Friday, 31 December 2010

Tron: Legacy

In 1989, Kevin Flynn, CEO of ENCOM disappears without trace. 20 years later, his son Sam is the majority shareholder in the company but wants nothing to do with it. After Kevin’s long time confidante Alan Bradley receives a page from Flynn’s abandoned arcade, Sam investigates and soon discovers his dad’s secret office behind the Tron machine. But, when Sam is accidentally transported into The Grid, he discovers more than he could have bargained for; his dad got trapped inside after his computer program, Clu, went rogue and took over. Can the reunited Flynns, and a young program called Quorra, save The Grid and save the day?

So here we are, 28 years on from the original Tron, finally we get to see the true potential of The Grid in Tron: Legacy. Things have changed in The Grid somewhat though, things look a lot better now, everything’s shinier and everyone’s young and beautiful. Yep, it’s technology 2010 style. The film had a lot of potential, Jeff Bridges was back and the bad guy was going to be YOUNG Jeff Bridges?! Personally, I had been looking forward to this since that tiny bit of test footage featuring the test for Clu emerged from Comic-Con 2008, back when the film was potentially labelled ‘Tr2n’. Since then, we’ve had endless teasers, trailers, stills and clips, mercilessly hyping up the ‘3D event of the decade’. Does it live up to the hype though? Ehhh....

More than anything, I was disappointed, but that’s more than likely because I had very high expectations for it, but that doesn’t mean this wasn’t good. For everything that was positive, there was unfortunately a negative. The main gripe is with the buzzword of 2010: 3D. This is a gripe I’ve had for a while, but Tron has exemplified my problem with the technology. I should say that I was actually impressed with the 3D in Tron: Legacy; for the first time since Toy Story 3, I found it immersive and forgot I was watching it in 3D. Now, this may be because Toy Story 3 was entirely and Tron: Legacy was almost entirely digitally created, we weren’t looking at the real world here, thus making it easier to create 3D effects. Alas, what 3D giveth, it taketh away. In any 3D film, the main problem I have is that as soon as you put on those dark 3D glasses, you lose 30% of the colour on screen and with Tron: Legacy, a film which has a predominantly black and blue colour palette, it becomes a tough watch at times. As bright and shiny as the film is, the 3D glasses steal some of that brightness away and it’s a real shame.

That brings me onto the look of the film. One word: Stunning. It’s really, really good looking. It’s sharp, it’s attention grabbing, and it’s great; probably the most impressive CG film I’ve seen so far. Recreating a young Jeff Bridges to be Clu was risky, but they pull it off well. So well, in fact, that we see more of digitally created young Jeff Bridges than the actual Jeff Bridges himself. We do also get a small glimpse of a digitally created young Bruce Boxleitner as Tron in a flashback, but he they either spent too much money on doing young Jeff Bridges or they considered Boxleitner less important so any more glimpses of Tron are done with Tron wearing a black helmet hiding his face. Nice. However, having a really good looking film without a decent story to back it up leaves it feeling a bit shallow, it’s more of a visual treat and less of an overall film product. That’s a tad disappointing, as it weakens the entire reasoning behind creating a film in the first place. That does indeed lead me onto the story...

It’s a bunch of crap. It’s a flimsy, overcomplicated device to hold together all the pretty pictures. The narrative also irritated me. For a 2 hour film, it takes an ENTIRE HOUR to go through the THREE different back stories; what happened between Tron and Tron: Legacy in the real world, what happened between Tron and Tron: Legacy in The Grid and what Sam Flynn is getting up to now and how he ends up in The Grid himself. Only after all that is out the way do we finally get to why we’re here, what the film’s primary narrative is and it just drags. The most damning evidence I can give to this is a quote from one of my friends who I saw the film with: “Once they were in The Grid, I was awake, but while they were in the real world, I was falling asleep and waking up and not really feeling like I’d missed anything”. He wasn’t alone; I counted at least 5 people falling asleep during the 2D real world sequences before at the start of the film which goes on for a good 20 minutes. 20 minutes! Even after that, once Sam does get into The Grid, it takes another 20/25 minutes for something important/relevant to happen.

The acting. Hmm. Jeff Bridges is back, hurrah, that was good, but he doesn’t actually play Kevin Flynn is this. He plays The Dude, what with people harshing his Zen, man. Garrett Hedlund as Sam Flynn could easily be replaced by any number of young Hollywood leading guys. Olivia Wilde as Quorra is actually quite good. When I say good, I mean hot, Olivia Wilde is quite hot. I’ll also mention Michael Sheen here, because I feel so sorry for him, I do. He’s given the worst role of his life, being forced to play a version of Frank-N-Furter from The Rocky Horror Picture Show. It’s horrifying, and surely something he’ll want to forget.

I did like the soundtrack. The sound track was good, and was partly what the film was sold on. Daft Punk have scored the entire film and it’s on par with The Social Network for best soundtrack in 2010. The music interacts with the pictures wonderfully and it’s a near-perfect relationship between celluloid and audio. Kudos, Daft Punk.

Overall, it breaks my heart to be so negative about a film I was so looking forward to but it completely earned it. Whether it was because of bad writing or a pre-existing problem with 3D, the film is an odd combination of being really quite impressive and really rather poor at exactly the same time. The acting is generally poor, but the look of the film is impressive. The 3D is immersive yet a let-down. The story is garbage, but the score has been well executed. It’s sad to see this let itself down, but there you go. It’s worth seeing to see the graphics and hear the music, but don’t expect to see a Citizen Kane. Perhaps the inevitable sequel will have a better story but less impressive visuals.

Rating: ***

Love and Other Drugs

Jamie is a salesman with the gift of the gab, able to charm women in an instant. When he gets fired from his job at an electronics store, his brother informs him of an opportunity to work for Pfizer selling various drugs to local hospitals and doctors. As he attempts to peddle his wares, he comes across Maggie, a young woman with early onset Parkinson’s disease. Through sheer perseverance, Jamie finally charms Maggie and the two become somewhat of an item, just as a certain wonder drug hits the market, giving Jamie the chance to hit the big time. Can the two overcome their various obstacles and stay together?

Watching this film, I couldn’t help but cast my mind back to the start of this year and start comparing it to another film: Up in the Air. I loved Up in the Air, I thought the mood, tone and story-telling was all done extremely well through some brilliant direction, some excellent performances from its leads and a definite sense of direction in as far as it knew what it wanted to do with itself. Love and Other Drugs tries to achieve the same thing with much the same elements, but somewhere along the way, something just seems to go wrong.

Don’t get me wrong, this is not a bad film; it’s an enjoyable near-two hour rom-com, one of the best I’ve seen in a while. The problem is, even though it’s a rom-com, it tries so hard to be like Up in the Air, that it forgets to remove the large amount of testosterone Up in the Air contained. It even tries to add a little bit of Seth Rogan/Jonah Hill-esque frat house/gross-out kind of humour at times. With all of these things going on, the film seems disjointed, the pace jumps about and doesn’t flow at all well; it makes for an uneasy viewing experience at times. It doesn’t know what it wants to be, even though the story it offers makes it pretty clear what it SHOULD have been. It’s a real shame, because aside from the deviance into various other genres and genre tropes, it is a cutesy love story with an edge which could have made this an appealing film for all audiences. It just seems to trip over itself consistently.

The lead performances from Jake Gyllenhall and Anne Hathaway are to be commended, and I’m sure that’s what you’ll have heard from this film in prior critics’ reviews. Well, that and the numerous sex scenes containing Anne Hathaway’s boobs. Shock horror! The princess from The Princess Diaries is getting her boobs out in her film. Indeed, during the first third of the film, it’s almost as if the director wants to make the most of an opportunity and delivers a gratuitous amount of boob shots, but after it, it calms down somewhat and moves the focus from pure titillation onto the relationship between Gyllenhall and Hathaway. They do what they have to do well, they both play their characters well, especially Hathaway who seems to have a knack of nailing a character dead on, hence her Oscar nomination for Rachel Getting Married. The problem is with the supporting cast, in particular Josh Gad, who plays Gyllenhall’s brother, who’s also called Josh just in case he gets confused. He brings the frat house/gross-out humour I spoke of earlier, but it just doesn’t fit in the film and only serves to bring it down, meaning he’s one of the low points with the film.

The only problem I find with Jake Gyllenhall is not his acting, but his character. Gyllenhall does absolutely nothing wrong, he does the best with what he’s given, but that’s where he falls down. He plays this role almost exactly like George Clooney in, yep, Up in the Air. Believe me, when you see Gyllenhall dressed in a suit wheeling around a mini-suitcase playing the womaniser, you’ll immediately see the similarities. Gyllenhall is just as culpable as the script writers here; he doesn’t make the role his own. He could easily be replaced by any generic, good-looking Hollywood leading man. The story is fine but by the final third, once everything’s been established, it falls into so many holes; the story, the characters and the dialogue all submit to various rom-com clichés and it becomes predictable and very-samey. It’s a shame, but you can kind of see it coming, so it’s not so much of a surprise when it finally does arrive.

