8 Aug 2013

Wreck-It Ralph (2012)


Director: Rich Moore
Stars: John C. Reilly, Jack McBrayer, Sarah Silverman
A video game villain wants to be a hero and sets out to fulfill his dream, but his quest brings havoc to the whole arcade where he lives.

A smart CGI comedy from Disney in which all the games in an arcade are connected through cables allowing the characters to wander into each other's games. A bad guy from a Donkey Kong style game decides to prove to his disapproving colleagues that there's more to him than just being a bad guy, and goes off in search of a game he can become a hero in. This is basically Toy Story: 8-Bit Edition: if your toys can come to life when no-one is looking, why can't video game characters do the same? Wreck-It Ralph isn't up there with Buzz and Woody as a classic movie protagonist, but his friendship with insolent-yet-adorable urchin Vanellope is bursting with affection and enough to melt even the coldest of anti-Disney hearts. While Disney's animators once again score a home run - the candy-splashed CGI world of Sugar Rush a rainbow-tinged reverie of lollipops, icing and bubblegum - it's the relationship between the two characters that really make this film stand out in the cluttered kids market. For the grown-ups there's a fun nostalgia trip as characters from games of yesteryear make cameos throughout - Zangief and Bowser sit in on a "Bad Guys Anonymous" meeting for example, and the less said about poor Q-Bert the better. Truly fun for all the family.
*****

7 Aug 2013

Grown Ups (2010)

Director: Dennis Dugan
Stars: Adam Sandler, Salma Hayek, Kevin James
After their high school basketball coach passes away, five good friends and former teammates reunite for a Fourth of July holiday weekend.

What the fuck happened to Adam Sandler? One time box-office cash cow, his particular brand of smart comedy with heart seems to have regressed into a litany of poop and fart jokes. In this he plays the same down-to-Earth everyman he played in Happy Gilmore, Big Daddy, Anger Management, Mr Deeds, and as usual he's surrounded by wacky characters, but somewhere along the line he's run out of ideas and become reliant on barrel-scraping clichés and lazily filled in the blanks with toilet humour. Fart joke, poop joke, pee joke, someone lands in poop, someone lands face first in a cake, and new for 2013, a lactating woman accidentally squirts breast milk in someone's face. Add in a Steve Buscemi cameo and we're done. Yawn. Of course every learns a valuable lesson and become better people. Except the viewer, who's become a worse person just for having watched this wearisome rot.
**

6 Aug 2013

Oz, The Great And Powerful (2013)


Director: Sam Raimi
Stars: James Franco, Michelle Williams, Mila Kunis
A small-time magician is swept away to an enchanted land and is forced into a power struggle between three witches.

74 years since the Wizard of Oz first appeared on screens, Disney's new addition to the canon tells the backstory of the titular Wizard and introduces us to a pre-Dorothy Oz. Disney's Oz is faithful to the 1939 original, wicked witches, yellow brick roads and all, although with a lifetime's worth of technology between the two films, Oz of 2013 is not your Grandaddy's Oz - this a magical CGI dream world, almost cartoon-like, dripping with lucious colours and crawling with weird and wonderful beasties. The young cast entrusted with filling some rather large shoes (ruby, naturally) all perform admirably, Franco is entertaining company throughout, Kunis excels in a role she could have been born to play, while Michelle Williams positively glows as Glinda The Good Witch. Although of course there's only one way it can all end, (don't pretend you don't know which witch ends up where) it's a good enough story to make the journey towards the inevitable finale one that's worth taking. It's not all sunshine and roses however. It's too long, and the plot drags in places, but after 74 years in which we've sat through an abundance of poor reimaginings and sequels, it's great to finally have a new addition to Ozlore worthy of sitting alongside its famous predecessor. A long overdue and welcome return to Oz.
***

4 Aug 2013

The Woman In Black (2012)

Director: James Watkins
Stars: Emma Shorey, Daniel Radcliffe, Ciarán Hinds 
A young lawyer travels to a remote village where he discovers the vengeful ghost of a scorned woman is terrorizing the locals.

