Monday, 29 December 2008

Frost/Nixon: Movie Review

Frost/Nixon: Movie Review

Rating: 9/10

Cast: Frank Langella, Michael Sheen, Sam Rockwell, Oliver Platt, Kevin Bacon, Matthew Macfadyen, Rebecca Hall

Director: Ron Howard


There's no greater battlefield than politics.

In 1977, a disgraced Richard Nixon agreed to a fluff piece with British talk-show host David Frost. Nixon's aids viewed the interview as a potential inroad back into American hearts and politics after the Watergate scandal.

Frost seemed the most unlikely of journalists to tackle 'tricky Dicky'. A man more accustomed to interviewing pop stars, Frost initially chased the interview with hopes of securing high television ratings.

Naturally his priorities changed, and Frost found himself in the unenviable position of putting one of America's most corrupt leaders on trial on television screens worldwide.

Frost/Nixon is released in cinemas at the perfect time: as the world waits for a much maligned Republican president to exit office, the story of a former leader being held accountable for questionable decisions hits the theatres.

Fortunately Ron Howard has redeemed himself for the 'hiccup' that was The Da Vinci Code .

Frost/Nixon retains many facets of the successful stage production: playwright Peter Morgan adapted his script for the screen, and lead actors Frank Langella and Michael Sheen reprise their roles as Nixon and Frost respectively (Langella won a Tony for his portrayal of Nixon).

Neither are particularly prolific actors, and obviously their experience was valued over notoriety. It's a wise move: Frost/Nixon would be lost without their chemistry.

The two are ably supported by Kevin Bacon, Oliver Platt, Sam Rockwell, Matthew Macfadyen and Rebecca Hall.

But this is really Langella and Sheen's film. The two manage to turn a homely 1970s lounge into a battleground. They take turns playing the hunter and the hunted. Yet the climax of this battle avoids cliché and sentimentality: has the winner really won? Would he regard this as a victory?

This is a refreshing change from Howard, a man fond of romanticising achievement (as seen in Apollo 13 and Cinderella Man ).

Multiplexes are crowded with films that increasingly rely on special effects and brute force to showcase conflict. Frost/Nixon marks a refreshing change: two guys using nothing but words to outwit the opponent.
Go see it - now.

Friday, 26 December 2008

Australia: Movie Review

Australia: Movie Review

Rating: 6/10
Cast: Nicole Kidman, Hugh Jackman, Brandon Walters, Bryan Brown, David Wenham
Director: Baz Luhrmann
Oh crikey.
So it's finally here - the much anticipated, ever so slightly mocked for being a gratuitous ad for Tourism, director Baz Luhrmann's Australia.
Set in 1939, at the beginning of World War 2, in the Northern Territories, English aristocrat Lady Sarah Ashley (a very prim Nicole Kidman) inherits a cattle station. But with the rivalry over an army contract between the Carney company and any other would be stock seller, she soon realizes it's a cut throat business.
Teaming up with Hugh Jackman's Drover and Brandon Walters who plays native boy Nullah (the heart and soul of the story), they drive 2000 cattle across the countryside to Darwin.
But a bigger threat than petty cattle rivalries await them in Darwin, when the Japanese come calling after the bombing of Pearl Harbour.
Where to start with critiquing Australia? Baz Luhrmann was always probably the best choice to do this film - his eye for the epic and flamboyant put him squarely in the frame for this one.
Yes, it is at times, a long tribute to the land of Australia with plenty of panoramic, sweeping sky shots over the majesty of the countryside.
But it's also never shy in pointing out the racism, inherent in the country with their treatment of Aborigine - albeit sometimes in a naïve way.
While Jackman's Drover and Kidman's Ashley are perhaps stereotypes (Jackman's the rough man of the country, who washes from a bucket when out on the range - although it does give him a slow mo moment when the water washes over his toned body; whereas Kidman's the typically uptight English lady who's horrified at how uncouth people can be in Australia), it's Walters' turn as Nullah which is perhaps the best of the film, chanelling the beauty of the native race and the belligerence and wisdom of youth.
There are humourous moments which cut through the promos for Australia itself - one such moment finds Kidman's Lady Foster marvelling at the kangaroos jumping alongside their vehicle - a moment which screams "Where the Bloody Hell are ya?" - only to have the idyllic scene shattered when one of the creatures is shot and dumped on their car.
But there are also some atrocities committed against dialogue and stereotypes a plenty which bring the story down - Jackman's character is prone to outbursts of Steve Irwinism when under pressure (Oh crikey) and David Wenham's diabolical Neil Fletcher is simply missing a handlebar moustache to twirl as he goes about his evil machinations.
Let's be clear Australia is no Gone With the Wind - it's long, and the shoe horning in of the war seems to make it a film of two distinct extremes; Luhrmann's clearly gone for a crowd pleasing film (as demonstrated in the distinctly saccharine ending of the film) and to be fair, he easily showcases the best of Australia's countryside.
But what he has failed to do is provide some stronger characters which could have pulled the film out of cliché here and there.

Make no mistake, Australia needs to be seen on the big screen; a big sprawling sweeping film - but with a bit more restraint, this film could have been the epic they wanted it to be.

Sunday, 21 December 2008

Twilight: Movie Review

Twilight: Movie Review

Rating: 9/10 for the emo kids; 7/10 for all others
Cast: Robert Pattinson, Kristen Stewart
Director: Catherine Hardwicke
There's nothing like seeing the first part of a cinematic juggernaut make it to the screen.
From the phenomenally successful Twilight series of novels by author Stephenie Meyer, this is the first of the books.
And as such, it's difficult to rate - it'll stand or fall on how the later episodes of the books are brought to the big screen.
The first of any trilogy, quadrilogy (whatever) is inherently about setting the scene - and Twilight is no different.
Kristen Stewart is (Isa)Bella Swan, a teenager suffering from the usual teenage alienation. Uprooted from her Phoenix community (where she never really fitted in as she never went with the rest of the gang) Bella comes to the little town of Forks in Washington to live with her father, the local law enforcement.
She's enrolled as a junior in the local school and immediately finds herself (thanks to her battered old ute) part of the slightly offbeat clique. And yet, she doesn't really fit in there either.
Her world is torn upside down, though, when she meets Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson), part of the ethereal (and pasty - almost deathly - white) Cullen family who are definite the outsiders of the school community.
When Edward is forced to sit near Bella in lab, he almost gags and has to run away - because apparently her stench is over-powering.
Somehow, though, a friendship is begun - thanks to Edward saying to Bella early on "I won't be your friend" (always the sign of someone who's more interested than they make out) and when Edward stops an out of control truck from slamming Bella into early oblivion, she soon realizes there's more to him than meets the eye.
Bella's introduced to the Cullen clan; a kind of vampire moment akin to Meet the Parents - and finds as vampires, they're vegetarian and have trained themselves to no longer devour human blood.
Life for Bella will never be the same; as she fights her attraction to Edward (and he fights his natural urges - both teen and vampiric) the situation becomes dangerous when a new tribe of killers enter town - and have Bella on their menu&.
It's hard to know exactly how to judge Twilight - it's clearly aimed at its audience; from the emo overtones with the music and moping, it's evident the adaptation's going to hit all the right chords with the teen girls and boys.
But for others, it's all been done before - Edward is yet another variant of the James Dean outsider (even right down to the iconic hair) and Bella is your average teen girl.
And it has to be said that the threat of being devoured by the new arrivals in town feels tacked on towards the end of the film and suffers from a rushed denouement.
Yet the film is extraordinarily long - and at times had me wanting to scream at the main players - Cheer Up Emo Kids!- as they espoused some bon mots as "I've been dying since I was born"&.There are plenty of humorous moments scattered throughout as well - one finds Edward wishing to meet Bella's father as he cleans his police rifle.
It covers off every horror of the American teen years - the feeling of abandonment as a child's shuttled between divorced parents; the awkwardness of the prom and who to invite and what to wear as well as having a relationship with someone thought of as the black sheep of the town.

