30 December 2009

Movie Review: Sherlock Holmes

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B-

Sherlock Holmes
2009, 135mins, PG-13
Director: Guy Ritchie
Writer (s): Simon Kinberg, Anthony Peckham, Michael Robert Johnson, Lionel Wigram, Arthur Conan Doyle (characters)
Cast includes: Robert Downey Jr, Jude Law, Mark Strong, Rachel McAdams, Eddie Marsan, Kelly Reilly
Release Date: 25th December 2009

I’m not a fan of Guy Ritchie and the gangsters and geezers nonsense on which he has built a cinematic career, so upon hearing that he would be directing an updated version of “Sherlock Holmes” one of the greatest literary icons of all times, I was definitely sceptical. The casting of Robert Downey Jr as the legendary sleuth seemed apt but Jude Law’s inclusion as his sidekick raised eyebrows and the first trailer looked overly action packed at the expense of story or intrigue. Now the film has arrived in theatres and enjoyed a profitable $65 million opening weekend, cementing the idea of further sequels and adventures for the updated detective. “Sherlock Holmes” feels like the opening of a series rather than an individual film, an enjoyable start, but one that feels incomplete and too open ended come its finale. Further films are welcome and this certainly marks Guy Ritchie’s most accessible picture to date but by the finish the sequel bating has become a chore rather than a punchy pleasure.

Proceedings start with a fairly hectic chase sequence in which Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.) and his partner Dr. Watson (Jude Law) attain and capture the nefarious Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong), a politician who has been using black magic to commit a series of heinous and bloody murders. However before being sent to the noose Blackwood demands a final meeting with Holmes, in which he warns the legendary detective that worse is to follow. Following this ominous meeting Blackwood mysteriously appears to rise from the grave, frightening the entire City and continuing to kill in order to achieve his devious aims. Holmes and Watson quickly hit the case; despite the fact the latter is set to leave his current lifestyle in favour of marriage, much to the disdain of his brilliant companion. However when one of Holmes old flames Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams) reappears with a query suspiciously linked to the Blackwood case, London’s greatest detective starts to ponder just how large a conspiracy he might have wandered into.

Guy Ritchie’s take on Arthur Conan Doyle’s magnificent literature is considerably more reliant on blockbusting set pieces and spectacle than the original texts, wrapping them in a credible but far from stunning mystery. Folks looking for a full blown helping of narrative sustenance will struggle with aspects of “Sherlock Holmes”, it’s a story filled with gothic imagery and lavish action scenes, yet in itself it feels light and frothy. The new case cooked up for this rebirth lacks the audacious complexity and skilled logicality of Conan Doyle’s very best, holding together on the promise that grander and more intrepid twists are to follow in future offerings. It’s cute and certainly watchable but this new screenplay won’t be the cause for much intellectual uproar within the diehard Holmes community.

Robert Downey Jr is fabulous as Holmes and whilst his jabbering occasionally borders on inaudible, his frantic energy and quick wit never cease to impress. It’s no secret that Downey is both a fine dramatist and a proficient comedian and he sells both of these assets into the equation as Holmes. He exudes the likable lunacy and pinpoint brilliance of the character, occasionally touching on his darker and more emotionally troubled side too. If a sequel comes to be the filmmakers ought to push harder at the edges of Holmes sanity but as an introductory session with Downey’s vision, this is more than ample. Jude Law is unusually solid as Watson and builds a strong comic chemistry with Downey; the British actor who is all too often a dull and lifeless presence actually acquits himself very neatly in “Sherlock Holmes”. His relationship with Kelly Reilly’s Mary takes up more time than I felt was necessary but it’s nothing in comparison to the muddled inclusion of McAdams Irene Adler. McAdams is a likable performer but why her character exists within the confines of this story is suspect, all she seems to do is provide an opening for a sequel and confirm to the audience that Holmes isn’t gay. Her character is simply a tool for marketing purposes and simpletons; her performance is as such practically irrelevant. Hamming it up as the villainous Lord Blackwood Mark Strong is effective in the most basic of fashions, he snarls well, he creates an uneasy atmosphere and audiences will hate him from the word go. In terms of blockbusting bad guys that renders him nearer the top of the pile.

Ritchie has never had such a mighty budget at his disposal and he showcases a surprisingly deft touch with CGI, not overloading the film with helpings of action but timing their inclusion rather nicely. Whilst it’s considerably more spectacle and explosion filled than any of Conan Doyle’s books the film isn’t as balls out action obsessed as early previews suggested, something of a relief for audiences tired of digitalised mayhem. Ritchie places notably more emphasis on the relationship between Holmes and Watson and the assorted comic banter the picture offers than his linear mystery or expensive blockbusting. Again this is a choice that might really pay off in future sequels, after putting so much effort into their relationship here the screenwriters should find it easier to maintain in further escapades. It’s a tactical choice that I admired and even in the immediacy of this film it remains enjoyable.

The film looks grubby in the most polished sense of the word, the London setting given a stylish sheen of greys and metallic blacks to create the down and dirty aesthetic of the city at the time. Adding to that is a rousing Hans Zimmer score which avoids the generic trappings of big budget music whilst getting the blood pumping in a way akin to many event movies. Ritchie at times robs a slow motion fighting style from Zack Snyder and it doesn’t really work in the context of this feature, but its usage is few and far between limiting the damage it does on the finished product. It’s hard to get around the open ended conclusion, a slightly disappointing and profit engineered climax. The last big set piece is certainly well handled but the story feels loose and utterly unresolved by the finish, a distraction that takes something away from the experience. However to say the movie is anything less than a robust studio picture would be unfair, it is for example better entertainment than the likes of “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” or “Surrogates”. “Sherlock Homes” doesn’t work out to be a magnificent time at the cinema but it is technically excellent and a promising beginning for a new era at Baker Street.


A review by Daniel Kelly, 2009

27 December 2009

Quick Update

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Not seen a movie since "Avatar" so posts have been few and far between in the last few weeks. I hope by Wednesday to have a "Sherlock Holmes" review available and after that, I'll feel comfortable doing my top and bottom 10's for the year. Hopefully they will be on before the end of the week.

16 December 2009

Movie Review: Avatar

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A

Avatar
2009, 160mins, PG-13
Director: James Cameron
Writer: James Cameron
Cast includes: Sam Worthington, Stephen Lang, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver, Joel David Moore, Michelle Rodriguez
Release Date: 17th December 2009

“Avatar” is an astonishing cinematic gambit and clearly one of the best films 2009 is going to deliver. Having been out of the game since a little 1997 film called “Titanic” James Cameron has been an elusive Hollywood presence but with “Avatar” his name is stomped firmly back onto the map. Those who doubted the movie on the basis of promotional material from a few months back will be retracting their words after viewing the audacious and majestic finished product, a triumph from both a visual and storytelling perspective “Avatar” truly is a groundbreaking feature.

Set 150 years in the future “Avatar” sees’s humanity having landed on the lush and fertile planet of Pandora, seeking a valuable energy source that is in bountiful supply below the new world’s soil. The indigenous species called the Na’vi aren’t pleased about the invaders but unless they vacate their jungle habitat, humanity has made it clear war is the only option. In a last ditch attempt to avoid bloodshed the humans cook up the “Avatar” program, the avatars in question biological reconstructions of the Na’vi that can be controlled through machinery by humans. Jake Scully (Sam Worthington) is an ex-marine tasked with using his avatar to make contact with the Na’vi and after enduring a series of trials and training he is accepted into the alien culture. Jake is recruited by the nefarious Colonel Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang) to feed back info concerning the Na’vi so Quaritch can plan ahead for his impending campaign of terror. However as Jake ingratiates himself further into the Na’vi social strata and begins to fall for a young Na’vi warrior called Neytiri (Zoe Saldana) he begins to suspect it is the humans who are at fault and not this new and environmentally astute species.

“Avatar” is visually a true rollercoaster ride of a movie, in 3-D it is certainly the most lavish and impressive looking picture of the year. Cameron shows imagination in nearly every aspect of Pandora’s conception, ranging from the strangely imposing Na’vi to its other more lethal inhabitants and luscious fauna. Every so often a film comes along that simply ups the standard for visual effects, titles like “Jurassic Park” and Cameron’s own “Terminator” sequel immediately jumping to mind. “Avatar” is one such movie and its meticulous deployment of 3-D is beyond anything that audiences have been treated to before. Whilst creating a compelling surface is less than half the battle “Avatar” accomplishes the feat with panache and flair only a true master of filmmaking could muster, the world of Pandora surely set to become one of the all time greatest movie landscapes.

The acting ranges from adequate to excellent, Sam Worthington continuing his stake to be taken as a serious thespian presence in tinsel town. After doing a good job in “Terminator Salvation” Worthington imbues the potentially one note character of Jake with a terrific dose of heart and a sense of fearful uncertainty. His romance with Saldana is blissfully engaging despite the heft amounts of CGI and creature designs it requires, the actress herself also handing in a polished and emotionally rich performance. Stephen Lang is a little broader and less refined as the villain of the piece but ultimately he does suitable work and the ever brilliant Sigourney Weaver knocks her scientist role out of the park. Even generally awful performers like Joel David Moore and Michelle Rodriguez are bearable, truly a testament to Cameron’s filmmaking prowess if ever there was one. Cameron clearly understands acting and whilst he is renowned for pushing his casts to the edge of their sanity with his standards the results are nothing short of marvellous. “Avatar” certainly gives viewers plenty of human meat to hang their own experience on.

