30 July 2009

Danland at the Trailer Park #1 - Jurassic Park (1993)

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A new segment where I'll post great trailers from years gone by:

Week 1 - Jurassic Park (1993)


Movie Review: Marley & Me

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D+

Marley & Me
2008, 115mins, PG-13
Director: David Frankel
Writer (s): Scott Frank, Don Roos, John Grogan (novel)
Cast includes: Owen Wilson, Jennifer Aniston, Alan Arkin, Eric Dane, Kathleen Turner
Release Date: 25th December 2008

Do you love dogs? Do you own a dog? If the answer to both those questions is yes than go spend time with your pooch rather than watch “Marley & Me”, an overcooked and occasionally boring drama set around one couples growth due to their troublesome mutt. It’s not an offensively bad picture and does boast characters that you grow to empathise with but ultimately the story is to drab and the conclusion to emotionally manipulative for a recommendation to be on the cards. The best bits all involve doggy mayhem and canine lovers pining to see this film could probably experience the same fun with their own furry little chum, minus any over zealous dollops of tiresome drama stacked around it.

John Grogan (Owen Wilson) and Jennifer Grogan (Jennifer Aniston) are a pair of newlywed journalists looking to start a bright and blissful life together. They get a new house, they both get new jobs but whilst Jennifer pines for a baby, John doesn’t yet feel ready. In a tactical manoeuvre he gets her a puppy in the hope that it will sate her appetite for youngsters but little does he know that said dog will become a major part of their future lives. The film moves through the various job switches, the romantic turmoil and the growing family that the Grogan’s endure whilst always keeping an eye on the pesky but loveable canine of the title.

Both Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson do good work in “Marley & Me”, conjuring up a palatable and believable dynamic that translates nicely into an onscreen relationship. The film is told mostly from the perspective of John (it’s on the real John Grogan’s newspaper columns that the film is based) and Wilson does a slap-up job of creating a down to earth and nice guy who the audience will happily deal with. Aniston gets marginally less time to strut her stuff and thus the interpretation of Jennifer isn’t quite as developed or genial as that of John but ultimately the actress’s perseverance and natural charisma comes through to rescue the character. Indeed whilst watching “Marley & Me” I couldn’t help but feel both Aniston and Wilson should be ploughing deeper and more purposeful frontiers, this patchy fairytale more than a little beneath their abilities.

The screenplay for “Marley & Me” works around the slice of life style columns that John starts to pen and uses them as a template for a timeline. It’s hard to tell just how many years “Marley & Me” traverses but it’s at least a decade and probably more, a hard pitch to sell in 115 minutes. As a result instead of naturally building and gracefully developing onscreen the story jerks along in a forced and unnatural way, building Marley into a decent character but in turn sacrificing some bountiful plot exploration or development of supporting players. It’s focal to the movies success that the dog should be a 3-D entity by the end and on those grounds the filmmakers succeed but sadly at the expense of several more interesting plot points and engaging ideas. Maybe this isn’t the filmmakers fault but rather that of the source text, could it be that Grogan’s little memoirs just shouldn’t have been adapted into film? It’s quite likely that director Frankel has made the best “Marley & Me” possible, maybe the story of this roguish little puppy just wasn’t meant to inhabit cinema screens for nearly two hours. Whatever the case the adaptation is rough and fully stale by the halfway point.

Technically the film looks good and the various dogs playing Marley do a great job but there is no getting around the fact the Grogan’s story just doesn’t play out well onscreen. Frankel and co. have done themselves no favours by letting it reach such an elaborate length, something this fluffy really ought to be at least 20 minutes shorter than “Marley & Me”. Certainly Aniston and Wilson do fine jobs and there are moments where the movie looks to be taking interesting detours away from Marley and his shenanigans but ultimately the filmmakers are incapable of keeping the focus detached from the puppy for to long. Things aren’t helped by the weepy ending, intended to have people mowing through hankies, it actually bores and feels more than a little emotionally manipulative and artistically lazy. It would be nice to say I found “Marley & Me” the delightful cinematic experience that so many others are reporting but ultimately it’s to flawed and cack-handed to warrant such a tip of the hat.



A review by Daniel Kelly, 2009

28 July 2009

Movie Review: Land of the Lost

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B-

Land of the Lost
2009, 101mins, PG-13
Director: Brad Silberling
Writer (s): Chris Henchy, Dennis McNicholas,
Cast includes: Will Ferrell, Danny McBride, Anna Friel, Jorma Taccone, John Boylan
Release Date: 5th June 2009

Land of the Lost” has been victim to some hefty and venomous criticisms since release, the movie’s epic box-office failure only later confirming it as a hardcore dud. Based on a 1970’s kiddie adventure show of the same name, “Land of the Lost” is no classic but its mixture of effects wizardry, visual creativeness and comedic assurance are admirable and thus it’s hard to fathom where all the hate is coming from. The movie runs out of creative juices before the unsatisfying finish and some tit bits seem robbed from better pictures but overall I found “Land of the Lost” an affable slice of summer escapism, nicely dressed up in a generous $100 million budget.

Dr. Rick Marshall (Will Ferrell) is the laughing stock of the science world, his theories involving “time warps” and “parallel dimensions” having isolated him to the level of part time school teacher. However a long time fan named Holly (Anna Friel) visits Marshall in the hope that he will give his ideas one last chance and so in a final bid to prove himself Marshall takes out on a final field test of his concepts with Holly and redneck Will (Danny McBride). The trio are transported back to a different dimension just as Marshall anticipated, one filled with weird creatures and remnants of many lost civilizations. They befriend a primate like creature called Chaka (Jorma Taccone) but in contrast Marshall angers the resident T-Rex, causing the animal to relentlessly pursue our heroes across the map. However the real problem is getting home an outcome only possible with the co-operation of Enik (John Boylan) the exiled leader of the lizard like creatures known as Sleestak.

“Land of the Lost” is a silly film but not so juvenile or immature as to be unappealing. Your reaction to the picture will no doubt ride in line with your feelings towards leading man Ferrell, if his style of buffoonery and beyond random riffing doesn’t do it for you, then this is an enterprise best left avoided. For me Ferrell is one of the top comedic actors in Hollywood and so his participation is a bona fide plus, even if he doesn’t attempt anything particularly new or inventive. He manages to play solidly to man-child type with occasionally hysterical results but for a comedy mind as fertile as Ferrell’s it sometimes seems likes he’s on autopilot. The ingenious improvisation still hits the spot but ultimately Rick Marshall is just Ron Burgundy with a little added Steve Irwin. Danny McBride matches Ferrell pound for pound in this wacked out laugh chase whilst Anna Friel is as dashing and genial as ever in the form of Marshall’s unlikely love interest. The cast are a big reason why I warmed to “Land of the Lost”, Jorma Taccone’s Chaka is disappointing, but the others concoct a nice chemistry and offer solid footing for the multi million dollar shenanigans.

Brad Silberling who is responsible for the like of “Casper” and “A Series of Unfortunate Events” doesn’t really display a knack for directing straight forward comedy but now is apparently very comfortable in the realms of CGI and lavish visuals. The dimension conjured up in “Land of the Lost” is a delicious piece of eye candy, all tripped out imagery and random assortments of past civilizations. “Land of the Lost” is a pretty goofy and light hearted summer effort and so any sort of bleak or morbid atmosphere is rightfully neglected in favour of cherry-bomb set-pieces and a bubbly colour palette. The dinosaurs, in particular “Grumpy the T-Rex, are fantastically rendered whilst a throwback to the original show is evident in the fact the Sleestak are still clearly men in rubber suits. I was mightily impressed with Silberling’s visual composition in “Land of the Lost”, the style and occasional references at least are undeniably well judged additions to this energetic cocktail.