However, every generation needs its Lost Boys and Twilight adequately fulfills that space in the 2000s teens' hearts; there's plenty of foreshadowing of doom to come in future films (Bella's involved in a prophecy; the vampires seem to be wary of the native American Indians) and plenty of scope for this vampire genre to be around for a long time to come.

Saturday, 13 December 2008

The Visitor: Movie Review

The Visitor: Movie Review

Rating: 6/10
Cast: Richard Jenkins, Hiam Abbass, Haaz Slieman, Danai Gurira
Director: Tom McCarthy
Richard Jenkins (Six Feet Under) plays a directionless college economics professor, Walter Vale, plodding away in suburban Conneticut in the latest from the team who brought us The Station Agent.
Reluctantly agreeing to stand in for a colleague at a New York City conference, Vale discovers a young couple named Tarek and Zainab have been scammed into illegally renting out his NY flat.
After initially turfing them out, he rescinds when he realizes the pair have nowhere to go.

Tarek warms to Walter and the pair form a friendship which is based in the first place on music.
So much so that Walter accompanies Tarek on one of his many drumming sessions.
However, on returning home, Tarek is stopped by the subway police and arrested under the flimsiest of reasons.
Matters are made worse when it becomes clear Tarek is an illegal immigrant and is taken to a detention centre - Walter is the only one who can visit him during his time inside - and along with Tarek's mother, they struggle to deal with the reality of the immigration system in America.
The Visitor will annoy some who view its take on politics as being somewhat naïve - while no-one's condoning Tarek's treatment in a post 9/11 world, the sad reality of the situation is that he is an illegal immigrant who's had his bid for asylum rejected.
But that would be to easily dismiss the film which has a warmth and heart to it - Richard Jenkins delivers another mesmerizing performance (and makes it easy to understand why this film's been so embraced on the festival circuit)
His aimless widower professor's been teaching the same course for years now, preferring to overwrite the papers each year rather than develop a new course; his passion and awakening (as played out via his djembe drumming) are beautifully realized and a natural progression of his frustration at trying to play the piano.

He's the heart and soul of the film and just about rescues it from mawkish politicking.

Thursday, 11 December 2008

The Day The Earth Stood Still: Movie Review

The Day The Earth Stood Still: Movie Review

Rating 5/10
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Jennifer Connelly, Jaden Smith, John Cleese (an incredibly short cameo) and Kathy Bates
Director: Scott Derrickson
Klaatu barada nikto .
Three words which you will either know - or wonder what on earth I've been drinking this early on in the festive season.
To a horde of geeks (myself included) these were the words spoken by Michael Rennie's alien to his destructive robot Gort via Patricia Neal's character in the 1951 original version of this film.
The 1951 film is often used in sentences with the words "classic" "seminal" and "definitive" so it's with some trepidation that I approached a new version with Keanu Reeves as the main star.
In a nutshell, Keanu stars as mysterious alien visitor Klaatu who causes worldwide panic (including an economic crisis - sense any parallels here?) when his ship lands in downtown Manhattan.
In true American style, he's shot the minute he descends from the craft and is taken to a top secret military installation where he's questioned by Kathy Bates' Regina Jackson, who acts on behalf of the President of the United States, over why he's here.
Also among the scientists studying him is Jennifer Connelly's Helen Benson (who in this update/ remake) has a troublesome step child (aka Will Smith junior Jaden Smith).
Klaatu comes round and warns them that he needs to speak to the leaders of the world on an urgent matter which involves the future of the Earth itself... but he's scorned and a chain of events is set in place which don't spell good things for the planet's future.
Having seen the original seminal classic and definitive film (see what I said above?) this latest version was always going to be a disappointment.
Coming at a time when we know the Earth's under threat from global warming (be it manmade or otherwise - that's for another argument) it's easy to appreciate the reason for Klaatu's visit - and perhaps the reason for the remake.
Keanu has often been critiqued for his performances with some critics saying he has an other-worldly presence -and that's kind of obvious here; his stiffness as the alien visitor and awkward staccato acting seems to work - initially.
Although after a while it simply resorts to slow mo shots of him walking in a suit while others try to emote around him in the face of immense danger.
Connelly's astro-biologist is saddled with little to do after initiating first contact - she quickly becomes reduced to a taxi driver for Klaatu and is left with the troublesome kid to deal with.
And talking of the kid - Jaden Smith is the kind of uber moppet who clearly is going to have a big impact on the storyline of The Day The Earth Stood Still . With daddy and abandonment issues, it's obvious how his role has been included in the remake - although his involvement in the film's denouement could be seen from another galaxy.
John Cleese has an all too brief cameo as Professor Barnhardt - and the moment both he and Keanu stand in front of a blackboard discussing equations is quite the surreal moment.
The opening tension and suspense is handled well and it's clear a lot of the budget was thrown at the effects of this film - the new version of robot Gort is pretty true to the original (and seems to channel some of the new Battlestar Galactica baddies the Cylons at times); and scenes of destruction which show cities and people simply being whittled away are pretty effective (even if the attacks are akin to a biblical plague of locusts.)

The Day the Earth Stood Still is a disappointment - at times underwhelming but visually impressive for the most part - but unfortunately the message that we humans have to change our ways is lost a little among the explosions.

Monday, 8 December 2008

Quarantine: Movie Review

Quarantine: Movie Review

Rating: 4/10
Cast: Jennifer Carpenter, Steve Harris, Jay Hernandez
Director: John Erick Dowdle
Remakes of foreign horror films continue to be de rigeur in Hollywood.
And yet, the Powers That Be fail to realize that diminishing returns at the box office are a sign that the Hollywoodisation is just not captivating viewers.
Quarantine is the latest attempt to buck the trend - and sadly it fails.
A rehash (or as they say Based on - or as others say, a shot for shot remake) of Spanish horror [REC], Quarantine finds reporter Angela Vidal (Jennifer Carpenter, TV's Dexter) along with her cameraman (Steve Harris) out for a night with the local LA fire department.
The film opens with Angela filming life around the station house, hoping desperately to score an exclusive by getting a call.
That call comes in and finds the team (along with shadowing from the camera crew) dispatched to a downtown apartment, for reasons unknown.
As they enter the building, the fire dept along with the police and TV crew discover an old woman at the top of the complex whose screaming initiated the call out.
Within seconds of being there, the old timer is attacking people and just seconds after that happens, with no warning or explanation the building is locked down, hermetically sealed off and patrolled by armed guards.
Confused, under attack from people within the building and with no real clue what's going on, the TV crew and adopted fire family try their best to survive - but it soon becomes clear, they're fighting a losing battle&..to live and escape.
Quarantine is the latest film to come aimed squarely at the YouTube generation - with its handheld filming point of view and quick edits here and there, it's clearly pushing for the same audience who fell for Cloverfield.
Yet, while Cloverfield suffered as we didn't know too much about the yuppies who were being picked off by the invading monster, Quarantine tries to temper this by spending a good 10 minutes of the opening with the camera crew bonding with two members of the fire brigade.
It works to a degree as you end up caring more about Angela but comes a little unstuck as you still don't care about the fire crews. Carpenter puts in a good solid performance and holds the film together but her bravado falls apart a little too quickly when the true horror of the situation hits home.
There are few solid shocks in this and most of those which do happen, you can pinpoint coming a mile off. Although Quarantine does score some points for originality by using the actual camera to bash to death one of the invading marauders.

Ultimately though this kind of film has been done before (and better by the likes of 28 Days Later) and is no real addition to the genre.

