30 May 2010

Retro Review: A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge (1985)

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D

A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge
1985, 82mins, 18
Director: Jack Sholder
Writer: David Chaskin
Cast includes: Robert Englund, Mark Patton, Kim Myers, Robert Rusler, Hope Lange
UK release Date: 17th October 1986


“A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge” is a classic example of schlocky sequel syndrome. The film arrived only one year after the original, and had Wes Craven benched as a producer; subbing in Jack Sholder for directorial duties. Whilst a mighty success financially, the film wasn’t liked by critics or fans, albeit it’s odd homoerotic subtext marked it out as something a little more unusual than the average sub-par slasher. Sholder’s movie also takes Freddy out of the dream world, cooking up a ludicrous and downright illogical possession themed narrative. It’s a rocky picture, with only Englund’s reliable chops and a few robust scenes to recommend it.

Set five years after the initial film, “Elm Street 2” picks up with a new protagonist in the same old house. Jesse (Mark Patton) is having nightmares in which Freddy is appearing, and more tellingly the scarred up villain is demanding that Jesse kill for him in the real world. Jesse struggles with Krueger’s request, but eventually subconsciously succumbs, Krueger using the teenager as a host body to commit his murderous deeds. Jesse’s parents become concerned about his behaviour, but its girlfriend Lisa (Kim Myers) who decides to get to the bottom of the bizarre situation. Yet despite Lisa’s intervention the body count continues to rise, and Jesse seems completely infected by Elm Street’s legendary psycho.

The homoerotic undertones that permeate this feature are its most distinctive asset; “Elm Street 2” is rendered a true oddity on the basis of these themes. The film lurches from S&M fetish bars to locker room spanking, and most tellingly involves a sequence in which our hero strays away from sex with a girl to hide in a jock’s bedroom. Apparently certain members of the production staff were in on the whole thing, but director Jack Sholder was supposedly oblivious during production. These undercurrents don’t add a whole lot towards proceedings, but they offer a dollop of camp novelty, something that at least makes the film more memorable than most horror sequels.

Englund is once again fantastic as Krueger, but nobody else in the cast delivers. Mark Patton is a damp squib of a hero, whimpering through proceedings with all the pathos of a headless chicken. Kim Myers is slightly better (the film should have focused on her instead of Patton), the actress managing to arouse a sense of vague strength within her quizzical character. “Elm Street 2” really comes down to Englund and Patton, and whilst one half of the duo succeeds royally, the other is a total bust. Sadly it’s Patton, with whom the audience is meant to engage, that delivers the bad performance.

The story is poorly written and completely wastes the ingenious premise of Craven’s original. Taking Freddy out of dreams and fumbling him into a body horror story is just stupid, leaving the villain with a far less terrifying field of possibilities to exploit. There are a few well staged sequences, a murder in a bedroom springs to mind, but overall Sholder just can’t create the same sense of unease without the dream component. The plotting is also illogical and hard to fathom, especially when the twitchy finale eventually rolls around. Large portions of the picture don’t make very much sense, and Sholder’s workmanlike direction doesn’t really inject enough energy to overcome the dodgy storytelling. Adding to the picture’s woes is some truly atrocious dialogue, hardly a rarity in horror pictures, but it deserves mentioning here.

The film opens with a strong and inventive dream sequence, but upon ditching that concept for something less creative, “Elm Street 2” loses all of its limited fizz. The movie rattles along for 82 minutes at a fiercely confusing clip, before wrapping things up with one of the shoddiest final jump scares I’ve ever seen. The subtle homoeroticism evident may add a value of comic kitsch, but it can’t disguise what essentially boils down to be frighteningly inept horror filmmaking. Freddy deserves better.

A review by Daniel Kelly, 2010

29 May 2010

Movie Review: The Book of Eli

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C

The Book of Eli
2010, 118mins, 15
Director (s): The Hughes Brothers
Writer: Gary Whitta
Cast includes: Denzel Washington, Mila Kunis, Gary Oldman, Michael Gambon, Ray Stevenson
UK Release Date: 15th January 2010

I’m ashamed to admit it, but prior to viewing “The Book of Eli” I’d only seen one picture directed by the Hughes Brothers. 2001’s “From Hell” was a stylish and lightly entertaining Jack the Ripper thriller, but it was hardly a masterpiece. “The Book of Eli” is also gorgeously shot but on this occasion the story feels particularly malnourished, this post-apocalyptic yarn morphing into an unfortunate sermon before it concludes. The screenplay uses an inventive mechanism to get the ball rolling, but as the plot progresses it becomes unfathomably lean, and due to one dimensional characterization the talented cast can’t save the production.

“The Book of Eli” is set 30-years after the apocalypse. The film follows Eli (Denzel Washington) a lone traveller, who God has entrusted to transport the last remaining copy of the Bible west. The roads are roamed by bandits and thugs, but Eli is a powerful and determined combatant, going to any bloody lengths in order to preserve the sacred text he carries. Eli stumbles into a rundown community led by Carnegie (Gary Oldman), a man determined to uncover his own copy of the Bible, in order so that he might uses it’s words to expand his empire and utilize it as a psychological weapon. Upon discovering that Eli possesses the book, Carnegie sets out to get it, but Eli now accompanied by a young woman from the town (Mila Kunis); won’t give up his quest easily.

