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The Avengers (2012)
Joss Whedon Has Done It Right And Well
With the success of Jon Favreau's 'Iron Man' in 2008, calls started ringing out across the comic book universe for not only further comic book movies, but also for the 'The Holy Grail of Cinematic Superheroes,' which is also known as an 'Avengers' film. What followed was four more Marvel Universe movies, the introduction of many favoured and established characters and the continual teasing of fans across the globe with post-credit sequences. The introduction of Samuel L. Jackson as Commander Nick Fury inevitably announced to fans that an 'Avengers' movie would come to fruition and it brought forth the key question of when rather than where, who and why.
The man tasked with throwing all these vibrant characters into a smouldering cauldron of excitement and pure unadulterated geekiness is one Joss Whedon. He's already created three incredibly successful television shows and an incredibly successful tie-in movie in 'Serenity,' but this is undoubtedly his biggest challenge to date. Today sees the release of 'The Avengers' (or 'Avengers Assemble' in the United Kingdom) across the globe, and while it contains evident flaws, it's nothing short of a two hour canonical ride across the Marvel Universe which provides everything to satisfy fans, nerds and casual cinema-goers alike.
Buried deep beneath a Government facility is the mystical cube known as the tesseract. When it begins to mysteriously start operating by itself Commander Nick Fury, and his agents Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) and Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders), unexpectedly come face-to-face with the Asgard deity Loki (Tom Hiddleston). The God is being seemingly controlled by a higher being, with but one simple, yet distinct aim, to control, enslave and destroy the Earth and humanity. With reluctance, Fury initiates the 'Avengers' protocol, which brings together the rag-tag team of superheroes consisting of: Iron Man Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), the Asgard God Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Captain America Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), Clint 'Hawkeye' Barton (Jeremy Renner), the Black Widow Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) and the unpredictable Dr Banner (Mark Ruffalo).
Where 'The Avengers' had the ability to fall pretty darn hard was with the amount of material ready at hand. Joss Whedon could've potentially created a ten-hour-three-film epic without even scratching the surface of what drives these beings to do what they do. Instead, in the running time which extends to just over two hours, he's created an intimate and humanised portrayal of six individuals who may be Gods, geniuses, super-human beings and destructive radioactive experiments on the outside, but all reflect deep, inner trauma on the inside.
The initial meetings between the characters show an element of distrust and reluctance. Why should one be subordinate to others when, by all accounts in their own minds, they all have the better technology, powers or intellect? With their flaws prominently on show from the beginning Whedon doesn't just show the audience superheroes, but he creates them before your own eyes. Building these characters from the inside, outside he allows the audience to empathise with their plights. After all, Thor is simply an Asgardian God with family issues, Dr Banner simply wants to be left alone in isolation to his own devices, and Black Widow and Hawkeye seem to battling those basic primal urges that come with humanity and prolonged friendship.
But one character that does continually feel out of place is the antagonist of the piece, Loki. Despite Tom Hiddleston creating a superb maniacal villain with thespian traits who thrives on power and destruction, it's hard to shake-off the fact that Loki he is constantly being undermined by those pulling his puppeteering strings. Yet, this should not detract away from his performance which constantly steals the show whenever he is on-screen with other members of the Avengers initiative, and which can be partly attributed to Josh Whedon and Zak Penn's slick screenplay.
The script contains some suspect writing in places, especially with regards to Dr Banner and some of the more unusually up-beat and intellectually void phrases he spouts. But aside from the odd sentence here or there, Whedon and Penn's script manages to combine the right mix or humour, bravado and arrogance allowing, not only each character's personality to thrive, but also the plot to be continually be driven forward. Whether it's the blossoming relationship between two prominent superheroes or the developing nature of the narrative, the film is never stagnant, and it's this plot development which gives Joss Whedon the ability to let his comic book geekdom roam free in the final act with an enthralling visual action-orientated conclusion.
Starting in Manhattan, the action takes place on the ground, in the air, inside buildings and generally anywhere where there's an enough room to photograph a glorious all battle of good versus evil. Explosions saturate the air, but there's also an enjoyable emphasis on hand-to-hand combat, especially when the likes of Hawkeye, Black Widow and Captain America are left without their weapons. Beautifully choreographed, fast, frenetic and aesthetically pleasing the final thirty minutes are a fitting and welcome conclusion to an epic comic book movie. Joss Whedon hasn't only managed to finally bring the six glorious superheroes to the big-screen. But he's also also managed to do it well, very well.
The Iron Lady (2011)
The Iron Lady Is More Than A Little Rusty
It is not a rare occurrence to see a biopic centred on a political figure emerge during any given calendar year, nor is it uncommon to see a biopic appear when the subject is still alive. But, it is unusual to see a film materialize when the said political figure is controversial in nature and divides opinion across the board.
Director Phyllida Lloyd proves why it is so unusual in her biopic of Margaret Thatcher entitled 'The Iron Lady' – the nickname attributed to Thatcher by the Soviet press after her scathing attack on the Communist model – which gently saunters between the important political moments in her life, whilst also trying to convey an appearance of regret, sadness and guilt by creating a humanized portrayal of a woman once dubbed "the most hated woman in British Politics."
But instead of creating an engaging piece which examines the life of one of the most enigmatic Prime Ministers of the twentieth century, the audience instead is left with a dull, uninspired mess which simply evades some of the most important social, economic and political events of her life to instead attempt to create some semblance of regret and humanity from the inner depths of this aging former Head of State.
Told through the flashbacks of an ailing former Head of State, Margaret (Meryl Streep) constantly engages in conversation with her deceased husband Denis (Jim Broadbent) and her daughter Carol (Olivia Colman), as she remembers past events – the good, the bad and the downright terrible – during her time as a young woman attempting to achieve some form of acceptance in the male-centric world of British politics, and finally as the first female head of a Western government.
From the tender opening moments to the solemn conclusion of this biopic, Phyllida Lloyd sets out to portray Maggie as a human being through her declining on-screen health which also mirrors the current state of the former Prime Minister. At eighty-six years old, Thatcher is understandably frail with her mental health constantly on the decline; it is an unfortunate prerequisite of aging, but it is not only common to those who have lived polarised lives in the eyes of the British public.
While Lloyd shows Thatcher constantly remembering past events, she never imposes any judgement, opinion or verdict upon anything that is visualized, instead treating it as a nostalgic and deeply sentimental walk-down-memory lane. Maggie remembers her successes and failings, but falls short of actually stating some form verdict on her past choices. Instead of watching a frail Margaret Thatcher dissect the events of her life, the audience is simply left to, uninterestingly, watch as they're recreated.
Aside from the portrayal of the frailty of Thatcher, her career itself is constantly over-shadowed by the more tender moments that Lloyd wishes to portray. The audience is essentially treated to a simple-minded examination of her early political career which extends as far as saying that Margaret Thatcher went into politics because she had ambition, found trouble in the form of institutionalized sexism and eventually established herself due to her husband Denis's influence as a middle-class businessman.
Other major events in Thatcher's career, including her challenge and rise to the leadership of the Conservative Party and the various controversial policies introduced during her reign as Prime Minister (privatisation, unemployment and the closure of twenty-five coal mines in 1985 among others) are simply portrayed as minor events.
Very little of the one hour and forty-five minute running time concerns itself with these events, aside from the occasional use of archive footage depicting public anarchy in the United Kingdom during the testing times of economic hardship during the 1980's, the audience is left to understand little in the way of why Thatcher chose to commit to certain policies except for the fact that she was a stern and incredibly stubborn woman when it came to deciding what and where she would impose upon the British public.
However, despite the major flaws in the form of Lloyd's film wishing to be somewhat of a cinematic memorial to Thatcher rather than a straight-edged biopic examining her tumultuous life, the saving grace comes in the form of Meryl Streep's wonderful performance as the famous leading lady. She is strong, commanding and visceral as Baroness Thatcher, constantly dominating the screen and drawing the audience's attention toward her prestigious manner.
Jim Broadbent as her late husband Denis, Richard E. Grant and Anthony Head among others, are depicted somewhat as 'Spitting Image-esque' caricatures of men who were nothing more than emasculated doormats in both a personal and a political cabinet, who didn't have the guts and gall to stand up to their overbearing leader. While Olivia Colman provides the only true emotional response in the form of Maggie's daughter Carol Thatcher, but these performances cannot save Lloyd's film from its own severe narrative flaws.
Since its inception, Phyllida Lloyd's Margaret Thatcher biopic has courted controversy among the family and various political circles of the former Prime Minister, and it is this controversy which has no doubt had a profound effect on the production of the film. Rather than becoming an intricate and interesting examination of a woman who was, and still is, worshipped and loathed by many members of the general public in Great Britain and Ireland, it instead became a slow inoffensive look at a woman who at eighty-six years old is shown to regret some aspects of her life.
'The Iron Lady' has an enormous amount of untouched potential that another director, producer or artist should be looking to exploit in the immediate future. And whoever should tackle this biopic, should once again call upon the talents of Meryl Streep and Olivia Colman as their performances save this film from being more boring and dreary than the most recent Conservative Party Conference.
The Big Year (2011)
Its mediocrity at its best...
In Birding terms a 'Big Year' is: "to see who can see or hear the largest number of species of birds within a single calendar year and within a specific geographical area." So, what do you achieve if you finish at the top of the list on December 31st? Money? Adulation? Endorsements? Not really, but more of a self-satisfying inner air-punch knowing that you, and you alone, are currently the greatest birder in North America. Director David Frankel, the man behind 'The Devil Wears Prada' and 'Marley and Me,' takes an interesting premise, but unfortunately he does nothing with it. Instead he creates a 'safe bet,' a film which is guaranteed to entertain during the brief moments which do contain some semblance of excitement and humour, whilst also refraining from being offensive in any manner whatsoever, but this results in a film which will fails to suitably engage a mass audience for its one hour and forty minutes running time.
'The Big Year' follows a poor, young, yet aspirational birder in Brad Harris (Jack Black), who also serves as the films narrator, and a retired former-CEO named Stu Preissler (Steve Martin) who wants to leave his world of work behind him once and for all (he's attempted retirement before) and actually enjoy the finer points in life for once. Brad lives with his parents after his previous marriage failed and despite his financial insecurity and his father's reluctance, he places everything he has into making a Big Year. While Stu, supported by his wife Edith (JoBeth Williams), just wants to experience birding for what it is. Despite an insurmountable mountain of wealth at his fingertips, he instead opts to drive, pillage and work toward his birding conquest by himself and along the way he meets the determined Brad as they strike a friendship up over their common love for the feathery creatures.