The screenplay is epic and at 160 minutes in length so is just about everything else, the story unfolding steadily and with a confidence and understanding that a man out of the business for 12 years really ought to be missing. Some of the dialogue misfires but the plotting is superlative and weaves in a plethora of underlying environmental messaging and even what appears to be messianic imagery. These additives don’t grate but are subtly knitted into proceedings, providing Cameron’s science fiction labyrinth an extra helping of depth and relevance in the world today. Interestingly Cameron also clearly takes another swing at the sort of corporate behemoths found in “Aliens”. Here it’s equally as pronounced and intriguing as it was in 1986, the horror of war and the unknown used to emphasise the killer and carefree instincts such industrial tyrants exercise.

The movie is structured so that the action and scope become gradually more bombastic and Cameron closes on an absolute gem of a final battle. Throwing everything at the audience in one intensely prepped and heated burst of visual ferocity Cameron has probably concocted the blockbusting climax of the year, the money is all up on the screen and boy is it enjoyable. Explosive action has always been a key asset in Cameron’s filmmaking DNA but in “Avatar” he completely rips the screen to pieces and manipulates 3-D to full effect in the pursuit of his destructive and chaos filled passion, shooting the action with a machismo and skill that few others could hope to attain, all the while retaining a steady hand and keeping the plot in strong focus. The editing work is flawless and the musical score from James Horner a respectable addition to this cinematic treat. The photography and various fantastical beasties are equally pleasurable; some of the monsters in “Avatar” showcase an almost completely authentic and threatening look.

“Avatar” is a joyous diversion and one of the best fantasy pictures since Peter Jackson brought Tolkien to life. The digitals and 3-D are just as outstanding as anyone might have hoped and the plot doesn’t fail to impress either. James Cameron has returned to filmmaking with the sort of level hand and swagger that we really ought to have anticipated, but what he has wrought as a consequence is probably amongst even his best works. “Avatar” stuns and surprises in equal measure and deserves to be seen by as many as possible. After all, “Titanic” has to be knocked off that box-office perch sometime.

A review by Daniel Kelly, 2009

14 December 2009

Movie Review: The Box

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C

The Box
2009, 115mins, PG-13
Director: Richard Kelly
Writer (s): Richard Kelly, Richard Matheson (short story)
Cast includes: Cameron Diaz, James Marsden, Frank Langella, James Rebhorn, Sam Oz Stone
Release Date: 6th November 2009

Based on a short story written by Sci-Fi maestro Richard Matheson “The Box” is an ambitious but heavily flawed motion picture. Directed by Richard Kelly, it has all the filmmaker’s quirky trademarks and is filled with his quizzical nature but somehow it just doesn’t come together like one might anticipate. Many have actually touted “The Box” as Kelly’s first proper foray into mainstream cinema following his cult favourite “Donnie Darko” and the perplexingly odd “Southland Tales” but in truth the movie is probably one of the least conventional pictures currently playing in multiplexes. The first 30 minutes or so fit into a robust but standard pot-boiler template but then “The Box” moves off into seriously surreal territory and asks many questions the audience are unlikely to expect. However there is such thing as too much and Kelly has stuffed his bonanza with overly fruitful ideas and designs, leaving the picture an intriguing but messy enterprise.

Norma (Cameron Diaz) and Arthur Lewis (James Marsden) are struggling with financial strain, neither is granted the professional path they were hoping for and as a consequence the future looks uncertain. One morning they are rudely awakened by the doorbell only to find a parcel sitting on their porch, the package containing a strange technological contraption and a note informing them that its prior owner will visit later. When he appears he turns out to be the charming but hideously scarred Arlington Steward (Frank Langella) and he has a curious proposal. The product left on their doorstep is a “button unit” and in exchange for pushing said button Steward will give the Lewis’s the exceedingly generous gift of $1 million. However there is a catch. By hitting the unit they will not only become rich but also claim a life, leaving them with a moral dilemma like few others. They won’t know the deceased nor will Steward ever make contact with them again but as things surrounding them become stranger and life more troubling the Lewis family may be left with no choice.

“The Box” starts on a hugely simplistic idea and works it into a story that evolves to include NASA, masses of seemingly possessed people and science fiction malarkey concerning Mars. Basically it’s what you pay for when taking a trip through the eyes of Richard Kelly. This is a movie that I genuinely wanted to like and in honestly I was encouraged by the stylish trailers but “The Box” isn’t the film that promotional material suggests. It’s a deeper and more ambitious effort for a start but it also never finds the thrills or excitement hinted at in previews, and from a narrative standpoint it has far more content than it needs. I’d rather sit through an original and intellectually admirable failure than an ordinary and consistently dull studio piece of the same standard but mediocrity is mediocrity and “The Box” unfortunately suits such a moniker.

The performances are one of the high points, Diaz and Marsden make an agreeable couple and each develops their individual character surprisingly well given the preposterous contortions of the picture. Diaz in particular gives it a strikingly heartfelt go, nursing character traits soundly and working to build a fizzy rapport with other screen presences. These are essentially people you route for and the film does allow the audience to place themselves within the couple’s shoes via several dialogue heavy exchanges, at least on this point Kelly has done his job well. Langella is also impressive as the mysterious and iffy Steward, chilling and charming with equal measure. From an acting perspective “The Box” has fuel for the fire, but sadly Kelly can’t ignite the other elements to a satisfactory degree.

“The Box” opens promisingly enough and despite the normalcy the first 40 minutes are probably its best. Kelly utilises suspense and some disturbing imagery neatly during this segment, the problems arise when he starts to throw in further additives with sledgehammer subtlety. “The Box” clearly wants to be another weird Richard Kelly film but by the finish it’s not far from incomprehensible, the middle third a particularly drab and self indulgent mash up of added characters, twists and soul searching mystery. I’m certainly not a card carrying member of the “Donnie Darko” fan club but I can see why it’s a good film, such an epiphany never arrives during “The Box”. Lovers of wacked out movies might find more to like than most but excessive amounts of what “The Box” is pushing doesn’t work.

Aesthetically it captures the 1970’s with a sweet eye and some amusingly retro soundtrack choices but these can’t disguise the storytelling discrepancies and disconnected rambling. I will always be willing to slap a filmmaker on the back for taking risks but with “The Box” it appears Richard Kelly’s luck has run dry. Maybe next time he’s given a potentially marketable cinematic property he should tow closer to the line and give himself a chance to steady his feet, if not only so he might return to form and deliver the follow-up his early career impatiently demands.

A review by Daniel Kelly, 2009

10 December 2009

Movie Review: The Twilight Saga: New Moon

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D-

The Twilight Saga: New Moon
2009, 130mins, PG-13
Director: Chris Weitz
Writer (s): Melissa Rosenberg, Stephenie Meyer (novel)
Cast includes: Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Taylor Lautner, Billy Burke, Anna Kendrick, Michael Sheen, Ashley Greene, Dakota Fanning
Release Date: 20th November 2009

Last year’s “Twilight” wasn’t a despicably awful motion picture but neither was it particularly good. My memories of the venture are largely those of boredom punctuated by a few instances of commendable filmmaking and two modestly effective performances by Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson. Now after the big box-office haul the sequel arrives a mere one year later, “The Twilight Saga: New Moon” adding a love triangle element to the already dramatic romance between its two leads. However whilst the first film had its moments “New Moon” is a consistently ghastly movie, even the teenage girls who cherish this series are unlikely to be impressed by director Chris Weitz’s terrible follow-up. I don’t hate this movie because it’s incredibly popular or because I take issue with the literature from which it is sourced, I despised it because it’s an unbelievably drab and hastily constructed cash grab.

The plot opens after the occurrences of part one, Bella (Kristen Stewart) is turning 18 and beginning to realise that whilst she grows older her vampire boyfriend Edward (Robert Pattinson) will remain forever 17. After one of Edward’s family attacks Bella following a paper cut induced moment of temptation the vampire clan leave town, leaving Bella in a fit of uncertain depression. Comforting her is Jacob (Taylor Lautner) but even he has a terrible secret to keep, he’s a werewolf, and so despite his human desire for Bella his destiny forbids him from romantically embracing her. As Edward hides away to keep his love safe and Jacob struggles to withhold his attraction from her, Bella is once again forced into a life of danger and peril as the blood feud between the two boys slowly becomes clear.

There was a time when I enjoyed Chris Weitz as a filmmaker but after disappointing with “The Golden Compass” and now outright insulting audiences with “New Moon” I fear those days may be over. I haven’t read the book on which the film is based but I doubt it’s as pompously self-interested and fanatically dull as it’s cinematic incarnation, a motion picture that incidentally is a contender for my bottom 10 of the year. The film is a vapid bore, badly written, weakly acted and directed with only an eye for dreary cinematography and moody lingering shots of sulky teen faces. At over two hours it is also unforgivably overlong, I was ready to leave the theatre after 20 minutes, so the thought of having to spend another 110 was mind bogglingly frustrating.

