kept buried under her blanket.

I was never expecting a brilliant film from Alex De Rakoff’s British crime flick ‘Dead Man Running’, but I was expecting more considering the decent cast it contains. It fails to harbour the primarily British cast’s potential and instead delivers a predictable narrative coupled with a terribly clichéd script. The biggest problem however is the fact that despite being evenly and well paced, the film has nothing which will keep an audience’s attention for longer than five minutes.

Monday, 2 November 2009

Harry Brown - Dir. Daniel Barber

Daniel Barber’s first directorial feature is a shocking, brutal and thought-provoking affair in which Michael Caine decides to ignore retirement and chooses instead to purge his run-down, Central London estate of the young, criminal minds that plague it. Barber provides an impressive and surprisingly mature directorial debut in which he presents the issues of Britain’s broken youth, the ineffective nature of the Police in hard-to-control areas and the rise of gang culture, all of which are subjects that have been at the forefront of the social climate over the last few years. Whether you agree with the view Barber presents, or not, ‘Harry Brown’ will certainly leave you thinking about more than the recession in the current climate.

Harry Brown (Michael Caine) is a decorated ex-Serviceman who every day watches the world unfold from his flat in a downtrodden London estate. He observes the increasingly senseless violence committed by the young gang members of the estate and the open-handed nature of the drug dealers without any action being taken towards those who are constantly flouting the law in his community. However when his wife passes away, and his best-friend Leonard (David Bradley) is killed after confronting the young men who spend each day terrorising him to the point of retribution, Brown decides with nothing left to live for, to take the law into his own hands and delivers some excessively violent – Charles Bronson style - vigilante revenge.

Opening with a startlingly realistic scene in which a couple of gang members harass and ultimately shoot a young woman without provocation in a local park before riding away and falling prey to an oncoming truck, sets the sombre tone of ‘Harry Brown’ before we even reach the opening credits. The opening scene also strikes a social chord, as it is shot in low-resolution and in first-person giving the impression that it has been taken straight from one of the gang member’s phones, an act which is becoming more common within the gang culture in the UK. From here on in, the tone of the film stays bleak with Barber’s direction and Ruhe’s cinematography turning the London streets into a desolate, darkened wasteland where only the brave dare go out at night.

The real catch as always however, is one Sir Michael Caine, who turns in yet another breath-taking emotional performance as the ‘pensioner’ who decides to take the law into his own hands. He provides the performance of a broken down man whose loneliness simply fuels his uncompromising violence against the criminals who plague his estate. While Emily Mortimer and Ben Drew also pull out strong performances from their closets. Mortimer plays Detective Frampton a rising up and coming woman in the Metropolitan Police force who chose to work on Brown’s estate as she wishes to change it for the better without subverting the law, and Drew as Noel, a sadistic killer with no respect for those around him who will happily inflict ruthless cruelty upon those who cross his path.

While ‘Harry Brown’ is a competent picture, its formulaic narrative structure takes somewhat of a chink out of its armour. Despite some wonderfully shot and tense sequences during the last twenty minutes of the film, the ending of the film is nothing new and simply regurgitates everything we have seen before in the one-man-vigilante films of before. But, I still thoroughly enjoyed the film, the violence was exhilarating, the performances from Caine and Bradley were sentimental and the direction was gritty and representative of today’s modern muddled up world.

Friday, 30 October 2009

Paranormal Activity - Dir. Oren Peli

Oren Peli’s ‘Paranormal Activity’ isn’t a brilliant film by any standards, nor is it groundbreaking, but considering it was made for only fifteen-thousand dollars and it has now grossed over thirty-five million dollars in the US before it has even been released worldwide definitely shows that it has appeal and the subject matter to tap into the general public’s imagination – the issue of unseen paranormal activity that we have all apparently experienced at some time or another, but never been able to conclusively prove that it wasn’t simply the ice-maker! While ‘PA’ also taps into the sub-conscious fear of that our homes are our fortresses, however in Peli’s film, the home is anything, but a safe haven. Katie (Katie Featherston) and Micah (Micah Sloat) are your typical young, suburban couple, however Katie believes that there is a paranormal presence praying on herself or the house in which she and her fiancée are staying, so Micah does what any young-buck would do in this technological age in which we live; we sets up a cheap video-camera in the bedroom and hopes to capture the ghoulish goings-on during the night – and it certainly isn’t the dishwasher that’s on the fritz!