Much like vampires, the apocalypse has been in vogue for the last few years. Movies such as “I Am Legend”, “The Road” and “2012” have been regulars at multiplexes, which begs the question, when will the masses grow tired of all this end of the world shenanigans? At least “The Book of Eli” sets out in principal to do something a little different, even if it is mostly unsuccessful. The film suggests that it is faith which should rule our heads in times of distress, and the inclusion of the bible is an undoubtedly shrewd narrative move. These surface changes at least give “The Book of Eli” an original premise on which to play itself out. Of course there are several derivative facets (as per usual everybody in these worlds looks like they’re going to a Nine Inch Nails gig), but on the whole one has to applaud the intelligent and fresh deployment of religious texts and soulful themes.

Denzel Washington is perfectly fine as Eli, but there really isn’t much to it. All the role requires is that Washington look suitably badass in a fight and that he sounds credible when spilling religious mumbo-jumbo. The actor is better here than he was in last year’s poor redo of “The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3”, but given Washington’s talents he really should be aiming for loftier roles, or at least slightly more complex ones. Gary Oldman is in full autopilot mode as the bad guy, hitting the same crazed villainous beats we’ve seen the actor chew through before. Much like the leading man, Oldman is capable of better. A little more effective is Mila Kunis who plays out a sense of naivety competently and creates a believable connection with Washington; albeit the actress looks a little too well groomed to be coming from such dirge infested surroundings. Michael Gambon and Malcolm McDowell both cameo, but neither gets enough time to make much of an impression.

The screenplay offers some interesting ideas, but from a storytelling perspective it’s definitely on the thin side. The plot glides along without much depth and at times little logic, “The Book of Eli” asking viewers to suspend disbelief in a major way on a few occasions. A tighter ending would probably have helped tremendously, but it wouldn’t have completely cured the slight opening and middle acts. The film lacks dramatic beef, settling for scenes of well choreographed action and solid cinematography to plug the gaps. Sadly by the end both these elements have grown tired and obvious, rendering the picture a storytelling stillborn that no amount of visual skill can revive.

The finish here is a particularly poor way to culminate the tale, the picture becoming victim to an increasingly preachy tone. The final reveals will also leave viewers dissatisfied, they don’t really add up, with one in particular (involving a character having memorized something) smearing an ill judged layer of pointlessness over the whole adventure. “The Book of Eli” isn’t a terrible film, and action junkies should enjoy its sequences of Denzel kicking butt, yet it’s hard to describe the picture as anything other than expertly photographed but disposable Hollywood filmmaking. I for one would like more than that from my movies.

A review by Daniel Kelly, 2010

26 May 2010

Movie Review: Harry Brown

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B+

Harry Brown
2009, 103mins, 18
Director: Daniel Barber
Writer: Gary Young
Cast includes: Michael Caine, Ben Drew, Emily Mortimer, Liam Cunningham, David Bradley, Iain Glen
UK Release Date: 11th November 2009


“Harry Brown” is a compelling film, powered by a devastatingly raw performance from the legendary Michael Caine. Oscar nominated director (for his 2007 short film “The Tonto Woman”) Daniel Barber makes his feature length debut here, and it’s an uncompromising and promising foray from the filmmaker. Set in midst of the UK’s hoodie culture, “Harry Brown” offers elements of “Death Wish” and Shane Meadows in one bleak little production. Those looking for cheerful cinema or smile inducing Hollywood whimsy had best seek their thrills elsewhere. Barber has crafted a gritty and relentlessly unsettling view of life on UK estates, painting an aggressive and disturbing portrait of the gang violence and drug abuse that dominates such areas.

Following the loss of his wife, ex-marine Harry Brown (Michael Caine) spends his days playing chess and drinking with old buddy Leonard (David Bradley) at the local pub. The separate estates the men live on are riddled with violence, the police failing to tackle the drug trading, theft and assaults that occur on a daily basis. When Leonard is killed by a gang of youths, Harry snaps, deciding to take matters into his own hands. With an Inspector (Emily Mortimer) desperately trying (but ultimately failing) to land convictions, Harry goes on a vengeful tirade of violence; seeking extreme retribution on the anti-social misfits who have robbed him of his best friend.

Michael Caine is truly excellent in “Harry Brown”. Caine encompasses the necessary sense of tragedy and hard edged bloodlust, turning Harry into a convincing and sympathetic character. The actor looks positively terrifying in the tenacious moments of revenge that are scattered throughout the movie, but similarly he succeeds in unpacking the script’s emotional baggage, creating a believable human being in the process. There are enough tender moments of emotional sincerity and sadness to make Harry the focus of the audience’s support, despite the cruel and gory nature his retribution takes. Caine quietly dominates “Harry Brown” from the start, conjuring a true sense of elderly distress and rage concerning the world around him. The supporting cast provide quality back-up, Emily Mortimer doing particularly stoic and truthful work as a conflicted detective. Ben Drew (better known as musician Plan B) is menacing as the leader of the gang Harry targets, whilst further decent efforts are provided by the likes of Iain Glen, David Bradley, Liam Cunningham and Jack O’Connell. The film focuses (and at times outright depends) too heavily on Michael Caine for the cast here to be labelled an ensemble, but in fairness, all the performers work well to flesh out the gritty and drab environment around them.