I actually thought Pattinson and Stewart were decent in “Twilight” but things seem to have taken a drastic turn in the last year. In “New Moon” both provide stilted and wooden performances, especially Stewart who large portions of the enterprise are utterly dependent on. She hasn’t the shoulders for such heavy lifting and things deteriorate around her at an astonishing rate. The chemistry between Pattinson and Stewart was average at best in the initial effort but at least it was something, In “New Moon” the characters seem like colourless acquaintances meeting together for about the second time. There is no spark, energy or even tragic potential in the relationship in “New Moon”, the film fluffs the central romance and so the audience can’t get invested or begin to care about the sorry excuse for a narrative. Lautner doesn’t fare much better alongside Stewart but he seems more at ease with the material, and despite copious amounts of unnecessary topless scenes, is probably the best of the key protagonists. It’s faint praise and by no means does it mean his acting is good in any proper sense of the word, but he’s considerably more kinetic and alive than Pattinson or Stewart. Elsewhere the like of Billy Burke, Ashley Greene and Anna Kendrick are forgettable in nothing roles, whilst Michael Sheen and Dakota Fanning pop up amusingly as the heads of a mysterious vampire council. Both ham it up big time and at least manage to be entertaining in a cheesy and over the top sort of way.

With the love elements so disastrously hampered by the limp lead duos god awful efforts all that’s really left in “New Moon” are irregular doses of wolf and vampire action spread thinly over the pictures monstrously overwrought runtime. These scenes aren’t much better, the action is recycled and unoriginal and the technical effects are mediocre at best. As the meandering story wanders towards its perplexingly stretched and anticlimactic denouement, Weitz tries to add fizz via these lazy moments of mythical carnage and of course the obligatory broad humour that teenage girls so dearly love. Neither of these aspects appears credible let alone enjoyable; indeed it’s hard to see the appeal in this rancid mess from the first frame. It’s understandable why the first movie hit a chord, it’s fantasy of undying (and fabulously good looking) teen love tapped into an idea that the oestrogen intoxicated were bound to fall for. “New Moon” only serves to display that in actual fact young infatuation can be a rather boring and tired experience.

Visually Weitz sets a dour and permanently melancholy mood, it’s not that the movie looks amateurish but rather that the bleak atmosphere of the film only further compounds it’s listlessness. The languid pacing is an issue especially seeing as the feature actually stops rather than finding a satisfactory conclusion, and the musical accompaniment is a mixed bag. Some of the slow burning tunes played through “New Moon” suit the story nicely but unfortunately Weitz shows little diversity in his musical choices and repetition sets in with sudden and unrelenting venom. One montage which features the villainous Victoria (Rachelle Lefevre – touted as a big baddie at the end of part one but here getting about 2 minutes of screen time) fighting a wolf is nicely composed and strongly executed but otherwise it’s weary business as usual for “New Moon”.

The film attempts to cook several underlying ideas but mostly fails to make anything of them (the concept of Bella’s fear of aging starts with promise but disintegrates alarmingly fast) and as already discussed the love flat lines completely on this outing. “New Moon” is an abysmal feature with practically nothing to recommend it and is utterly undeserving of its box-office success. We only have to wait another 7 months before “Eclipse” the third film moves into theatres, and you know what, I’m dreading it already.


A review by Daniel Kelly, 2009

4 December 2009

Movie Review: The Uninvited

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C+

The Uninvited
2009, 87mins, PG-13
Director (s): The Brothers Guard
Writer (s): Doug Miro, Craig Rosenberg, Carlo Bernard
Cast includes: Emily Browning, Arielle Kebbell, Elizabeth Banks, David Strathairn, Maya Massar
Release Date: 30th January 2009

For the longest portion of its neat 87 minutes “The Uninvited” is an enjoyable film. The problem is that when the finishing act comes around it represents a mystifyingly frustrating misstep, whoever thought the twist added onto this one was a good idea has to have their artistic credibility called into question. I realize the film is a remake of the Asian property “A Tale of Two Sisters” yet either that movie suffers the same implausible denouement or deploys it in a more opportunistic and effective manner. Either way this Americanized retooling plays solidly for about an hour then blows much of its respectability due to an unsatisfying finish. As a result it goes from being certifiably good to being little better than average.

“The Uninvited” has been pitched to audiences as a ghost story, though in truth the supernatural only play a small part. It rattles along much more in the vein of a thriller or teenage conspiracy flick and whilst the summation of proceedings reverts back to spirits and ghouls the majority of the movie flows more realistically. Anna (Emily Browning) has just been released from the mental institution in which she has resided since the death of her mother, killed in a suspicious inferno that consumed part of her house in peculiar circumstances. Her sister Alex (Arielle Kebbel) and Father (David Strathairn) are initially pleased to see her, though for Anna at least they carry some bad news. Her Mother’s nurse and fathers new girlfriend Rachel (Elizabeth Banks) has moved in. Rachel is initially welcoming but her mood starts to change when Anna begins to suspect she may be culpable for her Mother’s death, haunting visions and ghostly appearances of past victims leading to the assertion. Her Father isn’t impressed with what he sees as insane rambling yet Alex is easier swayed, and together the two sisters attempt to expose the newest addition to the family.

For a horror movie rated PG-13 “The Uninvited” is surprisingly chilling and exciting in places. It’s also worth acknowledging that whilst I haven’t seen the original it strikes me as superior to most remakes. So for directorial duo Thomas and Charles Guard it’s far from a bad way to start their Hollywood careers and between them I do see potential. “The Uninvited” is a polished and moody movie with several genuinely suspenseful moments; from a visual perspective at least it’s a definite triumph. The Brothers Guard (as they prefer to be credited) certainly shows a command of cinematography and a flourish for atmospheric shot construction; aesthetically it’s consistently interesting and aids the story rather than overwhelms it. The musical score from Christopher Young is another thing that really stands out in aiding “The Uninvited” in its quest for thrills. Young has complied musical accompaniment that evokes an eerie sense of dread and uncertainty, it’s not a groundbreaking orchestral effort, though it’s solid and recognition worthy in the confines of such a modest motion picture.

The performances are decidedly mixed though the characterization is involving, certainly more defined and unique than the horror genre tends to offer. Browning and Kebbel never quite convince as the vengeful sisters, though in fairness specific facets of their acting do work. Browning in particular is commended for trying to bring what seems like an ethereal edge to her character and isn’t unsympathetic even if at times she relies overly on a puppy dog sense of disbelief. Kebbel just seems wooden for large sections of the movie though she rarely appears in anything more than a swimsuit which goes someway to compensating for her lack of energy or enthusiasm. Strathairn is overqualified for such an undemanding part though he carries it off well and Elizabeth Banks is excellent as the menacingly sweet Rachel. Banks has in the last few years shoehorned her way into the A list comedy scene, though “The Uninvited” shows that she has aspirations beyond that as an actress. I would probably go as far to say that along with the photography Banks is the movies greatest asset, charming and intimidating in equal measure.

The finish is where it all goes pear shaped, up until that point “The Uninvited” registers as a quietly efficient and entertaining attempt at mainstream horror. However not only does the picture insist on offering an incredibly lazy and unsubtle explanation it’s also a finale that invites narrative criticisms and shapes plot holes. The Guard brothers attempt to defend these inconsistencies through a quick replay of a few key scenes with the final twist in mind, and whilst their selected examples may make sense there are plenty of other moments that don’t. If taken purely as an experience “The Uninvited” works far more often than it does not, but when viewing it in retrospect as a story or tight narrative things struggle to hold up. It’s a disappointing end to what is otherwise a reasonably diverting film; the writers really would have been better going for a conventional serial killer style conclusion than the absolute cluster-fuck that appears on the screen.

I want to give “The Uninvited” a hearty recommendation, but in the light of its troubled ending that’s hard to do. The film is much better than most PG-13 drivel and actually manages to be scary from time to time but that doesn’t solve the other grander artistic issues. The Guard brothers look like they might be decent filmmakers and on the basis of this I’m more than willing to give them another chance but “The Uninvited” certainly could use improvement in a few vital areas.


A review by Daniel Kelly, 2009

2 December 2009

Reviews at DVD Verdict

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Reviewed the "Funny People" Blu-Ray at DVD Verdict this week. Really strong release for a good film. Other recent reviews include "Shorts" and "Four Christmases". Links to all three below.



Links:

Funny People
Shorts
Four Christmases

27 November 2009

Movie Review: Paranormal Activity

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B+

Paranormal Activity
2009, 86mins, R
Director: Oren Peli
Writer: Oren Peli
Cast includes: Micah Stoat, Katie Featherston
Release Date: 16th October 2009

“Paranormal Activity” has snared a fair degree of buzz in recent months, having sat on studio shelves for nearly two years Paramount whipped the picture into theatres and have somehow come out as winners. The film which cost well under $1 million has gone onto gross over $100 million and turned director Oren Peli into the next big thing. Shot in a “Blair Witch Project” style of handheld chaos the movie is an effective creeper of a motion picture, not outright terrifying but certainly unsettling. Peli avoids the horror genres excesses and guns for subtler thrills and spills and the results are rewarding and promising in equal measure. It’s not perfect neither is it the scariest film of all time but “Paranormal Activity” is an undeniably effective slice of low budget filmmaking.

Micah (Micah Sloat) and Katie (Katie Featherston) are a young couple with a disturbing problem. They believe that Katie is enduring haunting and has done since a young age, a particularly aggressive and potentially dangerous demon supposedly the antagonist. After consulting those knowledgeable in the paranormal the couple invests in a camera to keep track of the menace’s movement during the night, the recording device placed a few feet from their bed. As the nights go on the presence grows ever more unpredictable and active, resulting in the couple’s degeneration of courage and mental stability.