The script brings the laughs with reasonable success but sadly the narrative can’t sustain the same level. The story is thin from start to finish but toward the end it descends into a distracting and unsure mess, predictable and hastily jumbled together. Given the movies simple aims of entertaining the audience I can forgive the so-so plotting in the first two segments, delicious improvisation and some cool Dinosaur based sequences keeping the momentum at a smoking high. However come the finish the film starts to not only recycle other movies in a nervous mash-up of a conclusion but also a few ideas of its own. It’s sad that the final fifteen minutes of “Land of the Lost” fall into such joyless territory but sadly that seems to have been the sacrifice for adapting the questionable TV product in the first place. Plus the Sleestak subplot is considerably less enjoyable than the other elements of the movie yet inevitably that’s where the screenplay ends up focusing most of its energy.

“Land of the Lost” is far from great filmmaking and probably won’t warrant much in the way of repeat viewings but for most of its runtime there are comedic and blockbusting positives to be mined. The picture has been rightfully criticised for bringing a little too much sexual content and innuendo to the family feature table and maybe it’s this slight lapse in tonal balance which can be accredited with the film’s disappointing box-office receipts. None the less I do hope “Land of the Lost” finds a little more love on DVD because as a Friday night rental it’s definitely an agreeable and borderline recommended property.



A review by Daniel Kelly, 2009

26 July 2009

Retro Review: A Simple Plan (1998)

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A-

A Simple Plan
1998, 123mins, R
Director: Sam Raimi
Writer: Scott. B . Smith
Cast includes: Bill Paxton, Bridget Fonda, Billy Bob Thornton, Gary Cole, Brent Briscoe
Release Date: 11th December 1998 (limited)


“A Simple Plan” is an oft forgotten 90’s thriller that amidst its directors plethora of cult favourites tends to be overlooked by the cineastes of the world. Well structured and acted with some superb writing “A Simple Plan” is deserving of higher remembrance than time has granted, it could sit very happily alongside “Evil Dead”, “Spider-Man” or this years “Drag Me to Hell” as a Raimi classic but seems to have been hazed out of cinematic memory over the past 11 years. No matter, home entertainment ensures that underappreciated gems such as this are always open for rediscovery and this startlingly good thriller is a film I heartily recommend you reacquaint yourself with.

Hank (Bill Paxton) is the mild mannered but respected manager of the local Hardware store; he has a pregnant and loving wife, comfortable amounts of money and ultimately the peace of mind that around him are a strong circle of reliable friends. One day Hank, his well meaning but dim witted brother Jacob (Billy Bob Thornton) and buddy Lou (Brent Briscoe) uncover the wreckage of a plane and inside find a gym bag with over $4 million stashed inside. Hank immediately thinks to contact the authorities but Jacob and Lou suggest the trio divide it up and each become fabulously wealthy, insinuating that it’s likely the product of drugs anyhow. A truce is reached in that Hank will hold onto the money until spring and if nothing is said once the plane is uncovered, then they can take their respective shares. However things quickly turn nasty as seeds of doubt start to grow in each of their heads and eventually things reach a taut climax featuring deceit, treachery and even murder.

The one compliant that can be made of “A Simple Plan” is big enough from allowing it to attain the status of true masterwork but far from large enough for it to be reduced to anything approaching average. The first hour is accomplished filmmaking in every sense and the final 40 minutes regain the momentum, it’s just the 20 minutes in-between feel a little flaccid and ponderous. It’s not that this stretch doesn’t serve a purpose; it puts forward some extra character motivation and vital plot mechanics but ultimately it’s just not as supremely tense as what comes before and after. It’s possible that via more stringent editing this wouldn’t be such a notable scratch on an otherwise immaculate surface, certainly had it been shaved to fifteen minutes it might have been minor enough to let “A Simple Plan” truly become a wondrous dollop of movie magic, audiences having to settle for merely “very good” instead.

The performances are terrific, each character serves an important function within the movie and each actor applies a skilled touch to make them work. Paxton is sympathetic and entirely believable as the lead, his deterioration as the story plays out is measured and avoids any sort of exaggerated camp that even the best actors can fall victim to. He engages the audiences and thanks in large part to Scott. B Smith’s writing forges genuine and interesting relationships with the other characters. Even as his actions become increasingly motivated by greed and clouded by ill judgement the audience likes Hank and can identify with the feelings such a scenario conjures within the average person. He’s a good man who under foolish pretences is made to do bad things. Billy Bob Thornton is nicely restrained as Hank’s slow minded brother, Raimi keeps things under check and Thornton in an understated way might deliver the movie’s best performance as a consequence. His bond with Paxton is emotionally viable and throughout the character of Jacob offers some interesting questions through his naivety and innocence, adding an extra layer of depth to “A Simple Plan”. Bridget Fonda is decent as Hank’s wife corrupted by the possibility of a fortune laden future whilst Briscoe carries off the part of the drunken buddy with competency and relative ease.

The plot is serpentine in how naturally and hypnotically it twists and weaves, the first hour and closing segment are text-book in their execution of quietly chilling and disturbing thrills. It helps massively that we’re given a credible roster of good characterisations and bountiful performances to engage with but Raimi and his writer deserve kudos for building up such a well fortified and clever example of suspense and mystery. Anyone doubting Riami’s ability to wring intrigue and menace from a story this full of it would be a fool, the director not disappointing as he mines fear from the uncertain and eerie foreboding with his stark visuals and imagery. Like the best movies “A Simple Plan” works the snow covered landscape and assortment of black crows that inhabit the picture into entities, morphing them into harbingers of dread on appearance.

There are alot of messages that “A Simple Plan” exhibits and multiple themes it explores, not least that anything inherently “simple” rarely is and that when things seem “to good to be true” they likely are. The disintegration of the initially wholesome characters also brazenly carries a message regarding the corruptive powers of money and how in the race to achieve it humans quickly turn distrustful and nasty. Taking these ideas and well rounded characters “A Simple Plan” forms into an enrapturing thriller that is made all the more memorable via a dark and suitably bleak conclusion. The movie as a whole has a fairly unpleasant edge but the finish is nihilistic and unrelenting in ways that even the most cynical viewers are unlikely to expect.

One hopes that in the future this movie gets the appreciation and attention it truly deserves, whilst not without fault Raimi’s effort is far more advanced and artistically motivated than 99% of mainstream thrillers and a fair testament to its director’s skill. It might never be regarded as a true classic and maybe given a patchy 20 minutes at it’s centre that’s only fair, but it would simply be a shame if this superior work of cinema was to be forgotten and overlooked by film fans in generations to come.


A review by Daniel Kelly, 2009

24 July 2009

Movie Review: How to Lose Friends and Alienate People

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B-

How To Lose Friends and Alienate People
2008, 110mins, R
Director: Robert .B. Weide
Writer (s): Peter Straughan, Toby Young (novel)
Cast includes: Simon Pegg, Kirsten Dunst, Jeff Bridges, Megan Fox, Danny Huston, Gillian Anderson
Release Date: 3rd October 2008

Based on the 2001 memoir of the same name by British journalist Toby Young, “How To Lose Friends and Alienate People” is a film that just can’t quite decide what it wants to be. As a whole is still adds up to a reasonably entertaining way to spend a few hours but had its script been a little clearer about the movies core intentions then we might have a more balanced motion picture on our hands. At times director Robert Weide is going for “The Devil Wears Prada” style satire and that’s where the movie is at its best, however on more than a few occasions he seems more determined to craft a Rom-Com thus compromising much of the edge that the darker parody elements encourage.

