Archive

Posts Tagged ‘Movie’

RED – A Review

Robert Schwentke’s RED is an odd film. Some parts of the movie do a successful job of sending up the action genre, while some reinforce the genre’s ridiculousness without the merest hint of irony or humour. It starts off poorly with an awful joke about how the Bruce Willis’ character Frank Moses doesn’t realise that Christmas time is upon him. It gathered a few laughs in from the people around me, but I didn’t see how it was funny. Once again, it seems to be an example of telling an audience that they are watching a comedy, and they will laugh at anything.

The central relationship of Moses and Mary-Louise Parker’s Sarah is so ludicrous that I couldn’t get used to it. She is his contact at the pension offices and he likes her voice, so he tears up all his cheques so he can call back and speak to her. Based on this, they form a friendship and eventually a relationship, despite the fact that their relationship is given absolutely no time to evolve during the 111 minutes.

By far the stand-out performance in this film is John Malkovich doing his Malkovich thing as an LSD-fried former CIA operative. He portrays a naivety and childishness that reminded me of John Noble’s performance as Walter Bishop in Fringe. It’s pretty funny.

However, there are far too many flaws with the film. One character reveals early on that he has advanced liver cancer…I wonder what might happen to him? Another character is shown to have a young family who he loves but doesn’t spend enough time with…what’s going to happen there?

The soundtrack is also terrible. This is the second time in a week that I have been offended by a soundtrack, but this is even worse than Michael Giacchino’s Let Me In score. It mostly comprises of the bouncy, bass-driven “this is comedy” music, but with the odd reference thrown in, such as the plinky-plonky “this is a scene of domestication – remember American Beauty? That’s what this is supposed to sound like” moment, and an awful rising-strings, revealing of true feelings scene. It hurt.

The film isn’t awful, but it’s incredibly patchy. I counted perhaps three or four real laughs in the movie, all of which came from Malkovich. I wouldn’t recommend spending £7 to go and see it, but if can go on an Orange Wednesday, or wait for DVD, it’s not a terrible watch. If it was 20-25 minutes shorter, it would be a much better film.

**

Let Me In

Let Me In is an alternate adaptation of John Ajvide Lindqvist’s novel Lat Den Ratte Komma In. Alternate in that it isn’t Tomas Alfredson’s adaptation of the same name. At least, that’s the party line. What it really is is a bad imitation of Alfredson’s awesome original. Where Alfredson’s movie was gripping, thrilling and moving, this is just dull. It seems as though Matt Reeves knew this and so instructed Michael Giacchino to write the most intrusive, blatant score possible. It feels like he is ramming his conductor’s baton down your throat. It is extremely painful to sit through.

You know how when you go to a party with lots of people you don’t know, there’s always one guy who is drunk and tries to tell you funny stories, but can’t get them quite right? This is as if Matt Reeves got hammered and started telling people about how great Lat Den Ratte Komma In is.  LikeLat Den Ratte Komma In, this is a genuinely heartbreaking movie, but for an entirely different reason. This is heartbreaking because you can tell that the people involved love what they are doing, and they think they are doing a good job. To be fair, they aren’t doing an awful job. The actors, particularly Chloe Moretz and Elias Koteas are great; the direction is perfectly competent, if not spectacular and the story is obviously good. It’s the little things that are wrong. For example, the film starts off with a scene that should come about halfway through, and for the simple reason that it is a relatively active set-piece. The vampire scenes contain some awful CGI and turn the character of Abby, formerly Eli, into a monster rather than a girl who is a vampire. Worst of all is the score though. It is truly dreadful. I can feel this turning into a rant, so I will sign off. All I will say is that if you are tempted to see this, don’t. Go and watch Lat Den Ratte Komma In, whether you’ve seen it already or not. It’s a much better telling of the story. This is bad.

**

 

Dry River Road (October 27th 2009)

Leo Whitlock, the main character of Rory Haines’ short Dry River Road, is clearly a very troubled man.

He is living out of his car, shaving in the bathroom at a highway petrol station, and lying to his estranged wife about his (un)employment status. The reason for this, we don’t know. He is a veteran of the Iraq war, this much we do know, but after that it all becomes a bit muddy.

Is he a violent man? His constant badgering of Akeem for a job at said petrol station is pushy enough that it borders on the “one more rejection and he might just lamp you” side of things, but his absolute horror at what later happens might equally suggest otherwise.

He certainly isn’t the smartest man around; stealing money from a dead man, smearing blood on himself and tucking the murder weapon into his jeans doesn’t suggest that all his bulbs are burning at their brightest, but maybe he is really just that desperate.

