29 March 2012

Movie Review: Wrath of the Titans

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D+

Wrath of the Titans
2012, 99mins, 12
Director: Jonathan Liebesman
Writer (s): Dan Mazeau, David Johnson, Greg Berlanti
Cast includes: Sam Worthington, Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes, Edgar Ramirez, Toby Kebbell, Rosamund Pike
UK Release Date: 30th March 2012

2010’s “Clash of the Titans” didn’t find much critical love, its combination of monster smashing action and subpar 3D leaving film fans cold. However the picture quietly trucked its way to $493 million worldwide, leaving Warner eager to construct a sequel. That follow-up is now upon us in the form of “Wrath of the Titans”, boasting a new director and an updated writing staff, hoping some fresh creative blood will allow this portion of Greek adventuring to leave a warmer mark. A noble aim indeed, but one made almost impossible by the hiring of Jonathan Liebesman, a director last seen guiding the diabolical “Battle: Los Angeles” to screens. “Wrath of the Titans” is a marginal improvement over his previous work (how could it not?), but it still reeks in parts of Liebesman’s apparent determination to shoot action in the style of videogame cut-scenes. Some of the thespian input has been improved for this sequel, but most other facets are inferior to even the modest standards set by the previous 2010 endeavour.

Perseus (Sam Worthington) has retired from his monster slaying past, dedicating his life to raising his son Helius (John Bell) in a small fishing community. However it isn’t long before the demigod hero is visited by Zeus (Liam Neeson), instructing Perseus to ready himself for the fall of the once great gods and to prepare for the rise of the infamous Titans, a selection of beasts being spurred on by the malevolent Hades (Ralph Fiennes) and Zeus’ other treacherous son Ares (Edgar Ramirez). Initially reluctant to join the battle, Perseus is soon forced to act when Zeus is captured, pairing himself with Queen Andromeda (a miscast Rosamund Pike) and ignoble demigod Agenor (Toby Kebbell). The group make passage to the underworld where Zeus is being held, hoping to rescue the once great deity and prevent the rising of a monster more fearsome than any other.

“Wrath of the Titans” starts slowly and builds virtually no momentum until the climax, Liebesman executing one competent sequence in a maze, the rest a mire of CGI tedium and repetitive action. For a film with so much spectacle and bombast, it’s phenomenal to observe how boring “Wrath of the Titans” can be, the film lacking energy or even a viable hook upon which viewers can begin to engage with the material. It’s hollow and mirthless, Liebesman failing to concoct anything original or memorable, the director simply happy to fire his talented cast into a plethora of broadly pitched and soulless monster encounters. 2010’s “Clash of the Titans” admittedly didn’t add anything new to the genre either, but at least that picture’s set-pieces had a pulse. This time around even the money shots are DOA.

There’s an attempt to create a more rounded batch of characters here, it rarely works, but the effort is appreciated. Worthington’s Perseus is completely indebted to the actor’s physicality, Liebesman utilizing the Australian like an action figure, pummelling him through a selection of grandiose challenges, failing miserably to manipulate the character’s newfound stance as a protective father. More screen time is afforded to Neeson and Fiennes on this occasion, and it is here that “Wrath of the Titans” manages something of worth, creating an interesting emotional dynamic between the uneasy siblings. Added to the mix is Edgar Ramirez’s Ares, a dejected son looking for vengeance. It’s an obvious arc which the actor struggles to do much with. Rounding out the principal participants are Toby Kebbell (lively comic relief) and a humiliated Rosamund Pike. For most her of scenes the actress looks like she’d prefer to be anywhere else as opposed to occupying silly costumes within Liebesman’s ditzy universe.

The editing is more acceptable from Liebesman here than it was in “Battle Los Angeles”, the action is certainly dull but at least it maintains a degree of coherency. Still this mild improvement doesn’t change the fact that “Wrath of the Titans” is a plodding blockbuster courtesy of a genuinely terrible filmmaker. Liebesman continues to show no real aptitude for enjoyable Hollywood cinema or indeed a basic understanding of storytelling, leaving this as yet another miss in his chaotic and unimpressive CV. His next gig is an apparent reboot of “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” under the careful eye of producer Michael Bay. God help us all.