Stylistically, this Brit horror borrows heavily from the likes of The Ring and The Eye, a sort of Anglicised J-Horror designed to send the popcorn flying; all flashes of terrifying twisted faces and creepy apparitions. It follows a well trodden path: wrongful death, curse, vengeful spirit, yada yada yada, in fact it's basically The Grudge re-imagined in Edwardian England. For the most part it delivers, the plot, characters, and most of all the sets and terrific cinematography suck the viewer in, and when the horror comes, it comes in spades - a ten minute scene near the middle in which Radcliffe explores a haunted house is relentless, with a nerve-shredding scare hiding around every corner. For Radcliffe, it's a fairly safe step in the transition between child star and proper grown-up actor, though while the genre may be pretty far removed from Harry Potter, the role itself doesn't require much range, and his direction seems to be "just run around and look bewildered". He really ought to be careful, his perpetually blank expression in the face of terror is the stuff internet memes are made of. 

Walled In (2009)


Director: Gilles Paquet-Brenner
Stars: Tim Allen, Mischa Barton, Darla Biccum
A demolition company agent uncovers the horrifying secrets held within a building she's having razed.

Straight-to-DVD thriller starring Mischa Barton as a woman sent to demolish a creepy abandoned apartment block in a remote desert ghost town. While this starts out with a lot of promise - a pre-credits scene depicting a screaming young girl being encased in slow-rising concrete being one of the most startling openings to a movie this side of Ghost Ship - it soon settles down into a fairly blah and pedestrian thriller, as Barton morosely plods her way through a dreary whodunit dusted with dull plot twists. Any sense of excitement is buried under the weight of lifeless characters and a stupid plot, and it manages to make an hour and a half feel like three. A dud.
**

19 Jul 2013

2-Headed Shark Attack (2012)


Director: Christopher Ray
Stars: Carmen Electra, Charlie O'Connell, Brooke Hogan 
Survivors escape to a deserted atoll after a Semester at Sea ship is sunk by a mutated two-headed shark. But when the atoll starts flooding, no one is safe from the double jaws of the monster as it eats fresh delicious women and men.

Is it me or does there seem to be an awful lot of shark movies recently? Brooke Hogan, (daughter of Hulk) the lead actress in this offering seems to be making something of a career of them - as well as this film she's also recently starred in Sand Sharks and Avalanche Sharks. Can you spot the similarities?



 In this I was expecting something in the Piranha vein - shlocky, comic horror, blood, guts and lots of big tits. But surprisingly (given the cover) this film actually takes itself quite seriously, trying instead to draw tension and excitement rather than just wave Kelly Brooks' vagina at the camera and fill the water with dismembered members - more The Hills Have Eyes than Hostel. Let's not forget however that we are still watching a movie about a shark with two heads, and it does exist in a world nothing like our own; a world where dim-witted college students' first instinct when presented with a desert island is to have a threesome on it (I suppose it had to have some nudity), and where it makes sense to jump out of a boat and into the sea when trying to escape a killer fish. This is the movie that devoured logic and left its remains floating in a froth of red water, one where sharks can swim in knee-deep water in one scene and not the next, where islands and scenery appear and disappear at will, and where a 20-foot tidal wave can wipe out one group of people and not even register with a different group a few hundred yards away. It's these fishy goings-on (and the Windows 95 era CGI) that spoil the enjoyment of a film which, although no Jaws, could have actually earned a pass mark. Hook, line and stinker; best throw this one back.
**

15 Jul 2013

(500) Days of Summer (2009)




Dir: Marc Webb.

Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Zooey Deschanel, Geoffrey Arend.
An offbeat romantic comedy about a woman who doesn't believe true love exists, and the young man who falls for her.

