Coming soon...

Monday, July 30, 2007

THE SIMPSONS MOVIE (2007) - David Silverman

I find myself faced with quite the quandary. On one side, I have the young version of myself. A version who, at eight years of age, was exposed to the magnificent world of The Simpsons. A world which would encapsulate the next nine years of my life, helping in some way to shape the person I am now. And on the other side, I have the person who followed this idealistic young kid. A person who watched the show he loved so dearly break his heart as it declined in quality to a degree where it became a parody of itself. It's a dilemma faced by many fans. A dilemma that has divided the fans into two warring factions. A division that's almost as vicious as the division between Palestinians and Israelis. However, one thing united almost everyone in fevered anticipation. And that's The Simpsons Movie.

The Simpsons Movie faces the difficult task that has faced many television adaptations. And that's finding a story that brings a half-hour show to the big screen for ninety minutes or more. In the movie, we find the denizens of everyone's favorite town attending a Green Day concert. Pollution kills the punk rockers and legislation is quickly passed to ban the dumping of waste in Springfield. Homer rescues a pig from slaughter and pays it more attention than he does his own son Bart. Bart find solace in Homer's arch-enemy and god-loving neighbor, Ned Flanders. Homer, faced with the difficult task of disposing of his new pig's waste, dumps the poo into Lake Springfield causing environmental disaster. The Environmental Protection Agency quarantines Springfield under an enormous dome, and Homer becomes the target of everyone's frustrations. The Simpson family escape the town and set off to start a new life in Alaska.

And so, after eighteen years, countless rumors, and three years of production, it's all boiled down to this. We have our Simpsons movie. And it's an incredibly difficult thing to say, but I cant help feeling it's a bit of a let-down. As I've said before, I feel the show has suffered a decline since about season nine. Around that time, it seemed the writers had begun to run out of steam. And instead of doing the smart thing and leaving us wanting more, the creative team behind the Simpsons have continued to flog the horse despite it's quite apparent decline in health. But prospects for the Simpson Movie looked good as the trailer caused quite a few laughs. And here in lies one of the huge problems. All the major laughs were in the trailer. If you've seen the trailer (and it's been pretty hard to miss as it's been EVERYWHERE), you've seen pretty much all the best bits, bar one or two other laughs.

I really don't want to sound like a disgruntled fan-boy, but it just seemed there was way more life to the early Simpsons. There was brilliant slapstick (some of which is repeated here), savage satire (none of this, unfortunately) and layering that was so smart, that on subsequent viewings (and even to this day) you found something fresh and original. Now, don't get me wrong, the writers of The Simpsons Movie really do give it their best shot. And there are some great moments. It's just that these moments are spread very thin over the course of the movie. It starts off well, but runs out of steam as soon as the plot takes off. Because this movie is on the big screen, the writers have more scope to push the boundaries. But it just seems that they don't push them enough.

As expected, the animation is taken up a huge notch from the television series. And it shows. Everything has the familiar primary colour scheme, and the skin of the characters is it's rich, healthy yellow tone. But with a movie-size budget, there's more they can do. The special effects are great, and used with gusto. The cameos from the likes of Green Day, and Tom Hanks... actually, that's all the cameos, are used well. But again, I expected a little more.

It's been a long time coming. Calls for the Simpsons Movie have rung out since the early nineties. Some will love it. Some will not. What cant be denied is that it's really just three episodes tied together with a common story. There are some great bits. But there aren't many. Ultimately, I had hoped for more. That in itself was probably my fault. There's a great Simpsons movie out there somewhere. But unfortunately, this ain't it.


Wednesday, July 25, 2007

GWOEMUL (2006) - Joon-ho Bong

Over the last decade, films coming from the Asian region have taken western audiences by storm. Filmmakers from Japan and Korea have shown they have quite an aptitude for genre films. Japan in particular has become a leading force in horror films with the Ringu series leading the way. But Korea has also given us some great films, and one in particular is Joon-Ho Bong's monster movie, Gwoemul, or The Host. The film, released in 2004, quickly became Korea's highest grossing film of all time and it was only a matter of time before word spread and the film reached the western audience.

