28 September 2010

DVD Verdict Review: Frozen

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B

Review link: http://www.dvdverdict.com/reviews/frozen2010.php

26 September 2010

Movie Review: The Hole 3D (2010)

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C+

The Hole
2009, 90mins, 12
Director: Joe Dante
Writer: Mark L. Smith
Cast includes: Nathan Gamble, Chris Massoglia, Teri Polo, Haley Bennett, Bruce Dern, Dick Miller
UK Release Date: 22nd September 2010

Coming from the director of “Gremlins” and “Small Soldiers”, “The Hole” should by rights be a delightful concoction, the picture’s fertile premise only further powering such hefty expectations. In reality the film is a mildly diverting ride that just about stays afloat for its brief 90 minute runtime, certainly no more than a vaguely pleasurable but eminently forgettable time at the multiplex. This film marks Joe Dante’s first directorial effort in seven years (his last was 2003’s poorly received “Looney Tunes: Back in Action”) and it would appear the break has rusted his filmmaking antenna, “The Hole” showcasing occasional moments of “Gremlins” style genius, but more often than not apparently content to pander toward more conventional genre tastes.

Having been hauled halfway across the country by their single mother Susan (Teri Polo), brothers Lucas (Nathan Gamble) and Dane (Chris Massoglia) are left disaffected with the small town they find themselves in. In a bid to fight away boredom they introduce themselves to pretty girl next door Julie (Haley Bennett), and proceed to explore their new home. In the basement the trio locate a trapdoor, which when opened exposes a hole of insurmountable depth. Initially writing it off as an odd curiosity, the group are quickly plagued by visions of fear, each speedily deducing that the hole might hold supernatural powers. As things go from bad to worse they decide to track down the previous owner of the demonic opening and thus figure out how to halt its terrifying contents, but as time progresses it quickly appears that the hole may be capable of unleashing serious harm on all those who stare into it.

“The Hole” certainly boasts a scarier momentum than most family fare, Joe Dante racking up a credible roster of intense (yet kiddie friendly) sequences that disturb more than much of the recent torture porn nonsense. “The Hole” offers several individual scenes that are very effective and which deploy 3-D rather skilfully, a moment involving a blacked out restroom and the surprisingly intense finale are the obvious highlights. As an introduction to the joys of frightening cinema “The Hole” isn’t a bad little dish, children will likely respond well to its blend of spooky visuals and bloodless jump scares. More seasoned horror buffs (or even youngsters privileged enough to have enjoyed exposure to Dante’s earlier works) won’t be overly perturbed by what’s on show here, but for the uninitiated it’s an amply atmospheric and frantic example of satisfactorily unsettling filmmaking.

The central narrative is uninspired and generic, the restless family dynamic, small town setting and evil external force combination having already been worked in films like “Jumanji” and indeed Dante’s own “Gremlins”. The film throws up a few subplots to help try and spice proceedings up but they’re an inconsistent bunch. One involving harrowing domestic abuse is surprisingly potent and sensitively handled by Dante, but the segment pertaining to Julie’s fears is lifeless and feels like an afterthought. “The Hole” operates almost like an age appropriate version of Stephen King’s “IT”, albeit in losing much of the dark and edgy subtext that rendered that story so readable, “The Hole” just feels somewhat uninventive and every so often downright dull.

The acting from Massoglia and Bennett is average at best, but the younger Gamble manages to tread the line between naive likability and downright irritability rather wonderfully. It’s an assured and cute performance which allows the actor to steal the show from his more seasoned co-stars. The 3-D effects are competent and unobtrusive, but not vital to the overall experience (viewers opting for the 2-D version won’t be missing too much). “The Hole” is a so-so feature peppered with a few exceptional attributes, perfectly watchable but not essential viewing unless you happen to be an easily shaken 12 Year -Old. If you fit into that demographic it’s probably a complete blast.

