31 March 2009

Movie Review:Quarantine

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C

Quarantine
2008, 89mins, R
Director: John Erick Dowdle
Writer (s): John Erick Dowdle, Drew Dowdle
Cast includes: Jennifer Carpenter, Jay Hernandez, Steve Harris, Johnathon Schaech, Greg Germann, Dania Ramirez
Release Date: 10th October 2008

Remakes tread a thin line. Some are terrible, fewer are great with most just toppling into unnecessary mediocrity. Famous members of that last camp include Gus Van Sant’s ill advised rehash of Psycho and Platinum Dunes unmemorable attempt to resurrect The Hitcher in 2007. Now Quarantine can be added into the group, an Americanized retelling of Spanish horror [REC] which takes several of the flaws that peppered that effort whilst simultaneously failing to capture much of its merit. Those uninitiated with the European original might find Quarantine rewarding enough but anyone who’s sampled the finer cinematic cuisine is destined to regurgitate this unneeded cash cow.

T.V personality Angela Vidal (Jennifer Carpenter) has been assigned to shadow part of the local LA fire department for the night, to provide viewers with a chance to see the behavior required of such high pressure jobs. The evening gets off to a slow start and Angela even begins to befriend a few of the staff, but out of nowhere a call comes stating that there is an emergency in an apartment complex nearby. Angela accompanies the fire fighters and on arrival finds that there is an old lady suffering from some sort of panic attack, and who has blood gained a coat of blood somehow. The group attempts to calm her but she gets aggressive and eventually attacks one of the policemen at the scene. Things quickly escalate and for an unknown reason those on the outside have set up a perimeter and are refusing to let anyone inside the building out. As more people seem to succumb to the trance like state of violence and aggression it is suggested there is a virus being transmitted from person to person, turning you into a bloodthirsty humanoid. The residents, TV crew and firefighters proceed to try and escape, but the building is tightly guarded and on the inside survival gets increasingly harder as more people show signs of infection.

Like its Spanish predecessor Quarantine is shot on handheld video in the same vein as The Blair Witch Project and more recently Cloverfield. This form of filmmaking is getting increasingly tiresome, it worked for all three of the aforementioned efforts but sadly the flaws in this style are evident when applied to a lukewarm remake. This guerilla style of cinema constantly seems to overshadow the screenplay itself and relies too heavily on boo scares. Director John Erick Dowdle seems heartily convinced that replicating a few of the more intense moments from [REC] and inserting in a few cheap jump tactics will keep the audience on the edge of their seat. He is wrong. It’s not that Dowdle seems like an incompetent director but rather that he almost seems to fear originality or anything genuinely chilling. If there was one thing the first picture did well it was creating a spate of eerie and properly creepy horror moments. This film might make you jump once but its ultimately lazy, cheap and exploitative filmmaking.

Visually Quarantine admittedly looks crisper and more refined than [REC] but whilst it may be a technically superior venture it harbors many of the same pacing flaws and a weaker understanding of screen terror. [REC] for all its menace and tension did suffer from a notably overstretched and formulaic middle act, not unwatchable but certainly a cut below its well staged opening and knockout climax. Quarantine has the same issue, in terms of runtime it’s a leaner movie but still struggles to keep the central half hour consistently gripping and effective maybe even more so than the original. The cast was never a vital part of this story as the documentary style camera work is meant to help place the viewer in the action but on this occasion I will give Jennifer Carpenter a backslap. She makes a convincing and zealous screen queen who come the plots masterfully nihilistic denouement captures the sense of hopelessness rather well. The conclusion was the previous films best asset and here it’s also good, but not quite as good. [REC] used the slow burn tension so well in this segment; Quarantine captures the sense of chaos effectively but doesn’t really pack the same nightmarish impact. Maybe the ending just doesn’t work perfectly twice, but personally for my money the slightly subtler and drawn out nature of the Spanish’s flicks finish is the difference. It built the fear so masterfully; Quarantine just lets it loose as fast and furiously as possible.

Quarantine will probably work for those unfamiliar with its source but for the rest it’s just going to feel like an unnecessary retread for those too lazy to search out the original. It’s not a worthless cinematic endeavor but ultimately with a superior version on the market, Dowdle’s movie is never going to be remembered and with such lazy reverence to the original, that is probably deserved.



A review by Daniel Kelly, 2009

29 March 2009

Movie Review: The Women

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F

The Women
2008, 114mins, PG-13
Director: Diane English
Writer: Diane English
Cast includes: Meg Ryan, Annette Benning, Debra Messing, Jada Pinkett Smith, Eva Mendes, Bette Midler
Release Date: 12th September 2008



There comes a time when concessions have to be made and simple points of fact have to be confessed. Even in the fantastic yet strictly fictional world of escapist cinema one has to confide when a certain piece may not have been developed with them in mind. Such a film is The Women and such a person is me, I can’t ever imagine writer/Director Diane English having ever factored in the young male as a target demographic for her remake of the 1939 picture of the same name. I’ve never seen that film and so can’t really contrast the 2008 incarnation with the original, but one thing is for sure. To have achieved the cult recognition it has it must be a damned sight better than this uniformly awful dramedy. Granted I’m not the person who this toxic little puff piece was designed for, but the young females who the screenplay is desperately trying to snare are unlikely to be any happier with the outcome. Indeed they will probably be a great deal more insulted by the fact that Hollywood appears to believe this is the level of cinema they deserve.

The catch with The Women is that the film doesn’t have a male character in sight, it’s played out fully by the fairer sex and revolves purely around their lives, friendships and feelings of frustration toward men. The story largely centres around Mary Haines (Meg Ryan) a woman who has just found out that her workaholic husband has been having an affair behind her back. Desperately trying to make sense of it all she spends most of the picture crying on the shoulders of her best friends, highly strung Sylvia (Annette Benning), laid back and child friendly Edie (Debra Messing) and Alex (Jada Pinkett Smith) the only one of the tightly wound pack who has no interest in males. Each has her own personal conundrums but they are united in their attempts to console Mary and get back at the adulteress (Eva Mendes) who has ruined their friends perfect existence.

The Women is a nauseating experience for a variety of reasons but irredeemable thanks to just one. The pictures biggest problem falls firmly upon the fact that not one of the characters is engaging or likable, they’re either to thinly constructed and those that receive fleshing out just come across as awful people. In the lead Meg Ryan carries across none of that winning personality we’ve come to expect from the uni-dimensional actress. She portrays Mary as a whining and irritating idealist, somebody who never seems concerned with the problems of others but rather her own singular marital issue in which she is not even blameless. It’s nearly impossible to connect with a screen personality so riddled with loathsome flaws and who exhibits so few merits, had she shown a little more spirit and head strong attitude the audience might like her but sadly she just flails around like a distressed puppy. Support is little better, Benning a usually reliable actress has made a bad choice in playing such a puerile and artificially conflicted character, the horrid nature of the screenplay ensuring that even as an anti-hero of sorts she never has a chance to make the personality likeable. Messing isn’t offensively bad and even at times exudes a little charisma but her pregnant persona is underwritten as is Jada Pinkett Smith’s hyper kinetic and mouthy character. As the sexy adulteress Eva Mendes is wooden and ineffective, she’s obnoxious sure but in no way does she make for a memorable or intimidating villain.

The Women marks a debut directing gig for Diane English and the first time that she has been permitted to pen a theatrical feature. On both counts she presents minimal skill or ability. Her direction is flat and the pacing utterly hashed whilst the writing is superficial and features perfuse amounts of lowest common denominator dialogue. Her greatest sin however is in her disregard for building believable onscreen chemistry and keeping the plot interesting. These assets often walk hand in hand especially in a feature with dramatic pretensions but on neither count can English score a hit. She seems far more pre-occupied with her lame “no dudes” gimmick and the magnificent upper class environments the characters so frequently occupy. I can only hope that in the future English keeps her woeful artistic abilities on the TV, or better yet away from anywhere involving a script or camera.

The film is ultimately neither funny nor involving and ultimately boils down to a group of mostly famous people playing horrible human beings. Women are strongly advised to avoid this tosh as it has no empowering capabilities (or even basic entertainment value) whilst at 114 minutes it lasts far too long. At 90 minutes the film might just have been bad in a forgettable sort of way but sadly drawn out to nearly two hours and it become an intolerable and uniquely terrible offering. For some the central gimmick or promise of a contemporary reimagining might be enough to consider a viewing, but I guarantee everyone hates themselves and the medium of film just a little more after a viewing of The Women. Yes, it really is that bad.



A review by Daniel Kelly, 2009

24 March 2009

Movie Review: Changeling

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B+

Changeling
2008, 141mins, R
Director: Clint Eastwood
Writer: J. Michael Straczynsk
Cast includes: Angelina Jolie, John Malkovich, Jeffrey Donovan, Colm Feore, Amy Ryan, Jason Butler Harner
Release Date: 31st October 2008

Changeling is an ambitious and certainly likable motion picture, it’s solidly crafted like a piece of reliable furniture and it’s perception of Los Angeles in the early 20th Century is both lavish and detailed. That said it never quite reaches the awards level of excellence director Clint Eastwood is so evidently trying for and at times proceedings go far to pantomime for their own good. It always intrigues and certainly depicts a rather mesmerizing story but to herald Changeling as a modern day classic is to offer it a lofty status that it never quite measures up to.

