26 October 2009

Retro Review: John Tucker Must Die (2006)

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F

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

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

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

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

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

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


A review by Daniel Kelly, 2009

25 October 2009

Movie Review: Up

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B

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

A review by Daniel Kelly, 2009

16 October 2009

Movie Review: Observe and Report

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B+

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


A review by Daniel Kelly, 2009

10 October 2009

Movie Review: Zombieland

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B+

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


A review by Daniel Kelly, 2009

Movie Review: Surrogates

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C

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


A review by Daniel Kelly, 2009

Movie Review: Franklyn

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B-

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

A review by Daniel Kelly, 2009

Movie Review: The Last House on the Left (2009)

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B-

The Last House on the Left
2009, 110mins, R
Director: Dennis Iliadis
Writer (s): Adam Alleca, Carl Ellsworth, Wes Craven (original film)
Cast includes: Tony Goldwyn, Monica Potter, Garret Dillahunt, Aaron Paul, Sara Paxton, Riki Lindhome
Release Date: 13th March 2009

“The Last House on the Left” is an interesting remake, a polished and yet visceral output via Hollywood’s obsessive retread machine. Stylishly shot and with a far longer running than the original movie the picture still retains a kindred link via its unblinking violence and stone faced screenplay. Those with a weak stomach would be sensible to let this movie pass you by but for the folks with a tolerance for such spine tingling shenanigans, I wouldn’t recommend you be so dismissive. The picture definitely loses a wallop of focus and power in its third act but until that point this is an oddly compelling addition to the year’s horror offerings.

The story opens with the Collingwood clan heading to their lakeside cabin, in the last twelve months their number has dropped from four to three and the family are looking to enjoy a relaxing holiday for the first time since the tragic passing. On the first night of vacation 17 year old Mari (Sara Paxton) heads out with old friend Paige (Martha MacIsaac) and ends up in a motel room smoking weed with her gal pal and new acquaintance, the nervous but likeable Justin (Spencer Treat Clark). However the party comes to an end when wanted criminal and father to Justin, Krug (Garret Dillahunt) arrives with his band of murderous accomplices. Unable to risk the girls having seen them move through town he brutally stabs Paige, rapes Mari and leaves her for dead with a bullet in her back. With a storm moving in the group seek refuge in the nearest house, unaware that it’s the holiday home Mari shares with her parents. Initially welcoming the Collingwoods (Tony Goldwyn, Monica Potter) are quickly thrown into a fit of rage, a clue left by Justin and a half dead Mari rolling up to the door allowing the spouses to put two and two together. Realizing the extent of Krug’s violence the pair in no uncertain terms launch into a vengeful assault on the murderous band, resulting in a case of small scale but passionately fought warfare in the domestic environment.

For his American debut Greek filmmaker Dennis Iliadis has done good work here, honouring Wes Craven’s original film whilst still infusing an extra degree of contemporary technical gloss. The film is clearly broken into three acts, the best of which are easily the beginning and middle. The first 30 minutes do a surprisingly decent job of building character, aided by some sturdy performances. The acting in “The Last House on the Left” is never any better than it needs to be but rarely is it any worse, the best efforts coming courtesy of Goldwyn and Potter as the sickened and bloodthirsty parents. Garret Dillahunt is credible as lead bad boy Krug and Sara Paxton does a neat job of conveying the tortured youth at the plot’s centre. The middle segment is brilliantly devised in the way it pushes the tension to an almost unbearable degree. Only the audience is privy to the bigger picture, the killers unaware that the hospitality they’re exploiting is that of their victim’s parents, the hosts oblivious to the fact the strangers whom they’re helping have shot and raped their daughter.

