30 June 2009

New "Jennifer's Body" stills

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I've been hotly anticipating "Jennifer's Body" for nearly a year now and whilst we have to wait until September to see the damned film, a host of new stills have gone online via Empire. The Diablo Cody penned horror/comedy see's a hot cheerleader (Megan Fox) invaded by a demon thus going on an all male killing spree. I've read the script and it's pretty cool whilst the cast also tickles my fancy. This is Diablo Cody's second writing gig after her Oscar winning debut with 2007's "Juno" and there are alot of expectations thrust on the blog queen to rediscover her form and cook up another hit.

"Jennifer's Body" is out 18th September 2009

26 June 2009

Movie Review: The Unborn

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F

The Unborn
2009, 87mins, PG-13
Director: David. S. Goyer
Writer: David. S. Goyer
Cast includes: Odette Yustman, Gary Oldman, Idris Elba, Cam Gigandet, Meagan Good, Jane Alexander
Release Date: 9th January 2009


“The Unborn” is that most unfortunate of things, a horror film that makes you laugh harder than you shiver. I can only recount one occasion where this labyrinth of clichés and tame horror tactics actually got my heart moving, and even then director Goyer failed to capitalize or build properly on the occasion. The film is predictable on every front and is happy to swipe as many concepts and far fetched ideas as it can, before arriving at it’s thoroughly generic and unimpressive finale. One can only assume that proficient actors like Idris Elba and Gary Oldman took their admittedly small parts for big pay cheques, otherwise you would have to seriously evaluate the artistic credibility of both. There can’t have been any point in production where “The Unborn” actually looked like it might manifest into a decent motion picture. It’s just not possible.

The film wastes no time in getting the ball rolling, Goyer clearly seeing any sort of adequate character construction as inferior to his bag of pappy tricks and second rate scares. Casey (Odette Yustman) has been suffering bad dreams and as they keep reoccurring she begins to suspect they may have greater meaning. After consulting friends on the matter she casts it aside until a series of traumatising experiences (attacked by a child, insects in your eggs....the usual stuff) makes her believe that her terrifying night visions and these ominous occurrences could be linked. After doing a little routing in her past she finds her suicidal mother suffered the same horrible hallucinations, but is also provided with a clue as to how they might be stopped. Forwarded via an elusive relation to a Rabbi (Gary Oldman), Casey see’s only one chance to be rid of her demonic haunting once and for all, by performing an exorcism with the help of her newfound religious connections.

There are feeble attempts at adding story details in order to make “The Unborn” seem more original than it is, but these cheap and exploitative subtleties are easy to see past and thus the whole nature of the picture is from the off set that of a heinous bore. The movies attempts to conjure up some mumbo jumbo about twins and mirrors, neither actually all that fresh to begin with, but these can’t overshadow the flaccid and thoroughly predictable screenplay. I would be fascinated to know how long it took Goyer to write “The Unborn”, because it seems with a few DVD rentals to crib from and a long weekend to write up, this sort of half baked nonsense could be pumped out in no time.

The performances are dreadful from start to finish. Yustman who had a moderate role in last year’s mega hit “Cloverfield” isn’t going to find the same success with this tripe, after all the one sheet poster actually requires the actress’s to appear in tight underwear with her rear in clear view. The film utilises this tactic to, Goyer apparently thinking that because she has a pretty face and body Yustman’s sub-par acting will thus be excused. 12 year old boys might share his view (they’re also the only demographic likely to be scared) but I certainly didn’t. If I wanted to stare at beautiful women in their underwear a Google Image search will more than suffice, so an attempt to fob of an entire performance on such grounds just won’t wash. Yustman’s inability to connect with the audience is a fatal flaw seeing as she is the centre piece of the entire mess, but there isn’t even any minor pleasure to be derived from the support.

Meaghan Good and Cam Gigandet are horrible as Casey’s college buddies whilst Idris Elba and Oldman don’t even bring any sort of overacting joy to proceedings. For such able guys their acting is unforgivably flat and the roles to small and underdeveloped to do anything with. I can forgive Oldman because he last participated in “The Dark Knight”. For Elba this is another in a long run of losing properties including the equally tame and unsatisfying horror outing “Prom Night”.

The film has an upmarket look but there is little unique in the visual design, whilst Goyer’s various methods of soliciting scares are more laugh inducing than fear implanting. The ghostly child imagery is used at a relentlessly pathetic rate whilst all the old possession tick and quirks are also present. We are given spider-walking old men, deformed animals and ominous whispers of an unstoppable evil but never does it provoke the slightest iota of terror. Also a subplot which draws Nazi experimentation into proceedings is simply in bad taste, adding to the stinking carcass of puerile guff that “The Unborn” attempts to feed the audience. There is nothing new here to see in terms of horror and the PG-13 rating keeps it at a bloodless basin dwelling level of viscera, meaning that not even brain dead gore hounds could find a reason to turn this schlock into a hit.

It’s not like I was expecting much from “The Unborn” but I never pre-empted the levels of turgid awfulness that it’s willing to dive to. There is one instance where a CGI aided moment might get the adrenaline rushing but aside from that it’s a series of merciless rip offs wrapped around an idiotic and totally predictable screenplay. The direction and writing are the biggest culprit’s as to why this degrading nonsense slips up but one can’t overlook the disagreeable acting as a key reason as to why it fails to engage. Even the most undemanding horror devotees are going to wish that “The Unborn” had never been conceived.


A review by Daniel Kelly, 2009

24 June 2009

Retro Review: Alien (1979)

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A

Alien
1979, 116mins, R
Director: Ridley Scott
Writer (s): Dan O'Bannon, Ronald Shusett
Cast includes: Sigourney Weaver, Ian Holm, Tom Skerritt, Veronica Cartwright, John Hurt, Harry Dean Stanton, Yaphett Kotto
Release Date: 25th May 1979


It’s not hard to fathom after a viewing of “Alien” how it mutated into the cinematic landmark it is today. Initially conceived as a sci-fi horror piece to ride of the success of “Star Wars” – “Alien” is both a mighty success as a horror picture and as a slice of science fiction majesty. The film boasts the creative eye and strong characters that mark out the top in pioneering adventure flicks but also the unbearable suspense and subtle lashings of viscera that populate only the finest fright films. It’s a blissfully joyful burst of dark and increasingly warped sci-fi paranoia, brought to the front by one of the greatest characters in movies history and certainly one of the most intimidating and terrifying villains to grace the silver screen.

The commercial spacecraft Nostromo is heading back to Earth, but all of its crew have been pulled out of hyper-sleep early due to a distress beacon on a nearby planet. After debating the pros and cons of looking into the signal the crew decide to follow protocol and investigate, landing on a barren and windswept planet in the dead of night. A small portion of the seven man team moves out but one of them is infected by some sort of parasite that renders the victim unconscious and attaches itself to the unfortunates face. The man in question is Kane (John Hurt) and after being quarantined in a comatose state he reawakens with the creature having dropped off and apparently died. However it quickly transpires this is part of the organisms’ life cycles as the next generation violently bursts out of Kane’s chest and escapes into the dark corners of the ship. The animal evolves at an alarming rate and before they know it the crew is being hunted by a 6 foot bipedal monster, intent on death and seemingly invincible.