The most remarkable thing concerning Changeling is that it’s actually penned around true events, the story of Christine Collins (Angelina Jolie) whose son disappeared for several months and when supposedly reunited with him via the LAPD she was given a child who she vehemently claimed to be the wrong boy. The LAPD refused to take her claims seriously and within weeks Collins was placed into a mental institution being branded delusional and an unfit mother. The aftermath was an epic battle fought by Collins to tackle the corrupt LAPD, bring down the horrid hospitals and most importantly find her real son.

In the much sought after role of Christine Collins Jolie does a good job, it’s not a performance for the ages but in conjuring sympathy and constructing a believable period character the tabloid’s favorite mummy manages to do a credible job with a woman so worthy of a biopic. A lot of what works with Changeling is down to Jolie’s well measured effort, and the garments and porcelain like make-up she wears are sensationally accurate in creating a female of the 1930’s. Other supporting roles are varied in their effectiveness. As a Reverend in support of the Collins campaign John Malkovich is surprisingly restrained but as watchable as always, whilst in a small part as a fellow metal health patient Amy Ryan is affable and energetic. Ryan is a performer of some quality, but in order to break into the Hollywood thesping cauldron to which she clearly belongs she’ll need to be willing to aim for larger parts. Her participation in Changeling is valuable but the extent of the role is little more than a cameo. On the lower end of the spectrum playing captain of the LAPD Jeffrey Donovan feels disappointingly unnatural in the role and as his chief Colm Feore isn’t much better. Finally as potential serial killer Gordon Northcott, Jason Butler Harner is a mixed bag. At times he overacts frantically but in his better and more subdued moments he exudes creepiness and genuine menace.

Clint Eastwood has drawn Changeling out to 141 minutes, and whilst three quarters of that runtime grip the other unaccounted moments tend to flail around and stumble in attempts to push the story forward. The films opening 40 minutes are well mounted and executed as are the final 70, it’s the mental institution middle section that slows things down. The pictures depiction of a 1930’s crazy ward is hackneyed and borderline cliché, and the screenplay simply wastes too much runtime on this unappealing segment. The film takes at least half an hour to finish up with this slice of the picture, with another script revision and the input of another scribe I’m certain that could have been reduced to a more palatable 10 minutes. However in degrading one aspect we have to celebrate the others, the screenplay after all has far more good than bad. Writer J. Michael Straczynski has condensed the sprawling mystery into an intriguing cinematic bundle and written the vast majority of the characters rather well. The film handles several themes and subplots with an admirable skill and thus on these grounds it deserves appreciation and above all else it’s an emotionally engaging piece of work.

Visually and from a directorial standpoint Changeling is well made stuff, the look of Los Angeles fits common perception of the era perfectly and the cinematography and art design are striking and possibly the film’s most awards worthy assets. Eastwood’s skill behind the camera is also only ever a benefit, like the best directors he understands the basics of filmmaking are the ones that require the most attention, after all no building can stand still without solid foundations. Changeling isn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination but Eastwood always keeps one eye in on involving the audience and delivering a picture that holds together and draws the desired emotions it needs to work, this alone ensures that Changeling is never less than watchable.

2008 inevitably yielded several more consistently profitable cinematic outings, indeed Changeling simply feels like the barbeque after a long day out. There are notable flaws that prevent it from powering into classic territory but hey, when Changeling gets it just right and hits it’s high points, there are few who are going to come away complaining.



A review by Daniel Kelly, 2009

21 March 2009

Movie Review: Hunger

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A-

Hunger
2008, 96mins, R
Director: Steve McQueen
Writer (s): Enda Walsh, Steve McQueen
Cast includes: Michael Fassbender, Stuart Graham, Liam Cunningham, Helena Bereen, Larry Cowan
Release Date: 20th March 2009

A film like Hunger is guaranteed to fuel a post viewing discussion far surpassing that of the average Hollywood effort. Where most films are wrapped in lairs of fluff and insubstantial nothingness, Hunger piles on the visceral imagery and heavy duty punches in its recount of the last six weeks of the legendary IRA member Bobby Sands. Sand’s fronted the 1981 hunger strike which attempted to gain political status for prisoners having been incriminated thanks to crimes committed in line with the Northern Irish troubles rocking the country at the same time. Shot by visual artist Steve McQueen, Hunger is a provocative and imagery laden feast for the senses and one that will not be easily forgotten by viewers of any demographic.

Set in the Northern Irish “Maze” prison now infamous for having housed the events on which the picture is based, Hunger chronicles Sands strike but also the lives of guards and fellow inmates to. The setting itself is painted in sharp yet terrifying colors allowing the downbeat stories to unfold and slot perfectly into the films bleak and yet deeply stirring heart. McQueen has opted to shoot the entire event in an almost documentary style fashion which only adds to the hefty dose of realism this confection provides, meaning that coupled with the harsh surround and impressive performances you could begin to think you’re watching archive footage.

As Sands Michael Fassbender continues to pick good projects and deliver effective performances, the actors cuts Sands as a painfully flawed yet equally sympathetic and engaging character. One sequence which goes unbroken for nearly 17 minutes between Fassbender and Liam Cunningham (playing a desperate priest) is an acting and filmmaking tour de force; both men make the setting as heated and natural as any audience could want while McQueen levels with his ambitions in forming a truly marvelous scene. This is the point in Hunger where probably 70% of the dialogue is spoken, and where we get a true feel for the man on whom this picture is based. It’s an essential and intrepid sequence necessary to fully embrace the violent yet admirably stalwart nature that marked an era in both Irish and British politics. Technically it also needs a firm round of applause. To try something like this requires a filmmaker with unfaltering understanding of his story and abilities as a director, based on this evidence McQueen has a steel lock on both.

The film doesn’t spend all it’s time by Sand’s bedside, a real deal of thought seems to have gone into building a truly depressing atmosphere and in highlighting what life was like on the other side of the prison bars. The picture really never leaves the confines of the Maze but it does spend time examining other prisoners and in particular the mental state of a prison guard wonderfully depicted by Stuart Graham, whilst in a moment of shockingly well structured direction also allows audiences a clear look at how violent the country was at this juncture in history. The film never pulls a punch; the Northern Ireland on show in McQueen’s semi-classic is the Northern Ireland that existed circa 1981.

McQueen’s background as an artist is obvious in his preference for fierce and poetic imagery over dialogue in order to build character and push the narrative forward. The cinematography and various images conjured are masterful in adding to the bleak atmosphere that has been created in the Maze setting, and even more impressive is the use of said visuals to capture the spirit of his characters. It was this aspect more than any other that really made me appreciate the picture as a whole and understand the unique talent involved. At just over 90 minutes Hunger is a fairly lean biopic but it’s crammed with visuals that should remain etched into the mind and a story that is nigh unforgettable. On the basis of this effort McQueen is talent to watch, a man clearly interested in producing a unique and powerful piece of art rather than the mind numbing schlock that tends to bung up auditoriums throughout the cinematic calendar. This is a potent film bound to leave audiences hungering for more.



A review by Daniel Kelly, 2009

20 March 2009

Movie Review: Slumdog Millionaire

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B

Slumdog Millionaire
2008, 120mins, R
Director: Danny Boyle
Writer: Simon Beaufoy
Cast includes: Dav Patel, Anil Kapoor, Saurabh Shukla, Freida Pinto, Irrfan Khan
Release Date: 12th November 2008

It would be hard to dislike a film as charming and ultimately upbeat as Slumdog Millionaire but when open to the vast amounts of awards buzz the picture is gaining it’s would also be quite easy to be underwhelmed. The film is a fine piece of work and sits nicely in director Danny Boyle’s rather high standard CV but by the same token it’s not quite the modern day classic the media are making it out to be.

The film basically charts the life Of Jamal (Dav Patel) in flashback form as he takes part in a game of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. As each question is posed to Jamal we learn how he knows the answer thanks to his colorful life, and how all these years he’s been chasing after Latika (Freida Pinto) his childhood sweetheart. However as Jamal answers question after question the law becomes suspicious, after all how can this boy from the slums of India know all the answers?
The adult performances in the film are effective but not remarkable, Patel makes a solid and likeable lead whilst other mature actors play nicely with the script but in truth it’s the child performers who really steal the show. Those portraying Jamal his brother Salim and Latika in their younger years are the true stars of Slumdog Millionaire, the film depends on them as much as it does the more experienced actors and in many respects the youngster’s performances are key in making the later year incarnations of the various characters work. As the grown up Latika Freida Pinto is pretty and sweet but easily the dullest version of the character, whilst Anil Kapoor has great fun playing the host of the game show.

Danny Boyle’s direction is superb, if the picture is to win one Oscar it should be for his efforts behind the camera. Boyle has directed some really kinetic and visually interesting movies in the past but his work here might be among the very best we’ve seen from the British helmer. He captures the Slums of India wonderfully and uses his camera to such effect that the viewer might swear he was immersed in the very area depicted onscreen. He also paces the movie well and develops the characters at a rewarding pace, slowly drawing the audience in until they’re fully invested in this story of a boy looking for the girl he loves. Another really high point is the music from A.R. Rahman, the composer much like the director really capturing the essence of the story in his art.