The screenplay by Gary Young is from a narrative perspective somewhat unbalanced, but it packs enough honesty and good characterization to paper across the unfocused plotting. “Harry Brown” does lurch from one scene to another with an almost randomized sense of urgency, but by the end the viewer is completely onside with the picture’s tragic anti-hero. Individual scenes also work extremely well, and whilst the structure might be suspect; the pacing is pitch perfect. The moments of violence that populate the picture deserve kudos for focusing on raw anger and distress, rather than lingering shamelessly on the often bloody aftermath of Caine’s actions. Barber’s film definitely captures a dirty and scary vision of the UK, but in the end it always comes back to Harry and his own personal desire to hunt and eviscerate the local scum. For Barber his leading man’s turmoil is more interesting than yet another social commentary on British street thugs.

The music courtesy of Ruth Barrett and Martin Phipps is eerily composed and endearingly suitable, adding an extra dimension of storminess to Barber’s already desolate visuals. The film cranks up to a serviceably tense climax, and the payoff is adequate without neutering the project’s ferociously realistic sensibility. “Harry Brown” is a powerful cinematic diversion, and it provides a true platform for the aging Michael Caine to demonstrate his prowess as an actor. “Harry Brown” isn’t an easy watch, but it carries a weight of importance and relevance behind it, which coupled with a superb leading performance, marks it out as worth watching.

A review by Daniel Kelly, 2010

DVD Verdict Review: The 41-Year-Old Virgin Who Knocked Up Sarah Marshall and Felt Superbad About it

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F

Review Link: http://www.dvdverdict.com/reviews/41yearoldvirgin.php

22 May 2010

Movie Review: Robin Hood

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D+

Robin Hood
2010, 140mins, 12
Director: Ridley Scott
Writer (s): Brian Helgeland, Cyrus Voris, Ethan Reiff
Cast includes: Russell Crowe, Cate Blanchett, Mark Strong, Oscar Isaac, Danny Huston, Kevin Durand, Max Von Sydow
UK Release Date: 12th May 2010

Ridley Scott’s is an easy body of work to admire. Motion pictures like “Alien”, “Blade Runner” and “Gladiator” have all entered the pantheon of cinematic greats, cementing the director as one of the medium’s most inspired visionaries. Hell I even found a hefty amount to admire in the heavily slated theatrical cut of “Kingdom of Heaven”, so my grand appreciation of Scott as a filmmaker really isn’t up for debate. However as was the case with Scott’s last venture behind the camera (2008’s “Body of Lies”), “Robin Hood” is a massively disappointing feature, the first 90 minutes of this origin story actually bordering on unwatchable.

Robin Longstride (Russell Crowe) is a warrior fighting in King Richard the Lionheart’s (Danny Huston) Crusades. When the king is felled in battle by an arrow, Robin and his accomplices (Scott Grimes, Kevin Durand and Alan Doyle) decide to venture home; only to oversee a French ambush orchestrated by English traitor Godfrey (Mark Strong) claim the lives of those men returning the crown to British shores. Deciding to travel under the deceased soldier’s identities, Robin returns the crown and see’s it placed atop the slimy King John (Oscar Isaac). Robin then rides to Nottingham to complete a promise to a fallen comrade, returning the man’s sword to his blind father Walter Loxley (Max Von Sydow). Loxley then convinces Robin to pretend to be his son; so that Nottingham can stay at peace. Whilst there Robin meets the young Loxley’s widow Marian (Cate Blanchett), and their relationship begins to bloom. However Godfrey is leading a French inspired campaign of terror all across the land, so when it arrives in Nottingham; Robin is forced to meet his destiny and set his legend in motion.

“Robin Hood” is a truly spiritless retelling of a fantastical story, Scott and his screenwriters having reformed the legend into a pile of uninspired mush. The filmmakers deserve some kudos for taking the tale in such a drastically different direction, but based on what’s been produced a more generically heroic take might have been more digestible. Scott becomes embroiled in the politics of the time, leaving the adventuring and gallant battle scenes on the back burner, unleashing them at the end when it is infinitely too late. “Robin Hood” is a soul crushingly dull blockbuster and an early misfire for the 2010 summer season.

Russell Crowe makes for a surprisingly wooden Robin, failing to find any spark or humour in the character’s much examined DNA. The actor looks convincing when wielding bow or sword, but the chances for medieval battle mongering are few and far between, leaving only a selection of tepid dramatic sequences for Crowe to ply his trade. His accent is also wildly uneven, exactly what region it’s meant to represent is an enigma. It’s a boring lead performance for a boring movie. Cate Blanchett is much more watchable and actually imbues Marian with a sense of emotional instability, suffering after the death of her husband and struggling with Nottingham’s food crisis. Her scenes with Crowe ignite little chemistry or sense of fate, but in every other capacity the actress is a steely success. Oscar Isaac also makes a good King John, bringing a terrifically wormy nature to the table, and firing out all the film’s best dialogue. Mark Strong who is playing the bad guy everywhere at the moment (brilliant in “Kick-Ass, not bad in “Sherlock Holmes”) is unimposing as Godfrey, albeit that’s more the writer’s fault than that of the thespian. Finally Robin’s merry men are played nicely by Durand, Doyle and Grimes, but the trio aren’t given enough screen time to really register.

