Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Blitz - Dir. Elliott Lester

For the second time in eight months, Irish novelist Ken Bruen has seen another one of his hard-boiled crime stories adapted to the big-screen. While 'London Boulevard' contained a down-on-his-luck gangster attempting to go straight, 'Blitz' instead contains a more cinematic anti-hero, as Jason Statham plays a Sergeant who dismisses everyone, plays by nobodies rules and breaks every law under the sun while consuming large quantities of alcohol. It's disjointed, unintentionally hilarious, and more akin to a cinematic parody of the hit television series 'Life on Mars' than a serious British crime-thriller.

Detective Sergeant Tom Brant (Jason Statham) is a police officer with old school procedures and methods; he rules the streets with his fists rather than his head or his badge. But once a serial cop-killer (Aiden Gillen) calling himself the 'Blitz' starts roaming the streets of London, he must partner with acting Detective Inspector Porter Nash (Paddy Considine) to try and apprehend the culprit before the deranged psychopath seriously injures or even kills any more members of the London Police force. Alongside the main narrative stream, there is also a sub-plot involving a young WPC (Zawe Ashton) who must constantly battle her own personal demons.

The combination of a stale, almost laughable script and the rough, one-dimensional lead actor in Jason Statham instantly renders 'Blitz' as a sub-par crime-thriller. Brant is portrayed as a sexist, prehistoric homophobe who prefers to take witness statements in the Pub as he drinks a pint of beer while dismissing any concerns the witness has about his or her statements. Statham adds absolutely nothing to the character except the fact that he is willing to seriously injure or kill any possible (innocent) suspects without a second thought. His lack of emotion, constant drinking and persistent expression of repressed rage become incredibly old after ten minutes. However, if taken accidentally as a comedy, his hilarious one-liners do provide endless (and unintentional) comedic relief. When asked by a witness he is interviewing if he is taking down his statement, Brant casually removes his pint of beer from his lips before articulating the phrase, "does it look like I carry a pencil?" in a condescending manner. Police work at its finest, indeed.

Paddy Considine and Aiden Gillen do attempt to work beyond their restrictive character profiles, but within the confines of the film and its script, their characters aren't given enough creative freedom to truly provide any emotive acting. Gillen's motive behind his rampage of violence is never fully explored, nor is the initial homosexuality of Considine's character. While it is somewhat refreshing to see a homosexual character on-screen in a position of power where he is still seen as overcoming the prejudice exerted by his peers, he starts by flaunting mannerisms that many would find both stereotypical and offensive to many homosexual males. But once this is eventually toned down, his character, his sexuality, and his motives are allowed to be somewhat expressed and he becomes the one solid character in a sea of stereotypes.

Aside from the lack of depth in character, script or main plot, where the film also fails on an incredibly basic level is in the form of a sub-plot which simply provides no conclusion or relief alongside the presiding storyline. The audience is introduced to a young, up-and-coming female Police Officer called Elizabeth Falls who is shown to have had problems with drugs in the past, but the sub-plot simply ends there. During the final act the spectators are waiting for closure offers no explanation or conclusion to a character, yet the film expects the audience to form an emotional bond with the character and her plight.

If you replaced Jason Statham and his poorly crafted one-liners (including one in which he responds to a female police officer's quip in jest that she is surprised he can even navigate his microwave due to his technophobia with "women are there to use the microwave, and do the typing too") and removed the open-ended sub-plot then 'Blitz' would work perfectly as a made for television hour-long crime-drama. However as a theatrical release, this film is nothing more than a Jason Statham action-vehicle which masquerades as an inferior police thriller.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

The Hangover Part 2 - Dir. Todd Phillips

Same cast. Same setup. Different location. Todd Phillips returns to the directorial chair to helm the sequel to the 2009 comedy hit ‘The Hangover’. After grossing over $450m worldwide from a modest $35m budget, it was inevitable that the boys would be back for another forgettable (for them anyway…) outing. While it doesn’t reach the same joke per minute ratio as the original film did, it does provide enough laughs to keep the audience occupied through the one hour and forty minute running time. However if monkey related humour is not your cup of tea, then the first half of the film will no doubt drag a little for you.