“Paranormal Activity” is the very definition of lean and mean, lasting a paltry 86 minutes with the vast majority spent trying to spook viewers. Certainly for those seeking a quick rush of Goosebumps the film fulfills their needs, it’s never a truly frightening picture but it retains an uneasy eeriness from the first reel. Peli seems to have been birthed from the less is more school of filmmaking and such a creed is put to neat use here, the limited budget would probably have resulted in a scrappy looking demon so the director uses other disturbing mechanisms to keep viewers on their toes.

The handheld aesthetic obviously adds a sense of realism and energy to proceedings but by the same token pretty much ensures cinematography is flushed out the window. The night based shots are still and beautifully lit but any other moments are flustered and raw, the day time sequences particularly harsh from a visual viewpoint. Those who also find handheld camera movies make them feel noxious are going to suffer pretty badly during “Paranormal Activity” the camera is kinetic and does a credible degree of shaking. However much is redeemed during the actual ghostly interludes, the camera lies still and a quietness envelops proceedings beautifully, Peli slowly making each encounter more extreme than the last. By the end of the movie “Paranormal Activity” is palpable, the scripting and storytelling stemming from a slow burning form of terror baiting. Those AD induced viewers who need blood and guts thrown at the screen from the first scene will be a little miffed but by the finish “Paranormal Activity” induces fear far above the level torture porn could ever hope to.

The performances from Featherston and Stoat are just okay but Peli has the skill and understanding to work around them. The improvised dialogue is impressive even if some of the acting isn’t and by the climax, somehow, the audience has come to sympathize and feel for the young lovers. There are a few (mostly bathroom) based moments that feel unnecessary and corny but the general mounting of the characters is believable, building them up and fleshing them out at a satisfying rate. Sure at times the newcomers seem a little out of their depth but the earnestness that kills a few of the quieter dramatic moments actually powers up the more chilling ones. Despite shortcomings in a few areas the duo does give it their all during the bedroom based fright scenes and this actually helps rather than damages these sections.

The ending is wonderfully ferocious and haunting whilst some of the imagery created on route sources shivers out of nowhere. Peli does deserve kudos for such an accomplished job and surely will carry on making interesting and solidly engaging horror movies. Much like “The Blair Witch Project” did in 1999, it is almost a certainty that “Paranormal Activity” will slowly amass an army of haters and the claims of it being the greatest fright fest of all times will abate. I agree that the film is a cut below the very best horror movies but judged purely within its own year the movie surely deserves to be considered amongst the finest examples of its genre. An intriguing and commendably spine tingling experience, “Paranormal Activity” warrants a solid recommendation.


A review by Daniel Kelly, 2009

23 November 2009

Movie Review: 2012

1 comments

D+

2012
2009, 158mins, PG-13
Director: Roland Emmerich
Writer (s): Harald Kloser, Roland Emmerich
Cast includes: John Cusack, Amanda Peet, Danny Glover, Thandie Newton, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Oliver Platt, Wood Harrelson
Release Date: 13th November 2009

“2012” represents the disaster titan known as Roland Emmerich working at full pelt, cramming special effects, paper thin characters, illogical plot twists and risible dialogue into a bloated running time. I have found some of Emmerich’s past works to be guilty pleasures but “2012” skips the fun and goes straight for the dumb. Fans of destruction on a massive scale will enjoy healthy portions of proceedings but for those desiring a little extra meat to go with their visual cheese, this isn’t the blockbuster for you. Very little of “2012” is worth watching, a particularly disparaging fact when you take its 158 minute length into consideration.

The film riffs on the idea that according to the Mayan calendar the world will end in 2012, a fiery and watery apocalypse set to engulf the planet and take humanity down with it. After a hokey scientific explanation for the impending doom we meet struggling writer Jackson Curtis (John Cusack) who is suffering from a lack of direction and a broken family. Upon taking his two children away for a weekend vacation he meets Armageddon nut Charlie (Woody Harrelson) who informs him of the upcoming 2012 based disaster. Initially skeptical Jackson quickly starts to believe when everything around him starts to collapse, fleeing with his family from the newly ravaged landscape he calls home. The family learns that several ships have been designed to take selected members of humanity to safety and so in a bid to ensure the future of his wife (Amanda Peet) and kids, Jackson makes a beeline for the escape craft’s Asian destination. Elsewhere scientist Dr. Adrian Helmsley (Chiwetel Ejiofor) struggles to try and find a solution whilst all around him the world’s fiercest and most famed leaders (including Danny Glover as the US President) succumb to the inevitability of unstoppable chaos.

The key problem with “2012” is that it isn’t particularly exciting; indeed by the final third the film becomes positively boring. It’s sad that Emmerich can compose such a lavish digital feast yet utterly fail to construct a decent script or interesting characters. I don’t require detailed profile analysis or groundbreaking and dynamic relationships from my popcorn cinema but it’s nice to have halfway engaging or modestly affable screen entities to latch onto, especially if the movie demands a big running time. “2012” presents the viewers with a selection of lightweight characters and uninspired story arcs, not helped by a set of thespians all operating on autopilot. John Cusack provides a lazy and generic turn as the father on a redemptive mission whilst supporting players like Thandie Newton and Amanda Peet fair little better. Peet has always been an extremely questionable acting presence and in “2012”she tears through her scenes with an almost intense blandness, creating absolutely no chemistry with Cusack as his estranged wife. Danny Glover isn’t horrendous in the Presidential role but he’s also instantly forgettable whilst the like of Oliver Platt and Woody Harrelson are wasted in useless parts. The one saving grace is Chiwetel Ejiofor who despite a ridiculous romantic subplot alongside Newton actually injects a little heart and flavor into his character, and some much needed drama into the film.

The disaster sequences look excellent but generate little adrenaline. Emmerich takes great pleasure in eviscerating global landmarks but he appears to have lost his touch with creating entertaining set-pieces, as a man who can tolerate even “Godzilla” the lack of tension or credible excitement is depressing in “2012”. Indeed before the end Emmerich has milked several ideas more than dry, sequences continually involving the taking off of an aircraft are inane to start with so on the third go around, they really don’t work. The job done on “2012” must have stemmed from many computers working at full blast but it would appear from a creative standpoint the film represents the half assed efforts of a doped up monkey. Nothing seems original and the small portions that do boast fractions of imagination are rendered hopeless via the filmmaker’s inability to play it subtlety or exploit it but once.

There are far too many subplots and silly characters in “2012”, a genuinely terrifying revelation given its mammoth duration. Why Emmerich needed to include a rich Russian, his booby girlfriend and their two obnoxious kids is anyone’s guess as they only worsen the unapologetically horrendous pacing further. Alongside this assortment of needless freaks we also get a supply of asinine humor and some seriously ridiculous moments of action. I’m all for suspending disbelief when a movie is good but “2012” asks far too much and delivers much less, a moment with a dog shimmying it’s way to an escape vessel is probably amongst the most idiotic sequences I’ve seen all year. The dialogue is resoundingly rubbish but I was expecting as much, it’s the other failings that sting the most.

“2012” is big and stupid but represents little in the way of proper fun or escapism. I was expecting more and whilst from a purely effects driven standpoint it is spectacular, nothing else really approaches the levels of quality I associate with great blockbusters. Apparently this is to be Emmerich’s final toss of the disaster dice and I can’t say I’m sorry, based on the evidence provided by “2012” his filmmaking skills have severely dulled over the years. “2012” is a bloated carcass of a motion picture and a depressingly expensive waste of celluloid.


A review by Daniel Kelly, 2009

13 November 2009

Movie Review: Jennifer's Body

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B-

Jennifer's Body
2009, 102mins, R
Director: Karyn Kusama
Writer: Diablo Cody
Cast includes: Megan Fox, Amanda Seyfried, Johnny Simmons, Adam Brody, J.K Simmons, Kyle Gallner
Release Date: 18th September 2009

“Jennifer’s Body” is an interesting second screenplay from 2008 Oscar winner Diablo Cody, primarily because it’s so intensely different from her debut effort “Juno”. The funky Cody lingo is still in strong supply but “Jennifer’s Body” is a motion picture focused on the disembowelment of boys rather than uncalled for teen pregnancy. For her second stab at feature films Cody has opted to tread the horror-comedy route, the result is an entertaining movie to be sure but the academy is in no danger of having to provide the writer with her second gold statue. Aside from being a far sillier motion picture “Jennifer’s Body” is also plighted by far more fundamental cinematic flaws than “Juno”, the whole filmmaking process considerably less polished this time around.

The film unfolds in the little Minnesota town of Devil’s Kettle, where Jennifer Check (Megan Fox) is the alpha hottie of the local High School. Admired by everyone and desired by many, Jennifer has an unusual best friend for a girl of her social stature, the plainer and on the surface at least geekier Needy (Amanda Seyfried). When up and coming indie band “Low Shoulder” roll into town the girls go to watch them in the town’s bar, only for the establishment to burn down in a ferocious inferno. Needy and Jennifer escape but the latter ends up in the sinister group’s van, the other left in a dazed and confused panic. Later the same night Jennifer re-emerges a blood soaked and gaunt mess, but the next day she is as normal and narcissistic as ever. As time moves on Needy starts to suspect something is up and quickly connects a slew of murdered high school boys with Jennifer’s peculiar behaviour and inconsistent mood. After carrying out some research she comes to believe that Jennifer has been possessed by a demon that feasts on human flesh (teenage boys in her case) and in a bid to defend her own boyfriend Chip (Johnny Simmons) Needy takes an offensive stance concerning her meat gobbling BFF.