"This is not a love story" warns the narrator right at the beginning of this charming indie-flick, and it many ways it's not, at least not in the Richard Curtis "awkward meeting / blossoming relationship / crisis / grand romantic gesture / happy ending" sense of the phrase. While 500 Days Of Summer does tell the story of boy meets girl, it explores what happens when boy falls in love and girl doesn't, when boy is left with his heart smashed to pieces and his life sucked into a bottomless pit of despair while girl breezily gets on with her life. It's a romantic comedy in so much that it features both romance and comedy, but unlike the Bridget Jones' of this world, it never turns into a syrupy, saccharine-soaked blubfest, and it strikes the balance just right between sentiment, drama and humour. It takes the viewer on a journey in which we experience the euphoria of Joseph Gordon-Levitt's Tom striking up a relationship with the quirky Summer (Deschanel), the inspiriting and intoxicating flush of new love, the nervousness when the cracks begin to show, and the utter misery when she ultimately rejects him. Despite sounding like the film equivalent of a Johnny Cash record, it is a truly beautiful and uplifting movie. Yes it has its gloomy moments (shrewdly soundtracked by The Smiths) but the fresh breath of optimism that permeates throughout the movie outweigh them entirely. Prepare to be moved.   
*****

8 Jul 2013

Donnie Brasco (1997)


Director: Mike Newell
Stars: Al Pacino, Johnny Depp, Michael Madsen
An FBI undercover agent infilitrates the mob and finds himself identifying more with the Mafia life to the expense of his regular one.

If you're going to do a Mafia movie, you better make it a good one, as there are some big shoes to fill (and they're probably made of finest Italian leather). In The Godfather trilogy, Goodfellas, Casino and a handful of others, the benchmark for a great mafia movie has been set pretty high, so director Mike Newell always had a tough job on his hands trying to infiltrate that list. What he is blessed with is not only a terrific (and true) story to work from, but the perfect cast as well. Johnny Depp, right at the point where he was really beginning to spread his wings as an actor, puts in a great shift as the titular FBI agent finding his loyalty split between the Bureau, his family and the mob, and Al Pacino is utterly convincing playing opposite Depp, an ageing bottom-rung wiseguy still struggling to make ends meet after thirty years of long service. It's the paternal relationship between Pacino's Lefty and his young protege that make the film so engaging, the interaction between the two characters and their uneasy partnership adding a human dimension to a movie that could have so easily been an orgy of violence and profanity and little else. Of course, it is laced liberally with both, it is a mafia movie after all, but it is a beautifully crafted one, and one that's it's difficult to look away from, even when the red stuff is flowing. There's a terrific sense of tension throughout, watching Donnie tiptoe along a knife-edge and knowing one false move will have him sleeping with the fishes just another layer that make up foundations of this gripping story. If The Godfather is the boss of mafia movies, and Goodfellas the underboss, then Donnie Brasco deserves to be the consigliere.
****

6 Jul 2013

Leaving Las Vegas (1995)

Director: Mike Figgis
Stars: Nicolas Cage, Elisabeth Shue, Julian Sands 
Ben Sanderson, an alcoholic Hollywood screenwriter arrives in Las Vegas to drink himself to death. There, he meets and forms an uneasy friendship with prostitute Sera.

Where to start with Nicolas Cage? Love him or hate him, the man has made some fantastic movies over the years, and this one is often held up as an example of how good an actor he can be. In Ben, who spends the entire movie either falling down drunk or shaking from withdrawal, Cage gets the chance to play a really intense role and as we've come to expect of him, embraces it wholly. Nobody plays damaged quite like Nicolas Cage. Elisabeth Shue also impresses in a dark turn as Sera, and the relationship they strike up becomes the central focus of the movie, a sort of Sid & Nancy story as each struggles with their own personal demons and finds solace in the other. While their doomed romance makes for a powerful story, ultimately it's Cage's performance that stays in the memory.
****

Due Date (2010)

Director: Todd Phillips
Stars: Robert Downey Jr., Zach Galifianakis, Michelle Monaghan 
High-strung father-to-be Peter Highman is forced to hitch a ride with aspiring actor Ethan Tremblay on a road trip in order to make it to his child's birth on time.

This is little more than a modern remake of Planes, Trains and Automobiles, if the Steve Martin character was an entirely dislikeable and rude asshole with no regard for other people, and the John Candy character a bumbling fuckwit who you want to punch in the face. Neither of these characters are the type you want to go on a 90-minute journey with them, and a script that isn't funny becomes the meat in a shit sandwich. Avoid.
**

A Good Old Fashioned Orgy (2011)


Directors: Alex Gregory, Peter Huyck
Stars: Jason Sudeikis, Leslie Bibb, Lake Bell 
A group of 30-year-olds who have been friends since high school attempt to throw an end-of-summer orgy.

