29 July 2010

DVD Verdict Review: My Name is Khan

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C

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

Retro Review: A Night at the Roxbury (1998)

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B-

A Night at the Roxbury
1998, 82mins, 15
Director: John Fortenberry
Writer (s): Chris Kattan, Will Ferrell, Steve Koren
Cast includes: Will Ferrell, Chris Kattan, Jennifer Coolidge, Chazz Palminteri, Loni Anderson, Dan Hedaya
UK Release Date: 19th March 1999

Back in 1998 the reaction to “A Night at the Roxbury” was nothing short of cancerous. Critics took out their knives and laid waste to the SNL inspired picture, some going as far to dub it the worst film of its respective year. When you consider the same 12 months gave viewers “Patch Adams”, that’s just being cruel. “A Night at the Roxbury” isn’t a great film but upon revisiting it in 2010 there’s a surprising amount to like, and an interesting amount of reflection to be carried out. For instance it is fascinating to view how the careers of leading men Will Ferrell and Chris Kattan have developed (Ferrell’s a huge star, Kattan is now an almost completely forgotten SNL footnote), and to witness the amount of fresh faced supporting talent the film offers (Eva Mendes, Molly Shannon and Michael Clarke Duncan). “Roxbury” is even at a minor 82 minutes overstretched, but this is actually a comedy that offers a relatively respectable quota of laughs and provides two amusing lead performances from its poster boys.

Steve Butabi (Will Ferrell) and Doug Butabi (Chris Kattan) are brothers who spend all night clubbing, and trying (but always failing) to score with women. They have a dream of operating their own nightclub, and when they manage to get access to the hottest club in town and have a discussion with its owner (Chazz Palminteri) they see an opening to have their ambitions realized. However the pair have to contend with a doubting father (Dan Hedaya) and several other obstacles before they can start to build on their nightlife fantasy.

“Roxbury” is an undeniably dumb hunk of American comedy, but it generates giggles and warmth on the back of Kattan and Ferrell’s game performances. As a pair they make a decent double act, Kattan in particular filling the film with high energy slapstick and physical lunacy. Back in 1998 if audiences were told one of these men was to become a key player on the Hollywood comedy scene, I’d be confident most would look to Kattan. Ferrell is perfectly solid, but Kattan gets most of the script’s best lines and the film’s most rewarding moments, looping them around his little figure and spinning them for all they’re worth. The film rests entirely on Ferrell and Kattan and they pull out some heavy comedic lifting to make their one joke premise into a passable diversion. Chazz Palminteri doesn’t get much to do (and is victim to a weak running gag) but the film is also peppered with appearances from other famous folk. TV star Richard Grieco actually works as an important plot device and more astute film fans won’t fail to recognise a young Eva Mendes, comedy stalwart Jennifer Coolidge and a pre-“Green Mile” Michael Clarke Duncan.

The screenplay (which Kattan and Ferrell played a large part in creating) actually does an ok job of morphing the simple SNL sketch on which the project is based into a motion picture. Some of the jokes do eventually get repetitive (“you from outta town?) but given how linear the original shorts were, it’s nothing short of remarkable that they’ve been transformed into a fun way to spend 82 minutes. The plot is extremely basic and like all SNL films the aim is always with the gags rather than the narrative, although “Roxbury” doesn’t fire out the jokes with the same rapidity as other SNL pictures. Most movies based on the sketch show run a fast paced stream of multiple larks a minute; “Roxbury” displays slightly more restraint and aims for a quality over quantity motive. It doesn’t always work, but the thought is surely appreciated.

The soundtrack adds an extra dimension of overblown silliness to proceedings, supplementing the film’s cheeky tone nicely. “Roxbury” is no smarter than either of its idiotic metrosexual protagonists, but it exudes the same relaxed and fun loving aura, which despite its obvious flaws allows it to provide enough sophomoric fun to muster at least a mild recommendation. Those seeking mature or stimulating filmmaking had best keep their distance, but to those willing to concede intellect in exchange for a few charming laughs, I’d give “A Night at the Roxbury” another chance.

A review by Daniel Kelly, 2010

27 July 2010

Blu-Ray Review: Clash of the Titans

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(This review was originally published at www.flickfeast.co.uk by Daniel Kelly on July 27th 2010. This review covers the UK Blu-Ray release of “Clash of the Titans”, although it appears there are no differences between it and the recent US counterpart.)

1981’s "Clash of the Titans" is not a film remembered for great storytelling or emotional depth, but rather it’s landmark use of Ray Harryhausen’s stop motion effects. Harryhausen delved deep into Greek mythology for his work on the 1981 project; garnering gasps of awe and nostalgic adoration from an entire generation as a consequence. Louis Leterrier is the director behind this 2010 reimagining of "Clash of the Titans"; albeit instead of the hand sculpted wizardry of Harryhausen, Leterrier fills his version with oodles of CGI beasties and computer generated battle mongering. "Clash of the Titans" circa 2010 is undeniably a less charming endeavour than its 80’s predecessor, but thanks to good casting and a storming second half it provides a modest degree of entertainment.

Zeus (Liam Neeson) has grown weary of mankind, and finds their lack of respect and love for the gods unacceptable. In a bid to scare them back to their worshipping ways, Zeus unleashes his evil brother Hades (Ralph Fiennes) to offer them a perilous ultimatum. The humans must sacrifice their gorgeous princess Andromeda (Alexa Davalos) or else a hideous creature named the Kraken will be unleashed, making the destruction of the great city Argos inevitable. However into the fray jumps Perseus (Sam Worthington) the demigod son of Zeus, and a man with vengeance against the gods on his mind. Along with a band of soldiers (including Liam Cunningham and Mads Mikkelsen) and his priestess advisor Lo (Gemma Arterton), Perseus sets out to free mankind from the terrible fate proposed by Hades.