The screenplay by Simon Beaufoy is well written and exudes a charm and charisma that make it hard for the viewer not to warm to his vision. He rarely treads into saccharine waters and keeps the film on purely reality based tracks, not everything is feel good in Slumdog Millionaire. The story is essentially an upbeat piece of cinema but it manages to insert in a few moments of sufficient grit to keep the picture from being irritatingly twee. In many ways Beaufoy deserves as many backslaps for the well worked character structure as the director or actors, he has after all written the basic arcs himself. Yet some of the writing and occurrences in the story are a little forgettable, never unwatchable just not always memorable. I can’t say any of these segments where bad but a few felt unneeded and a cut below the better moments in the feature.

I think the majority of people will find Sumdog Millionaire a worthwhile watch, it’s not perfect and maybe as sensational as you might have heard but it leaves you with a pleasant buzz when the credits roll. I can’t see it scooping best picture but Slumdog Millionaire works well within its own charming ambitions.



A review by Daniel Kelly, 2009

Movie Review: Valkyrie

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A-

Valkyrie
2008, 120mins, PG-13
Director: Bryan Singer
Writer (s): Nathan Alexander, Christopher McQuarrie
Cast includes: Tom Cruise, Tom Wilkinson, Kenneth Branagh, Bill Nighy, Carice van Houten, Terence Stamp, Thomas Kretschmann, David Bamber, Eddie Izzard, Tom Hollander
Release Date: 25th December 2008


Valkyrie is a triumph for popcorn cinema, a film that manages to score a virtually perfect balance between intelligence and entertainment value. The performances in the picture are pretty high quality but the films real hero is director Bryan Singer a man who has made a career out of making well crafted and emotionally resonant pieces of mainstream cinema. I enjoyed Valkyrie on numerous levels and coupled with Tropic Thunder would judge it as just the comeback Tom Cruise required.

Valkyrie is based on true events, the story of a bomb plot to kill Hitler from within his own ranks. The plot was headed by Claus Van Stauffenberg (Tom Cruise) a man who felt that Hitler and his Nazi party where slowly destroying Europe and Germany. After sustaining serious injuries in action Stauffenberg began to conspire against the leader of the Nazis and eventually he and a group of likeminded individuals formed a plot to kill him once and for all. In doing so they believed they could agree peace with the allied forces and save Germany from total destruction. Valkyrie is that story played as a thriller, a tough task seeing as the majority of the audience wil be aware of the stories outcome. If you don’t I’m about to reveal it- the plot failed and the rebels were crushed and killed. It’s then a testimony to Singer and his screenwriters that Valkyrie is so consistently entertaining and engaging.

As Stauffenberg Cruise is solid and reasonably effective, but it’s the supporting players who really carry the film and help maintain the pictures sympathetic nature. Bill Nighy and Kenneth Branagh are both superb infusing genuine depth and emotion into two bit part figures whilst the likes of Terence Stamp and Tom Wilkinson are on hand to further increase the thespian punch that Valkyrie is packing.

David Bamber isn’t given much screen time as Hitler himself but in truth the script only really views the character as a plot point rather than emotionally present being. One thing that really disappointed me was the lack of focus that the story places on Stauffenberg’s family which includes the talented Carice Van Houten as his wife. Still it’s a small quibble and might even have been a necessary sacrifice in keeping the film moving at a quick and attentive pace.

As a thriller it’s shocking just how well Valkyrie works, this is largely in part to the skill of its helmer and the screenplay treating the audience with some sort of intellectual respect. The movie’s middle section is particularly gripping as Singer develops the plot and characters with the eye of a truly talented filmmaker. I’ve seen most of the pictures on Singer’s CV and can truly say that nothing of his has ever struck me as anything less than watchable, and now with this and The Usual Suspects some of it is so much more.

The movie is well shot and features some stark and high quality cinematography; the product even manages to pepper itself with a handful of large scale set-pieces outside of the more intimate central story. These aspects gel extremely well and gather together to represent a hugely effective piece of filmmaking. The movie possibly runs at 10 minutes to long but in truth the amount of sheer entertainment value it represents allows the audience to forgive this flaw with ease. Like the best thrillers Valkyrie works hard to establish real connections between its characters and the audience, essential given the tragic and poignant finish this particular article arrives at.

This is in part down to the well crafted performances and intrepid direction but mostly the thanks on this point is in the hands of screenwriters Mc Quarrie and Alexander, who always allow the characters to come before the dynamic scenarios.

I really was impressed by Valkyrie and find some of the negative things being written about it surprising. Granted there was always going to a degree of Tom Cruise hating but here he actually does a good job and beyond him the picture is truly excellent. Both as a thriller and the study of a brave rebellion I’m going to offer Valkyrie a high recommendation.



A review by Daniel Kelly, 2009

Movie Review: Quantum Of Solace

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C-

Quantum Of Solace
2008, 106mins, PG-13
Director: Marc Forster
Writer (s): Paul Haggis, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Ian Flemying (original character)
Cast includes: Daniel Craig, Olga Kurylenko, Mathieu Amalric, Judi Dench, Gemma Arterton, Giancarlo Giannini, Jeffrey Wright
Release Date: 14th November 2008

After 2006’s fabulous reboot Casino Royale it seemed that the Bond franchise had found its footing for at least the guts of another decade. Daniel Craig gave a powerful and memorable turn as the legendary secret agent whilst Eva Green sizzled fantastically as the Bond girl and the action was shot and pieced together in the most breathtaking and entertaining of fashions. So with the Dark Knight proving this year that sequels can be better than even stellar predecessors surely Quantum of Solace wouldn’t disappoint? Sadly it does, whilst being far from Bond’s worst adventure in recent times Quantum of Solace is quite possibly his most forgettable and ultimately mediocre.

The film picks up instantly after the final scene of Casino Royale, Bond still fuming over the death of Vesper has picked up Mr. White- a member of the mysterious organization that saw his beloved dead. Despite a serious mix up at the interrogation which leads to White’s escape Bond and MI6 pick up enough info to take them to Haiti in their search for understanding of this puzzle. There Bond finds Camille (Olga Kurylenko) women out for revenge, who in turn takes Bond to Eco-millionaire Dominic Green (Mathieu Amalric) who it appears is playing a large part in this mystery organizations plans.
It quickly transpires that Green and Quantum are in line with the corrupt
ex- leader of Latin America, and that they also have major contacts in the British government and CIA. In order for Bond to get revenge for Vesper and find her killer he will have to stop Green’s plans to take over the water supply for Latin America. Together with the rogue Camille he attempts to finish these evil doings whilst attempting to get even at the same time.

It has to be said whilst the picture as a whole is deflated Daniel Craig’s performance certainly isn’t. He provides more of the same excellent stuff he provided in Casino Royale, he can quip with the best of them but his Bond has got a hard edged soul to compliment it. For his sake I hope he gets one final and far superior outing as 007 because frankly he’s totally deserving of leaving the part with a big bang. Judi Dench also provides another solid turn as MI6 head M but leaving those two aside things start to look a little bleak. As Camille Kurylenko just can’t draw out the same unique and memorable style of turn that Green managed in the previous movie, the vengeance character arc is generic and thus in the end she’s just another babe who can use a gun. Mathieu Amalric has a similar problem, as talented a thesp as he is the script just doesn’t allow him enough scope to deliver a turn of any stature of menace. All the great Bond villains such as Goldfinger and Alec Trevelyan where great characters on the screen and on the page, sadly Dominic Green is to limp a creation to really make the desired impression. Gemma Arterton and Jeffrey Wright do passable jobs with small roles but neither makes the necessary impact a great Bond sidekick should.

The action in Quantum Of Solace is competently staged and well shot by director Marc Forster but it lacks the whoops and shock factor with which this series has become so associated with. The opening c sequence where Bond is being chased by thugs in cars really says it all, it looks good but at no point do you really feel excited or particularly engaged with what you see. The final showdown as it is feels like pure production line work, it may look a little different but it is coming from an idea that has been recycled numerous times.

Casino Royale had real heart and provided Bond with the edgy kick up the backside it needed, Quantum Of Solace is a film that slacks up and possibly becomes to invested and interested in the inner conflicts of its characters. The difference was last time the entity’s on screen where far more real and genuine and faced more unique woes and inner conflicts- whets up on screen here is far more hackneyed and comes from people who really don’t make an impression to begin with. Director Forster also looks criminally uneasy with his material, his art house origins betray him and coupled with the laden script he tryst to hard to mesh action and emotion together, making only a mess. The human and more outlandish elements of Casino Royale slotted naturedly together, Quantum of Solace feels more like a schizophrenic debacle.
At 106 minutes Quantum marks a fairly short entry into the franchise but in truth it feels a longer yarn than the much lengthier Casino Royale. the less interesting and befuddled nature of the story are key culprits here but from an action perspective one should never underestimate the ability for quality bombastic exciting moments to help pacing and keep the audience member at the edge of their seats. The 2006 Bond movie had that in spades; this new addition struggles to bring it up in serious commodity at any juncture.

I may be coming off making this film sound horrid and in truth it isn’t, just crushingly disappointing. There are elements to be admired such as Craig’s gutsy performance but on the whole the action is too dethatched and the story to incoherent and plodding for an audience member and more importantly Bond fan to leave feeling like they’ve seen something worthwhile. No matter what I say Quantum of Solace will be a big hit and in fairness far weaker films have taken hefty amounts of money this year, but the fact of the matter is that it would have been nice to see both Batman and Bond defeat the sequels odds in the same year. However whilst one achieved that aim with flying colours, the other in reality sadly doesn’t even come close.