At the time of it’s release “Alien” was entering an era of science fiction mega bucks movies, films like “Star Wars” and the initial wave of “Star Trek” features had induced a burning desire for further space adventures whilst the stalk and slash horror styling’s had been made popular once again thanks to Jason and Michael Myers. “Alien” combined both pop culture fads beautifully resulting in a truly futuristic thriller that could dial up the tension to unbearable levels and wasn’t’ afraid to spill a little intestine in the process. The masterful direction of the story is matched by performances of unusual depth and a visual design that remains one of the most extraordinary and distinctive to have come out of Hollywood. The way that artist H.R Giger created the disturbingly organic and contorted sets along with the iconic beasts itself is key to the long lasting endurance of the picture with film buffs. Many have tried to imitate the visual pang of “Alien”, but it would be impossible to argue it’s ever been bettered.

The character of Ellen Ripley is that which would launch the mostly bright career of Sigourney Weaver, here in her debut performance the then 29 year old Weaver was able to bring a strength and realism to the role that most up and comers can only dream of. Looking at Weaver’s career it’s peppered with some wonderful characters and it’s a credit to the actress that she was able to go out and pursue such varied roles after such a groundbreaking and gritty performance here. Granted Weaver will likely always be remembered as Ripley and did indeed return for three further creature feature sequels but ultimately when watching “Alien” today it’s striking how good her acting is and yet how flavoursome her CV turned out to be.

The rest of the cast are a mini marvel largely because as actors they all proved after years of exposure rather mediocre. However here Scott was able to draw natural and sympathetic turns from them all, granted Ian Holm and John Hurt turned out to be fine thespians but the rest are a decidedly more mixed sauce. Speaking of Hurt his participation is really limited to the films most iconic and recalled sequence in which at a meal the second generation Alien bursts bloodily from his chest. The twist was kept hidden from the cast who react in such natural terror and stupefied expression that they sell the sheer horror of the scene beyond the gallons of fake blood and glimpses of innards. Ian Holm exudes a delightful menace and coldness as the ship’s science officer whilst Tom Skerritt is gung ho and admirable enough to pass unquestionably as the Nostromo’s alpha male. The fact that Skerritt sells the part of Captain Dallas so well only goes to empower the picture further, without spoiling proceedings to much it offers “Alien” an unsuspecting punch that Alfred Hitchcock could have been proud of.

The fear is generated in effective fits and bursts, Scott deploying a slow boil mechanism before drawing the picture to fiery temperatures of excitement and scares at the end. Like Spielberg did with the shark in “Jaws”, Scott works hard not to overexpose his menace before the final quarter hour, only offering tantalising glances at Giger’s freakish harbinger of doom. Everything that works about “Alien” from a horror standpoint can be drawn from its artistic restraint and taut atmosphere, and it doesn’t hurt that the Jerry Goldsmith score is ominous in the extreme. The haunting melodies and superb direction elevate “Alien” above the mire of shamefully exploitative horror pieces that thronged the market at the time, with a masterpiece like this less truly equated to more.

“Alien” made you care about the characters and so their deaths had more resonance whilst the clammy and expertly staged interiors only added to the intense terror pressure radiating of the motion picture. As raw entertainment there can be no question that “Alien” works well, not a bored moment is likely to be suffered during Scott’s momentous moment of monster movie magic. However it’s endurance as one of cinema’s most celebrated efforts can more likely be collated down to the well poised humanity of the performances and supremely original visual construction of the project, it’s unwillingness to let gore topple suspense also a prime note. “Alien” deserves to be seen as a sci-fi classic and a horror movie must, a picture that took two genres and put a refreshing and legendary spin on both. In the climate of creative nothingness that infects today’s market how often can you say that about a movie?



A review by Daniel Kelly, 2009

21 June 2009

Movie Review: Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist

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B

Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist
2008, 90mins, PG-13
Director: Peter Sollett
Writer (s): Lorene Scafira, Rachel Cohn (novel)
Cast includes: Michael Cera, Kat Dennings, Alexis Dziena, Aaron Yoo, Jay Baruchel, Ari Graynor
Release Date: 3rd October 2008

“Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist” can’t claim to be wildly original or even all that massively memorable but it does have one thing going its way that can make almost any romantic comedy manageable, good solid chemistry between the love struck leads. Peter Sollett’s tale of two young and confused adolescents heading into an unexpectedly eventful New York evening is a blissfully cute and charming confection, not a genre high point or anything like it, but with enough giggles and well intentioned romance to warrant a recommendation.

Nick (Michael Cera) is convinced by his buddies to go out and play a gig with them, encouraging him to get on with his life after a nasty break-up with Tris (Alexis Dziena). After his set he meets Norah (Kat Dennings) who requires his help in a moment of desperation and from there on in some sort of chemistry sorts to boil between the two. Together they hit the New York night trying to track down Norah’s boozy gal pal Caroline (Ari Graynor) and evading a newly interested Tris, who has had her spoiled desires reignited by Nick and Norah’s newfound friendship. All the while the pair is also aiming to try and find the location where one of their favourite bands is set to play, following clues and tip offs so they can end the evening on the right note.

There is no great sense of dramatic weight and no startlingly original plot contortions to speak of but “Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist” chugs along just fine without such seemingly vital cinematic factors. Its movies like this which demonstrate how nice romance, cheerful comedy and good intentions can trump some artistic vacuums and keep any production on a level headed and enjoyable road. The screenplay really isn’t that burdened with the concerns or issues which plague the real world, the New York night that are two hip leads move across is filled with nothing scarier than a slightly creepy homeless guy and the law seems blissfully absent. In many ways this romanticized Brooklyn is the perfect place to pitch such a love story, complimenting the whimsical characters and plotlines perfectly.

Michael Cera and Kat Dennings are both highly agreeable in the leading roles, neither is attempting to step outside of their comfort zones but for the purposes of this effort that’s not a big deal. They do what they do best and make a cute and rather cuddly team whilst they’re at it, keeping the audience latched into their sweet and slowly blossoming romance. Both also demonstrate they’re comedic heritages credibly, using the dialogue to cook up titter worthy moments of awkwardness and smirktastic punch lines and comebacks. Ari Graynor is worth a few laughs as Norah’s intoxicated friend on the loose whilst Alexis Dziena is moderately successful as Nick’s manipulative and bitchy ex. It’s hardly a roster of unique characterizations but the actors do play well of each other and contribute heartily to the entertainment value.

The love is well constructed around some neat laughs and a quick runtime keeps things brief and involving. Sollett could have tried to play the movie out over a considerably longer runtime but this is a brisk and dream like romance best told over a short and effective burst which is exactly how he applies it. “Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist” makes a great date movie, warm and frothy enough to keep everyone happy but light and fluffy enough so that it won’t overshadow an evening. Plus whilst it might not exactly be bursting with new hooks for the genre it’s a pretty tender and light-hearted flick, there is little in the way of vulgarity to cloud the coming together of our hero and heroine.

For a movie which has music in many ways as it’s narrative heartbeat I wasn’t blown away with the soundtrack, it’s probably hip enough but not at all memorable and unlikely to have the masses buying CD’s or downloading tracks. It’s in this department that I was expecting considerably more from “Nick and Norah” but seeing as they exceeded expectations in other factors I’ll let it slip. As long as people don’t expect “Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist” to rock the genre’s landscape I can see this providing a worthwhile degree of fun and feel good moments for budding and old romantics alike.