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2012

25 March 2012

Movie Review: The Hunger Games

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C

The Hunger Games
2012, 142mins, 12
Director: Gary Ross
Writer (s): Gary Ross, Billy Ray, Suzanne Collins
Cast includes: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Alexander Ludwig, Stanley Tucci, Toby Jones, Donald Sutherland
UK Release Date: 23rd March 2012

Based on a series of bestselling books by Suzanne Collins, “The Hunger Games” is a certified box-office goldmine for Lionsgate. Having never read the immensely popular source material, I approached the project looking to view it purely on cinematic terms, hoping for a crunching, biting and excitable dose of “Battle Royale” style satire. In reality the picture is a disappointing and regularly wearisome endeavour, sporadically inspired but paced incredibly poorly. Director Gary Ross takes the gig seriously, rounding together a band of reliable actors and showing a willingness to push family friendly cinema to its very boundaries, but these things are not enough to alleviate the boredom which too often slips into the loosely cobbled together narrative. “The Hunger Games” is at times imposing, but such moments are outweighed by overexposure to unnecessary characters and an unwillingness to focus fully on the potentially thrilling survivalist element at the story’s core.

In the futuristic and ashen world of Panem the country is divided into 12 districts, each year two teenagers selected from the respective regions to compete in a fight to the death known as The Hunger Games. In order to prevent her young sister from enduring the experience, Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence, marvellous as always) volunteers to compete; she and reluctant Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) selected to represent the deprived District 12. On arrival at Panem’s lavish Capitol, the pair are introduced to their drunken mentor Haymitch (Woody Harrelson, doing the best he can with a nothing part), forced immediately into a harsh and relentless training regime. When the games finally arrive both Peeta and Katniss have identified their respective strengths; placed inside the wooded arena to do battle with the fearsome likes of Cato (Alexander Ludwig), a skilful and merciless competitor from District 1. As the days roll by and the other warriors begin to fade, Katniss demonstrates tremendous courage and honour, the whole of Panem eventually backing her. Her relationship with Peeta also unravels in a strange fashion, the pair growing closer and more intimate as the gory olympics continue around them.

With character names like Katniss, Peeta, Cato and Seneca, it’s easy to detect “The Hunger Games” attempting to join a great tradition of fantasy epics, looking to bridge the gap opened up by the departure of a certain boy wizard last summer. Despite its gruesome central conceit the books have clearly hit a chord with teenage readers, meaning that “The Hunger Games” has every chance of becoming the next big franchise of our time. That doesn’t prevent this opening chapter from committing several notable errors, namely in the realms of plot structure and pacing, the picture a sprawled out and hugely overcooked affair. Ross lets the thing ramble on for a hefty 142 minutes, only occasionally giving audiences something to get amped about. Whilst there’s very little blood on display the film does offer up a refreshingly visceral edge, Ross using scream laden sound design and chaotic cuts to help sell the ferocity of the action. It’s messy and scrappy but also oddly apt, the springy camera movements and reliance on tight close-ups helping to place audience members at the centre of the carnage. It’s both a clever and effective way of rendering the picture edgy but also appropriate for younger patrons, ensuring that the story still packs some nastiness whilst also retaining its unquestionable financial value.

The screenplay is weak, too much time squandered on the set-up and secondary characters, resulting in a baggy and tedious journey to the actual games. Katniss is the only professionally formed entity in the picture and much of that is attributed to Lawrence’s excellent performance, easily the movie’s greatest asset. The former Oscar nominee combines genuine athleticism and a steely vulnerability, convincing as a morally sound but potentially deadly competitor. She’s the only reason the picture ever actually works, the film’s singular instance of genuine tension arising from a situation in which she attempts to escape a trap by using some deadly insects. Hutcherson is fine, but never totally sells his romantic affections for Lawrence, that facet of the tale wrapped up unconvincingly. Otherwise it’s a case of capable thespians trapped in one dimensional parts, Woody Harrelson, Stanley Tucci, Elizabeth Banks and Donald Sutherland just a few of the big players overlooked here. “The Hunger Games” feebly attempts to flesh these personalities out, but never succeeds; a misjudged beefing up of the runtime the only tangible result. The costumes and make-up choices several of the adult actors have to tolerate are also unfortunate, their contributions handicapped (particularly in the case of an unrecognisable Banks) by the campy and overly flamboyant wardrobe selections made for them.