Thursday, 27 November 2008

Quantum of Solace: Movie Review

Quantum of Solace: Movie Review

Rating: 5/10
Cast: Daniel Craig, Olga Kurylenko, Mathieu Amalric, Judi Dench
Director: Marc Forster

Oh dear.
Bond's taken a slight mis-step; a stumble on his path from recent cinema resurrection.
After the visceral feel of Casino Royale, the reinvention of Bond and the furore over Daniel Craig taking the role, Quantum of Solace was always going to be a tall order.
The story picks up one hour after the end of Casino Royale with Bond, seeking vengeance for the death of Vesper Lynd, hauling in a member of the mysterious Quantum cartel for questioning.
Surrounded by M (always reliable Judi Dench) and a couple of other agents, the rug is pulled from under them by the revelation Quantum is everywhere - and there's nothing they can do as they don't have enough information.
So Bond, once again, sets out to find out more about the shadowy group and save the day - while taking in numerous fights, chases and betrayals.
Quantum of Solace is a difficult film - on the surface, there's nothing overtly wrong with it.
Daniel Craig is once again excellent in the role of Ian Fleming's spy - he's softening up a little bit but spends a lot of the film pursing his lips looking like he's swallowed a very tart piece of lemon.
However, the naysayers who thought Bond couldn't be a blond, have got it wrong - Craig is here to stay.
Judi Dench is brilliant as M - by turns she's harsh with Bond and as Craig's spy notes, acts like his mother; then in seconds she's rattled when she realises the Secret Service has been infiltrated by a group they know nothing about.
And yet, somewhere, somehow the film has lost its feel for what it is to be Bond.
It's now somewhere in action film territory where even some of the action feels muted (aside from the final explosive showdown which is welcome after 90 odd minutes of plodding)
I think the biggest problem with this latest outing of 007, is that the supporting characters and baddies are just (and I hate to say this) bland.
Bond girl Olga Kurylenko plays a damaged girl who has reasons for betraying Bond - but she has no real heart behind it; likewise, Mathieu Amalric is disappointing as baddie Dominic Greene, a villain whose motives appear to be nothing more than running a utility company which wants to take over the world by owning some of the natural resources (Maybe he'll cripple the financial world by giving the CEOs a massive payrise)
There are some nice nods to previous films - one (without spoiling it too much) channels Goldfinger.
But, maybe the film makers have gone too far the other way - with Casino Royale, it was about rooting Bond in some form of reality.
Quantum of Solace has made the menace realistic - but surely that was the USP of the old Bond flicks - the villains had super plans which were diabolical, and so insane they forced Bond to use bad puns when he despatched his nemeses.
The box office takings for this have already been stellar both in the United Kingdom and in the USA so it's inevitable there will be a Bond 23.

Just don't be surprised if you go to this one and find yourself leaving neither shaken nor stirred.

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

The Savages: Movie Review

The Savages: Movie Review

Rating 7/10
Cast: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Laura Linney, Philip Bosco
Director: Tamara Jenkins

Philip Seymour Hoffman and Laura Linney star as Jon and Wendy Savage in a film about the difficulties of a relative sick with dementia and with nowhere else to go.
As the film starts, we see the father figure Lenny (Philip Bosco) eating cereal being harassed by a helper for his de-facto wife because he didn't flush the toilet.
Lenny's dispatched to deal with the problem, but the situation quickly escalates and the care worker's manager contacts the family.
Things get worse when his de facto wife dies while having her nails done, and pretty soon, Jon and Wendy are summoned to Arizona to take Lenny away.
But the pair have not seen their father for years because of a none too happy childhood, and as the reality of having to put him into a home sinks in, both find different ways to cope - Wendy worries they've made the right choice, whereas Jon initially is just happy to have Lenny out of the way.
Both Jon and Wendy are writers - he of philosophy and she of plays - but there's a simmering rivalry - Jon checks up on his sister's claim she won funding from the Guggenheim foundation.
However, despite the rivalry, there is a closeness between the pair; albeit a strained bond from time to time.
Wendy has other concerns - she's seeing a married man, snatching encounters wherever she can - but as she spends more time for her father (and despite his abusive past to the children), she realises she wants more out of life.
The Savages is not an action packed film; it's a gentle portrait of the effects a sick relative has on your life and how it changes your priorities.

Both leads are stunning in this - their quirks and characters are underplayed to make them feel more real; there is a dark undercurrent to the film at times and a few comic moments but anyone with a sick elderly relative nearing the end of their natural life (or has experienced it) will associate with this film.

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Show of Hands: Movie Review

Show of Hands: Movie Review

Rating 7/10
Cast: Melanie Lynskey, Craig Hall, Stephen Lovatt, Chelsie Preston-Crayford
Director: Anthony McCarten
It's a simple idea - a contest of endurance.
Strangers from all walks of life gather in a Taranaki town to try their shot at winning a new Landrover Discovery, thanks to a local garage.
All they have to do is to place their hand on the car and go the distance to be the last man (or woman) standing without taking their hand off.
A simple premise for a film - and one which you would think wouldn't really cut it over 90 minutes or so.
But you would be completely wrong.
Anthony McCarten's take on the whole endurance competition is actually a crafty character study of what makes people tick and how far they're willing to go for a reward.
Melanie Lynskey is Jess, a single mum and parking warden who is first seen crying in an alcove after issuing a ticket; Craig Hall is Tom, an arrogant competitively cocky man who claims to write greeting cards.
These two find themselves forced together on the parking lot as they compete for the car.
Among the other competitors are an elderly security guard, a millionaire's son, a Pacific Island street kid, a car thief, a young woman looking for love - all of them are seeking some form of vindication and salvation by being the competition's winner.
The film's based on actual events - one contest like this took place in Lower Hutt in the 1980s and saw a world record set.
Show of Hands is definitely a Kiwi affair with music from Don McGlashan and good solid performances from the rest of the ensemble cast.
McCarten's film is based on his own book - and he masterfully gets the best out of all his actors; Melanie Lynskey is superb as the quiet Jess, a mum driven by tragedy and who always tries to do the right thing - no matter how it makes her feel.
Craig Hall's Tom is another matter - he is an insufferable character right from the start - although, as is obligatory in these kinds of films, he treads a path to redemption as he pushes himself as far as he can possibly go to win - not only the car, but acceptance from others.
You will get sucked into Show of Hands from the start and while it's pretty obvious who in the competition will be going down to the wire, there are still a few surprises to be had.

And I guarantee you'll never care as much about a mad dash to get fish and chips from a Taranaki takeaway...

Friday, 14 November 2008

Ghost Town: Movie Review

Ghost Town: Movie Review

Rating 6/10
Cast: Ricky Gervais, Greg Kinnear, Tea Leoni, A Very Big Dog, Alan Ruck
Director: David Koepp
Ricky Gervais takes the lead in this romantic comedy in his first step away from supporting roles in the likes of Alias, Night at the Museum and Stardust.
He's Bertram Pincus, a dentist who detests all kinds of social human contact; a man who lives for the end of the day when he can sneak out of the office, shunning a celebration and head home for the solitude and relative quiet of his Manhattan apartment.
So it's a complete shock to him, when after going in for what he believes is a routine surgery, to discover he's being stalked by all and sundry who just want a few minutes of his time.
He discovers that for seven minutes while on the operating table, he died.
His resurrection has given him the power to communicate with the ghost world which is spearheaded by Greg Kinnear's Frank Herlihy, who's killed at the start of the film.
Finding himself in a similar situation to the uber-moppet from the Sixth Sense, Pincus starts seeing dead people - everywhere.
And they're annoying the heck out of him with final wishes from beyond the grave.
But it's Kinnear's character who pushes Pincus into a mission (and the pair of them into Odd Couple territory) - to break up the impending marriage of his widow Gwen (Tea Leoni); promising if he does this for him, the dead will leave him alone for good.
Let's be frank about this - Ghost Town is going to rise or fall on how you feel about Ricky Gervais.
If you enjoy his acerbic, socially awkward character, adore his sarcasm and way with barbed quips, as well as his lack of people skills, (patented in the likes of TheOffice and Extras) then you'll pretty much be impressed with the film.
Otherwise, you may feel this hasn't risen above the standard romantic comedy fodder.
Don't get me wrong, there are some pretty funny bits during this film, and the writing for Gervais' character is spot on - and his delivery of some of the vitriol manages to fall into the comedy category rather than the vindictive one.
Whether it's the writer's intention or the whole situation, the film finds itself with nowhere to go but the predictable route - as Pincus heads toward redemption and the realisation that he needs other people to get through life.
Both Tea Leoni and Greg Kinnear acquit themselves well in their supporting roles, but this is clearly Gervais' star vehicle - and he, at times, appears to channel some of the earlier silent comedy greats like Buster Keaton and particularly Oliver Hardy with some of his frustrated expressions.
However, it's clearly an extension of the Ricky Gervais character which has been cultivated over the past decade on TV and in stand up - a slightly unlikeable buffoon, who's offensive and rude simply because he can get away with it.
One character, a naked ghost, seems to have been chosen just because he looks exactly like Gervais' long term writing partner, Stephen Merchant - and left me wondering whether Merchant wasn't available for the cameo role.
That said, there are some nice touches - including the fact all the characters sneeze when they walk through the ghosts - as well as some great throwaway lines.