"Clash of the Titans" is really a movie of two halves. The first is a ponderous and uninspired bungle of exposition and unconvincing characterization. However the second ramps up the energy and spectacle considerably, resulting in several fantastical instances of large scale action. "Clash of the Titans" is also driven to a traditionally heroic finale; something that this sort of fantasy picture demands. If audiences can sidestep the clumsy opening they stand a good chance of enjoying this well intentioned slab of bunkum; it’s just good old fashioned fun.

Sam Worthington’s performance here is adequate, but definitely a step down from his work in "Avatar" and "Terminator Salvation". He plays Perseus as a sympathetic tough guy, finding very little depth beyond this herculean caricature. Still “Clash of the Titans” doesn’t really require much more from the actor to properly function, it’s a simple performance for a relatively simple film. Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes are well cast as Zeus and Hades respectively, hamming it up in an equally overblown manner. Fiennes in particular skewers a deliciously cartoonish level of evil in his depiction of Hades; and the shared sequences featuring both he and Neeson are a total hoot. It’s interesting to see thespians of Liam Cunningham and Mads Mikkelson’s standard slotted into conventional supporting parts, but at least they growl their lines with true conviction. Finally Gemma Arterton provides only sex appeal in what is otherwise a silly performance. Her ability to utter exposition and sound wise beyond her years is limited, as audience’s can also see in the recently released "Prince of Persia".

The story is paper thin and fairly forgettable, but the action is consistently cracking. The CGI is solid and the creature designs are nicely thought out; leaving Leterrier only the job of concocting blockbusting mayhem and monster madness. Thankfully, he succeeds royally in these areas. "Clash of the Titans" throws everything it can at the viewer in a frenzy of Greek Mythology and sword and sorcery adventuring. These bursts of awesomely constructed combat mark "Clash of the Titans" out as decent slice of undemanding popcorn cinema, allowing it to mount some semblance of credibility despite its lack of humanity. Leterrier has designed the movie as a theme park extravaganza, taking viewers from one adrenaline stocked set-piece to another. The action and digitals are aided thanks to polished cinematography and production design. Leterrier has created a believable Argos and shoots with a pleasing gold tinted perspective, effectively maximising the visual panache his production boasts.

Fans of the original picture will revel in the reappearance of Pegasus, the Gorgon Medusa and of course the imposing Kraken. However equally familiar will be the loose plotting and lack of narrative substance, something many hoped this remake might repair. Leterrier has approached the material with the same thirst for fantasy fury that the original filmmakers provided, skimping on a compelling emotional centre to a similar degree. It’s a vague disappointment that "Clash of the Titans" 2010 doesn’t attack its Greek mythology with a further injection of pathos or storytelling integrity; something that might have pushed it beyond its place as an aesthetically competent piece of escapist filmmaking.

"Clash of the Titans" isn’t essential viewing; and it doesn’t lose much in the translation from multiplexes to Blu-Ray. The film has been lovingly crafted as an imbecilic but satisfactorily action packed adventure; and against all odds it’s a rather decent watch. Those with a tolerance for CGI fuelled enterprises are sure to find it a perfectly passable way to fill two hours, just as long as they are willing to accept it as little more than epic eye candy. "Clash of the Titans" deserves acknowledgment as a boisterous big screen bonanza; but much like the original it’s happy enough to skimp on silly things like dialogue or a meaningful screenplay. Still, it’s always hard to argue with monsters and swordfights.

The Blu-Ray looks and sounds tremendous, the audio quality in particular is a true indication of what Hi-Def home entertainment can really offer. The actions sequences in particular benefit from the sublime sound design, allowing the sounds of old school sword fighting to consume your living room, without being intrusive or irritatingly overblown. The musical score and dialogue are also worked well into the mix.

The Blu-Ray comes with a decent selection of extra content. The Maximum Movie Mode allows viewers to embrace interviews and insights from the filmmakers, whilst having the film itself play at the same time. Maximum Movie Mode is always a nice touch though I’ve felt it better deployed on other releases, with less information and large swathes of nothingness being evident as viewers sit down to tackle this particular portion of filmmaking know how. Still, what’s there is worthwhile for fans of the movie. A roster of uninspired deleted scenes were correctly and thankfully excised from the finished film, and they offer very little pleasure or action. More intriguing is an alternate ending that actually takes the picture in a fairly different direction. It’s hard to say if it’s any better than the finale tacked onto the theatrical cut of the movie, but it at least offers consumers a completely new climax that doesn’t rely on slight editorial changes or simple switches in spoken dialogue. Basically it actually earns the “alternative” moniker. Rounding out the package is a ludicrous bit of back slapping entitled "Sam Worthington: An action hero for the ages". To date I’ve mostly appreciated the work Worthington has done (and I know I’m in the minority with such an opinion) but this 10 minute feature is just an excuse for the creators to lavish him with overcooked hyperbole and to sell him as the lead in their movie. If I was Sam Worthington I’d be flattered, but as a film enthusiast it was merely annoying. Rounding out this sufficient Blu-Ray release are DVD and Digital copies of the film.

