30 January 2011

DVD Review: Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps

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B

The original “Wall Street” was a fanged and unforgiving motion picture, directed with guts by a then fairly fresh faced Oliver Stone. The film’s 2010 sequel “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” is a much less cutting affair, instead rejecting uncompromising truths in favour of something softer and more digestible. It’s a competently executed and well acted piece, but the legendarily immoral beats that populated the initial 1987 effort are in much shorter supply.

“Money Never Sleeps” is set in 2008, the screenplay working its way toward the financial crisis that would later cripple the economy. Jake (Shia LaBeouf, better than he has been for sometime) is a promising young broker and the boyfriend of Winnie Gekko (Carey Mulligan), the resentful daughter of a now released Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas). Jake’s employer Louis Zabel (Frank Langella) has found himself in a bad way, his firm’s financial situation virtually unfixable, the only out being a humiliating deal offered by snide rival Bretton James (Josh Brolin). As a result Zabel kills himself, leaving a distraught Jake hungry for vengeance. Jake finds a friend in Gordon, the two striking a deal. If Jake will help repair Gordon’s fractured relationship with Winnie, the once powerful Wall Street predator will find a way to tackle the reprehensible James.

The character of Gordon Gekko is still fascinating, all of “Money Never Sleeps” most interesting components deriving from the master manipulator. Douglas once again gets into the character’s skin, cultivating a sense of trust whilst always hinting at a potential streak of villainy. His development as a character is well chronicled in “Money Never Sleeps”, this time Gekko’s conscience is much more prominent. There’s a genuine chemistry between LaBeouf and Douglas, their onscreen dynamic is suitably different from that Douglas shared with Charlie Sheen in the 1987 picture. Jake is a more morally astute figure, aware for the most part that Gekko needs to be monitored. As a result there’s an equality to the relationship, both men pivotal to the accomplishment of their individual goals. This was obviously not evident in “Wall Street”, and represents a nice change of pace for the unlikely franchise. Also modestly successful is the depiction of Gekko’s redemptive desires concerning his damaged daughter (played efficiently by an underutilized Mulligan), and how his emotional input once again unsettles her life.

With Gekko shoved onto a more amoral playing field, the outright bad guy here is Bretton James, portrayed effectively by Josh Brolin. Brolin isn’t as magnetic and tricky as Douglas was in “Wall Street”, but he brings enough boorish and malevolent inconsideration to the part for audiences to easily loathe his character. James seems to be Stone’s interpretation of “Greed 2.0”, an exaggerated and even nastier financial tyrant for this modern world. Stone’s analysis of the 2008 crash is something of a mixed bag, it allows for some tension and enjoyable twists, but the actual event itself is slipped into the film rather clumsily. The financial mumbo-jumbo that befuddled viewers in 1987 is still evident, although this time around Stone feels the need to fill the movie with explanatory diagrams and overbearing “bubble” metaphors. These visual additions feel lazy and weak, especially an explanation of fusion theory that appears to have been robbed directly out of an overly colourful children’s textbook. It looks like it belongs in a different film.

The storyline rattles along nicely, it’s a little messy in spots, but on the whole the central narrative is entertaining enough. Stone clearly doesn’t have the same thirst for blood that he possessed in 1987 and it shows, “Money Never Sleeps” never seems as focused on dissecting and uncovering the vile voracity that its predecessor is now renowned for. The backstabbing that goes on is compelling, but it lacks the same remorseless spark and cheeky ingenuity that rendered the initial picture so iconic. Indeed the family subplot that filters through “Money Never Sleeps” is more inspired than any of the material revolving around the economic downturn, a fact likely to surprise fans of Stone’s earlier enterprise.

The project is lengthy yet never overlong, Stone managing to stave off boredom for the most part despite some of his sequel’s more glaring deficiencies. “Money Never Sleeps” is an adept and healthy feature, albeit a much less potent cocktail than its legacy might suggest. The finale of “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” is one of silver linings and hope, a fair distance from the bittersweet karma of its older brother. It’s a palatable climax but one lacking in cutthroat tenacity; indeed the conclusion sums up the picture rather perfectly.

This release comes equipped with a digital copy (always useful for masochists) and a short 8-minute feature entitled “Gordon Gekko is Back”. It’s brief but quite intriguing, as film critics, Stone and Douglas all examine and analyse the character’s success in the pop culture stratosphere. The video and audio capabilities presented are ample, Fox having done a particularly good job in the image department. The transfer has a reasonable amount of detail, and looks vibrant, avoiding soft spots or even mild distortion. It’s a technically sound disc, albeit more bonus features would’ve been nice.

“Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” is available to own and rent on DVD and Blu-Ray from January 31st 2011


A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2011

28 January 2011

Movie Review: The Dilemma

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C

The Dilemma
2011, 111mins, 15
Director: Ron Howard
Writer: Allan Loeb
Cast includes: Vince Vaughn, Kevin James, Winona Ryder, Jennifer Connelly, Channing Tatum
UK Release Date: 21st January 2011

Seriously, when was the last time you laughed at Vince Vaughn? Probably somewhere around 2006 I’d imagine. The cherubic comic hasn’t exactly been on storming form during the last few years, his CV having become peppered with ghastly outings such as “Fred Claus” and “Couples Retreat”. Director Ron Howard hasn’t recently exhibited much of a feel for quality control either, the once celebrated filmmaker having become notably obsessed with adapting the dubious literary works of Dan Brown. Thankfully “The Dilemma” marks an immediate improvement for both, albeit praise doesn’t really get any fainter. I appreciate that with this picture Howard tries to do something a little more ambitious with the bromance genre, but sadly very little of it actually pays off.

Ronny (Vince Vaughn) and Nick (Kevin James) are best friends and business partners, the two heading up a small engine design company. Their firm is granted the chance to fashion an electric engine for Dodge, thus placing mechanical wizard Nick under a lot of stress. However Ronny has a very toxic problem of his own, having accidentally spied Nick’s wife Geneva (Winona Ryder) messing around with a younger man (Channing Tatum, displaying robust comic chops). Desperate to preserve Nick’s happiness and their company’s chance of success, Ronny attempts to resolve the issue himself, a decision that leaves his own life in disarray and his relationship with girlfriend Beth (Jennifer Connelly) on knife-edge.

“The Dilemma” is remarkably light on laughs, but under Howard’s gaze that almost seems intentional. It’s interesting to watch how rarely the film lunges for comedic gratification, instead focusing on internal angst and dysfunctional relationships. The goofball and slapstick tone promised by the film’s promotional material just isn’t present, rendering “The Dilemma” something of a surprise upon viewing. Sadly the movie’s introspective elements aren’t fleshed out adequately enough to fully engage, leaving the film uncertain as to what demographic it’s looking to satisfy. In truth “The Dilemma” barely functions as either comedy or drama, only small snippets of the picture hitting the homeruns its creators were aiming for.

Vaughn is the best he’s been in ages, the performer actually remembering to be funny on occasion. Most of the picture’s more amusing moments stem from Vaughn’s improvisational touch or high octane energy, the sleepy jester of “Couples Retreat” is thankfully nowhere to be seen. Vaughn also acquits himself modestly during the movie’s more dramatic moments, convincing as a man strangled by an undesirable truth. Less impressive is Kevin James, a chap who is quickly turning into one of Hollywood’s dullest leading men. The portly comedian stumbles around the picture failing to solicit giggles or sympathy, reusing the same beats he’s deployed in most of his big screen work. Jennifer Connelly is underused as Beth (although when given a chance she shines); leaving Winona Ryder to wrestle with the picture’s most confused entity. Whilst Ryder does perfectly fine, the screenwriters seem incapable of creating a consistent character for her to inhabit, Geneva swinging from remorseful innocent to crazy bitch much too hastily. I liked the performance, but the writing is suspect.