Ultimately, though Ghost Town will amuse you for an hour or so, but be prepared for the slight lull towards the end when the actual realities of the plot kick in.

Thursday, 13 November 2008

Rocknrolla: Movie Review

Rocknrolla: Movie Review

Rating 8/10
Cast: Gerard Butler, Tom Wilkinson, Thandie Newton, Mark Strong, Idris Elba, Toby Kebbell
Director: Guy Ritchie
The gangster genre is one Guy Ritchie knows well.
After trailblazing the way with Lock Stock and 2 Smoking Barrels and Snatch, he stumbled a bit with Revolver (we'll avoid mentioning Swept Away too much given the painful public split he and Madge seem to be going through)
But it's a real pleasure to say he's bang on form with his latest outing Rocknrolla- and he brings out some of the best performances from his cast.
And what a cast - a real mix of characters - Russian gangsters, London gangsters, drugged up, tripped out popstars, crooked accountants - all of your regular underworld low-lives inhabit this latest shaggy dog story.
In Rocknrolla, Gerard Butler is Wild Bunch member One Two, and along with his partner in crime Mumbles (Idris Elba), the pair are desperate to get the money they owe gangland kingpin Lenny Cole (an outstanding and extremely volatile Tom Wilkinson)
So they devise a scheme to steal the money from a Russian bigwig - whose dodgy accountant Stella (Thandie Newton) is only to happy to help.
The problem is those Russian bigwigs are in town to do a deal with Lenny Cole.
Things get even more tangled and complicated when the Russian boss gives Cole a priceless painting as a goodwill gesture - only for that to be stolen by supposedly dead popstar Johnny Quid (Toby Kebbell).
Rocknrolla is a stylistic treat from its opening visuals and booming soundtrack to its final reel comic effect extra.
That's not to say there's a lack of violence and swearing (as well as possibly the cinema's shortest ever sex scene) - but the shaggy dog ride director (and writer) Ritchie spins you along will leave you breathless.
Gerard Butler is good as One Two - his unending fight with a Russian mobster over a series of locations has to be one of the most wearying ever committed to celluloid.
But real kudos must go to Tom Wilkinson's Lenny Cole and his right hand man Archie (Mark Strong).
These two bring a level of menace to London's criminal underworld not seen for a while - Wilkinson, in particular, destroys any trace of him being the cuddly old man many will remember from the Full Monty.
Mark Strong simply consolidates his place as the continually rising star of the big screen.
And there's a hilarious running gag throughout the film which centres on the painting - and is very much akin to the suitcase in Pulp Fiction.
If there's to be a criticism of Rocknrolla, it's that some of the supporting players (such as Johnny Quid's managers Jeremy Piven and Ludacris' Roman) are sidelined because of the sheer numbers of the cast and plot.
However, that's a trivial complaint in what's a darkly funny, stylistic and visually arresting film.

Don't worry if you feel out of breath at the end; according to Thandie Newton, Rocknrolla is the first of a trilogy - which given some of the loose ends, is great news for the Wild Bunch.

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Children of the Silk Road: Movie Review

Children of the Silk Road: Movie Review

Rating 6/10
Cast: Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Radha Mitchell, Chow Yun Fat, Michelle Yeoh
Director: Roger Spottiswoode
When a film's inspired by true events, there's always a nagging feeling that it'll fall heavily into the dull but worthy category.
Roger Spottiswoode's Children of the Silk Road is the true story of a British journalist George Hogg (played by Jonathan Rhys Meyers) who conned his way across the Chinese border during the Japanese occupation of 1937.
Despite being told of the dangers of doing so, Hogg gets through by pretending to be the Red Cross.
However, within minutes, he witnesses a massacre and is caught, camera in hand, by the Japanese.
Freed by Chen (Chow Yun Fat) a leader of a Chinese group, he's taken to a monastery where he discovers around 60 orphaned boys and a travelling nurse, Lee (Radha Mitchell).
Tasked with the role of taking the kids under his wing, he grudgingly accepts and ends up winning their respect and friendship.
But, as the occupation grows tighter, Hogg realises the only way to keep them safe is to take them across the Liu Pan Shan mountains to a new life.
Children of the Silk Road isn't a bad epic - and epic it is, as it takes a while to warm up after the initial brutality.
Rhys Meyers portrays Hogg well - making him initially selfish and reticent to look after the orphans but ultimately gaining their respect (a la Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society).
His relationship with Radha Mitchell's Lee is given time to build up and develops a tenderness which makes the ending more plausible and heart breaking for the pair.
Both Michelle Yeoh and Chow Yun Fat give the film more of a sense of reality with their characters and there are some pretty harrowing moments during the whole film.
But there are a couple of lulls as we watch the orphans get ready to leave although that's countered by the tension when the convoy's stopped close to the mountains.

Ultimately, the Children of the Silk Road is a film about a triumph over adversity - however, some people will feel it borders more in the overly long and dull but worthy category; some will find it inspiring - particularly at the end when pupils of Hogg's teachings appear over the end credits to extol the virtues of their former mentor.

Mirrors: Movie Review

Mirrors: Movie Review

Rating: 7/10
Cast: Kiefer Sutherland, Paula Patton, Amy Smart
Director: Alexandre Aja
Remakes of Korean horrors are all the rage these days. (Think the Ring, Dark Water, The Eye)
So it'll be no surprise to you to learn that the latest horror flick starring Kiefer "Jack Bauer" Sutherland is a remake of a 2003 South Korean horror Geoul Sokeuro.
Sutherland plays Ben Carlson, a cop retired from the force after an incident which led to the shooting of a fellow officer.
Estranged from his wife and son after a mini breakdown, he is now a night time security guard and starts work at a burnt out department store, which is ostensibly gutted - aside from mirrors all around the building.
On his first night there, Carlson suffers hallucinations - he also learns from his boss how the previous security guard died but had been obsessed with the mirrors.
As Carlson continues to tread his night time beat, the visions intensify and things get worse when he receives a package from the previous security guard who has been dead for a while&
And the situation gets even more terrifying as it becomes more obvious that Carlson's family is under threat from a mysterious and horrifying presence.
Mirrors is a pretty solid shocker - the idea there is a creature in the mirror which is your reflection and can motivate you to harming yourself isn't anything new - but is well visualised thanks to some impressive effects.
There are some real jump in your seat moments (director Aja who helmed the remake of The Hills Have Eyes) and some scenes will disturb you for a while to come -the demise of Carlson's sister (played by Amy Smart) will put many off bath tubs for a while.
Kiefer Sutherland is good too- whether it's because I've become used to him as save-the-day-at-whatever-cost Jack Bauer, seeing him play a man on the edge or falling apart because of internal (and external) demons is nothing new - but he brings his usual intensity to the film which could have been unoriginal.
The only time the film falls apart is with its confrontation with the demon at the end which sees it degenerate into Resident Evil territory in the sewers; but the ending of the film redeemed it in my eyes.