The climax is where it all goes a bit pear shaped, Iliadis having made two thirds of a good movie only to taint it via an obvious and gratuitous finish. The question posed by the picture is an intriguing one, how far would you go to hurt those who’ve made your child suffer? Yet whilst the middle section builds wonderfully up to the resolution of this issue the answer never quite satisfies, descending instead into bloody battering ram mode. The rape scenes and moments of unquestionable brutality in the middle have already established the feature as a tough watch from a sensory standpoint, the fact the movie refuses to let up afterward a little disconcerting. I’m all for doses of hardcore violence but certain scenes in “The Last House on the Left” are unnecessarily vicious, culminating in a final kill that reeks of CGI gore and laugh filled disgust. Goldwyn and Potter’s rampage is where this project feels more like an undercooked “Saw” sequel rather than the fascinating and unrelenting horror experience that the first 80 minutes suggest.

The cinematography is artistic in a reserved and attractive nature, capturing the mood of the flick as it topples from breezy family getaway to blood spilling carnage. It’s hard to outright champion “The Last House on the Left” as it clearly won’t be to all tastes, some of the horrific actions depicted will undoubtedly from some corners garner hate toward the filmmakers rather than the villains. Adding to the recommendation conundrum it’s impossible to neglect that the ending feels sloppy and lacks either the punch or slow burn menace of other parts, this particular offering ending with a whimper rather than a bang. Still it’s hard to deny that the majority of the film works and for a horror remake the performances are unusually resilient. For horror fans I’m happy to suggest giving “The Last House on the Left” a go, otherwise however, You might want to assess your opinions on such genre offerings with a fair degree of discrimination before diving head first into Dennis Iliadis’s twisted interpretation.

A review by Daniel Kelly, 2009

Movie Review: Year One

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C-

Year One
2009, 96mins, PG-13
Director: Harold Ramis
Writer (s): Harold Ramis, Gene Stupnitsky, Lee Eisenberg
Cast includes: Jack Black, Michael Cera, Juno Temple, David Cross, Oliver Platt, Olivia Wilde
Release Date: 19th June 2009

“Year One” is one of the most underwhelming comedic efforts in recent memory, a film that combines unquestionable talent behind and in front of the camera and which still struggles for laughs. Directed by Harold Ramis, who over the last 25 years has become a staple of American comedy, the film is tarnished via a relentlessly witless and juvenile parade of humor coupled with a narrative both loose and completely out of focus. It’s not quite amongst the year’s worst offenders but “Year One” is still a mighty failure by its creator’s once high standards.

The picture follows two Neanderthal’s called Zed (Jack Black) and Oh (Michael Cera). After the loudmouthed and ill-informed Zed is thrown out of their tribe for eating from the Tree of Knowledge, the pair travels far and wide in search of greater purpose and adventure. They stumble across various inhabitants of the Old Testament before ending up in the city of Sodom, where their old tribe has been taken and are being forced to work as slaves. Together the bumbling duo plots to free the captured whilst in the process winning the affection of the women (Juno Temple, June Diane Raphael) they lust after.

One of the most unpleasant surprises sprung up by “Year One” is the lack of chemistry between Black and Cera, especially given how on paper they seem like such a natural fit. Both actors enjoy their best moments when away from each other, the quietly biting jibes of Cera just not melding beside the manic antics of his larger than life co-star. Black attacks the project with the expected energy and will for mayhem but beside Cera it feels forced and underexploited. Flat would be the best adjective to describe the lead pairing in “Year One”. Support is a bit more successful though a roster of fine comedians are largely wasted in thankless roles, the likes of Paul Rudd, Kyle Gass and Bill Hader given disturbingly little to work with in their allotted screen time. On the plus side David Cross is very funny in the part of Cain, the nefarious brother of Abel who pops up everywhere Black and Cera seem to go.

The plotline is weary and excessively unfocused, even by the standard of such freewheeling and anarchic offerings “Year One” is messy. The story lacks any sort of constructive direction before the final quarter, the characters ambling through the ancient world in an irritatingly blurred and almost pointless fashion. The movie seems more interested in inserting as many religious caricatures as possible at the expense of an engaging or linear story, the various skits interwoven with minimal skill or care for the audience’s patience.