Find the original review here: http://flickfeast.co.uk/feature/clash-titans-2010-2/

26 July 2010

DVD Verdict Review: Fanboys (Blu-Ray)

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D+

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

23 July 2010

DVD Verdict Review: Repo Men

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C+

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

22 July 2010

Movie Review: Toy Story 3

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A

Toy Story 3
2010, 103mins, U
Director: Lee Unkrich
Writer (s): John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, Lee Unkrich, Michael Arndt
Cast includes: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, Ned Beatty, Don Rickles, Michael Keaton, Wallace Shawn, John Morris
UK Release Date: 19th July 2010

11 years on from their last outing, Woody, Buzz and the whole gang are back to complete their own majestic motion picture trilogy. 1995’s “Toy Story” and 1999’s “Toy Story 2” were joyous pieces of cinema, but against all odds the geniuses at Pixar appear to have saved the best until last with “Toy Story 3”. The film operates both as a riotous comedy and a heartfelt finale to this sublime saga, finding chuckles and tears with the ease and subtlety that only the finest films can. Wrapped beautifully into a delightful jailbreak template, “Toy Story 3” is an astounding achievement, and may represent the finest work Pixar has yet produced. It’s that good.

Andy is now 17 years old and bound for college, having left his toys untouched for several years. Only a few of the toys are still left, with most having been passed on over the course of Andy’s adolescence. Woody (Tom Hanks) and Buzz (Tim Allen) are still at the head of the plastic pack and are prepping the rest of the gang for retirement in the attic, a natural destination in the life of a toy. However a mix up finds the toys donated to a day-care centre, something that initially seems promising but quickly devolves into a state of panic and imprisonment. The day-care is presided over by a tyrannical plush bear called Lotso (Ned Beatty), a ruler who keeps all inmates securely locked away and monitored outside of playtime hours. In a bid to return home and serve the rest of their lives out together as a family in Andy’s attic, Woody devises an escape plan, but with Buzz malfunctioning into his old ways and Lotso having deployed state of the art security, getting out might mark the group’s toughest adventure yet.

“Toy Story 3” is a sweet and satisfactory conclusion to this franchise. One has to remember that “Toy Story” was the initial effort from the now celebrated Pixar studio, and thus the characters that have inhabited this series are remembered with particular fondness by cinema goers. Director Lee Unkrich (co-director on “Toy Story 2”) delves into some pretty dark areas in this hopefully climactic addition to the series, and delivers a superb finish for each individual character. Some of the key players from past adventures are gone, but Woody, Buzz, Rex, Hamm, Jesse, Mr Potato Head and Slinky remain major factors in “Toy Story 3”, and each is given the natural and touching finish they deserve. “Toy Story 3” doesn’t pull any punches as it seeks to explore the themes of family and a true sense of home, feasting on some wonderfully assembled prison based shenanigans in the process. This series has always had a knack for melding emotionally rewarding instances of sincerity with pure unbridled hilarity, and “Toy Story 3” might represent the slickest combining of these two strands yet encountered within the franchise.

The cast are just as good as before, and so it seems unnecessary to divulge at any great length on the recurring voice talent. The film brings two notable new additions to the table, Ken (Michael Keaton) and the villainous Lotso. Keaton does fantastic work as the rampant metrosexual doll who finds his dream Barbie, but the character of Lotso is less successful. The only real folly I found within “Toy Story 3” is the repetitive nature of the bad guy, which is no fault of a game Beatty, but rather some unadventurous writing. Lotso is an ample antagonist but his unloved story arc feels oddly reminiscent of the Prospector’s from “Toy Story 2”, and his nice guy shill routine at the beginning is easy to see through. A few other fresh faces are fired into proceedings (through a lovely subplot in which Woody ends up in the bedroom of a charming and imaginative new child) but they serve more as the source of some solid gags rather than anything more substantial.

The jailbreak plotline is executed spectacularly, finding a gripping tone of suspense and lasting much longer than audiences will likely anticipate. The screenplay finds a wealth of good comedy and some genuinely unnerving sequences amongst this particular plot thread, “Toy Story 3” managing a few moments of action that even Michael Bay could be proud of. Adding to the sense of visual audacity is the stunning animation and gorgeous environments that have been created for the production, possibly the finest CGI yet sighted in popular mainstream entertainment. That shouldn’t come as much of a surprise as Pixar have been surpassing themselves aesthetically for years, but it’s still a tremendous achievement worth remarking on.

“Toy Story 3” is probably the funniest film of the year so far, but it’s definitely the most intimate and emotionally affecting. The final act is riddled with worthwhile giggles (Buzz in Spanish mode) but also moments of true insight and heartfelt neurosis, all culminating in one of the most devastating sequences ever in a family film. Said scene takes place in a furnace and involves a moment where several characters join hands, marking a bittersweet and brave direction for this motion picture to take. Sensitive souls will be moved to tears without a doubt, and due to the engaging connection these characters have nurtured with audiences over the last 15 years; even tougher viewers might struggle to keep their tear ducts dry.

The film avoids the musical montages of the previous movies (albeit Randy Newman’s legendary compositions are still floating about) which is possibly for the best, the stunning blend of melody and visuals found in “Toy Story 2” would have been almost impossible to top. “Toy Story 3” instead aims to bring this behemoth of a tale to an organic and gratifying conclusion, something it achieves with virtually no stumbles along the way. I have no qualms in labelling “Toy Story 3” a stunning work of art, and heartily endorse it as the masterful climax these enchanting characters have always deserved.