Howard attempts to inject a little visual fizz into proceedings, using flashbacks in an unusually artistic fashion for such a broad mainstream affair. Similarly the director’s comic timing is impeccable when it’s called upon, although that probably isn’t regularly enough. The department in which Howard fumbles is pacing, the picture running 20 minutes too long. There are facets of “The Dilemma” that could easily be cut without damaging the overall product, concepts such as Ronny’s previous gambling problem and his gratingly useless sister adding nothing to proceedings but unwanted beefiness. Due to the film’s patchiness, the finale isn’t leant much in the way of resonance, after all only a handful of the film’s more emotionally sincere sequences actually work. One involving Vaughn and Connelly having an argument in a kitchen is an indication of how sharp this product might have been with a little added stamina, but sadly “The Dilemma” is swamped by instances of cheesy reconciliation and overwrought histrionics.

The film is definitely a disappointment, although it never approaches the awfulness of some of Vaughn’s more cancerous career choices. Howard nearly twists the material into something resembling a rewarding film, but falls short at a few crucial junctures. It’s a melodramatic and only periodically witty ride.

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2011

27 January 2011

Total Film says Danland is one of the best....out of 600.

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Total Film (one of the UK’s more prestigious film magazines) has listed DANLAND amongst their 600 top movie blogs! Yay! They’ve actually recorded the URL for the site incorrectly, but we are listed, honest! (link: http://www.totalfilm.com/features/600-movie-blogs-you-might-have-missed) So errmmm....thanks Total Film!!!

26 January 2011

DVD Verdict Review: Red Hill

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B+

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

DVD Verdict Review: Paper Man

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B-

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

22 January 2011

DVD Review: Devil

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C-

Ten years ago a picture from the mind of M .Night Shyamalan was something to be anticipated eagerly, but these days “The Sixth Sense” creator is more renowned for a series of recent clunkers and a complete ignorance toward his obvious artistic blunders. Now under his newly formed “Night Chronicles” label we have “Devil”, boasting an idea formed by Shyamalan but executed by other less familiar filmmaking talents. “Devil” isn’t as worthless a feature as some of Shyamalan’s more infamous fare, but it’s still an underwhelming and oddly lifeless start to the “Night Chronicles” cycle.

A sleazy salesman (Geoffrey Arend), a security guard (Bokeem Woodbine), a gold digger (Bojnan Novakovic), a sullen mechanic (Logan Marshall Green) and an uppity elderly woman (Jenny O’Hara) all find themselves stuck inside a malfunctioning lift. With the elevator stalled the group begin to chatter and bicker, only for the lights to start flickering and violence to ensue. As serious injuries are inflicted upon those in the lift, Police Detective Bowden (Chris Messina) tries to solve the case using CCTV, eventually coming to the conclusion that the supernatural is at work. With the help of religious security staff member Ramirez (Jacob Vargas), Bowden comes to accept that one of the people in the elevator is indeed Satan, and is slowly picking off the other panicked prisoners systematically.

“Devil” ultimately fails because it is neither tense nor scary; the film’s finest moments could only be described as mildly diverting at best. Director John Erick Dowdle mishandles the material rather spectacularly, opting for blacked out distortion and screaming rather than anything remotely visceral or disturbing. The picture also struggles to attain any real sense of confinement or spatial frustration for the character to endure, too regularly “Devil” cuts to the outside world, leaving the compact elevator setting as only a small fragment of the overall feature. This constant editorial jitterbugging undercuts the suspense massively, ensuring that audience members are never permitted the chance to settle down and absorb the failed attempts at creeping dread.

The characterization in “Devil” is for the most part very poor, only Chris Messina’s police detective is afforded any glimpse of relatable humanity. Messina is fairly effective in the role, mixing his screen entity’s tragic past and thirst for redemption into a decent performance. The other cast members are undone by weak writing, albeit their acting feels exceedingly generic and unimaginative. Bojnan Novakovic is particularly colourless, the actress reduced to incoherent screaming and cowering for the majority of the movie. It’s also worth noting that not one individual in the lift setting is agreeable or sympathetic, meaning that viewers are unlikely to care if they eventually fall victim to Lucifer. To top it all off the screenplay climaxes with a particularly sour line of dialogue, removing all essence of menace offered by the title character through a shallow message of religious hope and uncontrollable feel good optimism.

The mystery element is resolved adeptly, bringing a nasty reveal to the fore and a surprising degree of moral complexity. However with “Devil” reaching that point is a drag, the only other redeeming feature being a trippy and visually compelling opening credits sequence. “Devil” is certainly a sharper endeavour than recent Shyamalan tripe like “The Happening”, but that’s unbelievably faint praise. The premise here is deserving of better treatment than director Dowdle is willing to provide, the middle section in particular suffering from a potent lack of threat and a sustained tone of blandness. As far as high concept projects go “Devil” is extremely forgettable, and a disappointing opening chapter for the “Night Chronicles”.

The extra features aren’t very good, the disc offering a few EPK style featurettes of the worst sort. “The Story” and “The Night Chronicles” are both 2 minutes long, largely consisting of film clips with a few sound bites tossed in for good measure. “The Devil’s Meeting” is a similar length but a bit more enjoyable; it’s fun to watch a theologian try and justify the film’s silly premise. A few minutes of deleted material are also included, although none of it is particularly gratifying. Overall this is mediocre disc for a mediocre movie.


“Devil” is available to own and rent on DVD and Blu-Ray from January 24th 2011

(N.B - Universal provided a screener of “Devil” for review, and thus because it may not be representative of retail quality, I have neglected to assess the disc’s audio and video capabilities)

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2011

21 January 2011

Movie Review: Black Swan

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A

Black Swan
2010, 108mins, 15
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Writer (s): Mark Heyman, Andres Heinz, John J. McLaughlin
Cast includes: Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, Vincent Cassel, Winona Ryder, Barbara Hershey
UK Release Date: 21st January 2011

Following up his 2008 winner “The Wrestler” was never going to be easy, but with the formidable “Black Swan” director Darren Aronofsky may even have bettered it. A psychological thriller set against a production of Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake”, Aronofsky’s film is a compellingly tragic affair; fronted by a sublime leading turn from the erratic Natalie Portman. A warped and stunningly surreal examination of a fractured mind, “Black Swan” is a powerful triumph and one that seduces the audience using pure sensory overload. There’s nothing quite like it.

Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) is a shy but talented ballerina, emotionally repressed via an infantilized relationship with her domineering mother (Barbara Hershey). Nina is determined to nab the role of Swan Queen in an upcoming re-imagining of “Swan Lake”, but company director Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel) isn’t convinced by her abilities. Nina’s grace and technical skill render her an ideal choice for the chaste White Swan, but her lack of passion and vigor is detrimental when it comes to portraying the edgier Black Swan. Seeing as the part requires the dancer to do both, Leroy is fairly confident Nina won’t be able to handle it. More suitable in the impresario’s eyes is Lilly (Mila Kunis), a wild and equally proficient newcomer, an athlete with the range to convey both sides of the Swan Queen adequately. However after Nina actively begs for the part, Leroy gifts it to her in the hope that the reserved dancer might grow into it. All starts promisingly, but soon Nina’s sanity begins to wilt under the pressure. Not helping matters is her paranoid fixation with a potentially jealous Lilly, and a hostile encounter with one of Leroy’s previous protégés (Winona Ryder). Eventually madness overwhelms everything, turning Nina from a quiet loner into a confused but incredibly vocal lunatic.

Portman is stupendous in “Black Swan”, perfectly surveying a fragile young woman with severe mental problems. It’s a performance that balances both sides of Nina’s personality very organically; the actress never hits a moment of imbalance or excess during her flights of insanity. Despite her often frosty and frigid demeanor, viewers do come to care about Nina, helplessly watching as she’s thrown into a stunning whirlwind of schizophrenic hysteria. It’s proof that when under the supervision of a strong filmmaker Portman can be truly majestic. The supporting thespians aren’t in the limelight as much, but play their parts just as impressively. Vincent Cassel is saddled with the dullest character, but still makes it work on the back of his raw magnetism and charm. Kunis (usually found in dippy comedies) tackles Lilly with a surprising dollop of subtly, carefully treading the line between misunderstood comrade and utterly conniving bitch. Nina’s dubious perception of Lilly is central to her continuous brain strain, Kunis always keeping her character’s intentions appreciatively ambiguous as a result. Barbara Hershey and Winona Ryder also deliver the goods, especially Ryder as an embittered and angered has-been. She controls every frame of the picture she’s in, her brash rage contrasting notably with Portman’s subdued anxiety.