Diablo Cody is despite her financial and awards success an acquired taste, some people revel in her bizarre but quick witted dialogue whilst others can’t abide the quirkiness of it all. I loved “Juno” and so was only to happy to tackle another slice of Cody pie, especially given that the genre switch between that feature and this ensured repetition was unlikely. In the end “Jennifer’s Body” does avoid Cody simply going through the paces again but it is a less impressive screenplay, the dialogue is excessively indulgent at times and the middle section definitely sags in contrast to the opening and closing acts. I had a decent time with the film but it’s far from flawless and it sits several notches below “Juno” in nearly every conceivable respect.

The cast is populated with young but fairly recognisable faces, chief amongst them Megan Fox. Having left a positive impression on me with “Transformers” and “How to Lose Friends and Alienate People” Fox disappointed earlier this year by handing in a dreadful performance in robotic sequel “Transformers Revenge of the Fallen”, so for her at least “Jennifer’s Body” is a mission of speedy redemption. The role of Jennifer is despite what advertising would have you believe more of a supporting part, Seyfried’s Needy actually narrating the film and featuring in nearly every scene. Certainly it’s the latter actress who gets the chance to dish out a meatier and more rewarding performance but both ultimately succeed in “Jennifer’s Body” even if one is asked more of than the other. Seyfried anchors the picture like a true pro by creating a sympathetic and engaging character whilst Fox gets to flex her comedic muscles and sex up the screen. Together they make a surprisingly good fit and conjure an entertainingly odd spark, which is more than can be said for the scenes between Seyfried and Simmons. Playing Needy’s boyfriend Simmons is a bland and eyebrow raising addition to the cast, certain sequences involving him and hearty doses of exposition are easily the movie’s nadir. In smaller parts J.K Simmons and Kyle Gallner are modestly efficient and as the front man for “Low Shoulder” Adam Brody makes for a believable douchebag.

In terms of horror-comedy “Jennifer’s Body” is notably more effective at bringing the funny than cooking up proper scares. Cody will always have a way with words and despite this representing a step down for the scribe she stills crams in some solid jokes and draws a reasonable tally of laughs. More at fault for the patchy fright rate is director Karyn Kusama who seems largely clueless as to how scary moments should be presented. The feature offers a few nifty jump scares and at least one deliciously unsettling scene (it takes place in an empty house and boy is Megan Fox menacing) but the subtler elements of horror filmmaking are in short supply. Kusama shoots with visual flair but large portions of the feature seem stylistically excessive and overbearing, instances were hazy flashbacks and slow motion are deployed simply don’t work. The cinematography is pleasurably spooky when it needs to be but Kusama fumbles too many other elements for that to act as a reasonable lone condolence.

The movie packs admirable punch and energy in its closing 40 minutes and opening 25 but the middle section feels a little bloated and less focused. Running at 102 minutes “Jennifer’s Body” could have been just as successful with 10 minutes of flab removed, leaving the audience more comfortable during the central segment in the process. The performances and Cody’s writing would still be able to keep the characters snappy and believable, making me to wonder why Kusama decided to maintain the longer cut. It’s a bamboozler for sure, albeit a grievance that I was ultimately able to forgive on the strength of the film’s frantic finale.

“Jennifer’s Body” is a good effort but definitely not a great one, even within the confines of its limited genre. For Fox and Seyfried it’s an undisputable success but for Cody it marks a slight (but far from fatal) regression whilst doubts still linger over “Aeon Flux” helmer Kusama. I recommend taking a look at the film when it arrives on DVD but as a big screen outing it’s not an essential trip. Cody is still separate from the mainstream and remains a credible purveyor of the weird and wonderful but “Jennifer’s Body” isn’t quite the encore fans will have been hoping for, despite its numerous charms.


A review by Daniel Kelly, 2009

7 November 2009

Movie Review: The Fourth Kind

1 comments


D

The Fourth Kind
2009, 98mins, PG-13
Director: Olatunde Osunsanmi
Writer (s): Olatunde Osunsanmi, Terry Robbins
Cast includes: Milla Jovovich, Will Patton, Elias Koteas, Hakeem Kae-Kazim, Corey Johnson
Release Date: 6th November 2009

“The Fourth Kind” is a stinky helping of science fiction wrapped up under the illusion that it carries some sort of emotional weight, a film that desperately wants audiences to believe “the actual case studies” depicted are a thing of reality. Debut director Olatunde Osunsanmi stages the movie as a dramatization of events that occurred at the beginning of the 21st Century, with bursts of supposedly genuine footage to support the uninvolving story on display. With movies like “The Blair Witch Project” and the recently released “Paranormal Activity” having proved that contemporary viewers are still keen to chow down on “true story” horror, I see no reason why “The Fourth Kind” won’t strike a rewarding box-office chord, but ultimately as a viewing experience it’s boring and dubiously constructed.

The movie takes place in Alaska and focuses on Dr. Abigail Tyler (Milla Jovovich) who is still reeling from the spooky and questionable death of her own husband. The narrative which is contained within a supposedly real interview between the actual Dr. Tyler and Osunsanmi himself then purports to tell how several of Abigail’s patients began to endure coincidental and frightening visions, resulting in the doctor linking these supernatural aspects with alien abduction and then the death of her own spouse. This idea of splicing real with dramatized might work for the most undiscriminating viewers and is in itself an intriguing concept, but ultimately in execution it leaves a great deal to be desired.

The film forcibly addresses its need to be taken as a serious production, the movie even begins with Jovovich herself explaining how the story really occurred and that her interpretation of Dr. Tyler is just a performance, but that it’s based on a real woman who endured all of the events depicted in the motion picture. However that’s where things start to turn nasty and from there on in the film feels fraudulent and reeks of desperation, Osunsanmi killing his story through brute force and over exaggeration, much like a child lying to its parents. The conviction is present but the way in which it’s presented is ill fated and lacks subtlety, whilst the actual story at the movie’s heart feels awfully soggy and unexciting.

I’ll reserve a kind word for Jovovich who commits to the role solidly and actively tries to overcome the weak screenplay and poorly staged gimmick at the project’s centre. She does a decent job with the character (certainly a better one than the Dr. Tyler who appears in the interviews, whimpering and overplaying everything) and almost succeeds in turning her into the sort of fully rounded screen presence that good movies get built around. Everyone else is relentlessly monotonous and one note, again they’re all apparently playing existing people, but never once did I feel that these hackneyed stereotypes could be living amongst us. Decent actors like Will Patton and Elias Koteas fumble their parts in a blaze of eagerness and earnestness, further undermining the film’s goal of being believed rather than rebuked.

As a thriller the movie fails on the grounds that it’s bland and as a horror it only offers one decent boo moment. Occasionally the filmmakers create some chilling imagery and an atmospheric sense of discontent, but the PG-13 rating stops them from getting hardcore whilst the attempts at documented terror are let down by obvious CGI and a worrying predictability. Osunsanmi seems pretty talented at wielding shrill and loud sound effects but given the lack of genuine horror offered they simply seem like a lazy and cheap antidote to the movie’s more terminal problems. Anybody under 13 might be provided with a dose of the jitters after a viewing of “The Fourth Kind” but ultimately even the majority of the teens still locked out of the R-rated circuit will still find this a lackluster disappointment.

For all of Jovovich’s efforts the movie never achieves much of an emotional heart or dramatic weight, the lousy screenplay and dishearteningly unconvincing exposition ruining the pictures chances before it really kicks off. The title of the film refers to the fourth kind of alien contact, which is abduction. In honesty I’d much rather be taken by a UFO armed with probes and vicious green men than sit through this again, because at least an actual alien kidnapping wouldn’t be lacking in creepiness or believability, both of which are absent in “The Fourth Kind”.

Review by Daniel Kelly, 2009

4 November 2009

Retro Review: Saw (2004)

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C+

Saw
2004, 103mins, R
Director: James Wan
Writer (s): James Wan, Leigh Whannell
Cast includes: Cary Elwes, Leigh Whannell, Danny Glover, Monica Potter, Dina Meyer
Release Dates: 29th October 2004



Having descended into the realms of stretched franchising that sucked up Jason and Freddy beforehand; it’s easy to forget that the first “Saw” film is now only five years olds. Directed by then newcomer James Wan the movie was an inexplicable hit and has to this date spawned five further sequels, a rash of motion pictures that I have largely to this day stayed away from. As far as debut efforts go “Saw” isn’t bad and certainly boasts several instances of well executed tension and prolonged viscera but certainly doesn’t deserve admittance into the club reserved for the horror genres finest efforts. I can see why the movie drew crowds in during late 2004 but ultimately it’s stunningly prolonged appeal is a little harder to fathom.

The movie opens in a dingy bathroom that is currently being occupied by two men, both chained there against their will without a clue as to why. The first is Dr. Lawrence Gordon (Cary Elwes) the second Adam (Leigh Whannell) neither able to recall the moments before they awoke in the dungeon like restroom, and offered only a few clues as to why. It transpires that they are the latest victims of the Jigsaw killer; a sadistic murderer who plays out grisly games with his targets, but in a unique twist always provides them with an extreme way to evade death. In this instance Dr. Gordon has to kill Adam before the clock strikes Six or he will be left to rot, and as a consequence his wife and daughter will become mere statistics in the killer’s unstoppable rampage.