Sidney Young (Simon Pegg) has been obsessed with celebrity culture all his life, determined from the youngest of ages to break into the heaven that he considers Hollywood. One day after a colorful infiltration of the BAFTA’S Sidney receives a call from Clayton Harding (Jeff Bridges) the head of Sharpe’s magazine one of America’s top celebrity fuelled publications. Harding wants to give Sidney a run at a spot on the magazine which he promptly accepts, and is placed under the care of Lawrence Maddox (Danny Huston) and Alison Olsen (Kirsten Dunst) in the magazine’s “I Spy” segment. Both take an instant dislike to his blunt and boyish style of communication but after a time he finds himself warming to Alison who at the same time is interested only in Lawrence, an entity who Sidney quickly comes to hate. To make up for this apparently lost cause he takes an interest in Sophie Maes (Megan Fox) a young and hot new actress who Sharpe’s is working hard with in order to truly kick start her career. As Sidney becomes closer to the cute but ultimately dimwitted young thespian he begins to wonder if it’s really Sophie Mae’s whose heart he wants to win.

Those looking for tons of belly laughs probably won’t be satisfied by “How to Lose Friends and Alienate People”, the film opting for a far more restrained and at times subtle sense of comedy. There is a fair bit of slapstick and as might be becoming mandatory for 2008 comedy movies a clear penis shot, but that’s not the area which director Robert Weide is most interested in mining. For the first half at least the movie aims totally for the throat of the magazine world and provides a very clever window in at it, but come the second section the picture loses its teeth in favor of a rather weak heart. The idea to give the movie a romantic edge isn’t an awful one but director Robert Weide lets the last half of his movie become consumed with it, leaving both the satire and a consistent tone lying in his wake.


The cast are all as good as the character’s with which they’ve been coupled, those who aren’t written as well don’t give great performances and more fortunately the same applies Vice Versa. As Sidney Pegg is a good choice hitting the required bases in presenting a somewhat obnoxious character who is still fairly likeable. Fans of the book may be disappointed in seeing a lead man a good deal nicer than that featured in its pages but for the purposes of cinema an agreeable lead is key and so in casting Pegg, Weide has made the right choice. Kirsten Dunst’s Alison is a drab and somewhat stock character and so the actress herself comes away having given one of the films less convincing turns. To call it bad acting on Dunst’s part would be cruel, the problem is the moody and boring nature of the character rather than the actress’s ability. Faring much better is Megan Fox who gets quite possibly the two funniest moments in the movie, and definitely it’s sexiest. The role isn’t as emotionally charged as that of Alison but the Sophie character needs to bring solid comic ability and a slight sympathy, both of which Fox does with a surprising amount of ease. Her chemistry with Pegg it also has to be said is defiantly more watchable than that projected by Dunst. Jeff Bridges and Danny Huston are both solid but underused, whilst Gillian Anderson eats up the screen on any occasion when she’s on it. Overall these high profile casts have done well, and the movies faults lie in other areas.

The satirical elements easily provide the film with at least 10 good laughs and chuckles, and the easy flowing nature of the production keeps everything fairly entertaining. The movie runs at a slightly longer than usual 110 minutes but is paced in such a way that it feels more like the average 90, giving it a brisk and light feel that at least keep things on the enjoyable side of the spectrum. The film boasts a pretty cool soundtrack which is exploited as often as possible and what it must be said to fairly good effect. A nice mix of classical and modern day themes the movie is for the most part a pleasure for the ears to behold.

The key problem is the dramatic and distracting shifts in tone and ideals, one moment content to be a pure and often successful parody then the next a far less convincing and far more conventional Rom-Com. As I said above giving the film a romantic subplot isn’t a bad idea but sadly this one story strand quickly becomes the whole story, leaving behind the tale of one man’s consistent cock ups after fluking his way to the top of the ladder. The cinematography is pretty light but maybe a little bland and one might hope to see a little more visual ambition from Weide in future adventures behind the camera.

As a multiplex motion picture “How To Lose Friends And Alienate People” should work as fairly well crafted popcorn entertainment and offer up enough witty observations and laughs to be worth the price of admission. The cast is appealing and the mood lightweight and thus standard Saturday night punters will likely find it a step-up from the usual fare. The problems are all in it’s structure and the occasional weak slice of slapstick, but given the flaws the public is usually willing to put up with this shouldn’t prevent “How To Lose Friends and Alienate People” from offering up a good time.

A review by Daniel Kelly, 2009

22 July 2009

Movie Review: The Proposal

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D+

The Proposal
2009, 108mins, PG-13
Director: Anne Fletcher
Writer: Peter Chiarelli
Cast includes: Sandra Bullock, Ryan Reynolds, Craig. T. Nelson, Malin Akerman, Betty White, Mary Steenburgen
Release Date: 19th June 2009

If imitation is the highest form of flattery then the rom-com genre should be blushing, it’s latest addition “The Proposal” sticking so close to formula that it ought to be a case of cinematic identity theft. Directed by Anne Fletcher “The Proposal” is instantly on shaky creative grounds, her less than stunning résumé including atrocious teen romance “Step Up” and last years fetid Katherine Heigl vehicle “27 Dresses”. I wouldn’t say that amidst that group of clunkers “The Proposal” represents a nadir but it’s still a roughly cut picture with little to recommend it. Certainly whilst it’s not her worst “The Proposal” won’t look to out of place in Fletcher’s noxious back- catalogue.

Margaret Tate (Sandra Bullock) is a frosty and career driven book publicist who runs her hopeful but downtrodden assistant Andrew (Ryan Reynolds) mad with tasks and errands. Finding that her US Citizenship has been declined Margaret is faced with being deported back to her native Canada and thus losing her shining job and undoing years of hardnosed work in the process. In order to stay she blackmails Andrew into a sham marriage and so in order to appease the federal investigating body they take off to see Andrew’s family in Alaska. There preparations are made for the couples happy day, Andrew’s mother and grandmother (Mary Steenburgen, Betty White) elated at the thought of Andrew getting hitched but his father (Craig. T. Nelson) is considerably more suspicious of the circumstances.

Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds make a decent screen couple but the movie they’ve ended up in just can’t make use of their adequate chemistry, “The Proposal” to torn up on genre conventions and lazy humour to generate any semblance of romantic integrity. Too much of “The Proposal” is familiar and boring for me to recommend it as light summer fun, by the 40 minute mark the picture has become bogged in tedium and it never recovers. Maybe had a better director been in charge of proceedings this might not have been such a drag but sadly Fletcher’s incompetence renders “The Proposal” a lifeless dullard of a movie.

Bullock and Reynolds are game and do put in respectable amounts of effort but the script gives up early leaving them with only occasional sparks of improvisation to work with. The characters presented in Pete Chiarelli’s screenplay are musty cardboard cut outs of personalities we’ve seen many times before but Bullock and Reynolds work hard enough to the point they almost seem fresh.....almost. The bond between the two is believable and some of the banter between them witty but ultimately that’s as far as praise for “The Proposal” goes. The rest of the cast might as well not be there, Steenburgen and Nelson get little in the way of proper dramatic moments and Betty White is crudely deployed as the kooky comedy element. White’s not as filthy mouthed as we’ve seen her in recent years but Fletcher still uses the elderly actress in the same loudmouthed and stale fashion filmmakers have been for over a decade.

The romance in “The Proposal” reaches its climactic stage unnaturally fast, leaving the audience to work through a totally predictable “will he, won’t she” dilemma for the majority of the film. Nothing ever seems dicey or anyone in real trouble during “The Proposal” meaning moments of emotional trauma and government evasion feel unnecessary and slow. The movie attempts to give things an extra dimensionality about halfway through via a frank and supposedly revealing bedtime discussion between Margaret and Andrew but in truth it only goes to highlight how underdeveloped the plotline and characters are. The thin nature of the characters and thoroughly predictable nature of the story mean that not once whilst watching will audiences feel that anything is in the hands of fate, the outcome is set in stone from the opening moment.

The movie is consistently cheerful but sadly its optimism isn’t matched in its success rate with jokes. Laughter is scarce throughout and much of the tom foolery on show feels old hat and recycled. The number of times I so much as giggled couldn’t have exceeded the rather tepid total of four and the rest of my screening seemed to be enduring the same largely silent response. “The Proposal” is an incredibly familiar story made by borderline talentless filmmakers who in the process of making this uninspired confection wasted a good cast. It’s bland and unimaginative and whilst I doubt “The Proposal” is bad enough to be remembered amongst the genre’s biggest offenders, rom-com enthusiasts are guaranteed to feel the disappointing sting of having seen it all before in the past, only done better.