The laugh quota isn’t impressive, the movie certainly offers some giggles but they’re mired in a swamp of unapologetically immature comedy. In “Year One” characters eat poop, urinate on their own faces, recount incestuous memories and joke often concerning genitalia. The movie does take a few swipes in the direction of religion but they’re largely wasted opportunities, and it would be remiss not to comment that large portions of the jokes on offer feel stale and unappetizing. Certainly when compared to something like “Life of Brian” “Year One” suffers in comparison, the films even sharing their own stoning sequences. The raucous humor isn’t completely worthless and through sheer force does equate to a few laughs but from these artists audiences ought to expect better.

Ramis’s direction isn’t bad; he even shoots some of the settings with a dose of smooth and lush photography, though admittedly his pacing of proceedings could be sharper. Various CGI effects fail to impress though the ambitious costume design is a nifty bonus and quite possibly the movies single greatest redeeming feature. I could believe that “Year One” was terrific fun to make but audiences will struggle to devour it with the same fervor, one can only hope that Ramis and co. manage to bounce back next time around


A review by Daniel Kelly, 2009

Movie Review: In the Loop

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B+

In the Loop
2009, 106mins, R
Director: Armando Iannucci
Writer (s) Armando Iannucci, Jesse Armstrong, Simon Blackwell, Ian Martin, Tony Roche
Cast includes: Peter Capaldi, Tom Hollander, Gina McKee, James Gandolfini, Chris Addison, Anna Chlumsky
Release Date: 24th July 2009

Politics ehhh? What’s all that about? If political satire “In the Loop” is to be believed, a whole heap of crass nonsense. Wonderfully written and with a host of ingenious comic performances Armando Iannucci’s well timed slap to the face of world politics manages to uniformly entertain and say something clever and eye opening in the process. Considering the patchy summer we’ve just endured it’s nice to know that people are still making quality films without blowing a financial hole as deep as some countries gross capital.

After bumbling his way through a radio interview and uttering vague predictions concerning war in the Middle East, Minister for Internal Development Simon Foster (Tom Hollander) ends up putting his country and credibility in a dangerous position. In a bid to quell the military baiting caused by his statements Simon is sent to the USA by ferocious director of Communications Malcolm Tucker (Peter Capaldi), where he is welcomed by a panic ridden and unsure Washington. Everyone is desperately attempting to spin Foster’s comments for their own means and security, all the while leaving the nebbish MP and his assistant (Chris Addison) to try and rectify the devastation wrecked by his careless remarks.

Film’s like “In he Loop” aren’t built to meet conventional cinematic cravings, instead the filmmakers have set themselves a clear yet ulterior agenda, with the hope that along the way audiences might find their confection effective and buoyant. In this respect “In he Loop” is a triumph, it succeeds in striking precise barb after precise barb at the venal and childish mentality of politics whilst also cooking up a riotous comedic feast for the viewer. A knowledge of current affairs is all one requires in order to slurp up this crisp and satisfying laugh-fest, just don’t go in expecting a ripping central narrative and you’re bound to leave with a big smile and complete loss of faith in modern day governments.

The performances are succulent and expertly crafted, even if at times it seems certain characters are singing consistently from the same hymn sheet. “In the Loop” is not a picture that develops its various political entities into anything other than notable parodies of current day power players and renowned stereotypes, but in truth that’s perfectly suffice for the quick witted lampooning that Iannucci cooks up. The standout is Capaldi as the foulmouthed and hilariously brash communications representative Malcolm Tucker, a spin-doctor type not far removed from several recent figures in British politics. Capaldi is a whirlwind of hysterics and energy, attacking every line of dialogue with a savage comic proficiency and obvious will to light up the screen. Hollander flounders commendably as sad-sack MP Simon Foster, his shared scenes with Capaldi obvious candidates for the movies most enjoyable moments. James Gandolfini makes a welcome addition as a high ranking Pentagon official whilst Anna Chlumsky who many might remember as the young heroine from “My Girl” is back – packing a delicious sarcastic streak in compensation for her lack of doe eyed cuteness.