A review by Daniel Kelly, 2009

20 June 2009

Movie Review: Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

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D+

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
2009, 147mins, PG-13
Director: Michael Bay
Writer (s): Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, Ehren Kruger
Cast includes: Shia LaBeouf, Megan Fox, John Turturro, Tyrese Gibson, Ramon Rodriguez, Josh Duhamel
Release Date: 24th June 2009

I enjoyed 2007’s “Transformers” and it’s combination of wonderfully staged action and cheeky performances, a film almost good enough to make you forgive the patchy CV of director Michael Bay. Along with his unusually thoughtful 2005 effort “The Island” I felt that “Transformers” represented a growth in Bay as provider of ace multiplex entertainment and enjoyable action fodder but it seems such a presumption was ill thought out and to optimistic. Following up his 2007 robot smash with the highly disappointing and monumentally turgid “Revenge of the Fallen” was always going to undo much of the goodwill brewed and reset everybody’s opinions of Bay back to square one. Having enjoyed the previous effort so heartily I found “Revenge of the Fallen” a particularly sour summer note and one that I hope won’t be replicated again before the season closes out.

The plot is overstretched and far from compelling, starting in an acceptably level headed and cohesive fashion before going on to wallow in a confused and thinly sketched story drawn out to a punishing two and a half hours. Bay has always been guilty of letting his movies run a little long but this really takes the biscuit, the screenplay on hand here hardly worth a running of 90 minutes never mind the semi-epic duration handed out to it. We pick up shortly after the events of 2007, Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) now heading for college and hoping to leave robots and warring alien races in the past. Instead he wants to create a normal student life and maintain a long distance relationship with the gorgeous Mikeala (Megan Fox). However things don’t go to plan when he is informed by Autobot leader Optimus Prime that the Decepticons are back and their leader Megatron returned. To make matters worse Megatron is now working for an even more malevolent evil a great and restless entity known as The Fallen. The Fallen wants revenge on those who thwarted his attempts at world domination eons ago and needs only one thing to succeed. The Allspark that had once been thought destroyed has implanted its vast array of knowledge in Sam’s head and thus all The Fallen needs is the boy in order to take ultimate power and gain bloody vengeance.

There is a plethora of action on show in “Revenge of the Fallen” but little of it ever resonates or provides excitement, it may look glossy and hi-tech but as an experience it amounts to limp recounts of set-pieces seen before. One can’t question Bay’s ability to blow things up are wield top grade CGI with expert proficiency but the action just lacks the energy and sheer carnage that made the first slick such a surprisingly satisfying piece of blockbuster pie. In many ways this is an even more visually lavish experience than its predecessor but it’s a positively hollow and empty sort of gloss, with nothing of substance or worth wrapped beneath the polished sheen. The various moments of blockbuster destruction often feel like slightly larger scale attempts at remaking moments from part one, often to the response of a sigh and a yawn. Not every single tent pole moment is useless, some admittedly drawing wide eyes and minor adrenaline rushes, but overall the quota of successes to failures isn’t encouraging.

The performances are an unenthused bunch, Shia LaBeouf now positively in danger of being labelled passé after only two years of making it big. In 2007 I found his comic timing impeccable and a solid emotional core at the heart of his character but here it’s all thick skulled improv and acting of the most wooden variety. His chemistry with Megan Fox is also less believable this time around, Fox herself grabbing gasps with her physical beauty but leaving us wanting in terms of quality emoting. I did enjoy John Tuturro’s reappearance bringing with it a consistency in terms of entertainment value but much of his good work is undone by the likes of Ramon Rodriguez and a pair of squabbling autobots, bringing the comedy down several sizable pegs. Rodriguez in particular playing Sam’s new roommate is a supreme nuisance displaying little in the way of ability or talent.

The film is left gaping with plot holes and contrivances of the laziest nature whilst the scribes also insist on ripping off a handful of other more influential science fiction efforts. Aside from grabbing mercilessly from its 2007 brother “Revenge of the Fallen” also picks and places ideas from the like of “Species” and “The Matrix”. Defenders of this spectacularly lazy film will no doubt holler that such aspects are clear homage’s but this critic buys no such gubbins, “Revenge of the Fallen” having to crib from better productions in order to try and cover up it’s own heinous faults.

The conclusion is brash and shot on a predictably massive scale but by the time it rolls about the audience has long stopped caring and this tired toy commercial worn out its welcome. I honestly preferred the shaky cam climax of “Transformers” to this loud but Ritalin induced counter part, at least it had a megawatt of energy and the ability to really thrill. The finale here is inert and totally forgettable, topped off by the fact the new big bad villain isn’t actually all that imposing. The comic relief is this time aimed even more squarely at the kiddies only a few of the one liners likely to solicit much of a chuckle from the over 12’s.

The musical score remains rousing and a few of the action beats manage to kick up some notice but “Revenge of the Fallen” is a tired and unusually flat sequel, to comatose and wrapped up in it’s own ridiculous plot contortions to offer any pleasure for the audience. Michael Bay should once again find himself a critical whipping boy and whilst “Revenge” promises a sequel I’m now beginning to dread such suggestions. Last time I was egging on more Autobot vs. Decepticon action but this banal excursion has soured my appetite for further Transformers efforts. “Revenge of the Fallen” has precious little to recommend it and if you only see one robot movie this summer I expect you can still catch “Terminator Salvation” somewhere. Regardless of your feelings towards that movie it’s an infinitely more satisfying way to quench your blockbuster thirst than this sordid mess.



A review by Daniel Kelly, 2009

15 June 2009

Retro Review: Predator 2 (1990)

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D

Predator 2
1990, 108mins, R
Director: Stephen Hopkins
Writer (s): Jim Thomas, John Thomas
Cast includes: Danny Glover, Gary Busey, Maria Cochita Alonso, Bill Paxton, Ruben Blades
Release Date: 21st November 1990


“Predator 2” is pretty much lacking In everything that made the original an exuberant and colorful spoon full of science fiction terror, a sequel far to drawn out and with a good deal to little focus aimed at the monster itself. For nearly half its runtime “Predator 2” is far more interested in regaling the audience with a stale L.A drug war, simply using the monster as a primer for added violence. The original was a lean, beautifully composed and terrifically claustrophobic affair; this is just a tepid and insanely loose attempt at replicating that productions success. It also doesn’t help matters that as the hero Danny Glover is woefully miscast, ambling around pitifully and making one yearn for a little bit of Schwarzenegger machismo.

Gang warfare has gripped Los Angeles in a tight and unrelenting grasp, Jamaican and Columbian drug lords pummeling each other on the streets whilst bystanders are caught in the middle and the cops try to quell the carnage. Lt. Mike Harrigan (Danny Glover) is one of the officers working to subdue the chaos when he stumbles upon a band of slaughtered gang members, dispatched in ways so grisly that it quickly becomes apparent this isn’t the work of street warfare. Harrigan and his slim band of loyal followers pursue the case but a government operative Keyes (Gary Busey) is drafted in, leaving Harrigan and company locked out of the investigation. As more gang members and civilians bite the dust Keyes seems to remain one step ahead of Harrigan , but it quickly transpires for both men that the perpetrator of these heinous crimes may not be of this world.