Alongside their story, there is also Kenny Bostick (Owen Wilson) who holds the Big Year record, once a contractor, he decided to turn his efforts toward his childhood hobby of bird watching, and his hard-work eventually paid off as he became the most recognised birder in the world, but this wasn't without consequence. Fast forward a few years later and now Bostick is attempting to settle down with his new wife Jessica (Rosamund Pike), but when January 1st rolls around again he can't shake the fact that somebody may be attempting to break his record and he sets out once again to complete yet another Big Year and in the process he places yet another marriage on the slippery black rocks of potential divorce-hood as he must carefully navigate a tight-rope between his hobby and his future.
The picture opens with on-screen titles stating that this is a true story, except for the fact that all the facts have been changed in this adaptation of Mark Obmascik's book, a relatively subtle and mild-mannered joke which sets the tone for the rest of the movie, the key word here being: mild. 'The Big Year' contains an established cast, a well-developed script, and an experienced director at the helm, but it consistently fails to grab the audience's attention, instead opting for the precariously easy route of birding puns and slapstick gags instead. For the birding enthusiasts among us, the constant quick-witted use of bird names in various puns and humorous jokes is no doubt going to tickle a few feathers, but to uninitiated it becomes a painfully slow descent into somebody else's hobby and somebody else's dream scenario.
While, the characters themselves all seem to develop at a pace, it is the script, despite being neat, concise and thorough it lacks anything of vigour. The characters, despite being slightly more than one-dimensional caricatures, have very predictable and tired journeys, whilst Bostick also comes across as somewhat of a red herring. For one moment he comes across as the brash, arrogant antagonist of the piece, whilst the next he is the honourable birder who wants to do nothing less than recreate the blissful childhood joy he had when he was a child growing up around many winged creatures. This could have been bird-watching's quirky equivalent to Christopher Guest's 'Best in Show,' yet it is more of an example of how filmmaking, no matter how competent, can still refrain from fully engaging with an audience by simply refusing to take any chances whatsoever, especially when it is attempting to bring a mass audience into such an original and individual recreational activity.
In Time (2011)
'In Time' is a few seconds off....
According to statistics from the United Nations, there are now seven billion people inhabiting this planet and with this figure the issue of overpopulation is once again reignited. Andrew Niccol's latest feature explores this concept of a dystopian future where the population is curbed by the time you are allowed to live for, and while it is a simple, yet innovative concept, it doesn't quite live up to expectations. 'In Time' is the typical cinematic case of having a really interesting and promising concept, but being unable to capitalize on any of its potential, leading to a disjointed plot and a poorly paced narrative which ends up simply recycling the same old sequences again and again.
It is sometime into the future where time has replaced currency as the fruitful commodity of civilisation. Once every human being reaches the ripe old age of twenty-five years old, a clock begins on their arm which counts down the time until their death. Death can be postponed and time added to any civilian's clock through the completion of work and other related day-to-day tasks within society. But with the cost of living continually rising, time starts to become an increasingly valuable commodity which thrives with the rich and desecrates upon the poor. Will Salas (Justin Timberlake) is just another patron of the ghetto; he lives his life from day-to-day with his bodyclock constantly teetering on the edge of expulsion, but after a chance meeting with a seemingly immortal wealthy socialite Henry Hamilton (Matt Bomer), Salas is given the opportunity to experience the other side of the divide. Prosperity, bodyguards, and luxury await him in New Greenwich, a place where immortality is no longer a myth, but with his new found life comes new and dangerous obstacles for him to overcome.
Salas's narration opens the picture by announcing that there isn't enough time for him to explain why society is time-centric and biased heavily towards the wealthy, and initially this doesn't provide any distraction from the narrative. But once the third act begins, plot holes begin to originate due to the lack of information being relayed to the audience. With a constant lack of engaging material to keep the audience hooked on the plot, the film becomes somewhat stale and formulaic. Also, instead of intertwining the plot with a deep-seated moral and financial message aimed primarily at those who are at the centre of the current economic recession, Niccol's script fails to dutifully act upon the message it wishes to convey and stops short. This is no more evident than in the final concluding sequences of the picture, which contain some ambiguous socio-political sentiments regarding the nature and solidarity of the human race when it comes to change, difference and revolution. Despite gearing up to make a resounding point during its conclusion, 'In Time' instead decides to take the safe, Hollywood and financially friendly studio route instead.
Following on from its constant lack of engaging material, the nature of 'In Time's' formulaic plot creates a repetitive sequence of events which becomes very old, very quickly. Once Salas has teamed up with a rebellious, yet incredibly wealthy socialite Sylvia Weis (Amanda Seyfried), they attempt to repair their imbalanced society through a crime spree. Coming off as a futuristic Bonnie and Clyde, bank-robbing, hold-ups and Robin Hood-esque deliveries of time to people who are less fortunate becomes their mission. However, while this aspect initially provides moments of exhilarating action, the repetition of each sequence, almost down to a tee, quickly takes away from its impending impact. Essentially for the entire second act, and the beginning of the third, Salas and Weis relatively easily break into banks, steal time, distribute the time among the poor, and then hide in a downtrodden motel where they don't expect to be found, until the street-smart Time Detective Raymond Leon (Cillian Murphy) deduces where they are and initiates an attack upon their location.
This repetition becomes increasingly tedious as the remaining running time of the film dwindles by, resulting in a rushed and poorly crafted final act in which each character's own stories are tied up quickly to give the appearance of some form of a conclusion as the final credits roll. Unfortunately 'In Time' has a very interesting premise, but Niccol's failure to create an engaging narrative beyond the first act leads to a film which ends up regurgitating the same sequences over and over again as the characters motivations become devalued in the face of lacklustre set-pieces.
Real Steel (2011)
It is a harmless, easy-going picture...
Shawn Levy has made a name for himself as a director who likes to converge upon and exploit the family-friendly cinema market for everything it is worth. His recent outings include the two successful 'Night at the Museum' films and the Steve Carrell driven 'Date Night,' and with his latest effort 'Real Steel' he carries on this trend of bringing a large-scale, blockbusting picture to the big-screen that appeals to both children and parents alike. As expected with a film involving fighting robotic androids, it's an over-the-top, CGI-laden action-fest that never attempts to be anything else which somewhat works in its clichéd favour.
It's the year 2020 and human boxing no longer exists due to human beings insatiable taste for increasingly violent blood sports reaching new, unbridled heights. When society wouldn't sanction anything more violent and deadly, the World Robot Boxing league was created to satisfy man's urge for destruction. Here huge, metallic robots battle each other in front of hundreds and thousands of spectators to determine which man, woman or child has created the ultimate, well, killing machine. Charlie Kenton (Hugh Jackman) is a former pro-Boxer and full-time loser, his arrogance and stubbornness is a constant contributing factor towards his failure in life to provide for himself and his friend Bailey (Evangeline Lilly). But when his ex-girlfriend dies and he is left with custody of his eleven year old son Max (Dakota Goyo), he must not only juggle his job as a poor man's robotic boxing coach, but also a young, animated child who understands that the man before him is only his father by blood and nothing more.
Cheesy dialogue, energetic action sequences and exaggerated emotions prosper in 'Real Steel,' because Shawn Levy has decided that this film does not need to be taken seriously by any members of the paying audience watching in a nearby theatre or home cinema. Hugh Jackman and Dakota Goyo play overstated characters whose emotions are literal thrown at the viewer. When they're feeling a bout of sadness, arms flail, voices rise and tears flow. In no way do the characters react to the subtle nuances that govern everyday life, but instead, they perform to an overstated level, because everything in this film is placed into entertainment overdrive. The robots are huge, meandering objects of destruction, and the underground arenas are stereotypically on the 'bad part of town' (except for a Zoo, of all places). While the script perfectly encapsulates the desperate, stereotypical situation this father-son duo find themselves in both financially and emotionally, as their relationship slowly develops throughout the course of the film. Essentially all three elements combine in their own tawdry way to create something which can easily be described as; harmless, brainless fun.
This film is a case of; if you drop your cinematic guard and allow yourself to be sucker punched, you'll probably come away happy. If an audience member goes into 'Real Steel' with high expectations, he or she should come away feeling mildly disappointed, however if the audience member in question goes into the theatre with low expectations, there is no doubt that they would come away feeling somewhat satisfied. This doesn't necessarily mean that every scene contains engaging entertainment, but the majority do, including the final act, in which even the terribly tacky product-placement can't ruin a predictable, yet enjoyable conclusion.
The Adventures of Tintin (2011)
It doesn't allow you a second to breathe...
Recently Steven Spielberg has been one busy man, not only has he been producing numerous television and film properties over the past year or so, but he has also been juggling two directorial properties. While 'War Horse' isn't due to be released for another month, his latest offering, 'The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn,' is based on the classic, best-selling comic books created by the Belgian artist Georges Remi (who was also known under the pen name Herge). The comics follow a young Belgian reporter named Tintin and his dog Snowy as they go about their days solving mysteries and getting into various misadventures along the way. Directed by Spielberg, produced by Peter Jackson and written by the British trio of Edgar Wright, Joe Cornish and Steven Moffat, it marks a new turn in Spielberg's cinematic journey as he ditches live action for motion capture, and while the film takes full advantage of the technology at hand to create lavish environments, the story itself is too disorientating to hold an adult audiences attention for its one hour and forty minutes running time.
Tintin (Jamie Bell) along with his faithful dog Snowy, is enjoying his day meandering around a local market when he finds an intricately designed model ship called the Unicorn available for sale by a somewhat anxious merchant. Once in Tintin's possession, the ship sets off a sequence of events which sees the young reporter come up against the mysterious Ivanovich Sakharine (Daniel Craig), befriend the alcohol loving Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis), and help the bumbling Interpol agents Thomson and Thompson (Simon Pegg and Nick Frost) in their many endeavours, as he attempts to unravel the mystery behind the legend of the Unicorn and the secret cargo stowed away by the ships fabled Captain Sir Francis Haddock. Action, adventure, explosions, and bumbling detectives follow as Tintin races throughout the world to solve the mystery of the Unicorn.
It is a phrase which is thrown around a lot when evaluating films within the action-adventure genre, but 'The Adventures of Tintin' is literally a non-stop thrill ride. But, while this phrase would usually be attributed to the praise of a motion picture, in the context of this film, it becomes a part of the criticism. From the beautifully crafted opening titles to the closing scene, there isn't a moment which goes by in which something isn't being blown up, jumped on, ridden or used as a makeshift weapon. It is as if Spielberg doesn't trust the primarily young audience members to actually engage with the film when a lavish action set-piece isn't taking place, and because of this, the audience is presented with a film which becomes disorientating due to its constant fast and frenetic pace. Also, due to the narratives exhilarating pace, the film requires that many of the large set-pieces take place one after the over, thereby once again detracting heavily away from their overall impact on the viewer.