The Host opens with a generic heartless scientist type (American too) ordering a co-worker to dump their stock-pile of formaldehyde into down the drains of their laboratory. Despite the co-workers protestations that such an act would cause huge problems for Seoul's Han river, the scientist insists that the deed is to be carried out. And the stockpile is poured down the drains. Next we meet the Park family. Park Gang-Du and his father, Hie-Bong run a snack stall beside the Han river. Gang-Du is an immature slacker, sleeping on the job and offering beer to his thirteen year old daughter, Hyun-Seo. His sister, Nam-Joo is an archer by profession, taking part in competitions, but losing out on gold due to a lack of concentration. One particular afternoon, life on the river-side is horifically disrupted as a gigantic mutant emerges from the Han and starts devouring the people of Seoul. Hang-Du attacks the beast in an attempt to help the people, but to no avail. Hyun-Seo is snatched by the beast and dragged into the river and presumed lost. As Gang-Du and his father are quarantined, Nam-Joo and their brother, Nam-Il arrive to mourn their niece's death. But a phone call from a frantic Hyun-Seo convinces the family that the girl is still alive, and they must work together to help save her.

What is most fascinating about The Host, is that director Joon-Ho Bong has managed to create a great film that successfully mixes a number of different genres. Part monster movie, part family film, part comedy, The Host is terrifying at points, yet touching and hilarious at the same time. Monster movies are quite difficult to pull-off. Especially ones where the director chooses to mix so many different styles. Yet Bong makes it look so easy that you wonder how Hollywood keeps missing the mark. The film also serves as a political satire, commenting on subjects like pollution, unemployment, homelessness and military intervention. But these elements are worked into the film perfectly and never become preachy. The direction is amazing. While the special effects aren't quite up there with the likes of ILM's work, they are incredibly good, and prove that films outside the Hollywood system can really compete. Bong shows us plenty of the monster, a horrible yet original creature that isn't afraid to attack in full daylight. The cinematography is also fantastic, creating a really eerie atmosphere when Hyun-Seo is stuck in the mutant's lair in the sewers.

The acting is top-knotch. And this is one of the keys to the film's success. In these types of horror films, it wouldn't be surprising that actors were cast just to serve as bait for the monster. But this is a film about a family, and so the relationship between the characters is vitally important. Kang-ho Song is great as slacker-dad Gang-Du. He manages to play the loser while showing genuine concern for his daughter (Ah-sung Ko). Hie-bong Byeon as Gang-Du's father is the mediator between Gang-Du and his siblings (played by Du-Na Bae and Hae-il Park) who don't think very highly of their slacker brother. Each performance is genuine, you know these characters really want to save the little girl.

In a time where horror movies are in becoming merely a place where directors can throw buckets of blood at the camera, it's really great to see a film, particularly a monster film, that is entertaining and thrilling. The mixture of genres works particularly well, making this a film that should have something for everyone. Hollywood should sit up and take notice. Joon-Ho Bong's The Host is a lesson in how to make a great film.


Monday, July 23, 2007

SHREK THE THIRD (2007) - Chris Miller & Raman Hui

When Shrek arrived on the screens in 2001, it was heralded as a major coup for Jeffrey Katzenberg. The producer, having resigned from Disney after helping rejuvenate the company's fortunes in the mid 1980's, Katzenberg was looking for a hit with the studio he founded with David Geffen and Steven Spielberg, Dreamworks SKG. Shrek was seen as the anti-Disney film, and made no bones of having a poke at the other studio. And it didn't hurt matters that Shrek was a funny, smart and subversive movie, appealing to adults while still entertaining the kids. The sequel, Shrek 2, released in 2004, was another hit and retained the anarchic sensibilities of the first film. And this year, yet another three-quel is released in Shrek The Third.