From a narrative standpoint “In the Loop” is very ordinary and that perhaps prevents it from hitting the top tier of satire, but its five screenwriters should still be very happy with the fantastic script they’ve penned. The Dialogue is profanity ridden but intensely funny and with some incisive insights into modern politics to compliment the acidic quips, “In the Loop” having openly sacrificed poignant storytelling for commendable bursts of giggles and modern day relevance. The documentary aesthetic deployed ads to the realism and blunt parallels with the disgraceful condition of current day legislatures, Iannucci successfully melding his technical styling’s to further enhance the jostling comedy and skilled commentary.

“In the Loop” is primarily a success because it works as a comedy but also because it never pulls back a punch. If “In the Loop” was a fist and the world of politics an arm, it’s safe to say that the latter would be severely hospitalized. Iannucci and co. have stuck to their guns and slaughtered the disjointed and cowardly political state of the world, and as a consequence offered audiences a pretty darn smart and ultimately amusing time.


A review by Daniel Kelly, 2009

9 October 2009

Movie Review: 31 North 62 East

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D-

31 North 62 East
2009, 99mins, NR
Director: Tristan Loraine
Writer (s): Tristan Loraine, Leofwine Loraine
Cast includes: John Rhys-Davies, Marina Sirtis, Heather Peace, Craig Fairbrass, George Calil
Release Date: 18th September 2009 (UK)


I love being able to support small scale cinema far removed from the conglomerate world of Hollywood, films that succeed on the ground of artistic endeavour and which have been made on a budget that wouldn’t cover a days worth of FX on most multiplex fodder. Yet whilst supporting independent film in itself is admirable it’s important that the products being pushed are decent, and decent isn’t an adjective I’d throw at new British conspiracy thriller “31 North 62 East”. Directed by newcomer Tristan Loraine, the movie is a tiresome and ugly affair, betrayed by its miniscule budget but more importantly by some awful writing and performances. The central conceit isn’t without thought or potential but the execution is severely lacking in panache or skill.

In order to maintain a massive arms deal and guarantee his re-election British Prime Minister John Hammond (John Rhys-Davies) is forced to give away the position of a group of SAS officers believed to have committed a high profile killing in Afghanistan. The group are ambushed and slaughtered but there is a survivor and after months of torture she is brought safely back to Britain. However on arrival she mysteriously dies leaving her grieving sister (Heather Peace) in a state of rage when she finds out that the deviant PM is responsible for her sibling’s gruelling last days. As a result she cooks up a revenge plot, one which will show the people of Britain how corrupt their politicians can be when the chips are down.

The acting is atrocious, Marina Sirtis gives a decent performance in the part of a pawn like MP, but everybody else provides terrible thespian support. Heather Peace is laughably one note and wooden as the female lead and action hero of the piece whilst John Rhys-Davies overacts to a level unusual for even him. The characters are in fairness badly written and poorly fleshed out but even that doesn’t excuse the phenomenally amateurish standard of performing that defecates over the viewer. It’s impossible to endure this sort of feature without any sort of believable or sympathetic characters, yet Loraine has failed to inject them into his iffy cocktail.

The central story has potential even if it boils down to a predictable message and political observation, yet the cack-handed dialogue ensures it’s impossible to take the venture seriously. Under a more refined pen and a director with a more impressive aesthetic touch I see no reason why “31 North 62 East” couldn’t have been a solid splash of conspiracy theatrics, yet the writing is so unfathomably lunk-headed that everything is ultimately put to waste. Loraine shows little expertise at giving a story realistic flow or engaging developments, relying on lowest common denominator twists and a lazy ending to round out his depressingly flat debut.

From a technical stand-point the budget prevents the movie from digging up explosive action and the suffocating direction makes scenes of possible tension evaporate before the viewer’s eyes. There is one sequence in “31 North 62 East” likely to create the desired sense of discomfort and pain, whilst a kidnap scene late in the movie is carried out with efficient filmmaking and a competent understanding of excitement. However these are rare exceptions and to make matters worse the movies political agenda is far less clever than the writers seem to believe. There is a smugness in the concluding chapter of “31 North 62 East” that makes one imagine the creators believe their message to be both unique and revolutionary when in fact it’s recycled and repetitious.