The real question is why this wasn't released on Halloween over here - with some smart chills and genuine edge of the seat moments, it would have been infinitely better to watch rather than endure 90 minutes with yet another of the Saw franchise.

Thursday, 6 November 2008

In Bruges: Movie Review

In Bruges: Movie Review

Rating: 6/10
Cast: Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, Ralph Fiennes, Jordan Prentice
Director: Martin McDonagh
Ah, the trip abroad.
Always a time for people to experience the culture of another city, sample the joie de vivre of the residents and rue the fact they even left home in the first place.
In Bruges is the tale of two hitmen Ray (Colin Farrell) and Ken (Brendan Gleeson).
The pair are despatched to Bruges after a hit goes slightly wrong and their employer Harry (Ralph Fiennes) decides they need to lay low for a while.
So, on an enforced break, the duo await a call from Harry about what to do next.
But their time in Bruges becomes an escalatingly surreal experience for both - Ray stumbles upon the filming of a European art film which stars a dwarf (Jordan Prentice) and falls for one of the local girls; Ken, on the other hand, just wants to take in the culture and the scenery.
Their impromptu vacation is thrown into turmoil when the call from Harry finally comes and a chain of events is set in place which can only end in violence...
In Bruges is a curio - at times, it's an Odd Couple film set in Belgium with both Farrell and Gleeson starring in the character piece about two hitmen; by turns, it's dark, funny and witty - through flashbacks, we learn the pair have only just started working together.
It appears their time in the city changes their perspective on life, with both Ray and Ken becoming more concerned they've made the wrong career choice.
The real weak link in the film is Ralph Fiennes as Harry - his (I'm assuming) East End gangster accent is nothing short of yet another linguistic crime against humanity (almost on a par with Dick van Dyke in Mary Poppins) and his so called menacing front stems simply from sneering and smashing things.
Director and writer Martin McDonagh does a reasonable job and pulls out some pretty solid performances from his actors; it's probably the first time I've ever enjoyed a role Farrell portrayed on the big screen - he has some very funny moments and carries most of the black humour; Gleeson is as dependable as ever as the avuncular Ken.

Ultimately though, In Bruges just shoots off the target - which is a real shame - but hey, don't enforced holidays normally disappoint you?

Monday, 3 November 2008

Choke: Movie Review

Choke: Movie Review

Rating 7/10
Cast: Sam Rockwell, Anjelica Huston, Kelly MacDonald, Brad William Henke
Director : Clark Gregg

A film about a sex-addicted con man is never going to be an easy sell.
But if you were to dismiss Choke simply for that fact, you'd probably be doing it a disservice.
It's an adaptation of the Chuck Palahniuk book (he's the writer who was behind the Brad Pitt/ Edward Norton "Fight Club")
Sam Rockwell puts in a brilliant turn as anti-hero Victor Mancini; the first time we meet Mancini, he's engaging in a little "extra-curricular activity" while supposedly attending a sex addiction class.
Mancini spends his day working in a colonial theme park, doing his best to avoid the ire of those in charge by his occasional insistence in bringing the 21st century into work.
By night though, he's out at the nursing home, caring for his elderly mother Ida (Anjelica Huston) who's suffering from Alzheimer's.
However, he scams the money he needs from hospital bills by pretending to choke in restaurants and getting the cash from those who prevent him dying.
The film pivots on the relationship between Huston's Ida and Rockwell's Mancini - she barely remembers him and he's trying to recover details about his past - including his parentage - before his mother loses her fight.
Through flashbacks, we see the pair's younger relationship and the scams his mum helps him pull; we learn why Mancini is how he is - but not necessarily who he is.
Rockwell gives another stirling performance - he manages to turn what on paper would be a distinctly unlikeable character into one which elicits our sympathy.
This role once again really shows why he's one of the (vastly under-rated) character actors of this generation; his best friend and colonial co-worker Denny (played by Brad William Henke) also throws in a good performance; and Kelly MacDonald (who plays Ida's nurse) is also engaging.
It's fair to say Choke is probably going to be an acquired taste for some - it's occasionally bawdy, lewd and at times endearing and touching - but it's definitely not a film for all the family.
However, it has enough of an odd-beat flavour to it that if you're looking for something off the beaten cinematic track, you will be leaving the cinema feeling contented.

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Nights in Rodanthe: Movie Review

Nights in Rodanthe: Movie Review

Rating 5/10 for unromantic ladies and gents, 7/10 for the more romantic of you who want to cuddle up in the cinema
Cast: Richard Gere, Diane Lane, Scott Glenn, James Franco, Christopher Meloni
Director: George C Wolfe
The cinematic pairing of Richard Gere and Diane Lane is a very popular one.
Their chemistry first melted the screens back in 1984's Cotton Club and then again in 2002's Unfaithful which saw Lane nominated for a best actress Oscar.
So it's no surprise to report they make a good couple in this film version of Nicholas Sparks' book.
(Sparks himself is no stranger to the romantic genre having reduced many to blubbering wrecks with The Notebook.)
Lane plays Adrienne Willis, an estranged mum of two, who offers to look after a friend's beachside B&B in Rodanthe, while contemplating a desperate plea from her husband (TV's SVU star Meloni) to let him return home.
There is only one guest booked in 4 days - Richard Gere's Dr Paul Flanner.
But Dr Flanner's in Rodanthe looking for redemption - not only from a local (Scott Glenn) but also to try and work out what to do to improve his relationship with his son (James Franco)
So with a hurricane forecast to hit the B&B, the pair batten down the hatches and prepare to weather out the storm.
What they're not prepared for though (but everyone else watching is) is how a couple of days - and one hurricane - will change their lives&.forever.
As you can probably tell from the rating of this film, it's very easy to dismiss it as romantic and sentimental film making, which tugs at the heart strings and is usually summed up by the adjective "Schmaltzy."
Gere and Lane make a good pairing again on screen with easy chemistry - however, Diane Lane gives the stronger performance of the two and is slightly more plausible in her redemptive arc.
But the film itself is nothing different from the usual formulaic romantic material (although you sense the stars, director and writer don't expect it to be)
The plot contrivances are there for reasons and glide you along the story toward its (inevitable) outcome.
The ending is fairly well sign posted and will reduce some to quivering messes as they leave the cinema (so best be prepared with some hankies).
The best way to judge if this is a film for you is this example from Nights in Rodanthe - if you find letter writing romantic and scenes of Diane Lane gazing wistfully into the distance, hiding letters from her teen daughter appealing, then it's your cinematic choice for the weekend.

If you wonder why she's not sat in front of a computer reading e-mails in this modern day and age rather than relying on the postie, then you're possibly better off avoiding it and joining the rest of the cynical masses.

Pineapple Express: Movie Review

Pineapple Express: Movie Review

Rating: 6/10
Cast: Seth Rogen, James Franco, Gary Cole, Rosie Perez, Danny McBride, Amber Heard
Director: David Gordon Green
Just what is it with actor Seth Rogen and producer Judd Apatow?
The pair have formed a pretty solid cinematic relationship - albeit one which barely sees Rogen transcending the puerile.
Many of Rogen's recent big screen forays have seen him portray a man child who is being pulled into adulthood, kicking and screaming.
In some ways, Pineapple Express is a slight re-tread of that character.
Seth Rogen is dead end Dale Denton, a process server by the day and pothead by, erm, day too. He goes from one banal serving to another, enlivened only by a toke as well as a creative way to serve notice on his unwilling victims.
Then one day after picking up some of the finest (and unique) weed around from his dealer Saul (a great performance from James Franco), his life is changed when he witnesses a gang hit - carried out by Gary Cole's Ted Jones and Rosie Perez's Carol the cop.
Terrified, he drops his smoked dope and drives off - but Jones realises where the dope's come from and the chase begins&.
Pineapple Express is a bit of a curio of genres - there is the stoner comedy mix supplied by Rogen and Franco (they decide to flee but only after they have taken enough snacks for the journey); the action violence (Cole's character is waging a gang war complete with multiple explosions and smatterings of violence) as well as the romantic relationship (Rogen's romancing Amber Heard's Angie Anderson school girl character) which is stuck in an uncertain rut.
And the opening, which serves as a kind of prequel, sees a US soldier tested for the effects of dope throws everyone off the scent.
It's almost as if director David Gordon Green and Rogen (who co-wrote the screenplay) have set out to subvert all the different trappings and expectations of film genres and muddied the waters.
Rogen is good - but he's blown off the screen by his partner in crime James Franco whose performance is just brilliant and is worth the price of admission alone.