Despite sounding like a 1970s porn-flick, this is essentially a more grown up version of American Pie, with the attractive teenagers replaced with 30-somethings no less bone-headed and sex-obsessed than their adolescent counterparts. You know what you're going to get from movies of this genre - a bit out of gross-out, a bit of nudity, an obnoxious sweary best friend - this doesn't break any new ground but it's sharp and funny throughout. Jason Sudeikis' main character is very likeable, and he's ably backed up by a good supporting cast all capable of raising a laugh when needed. David Koechner also pops up in a memorable cameo as a participant at a swingers party. It's certainly no American Pie, but this is the movie American Pie Reunion should have been.
***

Black Swan (2010)

Director: Darren Aronofsky
Stars: Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, Vincent Cassel
A ballet dancer wins the lead in "Swan Lake" and is perfect for the role of the delicate White Swan - Princess Odette - but slowly loses her mind as she becomes more and more like Odile, the Black Swan.

This psychological thriller from Darren Aronofsky ticks all the right boxes- wonderfully acted, visually stunning, Mila Kunis lesbian scene - and is genuinely one of the best movies I've seen in years. Natalie Portman puts in a career-best performance as the fragile Nina, a ballet dancer who loses her grip on reality when she is challenged to push the boundaries of her sheltered life. What makes it such a compelling watch is that it's so much more than just a film about dancers - themes are subtly woven into the story throughout, and as well as the obvious sexual awakening tale, Aronofsky does a lot of clever things with mirrors, colours and scenery. It's left largely up to the viewer to interpret the story and draw their own conclusions from what they've seen, but this never feels like a cop-out like ending of The Wrestler, and similar to the likes of Fight Club and The Sixth Sense, it's the kind of movie that you really need to see twice. Stunning.
*****

1 Jul 2013

Just Friends (2005)


Director: Roger Kumble
Stars: Ryan Reynolds, Amy Smart, Anna Faris 
While visiting his hometown during Christmas, a man comes face-to-face with his old high school crush, a woman whose rejection of him turned him into a ferocious womanizer.

Sunday night rom-com. Occasionally a chick-flick will have a memorable character, some funny lines or a noteable cameo to make it stand out from the dearth of identical estrogen-fests. This is not one of those films. Ryan Reynolds plays a successful handsome New York executive who finds himself back in the simple small town he grew up in, and bumps into the girl he had a crush on all through high school. So far so every-chick-flick-ever. Fish out of water hi-jinks ensue. The "be yourself" message is clobbered into you like a sledgehammer from the first few scenes. Ryan Reynolds has the screen presence of a Dorito, he tries to do some rubber-faced shtick a la Steve Carell, but comes off like a bad impressionist. Amy Smart is the lead female and she sucks a bit. She's hot in a Gremlin-y sort of way, and I've actually enjoyed some of her other (mostly supporting) roles but she is so not a leading lady, and there is zero chemistry between the two of them. There are a few chuckles, and Anna Faris and Chris Klein do alright as the baddies of the piece, but mostly this is a turd.
**

26 May 2013

Red State (2011)


Director: Kevin Smith
Stars: Michael Angarano, Melissa Leo, Michael Parks 
Set in Middle America, a group of teens receive an online invitation for sex, though they soon encounter fundamentalists with a much more sinister agenda.

Thriller from Kevin Smith. A family of Southern religious zealots ensnare and capture some young boys and plan to kill them for all the dirty fornicating they've been doing. The pacing of the film is all over the place, there's no introduction or character building, it's just straight into the storyline, which really hurts the film, especially as it makes little sense that after living peacefully for so long this family just suddenly goes nuts and starts wasting people. The sight of all the housewives firing AK47s looks a bit ridiculous, and the father's no-sweat calmness during the extended shoot-out is also played all wrong, as though this has happened to him a thousand times before, when clearly it hasn't. There's also zero dramatic tension - case in point, we cut to a young couple having a nice sit down conversation in a pink fluffy bedroom when there's supposed to be a shoot-out going on and the house is being riddled with bullets. I think Smith was aiming for The Devil's Rejects or The Hills Have Eyes, but this whole film is something of a fail.
**

25 May 2013

Goon (2011)


Director: Michael Dowse
Stars: Seann William Scott, Jay Baruchel, Alison Pill 
A bouncer overcomes long odds to lead a team of under performing misfits to semi-pro hockey glory, beating the crap out of everything that stands in his way.