The narrative is all over the place, but that’s obviously the point. “Black Swan” represents the world as seen by Nina, and as she grows crazier her point of view becomes increasingly less reliable. Aronofsky captures this through a distorted yet vividly designed aesthetic, showcasing bizarre camera angles and applying a highly kinetic polish to the picture. The ballet sequences are wildly engaging, Aronofsky always keeping the camera moving in order to accurately depict the speed and elegance such an art form possesses. Of course there are plenty of visual tics that help establish the impending mental anguish, creepy use of mirrors and some rather gruesome self mutilation ramming the point home obviously, but with an excitable urgency and aura of dread.

The project displays human sexuality rather vivaciously, but not in an exploitative or needlessly tawdry fashion. One of Nina’s fundamental character traits is her sexual reluctance, something counterpointed by the animalistic lust displayed by Leroy and Lilly. “Black Swan” doesn’t feature any overt nudity, but it does boast a graphic instance of masturbation and a lesbian exchange between Portman and Kunis. Had the final product not been so momentously poignant then these individual moments might threaten to overpower the film as a whole, but thankfully “Black Swan” uses them to further its characters and help paint the central descent into madness even more viscerally.

The movie culminates alongside a lively interpretation of “Swan Lake”, Aronofsky easily conveying the bombast and scope of New York ballet, whilst also injecting in numerous deranged quirks, most notably a dreamlike burst of body horror. The musical score courtesy of Clint Mansell is also deserving of praise, the composer taking all of the film’s themes and working them into a pleasurable and deliberately melodramatic funk. Adding to the aural brilliance is some of the best sound design I’ve heard in a movie for years, further enhancing the picture’s frantic tone. I adored “Black Swan”, and whilst I appreciate that it won’t be for everyone, it is a wholly unforgettable cinematic endeavor. It’s a blisteringly incongruous tour de force from start to finish.

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2011

19 January 2011

Movie Review: The Reef

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C

The Reef
2010, 94mins, 15
Director: Andrew Traucki
Writer: Andrew Traucki
Cast includes: Zoe Naylor, Damian Walshe-Howling, Gyton Grantley, Kieran Darcy-Smith
UK Release Date: 24th January 2011

I was fairly apathetic toward Andrew Traucki’s directorial debut “Black Water”, a 2007 Crocodile shocker that was perilously short on bite. Not to be bested by the tepid critical response to his first film, Traucki has stuck with the creature feature template for his second outing, this time taking the action into the shark infested waters of Australia. “The Reef” is definitely a more suspenseful sit than “Black Water”, Traucki mixing unsettling stillness with genuine Great White shark footage to sublime effect. However as was the case with the filmmaker’s previous picture, “The Reef” is hampered by soggy characterization and stilted acting. It’s a clear improvement for Traucki, but it’s still not a certifiably gratifying final product.

Five friends decide to go on a sailing expedition in Australia, taking their boat out into the local waters in order to enjoy some of the hidden island paradises scattered across the ocean. After their vehicle is mysteriously capsized the gang are left with a dilemma, do they stay, or strike out and make for a chunk of land about 10 miles away? Luke ((Damien Walshe-Howling) is convinced they should go for the latter, much to the disapproval of his anxious shipmate Warren (Kieran Darcy-Smith). Warren has spent years working on fishing boats, and knows exactly what these waters are home to. Disregarding his friend’s advice, Luke leads the rest of the gang out into the isolated open, wading slowly through the ocean in search of land. However it isn’t long before they spark the interest of a local inhabitant, a 15-foot Great White Shark with a thirst for blood. As the group nervously paddle toward safety, the massive predator silently stalks them, and before long begins to take them one by one.

The use of wide open spaces in “The Reef” is exemplary, Traucki utilizing the depth and loneliness of sea exquisitely. The filmmaker does a good job of cultivating a sense of hopelessness, and the toothy shark sequences are tense affairs. However “The Reef” is undone thanks to an inept screenplay, a piece of writing peppered with underdeveloped characters and wooden dialogue. It takes Traucki a considerable while to get the ball rolling (there’s no beastie action for at least 30 minutes), the first act of the picture amounting to little more than a dramatically inert slog. None of the relationships or screen entities feel convincing, the most impressively fleshed out figure is easily the shark itself.

It’s not that “The Reef” is stacked with obnoxious or unlikable personalities, it’s just none of the characters have any emotional credibility. Traucki has done a sour job of pumping “The Reef” with any proper semblance of humanity, a little surprising given that the story is based on true events. I strongly suspect the survivors of this ordeal won’t be overly impressed by their onscreen interpretations, there’s just no way audiences will respond or be captivated by such cardboard cut-outs. All of this is worsened thanks to the shoddy thespian input evidenced here, everybody completely out acted by their hungry nemesis. This was also a key concern with “Black Water”, and one that Traucki needs to address if he ever gets the chance to forge a third directorial gig.

“The Reef” avoids using digitals or animatronics, instead opting to intersperse an actual shark into proceedings. Obviously this bolsters the film’s realism, and adds an extra layer of terrifying believability to the attack sequences. Traucki deserves praise for editing the creature so seamlessly into the film, after all, there’s no way the director placed his cast in the water with an actual Great White. Instead through some cunning shot construction and imaginative use of the ever creepy dorsal fin, “The Reef” is able to instil terror without having to overload on dodgy CGI. It’s a welcome treat.

The production will obviously encourage comparisons to 2003’s “Open Water”, a similarly pitched film that cared more about character than any form of aquatic menace. Traucki builds “The Reef” up into a satisfactory thriller during its climax, but that’s still not enough to compensate for the weak screenplay and stodgy performances. It’s clearly half a solid movie (which is more than can be said for “Black Water”), but by turns it’s also 50% dreadful. I can’t say such a ratio inspires me to grant it any sort of whole hearted recommendation, but hey, shark fanatics might get a kick out of it.

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2011

18 January 2011

Movie Review: The Virginity Hit

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D+

The Virginity Hit
2010, 88mins, 18
Director (s): Huck Botko, Andrew Gurland
Writer (s): Huck Botko, Andrew Gurland
Cast includes: Matt Bennett, Zack Pearlman, Jacob Davich, Nicole Weaver, Justin Kline, Sunny Leone
UK Release Date: 19th November 2010

To label “The Virginity Hit” an outright abomination would be harsh, after all the production does at least attempt to aesthetically shake some dust off the surface of its stale and perpetually horny genre. Shot on handheld cameras to create a YouTube vibe, “The Virginity Hit” only has its cheapie technical attributes to distinguish itself, otherwise it’s just an adolescent excursion dearly lacking in both the arenas of comedy and charisma. It’s a cut above genre lowlights like “Van Wilder”, but the film clearly wants to be the next “Superbad” or “American Pie”, an ambition it never comes close to achieving.

After one of their crew loses his virginity, a group of High School reprobates decide to make a pact (just a super original concept); each time an individual from the gang shakes his cherry they’ll take a hit from a specific bong. As the months roll by the virginity hits (geddit?) become more frequent, until only geeky Matt (Matt Bennett) is left. Matt can’t quite gather the courage to blow his first load, despite being involved in a long-term relationship with a sweet girl named Nicole (Nicole Weaver). After a farcical attempt to do the deed, Matt and Nicole actually end up severing their romance, leaving a confused Matt with no obvious alternatives on the horizon. Enter Matt’s half-brother Zach (a poisonously unfunny Zack Pearlman), who decides to spearhead and document an adventure that will help his dear friend attain sexual maturity. All of course does not go to plan.

My biggest gripe with “The Virginity Hit” is its cast; they’re simply not a jocose bunch of fellows. Directors Huck Botko and Andrew Gurland rely heavily on their actors to create an aura of authenticity, weak improvisation seemingly being the vital factor in cultivating such an atmosphere. The young performers fail to make much of a mark; some are too reserved and quiet, whilst others (Zack Pearlman!) strut through the picture as if they’re the lovechildren of Jim Carrey and Will Ferrell (who sadly co-produced this movie), all the while exhibiting none of the talent or wit associated with such comedic legends. Matt Bennett is the exception, bringing tolerable amounts of teen angst and a quirky sense of shame to proceedings. It’s not a turn of much depth, but at least Bennett is halfway likable and occasionally funny.