A review by Daniel Kelly, 2009

19 July 2009

Movie Review: Management

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D

Management
2009, 94mins, R
Director: Stephen Belber
Writer: Stephen Belber
Cast includes: Steve Zahn, Jennifer Aniston, Woody Harrelson, Fred Ward, Margo Martindale
Release Date: 15th May 2009

Stephen Belber’s “Management” is a particularly disappointing romantic comedy in that it contains two talented leads but fails to spark love or laughter in it’s overdrawn 94 minutes. The film has been consistently marketed as a standard rom-com but after subjecting myself to Belber’s quirky and creepy view on the genre it’s safe to say that isn’t the case. I like a filmmaker who tries to do something different but not when the results are so objectionable and tedious, this is a cinematic oddity that should have stayed off screens altogether.

Mike (Steve Zahn) is a lonely 30-something working in his parent’s motel, grinding through his daily routine with a reliable but unenthusiastic approach. When Sue (Jennifer Aniston) a businesswoman checks in for two nights, Mike takes a chance and brings her a complimentary bottle of champagne. Out of both pity and her own sense of desperation Sue lets him touch her butt before later indulging in a little bit of laundry room hanky-panky, leaving Mike totally infatuated. Sue leaves but after a few days Mike decides to pursue who he now believes to be his true love but problems arise when it transpires Sue is engaged to her yogurt mogul ex-boyfriend (Woody Harrelson). Mike has to prove that his energetic and unshakable devotion is the love Sue needs rather than the security and future that her current partner can offer.

I consider myself both a modest fan of Zahn and Aniston but in “Management” the pair are little better than awful. Belber’s unattractive character conception doesn’t help matters but the performances on offer are shallow and unsympathetic whilst any chemistry between Aniston and Zahn is decidedly lukewarm. A good romantic comedy requires the love struck leads to spark some sort of realistic or magnetic connection but “Management” revolves around an utter damp squib of an emotional rollercoaster, creepier than cute and colder than ice. The opening of the romance is sordid and unbelievable, who after all would reward Norman Bates style activities with a free pass in a laundry room? The answer is sadly unappealing and unbelievable characters who the audience doesn’t feel for at all.

Belber’s desire to add layer upon layer of bizarre quirk is more a weakness than a strength, it’s something different but even the most well worn of rom-com templates is more effective than a fresh but utterly misfiring style of filmmaking. Thus one ponders if in his own egotistical quest for indie cred Belber has rendered the film awful, I certainly couldn’t connect on a romantic or comedic level with this monstrosity. The jokes are flat and more often than not cloyingly weird plus the film has a fixation with behinds that might make even the most immature big screen jester blush. A kind word should be spared for Woody Harrelson who is scarcely sighted but admittedly funny as Aniston’s beau but overall this is a mirthless experience.

The film was shot on a miniscule budget and so it’s failings as both a love story and laugh picture are only compounded by its technically abhorrent look. Granted had this been a lively and sweet fairytale I might have forgiven such superficial trespasses but ultimately in a bid to find something to like one ends up noticing the nasty visuals. Belber has managed to draw this story out to 94 minutes when surely it would operate better as a twenty minute short; indeed in that format this kooky little number might even have had a chance off success. However as a feature length piece this is an unfortunate offering which squanders both talent and time at an alarmingly wasteful rate.


A review by Daniel Kelly, 2009

18 July 2009

Movie Review: Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince

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A-

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince
2009, 153mins, PG
Director: David Yates
Writer (s): Steven Kloves, J.K Rowling (novel)
Cast includes: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Michael Gambon, Jim Broadbent, Tom Felton, Alan Rickman, Helena Bonham Carter
Release Date: 15th July 2009


The Harry Potter franchise is amongst the most successful in cinema history. Whenever the terms “Dumbledore”, “Quidditch” or “Muggle” are associated with a feature audiences’ flock to it with enthusiasm and reckless abandonment, quality is only a small factor in buying into high octane film frenzy with Harry and company. The previous five entries have been of variable value or worth, the early Chris Columbus helmed efforts where riddled with lush visuals but failed on the more subtle nuisances of performance and tight narrative yet the like of 2004’s “The Prisoner of Azkaban” have flown with storytelling authority and fantasy joy. Now the sixth instalment is in theatres directed by David Yates who oversaw 2007’s enjoyable but uneven “Order of the Phoenix” a film that perhaps suffered slightly from its helmers lack of blockbusting exposure. Thankfully it looks like the initial case of the shakes were all part of Yates growing into the mega budget process for with “Half Blood Prince” he has delivered what could very probably end up as the Summer’s most assured and gratifying high profile experience.

“Half Blood Prince” combines a plethora of subplots and themes into an exciting and highly rewarding whole, hitting the fantasy and human aspects that turned Rowling’s books into sensations with acute and skilled filmmaking prowess. Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) are now entering their sixth year at Hogwarts school of Witchcraft and Wizardry but much has changed since they first put foot in its spectacular halls. The Dark Lord Voldemort is growing ever stronger and his minions ever more numerous turning the world of magic into a dark and dangerous place. Harry now accepted as “The Chosen One” is entrusted by Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) to befriend new teacher Horace Slughorn (Jim Broadbent) so that a vital memory might be extracted from his mind. Slughorn it seems once had a conversation with the young Voldemort but the memory that contains said interfacing has seemingly been tampered with yet its recovery is vital in the battle against evil. Elsewhere Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton) is seeking revenge over Harry for his father’s imprisonment and Voldemort’s servants led by the crazed Bellatrix Lestrange (Helena Bonham Carter) are running rampant and causing death and chaos in both the Magical and Muggle communities. On a more personal note romance starts to brew between the young leads, Harry starts to feel for Ron’s sister Ginny (Bonnie Wright) whilst Hermione pines after an unwitting Ron.

Up to this point I had reservations concerning Radcliffe, Grint and Watson but their performances here show that all three have matured into accomplished young thespians. Radcliffe manages to really rack up the empathy and sense of intensity as Harry whilst also displaying for the first time a genuinely effective comedic bent. In previous instalments Radcliffe has been guilty of seeming a little removed and wooden but here he is always alert and believable; this is certainly his best turn in the saga to date. Grint and Watson are also giving their magnum opus Potter performances in “Half Blood Prince”, Grint not as irritating as usual and Watson managing to channel a remarkably high quality stream of emotional conviction throughout. The chemistry is now bubbly and realistic between the trio, they seem like good friends and it pays of in their close and endearing onscreen connection.

The Potter series is filled with talented actors and actresses the latest addition being Jim Broadbent as Slughorn. Broadbent is mostly deployed as comic relief but when “Half Blood Prince” requires it he amps up the acting to a heartfelt and deliciously serious level. Michael Gambon is once again excellent as Dumbledore as is Alan Rickman as the ever sinister teacher Snape. Tom Felton who has played Harry’s junior nemesis Malfoy in previous efforts with a cartoon smirk and cocksure acidity is finally rounded off as a proper character, the young actor proving his chops when being given something of substance to work with. Helena Bonham Carter is given only a few fleeting moment to strut her stuff but she positively steals every scene she’s in as the manic Bellatrix, a terrific Darth Vader style accomplice to Voldemort’s Emperor.