A film review by Daniel Kelly, 2008

Movie Review: The Wackness

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D+

The Wackness
2008, 96mins, R
Director: Jonathan Levine
Writer: Jonathan Levine
Cast includes: Josh Peck, Ben Kingsley, Olivia Thirlby, Famke Janssen, Mary- Kate Olsen, Aaron Yoo
Release Date: 3rd July 2008 (limited)


The Wackness kicked up quite a fuss at Sundance last year, it scored the audience award and garnered a respectable amount of buzz for its story of a troubled drug dealer coming of age in the Summer of 1994. The film was directed and written by Jonathan Levine, the auteur behind the well made yet still unreleased slasher flick All The Boys Love Mandy Lane, making The Wackness his first course for US audiences. It’s a pity then that in comparison to his other flick The Wackness comes off as formulaic and only fitfully engaging, performances are solid and it features a wonderfully nostalgic soundtrack but overall the script meanders and ends up finishing a story which could have been told in half of its 96 minute runtime.

Luke (Josh Peck) is leaving High School to go to College, and in truth he’s leaving very little behind that he cares for. Ignored by the majority of his peers, Luke deals marijuana almost as much for fun as profit and in turn has made friends with Dr. Squires (Ben Kingsley) a psychiatrist who offers him advice in turn for a little bit of the green. As the summer develops Squires and Luke find their connections strengthen based on each other’s troubled home life and many curiosities, whilst Luke slowly starts to romance the Shrink’s daughter Stephanie (Olivia Thirlby) much to the older man’s disdain.

The key problems with The Wackness rest in its overstretched and more than slightly tired central concept, the film is after all working firmly from the coming of age template utilized by other multiple pictures. I was pretty impressed with the cast; Josh Peck is restrained and likeable as the confused and dissatisfied Luke whilst Ben Kingsley would never miss an opportunity to play a personality as quirky and flamboyant as Squires. The real surprises is in the way that the two actors combine to make their paired scenes so believable, the portions of the movie where these two find themselves in heart to heart situations are easily the best. Olivia Thirlby’s role is underwritten and unimaginative though she fares better than she has any right to with the bog standard characterization. Finally Famke Janssen shows up from time to time as Squires cold and emotionally removed wife, much like Thirlby’s the part is weakly conceived but unlike her younger co-star Janssen fails to elevate her performance above the writing.

The performances may be decent but the character conception isn’t good enough so that we truly end up feeling for the characters. Luke is ultimately a little too pessimistic for audience to connect and whilst the performance is entertaining Squires never really feels like enough of a real person. Levine’s film is almost totally dependent on viewers willingly investing in the lead performances, something the majority are unlikely to do.

The natural story arc here would last around 50 minutes, however Levine has literally yanked and tugged his material out to a merciless 96. One has to remember that despite a few quirks such as the addition of drugs to the cocktail The Wackness is telling a story we’ve seen far too many times before and not enough of its new ideas are worth tuning in for one more sitting. Visually Levine has given the picture a rather unique and not altogether unattractive feel but his ability to make things look credible doesn’t detract from the problematic instance that is his hackneyed and rarely rewarding script.

Emotionally the film offers a few moments of respectable depth and resonance but the audience is unlikely to be invested enough so that the finale means anything to them. To be fair Levine has the decency to at least mix up the conclusion and take it out of more predictable waters, but his lack of a gripping narrative or truly engaging characters renders The Wackness, well….. rather wack.



A review by Daniel Kelly, 2009

Movie Review: The House Bunny

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C

The House Bunny
2008, 97mins, PG-13
Director: Fred Wolf
Writer (s): Karen McCullah Lutz, Kristen Smith
Cast includes: Anna Faris, Emma Stone, Colin Hanks, Kat Dennings, Christopher McDonald, Rumer Willis
Release Date : 22nd August 2008

It’s always disappointing when an excellent opening gives way to a turgid finish, a problem especially potent and problematic in the comedy genre. If the first 40 minutes are able to bring up a respectable gag rate and consistently seem fresh and funny it’s going to be the death knell when the picture’s finish limply dies onscreen managing only a sliver of the appeal provided by earlier moments. Such is the case with The House Bunny a film undermined by the fact it slowly runs out of steam from about the half way point, until at the finish it’s all but stalled.

Shelley (Anna Faris) is a Playboy Bunny living out her dream life in the legendary mansion; the only thing missing is the opportunity to appear as a centerfold in the publication. On her 27th birthday it appears that her wish may be granted but sadly in a twisted turn of events she finds herself on the street (she’s apparently 59 in bunny years), and looking at a much less luxurious life. By chance she stumbles upon the local Fraternities and more specifically the ZETA house, a bunch of girls both charming and intelligent but lacking in any sort of social skill or consideration for appearance. Shelley moves in and begins to teach the girls the ins and outs of fashion and men, meaning that within no time at all the ZETA group are the most desired on campus. However in order to keep the house open the group need to find 30 more pledges and whilst Shelley has taught them the importance of looking good, it soon transpires she may also need to teach them the art of being themselves.

Anna Faris is in truth the key reason why the better parts of The House Bunny work so well, her charming, goofy and frequently hysterical turn give the film a shot of energy that would otherwise take proceedings from being unremarkable to downright weak. Faris is an actress in need of a more focused industry spotlight and a spate of really solid comedic projects, because whilst her comic timing and bubbly enthusiasm or impeccable here, they’re lightly hampered by the scattershot scripting. In support Emma Stone is notable in that she is the only one of the ZETA crew to make a mark with the audience whilst Colin Hanks is left squirming in a formulaic and underwritten romantic subplot.

It’s hard to say how much of the screenplay hits and misses, a lot of the time one suspects that the finer comedic moments are coming via Faris’s ditzy but rather inspired improv. Certainly in terms of story the first half works well and seems nicely paced with a few interesting ideas to compensate for the more generic ones, sadly the same can’t be said for the uninspired and hardly worth watching climactic section. The energy levels that seemed so high and prosperous at the beginning start to fail as the a familiar moral code is hit home and the picture winds to a conclusion miles beneath what proceeded it. The movie works when it rides of the charm of its leading lady and heads for slapstick lunacy, on more emotional and saccharine paths it crumbles pathetically.

The movie is a lot less cringe inducing than the premise suggests, in fact for those who like their filmmaking energetic and friendly you might say that the first half at least is shocking in how watchable it is. Sadly beyond that and its leading ladies performance The House Bunny is a disappointingly ordinary motion picture, unlikely to repel but to vapid to live long in anyone’s memory



A film review by Daniel Kelly, 2009

Movie Review: Eagle Eye

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D-

Eagle Eye
2008, 117mins, PG-13
Director: DJ Caruso
writer (s): Travis Wright, John Glenn, Dan McDermott, Hillary Seitz
Cast includes: Shia LaBeouf, Michelle Monaghan, Rosario Dawson, Michael Chiklis, Billy Bob Thornton, Ethan Embry
Release Date: 26th September 2008

Eagle Eye is a shockingly disappointing experience, a film with a decent idea at it’s centre and marking the follow up gig for director DJ Caruso after last year’s excellent Disturbia, is surprisingly likely to finish amongst the years very worst. I found myself confident after the 15 minute mark that Caruso was about to deliver another memorable thriller but somehow after this watershed the whole affair goes belly up in most distressing of fashions. Watching Eagle Eye is like briefly seeing a Whale in its element, gracefully moving through the ocean, then suddenly being subjected to 100 minutes of it lying washed up on a beach. With added explosions.

Jerry Shaw (Shia LaBeouf) was once a promising student but now spends his days winning money off his overweight buddies in poker games and working in a Copy store. After the surprise death of his brother Jerry returns distressed to his apartment to find a huge arsenal of weaponry delivered to his door and with a considerably larger bank balance. Shocked at the findings he is quickly contacted by a voice on his phone telling him to leave his apartment as the FBI are on their way, and if caught with all these lethal gadgets he has no way to beg innocence. On the other side of town Rachel Hollomon (Michelle Monaghan) has just received a mystery call aswell, on this occasion however the speaker threatens her sons life if she doesn’t agree to obey. After a series of chases Rachel and Jerry are thrown together, constantly getting new calls giving them new tasks and commands to complete. As the pair leave a trail of destruction behind them they’re tracked by Federal agents (Rosario Dawson, Billy Bob Thornton) trying to clue together why these seemingly normal citizens are doing this - a question that Jerry and Rachel are also desperately seeking an answer to.

The performances in Eagle Eye are sub-par at best though that might have more to do with the dismal script. LaBeouf struggles to hold the screen despite having done it so effortlessly in both Disturbia and Transformers, Jerry just isn’t a very nice guy and thus LaBeoufs natural comic ability and charisma are rarely exploited. Still at least he’s given slightly more than a walking cliché to play with, good actors like Michelle Monaghan, Billy Bob Thornton and Rosario Dawson are wasted in thankless and generic roles. This is largely down to the frustratingly basic character conception present in the screenplay, that scribe Dan McDermott has written entity’s so bland that none of that ensemble can draw a decent performance is a worrying prospect. Monaghan in particular is given a stunningly boring character and yet huge amounts of screentime a potent cocktail for any cinema audience to endure.
The idea which the story is based around is pretty solid for a thriller basically suggesting that through technology are entire lives could be controlled and tampered with. At the films heart is an important message concerning the amount of heavy surveillance we have to endure in society, sadly it’s wrapped in one of the most idiotic and outright boring scripts I’ve had the pleasure of seeing up on the screen. Every moment throws up some sort of ludicrous set piece, illogical motive or giant plot hole all as mind numbing as the next. One can only assume that filmmaker DJ Caruso thought he’d be able to draw out the films context despite the vast quantities of Hollywood pap on show, but based on the final product he’s come up with his confidence was ill placed.