At around eighty-odd-minutes in length the film follows a simple three-part narrative structure. The first third of the film is focused around introducing Micah and Katie to the audience as they discuss what could be going bump in the night and their general lives, work, friends, etc. We also see the conflict in personalities from the beginning as well, as Micah is somewhat of a sceptic, he is always making fun of Katie and the presence which is clearly taking a toll on her life, while Katie outwardly accepts that there is some form of paranormal activity around her or her house and wishes to get rid, or banish it as soon as possible. From there on as each night passes, the second part of the structure focuses around Micah and the various small unexplained noises and movements that were captured on camera, slowly dispelling his scepticism and fuelling Katie’s increasing paranoia, before the final third of the film completely puts to rest any scepticism Micah has and sends Katie into a detrimental spiral of fear and instability, concluding the film with a brilliantly terrifying bang!

The use of Katie Featherston and Micah Sloat work perfectly, as the unknown, inexperienced actors that provide somewhat of a refreshing realistic quality to the low-budget flick. While the use of on and off-screen diegetic sound and movement, especially while the characters are sleeping, creates the perfect atmosphere for the unexplained goings-on in the suburban homestead. We can see everything that is happening, every small sound, or every slight movement, however while the audience can rest behind the protection of the movie screen, there is no such barrier for Katie and Micah which constantly raises and the suspense, tension and fear-factor throughout the film. Peli and his small crew, show how much you can simply evolve forth the narrative from such minimal and surprisingly fear-inducing events, such as slamming doors shut and banging loudly on various walls.

‘Paranormal Activity’ is one of those rare films that will still stay with you hours after you have already left the cinema. It sets up the bases – character development, captured unexplained activity, and the history of said such activity – before finally winding back the bat and knocking the audience of the park with a well-shot, emphatic and truly frightening ending.

12 Rounds - Dir. Renny Harlin

Going in to watch ’12 Rounds’, John Cena’s latest action-orientated vehicle for those who enjoy fast cars and large explosions, my expectation wasn’t exactly high – if anything it was smack-down (see what I did there...) against the floor, but when I left the cinema I was confused beyond belief. How could a film not even get within touching distance of my lowest expectations? Well; you take two parts poor director, one-part wrestler-turned-actor, a sprinkling of a ridiculous plot and a bake for one and a half hours with one incredibly dreadful script.

The basic premise is that Danny Fisher (John Cena) is your normal-on-the-beat wrestler turned police officer who manages to apprehend one of the most dangerous international arms-dealers Miles Jackson (Aiden Gillen) by luck, however during the arrest Miles girlfriend walks in-front of a bus, or a truck, or something and gets splattered all over the road. Move forward to a year later, and John Danny Fisher is now a Detective and so is his stereotypical black partner Hank Carver (Brian White), who must now battle the crazy Irish-criminal psychopath Miles who has broken out of a Correctional Facility somehow and has kidnapped Fisher’s wife Molly (Ashley Scott). With his house in tatters, his friendly neighbourhood Plumber in six million bits and his pride at stake, Fisher must ‘play’ twelve rounds (i.e. one round centres around stopping a cable-car which has lost control and is hurtling slowly towards some generally ignorant people who refuse to slowly get out of the way) against the insane criminal to get his wife back and presumably, live happily ever after.

Like I said, I didn’t have high-expectations going in to this film, but it is really terrible, I mean really terrible. The plot is boring, the explosions are tame and the action stale, which is incredibly important and key to the success of the film when you attempt to make a no-brain action-flick. Every character seems to be been picked straight out of ‘Clichéd Movie Characters #101’ including the hilarious, yet cringe-worthy FBI Agent Ray Santiago (Gonzalo Menendez) who first tries to ‘stop’ Fisher, before putting their conflict aside to help him in the battle against the evil one-man-criminal band. Even the final chapter of the film in which you find out Miles real motive and are treated to the most insanely idiotic action-set-piece ever conceived is insulting to your intelligence, yet, to be fair the last line of the film is guaranteed to have you leaving the cinema in a fit of laughter.

It has probably been said before, and I expect it will be said again; John Cena, you should really leave the acting career at home and stick to wrestling, for the sake of wrestling and film fans alike.

Sunday, 25 October 2009

Saw VI - Dir. Kevin Greutert

To give Kevin Greutert's 'Saw 6' it's dues, it is a lot more coherent structurally than the previous two instalments, however that does not salvage it being yet another typically below par addition to the seemingly never-ending Saw franchise. Detective Hoffman is back after squashing Detective Strahm out of the equation in the previous 'Saw' film, and he now finds a potentially new obstacle to his destiny in the form of John Kramer's wife Jill Tuck. While Hoffman is contending with Jill and his FBI colleagues closing closer and closer everyday on his web of lies, a new game of death, destruction and plenty of inventive gore starts again with an insurance firm and its workers.