The film splits itself almost completely in half, using the first 50% for backstory and training montages, the second portion to detail the vicious games themselves. The latter is definitely the more engrossing segment, Ross getting up close and personal with proceedings, envisioning a believable and visually dense environment for his protagonists to duke it out in. However even in the heat of battle “The Hunger Games” suffers some editorial fatigue, Ross can’t help but throw too many subsidiary enemies and potential allies into the plot, letting several sequences of aimless hiking run on for much too long. As a whole “The Hunger Games” should be at least 25 minutes shorter than it is, a more clinical and considerably less precious edit required to morph this behemoth into the slick actioner it often strives to be.

The musical score is unmemorable and the film’s attempts at social commentary half-hearted, Ross only ever referencing the idea of inequality between the districts through garish costumes and brief, largely unexplored exchanges of dialogue. “The Hunger Games” isn’t a complete waste of time, but it is underwhelming, my frustration only compounded because amidst the missteps the movie actually does some small things quite well. If further sequels are to be made, retaining Lawrence should be key, but drafting in a new selection of writers and a keener director (or at least forcing Ross to show more control in the edit) would be advisable. “The Hunger Games” may deliver everything fans want, but for the uninitiated it’s not a particularly involving experience.

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2012

23 March 2012

Movie Review: 21 Jump Street

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B

21 Jump Street
2012, 113mins, 15
Director (s): Phil Lord, Chris Miller
Writer (s): Michael Bacall, Jonah Hill
Cast includes: Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill, Brie Larson, Rob Riggle, Dave Franco, Ice Cube
UK Release Date: 16th March 2012

Revamping TV programs of yore hasn’t proven particularly successful in the last few years, modern big screen adaptations of “The Dukes of Hazzard” and even 2010’s playful reimagining of “The A-Team” having failed to conjure much critical love. These days the 80s procedural “21 Jump Street” is remembered more for being an early pit stop in Johnny Depp’s career, although the show was admittedly popular during its four year run. However Jonah Hill and writer Michael Bacall (recently behind “Project X”) clearly felt the cops in high-school concept had mileage in the current cinematic climate, retuning the formula to allow for the former and everyone’s’ favourite set of abdominal muscles (sorry Mr. Lautner) Channing Tatum to lark around in a teenage wasteland. On paper it sounds dodgy, yet in practise “21 Jump Street” provides a consistently good time. The leads share a fun chemistry, the jokes are generally amusing and with directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller at the helm (“Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs”) there’s just enough weirdness to make the venture distinctive.

Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum) were polar opposites at high school, a dateless loser and arrogant jock respectively. However upon joining the police academy they form a firm friendship, their differences providing appeal and solidity to the other. After a drug bust goes hideously wrong, the incompetent officers are reassigned to a project on 21 Jump Street, overseen by the frightening Captain Dickson (Ice Cube, clearly having a blast). Schmidt and Jenko are to be sent back to school on an undercover mission, attempting to nab the supplier of a new synthetic drug wreaking havoc within the institution. On return they find the social hierarchy of things drastically altered, Schmidt falling in with the cool kids, namely spunky drama student Molly (Brie Larson), whilst Jenko finds solace in the company of the nerdy types he used to abuse. As Schmidt becomes more enamoured with his new found stature, his relationship with Jenko begins to falter, risking their entire investigation as a consequence.

“21 Jump Street” starts slowly, finding its footing once the protagonists reach the schoolyard setting. Hill and Bacall’s screenplay offers some interesting perspectives on modern youth culture, insights that contrast pretty sharply from the latter’s work on “Project X”. Is it now cool to care about your future? Is drama now hipper than organised sports? Is recognising environmental plight considered rad? “21 Jump Street” enjoys batting about ideas such as these, unearthing little nuggets of hilarious truth along the way. Of course there’s goofier, dirtier and broader material on show too, but the movie’s real charm is in its distorting of stereotypes and preconceived notions. There are a lot of laughs to be had, some more markedly intelligent than others, but generally the film boasts an astute and slightly offbeat sense of humour.

Hill and Tatum are an unlikely team in theory, but in execution they combine effectively. Tatum is a particularly pleasant surprise, the usually one dimensional beefcake supplying a jolt of sharp comic energy, relishing his part as the fool. The dramatic beats between them are predictable (their trajectory as pals hitting the usual rough patches) but both actors carry it off with vigour and charisma. The supporting cast is loaded with talented individuals (Ellie Kemper, Dave Franco and Chris Parnell to name a few) but none are really given enough time to leave a concrete stamp upon the picture, the majority of the heavy lifting left to Hill, Tatum and a strikingly fierce Ice Cube.