A review by Daniel Kelly, 2010

17 July 2010

Movie Review: Inception

2 comments


A-

Inception
2010, 148mins, 12
Director: Christopher Nolan
Writer: Christopher Nolan
Cast includes: Leonardo DiCaprio, Ellen Page, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Tom Hardy, Michael Caine, Cillian Murphy, Ken Watanabe, Dileep Rao
UK Release Date: 16th July 2010


After “The Dark Knight” managed to draw critical acclaim and huge box-office earnings in 2008 it was hardly a surprise that director Christopher Nolan became a Hollywood golden boy overnight. Such a lofty status in the film industry is probably the key reason for the existence of “Inception”, a passion project for its creator, but more interestingly a $160 million blockbuster that really requires the audience to think. Warner Bros. have put an intense marketing campaign behind the mind bending production, something that filmgoers should be hoping pays off. “Inception” doesn’t immediately strike a celebratory chord, but on reflection it becomes evident how brave and intelligent a motion picture it really is, and one that isn’t afraid to keep some of its secrets hidden beyond the end credits.

“Inception” deals with the idea of dreams, and more specifically a form of technology that allows people to access or break into the dreams of others. Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) is the master of dream theft, known as extraction, and involving the thief accessing someone else’s dreams and stealing the subject’s secrets when there. Cobb and companion Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) are recruited by businessman Saito (Ken Watanabe) for a very special form of mission, one that involves inception and not the typical act of extraction. Inception requires those entering the dream to insert thoughts rather than steal them, and it is a job thought long impossible. Cobb however knows it to be an attainable goal, having mysteriously performed an inception earlier in his career. Arthur accepts the usual payment, but Cobb requires further convincing, Saito ultimately offering him the one thing he craves above all else. If Cobb completes the mission, then the legal charges that have kept him out of the USA and separated from his children will be dropped.

Cobb accepts and along with Arthur recruits a crack team to complete the job, the target being the son (Cillian Murphy) of a dying business competitor of Saito’s.
Cobb finds an architect (the person who builds the dreams) Ariadne (Ellen Page) and teams up with an old accomplice called Eames (Tom Hardy), who can handily impersonate anybody within a dreamscape. Together the group find an opportunity to enter the targets mind, and jump in with the expectation that over three levels of dreaming they will be able to implant the corporate idea that Saito wants placed in the subject’s thoughts. However upon reaching the dream world complications arise, not least Mal (Marion Cotillard) the ghost of Cobb’s dead wife and a lethal interference threat during the job.

“Inception” is meticulously plotted and beautifully edited, two qualities vital in a narrative with so much going on at any given time. It isn’t always easy to keep tabs on all the individual details in the movie, but with focus and a little patience the main story is fairly easy to stay atop of. It is possible to argue that “Inception” maybe throws one plot mechanism too many at the audience, at times the picture does feel complicated to a slightly excessive degree, albeit concerning only minor movements in the story. Apparently the script took Nolan a decade to craft, and it’s easy to see why, the film has so much going on beneath the bonnet that stitching it all together without glaring plot holes would take several drafts and stacks of patience. Still, it all seems worth it now as Nolan has created a motion picture quite unlike anything else, dealing in a thoroughly unique idea and revelling in complicated themes and moments of psychological depth. It’s rather delightful to find a July blockbuster with quite so much brain power, a film with an obvious desire to both mentally stimulate and frantically bamboozle its audience.

DiCaprio is excellent as Cobb, the actor once again showcasing why he has morphed into one of his generation’s most promising screen talents. The film finds much of its meat within Cobb’s fractured mind and tragic history, allowing DiCaprio to find a level of humanity and meaning in his performance that gives “Inception” a beating heart from start to finish. Cobb is the only character in the screenplay that has his past dug up with any degree of specificity, but DiCaprio brings enough heat and subtle emotional distress to make the part compelling. Ellen Page is warm and smart as the team’s new architect, she’s as new to the idea of dream invasion as the audience and thus she provides the viewer with another relatable screen presence. Page also sources out several dramatically rich moments with DiCaprio, rendering her performance the most effective after the leading man’s. The likes of Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy , Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Dileep Rao all do well with lesser roles, bringing charm and believability to a group only important as part of Cobb’s squad. Marion Cotillard does solid work as Mal, popping up and playing the part with more restraint and insight than most actresses would likely have applied.

Visually the film is spectacular, but the aesthetic wonderment serves the story and not vice versa. “Inception” is a film focused on unearthing ideas and exploring the desperate state of its main character, the fact it all unfolds inside a flawless digital wonderland is just a secondary element. In honesty despite the sheer creativity and scale of the set-pieces Nolan has constructed, it’s the film’s seamless editing which impresses most, allowing the sprawled out and incredibly dense plot to hold together and make sense even in the picture’s most crazed and exposition heavy moments of dream travel. The final act in particular benefits from this as “Inception” flits between the different layers of dreaming rapidly, whilst still keeping the audience in a state of blissful engagement throughout. Indeed by its conclusion the picture almost achieves an ethereal dreamlike state of its own, a well judged and ambitious stylistic choice for sure.

“Inception” pummels towards it’s denouement with several well executed action sequences (though nothing quite as sharp as the blockbusting content of “The Dark Knight”) before arriving at a rewarding and fulfilling final showdown. The film appears to round out its story neatly and with a good deal of artistic poignancy, but on its very last note “Inception” throws a shockingly ambiguous spanner in the works. As a film it consistently demands that you utilize your intellect in order to keep pace, but the finish ensures that viewers will continue to ponder long after “Inception” has climaxed. Nolan demands that his audience process the movie and its core ideas, in order to make their own minds up concerning the whole brilliant enterprise.