Overall, it’s fine, and I’m sure Anne Hathaway will get a Best Actress nod at various award ceremonies (Edit: Anne Hathaway has been nominated for Best Actress at the Golden Globes. Jake Gyllenhall also got nominated for Best Actor) but it’s not really memorable. You can see why it’s been released now, at the start of the award season, but it’s not particularly outstanding, and by the end, it just falls into all sorts of rom-com clichés. At the end of the day, it’s everything Up in the Air wasn’t, but in a bad way. One gets the feeling that this film should have taken one of those ‘magic blue pills’ to keep itself going all the way until the end.

Rating: **1/2

Friday, 17 December 2010


Nev Schulman is a young photographer living in New York with two filmmakers; his brother Ariel and Henry Joost. When Abby Pierce, an 8 year old child prodigy painter living in Michigan, sends Nev a painting of one of his pictures, the two quickly strike up a pen pal friendship. That soon leads to Nev getting to know her family, ultimately entering into a Facebook relationship with her older half-sister, Abby. The relationship progresses to the point where Nev travels to Michigan to finally meet Megan, but the results of the trip are somewhat unexpected...

After The Social Network, a film recounting the creation of Facebook, we now have a documentary depicting its use and role in modern day life. A story of a relationship between two people who meet through a mutual friend on Facebook and gradually escalate their relationship by exchanging Facebook messages, songs, pictures, text messages and phone calls. But nothing in this world goes perfectly, and something seems off with this whole thing. What they discover is extremely intriguing and somewhat alarming.

This is a film of two halves. The first half of the film establishes the premise of the documentary; our protagonist Nev strikes up an online relationship with a young painter called Abby. Their pen pal relationship leads to Nev being integrated into Abby’s family through Facebook, speaking to Abby’s mother Angela about her talented daughter and then Abby’s older, highly attractive half-sister Megan. It’s about this time we enter Nev’s life through Ariel and Henry’s cameras and follow his online relationship with the Pierce family, especially Megan. Nev and Megan start flirting, which quickly turns serious and leads to Nev wanting to fly to Michigan to meet her. Everything progresses quite quickly and it’s played out light-heartedly, attempting to lull the viewer into a false sense of security. However, there are a few seeds of doubt planted which only seem to drive Nev into finding out what’ll happen if he goes to Michigan.

This leads to the second half of the film, where Nev and our two directors fly to Chicago and drive to Michigan to finally meet Megan, Abby, Angela and the Pierce family. I’ll say no more in fear of spoilers, but I will say this half of the film is definitely the better half. The second half turns the film from a documentary into a tale of mystery, deceit and intrigue. After a very exposition-like first 35 minutes, the film takes a sudden twist and becomes engrossing viewing. The final 40 minutes, in particular, are so intriguing and full of revelations that is certainly leads you to doubt the legitimacy of this documentary and makes you feel you’re watching a finely acted, astutely written drama.

Certainly, the performances we see on screen don’t feel staged, it looks and feels naturalistic. Unfortunately, what I feel has brought upon all the doubters this film has attracted is the way the fact that the cameras are rolling at just the right moments. Things just seem to happen, revelation is followed by revelation. If it’s drama, then it’s well written and it plays up to its climax quite nicely. If it’s reality, then it’s squirmingly good and a somewhat disturbing story about social networking. This is a tale of a Facebook-born relationship, something which is commonplace in 2010. It just so happens that this one was caught on film and turned into something which is truly a documentary filmmaker’s wet dream.

Overall, it’s not hard to see why this film has attracted the amount of buzz and internet hype it has; it’s a light-hearted whimsical documentary which turns into a complex, engrossing mystery. Catfish is a pretty good companion piece to The Social Network, allowing viewers to break down both the creation and use of Facebook and showing that there is a dark side to social networking. Indeed, if you’re going to take away anything from this film, it’ll be the question of how much we should be trusting of Facebook and other social networks. This film very neatly raises the question and emphatically answers it. You’ll be thinking about this one for a while, and it’ll definitely make you doubt all those internet ‘friends’ whom you’ve never actually met that like and comment on your status updates. After you’ve seen this, you’ll almost certainly have an answer to the question that Facebook poses on a daily basis: What’s on your mind?

Rating: ****

Friday, 10 December 2010

A Serbian Film

Miloš is a retired Serbian porn star, living a happy life with his wife and son but financial worries cause him to accept one last job: The starring role in an “art film” being directed by a wealthy pornographer where he won’t know the script or the plot until shooting begins. It quickly becomes clear that the film isn’t at all what he believed it would be, as he is forced to have sex with a physically abused woman in front of a young girl. However, his reluctance to take part in such acts reveals the darker side of the director and his film crew, and things quickly turn violent...

Ladies and gentleman, welcome to the film that I'm sure by now you’ve heard so much about. The most censored film in the UK in 15 years; it contains extremely graphic depictions of rape, necrophilia, sexual violence, child rape and incest. I understand there’s a morbid curiosity in many people to watch a film which has been banned or censored or contains extremely graphic scenes. Indeed, it’s what’s led me to watch films like A Clockwork Orange, The Exorcist and Irreversible. A Serbian Film has decided to go for the graphic, horrifying imagery and has just gone complete berserk with it, throwing everything it can think of at you. Unfortunately, this has fallen victim to ‘Paranormal Activity Syndrome’ where it’s been overhyped somewhat so people are expecting it to be worse than it is. Whilst it’s not pretty, it’s not exactly the worst thing ever committed to celluloid either.

Somewhere amongst everything that happens on screen, director Srđan Spasojević insists the film is a political statement: "This is a diary of our own molestation by the Serbian government... It's about the monolithic power of leaders who hypnotize you to do things you don’t want to do. You have to feel the violence to know what it’s about." This is all very well and good, but while you’re watching this, it’s just difficult to look past the visuals and to try and read any kind of political meaning from this. At one point, the director Vukmir goes on a rant about children and the Serbian government (he’s a child psychologist, the film’s being partly shot in an orphanage) and at the end, the ‘real, happy Serbian family’ is turned on its head and made unrecognisable. It’s a strong statement made explicitly clear once you can get past the strong visuals, that is, IF you can.

The main character, Serbian ex porn star Miloš, is repulsed by what he’s told to do and is extremely disturbed by what he’s shown by the maniacal director Vukmir. I can only imagine how Srđan Todorović, the actor playing Miloš, felt during filming; I’m pretty sure even the most professional actor would have a problem simulating sex with a headless corpse whilst covered in blood. Sergej Trifunović is genuinely demented as the art film’s director, seemingly fixated on seeing his twisted perception of pornography come to fruition, backed by his intimidating film crew. Slobodan Beštić plays Miloš’s brother Marko with a sense of creepiness but with a disappointing lack of presence.

The plot of this film is merely a device to loosely connect the horrifying scenarios Miloš, and in turn the audience, is presented with. The story isn’t at all great, and starts out very generic with the main man wanting to provide for his family so he takes that ‘one last job’ to secure the family’s finances but inevitably it’s all going to go wrong. Of course, when it does start to go wrong, it becomes a car crash for poor Miloš. It seems as if Spasojević wrote down a list of everything taboo and still has the power to shock a film audience and made sure he put it into his script. I will say this for the film though: 1. It doesn’t relent. It doesn’t start to go all the way then wuss out like so many films do these days; it goes all out. 2. It’s not a consistent shock-fest. The film doesn’t try and deliver 99 minutes of shock and awe; it begins rather calmly in fact, but once the shock starts, there’s no going back and it certainly escalates throughout, all the way to its conclusion. 3. The ‘newborn porn’ scene. Whilst it is bad to see it, it does look amateurish, which is its only redeeming feature. It doesn’t hide the fact it’s still an awful thing to see on a cinema screen.

Overall, it’s a shining example of ‘shocking’ cinema and I’m sure this film’s status will give it a long life. It’s an exploitation film which cranks up the vile and sickening to 11 and smiles while it does it. It’s a brutal view, and it’ll take a strong stomach to get through some of the more disturbing moments; it won’t be the gore that gets you, it’ll be the visuals and the ideas. The story is complete guff, but you know as well as I do that this film isn’t about the story. If Srđan Spasojević was trying to make a political statement, then he’s made one which makes its point in the most shocking way possible. This is unlike any film you’ll have watched, I’ll guarantee it. If you do decide to watch this out of morbid curiosity, you will be mercilessly punished for being so inquisitive.