As with many of its ilk “The Virginity Hit” trades largely in the realms of vulgarity and humiliation, all of which is supposed to be leant a feeling of real world intimacy thanks to the film’s mockumentary style. Very little of what’s offered here is either entertaining or memorable, indeed much of it is just kind of tedious. Despite a fairly tight running time (88 minutes), the film grows tiresome before the midway point, unceremoniously thrusting Matt from one dubiously linked indiscretion to another. Botko and Gurland obviously intended for the hacked together editing to radiate a sense of realism, but it actually just irritates and further compounds the lack of fizzle or imagination present in their production. Some of the filthy one-liners do encourage giggles, but none of the movie’s gross out set-pieces brought on anything more than a twitchy smirk. The lack of creativity is startling, but more worrying is the insufficiency of organic energy featured. The whole affair just feels overtly drab and needlessly dull.

The project’s desperation is palpable come the finale, which deploys real life porn star Sunny Leone, presumably to concoct a sense of gimmicky self-worth. It’s by turns idiotic and pathetic. I enjoy a heartily depraved and filthy minded cinematic shindig as much as the next guy, and am always up for well intentioned and excitable tomfoolery, but “The Virginity Hit” is subpar from start to finish. Even the film’s single intriguing facet (the low-fi visual presentation) eventually begins to grate. In future these filmmakers would do well to actually craft fleshed out and engaging characters (please don’t employ Zack Pearlman again), but more importantly tell boner jokes that actually stimulate the viewer’s sense of humour. After all if you can’t do that, what’s the freaking point?

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2011

16 January 2011

Movies I Missed (Part 1): Monsters vs. Aliens (2009)

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Even as both an avid fan of cinema and regular film reviewer, it’s more or less impossible to see every movie that goes into wide release. Sure the progression in home entertainment makes it easier to play catch-up, but little things like work, socializing and other interests ensure that even in these DVD filled times major films still occasionally slip through my grasp.

As a result I have decided to concoct a series of articles entitled “Movies I missed”, a look at recent fare that evaded me whilst on theatrical release. I should make it clear that the series isn’t an attempt by me to power through a whole heap of unseen classics (there’s enough of that happening on the web surely), but rather a look at 21st Century flicks I either intentionally or accidentally bypassed during my ongoing cinematic travels. Another disclaimer might be that the films chosen for this selection of articles are likely to be reasonably well regarded efforts (There’s not enough time in the world to bother with overlooked gems such as “St. Trinian’s” or “Basic Instinct 2”), but I’m sure the odd clunker will turn up now and again. The first picture I’ve decided to examine is 2009’s “Monster vs. Aliens”, a movie that I was actually quite looking forward to pre-release. However after missing its initial run I failed to remember the caper, a fact not helped by the lack of fan loyalty the film seems to have cultivated over the last 20 months.

Monsters vs. Aliens
Release year – 2009
Worldwide Box-Office: $381,509,870
Critical reaction – Generally positive (71% on Rotten Tomatoes)

I have to confess a mild sense of disappointment when it comes to “Monsters vs. Aliens”, a smart concept undone by a shallow script. The film definitely has its moments, and has a respectable roster of belly laughs at its disposal, but sadly the final sermon and plot developments reek of the conventional mood that has haunted much of DreamWorks’ recent fare. A pastiche of cheesy 1950s’ sci-fi flicks, the film has its heart in the right place, but the execution could use notable improvement.

The movie follows a ragtag group of government detained monsters, most notably Ginormica (a 50-foot woman who suffered her tragic growth spurt at the altar) voiced shrilly by Reese Witherspoon. With an alien invasion pending, the USA is forced to use these beasts in order to combat the hostile newcomers, the ultimate goal being the survival of mankind.

First let’s start with what works about this production. With the exception of an uncharacteristically irritating Witherspoon, the vocal artists really do an excellent job. Seth Rogen (playing an idiotic gelatinous blob) and Hugh Laurie (a mad scientist in the body of a human/cockroach hybrid) are the obvious highlights, both performers bringing the majority of the movie’s guffaws. Rogen in particular displays a knack for kid friendly silliness, bandying his improvisational tics across “Monsters vs. Aliens” with joyful results. Other supporting figures like Will Arnett, Kiefer Sutherland and Rainn Wilson also give appreciatively anarchic turns, rounding out a successful assortment of casting choices. Stephen Colbert is noxiously unfunny as the President of the United States, but his part is small and works as only a minor detractor against the movie. “Monsters vs. Aliens” is also rather short, breezy seems an appropriate adjective with which to describe the pacing on show here. Directorial duo Conrad Vernon (2005’s “Madagascar”) and Rob Letterman (2010’s Gulliver’s Travels”) adopt a tone of unrestrained lunacy throughout, simply intent on jumping from one wacky set-piece to another. The crazed approach both grants “”Monsters vs. Aliens” a lightness of touch and a robust foot up in the comedy department, the singular area in which this project unquestionably succeeds. The send-ups of stereotypes from genre movies of the past are clever, and it’s very obvious this isn’t a screenplay the directors were ever intent on taking too seriously. Certainly as popcorn entertainment “Monsters vs. Aliens” is sporadically efficient.

One of the film’s largest faults is the undistinguishable moral it permeates at the end, the classic “be yourself, and stay true to what you believe in” line we’ve seen a thousand times before. I’m actually pretty surprised DreamWorks’s hasn’t patented the damn idea at this point. Similarly the central plot machinations are spectacularly stale, the writers happy to churn out a script filled to the brim with formula. There’s nothing really unique about the endeavour, and the devotion to regurgitated ideas only does this delightful conceit a disservice. I guess imitation is sort of the point (it’s a love letter to cinema after all), but sadly that doesn’t make the onscreen adventuring anymore flavoursome or engaging. Troubling the production (and my patience) further is the badly sketched and wearisome leading figure of Ginormica, a character with too little invention or depth behind her to strike an effective connection with the audience. Finally the animation is average at best, some of the monster designs are neat, but “Monsters vs. Aliens” aesthetically lacks the texture and fine detail which can be found in the best of its kind. The visuals are sub-Pixar for sure. The movie was also presented originally in 3D, a gimmicky addition that now frustrates a few years after the fact. On DVD this film actually appears to represent a solid black mark against 3D, what may have looked impressive in a cinema is just annoyingly goofy on a TV. It’s an interesting point of notice, and as good a place as any to halt my thoughts. I can’t say I was super enthused by “Monsters vs. Aliens”, and had I not picked up the disc so cheap (it’s widely available and very reasonably priced in most locations) I think I would have been moderately annoyed. It’s an okay slice of entertainment, but undeniably forgettable.

Is it worth catching up with? - Not really, it’s serviceable enough, but your cultural side won’t be enriched one iota by checking it out. (C+)


Daniel Kelly, 2011

14 January 2011

Movie Review: The Green Hornet

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B

The Green Hornet
2011, 119mins, 12
Director: Michel Gondry
Writer (s): Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg
Cast includes: Seth Rogen, Jay Chou, Cameron Diaz, Christoph Waltz, Tom Wilkinson, David Harbour
UK Release Date: 14th January 2011

A slick and agreeably goofy origin story, “The Green Hornet” definitely marks an above average start for the blockbusting calendar of 2011. Directed by critical darling Michel Gondry (“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”), and with a script courtesy of “Pineapple Express” scribes Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen, it’s a rather refreshing commodity in this era of superhero overload. The picture is far from perfect (its action beats are substantially less impressive than the comic elements), but overall “The Green Hornet” satisfies because it delivers a healthy dollop of undiluted fun.

A lazy and over privileged party boy, Britt Reid (Seth Rogen) is rendered stunned when his media mogul father (Tom Wilkinson) is killed via an allergic reaction to a bee sting. Left to run an empire he has no interest in, Britt turns to his father’s mechanic Kato (Jay Chou) for advice, the pair inexplicably making headlines after some intentional vandalism and accidental heroism gets them spotted by the local authorities. Narrowly escaping, the duo decides to team-up, taking the false form of villains so they can secretly act as heroes. Using Kato’s arsenal of gadgets and his intensive martial arts knowhow, the pair become renowned on the streets, Britt branding his vigilante alter ego as the Green Hornet. However local crime boss Chudnofsky (Christoph Waltz) isn’t content with Britt and Kato moving in on his turf, feelings that quickly lead him to place a hefty bounty on the Green Hornet’s head.