Aside from the fast-paced nature of the motion-picture however, the performance capture works well, as the computer generated backgrounds, locations and scenery are a startling indicator of how far technology regarding motion capture and three-dimensional imagery has come in the last decade. When it comes to the characters themselves however, while the motion capture allows for startling facial detail, it cannot replicate the emotional disparity of real human beings. The script written by three of the most promising British filmmakers at the moment contains a multitude of in-jokes, friendly humour and an attempt at characterisation. But again due to the pace of the film, this aspect falls flat due to the central narrative stream taking precedence over everything else on-screen throughout its running time.
'The Adventures of Tintin' is a family-friendly, fast-paced, loose, action-adventure film that will no doubt be lauded by children across the land. It is essentially Spielberg doing what Spielberg does best: entertaining the public. But unlike the 'Indiana Jones' series and 'E.T,' among many of his other films, 'Tintin' is unable to cross generational boundaries to become a film for all the ages. While children will appreciate the non-stop, in-your-face action sequences which are constantly loud, bright and full of computer-generated destruction, older cinema-goers will no doubt become tired of the repetitive series of events. With a 'Tintin' sequel and even a trilogy potentially on the cards for the future, it would have been nice if Spielberg had attempted to scale back the action sequences for further plot and character development, rather than throwing every available device at the viewer hoping that something would eventually stick. While this approach may work with young children viewing the picture, it will almost certainly pass most adults by.
Paranormal Activity 3 (2011)
They sacrifice storytelling for mediocre scares...
Since 2009, the 'Paranormal Activity' series has eclipsed the 'Saw' franchise in topping both the domestic and worldwide box office gross during the weeks leading up to and proceeding the Halloween weekend. A combined worldwide gross of just over $370 million dollars from the two previous outings made a third film inevitable, and despite the on-screen decade changing to encompass a prequel, the basic voyeuristic concept stays exactly the same. In their first fictional feature-length debut, 'Catfish' directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman take over the reins of the popular franchise and while they infuse their own directorial sensibilities upon the project, it ultimately fails to both engage and frighten the audience to any satisfying, bowel-movement inducing degree.
The year is 1988 and Katie (Chloe Csengery) and Kristi (Jessica Tyler Brown) are two seemingly normal sisters who are looked after by their mother Julie (Lauren Bittner) and their step-father Dennis (Christopher Nicholas Smith). After numerous things go bump in the night, Dennis decides to set video cameras up at various locations throughout their home including their own marital bedroom, the young girl's room and the downstairs living area. As the day and nights go by, videographer Dennis along with help from his technologically savvy friend Randy (Dustin Ingram), begin to notice that all is not what it seems within the household and that a malevolent being may be specifically targeting members of his family. What takes place next comprises of loud noises, unexplained moving objects and another edition to the paranormal franchise in which the audience slowly experiences a family's descent into madness as they try to both understand and overcome their experiences at hand.
The third film in the 'Paranormal Activity' series isn't a terrible film by any standards, but it does fail exponentially in two key areas. First of all, the third film of the scare-inducing trilogy offers up absolutely nothing that is new or innovative in any way, shape or form. The closest Joost and Schulman come in attempting to conjure up a bit of ingenuity is in the use of a mounted camcorder on top of a rotating axis, yet this device is severely underused and instead they opt more for the use of on and off-screen diegetic sound effects. While the narrative itself starts to become interesting as it slowly opens a revealing door of uncertainty to the viewer, potentially exposing what may be behind over two decades of terror in the lives of these two young women. But it instead opts to cut ties during the final act leaving many questions unanswered leading to underwhelming end to the potentially exciting exploration of the mythology behind over two decades of paranormal activity.
Secondly, if audience members have seen the first two films then they will well versed in how the series approach scaring the paying members of a theatre senseless. The scene shifts from hand-held filming to a stationary shot during the night as the members of the family sleep, before an extended period, usually between thirty seconds and a minute, of absolutely nothing happening is utilized to emphasize the vulnerability of the characters, and then the 'scare' happens. Whether it is a banging door or screeching off-screen diegetic sounds, or some form of unexplained paranormal phenomenon such as levitation, after the first two films this predictability becomes ingrained within the viewer and it is easy to simply evade the scare because you can adequately predict when it is going to come. Aside from two sequences in which Joost and Schulman change the record so-to-speak and provide two very well crafted scenes, the majority of 'Paranormal Activity 3' reuses the exact same format as the previous two films and therefore becomes stale, and most often than not, predictable.
Joost and Schulman have essentially created a re-hash of the first two films, except with young children replacing the older, more mature leading characters of the previous instalments. Both young girls give exceptional performances considering the majority of the film hinges upon their interaction with the world around them, and the film itself is competently composed, even if the two decade old tapes do look like they have been meticulously preserved in a state of perpetual perfection. But, it is first and foremost a film within the prosperous horror genre, and 'Paranormal Activity 3' fails on a fundamental level to provide any substance, any originality, or any scares that manage to eclipse the terror of previous two films and add a new level of horror to the already spine-chilling series.
Texas Killing Fields (2011)
Tries so hard to make the audience not care about any of the characters...
Originally scheduled for the director Danny Boyle in 2008, but when the British-born filmmaker abandoned the project a year later, based on the murders of young women in a Texan oil field known to the locals as the 'Killing Field,' Ami Canaan Mann, the daughter of the acclaimed director Michael, took over the directorial helm of the Sam Worthington vehicle the 'Texas Killing Fields'. Mann's feature-film debut is a flat, slow police procedural drama that fails to utilize the acting talent at hand and instead relies entirely upon a stale script. 'Texas Killing Fields' would make for a barely competent television drama, but as a theatrical release, it falls incredibly short of being engaging entertainment for the big-screen.
Detective Mike Souder (Sam Worthington) is a local Texan police officer who believes extensively in only working on cases in his own town's jurisdiction, while his partner Detective Brian Heigh (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) is a former New York City police officer who can't but help others in their time of need. Whether it is a young girl named Anne (Chloe Moretz) who resides with an abusive family, or Det. Souder's former wife Detective Pam Stall (Jessica Chastain), who polices a nearby community in which a Texan oil field known as the killing fields is situated. When Pam requests the help of Heigh in the recent disappearance and murder of women within the confines of the killing fields, he reluctantly obliges, despite the objections of his partner due to their own case against two low-life pimps who are systematically kidnapping and forcing teenage girls into a life of prostitution. What follows, is two differing journeys as both men attempt to bring the guilty to justice through their own, loose methods.
Sam Worthington's Detective Souder is a brash, uncompromising individual who rarely comforts, but always intimidates, even when he is simply taking a statement from a young, teenage victim. It is briefly suggested that this distance and animosity originates from a rough upbringing, but it is never explored in any suitable detail, and Souder instantly comes across as an unlikeable character that is unable to redeem the glaring flaws in his personality by the conclusion of the picture. The same can also be said for Jeffrey Dean Morgan's performance as a likable and hard-working detective, despite a good performance from Morgan, he is entirely clichéd in his traits and comes across as a one-dimensional cardboard cut-out. The only encouraging performance of the piece comes from the surprisingly mature Chloe Moretz, who at only fourteen years of age has already established herself as young, up and coming actress.
Aside from the acting and the lack of characterisation, the other glaring flaw of 'Texas Killing Fields' is the complex narrative at the heart of the picture, while Souder is investigating Rule (Jason Clarke) and Levon (Jon Eyez) over the kidnapping and forced prostitution of runaway teenage girls, Heigh is helping Detective Stall investigate the killing fields, and the story of a neglected teenager in Little Anne is also thrown in their for good measure. With so many different narrative streams taking place all at once it is easy to become confused about what is exactly taking place on-screen, who is being interviewed and what criminal case they are actually discussing or investigating. On more than one occasion the editing compliments this confusion by cutting needlessly to a scene or character unrelated to the previous sequence without any standing or context. This constant juxtaposition between cases also ceases any emotional connection to any of the characters or their plights.
Ami Mann had the potential, the actors and the setting to create a film which would transcend the typical crime-thriller picture and instead impose another strong character piece with an engaging narrative upon this cinematic year, however instead she has come away with an almost amateur looking motion picture which does nothing to compliment the genre. While the Louisianan outback masquerades beautifully for the desolate Texan fields, the rest of the film is quite horrible to observe, it is a boring, slow, predictable, one-dimensional crime-thriller that should have never been commissioned for theatrical distribution.
Red State (2011)
While it has it's flaws, it is nice to see Smith working outside the confines of his comfort zone...
Trailers and television spots concerning 'Red State' in the United Kingdom have constantly emphasized the fact that Quentin Tarantino "f**king loves this movie." While that may be true, Kevin Smith's latest film has proved to be a film which teeters on the see-saw of opinion: critics and writers alike either love it or hate it. But this is not only the problem with the finished product, but the film itself, it is a mix-match of contributing elements, some that work; the performance of Michael Parks and John Goodman, and others that don't; the lack of depth in the script and the sudden transition in the narrative from an exploration of the most extreme Christian fundamentalism to an all-out fire-fight within the blink of an eye.
Jarod (Kyle Gallner), Billy-Ray (Nicholas Braun) and Travis (Michael Angarano) are three typical Middle American high-school students with only two things on their mind; sex and alcohol. When an opportunity arises for the young men to use an internet website to rendezvous with an older woman named Sara (Melissa Leo) they jump at the prospect and head straight for her trailer thirty miles away in a small town called Cooper's Dell. However, they choose the wrong woman to mess with, after passing out due to being drugged on the floor of her trailer they find themselves imprisoned within the Five Points Church, a fundamentalist Christian group whose leader is the psychopathic Abin Cooper (Michael Parks). Abin Cooper, who also happens to be the father of Sara, is the leader of a small, yet faithful congregation who believe that God's word is scripture and it is there right in this world to enforce it, but before they able to enforce their extreme religious rights upon the world, Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms Agent Joseph Keenan (John Goodman) becomes involved as a fire-fight breaks out at the Church's compound.