From a dramatic stand point “Half Blood Prince” is gripping from start to finish, the well played performances gelling superbly with Steve Kloves majestically layered and emotionally rewarding screenplay. Those expecting summer thrills certainly won’t be disappointed either, the CGI isn’t quite in summer 2009’s top tier but the way in which Yates attacks his set-pieces is joyous. Yates relies on good old fashioned suspense and character investment to keep his picture at a heart pounding rate of excitement, infusing generous dollops of magic and effects wizardry to keep the scale at a seasonal high. Summer movies are meant to be big and Yates understands that but what really makes “Half Blood Prince” such a fantastic popcorn venture is it’s ability to make us care for the characters in the moments of tension and digital laden chaos. Amidst the action we are also offered some genuinely touching characterizations and a slate of teen romances which enrapture rather than repel, Kloves clearly remembering with insight large chunks of his pubescent years.

Comic relief is applied to the perfect degree, enough to provide a chuckle when needed but not so much as to undermine the dark tone that engulfs proceedings. Of the Potter adventures this is surely a candidate for bleakest and most nihilistic; certainly the cheery idiocy of Columbus opening gambits feels distant and removed from this cruel and unrelenting universe. Yates uses cinematography wonderfully to sculpt the desperate mood and at times his eye for visual trickery is remarkable. It’s hard to believe that prior to directing “Order of the Phoenix” two years ago Yeats only credits where on TV, here he has the brash confidence and flair of a man twenty years in the big screen business. At times he also manages to wring the sort of high class PG terror one would associate with Steven Spielberg. A sequence involving a game of cat and mouse in a corn field is nail biting whilst several instances of twisted and demonic villainy are brutally effective in getting the blood pumping.

The movie is over two and half hours and thus requests a considerable time investment but one that is surely worth it. Some instances are a little slower than others but ultimately I was never bored whilst watching “Half Blood Prince”, indeed most of the running was spend in a daze of engrossed happiness and cinematic awe. It’s a rarity when a film can blend humanity and scale with fantastic results and ultimately it’s that which made “Half Blood Prince” such a delightful summer excursion.


A review by Daniel Kelly, 2009

14 July 2009

Movie Review: Bruno

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B

Bruno
2009, 82mins, R
Director: Larry Charles
Writer (s): Sacha Baron Cohen, Anthony Hines, Dan Mazer, Jeff Schaffer
Cast includes: Sacha Baron Cohen
Release Date: 10th July 2009

Sacha Baron Cohen has in the last few years proven himself one of the best modern day comics around. After stealing scene after scene in Will Ferrell’s “Talladega Nights” Cohen marched on and delivered a fantastic mockumentary with”Borat” giving the people a thirst for his no holds barred shenanigans. Now the man of many faces has elicited the last in his line of eccentric caricatures for a motion picture of his own, a gay Austrian fashionista called Bruno. In the same vein as he did in “Borat” under his ridiculous alias Cohen marches on America unleashing wave after wave of jaw dropping comedy whilst shrewdly showing up the population amidst the comedic chaos.

After losing his job on an Austrian fashion show Bruno (Sacha Baron Cohen) decides his world of glamour and supermodels is to superficial and so decides to hit America in the hope of becoming the biggest Austrian celebrity since “Hitler”. The people of America struggle to accept his homosexual antics and often vulgar brand of idiocy leading Bruno with only a handful of crackpot schemes to get famous. Throughout the film Bruno amongst other things adopts a black baby from Africa, attempts to become “Straight” and test runs his own brutal celebrity themed TV show.

Ultimately people are going to want to know how “Bruno” measures up against “Borat”, they’re stemmed from the same brain and work from a similar faux documentary template. I would have to concur that Cohen’s 2006 offering nabs it for me but that isn’t to say “Bruno” is a disappointment, just not as fresh and utterly ludicrous as its predecessor. Cohen still has bundles of barrier shattering comedy to offer and his eye for social commentary and the unsuspecting victim remains untarnished meaning that “Bruno” retains a spirited tally of laughs.

Everybody knows that Cohen can slip effortlessly into the skin of his creations and here is no exception. It’s easy to understand how ordinary people and celebrities could be feigned into seeing his exaggerated sketches as inordinately vulgar beings thus allowing their own darker sides to come through via a reaction. We know that Cohen’s super campy representation isn’t the real deal but many of those interviewed don’t, often allowing their own brutal and offensive perceptions to slip through in the process. Amongst those targeted for attack this time around are Paula Abdul and Ron Paul, the latter whom Bruno attempts to seduce in a truly hysterical sequence.

It’s clear that unlike last time the film here isn’t a wholly organic experience, as success and fame have crept up so to has public awareness and now Cohen’s alter egos are more likely to be spotted as frauds. “Bruno” clearly features a few more faces in on Cohen’s game than “Borat and a few sequences where one has to assume staging and scripting came into play. Director Larry Charles does good work to try and give every moment the raw energy and unpredictability of the previous outing but even the best filmmaker would struggle to build up every instance perfectly and thus at times “Bruno” almost feels like it’s cheating the audience.

That said the comedy is still terrific and Cohen’s reputation as a top class showman remain untarnished. The extremes he pushes himself to remain outstanding and the comedic hooks and screenwriting buffers utilised only add to the product in terms of laughs. “Borat” had more than its fair share of raucous, randy and politically incorrect humour but “Bruno” might even spike things up another notch, the film after all apparently having received an NC-17 rating on first run through the MPAA. However whilst proceedings are now R rated the easily offended are still warned to keep a distance, Cohen will go to any lengths to get giggles and make socially relevant points even if that means gay pygmy sex. Nothing is too far or to outrageous, the situations might not be quite as wacked out or inspired as those in “Borat” but they certainly push the boat out as far in terms of crude and extreme side splitters.

Obviously the low brow comedy is supported by a rash of smarter sub texts, Cohen unlikely to provide a feature without some deeper agenda. Many a person comes of looking like a fool in “Bruno” and like “Borat” it offers up a damning view of extremist America, opening up a Pandora’s Box of social commentary and eye opening observation. Granted two men bonded together by fetish apparatus is funny but forcing them through an anti-gay protest adds to the chortles and helps Cohen prove his point. It’s this element of hidden intelligence that takes “Bruno” above most line crossing comedies and into the realm of something smarter.

“Bruno” lacks the edge of “Borat” but is still an immensely entertaining and at times observationally valuable comedy, mining vulgar laughs and social cluelessness to wonderful effect and bringing up questions amongst the giggles. It’s hard to see Cohen being able to do something like this again thanks to his now superstar levels of publicity but as far as last hurrahs go “Bruno” is respectably loud.


A review by Daniel Kelly, 2009

13 July 2009

Megan Fox sizzles in sexy new "Jennifer's Body" poster

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God "Jennifer's Body" gets more exciting by the day. In the wake of a solid trailer which jumped online about a week ago and following an already neat one sheet from last year's Comic Con, We now have the following indecently hot piece of promotion. The picture speaks for itself but I am now officially psyched for this one. Whoever thought up the equation Diablo Cody + horror x comedy divided by Megan Fox = pure gold ought to be given a prize. E=Mc2 my ass.

"Jennifer's Body" is in theatres September 18th.

7 July 2009

New "District 9" one sheet

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Another one sheet promo for upcoming sci-fi flick "District 9" has appeared and the more I see the cooler this thing gets. Produced by Peter Jackson and helmed by feature length newbie Neill Blomkamp "District 9" has been pretty much covered in "Cloverfield" style mystery, probably given that films huge earnings not by chance. We know it's got refugee aliens and we know it's based on a Blompkamp short but the trailer really doesn't tell us much more. Shot using the ever more popular hand held style "District 9" will be in theatres 14th August 2009.

6 July 2009

Retro Review: Hitman (2007)

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D-

Hitman
2007, 93mins, R
Director: Xavier Gens
Writer: Skip Woods
Cast includes: Timothy Olyphant, Olga Kurylenko, Dougray Scott, Robert Knepper, Ulrich Thomsen, Michael Offei
Release Date: 21st November 2007

“Hitman” is a credible contender for most unbalanced motion picture of all time, happily flitting from scenes of video game style ear splitting mayhem to semi-perverse torture and tepid crime busting. It’s hard to get a feel for the film at all during its runtime and even less an understanding of the people making it, it’s as schizophrenic a motion picture as the last few years have offered. Things aren’t helped by the disengaged story and dire performances all loosely interlinked via a set of patchy action sequences. The source which is a famed videogame has been made intensely popular due to innovative characterization of the lead role and mounds of thuggish brutality. Only the latter half of that multi million dollar cocktail makes it through to Xavier Gens unsuccessful adaptation.