Perhaps Leo has been dishonourably discharged from the US Army. This could explain his apparent lack of self-discipline (and vice-versa). It would also go some way to explaining why he is having such a hard time finding a job.

A dishonourable discharge may even account for the lack of contact with his wife and son, and why his wife has no interest in entertaining him at all.

Of course, what it all comes down to is whether or not Leo could ever make anything of himself. There is absolutely nothing here to suggest that he is comfortable with meeting the standards that society expects of him.

The case in point: his attire. He has gone to Akeem to ask for a job, but has completely neglected to spruce himself up in any effort to impress his prospective employer.

His absolute lack of respect for Akeem is symptomatic of something altogether more sinister. While we aren’t told of Akeem’s heritage, it is safe to assume that he is of Middle Eastern origin, and the underlying menace of the interaction between the two comes from Leo’s instinct to play with a small American flag while talking to Akeem.

Leo may not consider himself a racist, but his actions in the scene convey a sense of racial tension that could explain everything about Leo and his character.

The thirteen minutes that we see here are the thirteen minutes that change the life of Leo. The lack of any sort of “crash bang wallop” force-feeding of dramatic impact is one of the film’s major strengths.

Through both the way it is shot – conventional, trendy handheld style – and the lack of dictatorial music, the film manages to achieve both a subtlety and a harrowing bleakness that takes it to a higher level, particularly impressive given it is a first time effort from Haines, as well as a first time effort for writer Sohrab Noshirvani.

***½

Hancock (July 9th 2009)

In amongst a spate of “serious” and “dark” superhero movies of late – The Dark Knight and Watchmen come to mind as primary examples – Hancock must have seemed like a breath of fresh air when the original trailers began showing; a comedy, not a spoof, about a pissed-off superhero who doesn’t care about the public he protects. However, after the initial 40 minutes of comedy antics and stunning set-pieces, the film takes a sharp left-turn that can only be described as inexplicable.

I’m sure that I’m not the only person who was enjoying the entertaining, if simple, plot of Jason Bateman’s PR guru Ray trying to turn Will Smith’s Travis-Bickle-with-superpowers into your friendly neighbourhood superhero. While it wasn’t groundbreaking, the premise certainly had 90 minutes of entertaining material in it, and would have kept the laughs coming, which, let’s face it, is the reason why people went to see this film.

The turn it takes for the final act – introducing another superhero, and thereby completing ruining the original premise of the film – could have worked if this other superhero was a villain, but unfortunately between the three of them, Vincent Ngo, Vince Gilligan, and Peter Berg could not decide whether Charlize Theron was a supervillain or a superhero, and left her to rot as a cutaway character during the final “battle”. Not that it was much of a battle – a few guys with guns against a man who has pretty much every power in the superhero book is only going to go one way.

As much as the conclusion of this film was a disappointment, the preceding minutes were full of promise. The story was somewhat illogical (why did Hancock bother to be a superhero if he cared as little as he clearly did?), but entertaining nonetheless. The opening set-piece, involving Hancock flying around with a car in his hand, and, later, a bank robbery that Hancock foils in the midst of a hail of gunfire, were both stunningly put together by a director who certainly knows how to shoot action sequences, even if his dedication to anything much more meaningful is less than lacklustre, as anyone who has seen The Kingdom will attest to, I’m sure.

As well as these triumphs of CGI, the interplay and chemistry between Bateman and Smith is almost perfect. These are two of the finest comic actors working today – throw Paul Rudd into the mix and this film would instantly boast the greatest comedy line-up of any recent film – and their interactions are certainly no let-down. Smith on his own delivers some excellent one-liners (“I’ll break my foot off in your ass, woman” to a gawping woman in a bar and “Okay. Well, you should sue McDonald’s, ’cause they fucked you up.” To an overweight naysayer are my personal favourites), but it is when the two of them come together that they really shine. There isn’t much point listing them for two reasons. One, there are too many to list. And two, it is all about reactions and timing, something which doesn’t easily translate to a written medium.

Not only does Smith handle the comedy well, he also does well with the serious stuff. Although it is somewhat ham-fistedly written, Smith’s ability to control and display emotion brings out the best in some fairly poor dialogue later on in the film, such as the not-quite-classic “I gotta wonder what a kind of a bastard I must have been, that nobody was there to claim me. I mean, I am not the most charming guy in the world, so I’ve been told, but… nobody?” We knew from his performances in Ali, The Pursuit of Happyness, and the equally film-of-two-halves I Am Legend that he was capable of busting some serious acting chops, but I always find it surprising to see the Fresh Prince breaking out the emotion.