In this third film, we find Shrek and his ogre wife, Fiona shacked up in the castle in the land of Far Far Away. When Shrek's father in law, King Harold takes ill and shuffles loose this mortal coil, it is up to Shrek to fill his boots. But this is a role Shrek isn't up for. Harold tells Shrek of another heir to the throne, a young boy named Arthur. So Shrek, Donkey and Puss in Boots set sail to find the young boy. But as Shrek leaves his wife, she drops the bombshell that she is pregnant, something Shrek doesn't take kindly to. Meanwhile, Prince Charming, incensed at losing out to the throne, and persuing a disappointing acting career, formulates a plane to seize the throne, do away with Shrek, and achieve his own happily ever after.

Director Andrew Adamson, who helmed Shrek and Shrek 2, left the franchise to take on The Chronicles of Narnia, but stayed on as producer of the third film. And so Chris Miller and Raman Hui took over directing duties on this one. And they've taken the film in an interesting direction- they've removed every single iota of comedy from the film. Shrek was hilarious. Subversive, ballsey, and at moments, very poignant. But in Shrek the Third, we have a watered-down, dull and worst of all, safe movie. It seems that for Dreamworks, Shrek has become a bit of a cash cow, and with that, they've lost the balls they had with the first two movies.

First off, this is an animated movie. And when it comes to these types of films, story doesn't have to be intricate or complex. It just has to have enough of a platform to cater for the jokes. And Shrek The Third certainly fits that mould. Which is fine. The problem is, there are no jokes to keep the film interesting. I cant recall one moment that elicited more than a smirk from me, and that is a huge flaw with the film. Gone are the clever and witty pot-shots at Disney. Gone are the little jokes that would go over the heads of the kids. The writers just play it absolutely safe and formulaic.

Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz and Antonio Banderas return once again as Shrek, Donkey, Fiona and Puss, respectively. And they all do their jobs perfectly fine. But, as with the rest of the film, they're just going through the motions. The addition of Justin Timberlake as Arthur is somewhat predictable, and where as there could be plenty of room for a great send up of Timberlake's fame, they've instead made Arthur just another nerdy kid with self-esteem problems. Sure, he doesn't want the crown, but you know full well what's going to happen in the end. The Arthurian legend is very lightly touched upon as Merlin (Eric Idle, the second Python in the franchise after John Cleese as King Harold) makes an appearance, and I kept expecting some reference to Excalibur and the lady in the lake, but to no avail. Disappointing. There must be a wealth of jokes in there.

The animation is top quality. But that's to be expected from Dreamworks. Nothing new to report there really. I guess it's up to Disney's Ratatouille to wow us in the next few weeks. Overall, Shrek the Third is a huge disappointment. There is literally nothing here for adults. I know, it's a kids movie. But after Shrek, which had something for everyone, this really is a let down. It seems the summer of the three-quel blunders on with disappointment after disappointment.


Friday, July 20, 2007

KINSEY (2004) - Bill Condon

Bill Condon's biopic, Kinsey, is a study of Professor Alfred Kinsey, an Indiana University teacher who embarked on the largest study of human sexual behavior ever undertaken. Kinsey was an entomologist, known for his studies of the gall wasp. He marries one of his students, Clara McMillen, and after a disaterous wedding night, Kinsey finds his true calling in life. The study and documentation of human sexual behavior. It's a controversial subject to take on in 1950's America, due to it's explicit nature. However, Kinsey approaches the subject from a very matter of fact point of view.

Kinsey sets about interviewing as much of the population of the United States as he can. He puts his subjects at ease, which makes them very open. And his findings, while frank and honest, are quite difficult for some people to digest. Kinsey's study becomes an obsession for him, putting him at odds with not just the newspapers, but also those close to him. However, he soldiers on, determained to create as detailed a study as he can.