Rating: *1/2

Friday, 3 December 2010


After a NASA space probe crash lands in Mexico, alien life-forms begin to spread across half of Mexico, leading to the ‘infected zone’ being cordoned off and put in quarantine. Six years later, Andrew, a young photographer, is tasked by his wealthy boss to bring home his daughter, Sam, from Mexico to the United States. However, they only have 48 hours to get back to the USA before all routes home are blocked due to the aliens migration season. Events conspire against the pair, and before long, they’re left with only one route home: A treacherous journey through the ‘infected zone’...

Gareth Edwards must surely be a masochist. Not only did this visual artist conceive and write this low-budget film, he also directed it, took charge of the cinematography and, naturally, created all the visual effects. Considering this film has taken him way outside his comfort zone, he’s ended up creating a film with all the skill of an experienced filmmaker. His writing is subtle and underplayed, his direction is intelligent and refined, his cinematography is intriguing and tonally appropriate and the visual effects are ambitious and stunning. Well done, sir.

It’s a simple story: Two people are forced together to make a journey home through hell or high water. This time, though, the ‘hell’ is the aliens who now inhabit Central America and the ‘high water’ is the massive wall the United States Border Control has constructed between the US and the ‘infected zone’. In the midst of this story, some classic cinema tropes are on display; the couple who are forced together ultimately become friends and then lovers, their simple route home is blocked so they’re forced to take a more dangerous way home. It all sounds like such a simple sci-fi drama film, but it all comes together with great aplomb, helped by two great performances by the lead actors, some stunning visuals, and a fair few realistic-looking visual effects.

What really helps the film along are the performances of, and the chemistry between, the two lead actors; Whitney Able playing Sam and the brilliantly named Scoot McNairy playing Andrew. The two are, in real life, a couple, and so all the chemistry they have on-screen is genuine, which is a nice bit of casting by Edwards. Other than their chemistry, they both play their individual roles brilliantly. It’s not overacted; it’s all nice and naturalistic, in-fitting with the documentary feel of the film with its shaky handheld camerawork. Also, considering there are no other major characters (no-one else in the film appears on screen for more than 10 minutes), it’s important to have that strong performance in order to carry the film through to its conclusion.

The idea of the film itself is an interesting take on the monster/invasion genre. To put it simply, it’s what would have happened if they had kept the cameras rolling after the end of Cloverfield, after all the initial chaos and destruction, after what happens in your typical invasion film. It’s six years on, and the aliens are just a part of the way things are now. The might of the army couldn’t defeat them, so they’ve left the aliens to have their own zone in which to inhabit, albeit fenced off and under constant supervision. Think District 9, but in Mexico and with giant arachnosquids (my term, not the official term). The film also uses the idea of the invading monsters to unsubtly comment on the controversy surrounding the US-Mexico border. The aliens have landed on the US’s front door, they’ve resisted letting them cross the border by building a massive wall but they’re not actually looking to wreak havoc, they just want to settle down in peace and are only attacking when provoked by the belligerent US military. We’re definitely thinking District 9 here.

Of course, how the aliens look and act, as well as what kind of influence they have on the film is down in no small part to Gareth Edwards’ technical genius. With a shoestring budget, he’s used his experience in visual effects to create some genuine-looking monsters. He’s also sparing with how often they’re seen; mostly it’s just a close-up of a few tentacles or a far-away look at them. When you do get a close look at these monsters, they’re visually stunning and wonderfully rendered; they’re curiously beautiful creatures with the potential to be a threat. There’s a scene at the very end of this movie featuring the aliens which feels so human. Considering that’s a scene created from a shot of a blank night sky with digital animations placed over the top, it’s a phenomenal feat Edwards has pulled off here. Let’s not forget though he’s also created almost all of the scenes of destruction (destroyed buildings, destroyed cars) and landscape features (the US border wall) digitally, along with all the fine touches like road signs and news reports. It must have been a painstaking effort; going through scene by scene, adding so much into the film digitally. Ultimately, it’s paid off.

Overall, I cannot recommend this film highly enough. The acting’s great, the story may be predictable but it’s simple and you know where you stand with it, the scenery is breathtaking and the monsters look stunningly real. You can tell this was a real labour of love, what with the amount of post-production work that was clearly required on it and with the small budget it’s been made with. And yet all this has come from a first-time writer/director? It’s fantastic, and gives hope to all the wannabe filmmakers out there. With a good idea, a little bit of money, a lot of help, some off-the-shelf editing software, a lot of time and a lot of patience, maybe you could create something as outstanding as this. Though probably not.

Rating: ****1/2

Wednesday, 24 November 2010


Machete is a Mexican ex-Federale trying to make a living in Texas as an immigrant worker when he's hired by a powerful businessman to assassinate the Senator for $150,000. He reluctantly accepts, but finds he's been double crossed in an attempt to boost the Senator's ratings before an election. Escaping the men who are hunting him down, he finds allies in a immigration officer, a revolutionary taco vendor and his priest brother. He needs to kill the men who set him up before they kill him, but an enemy from Machete's past threatens to stop Machete in his tracks...

3 years ago, Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino gave the world Grindhouse, a double feature paying homage to the exploitation films shown in 'grindhouse cinemas' in 1960's/1970's America. Rodriguez's contributions were one of the main features (Planet Terror, a really enjoyable standalone film) and a fake trailer for a Mexploitation film about a vigilante called Machete. 3 years on, Machete has made it to the big screens in his own film, appropriately enough named Machete. The trailer promised so much, an entertaining homage to the ridiculous, with a seemingly illogical plot to boot. Luckily, Rodriguez has delivered on that promise with this, and has made a second mock-exploitation film that easily rivals, and even at times outguns his previous effort.

Machete is, throughout, ridiculous, there's no getting around that. It's a ludicrous premise, it's completely over the top, the violence verges on cartoonish and the dialogue sounds like it was written by Tommy Wiseau. Altogether, it's an outlandish film, but that's exactly what makes this so enjoyable. Not once in the entire 100 minutes does it take itself too seriously. For the second time in a month, I feel the need to compare a film to The Expendables, as they're both star-studded action films. Whereas The Expendables tries hard to be credible and fails drastically, Machete knows it's outrageously excessive and goes with it 110%, cramming in the cameos with gusto and providing scenes ranging from over the top action to soft pornography. It's funny, entertaining, and a very knowing homage to the ridiculousness of exploitation films.

The cast is damn impressive. Danny Trejo, Machete himself, is just too cool for school, an all-out action hero. Steven Seagal is actually quite good, but because he's so bad; it fits with the film's aesthetic. He dons a fake Mexican accent and plays the 'overall' bad guy, not doing much apart from starring at the start and the end, and only briefly appears in the middle on a computer screen. Easy. Jeff Fahey is damn good as the corrupt businessman/spin doctor, he seems genuinely cold-blooded and calculating at times. Don Johnson of Miami Vice fame is, surprisingly, brilliantly evil as a border patrol vigilante without any remorse or good judgment. Michelle Rodriguez is fiesty as Luz/Shé, a taco vendor/revolutionary. Jessica Alba gets to deliver some fantastically stupid lines as the immigration officer who turns good and helps Machete and she kicks a fair bit of ass too. Lindsay Lohan is pretty bland as a Daddy's girl gone bad who then feels the need to seek revenge dressed in a nun outfit. Surprisingly, or maybe not, Robert De Niro is the only person in the entire cast who delivers a 'bad even for a film that wants to look bad' performance. Throughout the film, he's either lost at sea with the concept of going OTT, or he goes way too OTT and ends up gurning his way through certain scenes and looking stupid. It seems as if he just wasn't a good fit for this film.

The template Rodriguez established in Planet Terror and the Machete trailer 3 years ago is carried over here; dodgy sound recording, roughed-up film quality, cheesy dialogue, cartoonish violence, extremely loose plot points. All the scenes from that now-famous Machete trailer are used in the film and are now tied together with a plot, explaining how Machete can go from riding a motorbike with a machine gun attached one minute to making out with 2 naked women in a pool the next. Even though, at times, the story can be verge on overcomplicated and convoluted, it always reels itself back in to its own sense of warped reality and remembers it needs to be silly. It certainly verges on becoming serious with a quasi-political message about illegal immigrants and extremist views on immigration, but it always grounds itself with a healthy dose of violence and good bad acting.