“31 North 62 East” is a dubious addition to the lower echelons of the British film industry and marks Loraine out as a name to be wary of in the future. It fails as a barbed commentary on politics and as an SAS fuelled thriller, leaving it in the realms of pointless and unsatisfactory. Even fans of lower budget offerings would do well to avoid this feature and ensure that its questionable filmmakers still owe the public an artistic debt before their career prospects grow any further.

A review by Daniel Kelly, 2009

Movie Review: District 9

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A

District 9
2009, 112mins, R
Director: Neill Blomkamp
Writer (s): Neill Blomkamp, Terri Tatchell
Cast includes: Sharlto Copley, Jason Cope, John Sumner, Nathalie Boltt, William Allen Young
Release Date: 14th August 2009


Neill Blomkamp’s “District 9 “ is a marvellous sci-fi production, a picture that actually makes good on the many intriguing promises made by it’s advertising campaign. Fans of thought provoking social commentary and gun blazing action will have their thirsts comfortably sated by this radical step-up for popular filmmaking. Those fearing a preachy and overly barren theatrical diversion need not fear as “District 9” operates perfectly as a gore soaked thriller, maintaining a deep and superbly layered narrative in the process.

“District 9” starts with the revelation that since 1990 alien’s have been on earth, the creature’s giant spacecraft having coming to a stop over Johannesburg in South Africa. After retrieving the malnourished extra terrestrials and renaming them “prawns” mankind quarantined the beasts into a slum like area known as “District 9”, but of late the people of Johannesburg are frustrated by the close proximity shared by them and the creatures. In a bid to keep the masses contented the government enlists operative Wikus (Sharlto Copley) to lead a team in clearing out the prawn district and moving them to a more secluded and remote location. However after accidently being infected by an alien contaminate Wikus is quickly made the target of experimentation and radical violence, leading him to flee and seek refuge in District 9. There he befriends some of its inhabitants and learns of a plot that will allow the prawns to escape and which might be able to restore him to normal health.

I had high expectations for “District 9” and it’s a testament to the picture that it not only fulfilled but exceeded such hopes, delivering a wham bam alien movie and some delicious storytelling all in one. It’s a rarity to encounter mainstream entertainment as thoroughly immersive and socially aware as “District 9”, or indeed a summer film that mounts to a climax rather than giving up the ghost halfway in. Coming from the production realm of Peter Jackson it shouldn’t surprise viewers to find that “District 9” is a different and fresher commodity than most current day event pictures, yet to find it so rewarding and palatable is a genuine treat.

The key performance in the film comes courtesy of Copley as Wikus, the relative unknown delivering an emotive and engaging anchor for the audience. It’s hard to debate that “District 9” wouldn’t have suffered had a performance as capable as Copley’s not been offered, yet it’s shocking to see how expressive and intimate the CGI rendered Prawns are. The film pitches itself very much as a case of man hating E.T and the cruel treatment of the aliens makes them the more sympathetic commodity. The creatures have been expertly crafted and the digitals deployed are state of the art, even the screenplay warps beautifully to make the prawns as affecting and full of life as possible. Certainly combining beside Copley’s tortured turn it’s not hard to buy these life forms as fully fledged and important characters.

The film moves at a rip roaring pace despite a meaty 112 minute runtime, whilst its thriller elements exhibit the skill and measured composure of a masterpiece. “District 9” builds to its shamefully bombastic and enjoyable climax, oozing tension and high octane thrills along the way. I would have no qualms in nominating the FX heavy finish as amongst the picture’s most exciting and spectacular scenes, yet it would be positively unruly not to offer the rest of the effort as much artistic credit. “District 9” is a motion picture intent on stirring both cerebral thrills and intelligence at the same time, it’s mix of banging action and well executed observations a cocktail for big screen success.