Pineapple Express isn't a bad film - you'll probably leave the cinema having had a few laughs but in a bit of a haze about what exactly you've seen.

Thursday, 23 October 2008

Young@Heart: Movie Review

Young@Heart: Movie Review

Rating: 9/10
Cast: The Young@Heart song chorus, Bob Cilman (chorus director)
Director: Stephen Walker
If I were to tell you that I had spent an evening with a group of septagenarians and octagenarians, you may raise an eyebrow.
If I were to expand on that and tell you that those 20 octagenarians had reduced me to near tears and wide grins with their singing, you'd maybe think I'd gone a bit nuts.
So let me explain - set in America, this film tells the story of the Young@Heart chorus, a group of 20 or so New England retirees who spend their spare time performing on stage.
There's nothing unusual about that, but this group spends their evenings giving us their unique take on pop songs from the likes of James Brown, The Clash, Coldplay, Talking Heads and in a slightly surreal decision, Sonic Youth.
The doco from Stephen Walker follows the group as, seven weeks out, they prepare for a new tour, ironically named "Alive and Well tour", under the tutelage of chorus director and musical manager Bob Cilman.
And that's all there is to it really.
Except for the fact, this is probably one of the most endearing and uplifting documentaries I have seen in a very long time; at turns, amusing and funny and then when you least expect it, heartbreaking and capable of reducing you to tears.
Throughout, we watch Bob Cilman try to coax the gang into getting their heads round the new songs he wants them to perform.
We see one soloist struggle through rehearsals to remember two crucial lines of James Brown's "I Feel Good" (which leads to tension on show night), the heartbreak of a duet of Coldplay's "Fix U" plagued by ill health - and while all this is going on, the doco is interspersed with music videos the Young@Heart Chorus has made (including Talking Heads' "Road to Nowhere", and the Bee Gees "Staying Alive" - the irony of which isn't lost on anyone watching this)
These pensioners have more life in them than you've ever seen - when their director increases the number of rehearsals, they grumble and gripe like kids but just get on with it such is their joie de vivre.
Their enthusiasm is infectious - from the opening moments when a 92-year old woman sings The Clash's anthem "Should I Stay or Go?", I was hooked and moved by the journey the group goes on; not only do these singers have to worry about dying on stage, off stage it's a very real concern for them.
This is easily a contender for one of the films of the year as far as I'm concerned.

It has heart, soul and sadness in equal measures - and if you go to see it and it doesn't touch you at all, then I'm afraid you must have a heart of stone.

Monday, 20 October 2008

Burn After Reading: Movie Review

Burn After Reading: Movie Review

Rating: 7/10
Cast: George Clooney, John Malkovich, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, Brad Pitt
Director: Ethan and Joel Coen
After the praise heaped on No Country for Old Men and its clean sweep of the Oscars, it'll be no surprise to some that the Coen brothers have returned to the familiar territory of screwball.
Burn After Reading is a film about various people working in the Intelligence spy sector who, to be blunt, seem to be severely lacking on the, erm, intelligence front.
At the film's beginning, John Malkovich's CIA analyst Osbourne Cox is being fired from the department he works in because of his drinking problems. As revenge, Cox plans to write a tell all memoir which would embarrass the CIA.
However, things aren't looking good for Cox - his wife's planning to divorce him to run off with her lover Harry Pfarrer (George Clooney) and steals a copy of his memoir as part of the divorce case.
But as ever, things don't run smoothly.
The disc winds up in the hands of Linda Litzke (Frances McDormand) who works at the local gym along with Chad (Brad Pitt).
Litzke's a desperate woman - turned down for funding for cosmetic surgery, she decides the only way to change her life is to blackmail Cox with the disc and so she enlists Chad's help.
To give away much more would ruin the world the Coens have once again created.
They're masters at bringing characters to life and exaggerating some of their crazier tics so that they seem perfectly plausible.

Pitt's Chad character is slightly detached from reality and when it comes to meeting Cox to blackmail him, he turns up in a suit - on his bicycle. Clooney's Pfarrer is convinced there is someone following him and Malkovich's Cox spends most of his time wandering about in a dressing gown and getting angrier.
There are some moments of violence in Burn After Reading which really do shock - having been put at ease with the idiocy of some of the cast throughout the film, the Coens' dose of brutal reality stuns you when it bursts onto the screen.

The one weak link in this cast is Tilda Swinton as Cox's wife - she is underused in the other woman role - but that gripe aside, Burn After Reading is silly, dramatic fun.
It's up there with some of their finer farces - O Brother, Where Art Thou?, Fargo and the much under-appreciated Hudsucker Proxy.
It also has a last line which will either frustrate you if you've not enjoyed the film - or will make you nod your head in agreement at the absurdity of what you've just witnessed.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Max Payne: Movie Review

Max Payne: Movie Review

Rating: 5/10
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Beau Bridges, Mila Kunis, Ludacris, Chris O'Donnell, Amaury Nolasco
Director: John Moore
The pantheon of small screen computer games adapted for the movies is littered with relative failures.
From the likes of Resident Evil, Street Fighter, Lara Croft, Silent Hill, BloodRayne, Hitman and Super Mario Bros, many have failed to ease the transition to the big screen.
The latest addition to the genre is Max Payne.
Based on the infamous and quite violent computer game, the film adaptation of Max Payne (played by Mark Wahlberg) centres around one man's quest to track down those who are responsible for the murder of his wife and baby.
Made to look like a robbery and without any substantial evidence, the murder investigation was soon shut down and its lead detective (Payne) assigned to the Cold Case desk.
But Payne's never given up and a mysterious death of a woman (forthcoming Bond girl Olga Kurylenko) reignites the case as a series of leads involving a new drug, pushes Payne back on the quest for vengeance for his slain family.
Joining Payne on his journey are Mona Sax (Mila Kunis) out to avenge her murdered sister, and BB Hensley (Beau Bridges) Payne's wife's former boss.
However, as Payne continues his investigation deeper into the project and company his wife used to work for, he delves deeper into a murkier and spookier world which threatens to engulf him.
Max Payne, the film version, is a curious beast - in some aspects, the film works brilliantly; its visuals such as the realisation of Valkyrie warriors floating in the sky over some of the drug addled characters are stunning and spooky at the same time.
Then, by the same token, some of the dialogue and acting is unbelievably wooden (Prison Break's Amaury Nolasco seems to do little but drip sweat and leer) - and some scenes play out as if they were cut scenes in a computer game, there to provide exposition and break up the action while the next segment loads up.
The shoot outs when Payne is trying to escape various evil-doers intent on bringing him down are violent, bloody and very similar to levels on a computer game (dodge the bullets, seize the incriminating file and shoot the door down as you escape)
Sometimes this plays to the film's strength; but on several occasions, it's simply there to showcase the amount of pyrotechnics the crew and its director Moore (who previously helmed the remake of the Omen in 2006) were clearly able to get their hands on with slow slots of various items exploding around the cast.
If you're a fan of the game, you may well get a little more out of it than I did - and given the ending, there does appear to be the possibility a sequel may be made.