Overall, it's a damn enjoyable 100 minutes with plenty to keep you occupied. Gore, boobs, violence, hammy acting, cheesy dialogue, bravado and plenty of machismo. Robert Rodriguez has become pretty good at recreating the look and feel of an exploitation film and seems to have recognised the right kind of balance between all its elements, something Tarantino missed by a country mile. It would seem 2010 was the year of the star-packed OTT action film, as seen in The Expendables and Red, and it would seem that these films have only gotten better as the year's gone on. It's taken us until November to get our hands on Machete, but my God it was worth it. I hated The Expendables, and I didn't mind Red, but I loved this. Thank God they fucked with the wrong Mexican.

Rating: ***1/2

Saturday, 6 November 2010

Jackass 3D

The kids are back! Johnny Knoxville, Steve-O, Bam Margera, Ryan Dunn, Chris Pontius, Dave England, Wee Man and Preston Lacy are joined by a few familiar faces and a few famous friends for more pranks, stunts and stupidity.

Jackass has been entertaining/grossing out fans for over 10 years now on TV and the big screen. Now, they're back once again with their third film outing, but this time, they're in 3D. That's right, three dimensions. The punches and items flying through the air are coming right at you, and so is all the vomit and poo. Obviously, this is not an ordinary film: No acting performances, no writing, no plot/story. It's hard to know what to say about Jackass in a review sense, as well as hard to say anything that most people don't already know about it. It's Jackass, for crying out loud! I'll give it a go, but I can almost guarantee right now that this will be my shortest review ever.

I'll start off by saying that I'm a big fan of the Jackass films. They may not be clever, but they're funny, if not hilarious in particular sketches. The formula was well established in the TV show, and the budget of a big Hollywood production allowed them to go further in the films. Luckily, the formula hasn't changed. The development of the Jackass films has been clear since the first film. Jackass: The Movie had a very cinematic opening sequence and just went ahead with the sketches. Jackass Number Two had a cinematic opening skit as well, and also had a highly theatrical song and dance routine to close. Jackass 3D has very theatrical opening and closing skits which have been filmed surprisingly well, using slow motion and the eponymous 3D.

There's something to be said for the use of 3D in Jackass. It's done really well, and only becomes apparent in certain sketches as a way to enhance the humour, not create it, and it certainly doesn't dominate it. In all honesty, it's the best looking 3D I've seen so far, and I put that down to the use of 3D cameras to shoot the film, which have not only made the film look brilliant but made the 3D really realistic and deep. I imagine when James Cameron reinvented 3D cinema, he didn't have this in mind. The reason it works so well is because of what comes 'towards you' so to speak. Seeing paint balls, buffaloes, American footballs and poo (yes, 3D poo) coming towards you is done well and looks good. Even the poo.

The problem with the Jackass films is that fan expectation means they have to keep going further with each film, which becomes harder and harder as they run out of ideas and as the cast gets older. They don't look as young as they used to, but they're still going hard. On balance, I'd say Steve-O gets the worst of it this time round, which is especially bad for him as he's completely sober now, so will remember every horrifying detail of the 'poo cocktail supreme'. They are definitely more gross out moments than there have been in previous Jackass films, so be warned, and there's a really bad cringeworthy moment involving Danger Ehren's wonky tooth and a Lamborghini. You do the math. Don't say you haven't be warned - there's nakedness, pee, poo and vomit aplenty here.

Overall, you know what you're getting: Stupid people do stupid things. It may be gross at times, but you've got to laugh. It may not big or clever in any way, but it's just damn funny. The 3D fits the format surprisingly well, and doesn't hinder the film at all. The soundtrack is particularly good this time around as well, which sets a backdrop for a rather nice retrospect credits sequence involving clips from the TV series and the previous films with photos of the team from their youth. You get the impression they feel Jackass 3D is the end of the line for them, that this was a good time to look back on the history of the franchise and to close the book on it. Of course, they've said that after the last two films. Don't be surprised to see Jackass 4 in 3 or 4 years time, though hopefully the poo-cano is an idea that's been laid to rest forever. Hey look at that, this review was pretty long after all!

Rating: ***1/2

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Paranormal Activity 2

Kristi Rey, sister of Paranormal Activity 1's Katie, has just bought home her newborn son, Hunter, to the home she shares with her husband Dan, her step-daughter Ali, housekeeper Martine and family dog Abby. After an apparent break-in, the family install security camera around the house. But what the cameras begin to capture is seemingly unimaginable: Strange noises, items moving on their own, and unexplainable events which seem to be revolving around the new arrival...

Paranormal Activity was one of the simplest, original and scary movies of last year. Shot on a low budget in the directors own house on handheld cameras, it took the idea of the 'found footage' film and made it genuine, a mile away from your run-of-the-mill Blair Witch Project copies. No overacting, no outrageous scenarios, and it's not completely trying too hard every 2 minutes; the film plays out slowly and effectively over 90 minutes, delivering shocks at just the right times. To put it short, there was a reason why this film stood out amongst all the others. Paranormal Activity 2 sticks to the all the same principals, and tries to recreate the same atmosphere of the first, but unfortunately it just gets the timing all wrong.

Let me start off by saying Paranormal Activity 2 is an odd film in that it's a sequel... which is actually a prequel. It's a sprequel. Set roughly 60 days before the death of Micah Sloat in the first film, this film shows where the demon plaguing the Rey sisters first settled before it terrorized Katie and Micah and also explains why the demon is attacking their family in the first place. Trying not to give away spoilers here, but the end of the film actually occurs AFTER the events in Paranormal Activity 1, making this sequel the bread in the Paranormal Activity sandwich; explaining what happened before and after PA1 which I thought was very clever, though whether or not it leaves a door open for a possible third film is questionable. I'll leave it to Paramount to screw things up by demanding Paranormal Activity 3. Seriously, the franchise is given a good ending here, don't drag it out like Lions Gate did to Saw.

The acting is pretty standard across the board and it has to be to deliver the feeling of realism. There are no exceptional performances, though it is of course good to see the dog, Abby, doing everything it needs to on cue, as well as the baby, Hunter, which is important to the development of the story here. The difference is that this time around, we have professional actors filling the roles: Sprague Grayden (Kristi Rey) has appeared in various TV dramas and Molly Ephraim (step-daughter Ali) has been in a number of Broadway plays. Anything less than professional from these guys would have sloppy, naturally.

With a different director at the helm and with a bigger budget, things could have been dramatically different this time around. Somewhat surprisingly, things are quite restrained here, with the only real evidence of a bigger budget being a larger house as the setting and the addition of 6 more fixed cameras alongside the digital camcorder. The biggest difference though is the sense of timing throughout the film. In PA1, things went along at a nice, steady pace, gradually building up to more and more violent behaviour from the demon. In PA2, things don't move at a steady pace at all. For the first hour, things move extremely slow, and my God do I mean slow. We're talking glacier slow here. Continental drift slow. Every now and again, something minor happens, yes, and it certainly does get more and more aggressive as time goes on, but you're left wondering where on Earth the next big moment is coming from. Then, in the last half hour, it seems as if even the director is getting bored of this and ramps things up to 11. Trust me, it goes from 0-60 in about 4.2 seconds. It's a shame, because the ideas are there, but the execution is somewhat poor.

Overall, it's hard to say anything new about Paranormal Activity 2 which hasn't already been said about Paranormal Activity 1. Apart from the new characters and the explanation of back story, it's pretty much the same film. Same amount of shock and scare, same kind of uneasy feeling about going back to your dark, empty house once its over. The problem is it just isn't carried out as efficiently as the first film. It certainly sits nicely with its predecessor, but ultimately comes off as inferior. This is a franchise that's delivered proper shocks so far and is actually somewhat entertaining, so here's hoping that we don't get reach Paranormal Activity 6. I like these films, please don't go Nightmare on Elm Street on our asses.

Rating: ***

Saturday, 23 October 2010

The Social Network

Mark Zuckerberg is a Harvard student who sets up a website to rate the attractiveness of female Harvard undergrads after being dumped. FaceMash, the resultant website, soon gets him in trouble but also stirs up an idea - a social network for all Harvard students where people can choose who to be friends with, add photos and have the college experience entirely online. After weeks of writing code, and with financial assistance from his best friend Eduardo Saverin, The Facebook goes live and is a huge immediate hit. But, did he steal the idea from a pair of twin rowers? Can Zuckerberg handle the potential and growth of his creation?

Let's not beat around the bush here. This is the Facebook film. The story of the creation of Facebook and of the people involved (or not) with its creation and initial success. Of course, we are all aware of how successful Facebook became. But the main question about this film has obviously been this: Why on earth has the story of the creation of Facebook been turned into a 2 hour film directed by David Fincher? I myself asked what on earth Fincher saw in such a story. I'm a big fan of Fincher, his previous films such as Fight Club and Seven are amongst my favourites, so why has he made his next project the story of the youngest billionaire on Earth? Two things emerged: It's a fascinating and compelling story, and it's extremely well written. EXTREMELY well written.