Agent 47 (Timothy Olyphant) is a genetically engineered contract killer, willing to kill all and anybody if the price is right. He’s famed in his field and is regarded by many in the seedy places of the world as the best in the business, but even the finest killer will eventually start to leave a trail of breadcrumbs. The man tasked with finding out the identity of the legendary 47 is Interpol agent Mike Whittier (Dougray Scott) but every time he’s about to close in, his skilled target manages a bravado escape. However Agent 47 has bigger problems, he’s been hired as a scapegoat in a high profile Russian assassination, tarnishing his name and making him the number 1 target for crime bureaus across the world. Capturing a supposed witness to his deed (Olga Kurylenko) 47 bombs about Europe in a bid to clear his name and wreck vengeance on those who tricked him.

Even fans of the interactive experience on which “Hitman” is based are unlikely to be satisfied with this offering, it’s to brooding and turgid to be fun and to tonally unbalanced to create any sort of memorable viewing experience. Had the creative team behind “Hitman” been willing to take the project down one clear cut path then the final product might have at least been passable but alas its shifts in style are simply to jarring for a recovery to become possible.

That qualm isn’t helped by the fact the general level of filmmaking on show is poor; everything from the direction to the acting is viable for a critical bashing in “Hitman”. Olyphant coasts in the lead, handing in an artificially restrained performance without providing any depth or meaning. In the games Agent 47 was never a creature of emotion but Olyphant seems to have confused dark and twisted emptiness with lazy and wooden nothingness. Kurylenko who has found semi-stardom in the 18 months since this movies theatrical release is a little more impressive but still lacks the vigour and spark that mark out the best femme fatales. Dougray Scott is at his natural level as an underwritten and utterly boring law enforcer whilst the villains are simply too many and to one dimensional to analyse.

Xavier Gens makes his Hollywood debut with “Hitman” and it’s not a promising one. The film is riddled with inconsistencies, has no real style or rhythm and can’t decide if it wants to be balls out action flick or a more serious and realistically gritty thriller. The ever morphing nature of the picture results in several ugly and distasteful contrasts, one moment Olyphant is theatrically jumping 50 feet into a canal whilst the next Kurylenko is being whipped and tortured in a rather cringe inducing and fetishist sequence. It’s hard to stomach and renders some of the already minor dosages of fun redundant. Maybe this baffling inconsistency could be down to studio interference (Fox are famed for it) but that still doesn’t excuse the unfortunate bounds between lecherous and ridiculous.

The action is mostly standard fare and rarely equates to more than so-so thrills. A hotel based shoot out is nicely staged and the finish is bombastic if not wholly hollow but overall there is nothing on show here action fans haven’t encountered 100 times before. Gens tries to capture the hard boiled and tense nature of the videogames various killing sprees and gun blasting moments but 90% of the time he fails, they look like they should but poor direction and shot selection often means they don’t excite as anticipated. The plot and story are as thin on the ground as most game based movies but at 93 minutes at least “Hitman” doesn't cling around forever. The editing is all rapid cuts and high octane jumps which effectively piles “Hitman” into the same stylistic group as most MTV style actioners whilst the cinematography is unusually drab for this sort of event. Usually the one thing you can count on from a videogame adaptation is pretty and glossy visuals but for the most part “Hitman” is an unusually grotesque and rough looking feature.

The movie is a weak and thoroughly forgettable experience, the sort of picture one see’s and forgets exists about an hour later. It’s not hard to pick faults in this barren and mirthless action experience and the team who constructed this mess should never work together again. They clearly all wanted to do something different with the property but for the audience the result is an unexciting and emotionally cold vehicle, ruined in a mash up of half heated ideas and contradicting concepts. Of course it goes without saying that the general level of workmanship on the movie is shoddy but the fatal fault with “Hitman” is an inability to stick with a mood or tone and develop accordingly.



A review by Daniel Kelly, 2009

"Jennifers Body" now has a redband trailer, greenband to appear with "Bruno".

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Diablo Cody penned horror/comedy "Jennifers Body" now has a rather aggressive and fierce redband trailer. The trailer is a combo of the movies comedy and horror elements whilst also selling the potential for Megan Fox to be mostly naked. As a trailer its modestly effective and I'll still look forward to seeing the movie in a few months but hopefully it has something a little more refreshing hidden up it's sleeve at some point. A greeband trailer will play with "Bruno" this Friday, though by all accounts it pretty much focuses on the films horror elements purely. The trailers confirm that the movie will be rated R.

"Jennifers Body" is out September 18th 2009

Trailer at the following link:

http://www.shocktillyoudrop.com/news/topnews.php?id=10988

4 July 2009

Movie Review: Fired Up

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C

Fired Up
2009, 90mins, PG-13
Director: Will Gluck
Writer: Freedom Jones
Cast includes: Eric Christian Olsen, Nicholas D'Agosto, Sarah Roemer, John Michael Higgins, Molly Sims, Danneel Harris, Anna Lynne McCord
Release Date: 20th February 2009


“Fired Up” is essentially undiluted generic storytelling peppered by the odd effective moment of improv and lashings of acid tongued wit. In several small doses it might actually feel like a decent film but when digested as a full feature it’s a distinctly stark and barren experience. There are little oasis’s of comedic relief strewn throughout but overall “Fired Up” is an arduous trek through a harsh desert of predictable storytelling and teen movie templates. You’ll need to be something of a cinematic survivalist to enjoy the entire experience, that’s for sure.

Nick (Eric Christian Olsen) and Shawn (Nicholas D’Agosto) are the two most popular jocks in school, but another summer of an all male and intensely gruelling football camp doesn’t sound that appealing. So in a bid to create a more flavoursome season they decide to go to cheerleading camp, packed to the roof with hot girls with Nick and Shawn the only single and heterosexual guys on campus. They slot into their school team “The Tigers” and whilst most of the squad buy Nick and Shawn’s feigned enthusiasm captain Carly (Sarah Roemer) isn’t so sure. However as the camp kicks of and the inter school competition heats up she and Shawn begin to get close, much to the disdain of skirt chasing Nick. After enjoying his fill of woman by the camps halfway point Nick wants out but Shawn infatuated by Carly thinks they should stay and help their struggling team, leaving their friendship in an awkward position.

“Fired Up” would have been very much at home in the 80’s and late 90’s and now thanks to the success of 2007’s “Superbad” it looks like the current climate is set to be a staple in the teen movie timeline. The Apatow revival of the genre has kick started this pocket milking trend once more and whilst it will inevitably run out of its limited artistic steam and financial potential within two years, right now it’s cool to be making teen orientated flicks. “Fired Up” isn’t at the very nadir of the genre but it’s an utterly forgettable and borderline tedious experience, riddled with some minor moments of fun hi-jinks but mostly bogged down by soggy scripting and a patchy gag rate. Plus the performances are unsurprisingly a whisker short of average, never mind revolutionary.

One of the most distracting aspects of the film is the fact that the leading men are meant to be about 17 but in reality they’re either side of 30. D’Agosto is 28 and Olsen 31 and seeing as neither demonstrates much in the way of flair I have to ask why casting wasn’t done closer to age. I’m used to seeing 21 and 22 year olds play teenagers but that is at times visually acceptable, with the leading pair they haven’t been teens for at least a decade and it shows to the point of annoyance. Despite looking ridiculously mature for the parts Olsen and D’Agosto also fail to do anything remotely memorable with them, they’re chemistry is so-so but the comedy pratfalls and routines they ping around are absurdly half hearted. It goes without saying that the film fails to build Nick and Shawn into anything else but sporty clowns but what is more offensive is that the creative team also fails to make them likable. Nick in particular is a top grade asshole and not a character the viewer is likely to empathise with.