Lord and Miller do a grand job of meshing action with comedy, gifting audiences a hysterically explosion deficient car chase and a manic bullet riddled finale to help bump up the product’s sense of spectacle. Also much like they did with their previous directorial endeavour, the filmmakers lace “21 Jump Street” with some truly bizarre touches, including a very creatively delivered explanation of how the drug in question affects those who ingest it. It’s these little treats that push “21 Jump Street” into the realm of pleasing oddness, helping to alleviate some of the familiarity forced on proceedings by the standard narrative. However even some of the less innovative moments are handled with care and dignity, two particular scenes involving prom invites ringing with sincerity. Lord and Miller may wrap the picture in an extravagantly geeky fashion, but the contents are skilfully put together and provide at least intermittent instances of emotional resonance.

The supplier’s identity (it’s what the investigative portion of the story teases) is lame, but the climax at least features some credible action and a very memorable cameo. “21 Jump Street” is a lightweight and gratifying way to spend 109 minutes, a very silly picture with some welcome spikes in craziness to help it strike a unique chord. There are better flicks currently in release, but with blockbuster season looming large, this could be the last chance to score some high quality, low-key popcorn fodder before the summer slog begins.

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2012

Movie Review: Contraband

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B-

Contraband
2012, 109mins, 15
Director: Baltasar Kormakur
Writer: Tim Bevan
Cast includes: Mark Wahlberg, Kate Beckinsale, Giovanni Ribisi, J.K Simmons, Caleb Landry Jones, Ben Foster
UK Release Date: 16th March 2012


Mark Wahlberg’s career as a leading man has been an inconsistent affair. The actor tends to operate better as part of an ensemble, diverse choices such as “Boogie Nights”, “The Departed” and “The Fighter” proving that Wahlberg is at his best with other strong actors alongside him. As a solo headliner Wahlberg has steered himself into some fairly dank creative corners, 2001’s patchy “Planet of the Apes” redux and his hilariously misjudged performance in “The Happening” remaining the nadirs of his time as a screen actor. With “Contraband” Wahlberg is very much the chief thespian presence, but unlike with the aforementioned clunkers he provides a decent performance, bolstering a lacklustre script with his believable acting chops and steely persona. Directed competently by Baltasar Kormakur, “Contraband” is a run of the mill thriller, but one that packs enough kinetic action and human intrigue to muster a passing grade.

A smuggler turned family man, Chris Farraday (Mark Wahlberg) is forced to reconsider a return to the illegal profession after his brother in law Andy (Caleb Landry Jones) finds himself on the wrong end of psychotic gangster Briggs (Giovanni Ribisi). Andy owes Briggs a major debt, too sizeable for him to fulfil on his own terms, begging for Chris’s help to ensure his future safety. Chris agrees to help smuggle merchandise from Panama in order to even things out, recruiting friends both new and old to get the job done. However with time ticking on, Briggs begins to take a sociopathic interest in Chris’s wife (Kate Beckinsale) and kids, placing the former smuggling ace under a considerable amount of pressure.

Kormakur keeps “Contraband” moving at an appreciatively pacey clip, the film rarely stopping to catch a breath. The screenplay has a variety of deficiencies, but the filmmaker appears aware of this, papering over the thin plotting with capable action direction and an above average degree of care for his protagonists. None of the acting in “Contraband” is revelatory, but Wahlberg fills out the leading role adequately, leaving Ben Foster, J.K Simmons (a scene-stealer as the captain of a cargo barge) and a manic Giovanni Ribisi to endow the picture with a little added colour. It’s a nice range of acting styles, which combined with Kormakur’s appropriately spicy genre direction allows “Contraband” to overshoot its limitations on the page.

The standout sequence occurs about halfway through, the principals forced to take part in an assault on an armoured car. It’s during this portion that Kormakur really leaves a mark, favouring a fairly hyperactive but relatively comprehensible shooting style, the director often electing close-ups to accentuate the frenzied nature of the situation. For an action flick featuring some pretty loopy storytelling devices, “Contraband” is actually shot with a refreshingly realist perspective, the camera happy to get in and dirty amongst the rabble. Whilst he can’t boast quite the same affinity for emotion, Kormakur’s flair is oddly reminiscent of Paul Greengrass, albeit possibly somewhat stiller and less adventurous.