Seann William Scott plays a dim-witted security guard plucked from obscurity to become a professional ice hockey player. What lets this film down is its tendency to straddle the line between comedy and dramatic underdog story, and it never really decides which side of the line it's on. Scott's character is written as such a nice guy it's difficult to laugh at him as the butt of the jokes instead of feeling sympathy. It's all very imbalanced but it's at least entertaining, and there are worse ways to spend an hour and a half.
***

24 Jan 2013

The Beaver (2011)


Director: Jodie Foster
Stars: Mel Gibson, Cherry Jones, Jodie Foster | See full cast and crew
A troubled husband and executive adopts a beaver hand-puppet as his sole means of communicating.

Mel Gibson plays a rich company owner who is riddled with mental illness and depression and close to suicide. He finds a beaver hand puppet, which he then wears and discovers that if he talks through the beaver he can actually articulate his feelings and begins to rebuild his life, only with the Beaver in charge. This sounds like a wacky comedy but it's actually a very bleak drama about the effects of mental illness, both on the person suffering and those around them. It's really good but by the end it turns into a bunch of people endlessly self-analysing and talking about their "issues". How very American. A subplot invlolving the son and his cheerleader girlfriend who turns out to be a super-deep street artist (with dead brother issues, of course) feels shoehorned in as well.
***

24 May 2012

Avengers Assemble (2012)


Director: Joss Whedon
Stars:Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans and Scarlett Johansson
Nick Fury of S.H.I.E.L.D. brings together a team of super humans to form The Avengers to help save the Earth from Loki and his army.


Unusually for a superhero movie, Avengers Assemble wastes no time in getting straight down to the nitty-gritty. There are no backstories, no introductions to the characters, and if you go into it without doing a bit of homework first, you will be lost. If you want to know about The Hulk, Iron Man, Thor and Captain America, watch the preceding five movies. If you want to know the back-stories for Black Widow, Nick Fury, S.H.I.E.L.D and The Chitauri, read the Avengers comics. You've got 50 years worth to catch up on. You'd best get started.

From its announcement way back in 2008, this promised to be the Holy Grail of superhero movies: Marvel's own Lord Of The Rings, if Legolas wore blue spandex and Gandalf pumped AC/DC while shooting lasers out of his eyes. Written and directed by Joss Whedon, a man known for writing great characters and sparkling dialogue, with a proven track record of working with ensemble casts, and already well known in the sci-fi world, all the elements were there to get fanboys the world over foaming at the mouth with excitement and queuing up to empty their wallets over the counter of their local megaplex. And while parts of the film are certainly the thrill-ride we were all hoping for, a lot of it is botched beyond repair. There's so much space mumbo-jumbo, science mumbo-jumbo and other-worldy mumbo-jumbo going on it leaves very little room to develop or further any of the characters. None of the 4 leads really have much of a storyline arc to speak of, no lessons learned, no struggles overcome, and with the exception of possibly the Hulk, nothing really happens to any of them. It may as well be called "Avengers Assemble, Save The Day Then Go Home Again". Captain America in particular is so forgettable he may as well not even be there. Not only is he given no lines and virtually no story, he suffers the indignity of being portrayed by easily the worst actor in the film and one of the worst of his generation in Chris Evans. At times the heroes are little more than props hidden amongst all the big CGI set pieces, and at other times the film is so talky (and unintelligible), you get the feeling you could have had a little nap, woken up and found that still nothing has really happened. With Joss Whedon on board, one would have hoped he could have done a bit better than this. Even his trademark sardonic-yet-humorous dialogue feels forced, and although there are laugh out loud moments (most belonging to the Hulk), they feel shoehorned in.