Ultimately, as far as I am concerned Max Payne just misses the mark - it left me frustrated some of the more supernatural elements (such as the Valkyrie demons and ongoing references to Norse mythology) were sidelined in favour of a slightly weaker revenge driven plot.

Friday, 10 October 2008

Body Of Lies: Movie Review

Body Of Lies: Movie Review

Rating - 8/10
Cast: Leonardo di Caprio, Russell Crowe, Mark Strong
Director: Ridley Scott

Post 9/11, spy films have been gritty affairs when the celluloid landscape changed permanently the day after September 11th.
For a while afterwards, Hollywood contented itself with what have been termed "Just War" films (such as Black Hawk Down, Collateral Damage) and fantasy stories (Lord of the Rings) as the horror of what happened that day in New York proved too raw to reflect on the big screen.
But in recent years, there's been a resurgence in grittier, murkier post 9/11 films, where the muddier views of the conflict presented neither side in a good light (think Syriana).
Body of Lies is the latest addition to the genre and sees director Ridley Scott (Alien, Bladerunner) take on the 2007 book from Washington Post columnist David Ignatius.
Leonardo di Caprio plays CIA operative Roger Ferris, an undercover operative, who uncovers a lead on a major terrorist leader Al Saleem.
His shadowy al Qaeda like group has struck several times across Europe and is believed to be operating out of Jordan.
Ferris' work is watched from afar (via a series of satellites and constant mobile phone contact) by Ed Hoffman, a CIA head (played by Russell Crowe) who is impatient when it comes to tackling the ongoing war on terror and is insistent on getting results - no matter what the collateral damage is.
However, Ferris decides diplomacy is perhaps the best way to try and capture Al Saleem, so he teams up with Hani (Mark Strong) a charismatic and enigmatic Jordanian covert operations official.
But as the operation continues and Hoffman's impatience puts everyone at risk, Ferris starts to lose track of who he can and can't trust - not only with the success of the operation - but with his life as well.
Body of Lies is an extremely intelligent thriller - it starts off slowly and will feel to some, overlong.
However, as the film progresses, the tension and paranoia ratchets up and you find yourself completely immersed in it, with some quite realistic and graphic scenes of violence and torture providing the shocks.
Crowe and di Caprio are good in this - but as far as I am concerned, easily the best performance comes from Mark Strong as Hani - you're never quite sure whether how trustworthy he is as he exudes a level of quiet menace - and you get a sense that he could turn the gun on those he's working with while looking them directly in the eye and telling them not to worry.
Ridley Scott's direction is tight and despite the (at times) sprawling nature of the story telling as it traverses the globe, you never once lose track of what exactly is going on.

Body of Lies is an intelligent thriller and one which demands a little concentration from the audience - it's a chilling reminder of what lengths and on what levels (personal and professional), the ongoing fight against terror cells is being conducted.

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Journey to the Centre of the Earth 3D: Movie Review

Journey to the Centre of the Earth 3D: Movie Review

Rating: 6/10
Cast: Brendan Fraser, Anita Briem, Josh Hutcherson
Director: Eric Brevig
Gimmicks.
They're always difficult to incorporate into films - and sometimes, even harder to fashion a film around.
So when Journey to the Centre of the Earth purported to be the world's first live action adventure in 3-D, I have to admit to having had a slightly bad feeling about what was to come.
Particularly having suffered the horror of Jaws 3D and the Creature from the Black Lagoon years ago...
While there is the amusement factor of seeing a cinema packed with everyone wearing 3-D glasses, you quickly realise that the novelty wears off and you have to sit there for around 90 minutes with oversize glasses on, which at times make you feel like Dame Edna Everage.
Journey to the Centre of the Earth is, obviously, based on the Jules Verne book of the same name - this time, Brendan Fraser (The Mummy 3) stars as Professor Trevor Anderson, a vulcanologist.
After realising his missing brother may have been onto something, he along with his nephew and a mountain guide, set out to see if there really is a world under the surface (as Jules Verne revealed in his book) - and to try and rescue his long lost sibling.
And that's it for the plot - basically the film will annoy anyone who wants a sensibly plotted, logical and sensitive discussion about how life underground could be sustained for millions of years.
Anyone who wants to see a series of encounters with cool 3D effects stretched over 90 minutes will be extremely happy.
Journey to the Centre of the Earth isn't a bad film- it's a pleasant and brainless enough diversion; and there is something amusing and endearing about seeing kids (of all ages) try to touch the effects springing off the screen.
Brendan Fraser is likeable enough as the lead and seems to have no problem playing second fiddle to what is essentially an effects driven cinematic foray.
Some of the 3D in the film is done simply for effect - such as a kid using a yo-yo, using a tape measure - but the occasions when the 3D is saved for actual sequences, it can be exceptionally well done (such as a scene on raft when the gang is attacked by flying piranha type fish) and actually quite frightening.
I don't know if Journey to the Centre of the Earth will spark a renaissance of 3D films (there is a brief mention during the film of heading to Atlantis as a potential sequel) but as a reminder of what can be done with the genre, it's not a bad entry - and will certainly give the kids something to do during the holidays.

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

The Duchess: Movie Review

The Duchess: Movie Review

Rating: 5/10
Cast: Keira Knightley, Ralph Fiennes, Hayley Atwell, Charlotte Rampling, Dominic Cooper
Director: Saul Dibb
Stop me if you've heard this before. An attractive girl from a well-connected English family marries a man at the height of British aristocracy. Her motives are well-intentioned, though the marriage proves loveless.
The girl is much-loved by the public, lauded for her fashion sense, her charisma and her passion for societal issues.
Her husband's eye inevitably wanders, as does hers; and it becomes a marriage of three partners and of convenience. Oh - and her maiden name was Spencer.
Sound familiar?
Keira Knightley dons (yet another) corset to play whippersnapper Georgiana Spencer, who at 17 was married off to the insipid Duke of Devonshire (Ralph Fiennes). Georgiana's sole purpose in the marriage was to produce a male heir.
A gambler and a drinker, Georgiana was politically minded - a trait not celebrated in women during the 18th Century. Over time Georgiana learnt to use her public notoriety for her own purposes; specifically furthering the career of politician Charles Grey (Dominic Cooper).
But all wasn't well at home. Despite taking several lovers of his own - including an in-house affair that continued beyond the Duchess' death - the Duke didn't take fondly to Georgiana's wandering eye. I'll leave you to join the dots as to what happens next.
The Duchess sets out to be an epic. In parts it succeeds: the set pieces are incredible. Knightley's costumes are like extravagant art installations. She manoeuvres two-foot high wigs adorned with ostrich feathers. Her waist is reigned in with corsets and bustles, she accessorises with stoles, parasols, and an abundance of hats.
But dressing up an A-list star in a corset doesn't make an epic.
Knightley does her best, but it's becoming increasingly difficult to differentiate her from one role to the next. Georgiana is feisty, determined, the object of a man's affection: familiar territory for fans of Pirates of the Carribean, Atonement, Pride and Prejudice and more. I'd like to see Knightley in a supporting role - as part of an ensemble for a change.
Ralph Fiennes does his best with the emotionally void Duke. But the writing is the character's undoing. The writers have created a deplorable character; a sexist, violent hypocrite who happens to be as engaging as a dead snapper.
He's not your archetype Hollywood villain which is refreshing, however it is still impossible to empathise with him. If the writers had allowed one redeeming trait - even helped the audience to like him a bit - it would be a far more interesting movie.

The Duchess never quite reaches the standard it sets for itself, but it should keep fans of Keira happy.

I look forward to the sequel: The Duchess: The People's Princess.