Smith's latest outing, which is his first in the horror genre, fails because it starts rumbling but is unable to keep going the political and social commentary rolling towards an appropriate conclusion. The central theme of the film concerns the fundamentalist evangelical Christians who wish to literally wipe the sinners off the face of the Earth as they believe they themselves are doing God's work. Their work, their protesting and their stubborn, dismissive manner is representative of the Westboro Baptist Church, who are briefly mentioned in passing both verbally and visually, but what starts out as a quite brave condemnation and examination of a group of human beings generally avoided in feature films, instead, descends quickly into a comment on the handling of events depicted in the feature by authoritarian bodies in the United States and the methods they employ. If Smith had spent more time examining the relationships and the conflicts of the small, troubling convent of seemingly mild-mannered, everyday individuals, then maybe his final mediation on the nature of evil and hatred within human beings would have had more impact than the somewhat dull and underwhelming conclusion that he instead tacks on the end of his film.
While it may initially feel like a far-cry away from Kevin Smith's more acknowledged offerings, such as the critically acclaimed 'Clerks' and the films that became a part of his View Askewniverse, the lack of any depth within the script, especially during the first thirty minutes, does it at times make the audience think back to Smith's more light-hearted contributions. Jarod, Billy-Ray and Travis are presented as three, typical teenage boys, they swear profusely, they talk about sex constantly and they enjoy drugs and alcohol and that is it. They're supposed to be representative of today's corrupted teenage generation and their strive for sex and alcohol through reaches of the internet, but Smith portrays such an extreme characterisation of the young men that, even when they come face-to-face with the religious fundamentalists, only a microscopic amount of empathy manages to seep through towards the audience. Yet, the film is saved by two key performances by the veteran actors Michael Parks and John Goodman.
Aside from the young men, Smith does manage to convey the dialogue for both the fundamental preacher Abin Cooper and the ageing ATF Agent Keenan perfectly. The subordinate nature of bureaucracy is rarely seen in motion pictures, especially those conveying an elaborate, action-orientated set-piece such as a fire-fight, but Smith manages to relay the situation on-screen through Goodman in a dark and incredibly dry tone. Keenan is an 'old school' agent, he has been there, done that and got the blood-stained t-shirt in the process, but the audience is able to observe the crisis of conscience he has with every decision the high command makes, he wants to stay no, but years of service has rendered him into somewhat of a tired, bureaucratic drone. While Parks manages to take influence from all the religiously fanatical leaders from the last thirty years and he combines the traits from their maniacal lives to create a character that on the outside exudes charisma and influence, but is deep down inside nothing more than a psychopath.
Respect and admiration should be administered towards Kevin Smith for this attempt at trying something new, instead of settling back into a genre in which he has enjoyed continued success; he has instead thrown his hat into the ring and decided to explore differing cinematic tastes to those he is used to probing. While some performances work and the basic principles of the film hold up, nothing is examined in enough depth to truly place the audience in a tantalising and endearing position of thought-provoking spectators becoming involved in a new and varied Kevin Smith experience.
Hard to digest, but brilliantly acted...
Recently Hollywood and the various film industries across the globe have seen an upsurge in the amount of on-screen performers who are taking a break from acting in front of the camera to instead take control from behind it. Paddy Considine, the star of 'This is England' and 'Dead Man's Shoes,' is now a member of this increasingly growing club with his first feature-film debut 'Tyrannosaur'. Written and Directed by Considine, this is an uncompromising debut film from the former photographer, which examines the destructive effects of violence and aggressive behaviour on the lives of two different individuals who are drawn together through their developing friendship.
Joseph (Peter Mullan) is a lonely, cynical, and belligerent working class man. He spends his days drinking alone in the Pub and gambling in the local bookmakers where his only friends reside. Violent and abusive outbursts govern his existence thereby creating a solitary creature who acts on instinct rather than reasoning. However, Joseph's life changes when he meets and befriends Hannah (Olivia Colman), a local Christian woman who is constantly being verbally and physically abused by her sadistic husband James (Eddie Marsan). Both tortured souls, they find solace in each other's lives and develop a friendship which transcends their misgivings.
'Tyrannosaur' is an uncompromising, and at times, difficult film to watch as the characters' lives are laid bare for the whole audience to observe. Joseph responds to problematic situations through the use of his fists, while Hannah simply acts out of fear and denial. Both Peter Mullan and Olivia Colman give fantastic performances; Mullan is initially a brutish, vagrant looking male who can't naturally become entwined in society, but as the film develops, empathy begins to grow for a man who accepts his short-comings and the fact that he may never be able to overcome them. With humanity arising slowly from his dishevelled face through his relationship with the young, neighbourhood boy Sam (Samuel Bottomley).
While Colman's striking performance, which is far-cry away from her role on the hit British comedy series 'Peep Show,' shows a woman who is conflicted in all manner of her beliefs. Her religious beliefs give her the naivety to believe that her husband can change, while her heart knows that he will only stop hurting her when her beatings become fatal. This is most notable in the scene where James breaks down in tears at her feet after striking out at Hannah, as she cradles his head he constantly professes his love for her repeating the phrase "it won't happen again, you know it won't happen again." Hannah constantly reaffirms his worries saying that she does love him, but as she lowers his head, the camera observes her changing emotions as the audience is shown that Hannah is clearly not a woman in love with James, but instead she is simply afraid of him.
Considine's first directorial effort is certainly a competent effort, he never attempts to direct the audience's attention too far from the script or the two central performances at hand, but this itself is the film's primary flaw. While it is captivating and emotionally unsettling, it is also a narrative which is not uncommon in modern British cinema (or known to some as 'miserable British cinema'), and it portrays the same judgements and ideals as many of its predecessors did before without providing anything new to the sub-genre at hand, especially in the culmination of the sub-plot involving the young boy Sam and his neglectful mother and boyfriend.
Despite its unoriginality in the narrative's conclusive mediation, the film still manages to evoke a strong emotional response from the viewer through its combination of horrifying visuals and fragile performances from the two lead British actors, as Paddy Considine begins his feature film journey with a solid and respectable character portrait of two broken individuals.
Abduction should be kidnapped from cinematic distribution...
Two decades ago John Singleton wrote and directed the Oscar nominated 'Boys n the Hood,' and a mere six years after his last feature was released, he has returned with what can only described as a terribly generic action thriller. 'Abduction' brings together deplorable acting, a terrible script and an unoriginal idea which is executed poorly. Viewing this film is the cinematic equivalent of watching a car crash in slow-motion, the audience observes the disaster and devastation unfold on-screen, but the only way for them to avoid this horrifying event is to simply vacate their theatre seat and approach the box office for a welcome refund on the admission price of their ticket.
Nathan Harper (Taylor Lautner) is your typical teenage boy, but when he is paired with his long-time crush Karen (Lily Collins) on a sociology project, his life begins to unravel as they find his picture on a missing children's website. Nathan and Karen are left to fend for themselves as they find themselves in the cross-hairs of a major Eastern European criminal, whilst they must also decide whether or not to trust the CIA operative Frank Burton (Alfred Molina) who insists that he is there to help the young couple. What follows is an hour and a half of action sequences involving a teenage boy who not only manages to outsmart many experienced villains, but also the Central Intelligence Agency.
Generic, conventionalised, and unoriginal, are just a few words to describe the narrative of 'Abduction,' it's incredibly surprising that Shawn Christensen's script was sold to Lionsgate for an estimated one million dollars due to its preposterous and unintentionally hilarious nature. One particularly terrible scene takes place just after Nathan's 'parents' (Jason Isaacs, Maria Bello) have been murdered, as an injured henchman tells the young couple; "I'm not going to die here there's a bomb in the oven." Seconds later, they reach the oven which contains the stereotypical bomb with visible timer before the house is blown into smithereens. While this is just one of many examples, to give Mr Christensen his dues, it is not always the script that sends the film into an infinite hallway of absurdity. Lautner's performance also readily helps this aspect along.
The young 'Twilight' star has so far unfortunately only developed two facial expressions, one which displays his tight-lipped macho bravado and the other is a wide-eyed smile. This is most evident in the scene briefly after they have avoided the bomb in the oven as CIA operative Frank Burton contacts the young man. Asking how he is feeling after he has just watched his parents being murdered, his expression doesn't change as he nonchalantly mentions that he is OK. Expressions, emotions and acting in general seem to have been excluded from Singleton's reasoning during the direction of this film, because even the experienced Alfred Molina, Maria Bello, and Sigourney Weaver are shown to be seemingly 'phoning-in' performances as they no doubt realised what kind of production they had unfortunately become a part of.
'Abduction' should be a film which is written about and praised alongside the likes of 'Airplane!' and 'Young Frankenstein,' because it is the perfect spoof of the action-thriller genre, encompassing every single cliché together with a laughable script and incredibly dubious acting, yet the sad thing is, this film is not a parody, but it is instead entirely serious motion picture. John Singleton's latest offering does leave the audience pondering one of life's most difficult questions however: why was this film commissioned for theatrical distribution?
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011)
James Bond, this is not...
Forty-six year old Swedish director Tomas Alfredson came to prominence three years ago when he directed the film adaptation of John Ajvide Lindqvist's novel 'Let The Right One In'. After the initial success of the vampiric romantic drama, Alfredson became attached to an international adaptation of John le Carre's espionage-novel 'Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy'. Based on aspects of le Carre's (also known as David Cornwell) experiences during his time as a member of the British Intelligence service sectors MI5 and MI6 during the 1950s and 1960s, Alfredson creates a fine, absorbing picture which engrosses from beginning to end.
Control (John Hurt), the leader of an unknown sector of the British Intelligence service, is ousted along with his long-standing companion George Smiley (Gary Oldman) due to a botched operation in Budapest, Hungary which saw the officer Jim Prideaux (Mark Strong) murdered in public. Control was under the impression that there was a mole among the top ranking members of the service, referred to as the Circus by the other top ranking members due to its location in Cambridge Circus, London, and Smiley is drawn out of retirement to pinpoint the culprit after Control passes away. Alongside the young Intelligence officer Peter Guillam (Benedict Cumberbatch), Smiley has four primary candidates to focus his investigation upon; they are the last remaining members of the Circus, Bill Haydon (Colin Firth), Percy Alleline (Toby Jones), Roy Bland (Ciaran Hinds) and Toby Esterhase (David Dencik).
Utilizing an all-star, established cast, Alfredson allows the film to unfold at an almost flawless pace. Every sequence contains a small snippet of information which allows the viewer to conduct their own investigation alongside that of Smiley's. While the narrative is also driven along by strong performances from the primarily male cast, Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Toby Jones, Ciaran Hinds, David Dencik, Stephen Graham and Kathy Burke all give strong, commanding performances. While the true artists of the piece are Benedict Cumberbatch, who plays the young, and somewhat naive intelligent officer assigned to assist Smiley. John Hurt as the aging, instinct-driven leader of the British service, and Tom Hardy, who is Ricki Tarr the dirty cleaner for British intelligence's most fowl operations. Their performances go above and beyond in their supporting roles, and at times eclipse Gary Oldman's subdued portrayal of a man drawn back into the murky world of corruption, betrayal and treasure.