The screenplay clearly draws inspiration from the Apartheid regime in South Africa during the 1970’s, the parallels subtle but extremely involving. From a humanitarian perspective “District 9” is not to be underestimated as it features a roster of interesting screen entities and a powerful damning of mankind. Blomkamp shows brave chops as a filmmaker to have conducted his debut on such controversial and yet important terms, like the best sci-fi film’s “District 9” has something genuinely relevant and touching to say. As an alien film this is sensational but when combined with its hidden political agenda “District 9” becomes something of a masterpiece.


A review by Daniel Kelly, 2009

Movie Review: Inglourious Basterds

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A

Inglourious Basterds
2009, 153mins, R
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Writer: Quentin Tarantino
Cast includes: Brad Pitt, Christoph Waltz, Eli Roth, Melanie Laurent, Michael Fassbender, Diane Kruger
Release Date: 21st August 2009


In recent years Quentin Tarantino’s directorial career has taken a perplexing turn for the worst, amidst the undeserved “Kill Bill” hype and his inferior half of the “Grindhouse” debacle, fans of cinema seem to have lost their infatuation with the man. Tarantino has always imbued his work with a referential sting but the two aforementioned properties seemed built around his fanboy love of film rather than the characters, story and dialogue that he did so well in the 90’s. “Inglourious Basterds” then is a delight, a return to barnstorming form for Tarantino and quite possibly his most ambitious picture to date. Certainly from a cinematic viewpoint it’s his best film since “Pulp Fiction”, there are still homage’s aplenty and it’s obviously in love with itself, but this time the audience should have no trouble in sharing such a barmy affection.

The film follows two separate plot strands, which in typical Tarantino style become inexplicably interwoven. The first follows Shosanna Dreyfus (Melanie Laurent) a young Jewish woman who witnessed her family’s brutal murder at the hands of SS officer Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz). After escaping Shosanna fled to Paris and when we pick up four years later she now owns a cinema, and harbours an understandable hatred of Hitler’s Nazi party. The other half of the film concerns itself with Lt. Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt) and his group of “basterds” Raine and his team of Jewish Americans have been dropped into France with one objective, kill every Nazi they find. Quickly growing a reputation amongst Hitler’s ranks the Basterds aren’t interested in collecting prisoners, but rather scalps, making them a source of fear and terror for any secluded German patrol or band of soldiers. The Basterds rendezvous with a British operative Archie Hicox (Michael Fassbender) and German double agent Bridget Von Hammersmark (Diane Kruger), the latter explaining that a propaganda premiere is set to held in Paris and that all the German high command including Hitler will be in attendance. The team formulate a plan to destroy the cinema in which the event will take place –which incidentally is that owned by Shosanna – who has a violent scheme of her own.

“Inglourious Basterds” is as much a comedy as anything else, albeit just about the bleakest variant that you’ll ever see. Tarantino has always melded intense violence and belly laughs together, his World War 2 epic no different in that respect. The Dialogue and performances are the greatest source of amusement whilst vicious bursts of action and scalping act as a sweet and effective counterbalance. Those expecting a straight laced and accurate historical thriller would be advised to rent “Valkyrie”, Tarantino having no interest in time-lines or text book style retellings. This is a fable and represents only fiction, a twisted and imaginative recount of the period through Tarantino’s crazed vision.

The only big name actor on show is Pitt and he does a good job, even if Melanie Laurent and Christoph Waltz steal the show. It’s easy amongst the constant media intrusion to forget that Pitt is an actor first, and a damned fine one at the best of times. Whilst I have no doubt that Tarantino’s writing had Raine as an interesting character from the first drafts, Pitt has to be commended for allowing the personality to flourish so vibrantly onscreen. He displays both his dramatic and physical attributes as a thespian, whilst also via the dialogue being able to exhibit a solid knack for comedic relief. The rest of the Basterds are debatably a little faceless, the biggest secondary role amongst them going to “Hostel” director Eli Roth. Toward the end of the film I began to warm toward Roth but his biggest scene occurs within the opening hour and for my money it’s overacted on his part far too heavily. Diane Kruger and Michael Fassbender are variable degrees of impressive in their respective roles, the latter now adding a Tarantino movie to his rapidly growing and already incredibly varied CV.