I adore “Predator” and can even find small things to like about the two “AVP” spinoff films but when it comes to “Predator 2” I struggle to see any real appeal. It’s a dull and over plotted picture featuring atrocious acting, one dimensional characters and a rather unimpressive roster of alien induced violence. Sci-fi junkies are unlikely to see heir pulse transcend a lukewarm norm whilst watching “Predator 2”, it has nothing of any real worth or excitement to add to the creature’s legacy and large portions of the project feel like they could have been constructed without the monsters participation.

Danny Glover is simply lost as the male lead in “Predator 2”, not even making a respectable attempt at filling the supersize boots left vacant by Arnie. Glover can make good on a punch line (precious few are provided here) but as an acceptable action substitute he’s a real barrel scraper of a replacement. The energy is never there and anybody who thinks Danny stands a fighting chance against a Predator must be coked out of their mind. I wouldn’t say the same about those providing Schwarzenegger with that accolade. Gary Busey delights in overacting as Glover’s Federal rival whilst Maria Conchita Alonso and Bill Paxton slum it terribly as Harrigan’s LAPD cohorts. Paxton can now boast about appearing in the initial sequels in both the “Alien” and “Predator” franchises, but whilst the “Alien” follow up was seminal classic “Aliens” appearing in “Predator 2” is far less of an accomplishment.

The Predator itself still looks cool and wields a vast array of gadgets but director Stephen Hopkins never imposes him on us long enough for true fear to set in. He spends vast amounts of his film rambling about street gang politics and making vapid attempts to add a little depth to proceedings but it only goes to make the picture ever more boring. When I watch a monster movie there’s one ingredient you can’t skimp on…..monster. For the first half of Hopkins film bar fleeting glimpses you could be forgiven for thinking you weren’t actually watching a sequel to a creature feature of certified brilliance. It just seems like a dumb ass movie about street gang warfare featuring a serial killer with kick ass camouflage. Not exactly what the diehards are clamoring for.

“Predator 2” is made further unnecessary by its general unwillingness to think up anything new, the screenplay has simply planted the animal in a made for TV story and added a few of the gory elements that peppered part one. We get plenty of skinned guys and blood flows at a commendable rate but there is nothing new to see and no thrill present that couldn’t be replicated tenfold by watching the original. There is one terrific scene in “Predator 2” in which a band of government cronies try to catch the beast in a neon lit warehouse, it’s suspenseful, unpredictable and features very little in the way of Danny Glover. Had the rest of the film been more willing to follow this template the final result might have been far more satisfying.

The conclusion is notable only in that it provided the initial glimpse of the Predator space craft, and of course due to the presence of an “Alien” skull in a trophy cabinet it birthed the very concept of “AVP”. The ending wraps up pretty much like one would suspect and rarely provides anything above the bare minimum of entertainment value, such an unadventurous final confrontation surely more worthy of a direct to video flick than a highly anticipated sci-fi sequel. “Predator 2” is a painfully labored science fiction production, never brave enough to succeed and devoid of the merits that made the original film such a wonderful work of escapism. A flaccid and mostly wasteful attempt at brash cinema, “Predator 2” deserves to be hunted down and skinned by fans everywhere.

A review by Daniel Kelly, 2009

Movie Review: My Bloody Valentine 3-D

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B-

My Bloody Valentine 3-D
2009, 101mins, R
Director: Patrick Lussier
Writer (s): Zane Smith, Todd Farmer
Cast includes: Jensen Ackles, Jaime King, Kerr Smith, Betsy Rue, Megan Boone, Tom Atkins
Release Date: 16th January 2009


“My Bloody Valentine 3-D” is a remake of a little known 1981 Canadian slasher of the same name (minus the 3-D) that was compiled to cash grab from the success of the “Halloween” and “Friday the 13th” movies. “My Bloody Valentine” has since become only a footnote in the bloated stalk and slash genre but has as the years have progressed the project has grown something of a minor cult following preventing it from falling into complete cinematic redundancy. In honesty the fact that it’s getting remade in 2009 is damning of the era in which we live in, has it come to the point that we’re so devoid of originality we have to revisit the 80’s horror flicks which where rubbish to begin with? So color me shocked, Patrick Lussier’s reimagining is ultimately gimmicky junk but also damned entertaining. Full of the boobs and blood that horror fans desire from such a diversion the film also manages a decent dramatic subplot, a rarity within its genre. It’s also more than just masked killer mayhem, at the centre a Scooby-Doo style mystery evolves, a big part of “My Bloody Valentine 3-D” is uncovering who’s behind the killings, a characteristic missing in many similarly themed efforts.

The story is bobbins but the character interaction is actually credible, from a dramatic stand point this is a film leveled far above a lot of its peers. I’m not suggesting you’re going to get levels of raw dramatic intensity on a par with “The Wrestler” or “Frost/Nixon” but the characters and relationships on show here aren’t as superficial and underdeveloped as usual. 10 years ago in the town of Harmony a mining accident caused a series of workers to be buried alive, with one of the crew, Harry Warden, killing the rest to preserve his oxygen. Warden was finally retrieved whilst comatose and his actions had him demonized but that was not the total extent of the man’s evil. Sometime later Warden awoke and donned the gas mask and Pick Axe once more slaughtering the staff of the local hospital and some rowdy and drunken teens. Among the teens chastised was Tom Hanniger (Jensen Ackles) who was subsequently blamed for the initial collapse in the mine that caused Warden to kill his fellow miners and kick start this chain of destruction. Tom leaves for a decade and returns only to sell of his shares of the mine (inherited by his father’s death) but on his return so to remerges a masked killer. Tom thus works to prove his innocence whilst Sheriff and love rival Axel (Kerr Smith) desperately attempts to vilify the new arrival for the current spate of bloody and love themed killings.

The film’s biggest selling points are the vicious bloodshed, 3-D gimmick and copious nudity that infest the project, and it has to be said that Patrick Lussier constructs a film around these necessities pretty well. Lussier was last seen helming the humiliatingly bad “White Noise: The Light” and whilst some of his shots remain those of a journeyman one has to compliment him for the vast overall improvement. Since directing that utter piffle in 2007 Lussier appears to have gained a firmer (if totally unsubtle) understanding of the key mechanisms for popcorn horror, those being a lot of blood, a little tension and as much female anatomy as can be crammed into a picture whilst retaining an R rating. Not every scare mixed up gets the blood pumping but a few moments are executed to chilling effect, and whilst the mystery gas mask clad killer never intimidates like Michael Myers he remains enough of a mystery for the viewer to at least be made wary by his presence. The kills aren’t really that creative but they’re pulled off with an admirable bloodlust and energy, fans should at least be satisfied with the ferocious rate at which Lussier paints his picture with entrails and gruesome deaths.

Ackles is decent in the leading role as is Jaime King as his long lost love but everyone else involved could probably benefit from a few extra acting lessons. Kerr Smith is the grandest perpetrator of poor performing as King’s husband and Ackles rival, wooden and unconvincing is every scene he features. Even his delivery of dialogue (admittedly as patchy as one should expect from the genre) is unimpressive. The rest of the cast are plot points, pick axe fodder or a pair of breasts as far as the story is concerned, though I will give commendation to writers Todd Farmer and Zane Smith for scribbling a more compelling dramatic dynamic than we’ve come to expect from slasher pictures. I was at times genuinely intrigued by the central love triangle despite Smith’s dozer of a performance, and the mystery elements are credibly rendered. The reveal at the end isn’t going to have people talking for 6 months but it might trigger a slight sense of surprise during the viewing, something most modern day “twists” can’t boast.