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2010

23 September 2010

Movie Review: Extract

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B

Extract
2009, 92mins, 15
Director: Mike Judge
Writer: Mike Judge
Cast includes: Jason Bateman, Mila Kunis, Kristen Wiig, J.K Simmons, Clifton Collins Jr, David Koechner, Ben Affleck
UK Release Date: 24th April 2010

In 1998 Mike Judge directed “Office Space”, a delightfully shrewd and intelligent comedy that perfectly represented the monotony of an average working day. “Office Space” was of course tragically mishandled initially, but found a powerful lease of life in the home video market, thus allowing its creator to attain a godlike status in cult circles. “Extract” returns Judge’s dry wit to the workplace, and delivers a fairly entertaining ride for those willing to partake. The film isn’t as razor sharp as “Office Space” and lacks that movie’s sublime characterization, but it still delivers considerably more laughs than most studio comedies.

Joel (Jason Bateman) is the owner and manager of his own flavour extract company, a tough task given his loudmouthed staff and dull personal life. His marriage to wife Suzie (Kristen Wiig) is stale and sexless, his only solace coming from the company of his bartender buddy Dean (Ben Affleck). With the arrival of attractive new employee Cindy (Mila Kunis), Joel begins to feel the need to take action, him and Dean proceeding to hatch an ill judged plan that will allow Joel to hook up with the factory’s latest arrival, and excuse him in the eyes of his wife. However when the scheme falls apart Joel is left in a stressful situation, something not helped by the fact one of his crew Step (Clifton Collins Jr.) has mysteriously decided to take legal action concerning an accident that cost him a testicle.

Jason Bateman isn’t particularly likable in “Extract”, but the actor does a decent job of encapsulating his character’s increasing anxiety and spiralling sense of self-destruction. Bateman also displays his celebrated comic timing rather well here, Judge’s refined humour combining nicely with the actor’s sarcastic delivery. Kristen Wiig is sidelined by a script that struggles to flesh out an engaging sense of marital woe between herself and Bateman, but Ben Affleck puts in a laid back but consistently amusing turn as a stoner with a strong line in idiotic advice. The calibre of supporting actor in “Extract” is impressive; J.K Simmons, Clifton Collins Jr and David Koechner are talented folks who deliver small but credible performances to further bolster the picture. Koechner in particular is a real hoot, the “Anchorman” star doing a perfect job as Joel’s irksome and pesky neighbour.

The comic set-pieces devised are good fun, even if the storytelling is fairly ramshackle. Mila Kunis is left stranded in a role that feels more like a plot mechanism, the actress also saddled with a subplot which feels distracting and tacked on. The film’s strengths are its smart dialogue, enjoyably absurd punch lines and Judge’s cosy style of filmmaking. “Extract” has a pleasant and understated vibe which should register nicely with those seeking light-hearted cinema of a good quality. Being a Mike Judge film, “Extract” also fires up some neat observational comedy, albeit this time it isn’t as perceptive as “Office Space”. The quirky factory setting isn’t as universally familiar as that picture’s faceless cubicles, whilst the characters aren’t as realistically crafted this time around. They’re a reasonable bunch of screen entities to watch, just not as immediately recognisable or grounded as the grumbling paper pushers of his 1998 cult favourite.

At a trim 92 minutes the film is paced sensibly, Judge wrapping the affair up just as it appears to be running out of gas. The story is undeniably low key, but it’s in such unspectacular narratives that Judge seems to operate at his best. “Extract” is a robust comedy picture and worth seeking out, just don’t expect “Office Space 2”.

A review by Daniel Kelly, 2010

20 September 2010

DVD Verdict Review: Marmaduke

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D+

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

19 September 2010

Movie Review: The Other Guys

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B+

The Other Guys
2010, 107mins, 12
Director: Adam McKay
Writer (s): Chris Henchy, Adam McKay
Cast includes: Mark Wahlberg, Will Ferrell, Michael Keaton, Eva Mendes, Samuel L. Jackson, Dwayne Johnson, Steve Coogan
UK Release Date: 17th September 2010

Having concocted a trio of celebrated 21st century comedic smashes (“Anchorman”, Talladega Nights” and 2008’s “Step Brothers”,) one would at this juncture forgive Will Ferrell and director Adam McKay a misfire. The duo have been responsible for some of the goofiest and funniest creations in recent motion picture history, McKay finding a genius in Ferrell that many other directors have failed to exploit. “The Other Guys” showcases new storytelling ambitions from this loopy team, which accompanied by a stellar supporting cast allows for this beloved pair to deliver another blisteringly clever farce.