With Scott at the helm “Robin Hood” was always going to look excellent, and indeed it does. A sense of place and time is well captured and the polished cinematography looks like it’s been taken very seriously. However these technical victories aren’t enough to overcome the narrative blunders. “Robin Hood” spends far too much of its time examining the era’s political landscape, leaving little proper room for the cheeky adventuring that audiences seek from the character. Under Scott’s leadership the property has darkened down considerably, but even that is little excuse for the lack of entertaining battle sequences, brash villainy or windswept romance. Oscar Isaac nobly attempts to inject some cartoonish life into proceedings, but ultimately it’s not enough, as everyone else sets solidly into ashen faced bore mode. The relationship between Robin and Marian is frostily executed, and his buddies simply aren’t around enough for a feeling of brotherly love to emerge. The obvious inclusion of the Magna Carta and other documents of the time are clever, but their insertion into the plot is clumsy, leading to extensively dour bureaucratic discussions rather than ramped up thrills.

Any attempts to humanize the leading man are broad and obvious, the film reliant on flashbacks in order to lazily instil it’s hero with a tragic legacy. When the battle scenes come about they do tend to be quite good, a beach bound finale managing levels of adrenaline the rest of the picture so desperately requires. However by that point “Robin Hood” has simply gone too far adrift, no amount of well shot bloodshed or tonally epic music would have been enough to resuscitate the project. The film closes with the words “so the legend begins”; audiences are just likely to be thankful the tedium is over.

A review by Daniel Kelly, 2010

17 May 2010

Retro Review: Gia (1998)

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D+

Gia
1998, 120mins, 18
Director: Michael Cristofer
Writer (s): Michael Cristofer, Jay McInerney
Cast includes: Angelina Jolie, Elizabeth Mitchell, Faye Dunaway, Eric Michael Cole, Mercedes Ruehl
UK Release Date: 21st October 1998

“Gia” is a drab biopic with a sparkling lead performance. Angelina Jolie is aggressively sexual and disarmingly sympathetic as America’s first supermodel, Gia Carangi; a woman who endured a tumultuous career before dying of AIDS at the age of 26. However leaving the film’s leading lady aside, “Gia” is a picture devoted to dreary reminiscing and lethargic production design, the screenplay never really lifting off the ground. As a mechanical retelling of Carangi’s story it’s adequate, but the picture never really achieves any true depth or emotional resonance. Jolie’s performance means that audiences will feel some connection with the title character, but even an actress as formidable as Angie can’t compensate for all the picture’s other disastrous facets.

Gia Carangi (Angelina Jolie) was a girl from a broken home, who went onto become America’s first supermodel. Blessed with true beauty, a fiery personality and a lucky transition into the fashion industry, Gia’s story starts with promise, but promptly fades into tragedy. After a string of failed relationships and the constant strain of public exposure, Gia became a hardcore druggie; something that eventually led to her demise in 1986. “Gia” looks at both the model’s personal and professional lifestyles, albeit with less insight and clarity than most viewers will likely be pining for.

Jolie is excellent as Gia, everything that’s good about this movie can be traced back to her. The screenplay only really touches the character’s surface, leaving the actress to dissect the rest of Gia’s personality herself. Despite the pictures general lack of commitment to the subject, it’s remarkable that Jolie succeeds as royally as she does, bringing a delightful innocence and sexual dynamism to the screen in “Gia”. Jolie keeps her momentum going from start to finish, despite the fact the movie sags and blunders all around her. The supporting cast don’t do much to help matters; they’re a morbid and often stilted selection; failing to being the same kinetic sass to their characters as Jolie does hers. Elizabeth Mitchell is a particularly disappointing as Gia’s true love, especially given the fact her role is packed with more meat than most. Faye Dunaway appears briefly as the woman who helps lever Gia into the industry, whilst Mercedes Ruehl feels flat and one note as the model’s conflicted mother. It’s an unimpressive assortment of performances, although the generally low standard only further emphasises Jolie’s brilliance.

Director Michael Cristofer goes through the motions with “Gia”, spending more time setting up elaborate visual tricks than delving deep within the material. Cristofer shoots the fashion sequences competently and handles the moderately regular nudity with at least some artistic integrity; but his storytelling skills are in need of considerable honing on the evidence of “Gia”. The whole enterprise feels stale and underdeveloped, Cristofer showing little concern for any element of the tale that isn’t seedy or depraved. The relationships between characters are wastefully dull, and at no point does the filmmaker appear to have a grip on the story’s human elements. “Gia” is in short an uninvolving picture, lacking the emotional understanding or tenderness to mark it out as an effective tragedy. Jolie sporadically manages to pull the viewer in on her performance alone, but mostly that isn’t enough; such a juncture being the film’s tearjerker finale. The ultimate sign of the movie’s failure is that by the end the audience doesn’t really care, rendering this vehicle a hopelessly cold stab at biographical cinema.

The picture addresses taboo topics like drug abuse, AIDs and lesbian sex with little wit or fresh perspective, recycling the same surface level revelations we’ve seen thousands of times before. Simply referencing these topics doesn’t make a film important or controversial, however a detailed look and intriguing message might. “Gia” can muster neither of those things; it happily pumps out the same lazy observations and conclusions that films had been doing well before 1998. Simply saying that AIDs is “heartbreaking” or drugs are “potentially damaging” is hardly incisive or cutthroat, the lack of added value rendering “Gia” a pedestrian social commentary.

“Gia” isn’t a successful film by any means, it’s obvious how it provided a springboard for Jolie’s career; but otherwise the lack of future fulfilment for other contributors isn’t hard to fathom. The picture is weighed down by its obsession with Cristofer’s unremarkable visual focus, leaving the rest of the production a heartless and unconvincing mess. I’ll happily repeat again that Jolie is breathtakingly efficient, but other than that “Gia” is a harsh and unpleasant way to spend two hours.