“Saw” is by turns exceedingly clever and frustratingly dumb, though in fairness this opening chapter doesn’t revel quite so feverishly in the obscene bloodshed as its immediate brethren. I take issue with several of the plot contortions on display and a few of the performances are definitely less than stellar, yet somehow the thing still manages to operate successfully on a base level. As a thriller “Saw” does admittedly hold your attention from start to finish and packs several punchy scenes, which in retrospect are enough to make it a watchable enough example of recent horror cinema.

The performances veer between ropey and adequate, the two central figures provided by Elwes and Whannell serving up a chief example of this. On one hand Whannell is believable and perfectly solid; he creates a decent character and attacks his part with enough realism and grit to make it engaging. On the other hand Elwes goes too far, he’s never dull but taking him seriously is an unfortunate chore for most of the picture. There is also an inconsistency in the character, at points he’s logical and tolerable on others he’s a whimpering and hammy mess. Outside of those two the film is populated by non entities and stereotypes, Danny Glover is achingly familiar as a cop on the killer’s tail whilst Monica Potter is given nothing to do as Gordon’s put upon wife.

The screenplay is fond of twisting the viewer’s perception as to where the property is headed, and whilst this is satisfying to a degree, by the end the feature ends up taking the proverbial piss. The big reveal at the conclusion is lazy and requires a massive suspension of disbelief, on watching it seems unlikely but when given further reflection it’ simply dumbfounding and stupid. That said large chunks of “Saw” also work, against all odds the torture sequences manage to creep the viewer out and many of the reveals provided in the middle section do make for fascinating moral dilemmas. The first and second acts of “Saw” are far more impressive than its hasty and cheap final segment, during these parts Wan is positively hooked on keeping the audience guessing rather than foaming at the camera lens over tepid chase sequences and gimmicky self mutilation.

From a stylistic standpoint some of “Saw” is over directed but given its reported $1.2 million budget the feature looks surprisingly sharp. The bathroom setting has a creepy and unsettling aesthetic whilst other environments manage to unearth the same gritty and malevolent vibes. “Saw” is a film that unfolds in an evil world, it’s pretty humourless and everyone is struggling with dark thoughts and feelings. I don’t see “Saw” as any sort of classic, indeed it treads dangerously close to mediocrity on occasion, yet undeniably it is a somewhat efficient thriller. Worthy of five sequels I think not, but overall a flawed yet interesting look at grunge cinema in the 21st century.


A review by Daniel Kelly, 2009

26 October 2009

Retro Review: John Tucker Must Die (2006)

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F

John Tucker Must Die
2006, 89mins, PG-13
Director: Betty Thomas
Writer: Jeff Lowell
Cast includes: Jesse Metcalfe, Brittany Snow, Sophia Bush, Ashanti, Arielle Kebbel
Release Date: 28th July 2006

Teen comedies are an awkward beast at the best of times, nearly every High School cliché has now been exploited and with PG-13 now all the rage it’s nearly impossible to find a new example of the genre that packs bite and seems fresh. In 2004 “Mean Girls” accomplished that feat but in 2006 “John Tucker Must Die” really didn’t. A thoroughly bland and monotonous teenage caper, “John Tucker” is a recent nadir for the genre and displays a thousand reasons as to why both Jesse Metcalfe and Brittany Snow should be given long stretches of unemployment. The movie doesn’t work on any level, as a revenge flick it’s toothless, as a comedy it’s unfunny and as a romance it’s barely tepid.

John Tucker (Jesse Metcalfe) is king of the School, a sporting hero and legendary lothario amongst the female populous. Notorious for having more than one squeeze at a time Tucker ends up infuriating three of the schools most prominent girls when they find out they’re all dating him at the same time. Despite a natural distaste for each other the trio (Ashanti, Sophia Bush, Arielle Kebbel) recruit Kate (Brittany Snow) a social no hoper whom they believe could be the key to bringing the man down. Vamping her up they plan to break his heart just like he broke theirs; however nobody accounts for the fact that Kate might end up falling for the cocky stud.

Man does this movie ever blow. A despicably predictable and laugh free affair “John Tucker” is the very antithesis of a badly made High School film, it’s hard to imagine even the most undiscerning of teenage girls finding much to like about this one. The performances are completely unmemorable, each of the three scamming girls written as a grating and underdeveloped genre staple. Brittany Snow is equally as flavorless in one of the most ridiculous ugly duckling parts ever conceived, she’s a complete bombshell from beginning to end and any suggestion to the contrary just comes off as ludicrous and lazy. However the worst is saved for the title character, Metcalfe looks the part but boy does he fail to act it. Tucker is for three quarters of the runtime presented as a one dimensional meathead (even in this mode Metcalfe struggles) but in the last section he is provided with one of the least convincing and laughable character arcs I’ve seen committed to celluloid in recent years. He creates absolutely no chemistry with any of the leading female figures, who in fairness are as much at fault here as Metcalfe. This cast seems to be the very definition of uninspired and I would usually be suggesting they’re all slumming for the money, but based on their C list status even that can’t have amounted to much.

The gags are limp from start to finish with one underwear based joke being drawn out to punishing length during the movies second half. I tittered once during the films runtime and snorted in disdain several times but aside from that the movie had me sitting in stone faced silence for the duration. It’s vaguely sickening to think that in this day and age comedies can still receive theatrical release with so few laughs but then with Jeff Lowell as a screenwriter what do you expect? A notoriously awful scribe Lowell was also responsible for the equally vomit inducing “Over Her Dead Body”, his vanishing from the industry would be akin to the halting of a mass cinematic genocide. The PG-13 rating prevents the movie from getting to gnarly but it doesn’t explain the complete lack of sass or attitude, “John Tucker” is a film as tonally bland as they come and is solid contender for the least acidic revenge film of all time.

The romantic subplots are equally as unappealing and unoriginal; only a dummy would fail to see the conclusion before it arrives. There are moments where the movie looks to construct some sort of love triangle element that might have at least made things a bit more interesting, but ultimately it settles for a toxic and generic romance that goes everywhere you’d expect and nowhere you want. The direction from Betty Thomas pretty much boils down to applying sitcom sheen, though her pacing of the project is way off. I honestly thought “John Tucker” was approaching its finish on the hour mark but it actually trundles on for a further 25 minutes after that discounting the end credits. The storyline on show is to linear to work purely on its own, meatier characters or more consistent laughs the only way to successfully pad out the thin plot. Unfortunately “John Tucker” lacks both and amounts in retrospect to one of 2006’s most poisonous cinematic offerings.


A review by Daniel Kelly, 2009

25 October 2009

Movie Review: Up

1 comments

B

Up
2009, 96mins,PG
Director: Pete Docter, Bob Peterson
Writer (s): Pete Docter, Bob Peterson, Thomas McCarthy
Cast includes: Ed Asner, Christopher Plummer, Jordan Nagai, Bob Peterson, Delroy Lindo
Release Date: 29th May 2009


Pixar’s “Up” received some truly outstanding reviews during its theatrical run earlier this year, marking itself out as a Best Picture contender in this new era of expanded awards nominations. My own relationship with Pixar has thus far been a pleasurable one, with the exception of 1998’s “A Bug’s Life” I’ve found their output over the years to be staggeringly brilliant, I’m even a self professed fan of “Cars”. So it was a surprise that I wasn’t completely enamored with “Up”, I liked it sure, but never whilst watching it did I feel like I was viewing an animated masterwork. The characters and narrative just seem a tad weaker than most of Pixar’s previous offerings. I should make myself clear in this early stage of the review that I did have a genuinely good time with the film….it’s just….you know…not quite the mind-blowing family spectacle the hype had promised.

“Up” follows Carl Frederickson (Ed Asner) a curmudgeonly old fellow who’s house is being built around by corporate tyrants, needing only Carl’s property to create the commercialized whole their project demands. In the opening 10 minutes it’s revealed that Carl once had a loving if not occasionally tragic life with his deceased wife Ellie, the house their last remaining bond on Earth. After an unfortunate accident in which a workman is injured through Carl’s emotional pairing with the place he ends up losing his house, and is forced into the unappealing Retirement home way of life. However in a bid to evade this future he concocts a devilish plan to visit a lost land in South America that he and Ellie always dreamed about, whilst taking the house with him. Attaching thousands of Helium balloons to the property he takes to the sky bringing an unwitting but enthusiastic youngster called Russell (Jordan Nagai) with him. Together they make it to South America and head to the Waterfall that Ellie always wanted to see, meeting along the way an assortment of crazy animals and an explorer gone mad in his pursuit of a mythical local beast.

From a visual perspective “Up” is every bit as beautiful and unique as previous Pixar works, even offering 3-D for added admiration if the viewer is so inclined. Yet I could almost be certain the wonderfully lavish animation looses nothing without the third dimension, the art and character design in “Up” is something truly magical to behold. Pixar have long established themselves as wizards in both the storytelling and CGI departments, “Up” cementing both statuses to a certain degree. Certainly I was more impressed with the look of the product on this occasion, something this blatantly goofy and zany translating beautifully and providing a delightful burst of observable pleasure. The movie is a massively colorful orgy of unparalleled frenzy and craziness, from an aesthetic standpoint the work in “Up” can’t be faulted.