Director Condon takes a very linear approach with this biopic, a method that is quite refreshing considering how some directors try to jazz up the flat nature of the biopic with directorial and structural tricks which can actually detract from the subject matter. There's a lot to cover, as Condon pretty much examines the entirety of Kinsey's life, from boyhood to old age. His cast, led by Liam Neeson as Alfred Kinsey and Laura Linney as Clara McMillen are key to carrying the story, and all performances (including a brilliant cameo by John Lithgow) are spot on. Naturally, the subject matter is in itself quite fascinating, but handled incorrectly, Kinsey could have been quite a boring film. However, Alfred Kinsey is a flawed man, and Condon doesn't shy away from this. Kinsey's single mindedness and his scientific approach to nearly all aspects of life makes him a little aloof and cold, but he's an interesting, if somewhat unknown character, at least in my generation. A very interesting subject matter handled very well.


Wednesday, July 18, 2007

TRANSFORMERS (2007) - Michael Bay

A beloved 1980's franchise getting the big-screen treatment. Giant robots going at it in a major city centre. Top of the line special effects. Sounds like a sure-fire hit, doesn't it?! So how did Michael Bay 'transform' this winning combination into a steaming pile of crap? Oh yes, that's right. The man has no soul. And so he casts his tanned, grinning, soulless shadow over something I once held dear. Transformers.

Transformers begins in Qatar. A lone helicopter, which was presumed shot down, appears on the US Army's radar and proceeds to attack the army's base in the desert, after transforming into a giant robot. Meanwhile in the US, Sam Witwicky, a teenager purchases his first car. A car with a mind of it's own. Stuff happens and it is revealed that the big bad robots are searching for a cube that can transform any mechanical object into another big bad robot. They intend to use this to wipe out the population of the earth. But fear not, Sam's car summons his buddies, a bunch of big good robots, who land on earth to save the day. And so all plot points converge in a battle to save mankind.

First off, as a child I was an avid collector of all things Transformer. As I grew up, I lost interest. Transformers faded into a distant, but fond memory and I moved on. However, the thought still lingered that it would be unfathomably cool to see the big robots go at each other in live action, on the big screen. A thought that many child of the 80's had. And so it almost broke my heart when I heard that they'd given the almost sacred task of bringing the franchise to the big screen to Michael Bay. Bay's not exactly known for his in-depth, soulful or even remotely plausible films. But he can film an explosion, and after seeing the trailer, hopes were rekindled. Unjustifiably so. Bay's created yet another flat, soulless film, devoid of anything except empty flash and slow motion. You'd think that with a film like Transformers, the main goal would be to show off the huge robots in all their glory. Give them a city and let them kick the crap out of each other. Easy job. Yet Bay, in his infinite wisdom, decides to spend almost the entirety of the film trying to make the audience laugh. Okay, I know, it was a kid's show. But to hell with that. Just get to the robots fighting. And that's what I wanted to scream for most of the film.

The Decepticons are almost entirely off screen for the whole film. And when there's no bad guys, there's no fighting with the good guys. Instead we're left with almost two hours of Bay trying his hand at comedy with Sam (Shia LaBeouf) trying to win the heart of Mikaela (Megan Fox) and trying to hide a bunch of robots from his parents. Oh and then one of the robots urinates on a man. Yeah, this, apparently is comedy. By the time the fighting actually does start, my legs had started to go numb and I was getting a little peeved. However, the action begins. And then stops. And then kicks off again. And then stops. And so on for the next half an hour. Bay seems to be addicted to slow motion. So much so that you could probably cut about twenty minutes off the running time of the film by just speeding up the slow-mo. This becomes incredibly tiresome very quickly. And the camera work is nauseating. The Transformers seem to be more interested in performing acrobatics than actually hitting an enemy, so the camera is constantly moving. I wished, for just one moment that the camera would focus on two robots actually hitting each other. But no. Bay's too distracted by concentrating on where to throw in another slow motion shot.