Under Gondry’s supervision “The Green Hornet” is less deliberately quirky than expected, the French filmmaker handling the material in a rather conventional fashion. What actually distinguishes this entry from the dozens of other superhero flicks is the screenplay, which literally oozes Seth Rogen’s writing style with every line. Goldberg and Rogen have collaborated to create an amusing script, not particularly ambitious from a storytelling standpoint, but definitely an original in terms of dialogue and characterization. There’s a lot of funny stuff on show here, the writers balancing the laughs between spectacularly silly slapstick and numerous witty exchanges. Of course there’s a fair amount of crude humour (in a PG sort of way, we’re not talking “Superbad” here), but it’s of a moderately high quality. Overblown and heavily budgeted studio comedies rarely work, but “The Green Hornet” marks a pleasing exception.

Rogen and Chou’s performances are deserving of praise, the pair making for a sparkly and likable onscreen couple. Rogen manages to once again make an asshole of a character rather engaging (mostly through sheer silliness), and Chou deadpans beautifully to compliment the leading man’s frequent idiocy. Physically both actors also give the film their best shot, Chou in particular deploying some mightily impressive athleticism to lend the hand to hand combat sequences a touch of added class. Christoph Waltz is clearly having a blast as a campy mobster with an inferiority complex, aiming for chuckles rather than any proper semblance of threat. As the love interest Cameron Diaz (portraying Britt’s highly educated secretary) is mostly wasted, the actress’s innate charm only able to shine through during a select few moments.

Gondry is able to infuse the movie with a few striking visual tics, but for the most part the film is optically a rather ordinary affair; albeit the production values are of a rather rich standard. The action sequences in the movie don’t strive too hard, most of the set-pieces involving slow-mo fistfights or high speed car chases. It’s all shot with a gracious amount of energy and kinetic force, but on the whole none of it really registers as particularly memorable. It’s acceptable, just not very special. The violence utilized is definitely more intense and graphic than that found in most family friendly pictures, but “The Green Hornet” is far from a gritty affair. Indeed much of the bloodshed is carried out in the spirit of laughter; the level of testicle trauma on show here is proof enough of the film's comedic conviction. However the production is at its sharpest when focusing on Britt and Kato’s wacky interplay, when Gondry moves the film onto a grander blockbusting plateau its entertainment value dips notably.

As bubblegum escapism “The Green Hornet” is a nifty accomplishment, a fulfilling ride that actually boasts a pretty solid post converted 3D job. It’s unlikely to be regarded as the most viscerally rewarding slice of Hollywood bombast you’ll see this year, but it certainly brings giddy laughs with aplomb. At 119 minutes things perhaps go on for a little too long (I’ll reiterate that the central plot is totally run of the mill), but as a cheeky and cheerful romp it represents a jovial watch.

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2011

DVD Review: Charlie St. Cloud

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D-

If “Charlie St. Cloud” made me feel anything, it’s a sense of sympathy for Zac Efron. A capable star with stacks of physical skill and oodles of charisma, Efron really ought to be doing better work than this. He gives “Charlie St. Cloud” a good old college try, and is probably the movie’s only true dramatic asset, but that still can’t excuse the dismal script selection he evidenced when signing onto this underwhelming mess.

Struggling after the death of his brother Sam (Charlie Tahan), Charlie St. Cloud (Zac Efron) has given up his future so he can frequent with the ghost of his deceased sibling everyday at sunset. Once a brilliant sailor with a promising education ahead of him, Charlie is now regarded as a handsome but slightly loopy local weirdo. Devoted completely to the spirit of Sam, things are complicated when a previous sailing competitor Tess (Amanda Crew) takes a liking to the reclusive hunk, offering feelings that Charlie soon feels himself reciprocating. Thus he must make a choice, to stay stuck in the past with Sam, or to move forward in his life with the promise of potential romance.

I’m not sure if it’s the case, but “Charlie St. Cloud” feels like a movie that suffered from studio interference. The structure of the product is scrappy and the tone uneven, resulting in an artistic experience that fails to do justice to any of its multiple themes or plot arcs. At times “Charlie St. Cloud” handles itself with a surprising lack of sentimentality, director Burr Steers’ cinematic style shining through in several edgier and more emotionally grounded sequences. However in other moments the production is a mawkish disaster, a vomit inducing blend of artificial relationships and saccharine screenwriting. The story as a whole is pretty poor, so this distractingly uncertain combination of moods is only worsening an already dodgy prospect, but still, it’s always interesting to speculate what causes such unbalanced filmmaking.

The movie’s production design is rather picturesque, but that’s where the praise largely ends. The script is a horribly clichéd and thoroughly predictable bore, a rancid tearjerker of the first order. The picture bounces around several ideas and concepts that it doesn’t deserve to possess, and it’s exploration of death is painfully contrived. “Charlie St. Cloud” just doesn’t have the skill or conviction behind it for any sort of fully realised connection with audiences, the characters and dynamics onscreen aren’t original or honest enough to cultivate emotional resonance. Supporting figures are tossed into the mix with reckless abandon, yet so very few of them leave any worthy or even discernable mark on the plot.

Efron is clearly giving it his best shot, and does admittedly impress sporadically. However on the whole he is let down by inept writing and the various underlying inconsistencies that haunt the picture; preventing his turn from being truly memorable. Amanda Crew looks good but offers her character no depth, whilst Charlie Tahan is more irritating than anything else as the spiky Sam. A host of famous faces sift in and out of proceedings with no real purpose, watching Kim Basinger, Ray Liotta and Donal Logue ply their talents to such fruitless material marks a particular low point for viewers. In fairness Tahan and Efron do feel somewhat like brothers in the way they interact, but that’s overtly counterpointed by the fact the latter and Amanda Crew have no viable chemistry, failing to convince as fuck buddies, let alone soul mates.

“Charlie St. Cloud” isn’t a picture I would recommend, even to Efron diehards. It fails in nearly every conceivable fashion, its climactic message leaving no imprint on one’s memory. Ultimately it’s the messy nature of this beast that kills it, but in truth the screenplay was probably a dud from the moment pen hit paper. Hopefully its talented leading man can move onto better things, and leave pap like this wedged firmly behind a closed door.


The disc comes equipped with a commentary from director Burr Steers, a dry listen and one that feels slight when it comes to actual filmmaking insight. Certainly if there were any behind the scenes gripes, the director is keeping quiet about them on the basis of this track. Several forgettable deleted scenes are also on show, alongside some exceedingly fluffy and congratulatory featurettes focusing on Efron. Got to give the teenage girls something I suppose. Rounding out the mediocre package is a 9-minute feature that explores communicating with the dead. It’s hokey as all hell, but also good for a few giggles.


“Charlie St. Cloud” is available to own and rent on DVD and Blu-Ray from February 7th 2011.

(N.B - Universal provided a screener of “Charlie St. Cloud” for review, and thus because it may not be representative of retail quality, I have neglected to assess the disc’s audio and video capabilities)

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2011



13 January 2011

Movie Review: Season of the Witch

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C+
Season of the Witch
2011, 95mins, 15
Director: Dominic Sena
Writer: Bragi F. Schut
Cast includes: Nicolas Cage, Ron Perlman, Claire Foy, Christopher Lee, Stephen Campbell Moore, Stephen Graham
UK Release Date: 7th January 2011
During its opening two thirds “Season of the Witch” is actually a rather enjoyable experience, the film opting to travel a lower key and spookier route than expected. Of course placing spotty director Dominic Sena at the helm ensures such good is eventually spoiled, “Season of the Witch” choosing to undermine much of its initial success through a finale chocked with unintentional laughs and shoddy CGI. The atmospheric and quietly unsettling first hour is probably sufficiently effective to warrant a rental, but the misjudged silliness of the climax ensures the feature strays far from greatness.