To say the characterization in “Up” is anything less than good would be harsh, yet the central figures are a cut below the very strongest Pixar cohorts. Carl is well voiced by Ed Asner and is ultimately presented as an emotionally complex individual with a deadpan sensibility, but as a lead he lacks the charm or fizzle of a Buzz or a Woody. Thanks to some mature plot devices and a delightful flashback at the beginning it’s not hard to sympathize with him, and yes, as a character he’s commendably three dimensional. However does he evoke the sense of underdog heroism or old school charisma that even Wall-E netted? Not really……he’s a solid hero just not a remarkable one. The voice work is good from the other supporting figures, though in “Up” they’re a group mined heavily for comedy. To a certain extent it might be possible to find some emotional hook within Russell’s persona (he scores bigger on laughs than tears) but otherwise it’s straight up goof-balling from the other eccentrics.

“Up” deserves recognition for its pursuit of more complex and adult themes, Pixar’s interest in the human spirit what ultimately separates them from the like of DreamWorks. “Up” does some courageous work (especially in the first half) with its leading man, drawing him out to be a true cinematic presence, rather than a mere cartoon character. This complex emotional undercurrent is what really gives the movie its fire, the narrative more amiable than outright immense. For a Pixar movie boasting such visual creativity I was surprised how unremarkable and predictable the central plot arc was, without the sound characterizations and lush visuals “Up” would be dabbling dangerously close to the realms of mediocrity. The jokes are frequent and certainly far contrasted from last year’s “Wall-E”, this time Pixar actively seeking chuckles from the silliest of sources. Again the more mature viewer should appreciate the subtler humor offered by Carl, but the energetic and bonkers laughs being mined from the supporting players come from a school of comedy much more in tone with universally appealing comedic values.

I liked “Up” and am keen to see it again, if more than anything to confirm it as a playful if not flawed addition to Pixar’s filmography. It remains a safe bet for a motion picture to keep all family members entertained and stays a beat or two ahead of the DreamWorks crew thanks to its fine tuned emotional detail. However if this is the first Pixar movie to get a best picture nomination I’ll be a little unsettled because whilst it might be damned good, it’s not their masterpiece.

A review by Daniel Kelly, 2009

16 October 2009

Movie Review: Observe and Report

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B+

Observe and Report
2009, 86mins, R
Director: Jody Hill
Writer: Jody Hill
Cast includes: Seth Rogen, Anna Faris, Ray Liotta, Michael Peña, Collette Wolfe
Release Date: 10th April 2009

“Observe and Report” is a gutsy motion picture, a mall based comedy far removed from the mediocre world of Paul Blart. Instead of sickeningly broad fat guy jokes Jody Hill and Seth Rogen have concocted a truly memorable and occasionally demented comedic offering, certainly for the latter it provides a change of pace that can only be good for his career. The film does gun pretty heavily in terms of raunchy humor and even male nudity, yet there’s an underlying emotional resonance and bizarrely intriguing story here, that of a man who through his own suspect mental condition has ideas far beyond his humble station.

Ronnie Barnhardt (Seth Rogen) is the head of mall security and so when a perverted flasher starts terrorizing the premises and the woman he’s infatuated with, Brandi (Anna Faris), Ronnie decides to take the matter into his own hands. Defying Police Detective Harrison (Ray Liotta) at every turn, Ronnie and his band of misfit Mall cops proceed with a probing investigation into the pervert’s identity. As his determination grows Ronnie also chases Brandi and attempts to overcome his bi-polar condition in order to attain his own dream of becoming an actual officer of the law.

Seth Rogen’s performance in “Observe and Report” is fantastic, the actor bravely moving outside of his comfort zone to deliver a comedically assured yet darkly intriguing portrait of a very confused individual. The movie has been heavily criticized for not providing the audience with an engaging central figure, I found no such qualm, Rogen’s turn isn’t always likable but it’s consistently interesting and twisted. The character has a dark side induced via his mental instability, yet beneath that he’s actually quite a tender and loving man, albeit one who takes his own minor contribution to the world far too seriously. Supporting performances are primed more for laughs than anything else and represent a mixed bag at best. Anna Faris is very good in all her scenes though I would debate she isn’t given enough screen time, sadly in contrast Ray Liotta is pretty dull and seems to be involved rather to frequently. As Ronnie’s right hand man Michael Peña gives it a good old college try but ultimately grates more than he entertains with his series of whining one liners and insipid slapstick interludes.

For director/writer Jody Hill “Observe and Report” is a vast improvement over his last feature, the wasteful and largely overrated “The Foot Fist Way”. Both films share a central character who exhibits weak social skills and a sense of illogical self worth but “Observe and Report” offers better jokes and more depth. The film solicits a very credible number of laugh worthy exchanges but more tellingly takes time to understand Ronnie, allowing the audience to see everything from his delusional yet well intentioned perspective. A subplot involving Rogen and a crippled Mall employee (played splendidly by Collette Wolfe) adds a welcome layer of extra meat to the films bones, and in many ways represents all that is right with this endeavor. The scenes involving the two are often funny yet they maintain a whole heartedness and silky tone, Ronnie unable to notice that the best thing in the Mall is right under his nose.

“Observe and Report “doesn’t pull its punches and at its darkest provides filmmaking on a borderline psychotic level, certainly a notch bleaker than most other mainstream fare. The movie pokes and prods the concept of mental illness whilst designing comic set-pieces around the idea of sex in which one party is drugged out of their head and the brutal beating of some mischievous skateboarding teens. The movie won’t appeal to all demographics and should be actively shielded from some, “Observe and Report” warranting its R rating and wearing it on its crazed sleeve for the duration. Even those accustomed to the raunchy yet ultimately huggable Apatow brand of comedy might find elements of this picture overly brazen and hard to stomach.

I enjoyed the film heartily and at 86 minutes it’s a simple pill to swallow, Hill pacing the picture competently and avoiding the self indulgences that many an inexperienced director has succumbed to. Visually it’s relatively plain but that doesn’t taint proceedings much, a great Rogen performance and some wonderfully ambitious comedy making “Observe and Report” an intriguing and recommended viewing experience.


A review by Daniel Kelly, 2009

10 October 2009

Movie Review: Zombieland

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B+

Zombieland
2009, 80mins, R
Director: Ruben Fleischer
Writer (s): Paul Wernick, Rhett Reese
Cast includes: Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Emma Stone, Abigail Breslin, Amber Heard
Release Date: 2nd October 2009


In the last few years Hollywood has deployed zombies as much for laughs as it has scares, motion pictures like “Shaun of the Dead” and “Fido” milking the brain dead flesh guzzlers for giggles rather than screams. As a result the tone behind “Zombieland” doesn’t exactly reek of freshness, making fun of zombies having now almost passed into a redundant state of blasé. However whilst I don’t want to see too much more of this undead themed goofballing, “Zombieland” is a success thanks to sharp writing and some acutely knowing comedic performances. Plus, it features one of the finest and most unexpected cameos yet committed to celluloid.

The film opens in the aftermath of an apocalypse with the vast majority of mankind having been turned into ravenous zombies. We’re immediately introduced to Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) who is on the road to seek out his family, and who has survived the pandemic due to a list of rules that he adheres to at all times. These include staying fit in order to outrun the monsters and in the event of shooting one, always put two bullets in the skull just to be sure. He eventually encounters a redneck zombie slaying maniac named Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), the pair reluctantly but speedily forming an alliance as they move through the country looking for survivors. Columbus is intent on getting home to see his parents whilst Tallahassee is interested primarily in butchering the newly undead and more specifically in finding the last Twinkies on Earth. The pair then meets two sisters Wichita (Emma Stone) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin), who have their own goals and agenda, leaving all four to embark on a crazy road trip through “Zombieland”.

From a narrative viewpoint the monsters in “Zombieland” are largely an unseen threat, large portions of the film unfolding on the road without any creature interference. Newbie director Ruben Fleischer interjects every so often by throwing up a cannonball of action based craziness to liven up the picture on a physical level, though for me the movie is at its most rewarding when the dialogue flows freely and the actors are allowed to work out and exploit each others impressive comic grooves. The obvious film that cult fanatics will want a comparison with is “Shaun of the Dead”, a benchmark I’m not certain this effort ever meets, yet that’s not to say “Zombieland” isn’t an aggressively entertaining film. Fleischer knows his audience and panders to them beautifully, everything from the gore fuelled slapstick to the choice of cameo marking him out as an assured and well versed leader for the project.

Jesse Eisenberg is the closest thing to a hero the film provides the 26 year old having to both act and narrate at a rigorous level. His performance is sound with a dry wit and delivery akin to Michael Cera, and the shared sequences with Harrelson are a true delight. I was fond of Eisenberg’s efforts here but it’s Harrelson who steals the show and delivers his best performance in some time with “Zombieland”, attacking the script and viciously clawing out laughs thanks to his energetic and wonderfully judged vision of redneck zombie slaying. Together he and Eisenberg work well, batting around the screenplay with supreme comic authority and a keen sense of cartoon havoc. Emma Stone is a nice addition as a love interest, though Abigail Breslin is wasted in such a consistently undemanding role. Amber Heard also appears in a brief sequence playing a zombified sex kitten. She’s easy on the eyes, but the part lets her exhibit little else of her performing abilities.