A little human development is taken in the film’s opening and easily best section, the portion of the picture where the inane story arc has yet to fire up. I found myself engaged during this minor segment and with a sense of promise starting to radiate from the movie - the fact that the following 100 minutes where so lousy may have made me even more bitter. One ponders if Eagle Eye would have been better if it were purely rubbish from start to finish, the fact that it’s actually good for a quarter of an hour only serves to disappoint the audience further.
In honestly the action is to rapidly edited and CGI fuelled to really thrill, nearly every sequence where something potentially exciting happen is cut together far to speedily and jumpy to satisfy the audience. After all it’s hard to get the adrenaline pumping when what Is up on screen is a blurred mess for half the time. This might be the movies biggest flaw of all, even though it’s badly written and ludicrous in the extreme if Caruso had provided some solid action moments it would have minor salvation. Sadly what we’re offered is like Michael Bay on speed and lacking even the faintest idea of just how silly it really is.

I would like to say a few nice things about Eagle Eye but that Is a tough stance to take, the first 15 minutes work and sections of the music are quite good but in reality that Is about as far as compliments can go with this one. Even those who thrive on IQ deflating action movies will be offended by the sheer stupidity that is shown here and Shia LaBeouf’s star power will be tested after word of how bad this flaccid turkey is gets out. One hopes the talented Caruso moves past this career hiccup fast and that for the rest of us we’re able to forget we wasted two hours of our lives on this dross.


A review by Daniel Kelly, 2008

19 March 2009

Movie Review: Gran Torino

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B+

Gran Torino
2008, 116mins, R
Director: Clint Eastwood
Writer (s): Nick Schenk, David Johansson
Cast includes: Clint Eastwood, Bee Vang, Ahney Hur, Christopher Carley, Geraldine Hughes
Release Date: 9th January 2009

Clint Eastwood is talent at its most raw and admirable, looking back at his illustrious screen career it’s hard not to sit back and gawp a little at his epic achievements. Now to compliment his other critically celebrated 2008 feature we have Gran Torino, again directed but this time also starring Eastwood in the sort of role that he’s always relished. Think Dirty Harry as the most badass pensioner you’ve ever seen. However the film doesn’t just act as a chance for Clint to make and act like it’s the 70’s all over again, but to show a rarely spotted humorous side and attempt at least to make a statement concerning the racial situation the world is thronged with. The latter doesn’t always work but Gran Torino makes for a smooth cinematic ride, on the strength of the central mans leading performance, sharp dialogue and some genuinely heartfelt moments.

Walt Kowalski (Clint Eastwood) has just lost his wife, and amidst the heaps of insincere sympathy that he keeps receiving he has to tolerate the fact that his once all American neighborhood has turned into a very international one. His family are selfish and inconsiderate meaning that loneliness is something he would rather suffer through. One night however he catches his teenage Hmong neighbor Thao (Bee Vang) trying to steal his prized Gran Torino in an initiation test for a local gang, and thus after his disgraced family find out Thao is put to work by Walt. Initially the relationship is cold but Walt and Thao slowly build a bond largely in part to Thao’s lovely sister Sue (Ahney Her) who Walt also takes a liking to, but the gang violence in the area is making it increasingly hard for Sue and Thao to forge a future, and so Walt slowly formulates a plan to ensure they can live the lives they deserve.

Eastwood is typically stalwart in the lead role and in truth this is his picture from first frame to last, Walt literally is the embodiment of the gritty yet engaging characters Eastwood played in his prime and this familiarity allows Eastwood to expand and humanize the characterization further. Sure Walt is grumpy and at times unpleasant in his brutal honesty but Eastwood never has him cross into unlikeable territory, thanks to a well structured plot and a convincing and sympathetic back-story the audience is always on the old mans side. As the Hmong youngsters Bee Vang works hard but ultimately struggles as Thao, but Ahney Her is superb in the position of Sue. Her scenes with Eastwood are relaxed and yet dynamic at the same time, lighthearted but explosive. Her displays a raw talent and it would be criminal in the age of The Jonas Brothers and Miley Cyrus if she wasn’t given another promising chance in the film industry. Rounding out the key cast Christopher Carley is decent as the considerate yet intrusive local Priest, desperately amongst all things trying to get Walt to confess.

Gran Torino seems to be marketed as a thriller, in truth that’s about the genre it’s furthest from. There are sequences where respectable levels of tension escalate but at it’s heart the film is a touching coming of age story, with some really nice comedic moments. Even though his meat and potatoes performance isn’t super Vang works well alongside Eastwood, the latter channeling his experience to great effect to provide the film with a genuine emotional undercurrent. There is nothing false or sappy about Gran Torino, when Eastwood aims for the heart he largely hits his target, unlike inferior filmmakers more likely to induce vomiting with their faux sentimental stinkers. This element of Gran Torino is where it scores most of it’s brownie points and the asset that allows the audience to remain consistently involved throughout.

The racial comment the picture makes is more refined but easily more effective than that of say Lakeview Terrace, Eastwood doesn’t ladle on the sermon but represents a pointed view of the prejudices that can infect everyday life. All this said the film isn’t perfect, at times it feels a little to light to truly register at the level it continually aims for and a lot of the supporting work doesn’t feel all that professional. Still Gran Torino always has it’s laurels resting in the centre ground, and thanks to a well constructed screenplay and a great central performance that’s a perfectly acceptable area to set up camp.



A review by Daniel Kelly, 2009

18 March 2009

Movie Review: Frost/Nixon

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A

Frost/Nixon
2008, 122mins, R
Director: Ron Howard
Writer: Peter Morgan
Cast includes: Frank Langella, Michael Sheen, Sam Rockwell, Rebecca Hall, Kevin Bacon, Matthew McFadyen
Release Date: 5th December 2008 (Limited)

It’s hard to fathom as to how Frost/Nixon has acquired so few actual statues this awards season, for my money this is possibly the best film running in the top groups and yet as of the moment it has collected a small percentage of the gongs available. I have no qualms in admitting that the picture isn’t the year’s most grand or ambitious cinematic venture but it’s a furiously entertaining and wonderfully acted drama that deserves a good deal more recognition than it is currently getting.

The film is based on actual events, in case and point a series of interviews conducted with disgraced ex-president Richard Nixon (Frank Langella) by hopeful British TV personality David Frost (Michael Sheen). The interviews where notable as the first TV appearance of Nixon following his ignoble departure from Presidency and to the host David Frost an opportunity to be taken as more than a quipping talk show host. The picture draws most of its runtime from the events surrounding the actual sessions, the financial struggles, the behind the scenes clashes and a close examination of the men at the heart of that momentous moment in television history.

Performance wise the film is flawless, not one person disappoints in their respective roles though in truth most are overshadowed by the sheer thesping quality illuminating from the leads. As Nixon Langella cuts a wonderfully sympathetic and accurate figure of the 37th President, and in truth due to sheer physicality and energy is able to grab the audience at any juncture. Langella has worked hard to capture even the small mannerisms that people have associated with Nixon’s persona over the years, yet he doesn’t overact them to the point of parody. It’s a controlled and skilled performance from an actor who has been all to scarcely sighted in recent years. His equal is however evident in Michael Sheen a man playing a much more refined and inward character. Sheen levels every scene he’s in with a sense of the underdog going into the big time, yet blissfully unaware of the odds that are stacked against him. It’s through David Frost that the audience is given a clear and open window to interact and engage with the story, and Sheen pulls it off splendidly. Kudos also has to go to the likes of Sam Rockwell, Kevin Bacon, Rebecca Hall and Matthew McFadyen for playing the guys behind the scenes with such vigor and passion. Without them undeniably the credibility of the central duo would be severely lowered.

The screenplay by Peter Morgan is well scribbled and allows the actors to follow a steady and effective development plan for the characters but its Ron Howard’s punchy direction that really grabs and never let’s go. Following 2006’s woeful The Da Vinci Code my faith in Howard had been firmly shaken but here he presents a film as exciting and exhilarating as that picture attempted to be. He has paced the affair supremely well and staged the story more in the atmosphere of a Rocky movie than a drab political documentary. Throwing Nixon’s big boy against the little man in David Frost and having them duke it out in front of the camera is an intrepid way to play the feature, but it works fantastically.

The core reason for the film’s success is the fine performances and the movies reluctance to let anything upstage the characters. I can only say that not only political enthusiasts or those looking to relive Nixon’s darkest hours should make a trip to see Frost/Nixon, it’s a wonderfully well done feature that should grip and hold the masses better than 99% of the mainstream drivel we have to tolerate.