Having become disaffected with the Crusades, warriors Behmen (Nicolas Cage) and Felson (Ron Perlman) leave their duties in search of a location where they might repent for the violence they have committed over the years. Arriving at a small town the men are immediately identified, and quickly punished for abandoning God’s war. However the local Cardinal (Christopher Lee) is willing to make a deal. The community has been struck by a severe dose of Black Death, believed to be the work of a young witch (Claire Foy). If Felson and Behmen escort the imprisoned witch to a faraway monastery where her punishment can be carried out, they will be released. Seeing the task as an opportunity to cleanse his soul by saving the young woman, Behmen accepts, with Felson also happily trotting along for the ride. Their party consists of a Priest (Stephen Campbell Moore), a con man with knowledge of the area (Stephen Graham) and an aspiring young knight (Robert Sheehan). As they move into the foggy wilderness the group are subjected to several perilous scenarios, and are left clueless concerning the true prowess of their mysterious hostage.

It’s surprising to see Dominic Sena get so close to actually crafting a certifiably robust movie, before pissing it all away though an ill conceived wrap-up of epic proportions. The setting and mood found in “Season of the Witch” really hold up well for around an hour, unearthing a deep sense of darkness and threat for the majority of this period. The movie looks wonderful, the European landscapes on which it was shot emitting a haunting and ghoulish helping of disturbing unease. The film operates much more satisfactorily when it attempts to be a supernatural mystery with lashings of horror, the characters and atmosphere drawing viewers in rather splendidly. Yet the pleasure of these earlier and freakier moments can’t be sustained, as Sena can’t help but indulge his dubious urges, morphing the picture into an outright sword and sorcery snoozer before its conclusion.

Nicolas Cage is considerably less frantic than usual; at times the actor almost looks liable to slip into a coma. It’s clearly a paycheque gig for the thespian, but at least he has the decency to forge a credible onscreen dynamic with Perlman, who for the record is heaps of wisecracking fun. To see Cage in such sedate form is disappointing, but then again the stillness of his performance almost lends his regret laden back-story a hint of pathos. Everybody else appears to be having a rather good time and their energy transfers nicely into the story, particularly a menacing and surprisingly subtle Claire Foy. The actress intelligently uses her performance to infuse a sense of doubt into the movie, allowing the central characters to bicker amongst themselves concerning her possibly misunderstood intentions. This adds a welcome extra dimension to the production, and adds a solid dollop of intrigue to the already eerily compelling middle act.

The finale is predictable and nauseating, Sena deciding to cultivate a brash blockbusting ending of the worst sort. Filled to the brim with subpar digitals, “Season of the Witch” forgoes all of its slow burn suspense come the climax, instead preferring to batter audiences over the head with generic combat sequences and unremarkable man vs. monster action. Screenwriter Bragi F. Schut also needs to shoulder some of the blame for the preposterously overcooked finish, and only he is responsible for the consistently wooden dialogue that populates the picture. The film also has the audacity to end on a cheesy note of eternal hope, again doing bucket loads to undo the fine work done by the tautly structured initial segments.

“Season of the Witch” is better than you’ve likely heard, but on the other hand is also badly sullied by its inept denouement. As a gothic and leisurely paced creep show it actually fares quite well (albeit gore hounds would do well to note it’s largely bloodless), but as a fantasy swashbuckler it never gels thanks to some tragic creative missteps. There’s some magic to be found here, but not enough for it to become the devilish thrill ride it so obviously wants to be.

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2011

12 January 2011

Movie Review: The King's Speech

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A-

The King's Speech
2010, 118mins, 12
Director: Tom Hooper
Writer: David Seidler
Cast includes: Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, Helena Bonham Carter, Guy Pearce, Michael Gambon
UK Release Date: 7th January 2011

“The King’s Speech” is a startlingly effective crowd-pleaser, an uplifting production that soars on the back of strong direction and sensational performances. The film focuses on the life of King George VI (Colin Firth), most notably the monarch’s struggle with his confidence shredding speech impediment. Helmed gracefully by the talented Tom Hooper, the movie operates firstly as a superlative dose of multiplex entertainment, secondly as an insightful biopic and damning examination of the emotional damage the British Royals have bestowed upon their quirky clan.

The future King George VI (also known as Bertie) is struggling with his life in the public eye, finding his nasty speech impediment a constant burden. Having seen and fared poorly with multiple specialists, the Prince turns to Lionel (Geoffrey Rush) an odd verbal therapist, at the behest of his loving yet insistent spouse (Helena Bonham Carter). Bertie and Lionel form a reluctant friendship, and notable results are seen in the patient’s speaking capabilities. However when Bertie’s brother David (Guy Pearce) abdicates the throne, Bertie has to fill the gap, much to his distress and dislike. As a result the pressure to solve Bertie’s medical dilemma increases, Lionel needing the King to really open up about his past before the source of the handicap can be detected. As the threat of War dawns (the production is set around the period 1930-1940) Bertie begins to crumble, after all how are the nation supposed to cope in a time of crisis when their monarch can barely string a sentence together?

“The King’s Speech” is primarily a story of friendship between two men, albeit a much different variation than the Apatow style that seems to have consumed modern Hollywood. Rush and Firth are marvellous in the film, gifting the onscreen relationship between Lionel and Bertie a genuine gravitas. The bond shared between the characters is forged in a very naturalistic fashion, progressing satisfactorily and believably throughout the course of the story. Hooper guides proceedings with a deft and appreciatively soft touch, refusing to turn “The King’s Speech” into a dreary history lesson, instead setting his sights on concocting a fulfilling tale of two men helping to resolve each other’s demons. It’s truly delightful stuff.

Firth’s performance is a master class, slipping effortlessly into the skin of the late king. Firth paints a rather saddening picture of the monarch, showing us a man distressed by his harsh upbringing and depressed by thoughts of his future duties. It’s a complex turn filled with moments of tragedy and laughter, also operating as a rather affecting portrait of how emotionally repressed and mistreated certain members of the British monarchy were. Of course matching the exquisite leading performance is a divine Geoffrey Rush, bring his own nuanced comedic skills and sense of inner turmoil (his character is a failed actor) to the project. Together they make for a spellbinding screen couple, their dialogue flows and the deep connection the characters are meant to harbour is demonstrated perfectly through the impeccable acting on show.. The supporting crew also impress. Bonham Carter is likable yet exudes an appropriately stiff upper lip as Bertie’s wife, whilst Guy Pearce offers a slimy but almost sympathetic (in a rather twisted way) turn as Prince David. It’s hard to think of many films in possession of the same levels of thespian nirvana as “The King’s Speech”.

The historical period featured is expertly constructed by the filmmakers, who provide the movie with a welcome sense of cinematic scope. At times the picture offers a rather sombre visual aesthetic (the skyline always seems murky), but the high quality of cinematography and production design can’t be argued. Hooper also deserves kudos for his solid use of music, especially during the adrenaline pumping finale. The fact the climax of this film (which essentially boils down to Colin Firth talking into a microphone) is more exciting than most recent blockbusters is a true tribute to the engaging nature of this brilliant picture.

In many ways “The King’s Speech” is a rather conventional underdog tale, filled with many of the same glories and stumbling blocks that populate umpteenth other examples of this genre. However the characterization, acting and direction here is remarkably good, resulting in a picture of exhilarating dramatic credibility. It’s positively regal cinema.

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2011

7 January 2011

Movie Review: The Loved Ones

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A-

The Loved Ones
2009, 84mins, 18
Director: Sean Byrne
Writer: Sean Byrne
Cast includes: Xavier Samuel, Robin McLeavy, John Brumpton, Richard Wilson, Victoria Thaine
UK Release Date: 4th October 2010 (Direct to DVD)

Exploring the insecurities of teenage lust through acts of violence isn’t a particularly fresh idea, but Sean Byrne’s “The Loved Ones” does it better than any film in recent memory. A cavalcade of disturbing horror, engaging drama and dashes of black humour render the movie an almighty treat, its fate as a genre classic sealed via an astonishingly commanding turn from young actress Robin McLeavy. Of course things get a little overblown toward the end, but that’s all part of charm when it comes to this well paced and genuinely haunting picture.