However there are two performances in “Inglourious Basterds” which not only work but are the sort which warrant academy consideration, those from Melanie Laurent and Christoph Waltz. Laurent shows a brilliant emotional range and represents a far more convincing heroine than Uma Thurman did in the “Kill Bill” flicks, Tarantino having refined and improved his abilities in writing strong female leads since then. Every scene that Laurent has brims with emotional resonance and meaningful conflict. Her arc is punctuated with far less action or comedic relief than that of the Basterds, yet through her sublime performance and the strong screenplay she keeps it just as exciting. The movie’s main antagonist is portrayed by Waltz, SS Officer Hans Landa or “The Jew Hunter” as the French have named him. Charismatic and menacing Waltz gives every scene he’s in a genuine sense of threat and tension, the character using his cold yet powerful sense of logic as his greatest weapon. It would have been easy to play Landa as a fairly two-dimensional character yet Waltz creates a rounded and truly terrifying villain, who of course has an affinity for milk and Strudel.

The Visual look and pace works surprisingly well, boredom is not a feeling likely to be conjured up by “Inglourious Basterds”. The movie pulses along wonderfully despite the admittedly epic 153 minute running time, Tarantino interchanging the stories using the mechanism of chapter switches. Even in his weaker outings it’s unquestionable that Tarantino consistently display’s a knack for visual inventiveness and narrative freshness, even if his new ideas don’t always gel. However his handling of “Inglourious Basterds” is flawless and his unique touches work a charm, inducing intentional giggles or adrenaline pumping suspense rather than irksome irritation. It goes without saying the various elements of comedy, action and vengeance are blended skillfully and with a measured respect for each, whilst often encouraging laughs there is no point where “Inglourious Basterds” descends into parody. Tarantino has taken the most vicious and brutal elements of war and been able to see humour in it, whilst still in keeping with the ferocious violence that such conflict demands.

The film is loaded with film buff references and allusions to past works, Tarantino’s considerable knowledge of cinema is as evident here as in any other work. Yet the screenplay for “Inglourious Basterds” is always more interested in creating an engaging storyline and enjoyable dialogue, Tarantino having sated his nebbish fanboy mannerisms through “Grindhouse”. As a result this is a far more satisfying diversion, a thriller which works purely on its own terms and doesn’t rely on winks and nudges from one nerd to another. The script that Tarantino has penned here is large in scope and scale and yet feels smooth and watchable, something that I would struggle to say concerning his other 21st century features.

A rampaging addition to both Tarantino’s resume and 2009 in general, “Inglourious Basterds” is a blisteringly entertaining masterwork. Combining moments of top class comedy, fist clenching tension and gun blazing action one of Hollywood’s most renowned mavericks has concocted one of his best works. In any other director’s hands the lack of historical accuracy and twisted genre flipping would seem odd and even a little perverse, but Tarantino handles it beautifully and delivers the sort of warped shenanigans audiences have come to expect. “Inglourious Basterds” is a joy from start to finish and a solid indication that the Tarantino of old might be done hibernating.


A review by Daniel Kelly, 2009

Movie Review: Funny People

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A-

Funny People
2009, 145mins, R
Director: Judd Apatow
Writer: Judd Apatow
Cast includes: Adam Sandler, Seth Rogen, Leslie Mann, Eric Bana, Jonah Hill, Jason Schwartzman
Release Date: 31st July 2009


“Funny People” is the most mature work yet to emerge from writer/director extraordinaire Judd Apatow. A poignant drama and successful comedy rolled into one, “Funny People” is a terrific big screen offering even if it loses its way after the two hour mark. Apatow has from the producer’s seat overseen a vast array of comic pictures in the last few years, many of questionable quality, yet whenever he picks up the pen and directs proceedings himself big screen magic seems keen to follow. “Funny People” is the man’s third outing behind the camera and whilst it’s not quite as wonderfully entertaining as 2007’s “Knocked Up”, it still hurtles miles ahead of most mainstream competition.