This is, of course, due to the fact that this film was based on a book (The Accidental Billionaires) which was adapted by West Wing and Studio 60 supremo Aaron Sorkin. I wouldn't be any kind of film critic if I didn't mention Sorkin's trademark rat-a-tat dialogue which is ever present throughout his work, including this, and it fits well. What gets forgotten is Sorkin's ability to create drama and tension. He's done that here, creating a fantastic story from something which had the potential to be very long, slow and painful. He picks up on the drama and, although it may be exaggerated, it makes for a great 2 hour film.

Jesse Eisenberg is fantastic as Zuckerberg, playing him perfectly. Funnily enough, it's almost the same character he played in Zombieland; a guy who is uncomfortable with real social interaction and is more at home in front of a computer screen. What Eisenberg, and the script, plays on most is the irony that Zuckerberg creates a website which is designed to bring people together and yet it actually ends up alienating him from his one and only real friend. Eisenberg plays Zuckerberg as an awkward, angry geek who doesn't want to be told what to do, and yet ironically ends up getting manipulated by Sean Parker, founder of Napster and, now, consultant to Facebook. He ends up making Zuckerberg highly unlikeable. For all his failings and downfalls, everything that happens to him he brings upon himself, even if he does feel some sense of remorse and regret for what happens between him and Saverin. To paraphrase the last line of the film, he's not an asshole, he's just trying so hard to be.

Andrew Garfield plays Eduardo Saverin, co-founder of Facebook, and the only character in the film you feel sorry for. Here, it plays out that Saverin got absolutely screwed by Zuckerberg and Parker, thus the breakdown in relations between the two co-founders. You see Saverin trying to fight a losing battle as he sees Zuckerberg getting manipulated by Sean Parker right in front of his eyes. This leads onto Sean Parker himself, played by Justin Timberlake. A good performance, but this film portrays Parker as nothing more than an asshole. He's absolutely irredeemable; he dabbles with drugs (which ultimately leads to his forced exit from Facebook), he walks into and out of business ventures on a whim, and leads Zuckerberg to start dreaming of bigger things for The Facebook, promising billions rather than millions. Timberlake puts in a really convincing performance as a Machiavellian manipulator, goading Zuckerberg to taste the forbidden fruit and to cut out his best friend from the business they started together. An honourable mention goes to Armie Hammer who plays both Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, twin rowers who believe Zuckerberg stole their idea for a Harvard-wide social network.

This film hinges on three things: The relationship (and eventual breakdown of) between Zuckerberg and Saverin, the question of whether or not Zuckerberg stole the idea for Facebook from the Winklevoss twins, and the burgeoning relationship between Zuckerberg and Parker. It's a mess of storylines which could easily have become congested, but Fincher and Sorkin keep everything in check, telling the story in flashback after the opening 15 minutes. The two anchors, which the story always goes back to, are the two lawsuit depositions in which Zuckerberg is testifying; one from the Winklevoss's and one from Saverin. It's a good way to keep the story grounded, to always have a reference point, and it's also a good way of explaining what's going on. It also acts well in juxtaposing images of Saverin and Zuckerberg's friendship as told in the flashback main story with their more recent 'hatred' for one another in the deposition, with this setting becoming crucial and more dramatic near the end. Watch out for the 'signing your own death certificate' scene for some real drama and possibly the best scene in the movie.

Overall, for a film about Facebook, you don't see the actual website an awful lot in the 2 hours you spend watching this. But then, that's because this film's not really about Facebook the website. This film is about Facebook's creation, mainly Mark Zuckerberg and the friendships/relationships he forms/destroys. It's extremely well written, and visually it's akin to The Curious Case of Benjamin Button - Fincher has developed a 'look'. It's surprisingly engrossing and delivers some real moments of tension and drama, as well as some well-needed light relief in places. Anyone looking for OMG's and LOL's will be sorely disappointed.

Rating: ****1/2

Saturday, 16 October 2010


Frank Moses is a retired black-ops CIA agent now living a quiet life, his only excitement coming from repeatedly phoning his pension services representative, Sarah, to flirt. But when it becomes clear someone wants him dead, he has no choice but to go on the run, taking Sarah with him. As he uncovers a deception which goes back to a previous mission, he realises that to survive, he'll need to find and put together his old team, all ex-assassins who have been labelled RED: Retired, Extremely Dangerous...

It would seem 2010 has been the year that those graphic novels that have that certain 'something different' about them have made it onto the big screen. Of all of those films we've seen, this would arguably be the most formulaic. Plenty of action, quirky characters, cute love story, nice plot to keep everything together, nothing particularly special. However, looking at this film, I can't help but draw comparisons to another film I've seen this year. Veteran, star-studded cast? Lots of gun fire and big explosions? Yes! It's the DC Comics version of The Expendables! But don't be put off by that. DC obviously knew what they were doing, clearly they knew that Red was a far stronger story than The Expendables or else they wouldn't have released 2 months after Sly Stallone's action dud. And wouldn't you know it, they were right.

The big difference for me is that whilst Red does have a packed cast of well-established, veteran star actors and actresses, it doesn't completely go all out and cast every single role in the film with a name actor like The Expendables did. It was just too much, and Red dials it down to a much more manageable level. As well as that, there's an actual story in Red that keeps all the gun fire and explosions in context. Although said story may be a tad unbelievable, you have to understand we're entering the realm of the graphic novel, so it's allowed a few liberties I'd say. The Expendables tried taking itself seriously and it backfired. Spectacularly.

Bruce Willis plays the same role he's been playing and playing well for the last 22 years; he indeed plays John McClane again under the guise of Frank Moses, albeit a highly trained version of John McClane. Mary-Louise Parker plays the same kind of role she's been playing for 6 seasons on Weeds; the cooky, off-centre female with near-deadpan delivery of lines which have come to define her as an actress. John Malkovich is really entertaining as Marvin, who has developed paranoid tendencies after being given daily doses of LSD for 11 years (in that case, he looks great, fantastic). He doesn't go too over the top with the paranoid weirdo persona, but rather plays with it well and makes it work within the film. Helen Mirren also appears an ex-assassin now running a quiet B&B (whilst taking a few contracts on the side) and she's very good, as always, and very British, as always. Amongst all this, Morgan Freeman seems to get lost, even though he's very important to the plot. It's not to say he puts in a bad performance, it's just not a particularly strong one. Karl Urban, the new Judge Dredd, puts in a good performance as well as CIA Agent Cooper, the man tasked with tracking down and killing Moses. Perhaps the next Bruce Willis?

The action in the film is good, highly entertaining, and it's laid on thick and fast. I don't think you get more than 10 minutes after the initial action sequence where there isn't a gun fired, an explosion happening or a fight breaking out. Whether or not you care though, it's almost entirely unbelievable. Stopping a rocket propelled grenade by firing a bullet exactly at the tip of the rocket? Stepping out of a car as it's going into a tail spin and then walking away as the car spins past you and misses by an inch? Helen Mirren firing a machine gun? As I said before, this is a graphic novel adaptation, so it's always going to have the element of fantastical action and that makes this a good bit of escapist fun. It's fun to see thing explode. It's fun to see these famous, well-established actors go outside their comfort zone (except Bruce Willis). It's fun for people to get shot. It's a fun film!

Overall, this isn't a great film, but in no way is it a bad film. You'll have seen better films this year, even better comic book/graphic novel films, but you could certainly see worse films this year, God knows I have. I did say that 2010 was the year of the 'something different' graphic novel film and this is no exception. The film's adamant on having an actual plot and storyline and that makes you forget at times what exactly its source material is, but the OTT action and near-impossible scenarios certainly ground it. If you went to see The Expendables at the cinema, I'd recommend going to see this so that you can see how the 'star-studded action film' should have been done in the first place.

Rating: ***

Sunday, 10 October 2010

The Girl Who Played with Fire

Mikael Blomkvist and the editors of Millenium magazine are on the trail of a people trafficking ring after a bright, young investigative journalist and his girlfriend uncover a trail of johns and pimps running the ring. However, after the journalist and his girlfriend are assassinated, who should get the blame but Lisbeth Salander, friend and ex-lover of Blomkvist who has recently returned to Sweden after a year abroad. When her guardian, Nils Bjurman, gets brutally murdered as well, the noose seems to be tightening around Lisbeth's neck. Can Blomkvist get to the truth? Can Lisbeth clear he own name whilst evading police capture?