Still devastated by the death of his father, Brent (Xavier Samuel) has turned to drugs and abusive behaviour in order to satisfy his self-loathing. The only bright spark in his life is tolerant girlfriend Holly (Victoria Thaine), but even she’s finding his newfound tendencies worrying. On the eve of the school dance Brent is approached by reclusive oddball Lola (Robin McLeavy), in the hope that he might escort her for the evening. Brent politely rejects the invite, making plans with Holly instead much to Lola’s chagrin. Deciding to take a walk just before the festivities, Brent is abducted by Lola and her father (John Brumpton), being held captive as the demented duo hold a nightmarish mini prom of their own. Brent is tortured and humiliated as a crazed Lola seeks revenge amongst other things; the sexually confused girl mutilating and psychologically tormenting her beleaguered victim.

Sean Byrne evidences a keen understanding of suspense with “The Loved Ones”, cultivating a selection of characters the audience grows to sympathise with. Xavier Samuel puts in a credible turn as the depressed lead, competently depicting a boy of little hope or happiness. The film channels most of its emotional heat through Samuel, watching as he transforms from a totally lost individual into someone who realises he has numerous reasons to live. This aspect gives “The Loved Ones” an almost survivalist feel, as Brent battles with his predicament and attempts to escape his sick minded hosts. As the villain of the piece McLeavy is a force of nature, dominating every frame of the production she occupies. She’s a cute looking girl (Byrne helpfully sidestepping several ugly duckling clichés here), and brings both sides of her character flawlessly to life. McLeavy has the stature and presence to scare as a blade wielding sociopath, but she also offers a quiet and forlorn loneliness to convey Lola’s uncertainties concerning growing up. From both perspectives it’s a phenomenally astute performance, supported nicely by a creepily submissive John Brumpton. McLeavy and Brumpton make for a threatening onscreen team, Byrne even peppering a few incestuous overtones into the mix for further discomfort.

Dread builds naturally throughout the picture as the protagonist’s situation deteriorates, but it’s all punctuated by a charming subplot concerning Brent’s best friend taking a local Goth chick to the dance. This arc in the film also manages to hit a surprisingly substantive dramatic crescendo, but not before viewers get treated to some solid comic relief and narcotic addled wackiness. This segment of “The Loved Ones” actually compliments the more horrific elements well, as we watch one adolescent boy endure hell, whilst the other enjoys one of the oddest but most gratifying nights of his life. It’s a clever parallel instigated by a talented and intelligent filmmaker.

“The Loved Ones” has no fear of stomach churning viscera, the movie yanking audiences through some intensely stormy and gory sequences. Byrne has no qualms about visualizing numerous sharp objects penetrating human flesh, adding to the sense of bone crunching pain the movie promotes. Some of the shots and camera angles Byrne deploys almost allow the audience to take Brent’s place during the more stressful scenes, a proficient technical touch for creating further intimacy. For a relatively cheap film “The Loved Ones” looks tremendous and has been executed with maximum skill, the cinematography is slick and the sound design atmospheric.

The movie suffers slightly when it focuses on the hunt for Brent (spearheaded by his mother and girlfriend), but the sheer terror permeated by the majority of the picture is adequate compensation. “The Loved Ones” is an absolute delight and from this day onwards genre aficionados should be on the lookout for the name Sean Byrne. His masterful handling of this exuberant little freak show is what elevates it so wonderfully, and makes me hope that his next venture is given a heftier marketing push and grander release platform. On the basis of this he certainly deserves it.

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2011

4 January 2011

DVD Verdict Review: Catfish

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B+

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

3 January 2011

DVD Verdict Review: Salt

0 comments


C

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

2 January 2011

The Best films of 2010

1 comments



Honourable mentions: Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, Four Lions, Catfish, The Other Guys, I Love you Phillip Morris







10. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World

Edgar Wright’s berserk comic book adaptation was ignored at the box-office last August, but is set to have a powerful afterlife on Blu-Ray. Despite Michael Cera still refusing to exit his comfort zone, Wright crafts a witty and visually dazzling action-comedy, with one of the sweeter and more tangible romantic centres of the year. Fans of the source material received the film very favourably, although it also presents a great time for those unfamiliar with the property. It’s the second best comic book movie of 2010.


9. Cemetery Junction

After a mediocre box-office showing in the UK, “Cemetery Junction” was unfairly shoved straight to DVD in the USA. Marking a change of pace for celebrated comic team Stephen Merchant and Ricky Gervais, the film follows a group of young lads growing up during the 1970s in the little town of Cemetery Junction. It’s a wonderfully acted and poignant movie, filled with laughs and tears. The fact it was distributed so poorly makes for one of 2010’s sadder filmic tales. Track it down on DVD now.


8. Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy


This exhaustive documentary chronicles “The Nightmare on Elm Street” franchise, appealing to your inner geek marvellously through its exhaustive 4 hour runtime. Looking back at the series in meticulous detail, this documentary explores the effects and feelings these movies have conjured up, with virtually no bias or undeserved self-congratulation. Certainly for fans of this series it was a needed quantity, with Samuel Bayer’s underwhelming remake of the original entry clogging up theatres during spring 2010. I appreciate this picture may not serve all demographics, but for horror fanatics it’s a genuine gem.


7. Shutter Island

Retuning after his Oscar victory with “The Departed”, Martin Scorsese must have been feeling the pressure with “Shutter Island”. However the film is an immaculate and insanely clever ride, a throwback to the thrillers of old. Leonardo DiCaprio offers an exquisite leading performance, and the rest of the cast excel as well (especially after a second viewing). Filmed and edited atmospherically, this trippy little chiller is a wonderful product courtesy of one of the greatest filmmakers of all time.


6. Up in the Air

An Oscar hopeful from last season, “Up in the Air” was released in the UK during January 2010, hence its inclusion on this list. An almost poetic dissection of the human condition, “Up in the Air” benefited hugely from subtle direction and several robust performances; including a charming George Clooney. A film that impresses on the back of its bravery and engaging emotional undercurrents.


5. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1

The Harry Potter cycle is one of the odder franchises of recent years, starting at an almost whimsical pitch, before transforming into a far darker beast in the later movies. “Deathly Hallows: Part 1” is the first segment in the climactic story, and is possibly the best Potter yet. A deliciously gothic continuation of the saga, the film blends adventure with the far more meditative concept of growing up. The acting is superb in all corners, with special mention going to the three leads, now matured into strong performers. A tantalizing teaser for what’s to come, “Deathly Hallows: Part1” is one of the year’s finest blockbusters.




4. Inception

Chris Nolan’s “Inception” is possibly a little too convoluted at times, but that’s a minor quibble when it comes to this otherwise mind bending experience. Doing a great job with the visual possibilities of dreaming, Nolan’s otherworldly heist movie is primed with phenomenal action, good acting and an intelligent script. It treats the audience with respect and asks they engage their brains in order to keep pace with the intricate plot, and for that we should be eternally grateful.



3. Kick-Ass

If there was an Oscar for “biggest filmmaking balls” the crew behind “Kick-Ass” would walk away with it in 2010. This individually financed blockbuster is a great adaptation of its edgy source, boasting a professional line in exhilarating action and razor sharp wit. Director Matthew Vaughn guides the project with assurance and conviction, refusing to censor his exceedingly adult version of the comic book world. The best example of what can be achieved with graphic novels since “The Dark Knight”.



2. Toy Story 3

For my money Pixar went a little off the grid in 2009 with “UP”, a fine film but hardly a major triumph. “Toy Story 3” on the other hand is everything fans of this franchise could have hoped for, a beautiful and hilarious closing chapter for the now legendary story. Ending on a touchingly bittersweet note, the film entertains consistently throughout. At times very dark, the movie is alongside “Wall-E” possibly the most adult movie to be born of the Pixar stable, although unlike that movie this one will also automatically appeal to the under 9 crowd through its universally agreeable comedy. An absolute treasure, “Toy Story 3” represents a fully fledged masterpiece.



1. The Social Network

Already a big contender for next year’s awards race, David Fincher’s “The Social Network” is made brilliant thanks to one of the best screenplays of recent times. Aaron Sorkin adapts Ben Mezrich’s book “The Accidental Billionaires” fantastically, finding deep humanity within the legal battle that surrounded the forming of Facebook. An awesome leading turn from Jesse Eisenberg sweetens the deal, as of course does the unique soundtrack (it’s been a great year for music in film) from Trent Reznor. An almost flawless experience, “The Social Networks” compels effortlessly, thriving on its tenacious dialogue and engaging characterizations of the figures involved. It’s a must see.