George Simmons (Adam Sandler) is a legendary stand-up comedian and massive movie star, his face having adorned laughter lounges and theatre auditoriums for years. On finding out that he is terminally ill George realizes that his life is empty, and recruits up and coming comedian Ira (Seth Rogen) to write him new jokes and act as a confidante. As the days get darker George understands that the fame and fortune he has gained are no substitute for the relationships he may have missed, primarily that with past love Laura (Leslie Mann). In a bid to make everything right George takes Ira across the country in pursuit of Laura, only to find her married and with two kids, yet the woman of his dreams may not be as content as her picture perfect life suggests.

“Funny People” boasts several awesome performances, not least of all from leading man Sandler. It’s doesn’t take a hardened movie buff to see parallels between Sandler’s own career and that of his character, Apatow’s screenplay exploiting such similarities to great theatrical effect. Sandler is comfortable in the role from the start and delivers several scenes of barnstorming brilliance, catching the conflicted comedian in a truly unique and fascinating light. Sandler has dabbled with mixed results in the field of straight parts in the past; “Funny People” should do him the service of proving once and for all that he may be a clown primarily, but a pretty decent thespian second. Rogen gets to shake things up too, providing a much more subdued and relaxed character than his previous parts have afforded him. I do enjoy Rogen’s style of comedy but overexposure is a constant threat, his fresh work in “Funny People” hopefully quelling some of that oncoming turbulence. His shared scenes with Sandler are excellent, moments of emotional revelation actually peppered amidst the witty banter and dick jokes. On the fringes the like of Leslie Mann, Jonah Hill and Jason Schwartzman are all very effective though a sourer note must be reserved for Eric Bana. Whilst undoubtedly a talented actor the Aussie struggles in “Funny People” as Laura’s philandering husband, comedy clearly not his area of expertise.

“Funny People” has a wealth of good humor and like “Knocked Up” provides hidden depth below the giggles. This is a serious and emotionally ambitious film, Apatow has things to say and he purveys them sharply in his skillfully constructed script. The relationships are balanced and believable, the central arc between Ira and George particularly engaging and tastefully measured by the auteur. The story loosely cribs from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby” and so a solid story template is a given, “Apatow using his considerable talents to fill out the characterizations and modify the classic tale to suit the current comedy climate. It’s not hard to see that Apatow himself was a key player on the comedy circuit for several years, his perception of young and enthusiastic performers feels organic and pure. How he managed to nail the old and cynical pro so well is anybodies guess, but it’s obvious that his own experience filters strongly into the world of Ira and his roommates.

At nearly two and a half hours “Funny People” is a long movie, yet for the majority of the running the time investment feels sound. This is an intelligently written drama and comedy, combining the two beautifully with a metric ton of interesting relationships created as a consequence. Yet the ending feels weak. One almost assumes that “Funny People” takes the slightly cowardly finish, a far darker and memorable climax only one rewrite away. After delivering such an honest and engrossing character study in the two hours prior it’s disappointing that Apatow ties the narrative knot in such a tepid nature. The film itself is too good for such a contrivance to do any real damage, yet had a slightly braver dénouement been applied, who knows? I hate to bandy around the word masterpiece lightly but had the final act of “Funny People” been more forceful and courageous, it might have been a fair description.

It’s easy to recommend “Funny People” and it goes without saying that Apatow’s directorial CV remains fireproof, this doesn’t grow on you as much as “Knocked Up” but it’s probably a darker and more adult effort all the same. The final act is an annoyance but ultimately “Funny People” gets too much right for that to be a major issue and Sandler’s exuberant performance is worth the admission alone. “Funny People” is comedic nirvana for those seeking rich and emotionally rewarding multiplex material.


A review by Daniel Kelly, 2009