Stu (Ed Helms) has finally found the right woman to marry in Lauren (Jamie Chung), and they head-off to Thailand to get married. As Stu sadly still cannot truly recollect the horrors of their Las Vegas night-out, he opts for a traditional and safe, pre-Wedding brunch instead of an bachelor party. However, yet again things do not go to plan for the ‘Wolfpack’ as Stu, Alan (Zack Galifianakis), and Phil (Bradley Cooper) must attempt to retrace from the previous night’s escapade to find Lauren’s younger brother Teddy (Mason Lee) who joined the boys on their night-out. As the déjà vu sets in, they move from character to character, including the resurrection of high-pitched Leslie Chow (Ken Jeong), and from place to place to try and piece together the forgotten night’s carnage before it is too late. A few famous faces are thrown in for good measure, but their roles do not need to be spoiled here as they are merely cannon fodder aimed at extending the plot for just a few more minutes allowing for an extra sequence to be casually included here and there.

With nothing literally changing aside from the location a few minor plot points (e.g. Stu’s, rather than Doug’s wedding), ‘The Hangover Part 2’ relies solely on the strength of its script and the jokes it will throw at the audience. Phillips, Armstrong and Mazin essentially centre the humour around three key areas; the changing of the character’s normal appearances, the differences and constraints between Western and Asian customs and the actual personality and action of the characters, most notably Alan. Galifianakis is at the centre of the majority of comedic moments, however it is not always what says, but unusually what he does, that creates the laugh-out-loud elements. His little mannerisms and unabashedly reactions both verbal and physical to relatively simply questions are both squirming-ly embarrassing and funny at the same. While both Stu and Phil play second fiddle to Alan’s constant ability to make the wrong comment at the wrong time, but in an entirely innocent, and somewhat childish way. He keeps the film ticking over, especially during the first half of the film’s narrative and during the moments in which shock value tends to creep into the script intending to both cause shock and amusement, yet it tends to create neither.

‘The Hangover Part 2’ is the first film, but set in a different city with a couple more extreme characters and sequences thrown in for good measure. The script is heavily set on propelling shock value over verbal humour, but when the script does eventually kick in during the second half of the film, it provides plenty of hilarious moments that seem to arrive just a little too late. However, it must be noted, that as the narration has been replicated almost plot-point for plot-point it is still worth staying till the very end to view one visual joke that does work perfectly in sync with a movie. It may feel like déjà vu, but photos sometimes tell the whole story (and then some…).

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Julia's Eyes - Dir. Guillem Morales

Guillem Morales’s film ‘Los ojos de Julia’ (English translation: ‘Julia’s Eyes’) is another recent Spanish import from the production desk of Guillermo Del Toro which manages to adequately combine an engaging plot with many well-orchestrated visual sequences.

Julia (Belen Rueda) is devastated when she finds out that her sister twin Sara (also played by Rueda) has committed suicide, apparently due to her inability to cope with her recent blindness which is part of a genetic disease that will effect both sisters throughout their lifetimes. Sensing something is wrong and with her sight slowly fading, Julia alongside her husband Isaac (Lluis Homar) sets out to investigate her lingering suspicions surrounding her sister’s death. Including an apparent boyfriend that nobody can ever recall seeing nor can they describe him and the myriad of characters which she encounteres throughout her existence. As Julia’s sight begins to slowly fade, she must attempt to unravel the mystery behind her sister’s death.

Where Morales makes ‘Julia’s Eyes’ work is in the combination of subtle close-up shots, atmospheric lighting and the alternating use of diegetic and non-diegetic sound, he and cinematographer Oscar Faura literally place the viewer within the confines of central protagonist. Instead of simply utilizing the age-old, and overcooked mainstream cinematic method of providing a false scare, followed by heightened non-diegetic sound, they as an alternative, allow the emphasis of the situation to be drawn from Julia’s surroundings. Close-up, and medium-close-up shots of insignificant objects, and segments of wall, become ever more important as Julia’s eyesight begins to slowly fade. While the avoidance of recording any distinguishing facial features of many male characters, especially during the second and third acts of the film, not only instils a sense of mystery in the title, but also again represents Julia’s impending loss of sight. By primarily using the visual aesthetics to communicate to the audience the tone and atmosphere of the piece, Morales extends the engagement of the picture to further audiences by not necessarily providing a scare with every scene, but by consistently keeping the tension up at a high level.