Alongside the narrative and its cast, one of the more surprising aspects of the film, is Alfredson, Cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema and Editor Dino Jonsater's use of stylistic nuances that further enhance the viewing experience. Lingering close-up shots of seemingly insignificant objects and shallow focus shots constantly evoke the nature of mystery and intrigue which surrounds such clandestine organisations. Alfredson never rushes any moment, instead he allows for the audience to become accustomed to their surroundings and appreciate their beauty. Wide angle shots and long lenses are used for interior and exterior locations, showcasing the breakdowns of their interiors, while close-up shots are used to examine objects and characters in their most frail states. During the opening sequence involving Prideaux's botched secret mission, a simple concoction of jump cuts and lingering static shots concentrating upon various characters within the vicinity creates a sense of the tension, suspense and vulnerability of the situation and this is how Alfredson constantly keeps the audience engrossed. By providing those observing the action on screen with just enough information that they themselves become entwined within Smiley's investigation as he moves forward.
Once the credits and a dedication to the films screenwriter Bridget O'Connor who passed away last year finish, the viewer is left with an overriding sense of satisfaction. Smiley's world is a far cry away from the glitz and glamour that the espionage genre has become accustomed to. There are no martinis in sight, but only reel upon reel of bureaucratic wrangling, childish bickering and greed-induced deal-making, where it seems everybody is working for themselves and their reputation rather than the nation's government that is employing them. Since its premiere at the 68th Venice International Film Festival 'Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy' has been touted as an Oscar contender and it is easy to understand why, Tomas Alfredson has taken a solid source novel, utilized an established cast and infused the final concoction with elements from his own visual repertoire to create a wonderfully crafted film that does the original BBC televised series justice.
Apollo 18 (2011)
Space, the boring frontier?
Filmmakers will utilize any appropriate marketing tool to get audiences into cinemas and since the success of the 'Blair Witch Project' and most recently 'Paranormal Activity,' the found-footage sub-genre has achieved somewhat of a renaissance. They are cheaply made, require no big names to populate the cast and they work upon exploiting a basic human fear; you could be watching reality, therefore this could be happening in a woods/home/factory near you at this very moment in time. 'Apollo 18,' directed by Gonzalo Lopez-Gallego and produced by Timur Bekmambetov, is the newest addition to this sub-genre by taking this concept into space and working alongside the well-known conspiracy theories that have surfaced since the first manned mission to the moon in July, 1969. However, where others have recently succeeded, this film fails to even get out of the launch pad. Despite its interesting concept, it is slow, formulaic and not particularly scary.
In 1972, NASA sent the supposed final manned mission to the moon in Apollo 17, or that's what they wanted you to think. Cancelling the Apollo missions 18, 19, and 20 under the guise of budgetary and scheduling constraints, the Apollo 18 mission actually went ahead under the guidance of the Department of Defence. Astronauts Ben Anderson (Warren Christie), Nate Walker (Lloyd Owen) and John Grey (Ryan Robbins) are sent to the moon to install what they believe to be a missile defence system that will further protect against a surprise Russian attack in the midst of the Cold War. However, after just a few short hours on the moon things start to go wrong, the astronauts begin to notice that something is attempting to disrupt their mission and what follows is the documentation of the disturbances by the three men as they attempt to figure out what is happening and if the ground control team knew of the dangers in the darkened crevices of the moon before they were sent up there.
'Apollo 18' fails exponentially in one key area, which continually ruins the film for the proceeding eighty-odd minutes after it has begun. Using the fictional ploy and backstory about a WikiLeaks-esque website publishing eighty-four hours of found footage and then condensing this footage into an eighty-six minute film which reveals all about what really happens on the surface of the moon. The on-screen prologue acknowledges that the footage was released in 2011, but it visually it would be more representative of 1981. Even amateur filmmakers nowadays can become professional editors from the comfort of their own homes due to the boom in video-editing software, but 'Apollo 18' instead is disjointed and annoying. Littered with black-outs, film which seems to have aged perfectly and others that seem to barely able to contain an image, and the occasional overt cinematic technique that seems substantially out of place in the grand scheme of the film. Potential tension and suspense is constantly overshadowed with the emphasis on fast and pointless editing showcasing the desolate landscape rather than the creatures that are attacking the team. Alongside the technical aspects of the film, the narrative itself is also guilty of underperforming, with it just dawdling along with very little happening in between short spurts of action and suspense.
The plot opens itself up with various different avenue's to explore with the inclusion of objects and characters that are found beyond their space shuttle, however the majority of the action is confined to the safe and secure living confines of the astronauts. The great unknown that is the surface of the moon is constantly underused until the characters are forced out of their living quarters, and still then the action is few and far between. One positive acknowledgement however is the performance by Warren Christie, as the lone astronaut who understands initially that something is not right and that he and his colleagues may simply be small, disposable pieces in a larger, conspiracy laden plan. But the solid performance from one character in the grand scheme of the entire project can't elevate the film from its deflated narrative, mediocre direction and poorly chosen technical compositions. With the conclusion of the film and the projection of the credits there is still no pay-off for the audience, the being(s) which terrorise the astronauts are left unexplored and a few meagre lines of text explain what happened to the three men according to the sacred word of the United States Government. However this does allow for the credits to be exhibited in the same vein as the rest of the feature, as a vastly underwhelming piece.
Kill List (2011)
It's unexpected, different and definitely worth a watch
Routine plagues everybody's lives, they awake, they rise, they work, they play, but when a British film comes along that not only plays into the mould of the predictability of the crime genre, but also substantially subverts it, it is certainly worth a viewing. 'Kill List,' director Ben Wheatley's second feature length picture, creates a refreshing addition to a genre which has by all accounts become somewhat stale. It draws you in with conflicting characters and beautiful visuals before turning the over-exposed theme of the repentant assassin on its head and sprinkling in a few new and exciting additions that are sure to create discussion and debate between cinema-goers and critics alike.
Jay (Neil Maskell) is a father to the young Sam (Harry Simpson) and a husband to the beautiful Shel (MyAnna Buring), but their familial relationships are less than perfect. After returning from Iraq where he was a part of a security consult he has since taken up the role of local assassin with his best friend Gal (Michael Smiley). They appear professional and act indifferent, to them killing another human being is just another job. Instead of sitting in an office for nine hours, they find financial solace in placing a bullet between another person's eyes; it's business. But when a mysterious client (Struan Rodger) offers the men another 'hit list' to complete, the contract sets off a chain of events which shatters the lives of everybody involved, subsequently leading to a horrifyingly brutal final act conclusion.
To describe 'Kill List' as an outright horror would be doing a massive disservice to the film. It begins as a taught familial drama focusing on the strained marriage between Jay and Shel as financial problems plague the couple, before it slowly descends down the path of British crime thrillers and horror reminiscent of the Hammer films of the sixties and seventies. The constantly transforming narrative is followed by the brilliant performances from Neil Maskell and Michael Smiley, they act like brothers, constantly fighting, arguing and then successfully making up over a beer or two, but when their job is the main order of business, they become cold, calculated and unpredictable. Especially Jay who has an emotional connection to the majority of villains they dispatch through his wife and his child which takes an insurmountable toll on his emotional and physical stability as the days drag on, and the contract killings keep coming.
Stylistically Laurie Rose's intimate, close-quarters cinematography, Robin Hill's disjointed editing and Jim Williams unsettling score all work together to represent the sporadic and disturbing portrait of two men who strive to appear as normal human beings in society, but actually reflect the abhorrent horror that many believe can only take place in dingy basements and downtrodden apartments. The graphic acts of violence perpetrated by the two men are lingered upon by the camera as the audience is slowly drawn into their jobs, and their lives beyond family and friends. While the camera most often than not utilizes close-up shots coupled with Williams score bringing the audience to the forefront of the emotional pain involved, Jay after all, first and foremost is a male in the patriarchal role who is struggling to provide for his family.
'Kill List' isn't a nicely packaged film full to the brim with concrete conclusions and flawless narrative developments, but it is a film which provokes thought and discussion over the little things in life. Violence, life, family, money, employment, depravity, Ben Wheatley's film manages to encapsulate them all whilst also providing a narrative which is guaranteed to captivate.
La piel que habito (2011)
It will make your skin crawl...
Pedro Almodovar is not a conventional filmmaker by any means. His films openly explore subjects many acclaimed directors fear to tread and absorb in their whole entire careers, but what is always guaranteed with Almodovar is a sense of wonderment and the unexpected, and 'The Skin I Live In' ('La piel que habito') is no different. Based briefly on Thierry Jonquet's 2003 novel 'Mygale,' Almodovar's latest film is a delightful and refreshing combination of multiple genres including drama, thriller and body horror. It's shockingly sincere, beautifully horrifying and has an appeal that will keep the audiences eyes locked towards the events on-screen until the final credits roll.
Dr Robert Lesgard (Antonio Banderas) is a renowned surgeon who is attempting to achieve a breakthrough in bio-medical sciences by creating a synthetic skin through transgenisis. Classified as a horrific mutation by some, and acknowledged by Robert as an innovation, his experiments come at a price. His human test subject is a beautiful woman named Vera (Elena Anaya) who is contained within his home, and cared for by his head servant Marilia (Marisa Paredes). Vera is not like other women, she wears a skin-coloured suit made out of fabric instead of clothes, she is constantly watched by Robert and Marilia, and she never leaves her room, which only Robert himself holds the key too. What follows is a startling journey of discovery as the narrative unravels a story of disturbing past, present and future events; transforming the lives of all those involved.
Beginning in Toldeo in 2012, Almodovar utilizes a constantly underused and under-appreciated device in the nonlinear narrative. He provides the audience with one perception of each character before returning in flashback during the second act to six years previously where further events are explained and through this, the audience's initial observations of the characters become undermined and drastically altered. He then digresses between past and present at will building a comprehensive picture of each character involved as the story develops revealing some startling and disturbing discoveries. This decision to structure the film in this way, also adequately supplements Almodovar's need to explore his key themes including sexual identity, and the nature of the moral of ethics of the human soul after it has been literally stripped bare.