A review by Daniel Kelly, 2010

13 May 2010

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12 May 2010

Movie Review: Whiteout

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D

Whiteout
2009, 97mins, 15
Director: Dominic Sena
Writer (s): Jon Hoeber, Erich Hoeber, Chad Hayes, Carey Hayes, Greg Rucka (novel)
Cast includes: Kate Beckinsale, Gabriel Macht, Columbus Short, Tom Skerritt, Alex O'Loughlin
UK Release Date: 12th September 2009


Adapted from a graphic novel of the same name, “Whiteout” is a murder mystery set in the harsh but beautiful landscape of Antarctica. On first glance things seem encouraging enough. Kate Beckinsale is a credible lead, the merciless environment should add an extra dimension of threat and the source material was met with applause upon release in 1998. However add in a troubled production history and director Dominic Sena; and suddenly prospects don’t seem so hot. Sena has made a career out of helming vacuous and poorly received Hollywood thrillers, “Whiteout” adding another slushy bore to the filmmaker’s patchy CV. Released last September to universal derision and a quick death at the box-office, “Whiteout” is a sucky thriller; easily predicted and devoid of fulfilling storytelling.

U.S Marshall Carrie Stetko (Kate Beckinsale) is about to complete her law enforcement tenure and hang up her badge for good, having served the final few years of her career in the Antarctic. As her base prepares to move out for the winter, Carrie is informed that a body has been spotted lying in the white and icebound wilderness. This is a revelation as it marks Antarctica’s first ever official murder, plunging Carrie into an investigation that leads her to a 1950’s aircraft, buried deep beneath the snow. With the help of UN operative Robert Pryce (Gabriel Macht), Carrie begins to understand that the long lost plane was holding something of value, and that somebody in the frozen land around her thinks it’s worth killing for.

Visually “Whiteout” is a striking picture, but director Dominic Sena never draws a true sense of menace from his snowy landscapes. The barren and remorseless world of Antarctica should indeed feel like a villain in its own right, “Whiteout” attempts at the start to characterize it as a dangerous adversary, but unfortunately the filmmakers lose focus and fail to imbue it with the necessary aura of dread and fear. Sena’s lacklustre attitude toward his setting also permeates other areas of the film, not least his guidance of the turgid narrative itself. The graphic novel is reputedly rather good; as a result one would have to suppose this script is simply a horrid adaptation. The film lacks tension, excitement or any true uncertainty, pushing it to depths of inanity reserved for all but the most redundant genre efforts. It’s obvious that the story means well, but ultimately it’s too pedestrian or obvious to work as a satisfying piece of popcorn cinema.

The whodunit element is ridiculously easy to anticipate, leaving “Whiteout” with only a blurry and frost tipped action sequence to close itself out. The film musters an entertaining few minutes in a scene about a third of the way through, in which Beckinsale is pursued by a pickaxe wielding bad guy, but the rest of the production is repetitive and anticlimactic. Indeed one might argue the picture’s very best instance is also one of its first, a gratuitous segment in which Beckinsale strips to her underwear and takes a shower. This part of “Whiteout” serves absolutely no purpose other than to have its attractive leading lady get half naked, and in honesty it seems like the sort of material provided by frantic reshoots, done in the light of test screenings that revealed the experience had precious little else to offer. Now I’m not one to slander a good bra and panties shot, but when it’s the best thing about a movie, you have to ponder how the whole thing didn’t go straight to DVD.

Beckinsale does as much with the role as anybody could logically expect, working with lame dialogue and stodgy flashbacks, the actress tries very hard and actually almost succeeds at making Carrie a memorable heroine. The rest of the cast are all varying degrees of poor. Tom Skerritt coasts spectacularly as the base’s elderly medic, a man who wants nothing more than to get home and see his granddaughter. There is nothing more to his one note character than that. Gabriel Macht who wasn’t overly impressive in Frank Miller’s “The Spirit” is much the same here, handsome but lacking in emotion or three dimensionality. I suppose the writers also deserve a hefty dosage of blame, but Macht really doesn’t even match-up to their lean characterization. Both Columbus Short and Alex O’Loughlin have small roles as aircraft pilots, but whilst Short is cheeky and charming, O’Loughlin is a painfully unconvincing sack of cocksure arrogance.

“Whiteout” is a grating film, and a puzzle that never stirs any real sense of intrigue. The Antarctic scenery is awe inspiring and the cinematography competent, but ultimately the production’s failing to generate any real danger or atmosphere from the landscapes is a sin it can never overcome. That said, a screenplay this generic and uninspired wouldn’t have stood a chance even if there had been a more astute and aware director than Dominic Sena behind the camera. “Whiteout” is a whitewash.

A review by Daniel Kelly, 2010

10 May 2010

Perkinsgate and why plagiarism never pays

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During the past few days a minor scandal has rocked the net based film critic community. A British video blogger called Tom Perkins, operating under the alias “filmXTRATOM” was busted for mass amounts of plagiarism, the cardinal sin of web based criticism. Perkins had sneakily leached content from terrific critics like Matthew Turner of www.viewlondon.co.uk and sites like joblo.com, passing their work of as his own. Obviously at this juncture several days on, Perkins has officially apologised (not that saying sorry will do his reputation many favours now) and the incident has been widely reported and damned on twitter and various other geek havens. Perkin’s YouTube channel has been placed on lockdown, and his content removed from the film blog www.heyyouguys.co.uk. Various blogs have (including a rather excellent one at www.the-following-preview.blogspot.com) reported widely on this specific issue, and that’s all fine and dandy. However what fascinates me isn’t “Perkinsgate”, but rather the idea of plagiarizing film reviews at all.