I suppose the film isn’t really that memorable but it is slickly entertaining and atmospherically shot, some of the cinematography inside the mines is super even if the exterior material looks a little rougher and cheaper than multiplex swarms will be accustomed to. The 3-D effects are being primed as the key selling point and they do contribute an extra dimension of fun and giggles to proceedings, but don’t really offer up anything more intense in terms of scares and shivers. I reckon it would still be easy enough to enjoy “My Bloody Valentine 3-D” without the added gimmick, certain scenes might feel a little staler but overall it’s a suitably well crafted piece of genre filmmaking. Expectation management is probably crucial to derive pleasure from Lussier’s blood soaked carnage, but if approached in the correct mindset, this is a film horror nuts should really enjoy.


A review by Daniel Kelly, 2009

14 June 2009

Movie Review: Vicky Cristina Barcelona

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C

Vicky Cristina Barcelona
2008, 96mins, PG-13
Director: Woody Allen
Writer: Woody Allen
Cast includes: Javier Bardem, Rebecca Hall, Scarlett Johansson, Penelope Cruz, Christopher Evan Welch (narration)
Release Date: 15th August 2008

“Vicky Cristina Barcelona” has accumulated a fair degree of praise and accolades since release nearly a year ago in August 2008, critics consistently praising the movie as a return to form for auteur Woody Allen and eventually allowing Penelope Cruz to go forward and nab the Oscar gold for her supporting role. I’ll give Cruz her due and accept that she gives a fire cracker of a performance but nothing else really ignites in this tawdry and hard to digest examination of the complexities of love. It’s a worthy project in a few respects but ultimately bores and tires the audience, a weakness made further shocking by the fact that the whole affair runs at a linear 96 minutes.

Vicky (Rebecca Hall) and Cristina (Scarlett Johansson) are two young American girls set to spend a summer in Barcelona together, Vicky to complete her master studies on Catalan culture and Cristina to widen her horizons and indulge in the foreign atmosphere. It’s made abundantly clear from the start that both woman have vastly different ambitions in their love life, soon to be wed Vicky wants commitment and solidity whilst Cristina is a looking for raw and passionate intensity with little tolerance for the norm. One night at a restaurant they meet Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem) a charismatic artist interested in taking the girl’s way for the weekend, to indulge in culture, wine and sex. Cristina likes the concept but Vicky is more uncertain yet eventually both are coerced into the trip. Cristina falls ill on arrival leaving Vicky and Juan to get to know each other a little better and an unlikely passion strikes. However when the trio return to Barcelona things get awkward, Juan and Cristina move in together, Vicky’s fiancée pays a visit and more explosively Juan’s suicidal and immensely animated ex-wife (Penelope Cruz) moves back into his life. As the film progresses a fully formed circle of passion and love forms, but with nothing certain between the various and wildly different personalities.

The performances range from solid to wiz popping excellence, Cruz is certainly at her fiery best as the intense and unpredictable ex-wife whilst Javier Bardem continues to impress and display range as the frank, charming but ultimately good natured seducer of the title characters. These two probably represent the very finest elements the picture has to offer, there is simply more energy and screen presence coming of Bradem and Cruz than anyone else featured and for that reason they equate to the production’s most captivating content. Hall and Johansson are adequate, the latter now providing her third appearance in a Woody Allen film. I have no doubt that both Johansson and Hall are perfectly capable actresses and at times they do convey some admirably deep emotional notes in “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” but they can’t measure up to the key players around them. Ultimately whilst no cast member disappoints the fact the leading ladies can’t keep pace with Cruz and Bardem works against the project, this is Vicky and Cristina’s story but it’s the other various subplots which really induce any sense of viewing pleasure.

The voice over narration that is present for the whole runtime and is intended to offer further resonance to Vicky and Cristina’s thoughts is a bad move, it’s been touted that narration can kill a picture and in many ways it’s this that marks the productions most infuriating flaw. The story I itself is only occasionally interesting but the voice over seems to be Allen’s lazy way of validating his patchy screenplay, unable to mine emotional resonance or interesting perspectives from the dialogue and plot developments alone, he requires an unsubtle narration to plug in the considerable gaps. This is the sign of a filmmaker behind the current curve and who desperately requires stale tricks to allow his film any sense of resonance. To say he fails at gaining it even with the stilted narration would be unfortunately accurate.

“Vicky Cristina Barcelona” has flashes of quirky observation but mostly its findings on love are repetitive and moldy. Being a Woody Allen film it’s determined to work through the eyes of artsy intellectuals and conflicted geniuses but despite the apparent uniqueness of the productions motley crew, the findings on love aren’t exactly illuminated with refreshing consequences. “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” has its moments of intrigue and emotional treasure but they’re far outweighed by obvious analysis of the human condition. This packed inside an aimless and utterly loopy excuse for a summer dalliance makes for less than compelling viewing.

There is precious little funny about this picture but that’s not really where Allen wants to take it, however the fact it falls flat in its attempts whisk up new interpretations concerning sexual and loving relationships is less forgivable. The performances are all pretty good but the relationships formed through Allen’s script feel undercooked (except for Bardem and Cruz) whilst the narrative itself is dank and overly dependent on a sledgehammer narration. I was really hoping for something striking and attractive from “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” but instead have been offered a far from insightful drama that borders dangerously close to mediocrity. It might make you want to visit Spain with its lavish shots of the country but those looking for a new perspective on love aren’t likely to find it there on the basis of this half hearted drama.



A review by Daniel Kelly, 2009

13 June 2009

Movie Review: The Hangover

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A-

The Hangover
2009, 100mins, R
Director: Todd Phillips
Writer (s): Scott Moore, Jon Lucas
Cast includes: Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis, Justin Bartha, Heather Graham, Sasha Barrese, Mike Tyson
Release Date: 5th June 2009

It’s hard to place exactly where the high expectation for “The Hangover” generated from. The trailers where solid but not overly raucous or hysterical, the premise modest if not particularly original and the cast filled largely with newcomers or folk who have been unsuccessfully trying to crack Hollywood for several years. Yet somehow the picture mounted a considerable amount of buzz and by release time anticipation levels where actually at a credible level. So it’s a shock that “The Hangover” exceeds those expectations massively, as is the case with all great comedies “The Hangover” as a feature is far more impressive than any of the promotional material backing it up. It’s rich in fresh and deliriously wacky laughs and features at least three performances that could rocket cast members to the industry A lists. Barely a moment floats by without a sizeable chuckle and in some instances full blown belly laughs rocketed up to 11. It’s that good.

The basic conceit at the film’s heart is essentially the slightly tired bachelor party gone wrong shenanigans that have populated a plethora of dreadful comedies, but “The Hangover” is so much fun that it almost makes the idea seem new. On the weekend before he gets married Doug (Justin Bartha) is letting his two best friends and fiancées brother take him up to Las Vega’s for one last weekend of debauchery before he ties the knot. His buddies consist of Phil (Bradley Cooper) the cocky yet unhappily married alpha male of the group, Stu (Ed Helms) a neurotic guy utterly whipped by his domineering girlfriend and Alan (Zach Galifianakis) Doug’s quirky and slightly crazed brother in law. The night starts with shots on the rooftops but descends into anarchy with the protagonists waking in their trashed hotel room hung over and with no goddamn clue as to what occurred the evening before. More importantly Doug is nowhere to be seen and so with only the ridiculous combination of a baby, a chicken, a tiger in the bathroom and a hospital admittance wrist band they retrace their steps in a bid to find the groom and discover what the hell went down the night before.