Following the demise of New York’s finest police partnership (hysterical turns from Samuel L. Jackson and Dwayne Johnson) the city finds itself in need of new heroes. Eager to fill the void is disgraced cop Terry Hoitz (Mark Wahlberg), but his contented desk jockey partner Allen Gamble (Will Ferrell) isn’t as anxious to leave the office setting. By chance the pair is forced into a case involving shady English businessman David Ershon (Steve Coogan), and as their investigation unravels they discover a web of financial deceit. However Ershon has reluctantly been provided with a bunch of heavies to ensure that Hoitz and Gamble’s probing doesn’t go too far, and so that those above the British moneyman can remain beyond the law.

All of the previous McKay/Ferrell collaborations weren’t too interested in narrative cohesion or storytelling fluidity but “The Other Guys” cooks up an actual plotline for the buddy cop shenanigans to play out in. The film is clearly lampooning the action genre, but screenwriters McKay and Chris Henchy (who penned last year’s Ferrell flop “Land of the Lost”) construct a story chocked with corporate greed and even twisty plot developments; by the conclusion of “The Other Guys” the movie has almost morphed into what it initially sets out to mock. The plotting and payoffs are pretty perfunctory, but I give kudos to McKay for stepping so firmly out of his normal comfort zone. Of course the film also finds a welcome tone of ridiculousness, spoofing the usual facets of modern action pictures with confidence and comedic precision. “The Other Guys” is stacked with improvisational gold (Lion vs. Tuna), a wonderful sense of silliness and some absolutely cracking satire.

The performances are wonderful, with the Wahlberg and Ferrell team-up revealing a match made in comedy heaven. Ferrell’s normal persona is curbed here, the actor only touching his usual depths of insanity during a giggle inducing flashback pertaining to his character’s dark days at college. Instead most of the loudmouthed momentum comes from Wahlberg, parodying his own intense screen presence with a healthy dose of fun and a terrific line in verbal abuse. The relationship is antagonistic (albeit as the story develops the pair grudgingly comes to respect each other) and that suits the material perfectly, allowing the screenplay to create some brilliantly heated comic exchanges and creating a fertile plateau for Ferrell to use his commendable improv skills. The pair has a great chemistry, and the supporting figures surrounding them empower the film further. Eva Mendes showcases an unusually shrewd sense of comic timing as Ferrell’s unfeasibly foxy wife, whilst Michael Keaton puts in an odd but extremely amusing turn as the chief of police. The only actor who the film doesn’t utilize to full potential is Steve Coogan, but when given the chance (especially during a line of riotous bribery gags) he still makes his mark.

The action beats “The Other Guys” offers are surprisingly slick and entertaining, cheesy sure, but efficiently photographed and executed none the less. By the conclusion of its story the film feels a little unfocused, with the final showdown sequence lacking the panache or even boisterous fun that the rest of the picture provides so comfortably. From a technical viewpoint it’s easily the best work Adam McKay has done as a director, even if it never quite meets the comedic heights of “Anchorman” (the first and still best Ferrell/McKay film around). “The Other Guys” is a rewardingly absurd comic outing, spurred on by sharp buffoonery and an awesome selection of both lead and supporting performances. That’s a hard cocktail not to love.

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2010

1 September 2010

Movie Review: Grown Ups

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C-

Grown Ups
2010, 102mins, 12
Director: Dennis Dugan
Writer (s): Adam Sandler, Fred Wolf
Cast includes: Adam Sandler, Salma Hayek, Chris Rock, Kevin James, Maya Rudolph, David Spade, Maria Bello, Rob Schneider UK Release Date: 25th August 2010


Adam Sandler is a talented comic actor with a mixed track record, successes like “Billy Madison” and “Happy Gilmore” are balanced out by misfires such as “50 First Dates” and “Click”. Last year Sandler took a walk on the wild side with a more dramatic turn in Judd Apatow’s exceptional “Funny People”, but for 2010 it’s back to the usual mugging and old school slapstick shenanigans. “Grown Ups” teams Sandler with his regular band of buddies; David Spade, Chris Rock, Kevin James, Rob Schneider and even Steve Buscemi are present, which at least allows the film to embody some sense of believable comedic chemistry. However despite the natural flair that exists between its actors, “Grown Ups” too often feels like a home video reel depicting a bunch of famous pals on a laid back holiday. The film manages to conjure up a few chuckles from time to time, but the story is formless and the gag rate staggeringly hit and miss.