Coupled with the beautiful cinematography from Almodovar's long-time collaborator Jose Luis Alcaine and an original and complimentary score by Alberto Iglesias, 'The Skin I Live In' also becomes an example of technically proficient filmmaking which works alongside the performances of the likes of Banderas and Anaya, as well as the slickly written script which keeps the audience on their toes until the final curtain has been dropped. Pedro Almodovar is undoubtedly one of the most successful auteurs of the last few decades, and with 'The Skin I Live In' he shows that he can almost touch upon a new genre, in the form of body horror genre-hybrid, whilst also retaining all the previous elements, themes and techniques which have made his films the deep-seated critically successful films that they are.
The Inbetweeners Movie (2011)
If you enjoyed the television series, you'll probably love the film.
The critically acclaimed E4 comedy series returns for its final swansong in the form of an hour and a half film which contains among other things, sun, sex, booze, sea, booze, and, er, well sex. It is essentially an extended episode, instead of rolling this out as a summer or Christmas special under differing circumstances, writers Damon Beesley and Iain Morris who were the primary writers on the television series, have shrewdly decidedly to capitalize on the series' short fame and enter the cinematic market instead. Will's (Simon Bird) narration returns as does the crude jokes and the toilet humour, but isn't that what made the 'Inbetweeners' so hilariously funny? It's a silly, contains a formulaic plot, and stereotypical characters, but what really makes the four boys work, is there childish banter, and sexual optimism that reminds us all of what it was like to be eighteen again.
The last time we saw them on the small-screen, they were finishing up a bonding trip into the woods as each one of them were on a knife edge deciding what they would do for the rest of their lives; university, or the meat-counter at ASDA with a potential promotion up to the check-out in the works? But before they must decide what to do for the rest of their lives (also known as the next five years) they have six weeks to think it over and take the obligatory 'lads holiday' which is an old, wise British tradition for any male who reaches the age of eighteen. The tradition consists of the boys going abroad to a country, which in this case is Malia, with plenty of sun, sea, sand, and bars, and seeing how much tolerance their body has to the effects of copious amounts of alcohol, before attempting to see if this makes them any more (or less) attractive to the fellow British revellers. Premise, nice, simple, and set, and the narrative pretty many rolls it's self out from here.
Again the stars of the show are the characters, with Will's offbeat precocious nature a nice alternative to the foul-mouthed tirades of Jay (James Buckley) which have seemingly got more and more crude as the television show has gone on. Neil (Blake Harrison) on the other hand acts as welcome relief, always guaranteeing to make a laugh out of any innocuous comment he makes, which is especially helpful during the scenes involving the continued romance between Simon (Joe Thomas) and Carly (Emily Head) as it is one of those aspects they should have left to die gracefully with the television series as it seemingly drags on and on with little in the way of a rewarding conclusion. While, Allison (Laura Haddock), provides the romantic interest for Will, and their scenes are somewhat touching as they both seem fish-out-of-water in this world of drinking for twenty hours, eating for two and sleeping for five minutes.
It will almost certainly come away empty handed when the awards season comes sweeping around in Britain, and it might not very favourable with the print and online critics, but it isn't half bad as it never tries to be anything more than an feature-length episode. The jokes are still there, Jay's miraculous lies crop up every now and again, a few old and new faces make welcome cameo's and the boys still get caught up in many embarrassing situations, the majority of which involve the involuntarily showcasing of their genitals. If you look beyond the unoriginal narrative, the one-dimensional primary protagonists, the stereotypical love interests, and the unsophisticated jokes, you will probably enjoy this film for what it is.
Marginally better than the second film, but it still contains many flaws...
Collectively the two previous live-action 'Transformers' instalments have grossed over $1.5 billion dollars worldwide between themselves in a little more than two years, so it was always inevitable that Bay and Paramount would re-team for a third film to round out the robotic trilogy. However, just like its previous cinematic instalment, 'Transformers: Dark of the Moon' is a poorly crafted, overlong, robot-infested-mess which is populated continuously with cheaply written dialogue and over-the-top acting.
In 1961, John F Kennedy tells the American public that they will endeavour to put a man on the moon before the end of the century, but what the American public isn't told is that the space-race has been commissioned to reach a Cybertronian craft that has become stranded on the dark side of the moon. However, nothing is never simple as it seems, as Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) is once again drawn away from his post-graduate job-hunting and attractive British girlfriend Carly (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley) and is placed slap-bang in the middle of the reoccurring war between the Autobot protagonists, commanded by Optimus Prime, who must once again stop the villainous Megatron and his Decepticon partners from destroying planet Earth.
At two-and-a-half hours in length, 'Dark of the Moon' is just a long, tedious film to watch, which is primarily down to the films incredibly disjointed plot. For the first two acts of the film, Bay continuously jumps between the romantic-comedy and action-adventure sub-genres, before deciding to simply settle on an all-out extended action sequence, which then culminates in a third act which contains nothing more than exploding robots and extended scenic destruction. In between the constant on-screen destruction important plot-points are information is seemingly thrown at the audience hoping to create anything that can be seemingly considered a workable and engaging plot. Despite having a potentially workable premise in using the moon landing of 1969 to establish a link between the extra-terrestrial robots and humanity, it is instead reworked into a complex plot involving years of conspiracies that are never fully explored nor investigated.
Alongside the disorganized plot, Bay once again attempts to place considerable emphasis upon the actions and choices of humanity, rather than the Transformers themselves. For example, in during the beginning of the final climatic fight sequence, Sam is about to save his girlfriend himself from a dangerous, metal-laden fortress, however as Epps (Tyrese Gibson) is unable to follow due to the impending doom that lies ahead he instead offers the pesky young adult a hand-gun, just in-case he encounters any large and sophisticated robotic killing machines. This is the conclusion of a sequence which shows all the former soldiers coming together out of retirement to help Sam and the human race, before they decide that the situation is ultimately too dangerous for them. All the while the Autobots are eventually introduced back into the situation with yet another preposterous explanation that just further cements films lack of structure. This focus upon humanity isn't helped either by the stale acting and cheesy script which despite newcomer Rosie Huntington-Whiteley attempting to work beyond stereotype she is unable to do, as the script clearly has her labelled as nothing more than 'Sam's attractive love-interest'.
Once again Michael Bay has attempted to circumvent the simple rules of filmmaking by filling his third Transformers film up to the brim with energetic action-sequences and detailed computer generated imagery hoping to cover the fact that it contains a convoluted and difficult plot, sub-par acting and terrible dialogue. 'Dark of the Moon' would work perfectly if the final climatic fight sequence was released as a stand-alone short film examining the effects of modern-day technology on film-making, but as a two-and-a-half-hour feature film, the third film in the Transformers franchise misses the boat (once again) completely.
Green Lantern (2011)
Good Comic-To-Film adaptation, but down by its flaws...
"In brightest day, in blackest night, no evil shall escape my sight
" Unless you're a comic-book aficionado, it's unlikely that you'll be able to finish the Green Lantern oath off through simple guesswork, but Martin Campbell's film is structured in such way to appeal to both comic-fans and comic-newbies alike. The cinematic adaptation of the DC comic-book Green Lantern follows a member of the Green Lantern Corps, everyman Hal Jordan goes from being a test-pilot, to a universal peace-keeper, while having to juggle the conventional girl in between. It is a fun and easy-to-enjoy comic-book movie, neither Campbell nor Reynolds take the film too seriously and it will no doubt be appreciated well by children across the globe, but it's fun, free loving spirit can't save the film from having an absolutely dire script an un-even pacing during the second-act which in turn drags the comic-to-film property from decent fanfare to adequate beginnings.
Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds) is a first-rate test-pilot who never seems to be able to live up to not only his own potential, but others expectations of him as well. Battling the various demons associated with his past, he coasts through life and his job to the displeasure of many including his female co-pilot Carol Ferris (Blake Lively), and that is until the Green Lantern member Abin Sur (Temuera Morrison) crash-lands on Earth and chooses Hal as his successor. Abin Sur is a member of an inter-galactic peacekeeping authority called the Green Lantern Corps, with over 3,600 members, the group promises to protect all life-forms in the entire universe(s) against evil, and now Hal Jordan has been chosen as humanity's first member. Armed with a ring, a green lantern, and almost infinite power which is driven through the strength of its participants will-power, Hal must join the Green Lantern Corps and prove himself as he battles the parasitic-entity Parallax which feeds on its opponents fear.
Despite obtaining some criticism from writers and critics about 'Green Lanterns' lavish and brightly coloured CGI and non-CGI sets, it does allow the film to set this planet apart from the other worlds in which other comic-books envision. Oa, where the Green Lantern Corps central base of operations is situated, is a brightly lit utopia fuelled through the will-power of thousands. It looks beautiful, as the computer generated imagery really sets the city a part from other recently envisioned comic-book realms. While the characters themselves, Sinestro (Mark Strong), Killerwog (Michael Clarke Duncan) and the Guardians of the Universe also establish themselves within the comic book universe with their unique and vibrant appearances, allowing them to drive the film's plot along where needed, but their characters are incredibly underused, which is most likely a product of the fact that a 'Green Lantern' sequel is no doubt being lined up ASAP, but it is also a big drain on the film's impact. While the CGI aliens and action heavy plot does its part to create a pretty-easy-going-popcorn-flick, the human characters and the film's script do not.
Despite 'Green Lanterns' running time being a mere one hour and forty-five minutes due to the boring and drawn-out second act of the film it seems like the film lasts a lot longer in reality. While it is a Green Lantern/Hal Jordan-centric film, very little time is spent even trying to intersperse a small amount of characterisation into the human characters of the piece. Senator Hammond (Tim Robbins), Dr. Waller (Amanda Bassett) and even the film's Earth-trapped antagonist, science teacher Henry Hammond (Peter Sarsgaard), are barely allowed any time to present and develop their own motives or thoughts. This isn't helped by the film's exceptionally clichéd and poorly written script which fails to not only add further depth to related characters, but it also fails to provide Reynolds with enough humorous sequences to drive his comic-book persona. While 'Green Lantern' does work on some levels, it also fails on others, and while the film is very easy-going and enjoyable comic-book adaptation, it is also severely restricted by its slow-moving, poorly written middle segment which is then undermined further its frenetic conclusion.
À bout portant (2010)
Distinctly average crime-thriller...
In 2008, Fred Cavaye's directorial debut 'Anything for Her,' was both critically and commercially successful to the point that it was instantly bought up by an American production company and released within two years in 2010 under the title 'The Next Three Days'. This year he returns with another crime-thriller, 'Point Blank' ('A Bout Portant'), a fast-paced, chase-centric, Besson-esque film, which had the potential to add something new to the genre, but instead fell into the same-old, safe trap of regurgitating the old, rather than attempting something new.