I write film reviews because I love movies. Sure I get free access to screenings occasionally and am provided with a few free DVD’s every month, but ultimately it’s my love of cinema that keeps me doing it. It’s not a lucrative business for me, in fact I earn next to nothing for my film reviews and movie articles. To be honest I’m going to assume 99% of my fellow critics (no matter if they be a fresh faced amateur or Roger Ebert himself) feel the same way. So why on god’s earth would you take somebody else’s opinions and passion and proceed to pass them off as your own. It’s a fucking mystery. Film criticism requires a true affection for cinema in order to have any impact, and if you don’t care enough to write your own reviews, you clearly don’t care enough about films to be considered a respectable voice within the internet community. Tom Perkins may indeed cherish cinema, but when he goes around stealing other peoples work; he’s keeping such feelings bottled up inside of him. In honesty what shocks me most isn’t the theft or sheer laziness, but rather the lack of zeal or genuine excitement for a post he’s lucky to have. Every year so many great fans and eloquent writers loose faith in film criticism because they can’t find an audience, something Mr. Perkins clearly possessed in a credible stature. I’m lucky to be a writer for three sites and am incredibly proud to be affiliated with them; being forever thankful that the editors of these web spaces have allowed me to be a part of their writing family. However so many far superior film lovers never even manage to cut a break and find a good place to air their opinions. So it saddens me that anyone on Tom Perkin’s platform and with such a supposed affinity for film could waste their chance so utterly; especially when so many burgeoning talents never hit the heights they deserve.

Of course one also has to assess the moral implications and artistic depravity of legitimately thieving another person’s work, this being the most obvious problem with plagiarism. This is an abhorrent path to tread, but surely it’s also a hugely dissatisfying and stupid one. Firstly it’s hard to see any proper person with journalistic integrity feeling happy within themselves when all their output is stolen, it must create a truly dirty and sour relationship with your craft. Your opinion and reputation is never something to be proud of, even if your thieving stays forever hidden; because the work and views don’t belong to you. It’s a fairly worthless state of affairs for sure. One of the most startling things about web based plagiarism is that the offender ever thinks he’ll be able to get away with it. We live in an era with search engines (where simple phrases can be turned up in seconds), and in a time where thousands upon thousands of film obsessive’s move through reviews at a ferocious rate. These folks will report back to writers when they see evidence of theft, making them just as efficient as Google when it comes to tracking and terminating plagiarism. How these larcenist dummies think they can get away with it is stunning, and as evidenced by Mr. Perkins, they rarely do.

If my writing was stolen I’d be 30% flattered and 70% annoyed, in the end it’s ultimately a warped compliment. However having your hard work thieved is never a good feeling, and it’s sad to watch a fellow movie fanatic steep to such pathetic lows. Plagiarism has no real benefits in this age of the internet film critic, and the sooner people realise that; the happier the web will become. To all fellow writers and bloggers I urge you never to commit this deed (for your own reputation’s sake above all else), and to those who are hiding behind a wall of literary theft; damn yourself to oblivion.

An article by Daniel Kelly, 2010

DVD Verdict Review: Leap Year

0 comments


D

Review Link: http://www.dvdverdict.com/reviews/leapyear.php

9 May 2010

DVD Verdict Review: Homecoming

0 comments


F

Review Link: http://www.dvdverdict.com/reviews/homecoming.php

DVD Verdict Review: Traffic (Blu-Ray)

0 comments


A

Review link: http://www.dvdverdict.com/reviews/trafficbluray.php

DVD Verdict Review: Tooth Fairy

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D

Review Link: http://www.dvdverdict.com/reviews/toothfairy2010.php

8 May 2010

Movie Review: A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010)

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C

A Nightmare on Elm Street
2010, 95mins, 18
Director: Samuel Bayer
Writer (s): Wesley Strick, Eric Heisserer, Wes Craven (characters)
Cast includes: Jackie Earle Haley, Rooney Mara, Kyle Gallner, Clancy Brown, Katie Cassidy, Kellan Lutz
UK Release Date: 7th May 2010


In 1984 Wes Craven directed “A Nightmare on Elm Street, and a star was born. I’m not alluding to the filmmakers or even a young Johnny Depp who featured fairly prominently, but rather the movie’s notorious villain Freddy Krueger. Depicted by Robert Englund, Krueger became one of the horror genres most potent icons, the character being granted numerous (and mostly underwhelming) sequels along with becoming a Halloween costume staple for eternity. “A Nightmare on Elm Street” circa 1984 was a great flick, but it’s a case of one particular character upstaging the movie itself. Michael Bay’s Platinum Dunes approaches this 2010 remake of “A Nightmare on Elm Street” the same way they seem to with all their vehicles, by attempting to humanize the monster. Recruiting “Watchmen” star Jackie Earle Haley to replace Englund seemed like a decent move, and the presence of music video legend Samuel Bayer behind the camera is more intriguing than insulting; yet “Nightmare” 2010 doesn’t work as a fully fledged piece of art. Individual scenes and several new ideas are rather cool, and Hayley makes a robust Krueger, but ultimately most of the film feels like a pointless march through familiar territory.