“Inception” is one of the best films of the year so far, and will likely at least in the technical and writing categories be a player during next year’s awards season. It’s a loopy but stunningly innovative property, constructed by talented filmmakers who seek to make clever scripting and awe-inspiring imagination the key ingredients within their motion pictures. It’s probably not Nolan’s greatest achievement, but it’s a tremendous effort none the less and one that seems especially intrepid given some of the guff that inhabits multiplexes during the summer season. “Inception” is a must see film, and despite a handful of minor flaws, it’s an obvious victory for those who like to have their brains properly entertained.

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2010

13 July 2010

Movie Review: Predators

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B

Predators
2010, 105mins, 15
Director: Nimrod Antal
Writer (s): Alex Litvak, Michael Finch
Cast includes: Adrien Brody, Alice Braga, Laurence Fishburne, Danny Trejo, Topher Grace, Walton Goggins
UK Release Date: 8th July 2010

In 1987 the hunt began. “Predator” is today recognised as one of the best sci-fi films ever committed to celluloid; an exhilarating combination of blood soaked extra-terrestrial carnage, macho action and gut wrenching tension. Along with James Cameron’s original “Terminator” flicks it probably ranks as the strongest picture of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s career, and birthed a monster as celebrated and beloved as any in the history of filmmaking. However whilst “Predator” was a monumentally entertaining effort, its sequel was not. 1990’s “Predator 2” has always struck me as a mighty misfire, and the less said about the underachieving “Alien vs. Predator” hybrid franchise the better. It’s refreshing then to see Robert Rodriguez and director Nimrod Antal returning some credibility to the ailing beastie, finding some of the form that made the original picture such a gorgeous commodity to behold. “Predators” is finally a follow-up worthy of being associated with John McTiernan’s 1987 classic, and even if it’s never truly as good, it isn’t for a lack of trying.

Having been dropped in the middle of nowhere with a random gallery of rogues, mercenary Royce (Adrien Brody) is left clueless as to where he is and how he got there. As he and the motley band of misfits make tracks across the huge foliage filled environment, Royce begins to suspect they are being hunted, and that the luscious but deadly jungle they’re in isn’t one belonging to earth. On both counts his suspicions are proved correct, with a band of Predators having dumped the hapless (but still armed) humans into a game preserve planet, allowing the ultimate hunt to commence. Royce realizes the only way to survive is to face the enemy head on, and seek some sort of escape from the thickly vegetated planet in the process.

As was the case with his satisfactory 2007 thriller “Vacancy”, Nimrod Antal has taken a simple premise and turned it into solid multiplex entertainment with “Predators”. The film captures the spirit of the original film and seeks to play out the same jungle based nightmare that haunted Arnie back in 1987. As a result “Predators” isn’t perhaps the most original project ever filmed, but it provides enough excitement and well orchestrated action to render itself worthwhile. The film makes the monsters once again fearsome, something that was evidently lacking in the neutered sequels. “Predators” also deserves kudos for offering audiences such a beautiful and engaging environment for the plot to play out; it’s a well designed setting and one that is rife with atmosphere and imagination.

Adrien Brody is excellent as the gruff hero in “Predators”, something that I frankly wasn’t expecting. Brody has proven himself a terrific actor in many films, but “Predators” marks his first foray into full blown action man mode and he does good work. Alongside a competent Alice Braga (playing a markswoman also dropped into the hellhole) Brody is the only properly three dimensional character on show, placing a certain level of responsibility on the actor. Brody rises to the challenge, utilizing both violence and subtle emotional insights to make Royce a figure worth remembering. Other cast members like Topher Grace, Danny Trejo and Oleg Taktarov all do the best they can playing the more underdeveloped prey, but are ultimately limited by a script that notably neglects them. Laurence Fishburne also appears in a small part but makes quite an impression, taking the role of a victim exposed to the Predators for too long. It provides an eerie and unsettling extra level of threat to the movie, even if Antal drags the subplot out for longer than he should.

“Predators” starts slowly but ramps up to a well executed finale, with several enticing and robust action set pieces available on route. A tighter edit wouldn’t have done the picture any harm (the Predators don’t really appear for about 40 minutes) but when Antal brings out the monsters, he also unleashes an ample selection of thrills and professionally executed moments of bloodshed. As an action picture and a chase feature “Predators” truly works, what it lacks in innovation it makes up for in style and energy. “Predators” is never a boring watch and captures the mood and spirit of the 1987 film effortlessly, even if it can’t match it in terms of momentum and creativity. The monsters themselves have also been retooled slightly, whilst still harking back strongly to Stan Winston’s original legendary design. The Predator is truly an imposing antagonist and “Predators” exploits that fact frequently; injecting menace back into a monster that has slowly been losing its’ mojo for 23 years.

The production also gives audiences some neat expansions on the Predator way of life, making their jungles hostile and even showcasing the Predator equivalent of a dog. It’s a neat additive and one that filmgoers are likely to appreciate amidst some of the more conventional elements. The cinematography is attractive and Antal directs with passion and style, something that helps compensate for the lean storyline. “Predators” is a fun B-movie and a long awaited return to form for the universe’s most dangerous hunter. Fans should eat this stuff up, and even those with less affinity toward this particular series should still find this latest instalment to be an agreeable and enjoyable slice of popcorn cinema.