A review by Daniel Kelly, 2009

Movie Review: Repo! The Genetic Opera

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B-

Repo! The Genetic Opera
2008, 98mins, R
Director: Darren Lynn Bousman
Writer (s): Darren Smith, Terrance Zdunich
Cast includes: Anthony Head, Alexa Vega, Sarah Brightman, Paul Sorvino, Paris Hilton
Release Date: 7th November 2008 (limited)

Repo! The Genetic Opera is far from a perfect film or for that matter a perfect musical, many of its performances are patchy and the songs themselves are decidedly hit and miss. Still thanks to its absolute inability to conform to any genre preconception this rock opera provides a fun time and demonstrates that even as all else crumbles around you originality will always keep a film interesting

In the not-so-distant future a disease has wiped out large parts of the population by destroying their internal organs. Survivors need replacements and so enter GeneCo, a company who can manufacture organs on demand, but at a high price. Organs aren’t cheap, and GeneCo maintains complete control of this newfound industry and offers a payment plan like no other. Those that fall behind in their financing will be visited by a Repo man, who will remove GeneCo’s property from the cheapskate owner. One such Repo man is Nathan (Anthony Head), who hides his dubious profession from his infected 17-year-old daughter Shilo (Alexa Vega). Nathan’s intentions are always good where his daughter is concerned, who has a blood disease inherited from her deceased mother, so he keeps her locked in their house. However, she escapes outside and begins to learn of the ominous connections between her father, her disease, and Rotti Largo (Paul Sorvino), the head of GeneCo.

Repo! The Genetic Opera is a crazed and frankly demented musical which under the watchful eye of Saw saga director Darren Lynn Bousman never veers away from its overtly violent and sexual overtones. The film has a lot of cool ideas bopping about in its head and in a year where Mamma Mia! made the musical popular again one hopes Bousman’s template for fresh concepts can be injected into further genre pieces. That’s not to say it’s a flawless property as had Repo! failed to reach the levels of unapologetic craziness it hits, then I expect it would be a far less tolerable effort.

The performances are a decidedly unbalanced, on one side you have several really effective efforts and on the other a handful of less impressive ones. Anthony Head is good value as Nathan delivering several of the pictures most kick ass and memorable musical scenes, whilst also managing to plug some emotional gravitas into his conflicted anti-hero. Paul Sorvino is a harder commodity to appreciate as the head of Geneco, he can sing fairly well but his acting leaves something to be desired and none of his melody moments feel to be amongst the pictures best. As the young heroine Alexa Vega isn’t particularly good, the viewers interest and sympathy always seems to be with her struggling father thus compromising much of what the actress attempts to do. As Sorvino’s spoilt and bratty daughter Paris Hilton just plays herself, but seeing as that is all the picture demands she gets away with it. Finally as Opera starlet and woman with a mysterious connection to Shilo, Sarah Brightman sings well and conveys intriguing oddity even better.

The music can be in turn joyful and then on other occasions just unmemorable. Most of the best beats come courtesy of Head who has proven himself multiple times as a talented vocalist; “Thankless Job” is gothic and highly listenable whilst the likes of “Zydrate Anatomy” and “We Started this Op’ra shit” also hit a chaotic yet incredibly fun note. The music is pretty much non-stop in Repo! the screenplay is contented to tell the story entirely through the rock anthems and Bousman’s eye for visual flair, further adding to the unique nature of the article. Granted it doesn’t always work as proven by the horrid “Seventeen” but a lot of the time it does, increasing the value of this venture tenfold in the process.

Horror fans will probably feel a little shortchanged, there is plenty of gore and the drained directorial palette feels eerie and imposing but in the form of genuine shocks and scares Repo! intentionally seems uninterested. Bousman’s wants the story fleshed out over the needless moments of generic convention that peppered his Saw sequels, instead the occasionally touching if overly primitive narrative takes absolute precedence. It’s hard to discern if Repo! is genuinely making comment on the increasing trend that is plastic surgery or just using it as a plot device, at points it seems that the script is heading for lampoon territory but on other chances it seems to squander perfectly sharp opportunities for satire on the subject. Repo! is clearly gunning for cult movie status and with its fresh perspective there is a fair chance it could land such a title in the future. It’s fun, original and at times bitterly ironic concerning it juxtaposing genres all facets that devotees of the weird and wonderful are likely to love. Still one cannot completely overlook the flaws that also are strewn around and for my money Repo! is a few great songs short to stand a chance of achieving the cult following it so blatantly hopes to pander to. Still if you’re looking for something new and with a respectable degree of enjoyment tricked up its sleeves, I’ll definitely provide this effort with a modest recommendation.


A film review by Daniel Kelly, 2009

Movie Review: Watchmen

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A-

Watchmen
2009, 162mins, R
Director: Zack Snyder
Writer (s): David Hayter, Alex Tse, Alan Moore (novel)
Cast includes: Jackie Earle Haley, Malin Akerman, Matthew Goode, Patrick Wilson, Carla Gugino, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Billy Crudup
Release Date: 6th March 2009

Despite the undoubtedly highly caliber of the source material, for months now I have approached the idea of Zack Snyder’s take on Alan Moore’s legendary story “Watchmen” with trepidation. Snyder has built a career on taking the ideas of others coating them in gloss and dumbing them down for mass consumption, 2007’s Spartan epic 300 was passable but I still cannot understand the levels of affection his dull and generic revamp of Dawn of the Dead has garnered since 2004. If there is one source in the world of pop culture that this vapid pattern of filmmaking won’t wash with it’s probably Watchmen, touted as the greatest graphic novel of all time and with characters so dark and complex as to make the Joker look like an extra out of Sesame Street. The comic had been proclaimed an impossible cinematic venture as directors such as Terry Gilliam and Paul Greengrass have attempted to bring the multi stranded story to life over the years but due to concerns of all sorts each failed with little to show for the months of labor invested in trying to bring Moore’s dynamic superheroes to life. So one could be forgiven for thinking that after great directors such as the aforementioned had so publically failed to get the project to theaters, Zack Snyder’s attempt was something to hold out doubts over. The surprise is then that Watchman actually equates to one of 2009’s best films so far, Snyder has upped his game in bringing Moore’s world to life. He brings his signature visual pang in abundance but what really shocks is his competent grasp of the complex story and underlying substance in its characters psychological profiles.

The story has been trimmed and slightly modified in a few areas but it still amounts to something epic in scope. Set in a parallel 1985 in which Nixon has been elected five times and the world is on the brink of Nuclear Catastrophe, Watchmen focuses on a group of masked heroes who following the death of one of their number “The Comedian” (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) are being led to suspect that they are as a breed being hunted down. First among those who suspect that “costumed heroes” are in danger is Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley), the masked sociopath who takes it upon himself to warn every member of his old superhero “clique” the Watchmen concerning his suspicions. Each has retired from the game following a ban on masked vigilantism and by turns each is doubtful that Rorschach’s theory is logical, but as Nuclear war approaches motions are set in place that seem to indicate that maybe those who once saved the world, have something to fear.

That is in truth only the surface of the story, this sprawling superhero saga boasts so many measured subplots that listing them in itself would be a chore and so I won’t, just know that with Watchmen Synder has created a delightful blockbuster that honors the name of its legendary source. The success is in the skilled writing and assured performances, the screenplay by David Hayter and Alex Tse condenses Moore’s epic story into the most cinematic and structured it could ever have looked. Sacrifices have been made on route but the filmmakers hit all the essential bases clearly and compress the story into a form that even the uninitiated can happily revel in, with as many of the fascinating psychological and political observations left untouched. One cannot debate that even at the best of times the source makes for heavy reading and onscreen it really might have been too much at full blast, what Snyder’s film does so well is to work around this and deliver an experience valuable to both devotees and casual viewers alike.

The performances are rarely less than excellent, as super scientist Dr. Manhattan Billy Crudup is a little irritating and struggles to infuse the character with necessary pathos but most everybody else is great. The pick of the pack is Jackie Earle Haley as the demented Rorschach; the talented actor captures the self loathing of the character beautifully and transfers one of the comic’s best creations into a memorable screen presence. Granted Rorschach is one of the stories meatier and more intriguing parts but when onscreen Haley grips allowing his character the heavy impact he demands. Malin Akerman and Patrick Wilson score high marks in their respective roles and work naturally well, playing out their love story with the energy and efficiency necessary to keep their slower segment up to speed against other more action packed moments. Matthew Goode grows steadily into the role of the world’s smartest man Adrian Veidt as the picture unfurls whilst as the murderous Comedian Jeffrey Dean Morgan impresses as we watch him kill and rape his way through three decades of carnage. The real indication of success from Morgan is that come the end, he’s made the audience feel sympathy for the devil.

The films keen political subtext isn’t quite as dense up on film but it is defiantly present, there is no denying that this faithful adaptation hasn’t efficiently captured the heart of where the original novel held its political convictions. The paranoia that was slathered all over the Graphic novel is on show and the screenplay deftly cranks up the tension as nuclear war seemingly approaches. The tone is also admirably and at times disturbingly dark with Snyder having found no time for compromising the sources gritty feel, the movie is hard R and it should be pointed out to curious parents that the Watchmen plunges to depths of sex and violence which make The Dark Knight look positively child friendly. Snyder at least is a director who in the past has been unafraid of going pretty full throttle with his onscreen carnage and after witnessing the intense nature of this effort I doubt that’s a reputations set to reverse soon. Fanboys at least should be happy with just how hardcore Snyder has kept their holy grail.

Snyder’s feel for expressive and eye popping visual’s isn’t wasted here either, the art from the source demands a vibrant command of color and emotion which as a director Synder doesn’t fail to deliver. Certainly his vision of Watchmen is aesthetically as close to Moore’s as anyone could have hoped and he shoots the action sequences with kinetic camera work and for the most part great success. At times the fight sequences and bombastic moments seem to be overly stuffed with herky-jerky slow motion shots , though he palpable excitement generated and visual rush provided often feels like fair compensation. The cinematography is bleak and the action for the most part engaging and skillfully structured, two assets that help further keep the picture faithful to it’s all consuming source material.