It's not all bad of course, the end battle is every bit as epic and spectacular as you would expect, the interplay between the characters is entertaining for the most part, and throughout the film looks stunning, if over-reliant on CGI. It is, however, guilty of every criticism levelled toward the modern summer blockbuster: it's brawn over brains; style over substance; a shining example of a film made to stimulate the eyes and not the emotions, and one made entirely to move the franchise along to the inevitable slew of sequels and spin-offs. Marvel's Lord Of The Rings? Not on your life. Marvel's Transformers? Yeah, that's more like it.
***

15 May 2012

Tango & Cash (1989)


Director: Andrey Konchalovskiy
Stars: Sylvester Stallone, Kurt Russell and Teri Hatcher
Two cops are framed and must clear their names.


A buddy cop movie hidden inside a thrilling, if cheesy, 80's action flick, and it does a pretty damn fine job of both. It starts out wonderfully, Stallone and Russell playing the eponymous heroes, LA's two top cops who are framed and sent to a maximum security prison and susequently set out to clear their names. It displays all the hallmarks of the genre - wisecracks, mullets and music that sounds like background music from a Streets Of Rage game, but wardrobe misjudgements apart (seriously, Kurt Russell's hair and wardrobe are like something out of an A-Ha video, and he must be the only cop in LA that looks as though he makes his own clothes) it is an enjoyable, if brainless, crime thriller. It loses its way horribly in the final act however, and sadly the vaccous "GUNS! EXPLOSIONS! SMAAAAAAAAAAAAASH!" testosterone-dribbling machismo that was bubbling away under the surface takes over and ruins it, a prime example of a scriptwriter running out of ideas before the end. It was overshadowed by the likes of the vastly popular Lethal Weapon and Beverley Hills Cop series', and this is probably why. 80's mainstays James Hong and Jack Palance pop up as the shady baddies, and Michael J. Pollard is charming as ever. Switch off half an hour before the end for optimum results.
***

Garden State (2004)

Director: Zach Braff
Stars:Zach Braff, Natalie Portman and Peter Sarsgaard
A quietly troubled young man returns home for his mother's funeral after being estranged from his family for a decade.


Little more than a Zach Braff vanity project (he writes, directs and stars) this film tries to be the classic indie melodrama that we all know and love, but comes off like an American version of Amelie with all the charm stripped out. The storyline is dreadfully boring, lumbering from one overly sentimental scene to the next, wringing out wistful melancholy as characters deconstruct their lives in a manner not seen since Dawson's Creek left our screens. Quirky characters are introduced and dispensed again within a couple of scenes, each as annoying as the previous; Natalie Portman's character in particular is the kind of person you'd punch in the face within 30 seconds of meeting. Braff may be a fine actor but as a writer and director he has the subtetly of a house brick. Fail on just about every level.
**

9 May 2012

Piranha (2010) (aka Piranha 3D)

Director: Alexandre Aja
Stars: Elisabeth Shue, Jerry O'Connell and Richard Dreyfuss
After a sudden underwater tremor sets free scores of the prehistoric man-eating fish, an unlikely group of strangers must band together to stop themselves from becoming fish food for the area's new razor-toothed residents.


Schlocky comedy-horror that doesn't pretend to be anything more than it is - a shameless hour and a half celebration of blood and big tits. An underwater earthquake releases a shoal of prehistoric piranhas into a Florida lake, where a group of college kids (and a handful of porn stars) are celebrating Spring Break. Predictably it's not long before the evil poisson starting chomping their way through the main course of an all-you-can-eat idiot buffet. On paper it should be a vaccous, plothole-filled pile of garbage, a movie with all the depth and substance of a low end porn magazine, and little more than a gratutious excuse to wave a bunch of topless girls at the camera then have them disembowelled in ever-more gruesome fashion with a knowing wink. In practice though, somehow it works. It's a fairground ride of a film, a cheap thrill that flashes by in a blur of bright colours and flashy lights, spitting you out at the other end slightly disoriented, slightly sick, but ultimately fulfilled and grinning from ear to ear. Christopher Lloyd is on hand as a scientist to try and explain away some of the more obvious plotholes, but really, if you're going to see this expecting a lesson in marine biology you're barking up the wrong tree. Approach this as you would a approach a packet of Hubba Bubba; a pitcher of Strawberry Daquiris; an early Kiss album. It's not going to change the world, but man is it going to be a fun journey. The inevitable sequel "Piranha 3DD" hits the cinema this summer.
****