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was a film I saw earlier this year and completely loved. Based on the series of books by the late Stieg Larsson, it was the start of 'The Girl' trilogy of films, which made me eager to see this sequel. Every great film trilogy has the 'weak link' film. The Godfather trilogy has The Godfather III. The Lord of the Rings trilogy has The Two Towers. Even the Toy Story trilogy has Toy Story 2. I sincerely hope that The Girl Who Played with Fire is the weak link in The Girl trilogy. Don't get me wrong, it's not a bad film, not by a long shot. This film is still a lot better than a lot of the mainstream Hollywood junk being churned out at the moment. The Girl who Played with Fire just isn't a GREAT film.

One of the main reasons The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was so good was because of the on-screen chemistry and relationship between Mikael Blomvkist, played by Michael Nyqvist, and Lisbeth Salander, played by the excellent Noomi Rapace. With The Girl Who Played with Fire, you get two mini-films in one, as the two characters don't meet until the end. This is, of course, vital to the plot of the movie, but nevertheless it means that you don't get to see the great on-screen chemistry they had built up in Dragon Tattoo. For a film not to take advantage of something like that is near to being a cinematic crime, even if they were tied down by the source material. It's a real shame, but it does give both of these actors to demonstrate their own separate acting abilities, and they play the parts extremely well, much as they did in Dragon Tattoo. I realise I'm mentioning Dragon Tattoo an awfully lot for a review of its sequel, but that's how truly good it was.

I believe the main problem with Played with Fire is that it wasn't quite as slick as its predecessor. Played with Fire doesn't truly develop characters or explain the somewhat complicated storyline enough for me. Considering the film is 2 hours long, it goes to show how much is crammed into this film that they have to breeze past the basics like introductions and explanations. The story is just as good and just as intricate as the plot of Dragon Tattoo, one would expect nothing less from Larsson. The problem is that this film adaptation doesn't have enough time to explain everything the way Larsson would have wanted it explained or else we would have been looking at a version of Played with Fire being released which would have been nearing a running time only rivaled by Cleopatra.

Visually, it's a case of as you were with Played with Fire. Different director in Daniel Alfredson but you still get the visuals of an aesthetically pleasing Sweden, the slow editing and stringent use of close-up. It's a case of Alfredson using the template Oplev laid down with Dragon Tattoo. Story wise, there isn't as much action in this installment. You do get the odd fight scene and car action, but other than that, it's a very wordy movie with a lot of conversation and it just slows the movie down. You get a lot of conversation, and a lot of Salander smoking a cigarette sitting in front of a laptop. Having said that, the first half hour of the film could easily be classed as a soft porn film with the amount of nudity and lesbian sex scenes. An eye opener certainly, but necessary to the plot? Questionable.

Overall, this is still a good film, an engrossing two hours with enough twists, turns and suspense to keep you engrossed as anyone who's read the book will tell you. However, Dragon Tattoo set the level of expectation far too high for this film and it just can't reach it, though it was never likely to in all honesty. It's well worth seeing, as I said earlier it's a lot better than 95% of what's out there right now, but just don't expect another Dragon Tattoo. Fingers crossed The Girl who Kicked the Hornets' Nest can finish this trilogy in style.

Rating: ***1/2

Sunday, 26 September 2010

The Last Seven

London. The not so distant future. Population - 7 million... until today. 7 people find themselves in an empty London with no recollection of what's happened to them or the city. What's happened to them? Why have these 7 people been drawn together, why are they the only survivors? And what's that mysterious threat that lurks around every corner?

The Last Seven was premiered earlier this year and released straight to DVD in August of this year, which would normally exclude films from being reviewed here on the Gyre, being an up to the minute, cinema release only review blog. However, the good people of Portsmouth were treated to a very special 'south coast premiere' as part of the Portsmouth Film Festival at the excellent No.6 cinema. I just so happened to be a part of that crowd, and thus watched said film and I have to say... I was pleasantly surprised. For an hour and a half film, Danny Dyer didn't open his mouth once.

Other than that small delight, there really are no redeeming features in this film. The plot is a cross between 28 Days Later and The Da Vinci Code. They even replicated the famous Cillian Murphy deserted bridge shot, but they've made it so much cheaper and worse. The plot was very loosely tied together but some quasi-religious doctrine and flashbacks of what happened before they found themselves alone in deserted London, but it all just seems so forced and lucky. The dialogue was absolutely dreadful and wooden, this just really was an extremely poorly written film with recycled plot elements and ideas, and lines we all heard in bog standard horror thrillers 30 years ago.

Tamer Hassan plays the big, cockney Army guy with a gun. Not exactly a wide stretch of the imagination, but he still manages to mess it up. On this evidence, he's clearly not cut out for acting, but he could easily stand outside pubs, turning away 16 year olds. Highlights of his 'performance' included announcing he was going for a piss, shooting a decanter of Cognac out of an old man's hand, and falling to his knees and really trying to cry in front of a bloody schoolgirl. Then there's the lead (?) protagonist who seems to been chopping up too many onions as his eyes are constantly swelled up, red and on the verge of crying, which he does. A lot. He also shouts things about staying together as a team. Then, our young female teenager who, as the rebel she is, has to slip the word 'fuck' into every sentence whether it needs it or not. This seems to provoke Hassan into saying 'fuck' an awful lot, leading to them having am unspoken contest as to who can say it more, or to put it another way, a 'fuck off'. Then there's the Portugese woman who can speak English when she wants to, an old drunkard, a supposed Army captain and the mysterious middle aged man who constantly recites scripture who hides the darkest secret of them all. The message here is religion is bad, kids.

I won't spoil the twist ending or the explanation of the entire plot, but needless to say, by the time it gets to the reveal, you don't really care. Any explanation they could have possibly offered would not explain why you've just sat through a terrible film. I was mildly impressed they managed to film in an empty London in the middle of the day, not early morning like 28 Days Later, and was also mildly impressed Danny Dyer was in a film and didn't ruin it. Throughout the film, Dyer's role involves him wearing a blindfold and a hood and being covered in blood as he plays... the Angel of Death. Yep. He doesn't say a word, just snatches people and digs out their eyes with his thumbs. It sounds ridiculous but honestly, it really fits in with the sheer stupidity and ridiculousness that is The Last Seven.

Overall, this film is just simply bad. It's not even a good kind of bad, that kind of bad where you want to watch it to laugh at how bad it is. It's just plain bad. There are absolutely no redeeming features for this film, it's acted poorly, it's written poorly and it's been shot poorly. Psst, the shaky first person stalker camera from around a corner has been done a gazillion times. Stop it. I can't even bring myself to give this film a symbolic half a star, it honestly deserves a big fat zero. In a brief Q&A session after the film, producer Toby Meredith (who seems to be a lovely man, if a little misguided in his support for the script) informed us this film was shot on a budget of £150,000. I, for one, am glad that no more money than that was wasted on this atrocity of moving pictures.

Rating: 0

Friday, 3 September 2010

Dinner for Schmucks

Tim Conrad is looking to get ahead at his financial company, and so strikes up a potential deal with a wealthy Swiss businessman. As a result of his ingenuity, Tim's boss invites him to a special "dinner for winners" where he must bring a 'special' guest. However, Tim soon learns it is more of a "dinner for idiots" where the special guests will be mocked relentlessly. As he wonders who he could possibly bring, he literally runs into Barry Speck, an IRS employee and part-time mouse taxidermist. Chaos soon ensues as Tim tries to balance his relationship with a curator and the eccentric artist lusting after her, his stalker, his work colleagues and the special guest who's quickly entered his life...

Dinner for Schmucks. Certainly a less offensive title than the translation of the original French title, Le Dîner de cons (literally 'The Dinner of C***s' or 'The Dinner of Idiots') but definitely more marketable and poster friendly. I will not come here and say I've seen Le Dîner de cons and found it be a highly amusing charade. I will say that after seeing this, I'm more open to finding and watching the original French version because I can only hope that it contains more laughs than this version. There must have been a reason why they chose to remake this film, there must have been, because why on Earth would you choose to put millions of dollars into remaking a comedy with little to no laughs in it? I was, to say the least, disappointed. There may have been more laughs in this, but the extensive trailers and TV spots gave away some of the film's biggest laughs so there were only a handful of original laughs to be had.

In all honestly, I can only remember laughing twice. Admittedly, those two laughs were pretty hearty laughs, but in a film that's nearly two hours, that's wholly unacceptable. I didn't even laugh once for the first hour. When you spend 60 minutes not laughing at a supposed comedy film, you know you're in trouble. It's not physical enough to be a slapstick comedy. It's not stupid enough to be a screwball comedy. It's barely anything really, an hour and a half of relationship building and character intros to lead up to the aforementioned "dinner for winners". It's one of the best parts of the film, it's somewhat entertaining with a few laughs. I credit the dinner being funny due to the cameos: Jeff Dunham (Seen Achmed the Dead Terrorist? Him, the puppet guy!) appears as a man married to the ventriloquist's dummy attached to his arm and Chris O'Dowd (Seen The IT Crowd? Him, the Irish guy!) appears as a blind fencer. Dunham's good at what he does, as displayed in numerous YouTube videos, and O'Dowd plays a somewhat stupidly-premised role straight as an arrow.