A review by Daniel Kelly, 2010

DVD Verdict Review: Remember Me

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D+

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

5 July 2010

Movie Review: Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief

1 comments


C+

Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief
2010, 118mins, PG
Director: Chris Columbus
Writer: Craig Titley
Cast includes: Logan Lerman, Pierce Brosnan, Catherine Keener, Sean Bean, Brandon T. Jackson, Alexandra Daddario, Steve Coogan, Rosario Dawson, Kevin McKidd
UK Release Date: 12th February 2010

Over the years it has become obvious that Chris Columbus comes in two different forms. Firstly there exists the mischievous genius who contributed to “Gremlins”, “Home Alone” and “The Goonies”. The other half however is the lethargic filmmaker behind the patchy opening chapters of the “Harry Potter” franchise and clunkers like “Bicentennial Man”. Last year Columbus was caught short with misfiring teen comedy “I Love You Beth Cooper” a film that accumulated only $15 million worldwide and which was subject to some of 2009s’ worst critical notices. Columbus returns to the game with another fantasy property, in this case “Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief”. The few Columbus devotees left in the world will be pleased to hear this is the director’s best offering in some time, but given recent competition, you would be right to assume that’s faint praise. “Lightning Thief” does just enough to get by, but the film still suffers from some clunky storytelling and mixed performances.

Percy Jackson (Logan Lerman ) is a dyslexic teenager, more at home in water than he is on land. After a few loosely stitched together sequences we learn that Percy is the demigod son of Poseidon (Kevin McKidd), and that Zeus (Sean Bean) thinks Percy is responsible for the disappearance of his prized lightning bolt. In a bid to prove his innocence Percy heads to the underworld to visit Hades (Steve Coogan), accompanied by his protector Grover (Brandon T. Jackson) and fellow demigod Annabeth (Alexandra Daddario). There he hopes to save his kidnapped mother (a thoroughly wasted Catherine Keener) and solve the lightning bolt case, stopping war from breaking out in Olympus as a consequence.

Logan Lerman isn’t bad in “The Lightning Thief”, the young actor bringing a rough but attractive energy to the leading role. However the performances around him aren’t as satisfactory. Brandon T. Jackson is saddled with some utterly terrible jokes as Percy’s comic sidekick and Daddario is a flat and uninspired love interest. The film has some big names in its casting roster, the likes of Sean Bean, Uma Thurman (a crazed Medusa), Pierce Brosnan (playing a centaur mentor in a few scenes), Rosario Dawson (sexing it up as Hade’s wife) and Kevin McKidd all coast in nothing roles. I’m sure the paycheques were plenty fat, but I would have thought these thespians had ambition beyond such routine and flat screen creations. Steve Coogan is fairly enjoyable in a short spurt as Hades (though probably not as memorable as Ralph Fiennes was in this year’s “Clash of the Titans” remake) but that aside the pickings are slim.

The film achieves a good romping tone and offers several excellent fantasy set pieces. Columbus handles the effects laden stuff well, and provides genuine thrills for viewers as he propels the characters against the various villains of Greek mythology. The CGI and special effects are for the most part seamless, powering “The Lightning Thief” on with a true sense of blockbusting spectacle. Individual scenes in the film do work extremely well, and the finale is an entertaining and amply bombastic way to close out the adventure. It’s the raw intensity and creative energy of the action that keeps “Lightning Thief” watchable, if always far from greatness.

The story stitches together in a crude fashion, and the script is peppered with several derivative stock clichés. The plotline doesn’t roll together gracefully, “Lightning Thief” maintaining a jagged and bristly vibe, forgoing the exquisitely natural narrative functions that the best fantasy flicks possess. That said the picture is a passable endeavour, technically accomplished and with a reservedly promising performance from Logan Lerman. As for Chris Columbus, it’s still a fair pace behind his best work, but it will serve to mute the “Beth Cooper” evoked disdain for a while.

A review by Daniel Kelly, 2010

DVD Verdict Review: The White Ribbon

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B+

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

DVD Verdict Review: The Karate Kid (1984)

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A-

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

2 July 2010

The Halftime report - 2010 so far.

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With another undoubtedly underwhelming summer season now well under way and with 2010firmly into its seventh month; it seems an appropriate time to analyse the cinematic year so far. 2010 has boasted a few interesting motion pictures , but the first six months of UK releases have for my money only yielded two truly great films. I’ve missed a few major movies over the last few months (“Up in the Air”, the critically maligned wave of Amanda Seyfried romances and the yet unopened “Toy Story 3”) but I’ve managed to see some 30+ titles that qualify for consideration in my half time top and bottom fives. I’m largely using the UK release calendar as the basis for movies being considered, albeit there is one major title that hasn’t been granted a release on British and Irish shores yet, and which has been rushed direct to disc in the USA.

So to speed this process up a bit.....here’s my bottom 5 of 2010 so far:

5. “Date Night” – It all looked so good on paper. Steve Carell and Tina Fey as a married couple. Hell yeah. A supporting cast that features Mila Kunis, James Franco, Mark Wahlberg and Kristen Wiig. Sounds awesome. A trailer that was actually kind of funny, and which suggested the film wasn’t going to be a completely clichéd action comedy. Always a plus. Shawn Levy behind the camera......oh wait, that actually sucks. Levy was the only blemish I could see on the whole project prior to release, but ultimately it proved a tough stain to remove. Levy’s insipid and ham-fisted direction renders the film a dud, something that isn’t helped by the fact most everyone else involved is coasting. It was a tough call between “Date Night” and “Robin Hood” for this spot, but on the basis of raw ineptitude and laziness, “Date Night” is the bigger loser. – D

4. “Leap Year” – Unlike “Date Night” I had no preconceptions that “Leap Year” might be in the least bit worthwhile, and I was correct in making such drastic assumptions. Despite the presence of likable actors such as Amy Adams and Matthew Goode, the film is an unfunny and painfully generic road trip feature, with a twee Irish atmosphere liable to make most viewers barf. Even Matthew Goode (the male romantic lead) came out and damned it as rubbish when it was released back in February. - D