The teenagers of Elm Street are experiencing odd nightmares. All of them keep dreaming of a man, clad in a striped sweatshirt, with razor blades on his fingers and a burnt up face. The man calls himself Freddy (Jackie Earle Haley), and in the adolescent’s dreamscapes, he’s always trying to catch and kill them. Still, they’re just dreams, right? Not quite. Everything that Freddy does to the teenagers in their visions also happens to them in reality, meaning that the kids of Elm Street are being bumped off in gruesome and unexplainable ways. With the parent’s stuck in a tight lipped (does Freddy have a link to their children’s past?) and unbelieving state, an exhausted Nancy (Rooney Mara) and buddy Quentin (Kyle Gallner) decide to uncover who exactly their stalker is, and why he’s coming after them.

This rebooted version of “A Nightmare on Elm Street” is a picture that works in certain sections, but fumbles itself drastically in others. The opening sequence at a Diner is for instance a buffet of hideous acting and silly jump scares, a scene that gets this remake off to an appalling start. Things don’t brighten up too quickly either, retreads of the famous wall climbing and bathtub scenes are tepid imitations of Craven’s originals, relying too heavily on fast edits and CGI. Samuel Bayer’s “A Nightmare on Elm Street” is a much less menacing picture overall, the director struggling to capture the tense or haunting tone of the original. His attempts at directly replicating moments from Craven’s film feel like bad cover songs, performed by a tribute band that are much more fixated on look than substance. However when left to do its own thing, “Nightmare” 2010 is actually a pretty accomplished feature, bringing stacks of eerie visuals, a villainous back-story and an inspired “micro naps” concept to the party. It’s not enough to make the film anything more than redundantly average, but at least it allows at times for the project to act as watchable entertainment.

The performances are mostly unimpressive. Rooney Mara is a dull Nancy, lacking the likable spark Heather Langenkamp brought in the original picture. Mara never looks capable of fleshing Nancy out, retaining the same monotone delivery and glazed over look for the entirety of this remake. Kyle Gallner is more engaging and good humoured as Nancy’s love interest, managing to find a good balance between depressed fatigue and teenage sass. The rest of the young cast are absolutely dreadful, Katie Cassidy and Kellan Lutz being the chief offenders. Not only does this lifeless duo stink up the movie with a lack of acting ability, but they also look a good 10 years older than any of the other teens in the film. Cassidy in particular looks laughably out of place in a classroom based environment; she appears like a 30 year old supermodel stuck in a class of high school misfits. It’s like viewing a prettier version of “Billy Madison”. Clancy Brown is always a welcome addition to any film, and he’s fine here as Gallner’s Dad; but perhaps more time on the screen would have been beneficial.

As Freddy, Jackie Earle Haley is a competent replacement, and he does his best to use his character’s new paedophiliac heritage to disturbing effect. The added exposition concerning Freddy’s past is icky, but it does provide Haley with an extra dimension of horror to exploit. “Nightmare” 2010 redesigns Freddy’s legendarily scarred face to try and create a more authentic burn victim aesthetic, but it actually just ends up reducing the character’s personality. Haley growls and quips his way through the picture with glee, but the make-up effects just aren’t as fun or deranged here, the new look impressing initially but eventually just grating. Haley remains a good piece of casting, but in the end, would it not just have been more sensible to call a now 61 year old Englund out of retirement? After all, no actor will ever replace him in the eyes the fans.

The original film weaved in and out of dreams brilliantly, tricking viewers into a false sense of safety wonderfully. Bayer manages this a few times, but much of his ethereal cinematography seems overly stylized; giving audiences fair warning when some Freddy mayhem is about to break out. The director deserves full marks for pulling out an obviously gritty and surreal atmosphere, but when contrasted with reality this takes some of the sting out of his tale. The kills themselves are largely just rehashed versions of those seen in the 1984 movie, albeit often with even more gore. One of this project’s best assets is the inclusion of “micro naps”, a scientific anomaly that allows Freddy to pop up at any time during the feature’s second half. This infuses a sense of urgency and originality that sizable portions of this remake are lacking, and it cranks up the suspense considerably toward the productions denouement. It’s hardly enough to save “Nightmare” 2010 from mediocrity, buts it’s a smart enough move to prevent it from closing on a totally tiresome note.

Wes Craven’s “A Nightmare on Elm Street” is a classic, and the film’s bad guy is amongst the very best Hollywood has ever produced. Samuel Bayer’s retread does some stuff correctly and makes a few shrewd moves, but on the whole it’s by far and away the more inferior product. Amongst recent horror remakes it ranks somewhere in the middle ground, falling short of stuff like “The Omen” and even last year’s cheerful “Friday the 13th”, but certainly it’s a more assured vehicle than pictures like “Prom Night” or Gus Van Sant’s “Psycho”. That said, Michael Bay and Platinum Dunes have created a fairly pointless film here, more interested in jump scares than truly terrifying material. No matter how many times you’ve seen the original, watching it again will be a better use of your time than catching this remake.