Sunday, 28 September 2008

The Rocker: Movie Review

The Rocker: Movie Review

Cast: Rainn Wilson, Christina Applegate, Jeff Garlin, Will Arnett
Director: Peter Cattaneo

Rating 5/10

Let's face it - we've all dreamt of being the lead singer of a band and practised on a hair brush in front of the mirror.
But how many of us have always wanted to be the drummer of a band?
Rainn Wilson (of the US TV version of "The Office") stars as Robert 'Fish' Fishman, failed drummer with Whitesnake/ Aerosmith knock offs Vesuvius.
As Vesuvius is about to erupt in the music business, Fish is unceremoniously dumped at the urging of new management.
Flash forward a couple of years and Fish has given up the music business while his former band revels in rock star adulation, and he wallows as a call centre worker.
However, even that doesn't last long as he's promptly fired after anger and resentment overflow when a co-worker plays him the latest Vesuvius CD. His day gets even worse, when he's dumped by his girlfriend.
So without a job or home, he's forced to move back in with his sister and their family, your average American family with 2 kids.
But his rockstar dreams bubble away under the surface until his nephew gets him involved in his band as a stand in drummer - and that's when Fish's taste for the rock'n'roll lifestyle is re-ignited.
The Rocker is moderately entertaining in places - Wilson doesn't stray too far away from his role as Dwight Schrute on The Office but is at times deadpan enough to just about carry the role and emerge as a likeable schlub.
Being a film from Peter Cattaneo, the director of The Full Monty, you won't be surprised to learn there is some nudity in this - even if it is just the horror of seeing Wilson perform as a naked drummer.
Christina Applegate is fine as the mother of the singer of the teen band and shows some of the sass we've come to expect from the Samantha Who? actress.
There are a couple of predictable sub plots bubbling away - such as the singer falling for one of the other band members but not knowing how to tell her, and Fish finding he's a bit too old to be donning the spandex and partying all night.

The Rocker is OK and may help pass some of the school holidays, but it's a bit of a disappointment from Cattaneo and won't do much to help Rainn Wilson move away from his US Office role and into the higher echelons of the box office

Thursday, 11 September 2008

The Mummy - Tomb of the Dragon Emperor: Movie Review

The Mummy - Tomb of the Dragon Emperor: Movie Review

Cast: Brendan Fraser, Maria Bello, Jet Li, John Hannah
Director: Rob Cohen

Rating: 3/10
De La Soul once remarked that three was the magic number.
When it comes to the Mummy 3, Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, the third time is definitely not the charm.
This latest (and hopefully last) instalment in the franchise finds Brendan Fraser's Rick O'Connell and Maria Bello's Evie O'Connell in 1946, retired from the archaeology game after twice defeating an Egyptian mummy.
Only this time, they're struggling with retirement - Evie's writing novels of derring do and how she and hubby beat the mummy; Rick on the other hand is trying his hand at fly fishing (although resorting to the gun when it doesn't go how he wants); and Evie's brother Jonathan (John Hannah) is now running a bar in China.
But trouble has a way of finding the O'Connells as their son Alex (newcomer to the franchise Luke Ford) manages to unearth Chinese emperor Han (Jet Li) during a dig.
Emperor Han was poised to gain immortality and take over the world with his army of warriors until he was cursed by Michelle Yeoh's Zi Juan and turned to stone.
Trouble is Alex uncovers a whole heap of problems for the world once Han's resurrected via betrayal, double crossing, a magical jewel and some blood&can the mummy be defeated a third time? Well, have a guess...

The "charm" with threequels is that you know the characters, their quirky ways and don't have to worry about the back story and a director can just get on with it.

The "problem" with threequels, is ultimately many appear to have run out of plots and rely on old favourites, bigger bangs and explosions to hide the gaping holes in the story.

I think my problem with this film is that I had a distinct feeling of déjà vu early on and subsequently lost all interest.
However, I was impressed that Maria Bello's appearance as Evie (Rachel Weisz sensibly declined reprising her role) was explained away in a throwaway (but savvy) line about how the Evie of her books was a different person to her; but, the malaise appeared to have spread to the rest of the cast with Brendan Fraser looking like he's simply going through the motions and John Hannah's bumbling fool has a reduced role and seems surplus to requirements.

Although I can pinpoint exactly the moment I mentally checked out of this film - it was when Lin (Zi Juan's immortal daughter and potential love interest to Alex) issued a cry for help in the Himalayas and it was answered by a crack squad of CGI yeti....

There are some attempts at showing the strains of retirement on the O'Connells with the father/ son relationship being difficult (though ultimately resolved through a love of guns) and with Rick and Evie's relationship struggling to survive the banality of a normal life after the thrills of being thrown together in their quest to defeat Arnold Vosloo's Imhotep Mummy in the earlier films.

But if you want to leave your brain in neutral, discard any rational thought, then the Mummy 3 is bigger, dumber and louder than its predecessors.

Sadly though, I'd side with the opinion that it's time this franchise was as dead and buried as the mummies (and ancient plots) they dug up to make it in the first place.

Thursday, 28 August 2008

Hellboy 2 - The Golden Army: Movie Review

Hellboy 2 - The Golden Army: Movie Review

Hellboy 2: The Golden Army
Starring: Ron Perlman, Selma Blair, Doug Jones

Director: Guillermo del Toro
Rating: 7/10
Ahh, sequels.
They're a curious beast - for every Empire Strikes Back and Two Towers, there's a Grease 2, Speed 2 or Matrix Revolutions waiting in the wings to sully the memory of the brilliance of the first film.
So it's a relief for me, as a comic book geek, to report that despite the multitude of plaudits for director Guillermo del Toro in the four years since the first Hellboy, this latest outing Hellboy 2: The Golden Army continues to build and improve on the original film.
However, that's not to say it's without fault.
As the film opens, Hellboy (played as wonderfully as ever by Ron Perlman) is battling domestic demons - rather than the usual fairytale ones.
Since the first film, ole Red has shacked up with his girlfriend, the pyrokinetic Liz Sherman (played by Selma Blair) and is fighting the paranormal with the help of the undercover organisation he was recruited into.
But, he's finding it difficult to live with the love of his life - and he is in constant conflict with his boss (an outstanding performance from Jeffrey Tambor) who is trying desperately to keep their world saving activities quiet rather than have their behaviour publically splashed across the media and exposed.
Things take a turn for the worse when Prince Nuada (played by Luke Goss of Blade 2 and UK boyband fame) starts his quest to seize control of a mythical army which could destroy the world.
And so, Hellboy has to put to one side the problems of his own little world so that he can start trying to save the real world.
In some ways, director Guillermo del Toro has done a great job with the second film; he's built on the wonderful visual effects displayed in the first film four years ago.
The fantasy world is wonderfully realized through a myriad of delightfully weird on screen creatures (as you'd come to expect from the man who won such plaudits for Pan's Labyrinth). Del Toro has made the fantasy world and its inhabitants feel so normal that you actually forget to look at whether it's CGI or live action models.
But, at the same time, somewhere, he seems to have lost his way a little.
The plot of Hellboy 2 is, at times, slow and weak - and those in charge of writing it seem to have jettisoned some of the chances which could have seen some real meat for Perlman's Hellboy character.
During one spectacular action sequence, when faced with a creature intent on destroying part of downtown New York, Hellboy is tormented by the fact that this creature he has to kill is the last of its kind.
He agonises over whether to destroy it and protect the human world which is starting to despise him or acknowledge his true nature as an outsider and let it kill everything in its path.
Another weak point is the ending of the film - it's a major disappointment that after a dazzling fight scene and with our heroes facing insurmountable odds, it's almost as if del Toro decided it would be easier to throw together a weak ending; and what should have been a highly emotional denouement is simply a damp squib.
Although having said that, there are plenty of hints that another film is on the way - with Hellboy's future looking pretty bleak - as well as the entire human race.

Comic book geeks and teens will love Hellboy 2 - but others may struggle to find the kind of mass appeal that other films like Spiderman 2 and The Two Towers proffered up to the masses.