As for the Transformers themselves, well, they do look spectacular. The special effects team should be commended for actually making the Transformers look like they belong in the world. Cant fault them for that. The designs are a little too busy, and you can lose focus on what you're looking at. But then, I just covered that. One decision that was smart more than inspired was to get Peter Cullen back in to record the voice of Optimus Prime. A big grin did appear on my face when I heard his deep tones coming from everyone's favorite blue and red truck. But then he wasn't on screen nearly enough. The rest of the cast (which includes Jon Voight and John Turturro) barely warrant a mention as they take third place to explosions and slow mo. They're just there to get shot at.

So my fears were realised. This was an empty, soulless, flashy, throw-away film. Gone are the relationships between the giant robots (Starscream's desire to usurp Megatron, Prime and Megatron's nemesis relationship). We barely get a decent battle between the Autobots and Decepticons. Instead we get comedy for almost two hours and then a half hour of slow-mo. It's a shame really. This should have been great. The special effects are spectacular, but special effects do not a good film make. If you want a decent Transformers movie, check out Transformers: The Movie. It's far, far better. I want to say Transformers is the best Michael Bay film I've seen. But a more appropriate phrase is, Transformers is the Michael Bay film I hate the least.


Tuesday, July 17, 2007


Films like those in the Harry Potter saga are fairly critic-proof. And as such, it seems fairly pointless to actually share one's views on the films. But hey, this is a place for the opening of debate, so one soldiers on! The fifth Potter movie, Harry Potter And the Order of the Phoenix hit the screen last weekend, and will no doubt bring in millions at the box office. The Order of the Phoenix opens, as with almost all of the Potter films, with Harry at home with the Dursleys, the abhorrent relatives he finds himself living with when not in Hogwarts. He, and the Dursley boy are attacked, and Harry, breaking the Ministrey of Magic's rules, uses a spell to defend himself. Potter is expelled from Hogwarts and brought to trial. He's found not guilty and allowed back into Hogwarts. Unfortunately for everyone at Hogwarts, the facist-leaning Dolores Umbridge, a Ministry stooge is appointed as the Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, and quickly begins to impose her will on the school. She follows party line that Voldermort has not returned to cause havok and therefore she is not willing to teach the students the lessons they need to defend themselves. So Harry gathers some friends and prepares for a confrontation with 'He Who Shall Not Be Named.'

Okay, firstly, I'll admit, I'm no Harry Potter fan. I've watched the films, and heck, even enjoyed one of them. But other than that, I can take or leave the saga. However, I can appreciate how popular they are, and if nothing else, they are pretty great visually. So there'll be something for pretty much everyone in the films. I've always maintained that Alfonso Cuaron's Harry Potter And The Prisoner of Azkaban has been the most accomplished of the movies (I don't particularly care what the books are like) and proof that a great director can pretty much make any subject matter interesting. The Goblet of Fire had some great sequences, but was pretty laboured compared to the previous film. But having heard the hype surrounding this film, I was looking forward to what was said by many to be the best of the series. Unfortunately, I think I saw a different movie to everyone else. I cant understand why people think this one is better than either of the previous two (the first two films are not worth mentioning, as they are, well, crap).

First, the good. The central actors, the 'kids,' really have matured in terms of acting talent. It's understandable that Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson were going to be pretty poor actors when thrust into the central roles. But as the films have progressed, so has their talent, and they're pretty good in their roles in this film. They're surrounded by some of the finest actors in the industry, including Gary Oldman, Ralph Fiennes, Brendan Gleeson, David Thewlis, Jason Isaacs and Micheal Gambon. But we barely see any of these actors in action, and here in lies the first fault. The previous films had really interesting adult actors in central roles which really helped the kids. Thewlis in the third and Gleeson in the fourth, but these actors are reduced to cameos. Imelda Staunton has the central adult role in this film as Dolores Umbridge, and is very good in the role. But the character is nothing we haven't seen before and quickly loses any interest. I was pretty much relieved by the time Ralph Fiennes' Voldermort arrived on the screen to spice things up, but again, it's little more than a cameo role in the end.