Now I'm going to keep this short and sweet. Nothing is new, nothing is inventive, and nothing is engaging about this film. While I have already admitted that it is seemingly more coherent structurally than the previous two films as it concerns itself with focusing on a linear narrative rather than flashbacks and memory segments, the acting is still incredibly stale and cringe worthy, the characters again appear cardboard cut-outs with no development or motivation applied to anybody's personality within the filmic world (just imagine they're killing everybody because they are bored...) and the films lacks any tension or suspense what-so-ever. Instead of maybe becoming engrossed in the moralistic-will-they-won't-they death sequences I found myself willing the characters to die quickly and end this abomination as soon as possible!

The worst part for me was the typical open-ending (which I won't spoil) that guarantees that next Halloween will be, unfortunately, another time for Saw again. Oh the joy. It is a terrible film, but then again I wasn't exactly expecting a masterpiece from the sixth film in the Saw film franchise, but I was hoping that Mr Greutert would have a little self-respect and finally put the film in its ideal resting place; the Cinematic grave.

Public Enemies - Dir. Michael Mann

John Herbert Dillinger is still one of the most recognisable names that emerged from the ‘Public Enemy Era’ during the Great Depression in early 1930’s America. Some say he was a dangerous criminal, a sociopath who lived to simply kill and rob. Others admire his Robin Hood-esque quality of taking from the capitalist institutions during a period of economic crisis. Michael Mann paints Dillinger (Johnny Depp) in his latest action-blockbuster ‘Public Enemies’ as a man with pride, self-respect and principles – he “never leaves a man behind” – but adds little more to that characterisation and that is the principle fault with a very enjoyable film.

The film starts in 1933 as the audience are thrown straight into action typical Michael Mann style, as John Dillinger and his gang orchestrate an elaborate plan to break-out their remaining gang members still held up in prison. Following the break-out and a resulting shoot-out in which Dillinger’s mentor Walter Dietrich (James Russo) is killed, we are shown the other side of the law as FBI Agent Melvin Pervis (Christian Bale) hunts down famous Depression-era criminal Pretty Boy Floyd (Channing Tatum). The film then primarily revolves around Agent Pervis’s pursuit of the elusive bank robber and romantic. Minor plot points pertaining to the time period are covered briefly in-between including an incredibly strong performance from Billy Crudup as the Director of the FBI, J. Edgar Hoover, who is constantly fighting for further recognition of the Bureau’s activities and power within the American system of law and justice.

Depp, as always, brings to life the character he is playing as he uses the little characterisation he has been given to turn Dillinger into a womanizer, a man with principles, but at the same time a human being who doesn’t mind spilling blood for the greater good – the bigger picture. However, the substantial effort Depp places into the role of Dillinger cannot salvage it from the little depth Mann chooses to explore in Dillinger and the surrounding cast, which can be attributed primarily to the fact that with so many different characters involved in the minor side-stories in the film there simply isn’t enough time for Mann to expose the main characters in depth. Yet, despite this major flaw in the film, Mann still manages to bring his exciting, and startlingly realistic action-set-pieces to life.

When the Dillinger clan is cornered in a cabin in the woods by the rabid law-enforcement officers looking for Mr Public-Enemy Number One, a brilliantly shot shoot-out takes place between the two sides of the law in which every window pane of glass broken and every empty shell-casing disposed of is startling photographed in such beautiful realism that it places there and removes you from simply being a impartial audience member to one of men holding a tommy-gun and firing aimlessly for your life. As we have come to get used to, Mann takes advantage of his skill for shooting violent-action oriented scenes, whether it is a shoot-out, a murder or the many bank robberies that we see Dillinger commit, and brings the audience closer to the action happening just in front of them. Aside from the cinematography a solid soundtrack, including Otis Taylor’s brilliant Ten Million Slaves, seems to compliment the 1930’s depression-era almost perfectly and is guaranteed to get you tapping your foot to the beat.

Mann’s ‘Public Enemies’ is a competent crime-drama that contains just enough exciting set-pieces and charm to win over most audiences for the two hours it is on-screen, but it is by no means a flawless piece of cinema. The lack of characterisation is a serious flaw in Mann’s well-layered film, while the fact that the film also plays around with history and has certain important events occurring before they actually did also takes away from the historical accurate nature of the film.

Friday, 23 October 2009

Trick 'R Treat - Dir. Michael Dougherty

Why, oh why did Warner Brothers put Michael Dougherty’s brilliant Halloween-horror-anthology 'Trick ‘R Treat' back over two years and then only release it on DVD? Talk about digging a 10-foot hole and realising you can’t get out, before accidentally releasing the pins out of the four grenades strapped around your waist and then shooting yourself in your, soon to be in a million-bits, foot with a double-barrel shotgun. Yes Warner Brothers, you made one HELL of a fatal mistake by not releasing this film sooner!