In the end all one can do is recommend Watchmen, at 162 minutes it’s a long show but that in truth is the shortest it could have ever been and still have hoped to work. Alan Moore is notorious for distancing himself from theatrical workings of his graphic novels and this is no exception, all through production he bemoaned the rape of his masterwork and stated simply that in the medium of film it could never work. He was wrong, Watchmen the film isn’t quite as deep and thought provoking as it’s source but it does a credible job and makes a nice companion piece, and as a slice of blockbuster filmmaking it’s simply a splendid experience.



A film review by Daniel Kelly, 2009

Movie Review: Twilight

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C

Twilight
2008, 120mins, PG-13
Director: Catherine Hardwicke
Writer(s): Melissa Rosenburg, Stephenie Meyer (novel)
Cast includes: Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Billy Burke, Nikki Reed, Ashley Greene, Jackson Rathbone, Kellan Lutz, Cam Gigandet
Release Date: 21st November 2008


In the world of the teenage girl Twilight is nothing short of an obsession, a series of books penned by Stephanie Meyer that thanks to its swooning and fantastical central love story has captured the hearts of females aged 12-20 everywhere. Falling outside of that demographic I suppose it’s fair to say that this Vampire romance was not designed with me in mind and for that reason one has to restrain his criticisms and in truth Twilight isn’t a terrible film. As a fan of Buffy The Vampire Slayer and bloodsucker mythology in general I found things to like about the picture and for its first 40 minutes it does hold you in a trance like fashion but on the whole the plot and characters are to insubstantial to support a feature. This is a problem that might be corrected in sequels where a more epic tale can begin and characterization feel more completed but as an individual piece of cinema Twilight is to fluffy and vacuous to satisfy anybody outside of its rabid fanbase.

Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) has been dragged to live with her father in the small and boring town of Forks, a place where little happens and where she is now set to live out the remainder of her teenage years. She loves her father (Billy Burke) and is even given the generous homecoming gift of a second hand truck but overall this quiet and rainy town is too much of a contrast with her old life in Arizona. At school she fares well with the other students and begins to make friends but one person in particular catches her eye, the pale and mysterious Edward (Robert Pattinson) who along with his ridiculously good looking and mysterious family is one of the schools most peculiar assets. After a failed first attempt at making friends with Edward the two slowly form a bond of friendship and then something more. However Edward and his family harbor a secret that is unknown to the rest of the town they are Vampires, albeit ones who only feed upon animals and leave the human beings leave. As Edward and Bella get closer and her family begin to accept her everything is looking peachy but trouble is never far away with Vampires, a rival clan of bloodsuckers have just crashed the local scene and they’re none too pleased with Edward and Bella’s romantic relationship.

As a romance Twilight is far more successful than it is as a supernatural thriller, granted at times things get a little to dreamy and saccharine but essentially the love arc works. On the other hand the sparse action scenes and laughably executed chase finale are limp; the movie never cooks up tension or excitement beyond the relationship of its two central characters. That again will probably be enough to ensure that Meyer’s fans are appeased but for those looking for a more rounded cinematic experience the uneven quality control and tone are bound to frustrate.

In the lead roles both Pattinson and Stewart are reasonably good, one suspects the former is maxing out his abilities but for the purposes of this role he gets the job done. Stewart is given the double whack of having to lead and narrate the story a task the young actress performs well, she is engaging and rarely irritating a nice duet for a 21st century youngster to boast. I wouldn’t go as far to say that the chemistry between her and Pattinson sizzles-more simmers, but in the end of the day the romance is believable and the pair makes a decent onscreen couple. As Stewarts father Billy Burke gets alot of the movies best lines but the script never really develops him into a proper character, similar complaint could be made of Edwards’s family who are badly written rather than poorly performed. An exception can be made for Nikki Reed playing the sibling who is reluctant to accept Bella, she gives the part a bit of sass and energy in a film lacking in it. The movies bad guys are weak, the primary one portrayed by Cam Gigandet as a vampire with super senses determined to feed on Bella. Gigandet hams it up big time as what has to be one of 2008’s least intimidating villains, and in the same year as Quantum Of Solace, Max Payne and Vantage Point that is a pretty competitive mini league.

I quite enjoyed Twilight’s beginning but as soon as things got dramatic and the ropey special effects start to occur it becomes tiresome and it’s lightweight story cripples under the increasing runtime. One suspects that at 80 minutes Hardwicke might have been pressed to have the story satisfy the runtime and so her choice to extend the movie to two hours is baffling. The overstretched finish is undercooked and unexciting whilst despite being largely enjoyable the central romance could still be as successful with 10 minutes shaved off. Pacing is a skill Hardwicke will need to develop for the future, because on this evidence her concept of the art isn’t great.
Fans of vampire lore are actually going to be impressed by the painting the film portrays of the mythical beasts, the prospect of a bunch of do-gooding vamps isn’t that appealing but Hardwicke and screenwriter Melissa Rosenburg have actually done a good job peppering the story with little additives to the Vampire legend. Alot of these I quite liked and the despite largely playing the heroes the script never neglects to highlight the internal struggle these creatures suffer in the company of a potential meal. You may not like the film but ultimately you can’t deny they treat the Vampire lore with an admirable degree of respect.

On the whole Twilight is at best average and to flawed to ensure that those beyond the books fanbase buy into a prospective franchise. The central premise is well handled but little else can make the same boast, the plot is thin, the action tame and the special effects largely shoddy with some truly dire wire work thrown in. I can’t say that Twilight is worth the trip to the multiplex unless you’re already in love with the characters or story, but hopefully in a few movies time the problems will be fixed and this will turn into a more sprawling adventure that we can all enjoy. That’s definitely not the case at this early juncture however.



A review by Daniel Kelly, 2009

Movie Review: The Day the Earth stood still

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D+

The Day The Earth Stood Still
2008, 103mins, PG-13
Director: Scott Derrickson
Writer (s): David Scarpa, Edmund H. North (1951 screenplay)
Cast include: Keanu Reeves, Jennifer Connelly, Jaden Smith, Kathy Bates, John Cleese, Robert Knepper, Jon Hamm
Release Date: 12th December 2008

The Day The Earth Stood Still is as most will know a remake of a cult Sci-Fi movie of the same name, a picture that many hail as a classic and which in its time with an anti-war message actually maintained some sort of social importance. This reboot is what would happen if Al Gore was allowed to spin out a blockbuster, the film should be commended for taking the story and message in a different fashion but it’s eco-friendly morals have been shoved down cinema throats far to often in recent years. It’s time humans stopped telling each other to clean the earth and actually started into it, at least in that scenario my popcorn cinema wouldn’t be polluted with heavy handed and stale environmental moralizing.

One evening out of the blue government officials come rapping at the door of Dr. Helen Benson (Jennifer Connelly) claiming that she is required for a matter of National security. On arrival at a military base Helen is joined by numerous other scientists and is told that a large object is on a collision course with New York and looks set to wipe the City of the map. After hysteria and panic the giant object does make contact with earth, but instead of being an asteroid it’s a glowing and floating ball of energy roughly the size of a small sky scraper. Out of the ball emerges Klaatu (Keanu Reeves) who is immediately taken into government security and warns that humans are destroying earth, and if they don’t heed his warning in order to save the planet his race will have to destroy mankind. The government takes it as threat of an impending invasion and in a moment of weakness Klaatu escapes aided by Helen, who desperately tries to convince the alien that in their time of doom humanity will change. Klaatu remains unsure and so Helen and her son Jacob (Jaden Smith) attempt to demonstrate that humanity can change for the better, all the while with the government prepping for attack and hunting the trio as they travel.

The Day The Earth Stood Still is in truth a terribly tedious film, what was great in 1951 doesn’t means it’s great now especially updated into this unoriginal and unexciting blockbuster. Director Scott Derrickson clearly means well and I have faith that he and his creative team envisioned their remake as more than a cash grab, but sadly in attempting to add further thought to the eco-debate they’ve overlooked creation of an entertaining film, a fatal flaw for a big Box-Office hopeful.

As Klaatu Reeves aims for mysterious but ends up boring, his Zen style of acting has worked in certain parts (The Matrix, Constantine) and in theory should work here, but sadly the actor has confused stiffness with intriguing and bland dialogue delivery as ominous. The role of Klaatu is absolutely central to the scripts success and so via Reeves uninspired performance the film is destined for failure from starting point. Connelly is much better as Helen the film’s most engaging character and the only saving grace of the trio of main performers. Connelly herself has also been guilty of handing in bland performances in the past but here she brings her top games and elevates the work of everyone around her. Even Reeve’s when playing beside Connelly looks reasonably animated. Jaden Smith ruins much of the good will he injected into me after his lovely performance in 2006’s The Pursuit Of Happyness, the last two years seemingly not kind to the Fresh Prince’s son as he’s transformed from sweet and sympathetic to obnoxious and irritating. Finally John Cleese turns up in a laughable cameo as a Noble Prize winning scientist and Kathy Bates gives a convicted turn as the secretary of Defense.