Unfortunately, this film should not have been about emotion. Instead, it should have been about a pissed-off superhero being a pissed-off superhero and pissing off everyone else. If the script had stuck to its initial promise and delivered the redemption story that I, and I assume many others, was hoping for, this could have been a very good film. Instead it is a mediocre film, and will always be remembered, if at all, for how much of a letdown it was after the buzz that originally surrounded it. A massive disappointment, but still, somehow, a decent movie. Short enough to hold the attention of the youngest or oldest viewer, but long enough that you aren’t left wanting more (quite a feat at 88 minutes), this is worth a watch, but don’t get your hopes up too much.

6/10

The Uninvited (November 25th 2009)

The Uninvited is a remake of the Korean film A Tale of Two Sisters. It is, somewhat a tale of two sisters. It is also the story of a crazy bitch whose craziness is apparently enough to explain every single flaw in the film.

The crazy bitch in question is young Anna, played fairly ably by Emily Browning (of Lemony Snicket ‘fame’). Anna is in a mental institute following an attempted suicide after the ‘accidental’ death of her ill mother. At the start of the film she is released back to her family, including new step-mother Rachel Summers (Elizabeth Banks – another example of a more than competent actor lowering themselves to a very poor standard), father Steven (David Straitharn), and her sister Alex (Arielle Kebbel).

The plot centres on Anna’s suspicion that Rachel had something to do with the death of her mother, as Rachel was nurse to the mother at the time of her death. She manages to get Alex on the side of her theory, but Rachel manages to get in the way every time Anna tries to communicate this to her father, or to (brief) love interest Matthew.

Given that this film runs at a very short 83 minutes, you may be forgiven for thinking that something would have happened by around the 50 minute mark. Not so. There have been a few scenes of tension between Anna and Rachel, as well as a fairly standard “Dad, I know you won’t believe me, but your new girlfriend killed our mum” “Don’t be crazy. You need to learn to love your new mum, because I love her, and you should be happy that I’m happy” type scene, but nothing else of any note.

All the supposed drama occurs in the last few minutes, and given how straightforward the plot has been up until this point, it seems fairly academic to point out that there is a twist at the end. It isn’t a great twist. Or even a good one. To reveal it, while doing you the favour of not making you watch this atrocity, would still be slightly amiss. However, it is safe to say that this is not a new twist. In fact, imagine a cross between the twist in Shrooms and the twist in the remake of My Bloody Valentine, and you are pretty much there.

The Uninvited is directed by The Guard Brothers – Thomas and Charles – a British pair who have only existed in the medium of short film before this, and while it may be slightly harsh, it would make sense for them to stay away from feature film for a while longer. The immaturity in their direction – somehow succeeding in creating a horror film devoid of tension, dread or indeed horror only adds to the failings of the script, written by Craig Rosenberg, Doug Miro and Carlo Bernard.

This is a terrible film. There is no disputing that fact. Like most films, this has a redeeming factor, in that the four main performances (Browning, Kebbel, Banks, Straitharn) were all more than competent. Good performances do not a good film make, however, and this has to go down as the worst film of 2009 to this point.

*

Paranormal Inactivity (November 28th 2009)

Last night I watched “the scariest movie of the decade” – Oren Peli’s Paranormal Activity.

Quick plot summary – Katie thinks she is haunted. Her boyfriend Micah is skeptical. He buys a camera to film everything. Turns out she is haunted, just not in a very interesting way.

To clear up one major point: this is not the scariest movie of any decade, let alone one that has produced films such as El Orfanato, Rec and The Others. This film is tedious beyond belief. Episodic night-time scenes are not enough to maintain a narrative where the only other points of interest are Katie (Katie Featherstone) screaming “I don’t fucking care! I want that fucking camera out of my house!” and Micah (Micah Sloat) taking the piss out of a psychic investigator.

The handheld camera gimmick is now beyong the point of getting old. Blair Witch did it well; Rec and Cloverfield did it fairly well, even if it didn’t really feel necessary, Diary of the Dead was poor, mainly because of the arsehole holding the camera, and now Paranormal Activity, which is the worst of all. I don’t know if this is my interpretation or if it is intentional on the part of the directors of these films, but it seems to me that they believe this technique puts the audience into the action, therefore upping the intensity levels. Not so, Mr Peli.

To me, the use of handheld camera, especially in a film as dull as Paranormal Activity, gives the same effect as watching your boring friend’s boring home video, where he films his girlfriend all day, trying to get her to have sex in front of the camera. It’s not something we need to watch.