Samuel Pierret (Gilles Lellouche) is happily married to his wife Nadia (Elena Anaya) who is seven and a half months pregnant, while he works in a Paris hospital and within a matter of weeks he will take his nurses exam. However, when he saves a mystery patients life (Roschdy Zem) for a brief moment he is seen as a hero until it is revealed that the patient is a wanted criminal, and Samuel's life begins to fall apart as he told he must break the unconscious prisoner out of hospital or he will never see his wife again. With his pregnant wife kidnapped, he is framed for various crimes he did not commit and he must fight both sides of the law as he flees through Paris with only one thought on his mind; the safety of his wife and unborn child. 'Point Blank' is a relatively generic crime-thriller which spans a modest eighty-four minutes. The action sequences are fast, fluid and uncompromising just like the antagonists of the piece. While the main protagonist in the nurse Samuel and his hostage, the criminal gangster Sartet, play their roles perfectly, but where the film falls flat is in its failure to reward their effort.
Little attempt is made to place any depth into the various characters employed in the story, we know the basic motivations behind the main protagonists and antagonists, but nothing else is revealed beyond that. They simply become, despite the actors efforts to place some characterisation in place, caricatures of the stereotypical roles used in the majority of distinctly average crime-thrillers that are released today. Also this is a fault in tandem with the film's running time, eighty-four minutes in length doesn't provide enough screen-time for the audience to become accustomed, recognised and relatable to the characters on-screen nor does it allow enough time for the narrative to slowly unravel itself. Instead during the final act various motives and side-stories are bounded about with diminutive conviction and this detracts away from an already non-existent central plot. Cavaye's second feature-length film is a competent effort that simply lacks any innovation or speciality; instead it falls into the same old trap of relying on generic conventions that make it an average crime-thriller at best.
All he ever wanted to do was race...
Seventeen years after the passing of one of the greatest Formula 1 racing drivers of all time a documentary has been released that examines his ten-year career in the sport. Directed by Asif Kapadia ('Far North,' 'The Warrior') and produced by Universal and Working Title, 'Senna' shows the audience the untapped potential and brilliance of the Formula 1 driver Ayrton Senna, while also examining the rise of this shy, young Brazillian boy; from go-karting circuits to a televisual audience of millions. 'Senna' is as moving and touching, as it is interesting and captivating.
Born Ayrton Senna da Silva to wealthy middle-class parents in the Santana district of Sao Paulo, he always had a dream of becoming a racing driver and began by driving in the Karting World Championships until he was approached to join Formula 3 for the 1983 season and then Formula 1 for the following season. From his first controversial podium finish in the Monaco in Grand Prix in 1984, two things were born; an intense rivalry with the future French Formula 1 champion (and soon to be team-mate) Alain Prost and a desire to race, dominate and win which would see Senna not only claim three World Championships, but also lose his own life on the track.
Where Kapadia's 'Senna' documentary works is in its ability to appeal to wide array of audience members. For the fans of the Formula 1 racing there is a copious amount of footage documenting select races and the events taking place around his career. Rather than use cutaway segments to show various celebrities and sports men and women discuss their memories and recollections of Senna, Kapadia instead utilises a voice-over to accompany the archive images on-screen. By allowing the voice-over of the various people associated with Senna (most notable this consists of McLaren's team principal Ron Dennis, his mother, father and sister, F1 team Doctor Sid Watkins, and Brazilian commentator Reginaldo Leme) to supplement the footage, it both preserves he power of the on-screen image and provides the audience with additional information regarding the situation or event that is being presented.
While for the casual viewer who may only know of Ayrton Senna in passing, there is the psychological unravelling of a man trapped in a boy's body. Senna is shown not to be ignorant of the politics of Formula 1, but simply uninterested, he was always that middle-class boy from Brazil who only wanted to race, win and repeat. There is also an interesting inclusion of footage of Senna as a modern hero of the Brazilian people, he's shown as the racing driver who transcended the social and political problems of a nation on the edge of poverty and economic instability and provided them with ray of light and joy that was unfortunately extinguished on the 1st of May 1994. 'Senna' is a brilliant and moving examination of a rising sporting star caught up in the whirlwind of politics, rivalries and stardom, when all he wanted to do was race and win by any means necessary, not for the adulation of millions, but his love for sport so close to his heart.
X: First Class (2011)
A franchise is reborn...
Beginning with a crime-thriller and a fantasy film on his directorial résumé, it is safe to say that Matthew Vaughn may have already found his niche genre in the super-hero field despite only directing four films in seven years. His first super-hero project, 'Kick Ass,' opened in 2010 to solid critical acclaim and a finalized gross of three times the film's ordinary $30 million dollar budget. And after only two years, Vaughn returns with 'X-Men: First Class,' an origins story to accompany the Bryan Singer/Brett Ratner X-Men trilogy released between 2000 and 2006. It's intelligent, enthralling, well-acted, stylishly directed, and most importantly by focusing heavily upon the relationship between the two central protagonists, it does not feel like a conventional super-hero film.
Set within the political context of the Cuban Missile Crisis in the early 1960's, Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) is an up-and-coming Professor whose life is drastically altered when he is introduced to the other members of society who also share the same mutant gene as himself that supplies them with super-human abilities and traits. After stumbling upon the shape-shifting Raven (Jennifer Lawrence) within his mansion, the telepathic Xavier then encounters Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender), the son of Jewish parents who were murdered during the holocaust by the narcissistic former Nazi scientist, Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon). Erik, who can manipulate all metal objects around himself, wants retribution and nothing more from Sebastian who is now a successful and evil underground figurehead who commands a team of mutants (Azazel, Emma Frost and Riptide) to do his bidding for him. But, once his plan for world domination is revealed, they find that it far exceeds the constraints of humanity, and Xavier, Erik and a rag-tag band of young, hide-away mutants (Havok, Beast, Darwin, Angel and Banshee) who were discovered by Charles, must combine their powers in one last attempt to stop Shaw from destroying the planet and humanity as a whole.
Instantly where 'X-Men: First Class' works is in regards to its two central characters; Charles Xavier played by an incredibly affluently sounding James McAvoy and a rage-fuelled Erik Lehnsherr played by a stern-faced Michael Fassbender. Their instant on-screen chemistry provides the drive and ammunition for the plot to carry itself forward. Both characters have differing ideologies and their constant clashes due to this aspect allow the script to be brought to life. Instead of simply infusing their relationship with formulaic violent clashes, Vaughn has instead opted for more articulated verbal battles between the two characters regarding their stance within the society they are now becoming a part of. Xavier is an intellectual being who believes that humans will eventually be accepted within society as equals alongside humans, while Lenhsherr believes that mutants will always be hunted and unable to live peacefully side-by-side with the human race, his evidence for this resides in the anti-Semitism and hatred he received at the hands of the Nazi party during the holocaust. This heavy-set contradiction in ideologies allows their relationship to be imbued with pessimism, while they may be shown as friends and fighting together initially, fans of the comic books and films in general know this does eventually turn into a bitter rivalry and it's this development which drives the plot forward.
Aside from the script, it would also be rude to not praise the action-sequences which take place within the confines of the 1960's X-Men universe. With a modest running time at two hours and ten minutes, there are more than a few well-choreographed action sequences that would adequately satisfy any of comic-book-to-film aficionado's wishing to see this film. Each character's power or ability is at some point represented in a destructive or defensive capacity, taking full advantage of the fact that while many super-hero movies tend to concentrate on the aesthetic nature of the artillery characters can be seen to withstand from governmental agencies or blindsided human opponents, here it is shown and constantly emphasized that human reaction would be futile due to the overwhelming power the mutants possess. These scenes also allow the less important characters to show their physical presence on-screen. For example, during the climactic fight sequence at the conclusion of the film, every mutant character that is identified to the audience is finally shown using their abilities to full capacity, most notably the henchmen of Shaw and the rag-tag team of Xavier and Lehnsherr. This therefore accounts slightly for the lack of depth that has been attempted in these secondary characters due to the time and story constraints.
While it is a very good and accessible comic-book/super-hero movie, 'X-Men' does also contain two central flaws. The first is superseded in a way by the strength of both McAvoy and Fassbenders performances, as Kevin Bacon is constantly overshadowed as the one-dimensional antagonist of the piece. His plot to ultimately destroy humanity becomes second fiddle to the ever intricate complex relationship between Xavier and Lehnsherr, and his appearance seems too modelled upon that of a James Bond villain. He has the slick hair, the beautiful women and the villainous underground Club to boot, but Bacon unfortunately doesn't have the charisma to be accepted as a worthy opponent to the protagonists. The other flaw has to do with a minor aspect of the production itself, as the non-diegetic music, most notably during the action sequences, begins to diminish in its impact as the film carries on, leading to it eventually becoming the generic, genre-related fanfare associated with the conventional comic-book films.
'X-Men: First Class,' is not your typical comic-book movie, it may contain certain elements associated with the comic-book genre, but by placing a heavy emphasis upon the strength of the plot and the script at the film's core instead of the action-set-pieces taking place, Vaughn has intended, and succeeded, in transcending the stereotypical conventions of the genre and has created a film which will appeal to a wide range of audience members.
Statham is a 70's stereotype trapped in a modern environment.
For the second time in eight months, Irish novelist Ken Bruen has seen another one of his hard-boiled crime stories adapted to the big-screen. While 'London Boulevard' contained a down-on-his-luck gangster attempting to go straight, 'Blitz' instead contains a more cinematic anti-hero, as Jason Statham plays a Sergeant who dismisses everyone, plays by nobodies rules and breaks every law under the sun while consuming large quantities of alcohol. It's disjointed, unintentionally hilarious, and more akin to a cinematic parody of the hit television series 'Life on Mars' than a serious British crime-thriller.
Detective Sergeant Tom Brant (Jason Statham) is a police officer with old school procedures and methods; he rules the streets with his fists rather than his head or his badge. But once a serial cop-killer (Aiden Gillen) calling himself the 'Blitz' starts roaming the streets of London, he must partner with acting Detective Inspector Porter Nash (Paddy Considine) to try and apprehend the culprit before the deranged psychopath seriously injures or even kills any more members of the London Police force. Alongside the main narrative stream, there is also a sub-plot involving a young WPC (Zawe Ashton) who must constantly battle her own personal demons.