The chemistry between the three leads is outstanding in “The Hangover”. Cooper, Bradley and Galifianakis deliver fantastic comedic performances sure to launch each into megastar careers and make them for the moment at least gods of modern day farce. In order for their search for the lost groom to work the group dynamic has to be perfect and the trio nail it, throwing up all types of comedy and playing each as efficiently and skillfully as the last. Helms is the straight man, Galifianakis the larger than life cartoon whilst Cooper has to juggle a bit of both as the search parties unofficial leader. As a group they’re believable and hysterical, the script asks the audience to believe that Helms and Cooper are old friends and they really unearth the requisite acting bond to make such a task reality whilst Galfianakis is superb as the oddball but viciously funny brother of the bride. It’s a team effort in the truest sense and by god is it a band of brothers deserving of a win. Justin Bartha has only a smallish part to play which isn’t a big loss seeing as he is insufferably irritating but Heather Graham is sweet and tender as a stripper the guys meet on their travels. It’s clear that the only performances which really count are the leading lads but Graham flourishes that naturally charming touch that made her a star in the first place, and which has been unforgivably wasted in the direct to DVD market for the last half decade.

The director is Todd Phillips who has made a living creating frat boy style mayhem since 2000’s “Road Trip”. Since then he’s been the creative artist behind intermittently amusing efforts like “Old School” and “Starsky and Hutch” but never has he directed a comedy as gut bustlingly hilarious as “The Hangover”. Phillips shows that with a consistently effective script he can direct great comedy and so applause to Scott Moore and Jon Lucas for giving him the screenplay on which he really proves himself. In writing “The Hangover” Moore and Lucas have twisted and reformed an ancient comedy template, granting it a new lease of life through their innovative jokes and sheer imagination. The dialogue pings away at a merry old rate and some of the twists devised for the trio of halfwits to stumble through are ingenious; it’s hard to believe these are the same men who penned “Four Christmases”. The sheer goof factor and energetic extremes that Moore and Lucas drive the script to is outstanding, sure we’ve seen Vegas set flicks with Strippers……but what about Mike Tyson’s tiger and campy Chinese mobsters? However maybe the greatest achievement is that amidst the delightful comedy going on the writers along with the actors keep us routing for the central figures, by the final third of the feature the audience is really willing them on to find Doug. In many ways it’s the fact that the project manages genuine audience empathy and a stack of surreally brilliant gags which mark it out as such a cinematic banquet.

The movie is filled with crudity (the final credits are to be missed for those easily disgusted) but it’s also absolutely witty and frequently hilarious, only those with no funny bone could possibly find this an unsatisfying motion picture. I was stricken by just how entertaining I found “The Hangover” and despite some rather neat buddy comedies of late (“Pineapple Express” jumped to mind on a few occasions) it’s easily a true genre highlight of the last ten years. There is no point in denying that the film doesn’t tip toe around sheer idiocy but that’s all part of the beauty, so frantic and god damn funny one has to embrace the sheer stupidity of the situation to fully mine the layers of generous laughter beneath. I found “The Hangover” to be a full proof comedy treat and along with “Star Trek” the most endearing popcorn flick of the summer thus far. This is one hangover worth getting.


A review by Daniel Kelly, 2009

Movie Review: Push

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F

Push
2009,111min, PG-13
Director: Paul McGuigan
Writer: David Bourla
Cast includes: Chris Evans, Dakota Fanning, Camilla Belle, Djimon Hounsou, Neil Jackson, Corey Stoll
Release Date: 6th February 2009

“Push” is a revolting sci-fi mash up of confused plotting and leaden performances, a film with barely a merit to its name. Directed by Paul McGuigan the insanely silly and plodding film rips of every major sci-fi hit of the last two years, it’s like a filthy combination of “Heroes” and “Jumper”, without the any of the positive elements that peppered those two extravaganzas. I didn’t utterly hate “Jumper” on its release last year unlike the majority of people, but I really detested “Push”, unlike the aforementioned 2008 film it lacks any fun or frivolity whilst piling on the narrative shortfalls and dizzyingly insipid Mythos. In honesty as soon as the opening credits start with a dense opening narration from Dakota Fanning one becomes aware that the ensuing film will not be bordering on the fringes of reality, but you don’t have to be gritty and routed in the believable to entertain. Sadly “Push “doesn’t adhere to this most basic of cinematic principals and offers up an abhorrent and completely implausible piece of sci-fi hokum.

Recounting the story of “Push” is punishment in its own special way, but I’ll give it a bash for your sake. After seeing his father brutally murdered by a shifty government organization called “division”, Nick Gant (Chris Evans) has since gone into hiding, taking his very special abilities with him. Nick is a “mover” or someone endowed with telekinetic abilities, and represents only a fraction of a selection of humans who hold unique powers across the globe. Others include “Watchers” (can see into possible futures), “Pushers” (can put thoughts in peoples head) and “Bleeders” (emit supersonic sounds that cause others ears to bleed). Since the Nazis attempted to turn these superpower humans into weapons in the 40’s every government since has quietly tried to follow suite, accumulating in “division” a branch in government that specializes in capturing and testing on those with abilities. In a twist of fate Nick meets 13 year old Watcher Cassie (Dakota Fanning) who explains that a former love interest of Nick is being held hostage, along with Cassie’s own mother. As the two begin to a plan to free their loved ones from the governments branch Nick’s ex-lover Kira (Camilla Belle) escapes, after finally being the first subject to survive a lethal injection. The government begins to hunt her as do Cassie and Nick, and upon finding her they finally stumble across a plan that could free them from Division forever.

“Push” is impossible to derive joy from, it’s empty calorie and hyper stylized but without an iota of logic, sense or excitement beneath its glossy surface. It’s an insufferable bore of a motion picture destined to be forgotten and take a few promising careers down with it. Director McGuigan has proved before that he favors style over substance but in “Push” he takes this fetish to a sickening degree, drawing up some nice atmospheric oriental cinematography but never once succeeding in making his characters believable or the story interesting. I suppose one has to draw screenwriter David Bourla into this crime to, if I see a less impressive science fiction screenplay in 2009 than “Push” then we’re it’ll have been a bad year for the genre. The various action moments built up are unremarkable in the extreme, it’s a certainty that “Push” will emerge as one of the cheapest films moonlighting as a blockbuster this year. The effects are basic and the set-pieces formulaic and undersized, both superhero and action fanatics would be advised to put their cinematic bucks someplace else. Granted “Wolverine” was hardly a wonder but at least it had some sizzling action moments. Go see it again rather than rent this tiresome junk on DVD.

