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.