As the head of the cheer camp John Michael Higgins easily scores the films most assured and entertaining moments whilst around him other support slowly dies in the pulsating heat of mediocrity. Sarah Roemer was nothing more than a token babe with attitude in “Disturbia” and she replicates that here (Though “Disturbia” was a far superior film) whilst Anna Lynne McCord gives a fabulously lazy turn as a bitchy cheer nemesis. Other semi-famous names also feature including Danneel Harris (also guilty of playing teenagers at nearly 30) and Phillip Baker Hall, though none make much of an impression.

The jokes aren’t particularly inspired and the films attempts at irreverent improvisation often feel forced and stale. On a few occasions Olsen managed to display a modestly quick wit and cook up some sweet comedy relief but at other junctures he goes too far and sours proceedings with his unnecessary vamping. For a PG-13 movie I was shocked by how few poop and fart jokes “Fired Up” launches at the audience but it makes them up in tame penis references and over emphasised regaling of sexual conquest. Also for a movie in which are heroes are meant to be romantic dynamos all the viewer is treated to are a few make out scenes and implied oral sex, hardly the stuff that made Casanova legend.

The film cribs from “Bring it On” and expects a direct reference to said movie to excuse the theft, it might in legal terms but not in the statutory book of good entertainment. In terms of quality those movies are pretty much on equal ground, namely that they’re hit rate with quality gags is inconsistent and from every other stand point boredom is the most likely reaction. The most undemanding of viewers might enjoy “Fired Up” and its very slight roster of impressive material, forgiving the narrative shortcomings because it’s “just an airheaded cheerleading movie”. Well I’d just rather that type of feature didn’t exist in the first place, certainly that’s not what made John Hughes and Judd Apatow power this genre in their respective eras with such delicious success.


A review by Daniel Kelly, 2009

2 July 2009

Movie Review: Knowing

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B+

Knowing
2009, 121mins, PG-13
Director: Alex Proyas
Writer (s): Ryne Douglas Pearson, Juliet Snowdon, Stiles White
Cast includes: Nicolas Cage, Rose Byrne, Chandler Canterbury, Lara Robinson, D.G Maloney
Release Date: 20th March 2009

Given his recent acting output it’s not especially hard to underestimate Nicolas Cage in the current cinematic climate, but exceedingly difficult to get excited about a motion picture he’s starring in. “Knowing” with it’s shockingly disinteresting title and lazy trailer looked like another sure fire clunker from the leading man who also took a similar position in “Ghost Rider” and 2006’s hysterically bad revamp of “The Wicker Man”. The shock is “Knowing” actually evolves into a thoroughly entertaining science fiction brew and asks a few probing question of the audience in the process. Nicolas Cage’s name now slightly less tarnished than it was before. I’m not yet ready to forgive him for the last five years of execrable projects but for now this is a step in the desirable direction.

A prologue set in 1959 opens the picture, the setting a classroom and the activity the creation of a time capsule. The children are all frantically drawing their galactic interpretations of the future but a disturbed young girl named Lucinda (Lara Robinson) has a different agenda. At the request of some whispering voices in her head she jots down a page filled with numbers and despite the scorn of her teachers, the sheet is placed within the capsule. It’s opened 50 years later and through his son Caleb (Chandler Canterbury) the numerically packed scribbles find their way into the hands of scientist John (Nicolas Cage) who one whiskey fuelled night starts to see a sinister pattern in the digits. After careful study of the page he see’s the dates of every major global catastrophe of the last 50 years and the hefty fatalities which accompanied them. Amongst the code three more dates remain and in an effort to save lives he looks up the now deceased Lucinda’s daughter (Rose Byrne) for aid.

One of the aspects which allows “Knowing” to jump a cut above most of its genre peers is the fascinating idea at its core, the well aged debate of science vs. Religion. The film is primarily designed as a Hitchcockian thriller for the masses but a little scratching at it’s surface reveals a subtly posed question regarding the still raging conflict between scientific academia and bible bashing mania. It’s this that gives “Knowing” a more cerebral and thoughtful edge, sure it does the set-pieces fine, but I like a little brains with my buttery popcorn and “Knowing” is packing a surprisingly respectable IQ. The writers also manage to work in some really solid and believable character development and build realistic and non-artificial relationships between the various entities. Cage and Canterbury in particular are provided with a detailed and intricately layered bond as father and son. Again this allows “Knowing” to stand out from the crowd, it’s not lacking a human touch or an incentive to stay engaged throughout the carnage.

Cage does overact from time to time but anyone expecting less from the actor had best go home. His mannerisms remain a little exaggerated and during the finish he hams it up to beyond silly but in fairness during some of the most emotionally vital moments of “Knowing” he’s able to flash a little brilliance. Certainly in the wake of his turns in several high profile stinkers “Knowing” should be a major relief for the Oscar winner, proving that any hope of him returning to form isn’t utterly forgone. Rose Byrne is agreeable as his newfound and fairly reluctant helper but she’s upstaged somewhat by Canterbury playing Cage’s son. I really have no qualms about criticising child actors who hand in shoddy performances but Canterbury definitely doesn’t, it’s a mature and a rather refined effort and a key strength in allowing “Knowing” to agree so heartily with the audience.

The score by Marco Beltrami is bombastic but really rather cool whilst the visual design of the movie also boasts director Alex Proyas flair with interesting tones and lively sets. Proyas last helmed Will Smith in the overrated “I, Robot” and he’s maintained his sci-fi bent with “Knowing”, this time managing to nail the big questions with greater clarity and stage the effects heavy moments with stronger energy. The filmmaker should be proud, despite now more or less representing a veteran level of direction, he’s shown solid improvement. Maybe you can teach an old dog a new trick.

The film is staged around several CGI laden landmarks, disasters pending via the cryptic numerical fallen into our heroes hands. These are well handled and plugged for joyous adrenaline fuel whilst throughout the movie maintains credible levels of tension and suspenseful plotting. As a thriller “Knowing” is tight and well developed also providing characters that the audience actually care about. In creating such spectacle Proyas has done his film no harm but it’s the assured and sympathetic character work that makes “Knowing” a delightful surprise.

The conclusion in an oddity and off balance with the rest of the film, slightly souring the audience’s palate after having enjoyed such a shockingly sweet thrill ride. I can see what the creative team where attempting to do but ultimately they fumble it and the denouement just comes of as vaguely ridiculous. One could also argue that the silly climax is also visually overstated and hammered home with little regard for tact, only emphasising it’s unsatisfying nature further. In honesty it’s only really spoils the final ten minutes but it also keeps “Knowing” from the greatness it at times manages to caress and invite.

Overall this is good stuff and better than maybe it has any right to be, someone took time and care to ensure a polished script went through the works and the actual filmmakers have done a decent job of bringing it to the screen. In Nicolas Cage’s last five years it’s an unprecedented highlight even if it isn’t perfect and for those looking for a genuinely twisty and spooky thriller I’ve seen little better all year.


A review by Daniel Kelly, 2009

1 July 2009

Movie Review: The Hottie and the Nottie

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F

The Hottie and the Nottie
2008, 91mins, PG-13
Director: Tom Putnam
Writer: Heidi Ferrer
Cast includes: Paris Hilton, Christine Lakin, Joel Moore, The Greg Wilson, Johann Urb
Release Date: 8th February 2008


Dear Tom Putnam,

I just watched your 2008 comedy “The Hottie and the Nottie”, you know.....the one that starred Paris Hilton and absolutely nobody liked? If you could power your little brain to rewind as far back as February of last year you will recall that your film was critically reviled, flopped at the box-office and managed to briefly be named the worst movie of all time by the IMDB in accordance to their voting system. Well I’ve got one piece of good news, as I write this review you’re now only ranked as the 53rd worst film of all time! Score!