The combination of a stale, almost laughable script and the rough, one-dimensional lead actor in Jason Statham instantly renders 'Blitz' as a sub-par crime-thriller. Brant is portrayed as a sexist, prehistoric homophobe who prefers to take witness statements in the Pub as he drinks a pint of beer while dismissing any concerns the witness has about his or her statements. Statham adds absolutely nothing to the character except the fact that he is willing to seriously injure or kill any possible (innocent) suspects without a second thought. His lack of emotion, constant drinking and persistent expression of repressed rage become incredibly old after ten minutes. However, if taken accidentally as a comedy, his hilarious one-liners do provide endless (and unintentional) comedic relief. When asked by a witness he is interviewing if he is taking down his statement, Brant casually removes his pint of beer from his lips before articulating the phrase, "does it look like I carry a pencil?" in a condescending manner. Police work at its finest, indeed.
Paddy Considine and Aiden Gillen do attempt to work beyond their restrictive character profiles, but within the confines of the film and its script, their characters aren't given enough creative freedom to truly provide any emotive acting. Gillen's motive behind his rampage of violence is never fully explored, nor is the initial homosexuality of Considine's character. While it is somewhat refreshing to see a homosexual character on-screen in a position of power where he is still seen as overcoming the prejudice exerted by his peers, he starts by flaunting mannerisms that many would find both stereotypical and offensive to many homosexual males. But once this is eventually toned down, his character, his sexuality, and his motives are allowed to be somewhat expressed and he becomes the one solid character in a sea of stereotypes.
Aside from the lack of depth in character, script or main plot, where the film also fails on an incredibly basic level is in the form of a sub-plot which simply provides no conclusion or relief alongside the presiding storyline. The audience is introduced to a young, up-and-coming female Police Officer called Elizabeth Falls who is shown to have had problems with drugs in the past, but the sub-plot simply ends there. During the final act the spectators are waiting for closure offers no explanation or conclusion to a character, yet the film expects the audience to form an emotional bond with the character and her plight.
If you replaced Jason Statham and his poorly crafted one-liners (including one in which he responds to a female police officer's quip in jest that she is surprised he can even navigate his microwave due to his technophobia with "women are there to use the microwave, and do the typing too") and removed the open-ended sub-plot then 'Blitz' would work perfectly as a made for television hour-long crime-drama. However as a theatrical release, this film is nothing more than a Jason Statham action-vehicle which masquerades as an inferior police thriller.
The Hangover Part II (2011)
It takes a little too long for the script to kick in Bangkok style!
Same cast. Same setup. Different location. Todd Phillips returns to the directorial chair to helm the sequel to the 2009 comedy hit 'The Hangover'. After grossing over $450m worldwide from a modest $35m budget, it was inevitable that the boys would be back for another forgettable (for them anyway
) outing. While it doesn't reach the same joke per minute ratio as the original film did, it does provide enough laughs to keep the audience occupied through the one hour and forty minute running time. However if monkey related humour is not your cup of tea, then the first half of the film will no doubt drag a little for you.
Stu (Ed Helms) has finally found the right woman to marry in Lauren (Jamie Chung), and they head-off to Thailand to get married. As Stu sadly still cannot truly recollect the horrors of their Las Vegas night-out, he opts for a traditional and safe, pre-Wedding brunch instead of an bachelor party. However, yet again things do not go to plan for the 'Wolfpack' as Stu, Alan (Zack Galifianakis), and Phil (Bradley Cooper) must attempt to retrace from the previous night's escapade to find Lauren's younger brother Teddy (Mason Lee) who joined the boys on their night-out. As the déjà vu sets in, they move from character to character, including the resurrection of high-pitched Leslie Chow (Ken Jeong), and from place to place to try and piece together the forgotten night's carnage before it is too late. A few famous faces are thrown in for good measure, but their roles do not need to be spoiled here as they are merely cannon fodder aimed at extending the plot for just a few more minutes allowing for an extra sequence to be casually included here and there.
With nothing literally changing aside from the location a few minor plot points (e.g. Stu's, rather than Doug's wedding), 'The Hangover Part 2' relies solely on the strength of its script and the jokes it will throw at the audience. Phillips, Armstrong and Mazin essentially centre the humour around three key areas; the changing of the character's normal appearances, the differences and constraints between Western and Asian customs and the actual personality and action of the characters, most notably Alan. Galifianakis is at the centre of the majority of comedic moments, however it is not always what says, but unusually what he does, that creates the laugh-out-loud elements. His little mannerisms and unabashedly reactions both verbal and physical to relatively simply questions are both squirming-ly embarrassing and funny at the same. While both Stu and Phil play second fiddle to Alan's constant ability to make the wrong comment at the wrong time, but in an entirely innocent, and somewhat childish way. He keeps the film ticking over, especially during the first half of the film's narrative and during the moments in which shock value tends to creep into the script intending to both cause shock and amusement, yet it tends to create neither.
'The Hangover Part 2' is the first film, but set in a different city with a couple more extreme characters and sequences thrown in for good measure. The script is heavily set on propelling shock value over verbal humour, but when the script does eventually kick in during the second half of the film, it provides plenty of hilarious moments that seem to arrive just a little too late. However, it must be noted, that as the narration has been replicated almost plot-point for plot-point it is still worth staying till the very end to view one visual joke that does work perfectly in sync with a movie. It may feel like déjà vu, but photos sometimes tell the whole story (and then some ).
Los ojos de Julia (2010)
Another Welcome Spanish Import...
Guillem Morales's film 'Los ojos de Julia' (English translation: 'Julia's Eyes') is another recent Spanish import from the production desk of Guillermo Del Toro which manages to adequately combine an engaging plot with many well-orchestrated visual sequences.
Julia (Belen Rueda) is devastated when she finds out that her sister twin Sara (also played by Rueda) has committed suicide, apparently due to her inability to cope with her recent blindness which is part of a genetic disease that will effect both sisters throughout their lifetimes. Sensing something is wrong and with her sight slowly fading, Julia alongside her husband Isaac (Lluis Homar) sets out to investigate her lingering suspicions surrounding her sister's death. Including an apparent boyfriend that nobody can ever recall seeing nor can they describe him and the myriad of characters which she encounteres throughout her existence. As Julia's sight begins to slowly fade, she must attempt to unravel the mystery behind her sister's death.
Where Morales makes 'Julia's Eyes' work is in the combination of subtle close-up shots, atmospheric lighting and the alternating use of diegetic and non-diegetic sound, he and cinematographer Oscar Faura literally place the viewer within the confines of central protagonist. Instead of simply utilizing the age-old, and overcooked mainstream cinematic method of providing a false scare, followed by heightened non-diegetic sound, they as an alternative, allow the emphasis of the situation to be drawn from Julia's surroundings. Close-up, and medium-close-up shots of insignificant objects, and segments of wall, become ever more important as Julia's eyesight begins to slowly fade. While the avoidance of recording any distinguishing facial features of many male characters, especially during the second and third acts of the film, not only instils a sense of mystery in the title, but also again represents Julia's impending loss of sight. By primarily using the visual aesthetics to communicate to the audience the tone and atmosphere of the piece, Morales extends the engagement of the picture to further audiences by not necessarily providing a scare with every scene, but by consistently keeping the tension up at a high level.
The film isn't without flaw however; the story is cluttered with many sequences essentially repeating aspects of the story that have already been stated for the viewer and this unfortunately adds a further ten minutes to the running time of the picture. While the actors Belen Rueda and Lluis Homar provide strong emotional performances throughout, the majority of the remaining cast members attempt nothing to step outside of their stereotypical roles, nor is any screen-time provided for them with any depth beyond their scope as a one-time narrative pusher. Everybody else becomes somewhat of a pawn in Julia's mystery and while there are some potentially interesting characters around her, they are never fully developed to the extent where they can make an impact on the film's overall narrative. 'Julia's Eyes' is yet another above-average addition to the Spanish horror/thriller genre, which despite being slightly overlong, contains a solid story with many convoluted and inter-connected twists keeping the third act engrossing until the end credit sequence begins.
This ship set sail a long time ago...
'Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides' should effectively be renamed 'The Captain Jack Sparrow Show' as the fourth film in the always popular pirate franchise is nothing more than a two-hour vehicle for Johnny Depp to show off all his talent and charm, which eventually wears thin after the first hour of the film. Aside from the world on Depp's shoulders, the plot is disjointed and the rest of the crew are mere puppets to Depp's act.
While the first three films were concerned with the antagonist Davy Jones and Sparrow's one ship the Black Pearl, 'On Stranger Tides' is a more straight-forward, linear action-adventure film with Captain Jack Sparrow becoming involuntarily part of the heinous pirate Blackbeard's (Ian McShane) sailing staff to help them find the mythical 'fountain of youth'. Also on the ship is the empowered primary commander Angelica, who is the First Mate in charge of the Queen Anne's Revenge, while a few other characters from the previous films make their presence noted in the form of Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), Joshamee Gibbs (Kevin McNally), Lieutenant Groves (Greg Ellis), Lieutenant Gillette (Damian O'Hare) and Captain Teague (Keith Richards).
The plot resonates throughout the film in a very stereotypical manner, Jack Sparrow makes a wise-cracking joke, this results in a chase or fight sequence, which is then promptly ended before the journey continues and the same sequence is repeated over and over again in a slightly different location. Until the final ten minutes of the film, nothing new is not attempted nor is nothing old expanded upon, Rob Marshall has certainly taken the safe route of throwing together a recognisable, albeit fragmented, formula and hoping the audience will jump on board for over two hours. For the fans of the film franchise this will most likely work, to ordinary cinema patrons; boredom ahoy!
Another flaw is in the form of introducing the missionary Philip Swift (Sam Claflin), unlike the previous three instalments in which Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightly) provide the crux of the film's morality and principles, in 'Stranger Tides' there is no character in the primary cast who can accomplish this, so Swift's story and subsequent relationship seems to have been hastily thrust into the plot with no regards for how undeniably boring and tedious it actually is. He therefore attempts to also add a bit of humility and humanity among the blood-thirsty pirates and the psychopathic Blackbeard, but with his little screen time and over-acting this is never accomplished and the promising English actor becomes nothing more than a kind religious zealot with a muscular abdomen.
Despite Depp's persistent and continual screen time, he does still provide adequate comedic relief, his best wisecracks seem to appear at the very moment when the plot and story seem to be slowing down, but neither the script, direction or rest of the cast and crew do anything else to keep this fourth film from being anything less than a cinematic sinking ship. It will no doubt quite easily gross it's estimated two-hundred million dollar budget back within the next four weeks, and subsequently facilitate a fifth film in the franchise, but 'On Stranger Tides' is definitely the weakest effort in the 'Pirates' series so far.