3. “Tooth Fairy” – I really want to like Dwayne Johnson, but he doesn’t make it easy. The former wrestler has a pleasant charm and a decent command of comedy, but he consistently picks ghastly scripts to star in. “Tooth Fairy” is simply a parade of corny jokes, cloying sentimentality and cheap filmmaking rolled into one big undesirable package. Johnson looks fairly sedate throughout the entire event, even he seems aware that this children’s film is a complete clunker. The only real bright spot is British comedian Stephen Merchant in a small role, who mugs with enthusiasm and occasional success. Still, it’s definitely to be avoided. – D

2. “Edge of Darkness” – A thriller not thrilling is cardinal sin, and a mystery easily solved is another. Mel Gibson makes a wooden return to leading man duties with this wince inducing travesty, from about the 15 minute mark the film begins to bore, and it never picks up over its overstretched duration. The action is workmanlike at best and Mad Mel appears to be sleepwalking. Uninspired box-office returns speak volumes on this one. – D

1. “The 41-year old Virgin who Knocked Up Sarah Marshall and felt Superbad about It” – Yes this is a real film; it was released on DVD in the states only a few weeks ago. A spoof movie taking aim at the Apatow School of comedy, this is an embarrassing motion picture; and possibly one of the worst films I’ve ever had the displeasure of sitting through. It’s assembled so poorly and written so badly that one really has to see it in order to believe. I didn’t laugh once and afterwards required a long and lengthy shower in order to purge its vile aroma from my body. This thing is so awful it’s actually gross. – F

Whoooo.....that’s a seriously shitty roster of movies. Well now onto greener pastures as I showcase my favourite five films of 2010 so far:

5. “Cemetery Junction” – A real charmer of a flick, which due to mediocre UK box-office showings will be sent straight to DVD in the USA. That’s a pity. Directed with warmth and intelligence by Stephen Mechant and Ricky Gervais, “Cemetery Junction” is a subtle, funny and wonderfully acted coming of age tale, handled in an uncharacteristically stylish way for a British production. It’s a low key movie, and maybe not on a par with Gervais and Merchant’s best work, but I haven’t seen a more emotionally appealing film all year. - B+

4. “The Lovely Bones” – A recipient of mixed reviews and very little actual awards consideration, many consider “The Lovely Bones” to be Peter Jackson’s first proper folly. I don’t. Adapted faithfully from Alice Sebold’s bestseller of the same name, Jackson handles a tough story competently, and whilst there are flaws; it’s overall a rewarding and rich movie going experience. The film boasts top notch acting from Stanley Tucci, Saoirse Ronan and Mark Wahlberg, and manages to support its lengthy 133 minute runtime. Touching and with a powerful emotional core, “The Lovely Bones” is hopefully a film that history will treat in a more kindly fashion than contemporary audiences and critics. – B+

3. “Shutter Island” – Martin Scorsese is a master; that much has been clear for over 20 years. “Shutter Island” marks a change of pace for the auteur, adapting a pulpy novel whilst referencing many of the chillers that influenced him as a director. It’s not perfect, but Leonardo DiCpario is predictably solid in the leading role, and visually it’s a barnstorming success. The narrative is compelling and filled with brilliantly creepy nuances, and whilst the final revelation isn’t a huge surprise; the twists and turns required to get there offer huge amounts of enjoyment. Fans of film owe it to themselves to check it out. – B+

2. “The Road” – An excellent translation of Cormac McCarthy’s bleak apocalyptic novel, “The Road” is a heartbreaking and relentlessly engaging drama, spiced up with some disturbingly graphic touches. Viggo Mortensen deserved Oscar consideration for his sublime leading performance, and whilst young Kodi Smit McPhee isn’t exactly a knockout as his son, the movie as a whole most certainly is. A contender for one of the best post-apocalyptic feature films ever made, truly fantastic. – A-

1. “Kick-Ass” – The best thing I’ve seen since “Inglourious Basterds”, “Kick-Ass” is an awe inspiringly fun watch. Adapted from a comic book (I haven’t read it), “Kick-Ass” is a cult film in the making, an instant classic of geek cinema. Its story involving ordinary folks becoming superheroes is frighteningly compelling and entertaining, with the action and comedy elements being expertly handled by British helmer Matthew Vaughn. The movie certainly has depth, but its roller coaster ride approach renders it far better than any blockbuster I’ve seen in a while, and some of the characters (namely Hit Girl) are simply unforgettable. It’s hard to see anything on the immediate horizon (“Inception” and “Toy Story 3” excluded) that could knock this from the perch of being 2010’s finest cinematic offering. – A

So there you have it, 2010 thus far in a nutshell. Personally I don’t think it’s been too bad a year so far. For fairness sake I will now list every film that was in consideration for these lists: “The Road”, “Daybreakers”, “Edge of Darkness”, “Youth in Revolt”, “The Wolfman”, “Everybody’s Fine”, “The Lovely Bones”, “Did You Hear about the Morgans?”, “Alice in Wonderland”, “I Love You Phillip Morris”, “Armored”, “Kick-Ass”, “Clash of the Titans”, “Shutter Island”, “How to Train Your Dragon”, “Cemetery Junction”, “Tooth Fairy”, “Date Night”, “Iron Man 2”, “Leap Year”, “A Nightmare on Elm Street”, “Robin Hood”, “The 41 Year Old Virgin who Knocked Up Sarah Marshall and felt Superbad About It”, “The Book of Eli”, “Prince of Persia: Sands of Time”, “Invictus”, “From Paris with Love”, “She’s Out of my League”, “Solomon Kane”, “MacGruber” and “Get Him to the Greek” (Total: 31)