Anyway back on topic. I deliberately avoided your movie for over a year but the other night at the video store I just couldn’t resist giving it a rent, sometimes watching a train wreck can be amusing you see. However little did I know how painful an experience it would be and you should be ashamed that the people largely took their anger out on Miss Hilton. Sure her acting sucks and she seems to have about 23 brain cells but she’s not the real architect of this heinous cinematic crime, is she? No the real villains are you and writer Heidi Ferrer. Let me explain why.

1.The casting was really crap Tommy. Joel Moore as a comic lead? Paris Hilton as an engaging and sympathetic love interest? A fucking comedian who goes by the name “The Greg Wilson”!!!? Seriously dude Paris either beat your balls from her position as producer or you don’t have a clue as to how a motion pictures thespian needs should be assessed. The one thing I will give you props for is Christine Lakin as the so called “Nottie”. She was actually okay.

2.This one is directed at Heidi. Your script is meant to be a romantic comedy, yet it is neither funny nor touching and promotes a truly ugly message. I mean the film essentially says you can find the right guy....with appropriate amounts of cosmetic surgery. That’s a cool message to be sending all the insecure 16 year old girls of the world Heidi. You’re a credit to your sex. Plus as I said before your romantic comedy script......disgracefully unfunny.

3.The clichés!!!!! Oh the clichés!!!!!! So many of your jokes where not just vile but also worked from familiar templates and the character conception was simply laughable. A hunky European guy who turns out to be a jerk? I think I’ve literally seen that in 40% of the movies I’ve ever watched. A virginal girl with physical defects? That one is probably more like 60%. A hyper kinetic geek who wants to get the girl? Getting higher by the minute. In fact now I think about it your movie is basically just a copy of “She’s All That” which was in turn just a low rent version of Pygmalion. Sweet.....your story is a third hand retelling. God Heidi, you’re a talented scribe.

4.Back to Tom. Did you just turn on the camera and do your best to point it in the direction of your actors? How about lighting? Atmosphere? Keeping your crew out of shot? No??? You didn’t know about these things? Well sadly it shows.

5.Pacing is clearly a problem for you. This script probably has about 7 minutes worth of watchable plot in it. Instead you drag it out to 91 minutes. I literally wanted to gouge my eyes out about 25 minutes into your film Tom, because by that point it was already like three times to long.

I suppose Paris deserves a mild spanking for actually putting money into this thing, but then again it’s already clear she’s a little lacking in the IQ department. Blaming her for this is like scolding a 2 year old for farting. It’s not going to make any difference. Still based on your directorial effort you’re either equally as moronic, were artistically whipped by Miss Hilton or are just the laziest hackiest director in the world. It’s probably a little bit of all three.

Thanks for Reading,

Daniel

P.S. Incase you haven’t realised I thought your movie blew.


A review by Daniel Kelly, 2009

Movie Review: Public Enemies

1 comments

A-

Public Enemies
2009, 140mins, R
Director: Michael Mann
Writer (s): Ann Biderman, Michael Mann, Ronan Bennett
Cast includes: Johnny Depp, Christian Bale, Marion Cotillard, David Wenham, Billy Crudup, Stephen Graham
Release Date: 1st July 2009

“Public Enemies” is a polished piece of period spectacle and a return to form for maverick filmmaker Michael Mann. Once a darling child of the American film industry, Mann detonated with his repugnantly dull rehash of “Miami Vice” in 2006 and in the aftermath of that monstrosity any audience could be forgiven for approaching future efforts with caution. Thankfully “Public Enemies” is an easy success, a well shot drama with a virtually perfect 1930’s aesthetic. Mann has decided that in this instance character and story momentum are preferable to bleary cuts and hyper stylized nonsense, a selection likely to relieve prospective viewers.

Set in 1933 against the backdrop of the Great Depression “Public Enemies” follows the legendary crook John Dillinger (Johnny Depp), a man who stole millions from banks and eluded capture in the process. “Public Enemies” largely charts the attempts to bring Dillinger to justice led by a newly promoted Melvin Purvis (Christian Bale) whilst also interloping into the gangster’s own personal romance with Coat check girl Billie Frechette (Marion Cotillard). This allows Mann’s film to swing between romantic drama and high octane pursuit, a pair which the director combines to good effect. I was expecting something more along the lines of a straightforward examination of Dillinger the man, but instead the movie serves up the biopic elements amidst a sea of burgeoning relationships and mobster thrills.

Johnny Depp controls the screen nicely in “Public Enemies”, handing out a chilled but highly assured performance as Dillinger himself. It doesn’t rank as one of Depp’s meatier screen incarnations but he channels an efficient and level headed energy into the character, a slightly subdued aura allowing the actor to inject realism into the Dillinger legend. The chemistry between Depp and Cotillard ensures their romance is a moderate success on screen, the Oscar winning actress also applying a layer of finely tuned thespian finish to her performance in order to hold her own. In the middle section of “Public Enemies” this love is somewhat neglected in favour of the thriller elements but ultimately its given decent heat thanks to good acting. As Purvis Bale is unremarkable but ultimately adequate and refreshingly subdued, in the wake of his louder than life performances in “Terminator Salvation” and “The Dark Knight” his turn in “Public Enemies” feels mouse like. He and Depp barely share a scene together and so a definitive dynamic is never built up between the two, but in the few seconds where they square off the actors’ measure up.

The film has been shot using the HD cameras that Mann has come top favour in recent years, meaning that it can’t gun up the same slick beats that some of the directors 90’s output became to reliant on. However the depiction of 1930’s America is flawless and provides a more than ample setting for the gangster flick to unwind in, and in truth Mann’s vibrant blues and metallic hues aren’t something I necessarily pine for. The camera work itself much like “Miami Vice” is at times shaky but with an energetic and exciting story to support this technique it become alot more palatable, some of the robbery sequences genuinely benefiting from this high pressure handhold aesthetic. Visually one can only be relieved that “Public Enemies” is meticulous in its creation of the period rather than in lashings of bright colours and intrusive lighting, even if at times the camera work and sound design feel primitive.

The screenplay is well written and the dialogue at times inspired, the screenwriters maintaining a good momentum allowing the film to translate into a fast paced and adventurous thriller. At 140 minutes “Public Enemies” is a more than a small investment of your time but ultimately it’s highly enjoyable and rewarding, a more intelligent and emotionally primed piece of work than 99% of the summer’s output. The love arc has been well developed and their are well structured moments of Dillinger based insight, even if Mann’s work is more interested in operating as historical escapism rather than an inquisitive character study.

The punchy opening jail brake and numerous gun blazin’ action moments allow “Public Enemies” to get away with its summer release moniker, and certainly it’s intense and at time ludicrously lively set-pieces are preferable to say the CGI addled tedium of “Transformers Revenge of the Fallen”. There are moments of genuine suspense and dramatic tension en route and the chase template which the film unwinds to at its most primary level is high octane and exciting. Mann does know how to generate adrenaline and tension from basic moments of screen paranoia and the fact we care about his characters allows the audience to become actively involved in their fates and ultimately care about a given scenes resolution. That’s an asset big studio pictures tend to neglect.

Anyone interested in the era or in crime should already have their tickets pre-booked but those who enjoy high quality filmmaking are also urged to go out and see “Public Enemies”. It’s not a totally perfect motion picture and at times the earthy technical aspects detract rather than add but on the whole this is satisfying and well intentioned Michael Mann effort. Those chasing the in depth intellectual ponderings of Dillinger might feel short changed but those seeking a well acted and historically accurate thriller will have quite the opposite reaction. Hopefully Michael Mann can keep this standard up because “Public Enemies” is a classy and energetic motion picture.



A review by Daniel Kelly, 2009