The film ends on silly note, but the ending packs more heart than one might expect, even if much of that is dependent on a dozy Kate Beckinsale. “Contraband” is undemanding but it does boast some sharp directorial moments and represents Mark Wahlberg closer to his best rather than worst. As a DVD rental it’s worth checking out.

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2012

Movie Review: Project X

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C

Project X
2012, 88mins, 18
Director: Nima Nourizadeh
Writer (s): Matt Drake, Michael Bacall
Cast includes: Thomas Mann, Miles Teller, Dax Flame, Oliver Cooper
UK Release Date: 2nd March 2012

The marketing materials for “Project X” have made it abundantly clear that the picture is a creation from the Todd Phillips wheelhouse, the name behind sizeable and deserved smashes such as “Old School” and “The Hangover”, along with duds like 2006’s disastrous retooling of “School for Scoundrels”. Whilst the erratic filmmaker doesn’t officially take directorial control of “Project X” (that honour falls to newcomer Nima Nourizadeh), his fingerprints are all over the venture, everything from the ramped up visual mania, lowbrow crudity and lashings of chauvinism suggesting Phillips may have supplied more creative input than the credits suggest. The picture deserves brownie points for finding a new way of deploying the found footage gimmick (it beats the now conventional spook story template extolled by the success of “Paranormal Activity”) and also offers a bundle of halfway decent laughs. However too much of “Project X” requires you to be onside with its primal teenage heroes, one of whom is possibly the most repugnant teen to grace cinema screens ever. Readers should be aware that I recently watched “We Need to Talk About Kevin”.

Thomas (Thomas Mann) is about to turn 17 and to celebrate his parents are leaving him to his own devices for the weekend. Left with $40 for pizza and a plethora of severe warnings, Thomas and his bullish buddy Costa (Oliver Cooper, getting far too into his douchebag role) decide to throw a party, recruiting chubby JB (Jonathan Daniel Brown) and weirdo Dax (Dax Flame) to help them document the madness on camera. Thomas is initially reluctant to have a big bash, but Costa eventually breaks him down, the party descending into an orgy of alcohol, casual sex, vandalism and canine abuse. It provides the loser hosts with a fleeting sense of glory, however when things spiral out of hand thanks to irritated neighbours, inadequate security measures and a pissed off drug dealer events take a turn for the worst.

“Project X” is technically solid, Nourizadeh making surprisingly good use of the found footage aesthetic. The camera is kinetic without being overzealous, helping to sell the fanatical party mood the movie so obviously hinges on. In this day and age cameras have become a constant in the arena of nightlife; parties and nightclubs possibly some of the most keenly observed urban environments around. It’s refreshing to see some creative types make good on this fact, Nourizadeh revelling in the anarchy which such drunken get-togethers concoct. Of course “Project X” has a frustrating habit of picking the leeriest and creepiest shots it can, the ratio of male to female nudity being predictably one-sided. The film’s stance on the fairer sex is positively retarded, offering viewers a rash of scantily clad bitches and sluts, clawing at the end for some sort of gender equality through the limp addition of a steelier love interest for Thomas. It’s a problematic facet of the production but one that comes as no surprise, even the genuinely good works associated with Phillips (I’m thinking “The Hangover”) have suffered from this medieval and vaguely diseased perspective.

The screenplay is stuffed with ideas, throwing out enough humour so that something has to eventually stick. Granted more gags miss than hit, but the ferocity with which “Project X” tosses out jokes keeps the laugh rate competent. There’s not much funny about midgets punching people in the crotch, but by the same token 12-year old bouncers make for a mountain of amusing material. Despite his character’s ridiculous immoral coda, Cooper does at least showcase some semblance of comedic timing, the majority of the stinging one liners gifted to him. They generally rotate around cruel topics, but at least Cooper manages to sell them with sufficient venom. That’s genuinely the only good thing I can say about an otherwise vile performance though, the actor never attempting to spike the personality with any redeeming features, meaning that his forced redemption at the end is ridiculously ineffective.