Paul Rudd is in autopilot here, playing pretty much the same guy he played in I Love You, Man and Role Models. Steve Carell plays an alternative version of Brick Tamland, less 'retarded' and more 'idiotic'. Likeable but not a classic character. Jemaine Clement (from Flight of the Conchords) plays an eccentric artist who is every pretentious artist stereotype from every comedy film from the last 30 years, though that's not to say he doesn't play it well, we've just seen it before. David Walliams makes a, frankly, baffling appearance as a wealthy Swiss businessman with an accent as dodgy as the tan he sports. Ron Livingstone is horribly misplaced as Tim's competitor to win the dinner. Zach Galifianakis plays the Zach Galifianakis role only stupider. Above it all though, I was impressed by one person. Lucy Punch. Name means nothing? She was Eve Draper in Hot Fuzz, Holly Ellenbogen from The Class and, most recently, Kate Bishop in BBC Two's comedy-drama Vexed. This is a bright young actress who's getting attention on both sides of the Atlantic and can certainly make it, she can turn from extremely British in Vexed to convincingly American in Dinner for Schmucks, and she turns in probably the most memorable performance of the film as Tim's stalker Darla. Yeah, it's the same stalker cliche we've seen films for years and years (a testament to the film's adamant unoriginality) but she still carries it off damn well.

To be honest, I don't really want to dwell on this film more than I already have, so here it is. Overall, it's just not funny. It has all the right people in it, but a dire script and lack of jokes severely lets it down. This'll be in the bargain bin before too long, it certainly won't live long in the memory, or at least I hope not on behalf of all the people who have and will see it. The only laugh you'll get from this is how laughably unfunny it is for a supposed comedy. I can only guess that the laughs were lost in translation.

Rating: *

Friday, 27 August 2010

The Expendables

A team of elite muscle-for-hire mercenaries are tasked with going to a remote island in the Gulf of Mexico to overthrow its Latin American dictator, General Garza. But, once there, they find he is being funded by an ex-CIA agent and, so, must overcome the force of Garza's army of loyal soldiers and the might of the American money backing them in order to free the country. But, more importantly, can they also rescue the general's daughter before it's too late?

Be under no illusions, this is not some clever parody of all the action films you've ever seen. This is just another action movie, but this time, all those people who you grew up watching, shooting bad guys and saving the day, are all together shooting bad guys and saving the day. Although, there are a few new additions thrown in, but I'll get to that. With this, there's no messing around. You get exactly what you pay for. A host of famous and familiar faces, everything gets shot and blown up, everyone leaves the cinema happy. Sort of. You do get all that, but it still feels a bit underwhelming. You see, the problem is, they tried to put a story on top of everything to thread it all together. It's pretty basic really: Evil dictator takes over foreign place backed by the good old American dollar, good Americans go in and kill evil dictator and evil Americans, righting the image of the American hero once again. This, however, just doesn't seem to fit. It seems like an unnecessary way to link all the car chases, explosions and people dying everywhere.

This film is smug. It knows it has a cornucopia of action heroes on display, even if some are mere snide cameos, and my God does it overplay it. What's Arnold Schwarzenegger's problem? "He wants to be President". Ha ha ha, it's funny because they're talking about Arnold and not his character. We get it. It's desperately tried to be self-deprecating and all-knowing but it's really turned out looking quite proud of itself when, frankly, it has no reason to be. At the end of the day, it really is JUST another action movie with the same people we've been watching do this stuff over the last 25 years.

Let's break down The Expendables here: Sylvester Stallone. This guy wrote and starred in Rocky, winner of Best Picture at the Academy Awards in 1976. Here, he's now 64 and wrote, starred in AND directed the so-called 'ultimate action movie'. The man can't let things go! He brought back Rocky, he brought back Rambo and now he's here, still determined he can be an action hero. Please stop. The dialogue's wooden and the directing is nothing special. Jason Statham. The current all-action hero from The Transporter, Crank and various others. This was about standard for him, I suppose. Jet Li. Martial arts legend. He's Asian, therefore he is small. Thanks for telling us, Sly. Randy Couture. UFC Hall of Famer, included just in case the kids watching don't know the others. Terry Crews. The token black guy, filling the role previous given to Wesley Snipes, Forest Whitaker and 50 Cent. The inbetweener, Dolph Lundgren. Nice to see him in a secondary role as a goodie/baddie junkie. Very interesting to see him as something other than 'the Russian guy'. Then, our bad guys. Eric Roberts. When Hollywood needs a man to play an evil businessman, Hollywood now turns to Eric Roberts. A surprisingly good turn in The Dark Knight led to this, where he's come crashing back to Earth. His lead henchman, 'Stone Cold' Steve Austin. Question: Why is he the bad guy? Millions of kids AND adults spent nearly ten years cheering the hell out of the guy while he was a wrestler?! Still, at least this was something different, and cements his place as one of Hollywood's emerging tough guys.

Let's not forget our cameos, of course. Mickey Rourke as tattoo artist Tool, who acts as the go-between for The Expendables and the people who wish to hire them. That's about it really, other than the fact he can throw a knife with accuracy and 'is human'. Bruce Willis as Mr Church, assumed to be with the CIA and hires The Expendables in the first place. Lots of swearing, certainly, but he's definitely not John McClane anymore. And, of course, big Arnold Schwarzenegger, governor of California with dreams as high as The White House. He can barely act, how is he supposed to run a country?

Overall, it's only an hour and a half, and you get exactly what you pay admission for. Everyone gets shot, everything blows up, our heroes save the day. It's not big, and it's certainly not clever, but hey, who said it was? More than anything, I see this as a passing of the torch from the likes of Stallone, Schwarzenegger and Willis to Statham, Austin and Couture to take over where they left off. If this film has any message in it at all, it's something like this: If something is bad, shoot it until it dies or blows up. Oh, and goatees are back in fashion.

Rating: **

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

Scott Pilgrim is a 22 year old slacker living with a gay friend, trying to make a living with his average band Sex Bob-Omb and dating a 17 year old high schooler. But when he meets the girl of his dreams (literally), Ramona Flowers, he sets out to win her over and begin dating her instead. However, before he can do that, he must defeat Ramona's Seven Evil Exes, who have banded together to control Ramona's love life and are determined to stop Scott from living out his fantasies at any cost...

Earlier this year, I watched and reviewed Kick-Ass and found that to be a really refreshing take on the comic book superhero genre. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World may not be a superhero film of sorts, but it is most certainly a comic book film and upon finally seeing it after eagerly anticipating it for so long, I can only describe it thus: Mindblowing. This film is phenomenal in carrying out its adaptation of the graphic novel. I feel confident to honestly say that this is as close to a true comic book film, in its most basic definition, you are ever likely to see. The film is a comic book. The comic book was a manga. The manga was a computer game. The film is the resultant hybrid comic book/manga/computer game. It's confusing, but my god it works.

Right from the very beginning, you know it's going to be something different when you're given the Universal ident 8-bit style. From there it just goes on, staying as close to its source material as possible, creating a world that feels like a true-to-live video game. From Scott and his friends being introduced by name tags which appear in screen, to Scott's enemies exploding into a shower of coins and points once defeated, even down to Scott's band's name. The graphic novels took their cues from the world of Nintendos and Manga, and writer/director Edgar Wright has done his best to keep it true to that, and has succeeded at every turn. From the OTT fighting, to the 1960's Batman style fight words complimenting, it is a comic book film in every sense of the term. Every shot looks like a frame from a comic book, meaning the fight scenes become a cross between The Matrix and Mortal Kombat and let's face it, who HASN'T been waiting for that combination?

Michael Cera has come of age in 2010, carrying Youth in Revolt through a somewhat dodgy script and has come into this and delivered his strongest performance yet, which was vital as he absolutely carries the film through. It's hard to think that only 7 years ago, he was George Michael Bluth in Arrested Development, one of the best TV shows of the last decade.This, of course, meant I personally rejoiced when Scott battled Evil Ex Number 4 aka Roxy Richter aka Mae Whitman aka Ann from Arrested Development aka George Michael's girlfriend. Follow that? No? Well, it was a good moment seeing those two together again and makes the prospect of an Arrested Development movie all the more mouthwatering. But I digress... Mary Elizabeth Winstead is only OK, but then Ramona Flowers is a tricky character to play as she rarely expresses any real emotion. The Evil Exes are proper comic book villains with powers and dress senses to match. Scott's bandmates provide some laughs as well. But it's Scott's most recent ex, high schooler Knives Chau, and Scott's gay roommate, Wallace Wells, played by Ellen Wong and Kieran Culkin respectively, who are the strongest supports in the film and are gifted with some of the film's best/funniest lines. Oh, and as lovely as it was to see Anna Kendrick, she shouldn't have been cast as an 18 year old, or even just someone supposedly younger than Michael Cera. No.