The movies message is blatant and hard to miss, screenwriter David Scarpa has forced as much of his eco-friendly drivel into the plot and dialogue as he possibly could. I fully appreciate the environmental problem we are living and do appreciate that the filmmakers have come up with a new theme, sadly they apply it with little modesty or skill and in truth we’ve heard it a thousand times before on the News and in better features. There is also a fair bit of religious allegory thrown in that shouldn’t go over to many people’s heads, it’s obvious and basic and once more pretty stale. The film also offers a handful of emotional subplots and ideas some of which are borderline interesting, but sadly none are developed to a satisfying scale.

Visually Derrickson has composed some nice shots but his action sequences aren’t much cop, they’re too fast and virtually never attempt to do anything outside of the genre’s comfort zone. Those involving GORT a giant robot sent with Klaatu for defensive reasons are probably the best, but even then they only manage to rack up the excitement to the minimum levels you expect from a feature of this nature. Again as with this year’s Eagle Eye blowing stuff up isn’t enough, you need to find fresh and fun ways to do it and add genuine tension aswell. The CGI is patchy some of it looks great but other uses are obvious digital counterparts. For a film of this size and scope audiences have at least come to expect more from special effects than The Day The Earth Stood Still provides.

I can’t imagine that the film won’t cook up decent business but at the same time it’s a good deal less appealing than recent Sci-Fi hits like I Am Legend, the picture just doesn’t offer enough excitement and its key themes have been suggested far too many times before for that to act as an audience hook. The Day The Earth Stood Still means well, but sadly it takes more than that to churn out a competent and acceptable piece of high profile filmmaking.



A review by Daniel Kelly, 2008

Movie Review: Friday the 13th (2009)

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B-

Friday the 13th
2009, 97mins, R
Director: Marcus Nispel
Writer (S): Damian Shannon, Mark Swift, Victor Miller (original 1980 screenplay)
Cast includes: Jared Padalecki, Danielle Panabaker, Amanda Righetti, Travis Van Winkle, Aaron Yoo, Derek Mears
Release Date: 13th February 2009

To kick start the review of any remake it’s probably best to say a little something about the source material, in this case 1980’s Friday the 13th. The film was a box-office hit, spawned one of cinemas most recognized bad guys (even though he only really came to prominence in the plethora of sequels) and ultimately along with Halloween deserves to be accredited for the boom in slasher movies for nearly a decade after it’s release. However despite being beloved by a generation it’s also fair to say that it sucked, the gore effects where top notch but the actual picture itself was incompetently assembled and in reality looking beyond the rose tinted perception it has garnered, undeserving of the many sequels and mountains of cash it attained. It’s surprising then that this reimagining courtesy of Michael Bay’s Platinum Dunes remake factory should be such a solid venture, the performances are less than stellar but in truth it provides a reasonable degree of tension and a healthy dose of imaginative death sequences. Basically it’s all and slightly more than anyone could have hoped for.

Friday the 13th 2009 almost condenses the original and immediate sequels into a singular 97 minute feature. The picture starts with a counselor for the now notorious Camp Crystal Lake fleeing, in hot pursuit a knife wielding middle aged woman hollering at the top of her voice. After a brief interlude in which it is revealed the woman’s son drowned whilst at the camp (and shock, his name was Jason) she is decapitated by the counselor after a quick drawing of weapons. Fast forward a number of years and a group of teens are frequenting the abandoned Crystal Lake area is search of a legendary Marijauana crop that if harvested could make them rich. They are promptly dispatched in gruesome fashion by the now adult Jason who it appears survived and saw his mother killed years earlier, now a brutal death machine in his own right for those who frequent his woodland domain. Move 6 weeks forward (and bear in mind we’re only 15 minutes into the film) and a new group of beer swelling, horny and where it applies busty teens are taking a break in the Crystal Lake area. On their journey they encounter Clay (Jared Padalecki) a young man looking for his sister who vanished in the area ahemm…6 weeks earlier.
One of their group Jenna (Danielle Panabaker) decides to help Clay look whilst the rest literally opt to get wasted and have sex back at their retreat on the lake. As Jenna and Clay search the lake they oversee Jason hulking a carcass around and run back to the others in warning, but the Crystal Lake monster is hot on their heels and soon the teens are being picked off one by one.

There is so little point in examining the performances in show here that I’m simply not going to bother, leaving aside Padalecki and Panabaker’s modestly acceptable efforts the rest of the crew are simply machete fodder. The aforementioned duo seem to be the only ones with any acting potential, the rest purely selected on their good looks, big boobs and willingness to show those assets at every available juncture. That’s not to say they’re an utterly reprehensible crowd of characters, but not one has enough dimensions to tug on our heartstrings.

The film’s strengths are all in the excellent production design, energetic direction and refined humanization of the villain. In the same way that Nispel’s own Texas Chainsaw reboot made its poster boy human, Friday the 13th injects the man behind the mask with slight depth and is far more focused on his legacy than that of its teen protagonists. Rob Zombie’s mediocre remake of Halloween for instance lathered on the bad guy back story to a laughable degree; here Nispel simply adds little touches to remind the audience that whilst he’s a vicious bugger there are some slightly warped reasons why Jason slaughters all around him.

The killings and mass bloodshed in the movie are certainly going to satisfy gore hounds, but for me it was the surprisingly effective use of dread and tension that keep this horror reboot entertaining. On a visual level franchise fans will get to see Jason burn someone alive in a sleeping bag, machete multiple characters in the head and demonstrate a knack for archery but for in terms of mass consumption it’s the solidly deployed moments of suspense that really provide the picture with its kick. One moment involving Jason skulking over a bridge with a character paddling below, is particularly notable in its strong use of dread over blood.

The production design and lighting are well structured to provide a spooky atmosphere and Nispel demonstrates the same sort of hyper kinetic camera work that when rationed can add an extra layer of excitement to proceedings. His lack of focus on character is a minor problem but otherwise the German director has conducted a well staged and enjoyable slasher fest. It’s not flawless or particularly memorable but fans of the series may in fact have just received their most enjoyable entry yet. It’s hard after all not to shiver with gleeful sadism when Jason picks up that mask for the very first time



A review by Daniel Kelly, 2009

Movie Review: Rambo

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D+

Rambo
2008, 93mins, R
Director: Sylvester Stallone
Writer (s): Sylvester Stallone, Art Monterastelli
Cast includes: Sylvester Stallone, Julie Benz, Matthew Marsden, Graham McTavish
Release Date: 25th January 2008

After 2006’s immensely enjoyable Rocky Balboa one can’t really blame Sylvester Stallone for wanting to resurrect his other big 80’s icon, Vietnam veteran John Rambo. However whilst a final chapter in the Rocky franchise felt apt when considering the measure of abysmal sequels that great character had to sit through , one struggles to feel the same fondness for Rambo. The first film featuring the character First Blood was a well oiled actioner deserving of its cult status, but the follow ups marked the sort of dunderheaded filmmaking that marked out an entire generation of genre pictures. Basically he was a screen persona worth a run but not multiple efforts and an ever enlarging back-story. However Stallone seems to think that it’s worth one more run and in truth there is enough chaos in the world to support umpteenth warzone action flicks. On this occasion Burma’s the locale but despite pulling no punches with his rendition of the tragic situation in the country, Rambo is a film in need of a stronger script and selection of supporting characters.

John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) is embittered and unhappy; he makes a living selling snakes and boating people about whilst constantly having to deal with the demons of his past. One day he is propositioned by a group of aid workers looking to get a ride into war stricken Burma, reluctantly he eventually accepts and after a brief scuffle with some local colour delivers the helpers to the war torn wasteland. Weeks later it is reported to them that they have gone missing and he is again recruited to ferry a group of people, this time a band of mercenaries charged with finding the lost persons. However on this occasion when they board in Burma Rambo accompanies them into the jungles to complete a rescue mission one final time.

It’s hard to get overly excited by Rambo, it features a lot of violence and bloodshed but little of it bares much distinction or imagination, it would seem Stallone has rested the chances of exciting the audience purely on the unrelenting carnage. His performance his decent and much like he did with Rocky Balboa, Stallone attempts to recapture the integrity of the character missing from the sequels, but the support on this occasion is overwhelmingly poor. Julie Benz and Matthew Marsden are desperate in their attempts to offer up any real character substance but each fails on the grounds that they’re a dull performer whilst Graham McTavish hands in a laughably over the top effort as the mercenary leader. The lack of characters to engage with is a fatal flaw, so much of the pictures merits rely on the audience caring for the trapped and hunted individuals, something that the limp script won’t allow them to achieve.

The pictures depiction of Burma is probably more accurate than not, after all it’s now a serious offence to be caught watching the movie inside the country. The brutality on show is mostly courtesy of the Burmese army who are shown disposing of natives in the most vile and graphic of fashions whilst showing guests little added respect.

Stallone seems to take no pleasure in showing this but what’s a little dubious is his willingness as a director to revel in the retribution and revenge, parts of the movie depend on viewers wanting to see the villainous soldiers killed in the most brutal fashion possible. Gorehounds will probably find it awesome but the rest wouldn’t be criticized for raising an eyebrow, after all the final scene seems intent on simply killing off as many people as possible, rather than actually building a well structured and exciting action sequence.

Technically little can be quibbled but in other categories there is disappointingly little to like, Stallone performs reasonably well and directs with energy but the story seems morally hypocritical and support is never better than dire. If Rambo succeeds in addressing the issue in Burma then at least it can claim to have done something, because as an action film it offers precious little in the way of satisfactory entertainment.



A review by Daniel Kelly, 2009