Despite the film’s minuscule running time of around eighty-minutes, opening with a brief scene in which we are introduced to the dangers of blowing a jack-o-lantern out before the end of the night, we are treated to four scary Halloween stories; a school Principle (Dylan Baker) who has a killer after-school activity; a teenager dressed as Little Red Riding Hood (Anna Paquin) who is stalked through the woods; a group of school-kids who find a local urban legend as all too real; and a irritable, grumpy old hermit (Brian Cox) who finds that some trick ‘r treaters want more than just candy. Oh and there’s Sam, a mysterious character who wears a burlap pumpkin mask and mysteriously turns up at one point during every story, and I will tell you now that under that mask isn’t the face of a warm, cuddly bunny rabbit, unfortunately...

Each story is infused with energetic performances from all the lead cast members, while instances of suspense followed by a brief splattering of dark-humour send your emotions on a hugely enjoyable rollercoaster; you’ll be cowering one minute and laughing out loud the next! However the real splendour and genius in Dougherty’s film is in the beautifully shot and composed sequences, shot by cinematographer Glen MacPherson, which bring alive the tradition of Halloween that we all remember from being a child. We don’t remember Halloween being a time about serial killer’s with an agenda, or people being mutilated for no apparent reason, but the traditions, the costumes, the customs, the legends, asking for candy and sweets, being told to watch out for the ‘bogeyman’ by your parents, and generally walking the streets dressed as something else, something horrible, something ghoulish on the one night of the year where you could literally be anybody or anything else. With the only visible flaw in my opinion being the incredibly short run-time, just as you’ve strapped yourself in and are thoroughly enjoying the ride, it ends abruptly and leaves you wanting more, much more.

It’s fun, it’s exciting, it’s suspenseful, it’s scary and it is the perfect movie to watch on a dark, cold and windy all Hallows Eve night, unlike the common repetitive Hollywood-ised drudgery such as 'Saw 6'.

Saturday, 20 June 2009

Transformers 2: Revenge Of The Fallen - Dir. Michael Bay

Michael Bay’s first ‘Transformers’ film gave the audience an entertaining blow of knock-out proportions and I (like many others) left the cinema with a childish grin from ear-to-ear after watching two and a half hours of robots beating seven bells of scrap metal out of each other, however the sequel ‘Revenge of the Fallen’ felt like nothing more than a soft jab into the abdomen. I didn’t particularly enjoy it, I found it tedious, incredibly boring at times, and apart from one or two sequences, the action felt very stale and was concerned more about how each explosion could out-do each other for the extended destruction of our dear planet.

So I will start by addressing what made the first film so enjoyable for me; the god-damn action! With the colossal budget and the build-up of how this was going to be ‘bigger’ and ultimately ‘better’, I was expecting a computer generated onslaught of pure, unadulterated robot-o et robot-o brutality, but sadly only found two scenes out of the whole two hours and thirty minutes running time that matched the first film for childish squealing and prolonged smiling of excitement. One came an hour into the film as Optimus Prime battled his way spectacularly through a forest of evil Decepticon Robots at a vicious pace, while the second scene was at the very end of the film as Bumblebee had a very short, yet enjoyable tussle with Rampage. Aside from these two; battle, fight, action (what-ever you wish to call them) sequences, Michael Bay seemed to be more concerned with how he could create larger and louder explosions with every rocket being fired, or bomb being dropped. The perfect example is in the drawn out final sequence in which we are continually blocked from seeing the actual robotic destruction take place as the screen fills with copious amounts of dust, smoke and sand due to the amount of explosives being thrown around! With the entertainment value slightly eroded for myself, I found little joy in the rest of the film.

From viewing just the first thirty minutes of ‘Fallen’ I noticed Michael Bay seems to have somewhat of a penchant for the use of pointless long-angle shots and slow-motion sequences. If you removed all the pointless, unemotional, tedious scenes involving the sour intimate embraces by Shia LaBeouf and Megan Fox (which takes the biscuit in one scene as the camera constantly revolves around both parties around forty-three times before eventually ending, not only the most annoying scene of the film, but also my suicide attempt due to boredom) then the film would be considerably shorter and a lot more engaging. This is another problem the film comes up against, a running time at nearly more than two and a half hours, yet it could quite easily have had at least forty minutes of ‘filler’ material trimmed (such as various incredibly unfunny acts involving Judy Witwicky), and some of the cringe-worthy jokes toned down or removed (however, maybe it’s just me, as some of the jokes did get a good reaction from some of the younger members of the audience). Oh and there is that much information thrown at you during the time that the film is on-screen that you’ll be hard pressed to understand everything that is going on, that is if you are actually trying to follow the plot and the history/motives regarding the new characters entwined within the Transformers universe.