Chris Evans is a charismatic and likeable actor and I do hope that at some point he finds a character worth turning into a decent franchise. However his stilted effort as the lead in “Push” ensures it won’t be this screen persona that allows him to start building a career as a handsome Hollywood lead, a combination of bad acting and weak box-office thankfully nailing that prospect into a coffin. Dakota Fanning is lively and credible but all around her there are actors underperforming and lazing for the paycheck, Djimon Hounsou in particular is capable of much better work than the generic and cold turn he provides as the movies chief antagonist. As for poor Camilla Belle, her days are numbered, she’s a pretty face but there are many more beautiful in the business and her acting chops are nonexistent. Wooden and painfully unconvincing she single handedly kills what little energy “Push” offers in her given scenes.

Cribbed from a thousand better sources and boasting an array of dull and jaw smashingly terrible action moments “Push” is a sci-fi turd. The performances are bad but what really stings is the badly paced, wildly unoriginal and flat footed screenplay, never giving the uninspired and needlessly dense premise a chance. Hopefully no further installments in this stupid and frustrating story will be conceived, and before attacking another banal and unmercifully weak idea director McGuigan will stop to think it over. Are better yet just retire.



A review by Daniel Kelly, 2009

8 June 2009

Movie Review: He's Just Not That Into You

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B-

He's Just Not That Into You
2009, 129mins, PG-13
Director: Ken Kwapis
Writer (s): Abby Kohn, Mark Silverstein
Cast includes: Ginnifer Goodwin, Jennifer Aniston, Ben Affleck, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Connelly, Justin Long, Drew Barrymore, Scarlett Johansson
Release Date: 6th February 2009

He’s Just Not That Into You” is in fairness better than the scourge of romantic comedies that bung up multiplexes every year, indeed it’s an improvement over the Hollywood puff piece that’s clearly it’s inspiration, Richard Curtis’s abominably schmaltzy festive flick “Love Actually”. There’s something a little more thoughtful about “He’s Just Not That Into You”, it’s hardly a cerebral work of intelligence or a groundbreaking rom-com in the vein of “When Harry Met Sally” but it’s serviceable and just about emotionally resonant enough to receive a passing recommendation.

The plot is simply to vast to surmise without giving away a spoiler of sorts, but as was the case in the aforementioned “Love Actually” the characters are interconnected and the film explores the way that relationships form, work and in some cases end in Western culture. That may be to credit the project with more than it’s worth, it is after all a fairly ditzy effort with few genuinely insightful suggestions about the human state, but there are moments of admirably sly observation and general warmth that keeps it watchable. Certain strands of the tale are way better than others and certain characters are far more sympathetic. The cast is vast and certain people serve little to no purpose (I’m looking at you Barrymore) but others hit a credibly affecting romantic chord and keep “He’s Just Not That Into You” palatable and indeed occasionally reflective.

The performances and various relationship angles are a mixed bag but the movie finds more hits than misses. Maybe the most pointed and affecting section of the movie focuses on Ginnifer Goodwin as an adorable girl who just has trouble getting follow up dates with guys. She watches the phone like a hawk and strives for that elusive second meeting but never finds it. She finds solace in a barman played by Justin Long who teaches her in the art of reading men, and ultimately explaining why some dudes aren’t digging her. This portion is by far the most rewarding and well developed the production offers, other sections are nearly as good including one involving a married couple (Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Connolly) who are falling apart just as a sultry but earnest “hottie” “ (Scarlett Johansson) makes a move on the male half of the bond. However these more interesting parts do occasionally fall prey to other less stellar elements, for instance who cares if Drew Barrymore is having a MySpace dating crisis as four gay men lurk over her shoulder offering advice.

At over two hours the film is too long but not fatally so, there is just enough quality and heartfelt romance to make it a worthy investment of time. I was a little perplexed at how long director Ken Kwapis takes to play out a slightly stagnant segment in which Jennifer Aniston and Ben Affleck fall out die to his unwillingness to marry, but other than that most of the various strands couldn’t have been played out any faster. Granted Barrymore’s cyber meltdown would have been better left on the cutting room floor, but overall for the various laughs and emotional hurdles to seem natural a stretchy length was needed, but 129 minutes is too far. Chick flick and rom-coms should never numb your ass, that’s like an unwritten rule of cinema.

My favorite performances pretty much fell in line with my preferred dramatic parts of the picture, Goodwin is delightfully preppy and good natured and Justin Long elicits a good onscreen relationship with her. The destination is thoroughly predictable but watching his guru like womanizer and Goodwin’s innocent and endearing character bond over the art of dating is rather delightful. Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Connolly give good game even if their characters aren’t the pictures most likable whilst Affleck and Aniston maintain an air of comedic and emotional composure during their admittedly less stimulating contribution to the picture. Director Ken Kwapis last directed the loathsome and utterly irritating “License to Wed”, this is marked step up from that insufferable farce. “Wed” was spun for weak gags and Robin Williams style camera hogging but “He’s Just Not That Into You” displays a willingness from the director to tread more natural and mature paths. His film is still riddled with flaws (nearly a third of it just doesn’t work for god’s sake) but the elements that combine nicely offer up at least 80 minutes of good romantic fodder, more than “Bride Wars” can boast at any rate.

I didn’t expect much from “He’s Just Not That Into You” and certain parts of its sprawling love story conformed to those low expectations, but in truth more appeals about this film than doesn’t. I never want to hear Drew Barrymore complain about getting booty called over the internet again and certain aspects are decidedly formulaic but the moments that work are what allows this movie to enter the realm of acceptable and occasionally touching. It’s no masterpiece and indeed never strives to be but I was surprisingly into this movie.


A review by Daniel Kelly, 2009

7 June 2009

Land of the Lost flops. Hard!

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“Land of the Lost” has become the summer’s first major box-office casualty (“Terminator Salvation” underperformed but didn’t flop) the Will Ferrell starring comedy blockbuster making a shameful $19 million on opening weekend. Generally a lot of movies outside of the summer season would be contented with those figures but when your budget is $100 million, your leading man is hot property and you have a prime June release……not so much.

The few people who liked the film will then be disappointed to learn a sequel is off the cards. I’ll try and catch this on DVD, a trip to the theater seemingly now a waste of time and money. Hopefully Ferrell can recover, because that's the sort of financial doom that seriously damages a career.

5 June 2009

Movie Review: Terminator Salvation

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B

Terminator Salvation
2009, 115mins, PG-13
Director: McG
Writer (s): John Brancato, Michael Ferris
Cast includes: Christian Bale, Bryce Dallas Howard, Sam Worthington, Anton Yelchin, Moon Bloodgood, Helena Bonham Carter
Release Date: 21st May 2009

If summer blockbusters are meant to be big, brash and full of explosions then “Terminator Salvation” has landed in the correct season because if spectacle equates to box-office gold then this is 24 carat magic. Director McG has composed a wham bam sort of event movie that Michael Bay could take notes on; certainly in terms of pure effects driven aesthetic the upcoming “Transformers Revenge of the Fallen” will have a tough task to upstage this effort. That’s not to say the “Terminator Salvation” is the best offering of the summer so far but for my money it amounts to a solidly crafted and entertaining continuation of the season and its legendary franchise. James Cameron is still king of the robot realm but McG might be a perfectly acceptable prince.

The film deserves credit for working itself so meticulously into the Terminator timeline and for bucking the formula for the series thus far. In terms of a genre this one slots far more comfortably into war than the chase movie template utilized on the previous three outings, McG having forgone intimate and closely knitted tension for something on a far larger and more expansive scale. This is the first picture in which the humans are outnumbered by Terminators, and which the world of Skynet isn’t just an opening slice of prologue or a foreboding whisper of doom. This is a world where the man vs. machine mythos is no longer an avoidable prophecy but a harsh and gritty reality.