The other actors range from so-so to wet-blankets, Thomas Mann struggling to convert the lead into anything other than a one dimensional bumbling nerd. No amount of visual energy and MTV style photography can mask the lack of characterization in “Project X”, the protagonists likely to leave viewers cold for a variety of reasons. The soundtrack whilst jammed with modern hits, feels suitable within the confines of the picture, the inclusion of fun tracks by the likes of D-12 and Kid Cudi adding to the whirlwind atmosphere. “Project X” also deserves props for supplying an obvious warning about organising a party through social media. We’ve all been there, but the film showcases the potentially horrible consequences rather wonderfully.

The final act is berserk, flamethrowers, police intervention and lawyers all entering into the fracas. Unfortunately the filmmakers decide to slather on a copout ending with a hollow final message, relaying to the youth of today that destroying your parents’ belongings, treating the girl of your dreams like shit and forgoing your future are all acceptable manoeuvres in the hunt for substance addled highs. It’s a sour note to end a sporadically entertaining picture on. “Project X” is a curious work but one I would advise all interested parties approach with caution.


A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2012

13 March 2012

Movie Review: The Woman in Black

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D+

The Woman in Black
2012, 95mins, 12
Director: James Watkins
Writer: Jane Goldman
Cast includes: Daniel Radcliffe, Ciaran Hinds, Roger Allam, Jessica Raine, Janet McTeer
UK Release Date: 10th February 2012


“The Woman in Black” is a shakily assembled slice of retro-horror, designed to transport viewers to a cinematic era wherein foggy marshlands and dodgy locals were the sharpest tools in any filmmakers arsenal. With director James Watkins (2008’s deeply disturbing “Eden Lake”) at the fore, there was some hope “The Woman in Black” might transcend its basic ghost story origins, but unfortunately he can’t overcome the turgid screenplay supplied by the usually dependable Jane Goldman. “The Woman in Black” is a tedious endeavour that rarely quickens the pulse, let down further thanks to a vacant central performance courtesy of former boy wizard Daniel Radcliffe.

A widowed and financially hamstrung lawyer, Arthur Kipps (Daniel Radcliffe, barely registering) is forced to oversee the estate of a recently deceased woman in a remote nook of the country, travelling to a village full of misery and forceful superstition. The townspeople want Arthur gone quickly, but he decides to inspect the isolated property anyway, encountering the spirit of the Woman in Black as a result. At first reluctant to believe in the spectral presence, Arthur is soon made to confront the horrific reality as the woman begins to claim the lives of neighbouring children. Forgoing his initial quest to finalize the estate, Arthur instead utilizes the aid of wealthy sceptic Daily (Ciaran Hinds) to help appease the poltergeist once and for all.

The film looks tremendous, Watkins painting the town in atmospheric lashings of grey, whilst juggling the admittedly hackneyed foggy marshlands with a high level of visual skill. Certainly on the surface “The Woman in Black” encourages a respectable aura of dread, the problem is that the filmmakers do nothing interesting with it. Every character is underwritten, whilst the movie’s idea of massive frights are predictable boo moments and creaking floorboards. In his last feature (the aforementioned “Eden Lake”) Watkins showed a genuine aptitude for crafting tension, here such ability is utterly absent. Every bang is heavily forecast and the villain really isn’t that terrifying. Sure her actions are at times harrowing, but the representation provided onscreen is bland and the screenplay never attempts to properly imbue her with any personality. She’s a plot device more than any sort of tangible threat.

Radcliffe stutters through the picture blankly, although given the mediocre screenplay it’s hard to believe any actor could have made the part work. Goldman’s script provides Arthur with a tragic past and a motive for besting his ghostly foe (his young son is set to visit in a matter of days) but it’s done to such a superficial degree that caring becomes impossible. Some of the set-pieces involving children in peril are unnerving, but they aren’t particularly frequent, leaving the rest of the picture to exist purely as an overstretched slog. The beats that Watkins delivers are much too generic and repetitive to warrant even a 95 minute runtime, meaning that the endeavour regularly drags and frustrates. There’s a difference between subtle slow-burn and plain boring, “The Woman in Black” teetering much closer to the latter.