I went into ‘Transformers 2: Revenge Of The Fallen’ with quite low expectations, I wasn’t expecting to see a great film, nor was I really expecting to see a good film from the King of the Cinematic Explosions, but I was hoping for one thing; to be entertained with violent robots hacking each other to bits in a blaze of beautiful destructive glory. But this was unfortunately not fulfilled for me. When I saw Michael Bay’s first ‘Transformers’ film I was sat on the edge of my seat throughout as every action sequence made my jaw-drop a few feet, it was something different and something special, however during ‘Fallen’ I found myself for the majority of the film propping my own head up with my palm, trying to keep myself awake...

Thursday, 18 June 2009

Doghouse - Dir. Jake West

Vince (Stephen Graham) is going through the final stages of his divorce and to help him through this period his friends Mikey (Noel Clarke) and Neil (Danny Dyer) decide to take him and a few of the other boys to a remote village outside the humdrum of their London lives to get, in Dyer's own words; 's**tfaced'. However, when they turn up to the incredibly eerie village of Moodley to find flesh-eating, man-hating, cannibalistic women who want to do nothing more than rip out their internal organs and eat them for breakfast, the boys realise they have bitten more than they can chew and must fight their way through a barrage of blood-thirsty women in the most misogynistic way imaginable.

The premise of the film completely reflects the manner in which Jake West approaches this project, with a gleeful nod towards plenty of harmless sexist humour and cheap gory death sequences that are all nice, light-hearted and fun. Neil, Vince and Mikey are all your typical working-class likely lads out to simply flirt with the opposite sex and drink as much as their body-weight, with Danny Dyer in particular needing to place little effort in recreating his Cockney 'laddish' persona (yet again) on the big-screen. While Dave Schaffer's script contains many easy-going humorous gags to keep your attention ticking over while the next axe, gnome or sword heads to try and end the boy's misogynistic ways and eliminate the male chromosome all in one.

'Doghouse' is nowhere near the heights of Pegg/Frost's rom-zom-com-supremo 'Shaun of the Dead', but it isn't the worst film you will see this year. At a short running time of 85 minutes, you'll be cheaply entertained with boys being boys and women being...err, evil, vicious, un-relentless and, well women (just kidding!). This a film you'd probably enjoy seeing more after you've been kicked out the local Pub at closing time and are heading home with your Chicken Jalfrezi in one hand and the DVD in the other.

Awaydays - Dir. Pat Holden

‘Awaydays’ is not your typical football hooligan film, the sub-culture of football hooliganism in the early years of Thatcher’s Britain is there to set the brooding scene, however it is evocative the homo-erotic relationship between Carty (Nicky Bell) and the eccentric Elvis (Liam Boyle) that takes centre stage and gives Paul Holden’s film slightly more depth than simply being a film about men taking out their boredom in the form of fighting on a Saturday afternoon.

Paul Carty is a suburban male who is drawn towards the ‘The Pack’, a group of thugs who take their excitement from fighting on a Saturday afternoon all across Britain, through these encounters he grows closer and closer with a bohemian working-class character in Elvis. Elvis just wants to move away to Berlin and start a new life around people who understand him, while Carty just wants to find direction in his life after his mother’s death. As they connect through their mutual love of Bowie, the Liverpudlian music scene and Art, they develop an increasingly complex relationship that is bordering on the homoerotic. It is this intricate bond between these two seemingly different, yet very similar and flawed ‘men’ that keeps the film ticking over. If you removed this key component then the film falls a little flat, with Kevin Sampson’s script missing out many explanations to key elements such as why Carty is drawn towards the allure of the ‘The Pack’ in the first place and the death of John. With that said, it is hauntingly shot with a soundtrack that compliments Pat Holden’s sombre directorial style, and even though at times he has a tendency to delve too much into the LSD-induced hallucinogenic state’s of both boys minds, he does it with little expense to the viewer.

If you want a film that doesn’t simply look at the male phenomenon of having a good scrap on a Saturday afternoon because we’re all bored and working class zombies in a capitalist machine (‘Football Factory’, ‘Green Street’) then ‘Awaydays’ is for you, as it offers just that bit more and is akin to something of a ‘football-love-story’.

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Drag Me To Hell - Dir. Sam Raimi

‘Drag Me To Hell’ is a god-damn good film, floating in a sea of horror plagued with sunken Hollywood remakes, and it also gives a revitalising kick to the comedy-horror genre.