I simply think this is just the ultimate geek film, truly. The number of computer game references is astronomical, from the blatant to the subtle. The use of Scott Pilgrim artwork as a flashback device was clever in a self-knowing way but it still fit into the film's aesthetic. Sex Bob-Omb's music was written by Beck. I mean, come on, that's just cool. It's truly entertaining and laugh out loud funny. It's also a touching romance story. It's also a great action thriller. It's also a phenomenal comic book adaptation. It's also the perfect video game movie. Ironically, after all the Resident Evils and Silent Hills we've been given, the best video game movie we now have in the world isn't even a video game.

Overall, there just aren't words to describe how good and entertaining I found it to be. Earlier in the year, I did say that I hold Watchmen to be my most perfect comic book adaptation so far. Scrap that, this is. Earlier in the year, I said Kick-Ass was the best film of the year. Scrap that, this is. Yes, even after Inception. I honestly cannot recommend this film more highly enough. Truth is, I completely and utterly lesbians this film.

Rating: *****

Friday, 23 July 2010

Toy Story 3

Andy's all grown up and about to go to college; his loyal toys are long forgotten and neglected. But a mix-up results in them almost being thrown out and destroyed before they save themselves by ending up a donation box for Sunnyside Nursery, where they'll be played with forever. Woody, though, is adamant on returning to Andy and leaves Buzz and the crew at the nursery. However, they soon realise Sunnyside is less of a paradise and more of a prison and resolve to escape. Can they make it past the evil toys at Sunnyside? Will Woody return to save the day? And can they save themselves from being destroyed forever?

As you may have realised from my review of Shrek Forever After, I'm not a big fan of the animation genre. The last Pixar film I'd seen before this was, in fact, Toy Story 2, which was an almighty 11 years ago. I'm aware I've missed some 'classic' Pixar films but I'd chosen not to see those, they never appealed to me. However, Toy Story 3 is the exception that proves the rule. I've grown up with Toy Story and Toy Story 2, they were a part of my childhood and so, before the child inside me dies once and for all, I felt I had to see Toy Story 3. After all, it would be wrong not to after the happy memories I had of it. Coming out of it, I was justified in my decision, and after the Shrek debacle, this may have saved animation as a genre in my life and may even have reignited my dormant relationship with Pixar.

Toy Story 3 is a perfect ending to a perfect 3 films, it's the only franchise I can think of which hasn't had a low point from start to finish: The Godfather films fell down at The Godfather 3, The Saw franchise only really had Saw 1, Star Wars got ruined with the prequels. Perhaps only the current Batman franchise can match Toy Story's victory in consistency, but that's to be judged when that third film is finally released. Indeed, this is a series of films which was consistently strong throughout, though, that was no sure thing. In an alternate universe, we would have seen a version of Toy Story 3 two years ago where Buzz began malfunctioning and was shipped off to Taiwan. This version of Toy Story fits the continuity of the franchise and provides a fitting conclusion to the stories of Woody, Buzz and the rest of the toys we've all come to know and love.

Firstly, the graphics are impeccable. This is the most picture perfect animation I can remember seeing; I know I said the graphics in Shrek were good and were the only commendable thing in the film, but this just wipes the floor with Shrek. It's proven Pixar have been and currently are the real kings of animation, and probably will be for some time yet. It almost makes me wonder what I've been missing in Wall-E and and Monsters, Inc. The 3D was good throughout, but to be honest, it was about standard to what we can now expect. It was merely just 'there', nothing truly stood out as impressive. Secondly, the story was well thought out. It was, actually, a really rather serious affair, with the toys in peril almost throughout. The new characters were well designed, appropriate and integrated well to the story. Thirdly, this is a film that will appeal to everyone. The toys and the overall story will entertain the kids, but the darkness of the story will grab the adult audience; the underlying themes of growing old and becoming obsolete. It's almost have grown old along with Andy and are ready to retire, having become smarter yet weary. Their first day at daycare prompts them to have an "I'm getting too old for this shit" moment and the acceptance of their fate at one point near the end is so touching and delicately done, it will move any man close to tears, it's just so adult.

Overall, I firmly believe this is the second Pixar film in a row aimed squarely at adults. The kids who grew up with Toy Story and Toy Story 2, myself included, have waited 11 years for an ending and, thus, have grown up. What Pixar delivers in Toy Story 3 is a thoroughly pleasing conclusion to all those adult fans, as well as a charming and funny film for the youngsters, staying true to their majority audience. Toy Story 3 is best summed up as being something like Schindler's Toybox. It's THAT moving and THAT serious and THAT engaging. It's funny and charming and smart to boot. To put it simply, it's the perfect final chapter for the almighty Toy Story.

Rating: ****

Friday, 16 July 2010


Dom Cobb is a master of 'Extraction', the illegal art of stealing ideas from people's dreams via shared dreaming but he finds himself on the run from the law for a crime he didn't commit. However, he is given the opportunity to be pardoned of his crime and the chance to see his children again if he can perform 'Inception', the planting of an idea in someone else's head. So, he, along with his team of an 'architect', a point man, a 'forger', a chemist and a 'tourist', enters the dreams of a young businessman to try and plant in his head an idea which could change him forever. But can they pull it off, with the businessman's subconscious acting against them, as well as something deeply manifested in Cobb's subconscious acting independently...

It takes a hell of an imagination to ever conceive a film like this, let alone actually create it. Therefore, this success of this film rests squarely on the shoulders of two people. One of those people is Christopher Nolan, but this time it's not Nolan the director, it's Nolan the writer. True, Nolan directs the piece well and keeps everything together, but it's the intricacy of the plot and the various elements which keep everything so closely bound together which shine through here. The film is so well written, and to be completely honest it had to be, or else the whole thing would have fallen apart. The second person is Wally Pfister, Director of Photography. The visuals in this film are nothing short of stunning and, although it's true CGI comes into play an awful lot in this film, the film is still visually engaging and beautifully shot throughout.

Leonardo DiCaprio. There's not a lot to say about him anymore, he finally came of age in The Departed and excelled himself in Shutter Island earlier this year and yet in this, he's delivered his most competent and certainly his most consistent performance to date. He carries the film from start to finish, along with a good Juno-esque performance from Ellen Page. Marion Cotillard almost steals the show as Cobb's deceased wife Mal as she manifests herself in Cobb's dreams without his control. When Mal is evil and takes over Cobb's dreams, Cotillard carries it off brilliantly. When Mal is fondly remembered and embraced in Cobb's dreams, Cotillard barely pulls through. A good ensemble throughout the rest of the film, with Tom Hardy adding the comic relief in places and Cillian Murphy the victim of the 'Inception'; here's two young actors who are rapidly building on two already impressive acting resumes.

The two and a half hours the film takes is absolutely justified when, in all honestly, this film could have taken at least another two and a half. It's one of the few times I can remember in a film when the exposition was both carefully selective and necessary. It doesn't fully explain everything, but just enough for you to understand the concept of shared dreaming and 'Inception'/'Extraction'. It certainly makes the most of the two and a half hours it has though, as there is something happening all the time. There's most definitely no fat to be trimmed from that lengthy amount of time; miss a single moment, you'll lose something vital in plot or character. It keeps you gripped though, no worries there. Whether it's plot, character, dialogue or visual, there's always something on screen which will justify its inclusion in that two and a half hours and will keep you entertained. It certainly doesn't feel like two and a half hours, and by the end, wherein you're given an apt ending which you can see coming half way through the film, you'll wonder where the time went.

Overall, this film is a masterpiece, and I'm not afraid to use that word. It's visually stunning, complex yet simple, self explanatory, engaging and thrilling. It's a thriller, mystery, action, comedy, sci-fi and romance flick all rolled into one. Honestly, we should have known something like this was coming years ago when Nolan made Memento nearly 10 years ago. Nolan is continuously toying with the concept of time and reality through his films, and here he does it with great aplomb. When a film has so much going on, you could so easily get lost at any point. You never do. And if by chance you do get lost, then that only serves to give you an excuse to watch this excellent film again and again and again. Believe me, you'll want to.

Rating: *****

This review was included as part of UU Blog's Film Club, go check it out!