The writing is well crafted and the jokes and jibes maintain a low key hilarity, “Zombieland” has a wicked sense of humour that should be of equal appeal to both genre diehards and casual moviegoers. The film never operates as a parody or as an overly referential slice of pop culture, its pleasures coming courtesy of more appealing assets such as brilliantly composed dialogue and mayhem filled moments of Zombie vs. Human carnage. At a lean 80 minutes it’s hard to see alot of fault with the way “Zombieland” has been made, short, satisfying and extremely to the point seemingly the way that Fleischer wanted to take things. It’s possible to go and see “Zombieland” and not sacrifice an entire afternoon or evening in the process, the move hurtling at an admirable speed and collecting a rich tapestry of laughs along the way. Also whilst I don’t want to spoil anything I need to draw reference to a cameo appearance from a renowned American actor, it’s surprising, impossible to miss and scores big time in the laugh department.

Most of the movies $24 million budget would appear to have gone on the desolate landscapes and gore effects, the finish manages to infuse some scope but overall this is a movie shot on a pretty small scale. I liked “Zombieland” a good deal and whilst it’s a cut below 2009’s very best offerings I was still mightily impressed with Fleischer’s directorial debut, combing guffaws and yuks with a neat touch that Sam Raimi could be proud of. I have no burning desire to see anymore zombie filled comedies, but given the overexposure of the concept I was surprised just how relentlessly fun and enjoyable “Zombieland” manages to be.


A review by Daniel Kelly, 2009

Movie Review: Surrogates

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C

Surrogates
2009, 88mins, PG-13
Director: Jonathan Mostow
Writer (s): Michael Ferris, John. D. Brancato
Cast includes: Bruce Willis, Radha Mitchell, Rosamund Pike, Boris Kodjoe, James Cromwell, Ving Rhames
Release Date: 25th September 2009


“Surrogates” has an interesting agenda but is ultimately scuppered by lacklustre execution, director Jonathan Mostow largely failing in his attempt to make a blockbuster with ideas big enough to match the explosions. I admire the feature for actively seeking to brew up a smart message and clutch of conflicted characters but trying is never quite the same as doing, “Surrogates” struggling to convey its ambitious ideals from the get go.

Set in the year 2017 “Surrogates” imagines a world were pain and death are no longer prerequisites of life, humans now opting to live the majority of their days through robotic beings called Surrogates. People control their surrogates from the safety of home and anything that might befall a surrogate such as harm isn’t transferred to the human operator, meaning that life is now essentially risk free. However things change when several surrogates and their owners show up deceased, the cause of death the exact same in each case. Agent Greer (Bruce Willis) and Agent Peters (Radha Mitchell) are drafted in to help explain the troubling incident, but the deeper they investigate the more twisted and complex the situation becomes.

Bruce Willis is perfectly fine in “Surrogates” as are most of his co-stars. The movies big problems are its muddled screenplay and not entirely convincing moments of action, it’s hard to recommend a blockbuster that underwhelms in the realms of big screen chaos and digital excess. Redemption is nearly sought through the pictures reluctance to abandon its admittedly impressive morals and social commentary, yet even these finer aspects feel slightly wasted within “Surrogates” unconvincing script. Mostow is a director who on previous outings has displayed a competent knack for popcorn schlock but here his mainstream sensibility doesn’t fit particularly well with the aware and intelligently conceived central theme. As a result “Surrogates” suffers from an inherent imbalance and is unlikely to please anyone.

Willis plays it predictably worn and crotchety as Greer, though it would be remiss of me not to confess he walks paths like this with a commendable swagger and charisma. In many ways Willis fits nicely with the project, albeit he’s not quite good enough to start compensating for the larger faults. Having made it through four “Die Hard” films and a bunch of other action flicks Willis is a genre staple and a damn likable one at that, this a film ultimately unworthy of his presence. Radha Mitchell is another figure who could probably do better, having found a career slogging through recent B grade efforts like “Pitch Black” and “Silent Hill” it’s a little disheartening to see the actress stumble backward in terms of quality with “Surrogates”. I’ll admit that this is a more courageous picture than either of the aforementioned but it fails to carry out its aims with half the panache when placed in contrast. Rosamund Pike is weak as Greer’s conflicted wife though as the inventor of the cybernetic beings James Cromwell is as always a welcome addition to the cast list.

“Surrogates” culminates with a pointed and welcome cinematic lecture, one that really hits home and shows under more stable hands how rewarding a feature this might have been. It takes an intelligent idea and forms it into an unusually relevant blockbusting moral, yet still the feature leaves a sour taste in the mouth. The trite and unimpressive scripting is a likely candidate for the movies biggest flaw, the narrative an unsatisfying combination of the painstakingly obvious and overly familiar. Those with more than slight exposure to sci-fi flicks like “Minority Report” and “I, Robot” will find its mix of futuristic technology and old time detective work stale, whilst the tonal imbalance caused by constant lurching between subplots is likely to offend the audience’s attention. The movie means well by incorporating in concepts such as deceased children and depressed spouses but on the whole these skewer the sci-fi crime busting to an infuriating degree.

The cinematography is high quality though the CGI is unnervingly inconsistent, and good action is a little thin on the ground. A scene involving high speed pursuits and the use of a parking meter as a javelin is cool but overall I was shocked at just how forcefully Mostow overlooks the dynamic frenzy, especially when that’s the arena he’s obviously most comfortable in. The more thoughtful elements are all well and good but they’re not Mostow’s cinematic speciality, and as a result they’re emphasis over futuristic carnage is more of a handicap than anything else.

“Surrogates” at least deserves the label of noble failure, though that’s hardly a phrase for the diehard cineaste to live his life by. The movie means well and tries hard yet it never clicks the result a sporadically interesting but mostly empty addition to the sci-fi genre. Willis could be plying his trade to more memorable multiplex endeavours, “Surrogates” not cutting it as an example of worthwhile entertainment despite its earnest pursuit of such a goal.


A review by Daniel Kelly, 2009

Movie Review: Franklyn

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B-

Franklyn
2008, 98mins, R
Director: Gerald McMorrow
Writer: Gerald McMorrow
Cast includes: Ryan Phillippe, Eva Green, Sam Riley, Bernard Hill, Richard Coyle, Stephen Walters
Release Date: 2009 (specific date unconfirmed)


“Franklyn” is a fiercely odd cinematic commodity, drawn from the mind of debut director Gerald McMorrow the film is a head scratching amalgamation of fantasy and drama with religion, art and mortality peppered alongside for good measure. Fans of true originality and unbridled creative drive should find much to like about “Franklyn”, those seeking satisfying and cohesive storytelling on the other hand are unlikely to be as pleased. Granted “Franklyn” is far from a terrible feature, but one can’t help but feel it’s loose and limber plot might have benefited from a little tightening up, or a slightly more expedient burst of pace to reach the admittedly interesting climax.

The movie follows four individuals, three in modern day London the other in a gothic fantasy world called Meanwhile City. The inhabitant of the latter is an assassin (Ryan Phillippe) looking to finish off the leader of a dangerous new religion, despite being tracked by the government for failing to register within a faith himself. In the more familiar and metropolitan surroundings of contemporary England we also come to know a depressed singleton (Sam Riley), a vicarious and temperamental artist (Eva Green) and finally a father on the search for his missing son (Bernard Hill). Together their stories become interlinked and the barrier between reality and fiction is blurred as a consequence.

From a technical standpoint “Franklyn” is stellar stuff, the gothic layout of Meanwhile City and the sprawling corners of London providing super cinematographic fodder for the filmmakers. McMorrow displays an erudite and admirable directorial edge, evidently keen to provide his films with suitable amounts of visual polish and artsy shot composition. Those who favour visuals over story will have a field day with “Franklyn”, its striking look easily outscoring the confused and occasionally irritating screenplay. CGI weighs heavily in the set design but is rarely exploited to any other effect giving “Franklyn” an organic feel of haunted beauty. The musical score adds another layer of picturesque melancholy to proceedings, a disturbed but well crafted melody mix that melds well with the stunning visuals up on screen.

The story is where “Franklyn” tries hard but ultimately struggles, for the first half at least McMorrow’s script flails beautifully but rather hopelessly before the viewer. Things do tie up nicely before the credits roll and in terms of themes the picture manages to work religion and mortality skilfully into its getup, but the bendy plotline is a cause for concern. “Franklyn” doesn’t make alot of sense for much of the running and that’s a hard to forgive handicap, certainly for those accustomed to more mainstream fare it could equate to a damn near fatal failing. I Love the way that McMorrow has attempted something so lavish and audacious in his first effort behind the camera and I’ll reiterate that in fairness he makes it work out before the finish, but that still can’t bring me to overlook the excessively schizophrenic and tough to decode opening 60 minutes.

Ryan Phillippe is cloaked by mask for large portions of the movie but the narration he offers as a substitute is adequate, this is an obvious attempt by the actor to distance himself from his pretty boy routes. Eva Green is fiery and full of vim and vigour even if at times her art mongering leads McMorrow into moments of brutal pretentiousness, she is an actress deserving of bigger audiences than this fare is likely to grant. Bernard Hill gets the least screen time of the leads but manages to make it work which can’t be said for Sam Riley. The actor has been cursed with the least impressive arc but his soppy and one dimensional turn doesn’t do alot to improve matters. The worst bits of the movie are consistently those that feature him prominently.

“Franklyn” boasts a few quick action beats but is a film more interested in exploring the meaning of religion and its central characters. The screenplay is hard to handle for long periods and that makes the movie hard to totally recommend, yet something so daring and lavish really ought not to be ignored. The writing in “Franklyn” is harsh but the visuals are sterling and I suspect that there is a cult following for this strange little vehicle out there somewhere. Until then however, it’s intriguing but hardly essential viewing.

A review by Daniel Kelly, 2009