Christine (Alison Lohman) is told to make the ‘hard’ decisions in her job at the local bank to seal a promotion, and the weathered old gypsy Mrs Ganush (Lorna Raver) is the unfortunate victim of this selfish act of personal greed and capitalism. But, she gets the last scratch (laugh, ruler, bite...) as she places a Lamia curse upon Christine. In three days she will be dragged into the depths of hell by an unspeakable evil force. What follows is a thrilling, edge-of-your-seat, over-the-top, suspense fuelled ride (reminiscent of Sam Raimi’s early Evil Dead films) through ninety-minutes of scary, disgusting and at times quite humorous (anvil, anybody?) scenes that make ‘DMTH’ an enjoyable and impressive film.

Raimi does what he does best, by allowing the surroundings to come to life – the rattling of doors and windows, the use of shadows – he takes a hold of the age old cinematic device of keeping the vision and display of the Lamia at bay and allowing our minds to fill in the blanks. A perfect example is a scene in which Christine is tripped in her own bedroom by the forces beyond. How can you combat, defeat or avoid something if you don’t know what, where or who it is. The tried-and-tested common horror conventions coupled with the slick editing of Bob Murawski (who virtually creates and sustains the menace of the penultimate scene), a solid central performance of Alison Lohman (who now knows the dangers of refusing a loan extension!) and the knowledgeable direction and experience of Sam Raimi makes ‘Drag Me To Hell’ one of the fair few horror films worth the admittance fee.

This film is nothing new, and nothing different. You will notice the subtle nods and homage’s through the humour and disgusting inventiveness of Raimi to the various films of the same veneer in the 1980’s and the early 1990’s, but what makes this film stand-out is that it ticks all the right boxes in audience expectation. It will make you jump, keep you tense, release a giggle and squirm a little, and most importantly: it is fun.

Monday, 18 May 2009

Fighting - Dir. Dito Montiel

Dito Montiel's film has been advertised as the 'Rocky of our generation', however I do believe they were referring to the fifth film in the Rocky franchise. Predictable, boring, tedious, lifeless are just a few words I could use to describe this film, but I really only need to use one; terrible.

Shawn MacArthur (Channing Tatum) is your typical working-class boy who is taken under the wing of an ageing con-man named Harvey (Terrence Howard) and given the opportunity to make his American dream come true by participating in various back-room bare-knuckle fights. Oh, and the stereotypical love-interest in the form Zulay (Zulay Henao) is also thrown into the mix. Now, despite this description describing various films from the last few years (never mind the last few decades), it contains three huge, jaw-shattering constraints:

1) Despite being named Fighting, the film ironically contains very little fighting or brawling in regards to its hundred-minute running time. And when we do get to see some face-bruising action, the Director seems to get incredibly giddy with the camera and what we are left with is some Paul Greengrass jerkiness that allows you to observe very little especially when the camera is thrown into the heart of the action.

2) Terrence Howard puts a little effort into his character and drags out a performance worthy of a film better than this, however Channing Tatum does not follow his lead. His stony expression and Brando-style mumbling is just plain annoying and unconvincing, yet he is the lead protagonist at the forefront of the film, and his performance drags the film down considerably.

3) Finally, Munic and Montiel's script has about as much weight as a feather and as punch as a fighter out-cold on the mat. We learn little about the characters until late into the film when there life stories seem to just be thrown around quickly to fill various plot-holes. While, the majority of the dialogue is just clichéd and cringe-worthy, most notably a scene at the end of the film that precedes the final fight sequence, which can only be described as hilariously idiotic.

Fighting is crime against cinema. It is a film which gives the audience absolutely nothing, yet takes from them their hard-earned cash in the form of their admittance fee. The only reason I can think why this film was distributed to theatres instead of being a straight-to-DVD affair, is down to the influence of having a star like Terrence Howard in the picture. Don't waste your time or money on this abomination.

Sunday, 19 April 2009

In the Loop - Dir. Armando Iannucci

One of the best political satirical comedies in years! ‘In The Loop’ is a spin-off (kind-of) of the fantastic British comedy ‘The Thick of It’, and follows Simon Foster (Tom Hollander), a Cabinet Minister who makes a series of unfortunate slip-ups, the first is when he tells an interviewer that he believes war (always referred to as the invasion or the war, but never Iraq or potentially Afghanistan) is “unforeseeable” before telling journalists under pressure that you have to conquer a mountain of conflict on the path of peace. These mistakes place him in the middle of a diplomatic mine-field as both, the anti-war constabulary led by General Miller (James Gandolfini) and the Assistant Secretary of Diplomacy Karen Clark (Mimi Kennedy), and the gung-ho supporter of war Linton Barwick (David Rasche) - so crazy he keeps a live grenade as a paperweight - want Simon as a transatlantic partner to support their cause. Should he put his conscience or his political career first? Oh, and throw in hilariously vicious Senior British Press Office Malcolm Tucker (Peter Capaldi) and a bumbling Advisor to the minster (Toby played by Chris Addison) and you have one of the best political satires to come from Britain in years.