I’m not saying that a film has to be full of gore and screaming to interest me – I do think that this was better than Saw VI – but it has to be full of something. Reading Peter Bradshaw’s review in The Guardian I was struck by his opening gambit: “It has been some time since I physically jumped at a scary movie. Horror has become a predictable genre – these days maggoty skulls can leap out of wardrobes all they want and we merely yawn. But in this film, all it took was one bedroom door to move 12 inches, unaided – just that, nothing else – and I felt like leaping into the arms of the person next to me.” Yes, horror is a very subjective genre, but I am yet to read a negative review of this film. I cannot be the only one who was not scared by this. And for the record, ghosts/supernatural beings are generally what gets me the most – The Blair Witch Project, El Orfanato and The Haunting are the three movies that have shit me up the most, and they are all about similar subject matter, and similar ways of scaring the audience.

Unfortunately, there is a sequel to Paranormal Activity, due in 2012, and it is safe to say that I will not be first in line.

The Lovely Bones (February 24th 2010)

27/10/2010 2 comments

The Lovely Bones seems like an odd film for Peter Jackson to make, much like Heavenly Creatures was in 1994. Instead of being known for oddball splatter films as he was then, he is now known to be the man who made Lord of the Rings and King Kong – two of the more epicly scaled projects of the last decade or so. So where does The Lovely Bones fit into this? It doesn’t. It is really a very small, confined story about one family and one paedophile, and while it uses a lot of CG trickery and other-worldly landscapes, it cannot be compared to Jackson’s previous two films at all.

That is not to say that this film is a mis-step on his part; it is a very well constructed and engaging story, and contains some moments that would rank among the finest of Jackson’s distinguished, and in my opinion unblemished, career so far.

Let’s focus on the CGI landscapes of the “in-between” for a moment.King Kong and, to a lesser extent, the Lord of the Rings trilogy were both criticised for slightly ropey CGI in places, but there are no moments like this in The Lovely Bones. Even the water effects – notoriously difficult to construct – looked fantastic here.

However, as everybody knows, good CGI is far from a backbone to build a film around; a lesson that Roland Emmerich might want to learn from. Thankfully Peter Jackson knows what he is doing when it comes to film-making and there is barely a flaw in this film. Even the casting of Marky Mark is spot-on, and when it comes to finding actresses to lend some emotional weight to your film, you cannot go wrong with Rachel Weisz. I do feel that Saoirse Ronan may be a tad young to carry such a big film, and at times she does seem to over-egg this cake somewhat. Having said that, she certainly isn’t bad, but perhaps she suffers from a slight lack of experience. She does, however, outshine the fairly sidelined love interest, a young man by the name of Reece Ritchie who seems intent on becoming the Asian version of Orlando Bloom, given his ridiculous “I am acting now” voice.

The main attraction to this film, for me, is Stanley Tucci. This guy has been around a while, but this is easily his most impressive role as George Harvey. He underwent something of a physical transformation for this role, and while they do seem to have played up to a fairly stereotyped image of a loner/paedophile, his creepiness really is a winner. Some of the involuntary noises his character makes when interacting with Saoirse’s Susie Salmon are truly disturbing.

As I said way back towards the start of this review, this film contains some of what I would say is Jackson’s best work. A scene where Susie’s little sister Lindsey breaks into Harvey’s house, only for him to return home, is comparable to Hitchcock’s absolute mastery of suspense. The tension is tangible and excruciating, and the thrill of the ensuing chase is joyous. Equally, a scene immediately following Susie’s murder is one of the more horrific things youa re likely to see in a 12A movie. She enters a bathroom that is caked in blood and dirt, with a faceless body in the bathtub. There is little to say that won’t ruin the scene, but it evokes the same feelings as the Pale Man scene in Del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth.

For all this eulogising, you would be forgiven for thinking that this is a flawless movie. Rest assured, it is not. There is one moment that feels so out of place it could be easily mistaken for a different film. A montage of Susan Sarandon, playing Susie’s grandmother, struggling to get to grips with household chores, accompained by some fairly jaunty music is horrifically out of place in what is otherwise a sombre, serious film. If Jackson was aiming at some sort of tension relief or artful juxtaposition, he really missed the mark here.

Otherwise, The Lovely Bones is a very praiseworthy movie. It is no more than entertainment, but it is told so well that it needn’t be more than this. As long as Peter Jackson keeps making films, I will keep going to see them, because in the simplest terms, he is yet to make a bad one. Rest assured that this film could really be anybody’s cup of tea, and I would recommend to not judge it based on the trailer or the basic concept of it, as it is much more than either of them would suggest. Highly recommended.

8/10