Following the death of their childhood basketball coach, a group of old school friends reunite for the weekend of his funeral. Lenny (Adam Sandler) is now a Hollywood agent with a fashionista wife (Salma Hayek) and kids who have become overly dependent on their wealthy lifestyle. Eric (Kevin James) is a successful businessman caught in a sexless marriage, and the father to a 4 year old boy who still breastfeeds. Kurt (Chris Rock) is emasculated due to the stay at home function he provides within his own family, whilst Marcus (David Spade) is 40 but still living like he’s 19. Rounding out the gang is Rob (Rob Schneider) an overly sensitive individual caught in a relationship with a women nearly twice his age (Joyce Van Patten). For the first time in years the gang is getting together, discovering each other’s families, and reliving the long hot sun drenched summers of their youths.

At least the cast always seem to be having fun. The onscreen energy is high within this band of merry performers, but “Grown Ups” doesn’t have a strong enough script to provide audiences with a similar dose of summertime cheer. It would be unfair to say the screenplay never finds a funny pitch, several sequences and lines of dialogue are after all worth a giggle, but overall the laughter rate is too thin on the ground and the gags overly pedestrian. Sandler was once a braver and raunchier comedian than he is in “Grown Ups”, the actor (who also co-scripted) falling back on predictable fart jokes and obvious pratfalls when things seem to be stalling. The banter between the actors seems heavily improvised, but there’s an underlying laziness to the affair that strikes of four grown men having a laid back beer guzzling session, rather than a selection of seasoned comics working hard to solicit laughs from viewers. Even the jokes that land aren’t particularly memorable, and anything of worth is run into the ground before the film’s undercooked finale.

Sandler favours a more reserved style of performance here (gone are the absurdist rants of Billy Madison or Happy Gilmore’s enraged tirades), allowing the rest of the cast to plough the more fertile comedic ground. David Spade finds the most success, using his whiplash way with a punch line and acidic sarcasm to admirable effect. More tolerable than usual is Rob Schneider, who along with Joyce Van Patten works hard to allow some of the grosser material to form into modestly amusing guffaws. Chris Rock is a complete non-event and mostly wasted, whilst Kevin James seems only on hand to provide a buffer for some hackneyed fat guy jibes and fundamental humiliation. The supporting cast encompasses Maya Rudolph (playing Rock’s pregnant spouse), Hayek and Maria Bello (the milk pumping wife of James). All three roles are utterly thankless, only Rudolph being given any real chance to stretch her considerable comic talents.

The film doesn’t sink into complete sappiness, but neither does it attain any of the emotional weight or moral fibre it wants to possess. “Grown Ups” sends a cluttered message about savouring childhood innocence, but equally that maturing is a fundamental part of life. There are also plenty of dilemmas to be solved within each family unit, but none of these undercurrents attract any worthwhile resonance or value, “Grown Ups” content to parade out its messages in a conventional and undercooked fashion. The final act of the film is agonisingly mediocre (only an inspired Steve Buscemi cameo offers relief), and it culminates with a flatly shot and pointless basketball showdown. The film begs audiences to care about this sporting clash, but the film doesn’t justify such affection, hell, the entire scene is just the result of an irregular and unconvincing subplot concerning a group of local adversaries.

“Grown Ups” has a manufactured look to it, sporting the same vibrant but unoriginal photographic palette that most brisk summer comedies attempt to replicate. In many ways it perfectly sums up the movie as a whole, tolerable but utterly forgettable and underwhelming. “Grown Ups” is a silly picture that carries with it absolutely no heft or innovation, resulting in a middle of the road Sandler experience.