What makes the film work so well is the incredibly sharp witty script from a collaboration of writers that keeps the gag-per-minute counter ticking. Every meeting, confrontation political mishap is cradled with joke after joke whether they are subtle references to the cynicism and underhandedness in the current (or foregone) political climate or simply one of Malcolm Tucker’s fantastic rants – “I’m going to tear out your shinbone, split it in two and stab you to f**king death with it” - at ineptitude of everybody around him. Every actor and actress involved give solid performances as the flawed members of the tense political world. While Simon’s central story keeps the film on the ground despite a few diplomatic detours (that are still hilarious, even though they take up little of the running of time).

Armando Iannucci has already proven to the British public that he can create entertainment for the TV-masses and ‘In The Loop’ proves he also has the skills to replicate this on a wider, international, big-screen scale as well. It’s intelligent, it’s offensive, and it’s bleeding funny. See this film!

Crank 2: High Voltage - Dir. Neveldine and Taylor

Jason Statham returns as the indestructible Chev Chelios, first they poisoned his system and now they have taken his strawberry tart (heart), and he will go to every single violent-induced length to get it back. However, despite the film being incredibly outrageous with plenty of violence, nudity and gratuitous swearing on show, the film lacks any of the charm that the first film threw in your face at a ridiculous speed.

Jason Statham pulls his one-sided acting persona of a man on a revenge-trip out of the bag (mind, he has it down to a tee now...) and the supporting cast has very little in the way of dialogue, except for when they are screaming for mercy or aiming various weapons at Statham. Yet the most interesting aspect for me was the way in which Neveldine and Taylor used various hand-held cameras to get ‘into the heart of the action’, which worked at times and created some incredibly interesting action shots, but was let down by the editing, which to me, made the majority of scenes (combined with the soundtrack) seem nothing more than extended music videos (especially with the constant juxtapositioning of parallel shots side-by-side).

‘Crank – High Voltage’ is the epitome of the ‘no-brained action flick’. It seemed as if the directors had decided to see how far they could go after the trivial success of ‘Crank’ and while the film contains every aspect available to get male testosterone pumping, and that’s all the film does. It’s more outrageous than ‘Crank’, but in no way better than the first film.

Monday, 30 March 2009

The Damned United - Dir. Tom Hooper

Brian Howard Clough. “The greatest English manager never to manage the English National side.” Whether you agree with that sentiment or not, everybody knows Brian Clough was one of the great personalities of the game. Based around David Pearce’s bestselling novel ‘The Damned United’ (which Johnny Giles called: “fiction based on fact”), the films narrative follows the events preceding and during those fateful 44-days of management from the perspective of Cloughie (played by Michael Sheen).

Sheen turns in, yet another brilliant performance as the arrogant, stubborn, distant, bitter, intelligent, yet highly flawed man who went on to become a legend of British football. From his mannerisms to the way he speaks, Sheen projects the outward personality of Brian Clough through to the audience to a tee. And more importantly he takes the film away from the touchlines of simply being ‘another football film’, and instead creates a human drama about one man’s battle with jealously, bitterness and ambition and how that can destroy everything around you, quicker than Billy Bremner could break your legs. While Morgan’s script keeps up the dry wit and humour, and Hooper’s direction carries the colourful scenery of 1960’s and 1970’s Britain, the film could have spent more time centred around the other players on the pitch, more specifically Clough’s second in-command in Peter Taylor and the Leeds United side of the Revie era. They are shown to be Revie’s surrogate sons and nothing more. With that said however, I found it a hugely enjoyable film that went way beyond the stereotypical association we have football films today and instead created a profile of a man who encompassed everything that was good, bad and all that in between about the beautiful game.

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Watchmen - Dir. Zack Snyder

Decades in movie purgatory. Years in production. Months of anticipation. Zack Snyder’s film adaption of the graphic novel ‘Watchmen’, once deemed ‘unfilmable’ by Terry Gilliam, has finally hit theatres across the globe, and its hit them like a sucker-punch to Alan Moore’s groin. With the most important question at the forefront of proceedings being, not who would be watching the Watchmen, but who would enjoy the Watchmen. Would the source material be sacrificed for a larger potential general audience, or would they be alienated due to the faithfulness of the adaption? I myself would say the latter, to an extent...