A review by Daniel Kelly, 2010

2 May 2010

Movie Review: Iron Man 2

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B

Iron Man 2
2010, 124mins, 12
Director: Jon Favreau
Writer: Justin Theroux
Cast includes: Robert Downey Jr., Mickey Rourke, Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Scarlett Johansson, Samuel L. Jackson, Sam Rockwell
UK Release Date: 30th April 2010

2008’s “Iron Man” was a rollicking success, and the movie that turned Robert Downey Jr. into a superstar overnight. Director Jon Favreau took a lesser known Marvel creation, and churned out a lively and unashamedly fun popcorn film two years ago, to the tune of $585 million dollars worldwide. With those sorts of financial statistics “Iron Man 2” was always going to happen, the only real question being could it deliver the same giddy thrills as its predecessor. Like most sequels, “Iron Man 2” is an inferior product to the original picture, yet that’s not to say it’s a poor film. This second instalment still finds a nice balance of action and humour, which despite a loose screenplay; is enough to keep it satisfactorily entertaining.

“Iron Man 2” picks up six months after the events of the first film. With the world now aware that Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) is Iron Man; the government is putting pressure on the playful millionaire to turn his technology over to the military. To make matters worse it transpires the Iron Man suit is slowly poisoning his blood, and Tony’s relationships with CEO girlfriend Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) and best friend Colonel James Rhodes (Don Cheadle) are becoming increasingly strained. However things reach a nadir when a Russian tech genius called Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke) comes out of the blue, with vengeance on the Stark family dominating his thoughts. After an initially unsuccessful attempt at offing Tony; Vanko teams up with envious weapons designer Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell), the aim to outdo Stark industries in the technological field. Yet unbeknown to Hammer, Vanko’s ambitions are far more extreme and sinister than simply upstaging Stark at his own game.

Downey Jr. is still on great form as Tony Stark, some of the freshness has gone but the performance is still frontloaded with charisma. Downey’s delightfully jovial and sharp personification of Stark was one of the original film’s biggest selling points, and things haven’t changed much with “Iron Man 2”. Downey shows a capable grasp of both comedic and dramatic material, the latter most evident during his scenes opposite Paltrow. “Iron Man 2” boasts a more emotionally developed relationship between Pepper and Tony, requiring a more fearsome chemistry between Paltrow and Downey. Thankfully both performers step up to the mark and deliver the goods, giving “Iron Man 2” a beating heart under all the blockbusting hi-jinks. Mickey Rourke is skilfully restrained as Vanko, underplaying the role with insight and menace. Rourke successfully concocts a believable feeling of anger and rage, rendering his villainous arc viable and intriguing. Don Cheadle is somewhat wasted as Rhodes (replacing Terrence Howard from the first film), whilst Scarlett Johansson is adequately sexy as Tony’s new and mysterious secretary. Sam Rockwell nearly steals the film in the part of an inferior and ignorant weapon’s manufacturer. It’s a terrifically well attuned piece of acting, and further evidence of Rockwell’s superb range. Rounding out the cast is the ever welcome Samuel L. Jackson, playing the head of S.H.I.E.L.D, an operation with plans of their own for the Iron Man device.

The screenplay by Justin Theroux has some snappy dialogue and enjoyable set pieces, but in terms of storytelling it’s less convincing. “Iron Man 2” feels sloppy in some sections and certain facets of the film feel forced and underdeveloped; the need to include Johansson’s character a perfect example of the script’s excess baggage. The lean and efficient structure of the 2008 original has been substituted for something much less aerodynamic, “Iron Man 2” is actually a shorter feature; but it feels longer and at times powerfully overcooked. The tone of the film is much the same; albeit this time the narrative just doesn’t flow as freely or with the same degree of frantic exuberance. The film also feels very much like the middle section of a trilogy, the pay-off for the entire experience never quite arriving within this chapter. Hopefully a third film or a possible “Avengers” flick will round out the story in a more complete manner.

The action remains brilliantly shot, and the digital effects are still top notch. Jon Favreau handles the brash comic book moments well, they are expertly edited and captured in a coherent and non nausea inducing fashion. Spectacle is obviously a large part of the summer movie season, and “Iron Man 2” offers a hearty dose of it; culminating in an epic and energetic finale. Sequences involving Mickey Rourke dispatching a selection of cars, and Johansson athletically slugging goons are also excellent, and add wonderfully to an already powerful burst of big budget mayhem. Favreau isn’t a filmmaker dependent on classy CGI or hyperkinetic visuals to make his projects worthwhile, but he has obvious skill in those areas, which along with his light-hearted touch keep “Iron Man 2” fun.

“Iron Man 2” doesn’t do a bad job of forging decent onscreen relationships, the aforementioned dynamic between Paltrow and Downey being the highlight in this department. Theroux may fumble some of the basic narrative mechanisms, but he does a credible job of evolving the characters beyond what audiences have already witnessed in the initial effort. Rourke’s back-story is well deployed and intelligently conveyed, an essential success for the film given the actor’s brooding and reserved performance. Unfortunately the sequel attempts to lazily imbue it’s hero with one dimensional daddy issues; a bum note amongst some pretty solid characterization.

“Iron Man 2” is a weaker film than the franchise’s first entry; although it marks a promising start for this year’s cinematic summer. Downey’s flamboyancy keeps him ever watchable, whilst the action and zippy comic interludes are robustly handled by Favreau. The score is laden with tracks from AC/DC, a musical match for the material if ever I’ve seen it. “Iron Man 2” may not pack the same punch as the character did in 2008 (the element of surprise absent this time), but it is none the less an acceptably explosive and lavish slice of Hollywood filmmaking.

A review by Daniel Kelly, 2010