Daniel Kelly, 2011

The Worst films of 2010

1 comments



Dishonourable mentions: Date Night, RED, Robin Hood, Little Fockers, The Karate Kid, Marmaduke, Remember Me






10. Tooth Fairy


A spectacularly lazy family affair; and one that triggered little enthusiasm or traction at the box-office. The script is unsuccessful and the production design very amateurish. Dwayne Johnston goes the Arnie route by lampooning his tough guy image, the results are pretty awful. Perhaps he should try and find some new representation, because this is the sort of hooey that kills careers fast.


9. Leap Year


As a native of Ireland I should probably be offended by the stereotypical depiction of the country featured in “Leap Year”, but sadly the rest of the film is so bad I really can’t bring myself to care. Amy Adams and Matthew Goode waste their talents via a screenplay that jerks them across the emerald isle in an intolerably clichéd and laugh free fashion. It is utter drivel, but sadly not the worst rom-com of the year. Oh, and if it’s a 2010 Adam Scott performance you’re looking for, skip this crap and rent the unstoppably fun “Piranha 3D”.



8. Jonah Hex

This western was probably the biggest commercial disaster of the year, and it also deservedly fared poorly with critics. A potent example of what can occur when studios start interfering behind the scenes; “Jonah Hex” is a mess of bad editing, uncertain direction and even unnecessary padding despite its brief 80 minute runtime. Josh Brolin will doubtless think twice before committing to a blockbuster again, after all, this one’s so inept it can’t even make Megan Fox as a prostitute appealing.


7. Edge of Darkness

I have no doubt that “Edge of Darkness” is the most disappointing film on the list (only “Jonah Hex” runs it close), primarily because it promised so much. The return of Mel Gibson as a leading man? Yes! Martin Campbell to direct for the first time since “Casino Royale”? Yes! A thriller that had me practically nodding off in the cinema? YES! Don’t bother with this monstrously tiresome bore.


6. Just Wright

I admire Queen Latifah, but like so many other appealing screen presences she doesn’t make it half hard. Here she takes the leading role as a singleton that ends up falling for a famous basketball player, a man who also happens to be dating Latifah’s sister. The screen chemistry between Latifah and Common (who gives one of the year’s most stilted turns) is non-existent, whilst the script simply works its way through a long line of obvious and unfunny genre staples before climaxing on a dud note. It’s lower than “Leap Year” simply because that movie at least had a bit of energy amidst its awfulness; “Just Wright” flat lines from the get go.


5. Vampires Suck

Having concocted such abominations as “Meet the Spartans” and “Epic Movie” in the past, the spoof obsessed Friedberg and Seltzer should be pretty happy that their latest isn’t lower down the list. “Vampires Suck” is actually okay for about 8 minutes, but it then quickly devolves into the same unbelievably juvenile tone and features the same cringe inducing comic missteps the rest of its creators’ work entails. It also wastes Ken Jeong, which is in my mind at least is a pretty hefty cinematic crime.


4. Killers

It’s the third rom-com on this list, but shockingly it’s not the last. Proving that Katherine Heigl is to movies as toxic waste is to oceans; “Killers” teams up the actress with the equally irksome Ashton Kutcher (delivering a possible career worst performance here). The first act of the movie is hideously rushed, a problem enhanced by the fact the leading thespians have no chemistry together. Its attempts to blend bawdy humour and action together are crap (especially because none of the comedy is actually funny), and despite an improved finale the film can’t sustain audience interest for 5 minutes, let alone 100. It was designed purely to make every lazy sod involved just a little bit richer, but thankfully it flopped at the box-office. A welcome sense of Karma is in the air with this one.




3. The Human Centipede: First Sequence

We’ve all heard about this one, right? How sick and puerile it is, and how anybody courageous enough to watch will need a barf bag? However nobody seems content to label it as the wimpiest film of the year, a title it completely deserves. Tom Six’s body horror shocker offers zero tension, and flees at any chance it has to properly disgust its audience. The only joy comes from Dieter Laser’s hysterically camp performance, but sadly the laughs garnered are totally unintentional. “The Human Centipede” is a cheat from start to finish.



2. The Bounty Hunter

Gerard Butler is tragically bad at the best of times, but combining him with reprehensible filmmaker Andy Tennant, an inert screenplay and a jobbing Jennifer Aniston was never going to work. “The Bounty Hunter” lands victim to the same action/comedy tropes that wrecked “Killers”, only this time the funny elements are even harder to detect. Butler is of course shit, and the usually genial Aniston continues to sadden audiences worldwide with her misjudged script selections. A flavourless and massively overlong dullard of a picture, “The Bounty Hunter” is one of the blandest experiences I’ve had in a multiplex for years.

1. The 41-year old Virgin who knocked up Sarah Marshall and felt superbad about it.

Yes this movie does exist. Yes it is as insufferably execrable and tortuous as it sounds. Making Friedberg and Seltzer look like Edgar Wright would seemingly be an impossible act, but the filmmakers behind this DTV abortion managed it. This is far more likely to induce vomit than “The Human Centipede”. It’s crass beyond belief, and has all the wit of month old mucus. Proof if ever there has been that God gave up years ago.



Daniel Kelly, 2011

The 1st annual Danland awards – 2010

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Welcome to the first annual Danland awards!!!! In order to be in consideration for an award, a film must have been released between the 1st January – 31st December 2010. The awards generally adhere to the UK release calendar, but there are a few exceptions. No films that featured in my “best of 2009” lists are eligible for selection (so despite its January release, “The Road” is out) and there are a few films featured here that may not yet have reached UK shores. Enjoy!

Winners denoted in bold.





Best Film

-The Social Network
- Toy Story 3
- Kick-Ass
-Inception
- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1


Best Actor

-Leonardo DiCaprio – Shutter Island
- Jim Carrey – I Love You Phillip Morris
- Jesse Eisenberg – The Social Network
- Ryan Reynolds – Buried
-Mads Mikkelsen – Valhalla Rising


Best Actress

- Emma Stone – Easy A
- Saoirse Ronan – The Lovely Bones
- Jennifer Lawrence – Winter’s Bone
- Noomi Rapace – The Girl with the Dagon Tattoo
- Emma Watson – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1


Best supporting actor

- Nicolas Cage – Kick-Ass
-Tom Hughes – Cemetery Junction
-John Hawkes – Winter’s Bone
-Stanley Tucci – The Lovely Bones
-Ewan McGregor – I Love you Phillip Morris


Best supporting actress

-Blake Lively – The Town
-Chloe Moretz – Kick-Ass
-Michelle Williams – Shutter Island
-Delphine Chanéac – Splice
-Eva Mendes – The Other Guys


Best original screenplay

-Inception
-Toy Story 3
-Cemetery Junction
-Four Lions
-Buried


Best adapted Screenplay

-The Social Network
-I Love You Phillip Morris
-Scott Pilgrim vs. The World
-Shutter Island
-Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1


Best cinematography

-Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1
-Inception
-The Town
-Shutter Island
-The Book of Eli


Best visual effects

-Inception
-Scott Pilgrim vs. The World
-TRON: Legacy
-Iron Man 2
-Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1


Best Director

-Matthew Vaughn – Kick-Ass
-David Fincher – The Social Network
-Christopher Nolan – Inception
-Rodrigo Cortez- Buried
-Martin Scorsese – Shutter Island


Best Musical Score

- TRON: Legacy – Daft Punk
- The Social Network – Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross
- Inception – Hans Zimmer
- The Ghost – Alexandre Desplat
- Scott Pilgrim vs. The World – Various


Best animated feature

- Toy Story 3
- How to Train your Dragon
- Despicable Me


Best Editing

- Catfish – Zachary Stuart Pontier
- Inception – Lee Smith
- Scott Pilgrim vs. The World – Jonathan Amos and Paul Machliss
- Shutter Island – Thelma Schoonmaker
- The Social Network – Angus Wall and Kirk Baxter


Best remake/sequel

-Piranha 3D
- Iron Man 2
- Predators
-Everybody’s Fine
- Toy Story 3



Daniel Kelly, 2011