1 July 2010

Movie Review: Get Him to the Greek

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B-

Get Him to the Greek
2010, 109mins, 15
Director: Nicholas Stoller
Writer: Nicholas Stoller
Cast includes: Jonah Hill, Russell Brand, Sean Combs, Colm Meaney, Rose Byrne
UK Release Date: 25th June 2010

“Get Him to the Greek” is a semi-sequel to the 2008 hit “Forgetting Sarah Marshall”. However instead of taking up with the main characters from that picture, “Get Him to the Greek” chooses to focus on the supporting figure who stole that respective show; the fictional rock star Aldous Snow, portrayed perfectly by British comedian Russell Brand. The film reunites Brand with director Nicholas Stoller (who was also behind the camera on “Sarah Marshall”) and Jonah Hill (albeit playing a different character than he did in the 2008 film), but the results aren’t perhaps as glorious as audiences might expect. “Get Him to the Greek” is proficiently executed and has several great laughs under the bonnet, but I can’t recall a more uneven studio comedy in recent memory. The film deserves some kudos for attempting to attack the material with intelligence and humanity, but frankly there’s simply too much going on here for the productions own good.

Aaron Green (Jonah Hill) is a mild mannered intern working at a record company, one which is currently starved for ideas. Whilst boss Sergio (Sean Combs) is searching for creative ways to increase revenue, Aaron comes up with one involving Aldous Snow (Russell Brand), a washed up drug addict whose last album was a total bomb. Snow performed a legendary gig at the Greek theatre in L.A ten years ago, Aaron suggesting an anniversary performance is just what the company and Snow himself needs. Sergio dispatches Aaron to collect Aldous in London and escort him to the Greek within 72 hours, but with the rock star’s relentless partying, rampant drug addiction and emotional remorse concerning his break-up with pop star Jackie Q (Rose Byrne), it’s going to be a long trip.

Both Russell Brand and Jonah Hill are effective, especially as a double act. It’s a fairly classical odd couple pairing; Brand is uncut and manic, Hill more restrained and nebbish. Due to the scenes of drunken debauchery both actors get moments of comedic madness; but as a general rule Brand leads in the craziness department. This time Aldous Snow is a much darker character, Stoller’s script playing up the emotional deficiencies that plague Snow’s narcotic drenched existence. I appreciated this on occasion (an angry outburst in a hotel suite showcases both Brand as an actor and Stoller as a writer favourably) but it’s with this frantic character that “Get Him to the Greek” overexerts itself. Plot strands involving Snow’s father (played gamely by Colm Meaney), his ex-girlfriend and even at a point his mother just aren’t all necessary, especially since they meld together to labour a fairly obvious point. Apparently money, booze, casual sex and drugs aren’t enough to stop a person from living a hollow and lonely existence; “Get Him to the Greek” using far too much screen time to convey such a two dimensional message.

The jokes are generally at least giggle worthy, and the movie boasts a few raucous set-pieces and moments of directorial intuition. Some of the substance induced hazes the leading duo endures are energetically and cleverly captured by Stoller, who at least tacks on a cute visual style to the movie. The editing seems at times to be a little sloppy, but the soundtrack choices are a blast, which ultimately allow “Get Him to the Greek” an agreeable passing mark from a technical perspective. In terms of storytelling the picture isn’t as assured; bungling far too much into what is essentially a slight road trip framework. A subplot involving Hill’s disenchanted girlfriend (an uninspired Elizabeth Moss) feels undercooked and unrewarding, yet Stoller infuses the film with intermittent and unpredictable moments of reflection upon this narrative strand. Similarly the same could be said for various portions of Brand’s character arc (the aforementioned relationship with his Dad comes out of the blue somewhat) and it’s these things which render “Get Him to the Greek” modestly enjoyable rather than a coked up comedy classic. Had Stoller been willing ply a firmer focus and make a greater point with these overstretched supporting relationships then maybe the picture would flow both at a finer pace and with more tonal consistency. After all for two thirds “Get Him to the Greek” is an outright farce, then almost instantly and with little obvious signal, it snaps into a darker and moodier piece insistent upon reflecting on the hedonistic emptiness of a musicians lifestyle. It’s strange, and from an entertainment standpoint kind of unwarranted.

“Get Him to the Greek” provides some brutally amusing satire, not least its laugh filled and cameo stacked opening selection of scenes. It also has some wonderful supporting turns, namely those given by Rose Byrne and Sean Combs (aka P.Diddy). Byrne channels a terrific amount of laughter through her depiction of a slutty English pop star, and Combs pretty much nabs the show as Hill’s crazed boss Sergio. Combs brings an unstoppable anger, a surprisingly astute comic timing and a thirst for weirdness to the role, lighting up any scenes he’s in. It’s a pleasant surprise in a film a little light on them.

I should highlight that in a goofy and disposable way I did like “Get Him to the Greek”. It made me laugh more than most modern comedies and some of the acting and satirical barbs are spot on, it’s just that the overstuffed and unbalanced script is a bit of a shocker. The picture jumps from idea to idea with a little too much reckless abandon, leaving too many of its aims vaguely unfulfilled. It’s probably worth a rental on DVD, and Russell Brand fans will enjoy seeing their hero elevated to leading man status and coping with it admirably, but overall I wouldn’t recommend darting out to catch this one. It’s perfectly adequate, but in truth I was hoping for something a little more than that.

A review by Daniel Kelly, 2010