Zack Snyder’s biggest achievement of the ‘Watchmen’ project has been his ability to replicate Alan Moore’s source material as close-as-humanly possible. He has shown that while the project was clearly not ‘unfilmable’, it was, and always will be impossible to replicate a motion-picture clone of the graphic novel to an idealised reader’s perception of perfection. However this did not stop Snyder from creating a film as faithful to the novel as we are most likely ever to see. It also did not stop him from alienating the potential move-going public outside of the Watchmen universe. The ‘Watchmen’ set in an alternative 1985, follows a group of second-generation (first generation were called the ‘Minutemen’) vigilante’s who prowl the streets to keep society in order, however after the 1977 Keene Act was passed (it prohibited vigilantism), some members decided to retire and ‘live normal lives’, others built empires upon their fame, while the film’s main protagonist (to an extent) Rorschach has decided to disobey the law and continue his acts of vigilantism against the evils in society. However, the group is drawn back together when one of the members known as ‘The Comedian’ is murdered in cold blood. Is someone or something hunting down the masked-avengers? Or is something more sinister afoot? And so the Watchmen experience begins.

The film conveys a linear narrative which in-turn and in due course examines the backgrounds and motivations behind the ‘main’ characters allowing those with no knowledge of the alternative period in which the novel is set to become acquainted, to an extent (which is down to how much the audience is willing to hand the film and receive back), with the new world in-front of them. That is not to say the film is perfectly paced and layered, at times the action is split between two contrasting events which can send the viewer from solemn conversation to vicious, blood and guts violence in a matter of seconds creating a complex structure which may have certain viewers scratching their heads slightly. However, this is one of those inevitable problems that come with trying to reproduce the source material as naturally as possible.

Even the most stubborn admirer of cinema and the world around the medium must recognize the beautifully stylised scenery of the near-apocalyptic society in which the film is set. Pop-culture references abound, the streets lined with disgust, animosity and the raving magnitude of the conflicting personalities of the Watchmen members. While the sets, props and costumes draw you into a world of awe and astonishment, the brutality of the choreographed violence on-screen almost throws the audience off-balance and takes the viewer even closer into a world they may or may not have been familiar with. With the use of slow-motion in the various critical action sequences, Snyder allows the audience to take in every detail of every punch, of every strike and of every grimace of pain. Even those with the iron-clad stomachs may feel the need to turn and shudder as a meat clever is dropped into the suspecting skull of a local criminal. This is the Watchmen after-all, and they don’t do things by half.

This is an alternative, dystopian future and thus deserves characters with such ominous flaws and attributes that would accompany such a rich, illustrated world. The United States of America and the Soviet Union are at the heights of Cold War tension, with doomsday on an ever gloomy horizon, despite the emergence of the one, true superhero among the ranks of the Watchmen members. Doctor Manhattan (Billy Crudup), a blue, shimmering being of infinite power, who can distort the rules of nature i.e. large-scale teleportation and who also single-handedly, won the United States the war in Vietnam (which allowed Nixon a third term in office). Behind the glistening body of Dr Manhattan, you have Adrian Veidt (Matthew Goode), a billionaire entrepreneur and self-proclaimed ‘smartest man in the world’, who is one of the few Watchmen members to release their identity after the Keene Act and build an empire upon this image. The sexy ‘Silk Spectre II’ (also known as Laurie Jupiter) is portrayed by Malin Ackerman, the latex-costumed female of the group who took over from her mother who was in the first generation ‘Minutemen’ (Sally Jupiter played by Carla Gugino) and despite her relatively large role in the sub-plot with ‘Nite Owl II/Dan Dreiberg’ (Patrick Wilson), her performance at many times falls flat emotionally and she is weakest character in film full of strong, male performances. Jeffrey Dean Morgan is ‘The Comedian’, a twisted individual murdered at the beginning of the film, a man with a mutated conscience and morals who strives on the ability to get a job done at any cost. While Patrick Wilson as the second ‘Nite Owl’ and Jackie Earle Haley as ‘Rorschach’ give the most vivid performances as two complex characters, one a man fighting to find his identity beyond his persona as a crime-fighting vigilante dressed as an Owl and another without an identity, a hollow-shell of a human being who has lost faith in humanity and the emotions and logical conventions which make us human beings. ‘Rorschach’ is the closest towards a protagonist we are shown in the film and the graphic novel, because in this mutilated society, there are no heroes left.

After watching the ‘Watchmen’ film I was left with a profound sense of enjoyment and satisfaction. Of course this wasn’t perfection in the art film-making, the film had its visible flaws which is inevitable for any film of such a large-scale magnitude, however these were unnoticeable when I was drawn into the story, the lives of the characters on-screen. I had only previously read about the characters and their motivations in the dystopian world in which the Watchmen film is set, but to see them alive in such a visual spectacle, roaming, fighting, embracing, engaging, was nothing short of a joy to watch. And for those that have not read the graphic novel, and have reservations about seeing and ultimately being able to ‘understand’ and take pleasure in Alan Moore’s Watchmen universe in two hours and forty minutes, I say this; just give the film a chance, and I guarantee you will enjoy it in one aspect or another at least, because today a Comedian died...