The year is 2018 and the war between humanity and Skynet is raging, with the latter’s Terminator filled armies winning the engagement. All around the globe pockets of resistance fight the machines for their lives and the future of humanity. The resistance enjoys a change of fortune when it’s leaders come to the realization that they might have a weapon that can end the war, if operated close to Skynets headquarters the tool might be capable of shutting the machines down long enough for a massive airstrike to annihilate them for good. One of the key figures amongst the humans offers to test it out, the future savior of the mankind, John Connor (Christian Bale). Connor however has an ulterior motive, in line with advice passed on by his mother John is looking for a teenager called Kyle Reese, who will later become Connor’s own father. Reese needs to be kept alive if humanity stands a chance of survival. At the same time Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington) has awoken from a coma, last he remembered he was on death row in 2003 and now he’s been unwittingly plunged into a futuristic apocalypse. He quickly runs into the teenage Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin) and together they set a course to find Connor after hearing one of his radio broadcasts. On route Reese is captured by the Terminators and taken to their concentration camps, leaving Marcus to find John Connor and plan some sort of rescue mission.

In order to stand a chance of following “Terminator Salvation” audiences should be made aware that viewing of at least the first two films is crucial, without prior knowledge of the saga this is a sequel that will simply make no sense. In the way that the recent reboot of “Star Trek” was fully accessible to fans and newcomers alike, “Terminator Salvation” is dependent on your familiarity with the previous installments. Without the necessary backlog of knowledge and mythology, people will find “Terminator Salvation” a narrative nightmare. Those who have dabbled in the Sci-Fi delights of Cameron’s opening pair and the unfairly maligned third film will notice that in terms of formula “Salvation” is vastly different, the chase elements that provided the core for the other movies are absent and “Salvation” has no clear antagonist for the heroes to fight. The villains on show here are the legions of malevolent machines at Skynet’s disposal and not an individual robotic adversary. This is probably one of the weaker elements of “Salvation”, by taking out a central figure of unimaginable power and ferocity some of the dread that made previous installments so exciting and appetizing is removed, the bad guys here are vast in number and certainly nasty but they never generate the all encompassing terror that previous fiends did. “Salvation” is a full frontal war movie never attempting to mimic the style and flow of the opening films, instead building its own identity as the apocalyptic hell oft talked about in the past features, now a fully realised reality.

The performances are decent but constantly upstaged by the viciously entertaining and well shot set-pieces, if ever there was a case of effects trumping actors then “Terminator Salvation” stands a good chance of being considered for the honor. Bale makes for a gruff and satisfyingly empowering John Connor, the performance is totally one note but in turn the actor’s screen presence keeps it in the realms of credible. Worthington’s interpretation of the confused and mysterious Marcus has more depth and ultimately resonates with the audience to a more emotional degree. For two thirds of the feature Marcus is an utter enigma and the actor does a good job of maintaining the aura of unknown, whilst consistently engaging on a human level. Playing Reese in his teenage years Yelchin does a good job of channeling Michael Biehn who portrayed him in the 1984 original. After being one of the few problems in the recent “Star Trek” Yelchin curries a little of his reputation back with “Salvation”, his performance actually fully formed rather than an irritating cartoon style display.

The two female players fare the worst, Moon Bloodgood is her own destruction as a potential love interest for Marcus, her mediocre acting the only reason why she fails at cooking up a potentially interesting entity. On the other hand Bryce Dallas Howard is limited as John Connor’s pregnant spouse, the screenplay allowing the talented actress very little to work with. Following “Spider-Man 3” this is the second time the actress has stumbled into a big Hollywood production that thoroughly underutilizes her abilities.

The movie looks terrific, a combination of eye popping effects and masterful cinematography ensure that “Terminator Salvation” is seasonal eye candy of the most welcome kind. Director McG has conjured up a bleak and nihilistic atmosphere and completes a series of superb set-pieces to fill out his world. The action in “Terminator Salvation” is really special, virtually every big bombastic moment captures the audience’s attention and the movie rarely sinks into lazy and expensive genre conformity. At times it almost seems like the director is actually slipping slightly closer to a massive scale “Transformers” style of action movie, though admirably he avoids the current craze of shaky-cam shooting that has plagued multiplexes for the last 18 months or so. I wouldn’t go as far to say that the picture offers anything iconic in terms of set-piece but in the moment they’re really enjoyable and nothing short of visually lavish. Due to a PG-13 certificate the picture is less hard edged than its predecessors, but the carnage on screen remains aggressive enough to thrill without bloodshead. The movie was made in the memory of FX guru Stan Winston, and in truth with the exceptional use of CGI and digitals on show, it’s a fitting tribute.

There is a logical debate that “Terminator Salvation” is more about the technical aspects than the characters, ironically the picture could be very much a case of machine over man. However whilst the well crafted action beats are probably a notch above any character of actor on display it’s only fair to acknowledge that “Terminator Salvation” is skillfully worked into the universe and harbors clear reverence for the material from the start. Fans will notice that composer Danny Elfman works the legendary original music in from time to time and the amount of wink and nudge references to the previous installments is off the charts. We are also treated to a CGI reincarnation of a particular figure long associated with this series but absent on this outing, you can probably guess who, but this reviewer certainly isn’t going to confirm those suspicions. This a film made by fans for the fans, and both camps should be pleased with the final product.

“Terminator Salvation” has its faults and the lock down on non-devotees is bound to perturb a few but overall this is an agreeable and well intentioned blockbuster that stumps up the booming goods. How many more installments of this franchise we’ll have to stomach is unknown, and of course it will have to reach a point where some young slickster farts all over the beloved enterprise. However despite what many are expecting, it’s not going to be McG’s fourth entry which is guilty of such vile cinematic crimes. “Terminator Salvation” is an enjoyable continuation of the franchise and a mighty fine way to enjoy a summer evening. I didn’t expect to be saying it, but this is a sequel that actually adds a little more to the classics it follows even if it doesn’t reach their levels of grandiose sci-fi joy.



A review by Daniel Kelly, 2009

4 June 2009

John Moore to direct "Kidnap".

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Irishman John Moore (“The Omen”, “Max Payne”) is being touted to direct “Kidnap” the latest revenge movie entering pre-production, this time under the guidance of Fox Searchlight. The project will center around a mother whose child is kidnapped at the local mall, and will follow her attempts to get him back and presumably enact vengeance on the abductors. Lorenzo di Bonaventura who produced “Transformers” and its upcoming sequel is set to fulfill the same duties on this one, but little else is known at this point.

I’m a fan of Moore’s and after the underrated “Max Payne” would rather he steered away from revenge sagas, and got on with adapting “The Book of Lost Things” an adaptation of John Connolly’s fine fantasy novel of the same name, and with which he has now been attached for nearly two years. Still if he can bring his visual pang and ability to conduct good action and moments of tension then I suppose “Kidnap” could be decent. Plus, with the like of “Taken” having made abduction movies pretty popular at the moment this could turn good coin, and Moore might get better financing for “The Book of Lost Things” in the long run.

I’ll keep you updated on this one.