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2010

Movie Review: The Human Centipede (First Sequence)

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D-

The Human Centipede (First Sequence)
2009, 92mins, 18
Director: Tom Six
Writer: Tom Six
Cast includes: Dieter Laser, Ashley C. Williams, Ashlynn Yennie, Akihiro Kitamura
UK Release Date: 20th August 2010


Tom Six’s “The Human Centipede (First Sequence)” is all bark and no bite, conjuring up an admirably cringe inducing premise before blowing it all with an hour and a half of awful acting and incessant silliness. Things aren’t helped by the fact that director Six shows very little eye for atmosphere or visual composition, the cinematography seemingly aiming for a relentlessly bland and sterile glow. The film does muster one decent five minute burst of stalk and slash (or more aptly stalk and shoot) action, but leaving that competently executed exception aside and “The Human Centipede” is a terror free dullard of a motion picture.

Upon failing to follow basic directions to a nightclub, tourists Lindsay (Ashley C. Williams) and Jenny (Ashlynn Yennie) stumble upon the domain of Dr. Heiter (Dieter Laser) in a bid to find automotive assistance. However after drugging them it becomes obvious that Heiter has other plans, namely surgically attaching the two girls in a mouth to anus position along with another captured soul to create a beast he calls “the human centipede”. Sadly that’s about it. The plot grinds to a standstill for about half an hour at this juncture, until in the final 20 minutes a duo of inept policeman arrive looking for the missing American women. Heiter is proud of his creation but has no desire to get caught, thus denying all knowledge, but the law enforcers aren’t convinced and are certain the mad doctor has a part to play in solving their case.

Deiter Laser is abominably bad in “The Human Centipede”. The actor has a range of over 60 films in his expansive CV but this is the first time I can recount seeing him, and his interpretation of villainy here does not leave a good impression. It’s a ham-fisted and ridiculously overblown performance, far more likely to solicit laughs than chills. His performance only has one insane dimension at its disposal, a fault that further expedites the picture’s descent into undiluted tedium. Williams and Yennie really bring an amateur hour vibe to Six’s movie, whatever rock the Dutch filmmaker found these two under would have been better left unturned. Neither has the acting ability to make even a single line of their dialogue sound believable (not that it’s Shakespeare they’re working with), so conjuring up any subtle character nuances or underlying feelings of sympathetic vulnerability are out of the question. Finally as the front part of the centipede Akihiro Kitamura gets some unintentionally hysterical dialogue, but like his female co-stars is totally unable to convert his screaming victim into an engaging human character.

The project isn’t really graphic at all; some poorly rendered prosthetic gore is all that audiences are treated to. However more important than that is the disappointing lack of suspense, something that Six completely negates to assess after his crazed bad guy has completed the diabolical surgery. There is a sequence around the halfway point that draws some tension from proceedings, in which one of the victims is pursued around Heiter’s house by the disturbed medical professional. Six actually uses the camera efficiently at this juncture and composes at least one memorably unsettling shot, but after that things revert to normal and the picture returns to the same flat and uninspired tone as before. The actual visual of the centipede itself is gross, but not in an overly visceral or sickening manner, anybody with at least a passing interest in the horror genre is certain to have witnessed worse.

The film’s subtitle suggests that sequels are on the cards (a fact confirmed by Six himself), but given the final outcome of this monotonous bilge it’s hard to see how the director is going to have that unfold. The police induced shootout sequence at the film’s climax wraps things up in a fashion not terribly befitting of other instalments, something that seems sensible given the atrocious standards exhibited by this wasteful schlock. “The Human Centipede(First Sequence)” is a tiring and attention seeking abomination of a film, desperately wanting love from the gore hounds and yuk enthusiasts of the world, but never getting close in execution to gaining their respect or admiration. The movie actually had me laughing more heartily than several recent Hollywood comedies, and seeing as for the most part that really wasn’t the point; it’s hard not to hold it against the film. “The Human Centipede” isn’t just a frustrating letdown; it’s a colossal dud of a feature.

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2010

DVD Verdict Review: Just Wright

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D

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