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'.