The film isn’t without flaw however; the story is cluttered with many sequences essentially repeating aspects of the story that have already been stated for the viewer and this unfortunately adds a further ten minutes to the running time of the picture. While the actors Belen Rueda and Lluis Homar provide strong emotional performances throughout, the majority of the remaining cast members attempt nothing to step outside of their stereotypical roles, nor is any screen-time provided for them with any depth beyond their scope as a one-time narrative pusher. Everybody else becomes somewhat of a pawn in Julia’s mystery and while there are some potentially interesting characters around her, they are never fully developed to the extent where they can make an impact on the film’s overall narrative. ‘Julia’s Eyes’ is yet another above-average addition to the Spanish horror/thriller genre, which despite being slightly overlong, contains a solid story with many convoluted and inter-connected twists keeping the third act engrossing until the end credit sequence begins.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides - Dir. Rob Marshall

‘Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides’ should effectively be renamed ‘The Captain Jack Sparrow Show’ as the fourth film in the always popular pirate franchise is nothing more than a two-hour vehicle for Johnny Depp to show off all his talent and charm, which eventually wears thin after the first hour of the film. Aside from the world on Depp’s shoulders, the plot is disjointed and the rest of the crew are mere puppets to Depp’s act.

While the first three films were concerned with the antagonist Davy Jones and Sparrow’s one ship the Black Pearl, ‘On Stranger Tides’ is a more straight-forward, linear action-adventure film with Captain Jack Sparrow becoming involuntarily part of the heinous pirate Blackbeard’s (Ian McShane) sailing staff to help them find the mythical ‘fountain of youth’. Also on the ship is the empowered primary commander Angelica, who is the First Mate in charge of the Queen Anne’s Revenge, while a few other characters from the previous films make their presence noted in the form of Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), Joshamee Gibbs (Kevin McNally), Lieutenant Groves (Greg Ellis), Lieutenant Gillette (Damian O’Hare) and Captain Teague (Keith Richards).

The plot resonates throughout the film in a very stereotypical manner, Jack Sparrow makes a wise-cracking joke, this results in a chase or fight sequence, which is then promptly ended before the journey continues and the same sequence is repeated over and over again in a slightly different location. Until the final ten minutes of the film, nothing new is not attempted nor is nothing old expanded upon, Rob Marshall has certainly taken the safe route of throwing together a recognisable, albeit fragmented, formula and hoping the audience will jump on board for over two hours. For the fans of the film franchise this will most likely work, to ordinary cinema patrons; boredom ahoy!

Another flaw is in the form of introducing the missionary Philip Swift (Sam Claflin), unlike the previous three instalments in which Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightly) provide the crux of the film’s morality and principles, in ‘Stranger Tides’ there is no character in the primary cast who can accomplish this, so Swift’s story and subsequent relationship seems to have been hastily thrust into the plot with no regards for how undeniably boring and tedious it actually is. He therefore attempts to also add a bit of humility and humanity among the blood-thirsty pirates and the psychopathic Blackbeard, but with his little screen time and over-acting this is never accomplished and the promising English actor becomes nothing more than a kind religious zealot with a muscular abdomen.

Despite Depp’s persistent and continual screen time, he does still provide adequate comedic relief, his best wisecracks seem to appear at the very moment when the plot and story seem to be slowing down, but neither the script, direction or rest of the cast and crew do anything else to keep this fourth film from being anything less than a cinematic sinking ship. It will no doubt quite easily gross it’s estimated two-hundred million dollar budget back within the next four weeks, and subsequently facilitate a fifth film in the franchise, but ‘On Stranger Tides’ is definitely the weakest effort in the ‘Pirates’ series so far.