The finale at least packs a bit of bite, but it’s not enough to resuscitate this otherwise pedestrian genre offering. As of the moment “The Woman in Black” has amassed over $90 million worldwide, impressive given that it was assembled on a moderately tight budget and features no proven box-office draws (Radcliffe may have a major franchise under his belt, but he’s not the reason punters made it so big). However it’s bemusing that people should respond so notably to something so indistinctive and unmemorable, “The Woman in Black” a disappointment from start to finish.

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2012

5 March 2012

Movie Review: The Grey

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B+

The Grey,
2012, 117mins, 15
Director: Joe Carnahan
Writer (s): Joe Carnahan, Ian Mackenzie Jeffers
Cast includes: Liam Neeson, Dermot Mulroney, Dallas Roberts, Anne Openshaw, Frank Grillo
UK Release Date: 27th January 2012

“The Grey” is so much more than the man vs. nature flick promotional materials seem determined to suggest. Driven by a spectacularly powerful Liam Neeson performance, the film earns its thriller chops comfortably - but then pleasantly seeks to gift the audience a little extra. Questions of faith, lost love and sanity are all prevalent in the picture, director Joe Carnahan (last seen guiding “The A-Team” to the big screen in 2010) endowing the movie with a subtle yet tangible sense of humanity, focusing on the psychological conditions of men in peril rather than direct interactions with the predators stalking them.

Hired as a sharpshooter to pick-off fringe predators at an Alaskan Petroleum outfit, Ottway (Liam Neeson in cracking form) is numb, heartbroken and thoroughly lost in the world. When a plane carrying Ottway and his peers crashes into the barren wilderness; the men are forced to confront death immediately, starvation and freezing temperatures ravaging their survival prospects. Making matters worse are a band of hungry wolves, desperate to protect their territory and to snack on the stranded humans. Using his measured outlook and knowledge of the surrounding wildlife, Ottway is able to navigate the environment and sidestep any initial danger, but as the days fade on, the men’s optimism fades and the howls behind them grow ever louder.

“The Grey” features some ace sound design and cinematography, Carnahan depicting the wilderness as a brutal, beautiful hell on earth. Blizzards rip their way across the screen and the wolves are envisioned as calculating yet graceful killers, “The Grey” treating its antagonists with respect and consideration. However when not punctured by wails and storms, “The Grey” is actually a surprisingly contemplative and mellow watch, finding moments of solace in painfully silent dream sequences and through the massive spaces in which the story unfolds. As with most of Carnahan’s recent work (“The A-Team” deserves another mention here) the action direction is aggressive and often kinetic, but in contrast to the stillness of other segments it feels apt. When the dogs come barking or when the icy grip of the landscape comes into effect Carnahan ramps his camerawork into a frenzied pitch, yet when “The Grey” requires steady and focused silence, the filmmaker obliges. It’s a wise choice and one that suggests a major growth in Carnahan as a storyteller.

Neeson anchors the film perfectly, bringing a committed and organic intensity to the part. The actor conveys sadness and doubt brilliantly, everything from his opening monologue to the fitting final words hitting a tragic but compelling note. The rest of the cast feel a little like meat in the room (or frosty forest?), although there are a selection of choice interactions which help bolster Neeson’s already sharp contribution. The external characters feel tacked on to help launch musings on religion and loneliness, but in context these themes are suitable and relevant. Much the same as last year’s “Drive” this is a film that forms a strong leading figure without resorting to excessive dialogue, instead utilizing crafty imagery and flexible acting to provide the goods.

The “Jaws with Paws” label advertisers seem determined to hammer home isn’t ideal, but there are some seriously tense animal encounters. The wolves never feel like characters, instead “The Grey” paints them as an alien menace, haunting the outskirts of the frame with pace and horrifying yammers. Some of the CGI looks dodgy, but Carnahan compensates by keeping the cuts fast and the set-pieces frantic, only occasionally staring into the eyes of his villains. “The Grey” occasionally leans a little heavily on the jump scare trend (although a few of these boo moments are memorable), but other sequences (a vertigo inducing scramble from a cliff and the poignant finale amongst them) are reward enough for viewers seeking more substantive thrills.

“The Grey” concludes in a mature and mesmerising fashion, the movie rarely stuttering over its weighty 117 minute runtime. As an intelligent and emotional examination of people forced to fight for their lives “The Grey” is a tremendous success, proof that not every modern creature feature has to pander toward the moronic conventions of the genre.

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2012