The major problem with the film is the pacing. I have to say, I was quite bored for three quarters of the film. There's no real focus to the story, and is instead a series of little incidents loosely tied together with a scant plot, as Harry teaches his fellow schoolmates to use their wands while trying to avoid the facist grip of Dolores Umbridge. There's no focusing elements such as a tournament in the previous film and no real threat for most of the proceedings, and I found myself wishing the film would just get on with it. There's the hint that there's going to be a huge confrontation towards the end of the film, but even this just arrives as a damp squib. Yate's direction is adequate for the film, but has none of the flair and trickery of Cuaron's direction. Yates continuously zooms in through newspaper articles, which gets tiresome quickly, and in one scene in particular, mysteriously focuses the camera on the wrong character. I hope he'll tighten up proceedings in the next film, as this film just seems to be a little drawn out. Which is ironic as it's the shortest Harry Potter film so far.

Overall, the film isn't too bad. It's aimed at kids, and will entertain them, and even scare them, as there are plenty of dark moments in the film. But I just found myself waiting for something exciting to happen. Not just the same old special effects rehashes from the previous films. And for an hour and forty five minutes, that's a long time to wait! Not terrible. But not great.


Tuesday, July 10, 2007

How to make a teaser trailer....

Trailers these days tend to give you a truncated version of whatever film it's promoting, spoiling major plot points, showing off set pieces, and generally leaving nothing to the imagination. And then there's this, the teaser for Lost creator J.J. Abrams' new movie titled... well, actually, we don't yet know what it's titled. In fact, little to nothing is known about this film, which is going under the working title of Cloverfield, or Untitled J.J. Abrams Project. Catchy, no?!

Three websites (here, here and here) have also appeared in conjunction with this trailer, but Abrams himself claims only the last one ( is official. Intriguing... But this kind of viral marketing, a method also employed by the makers of The Dark Knight, really shows off the marketing potential of the internet. Speculation about this film is growing rapidly, and we hope the end result wont disappoint. Well done to the folks behind this movie. Their marketing strategy is quite impressive so far!

Monday, July 9, 2007

VACANCY (2007) - Nimrod Antal

While most horror films released these days are the kind that sees hapless teens tied up and subjected to all manner of horrible attention (see Hostel: Part II and Captivity which are currently 'gracing' the screens), there occasionally pops up a little horror film that breaks from the convention and shines like a diamond in the rough. And while upcoming 1408 certainly looks spiffy, Nimrod (yes, Nimrod) Antal's Vacancy unfortunately doesn't really cut it (pun absolutely intended) as a quality slasher film. But hey, it's certainly isn't a gore fest.

The film opens quite promisingly with a Hitchcock-inspired, Saul Bass-esque title sequence that makes you think 'hey, this might actually be great!' We're introduced to unhappily married couple Amy and David Fox (Kate Beckinsale and Luke Wilson), who are returning home from a family party. They drive along a dark country road, surely a sign of impending doom. David swerves to avoid a raccoon and pretty much banjaxes his car. The couple make it to the Pinewood Motel, a solitary building with a garage attached. Here, the mechanic tells them their car should make it to the next town over. But the car doesn't, and Amy and David are forced to check into the motel. Immediately, things start going awry as doors are banged on by unknown forces and David makes the grisly discovery of a couple of snuff movies, seemingly involving the motel. From here on in, David and Amy must survive the night as three murderers try to off the couple and video tape the proceedings.

To sum Vacancy up, it's half a good movie. It starts off quite well. The relationship between Amy and David is established pretty quickly, and proceedings take off without any of the usual exposition. Once the couple check into the motel, and things start to go wrong, you get the feeling that you're being drawn into a supernatural film, which would be great, if the trailer hadn't shown you what was actually coming. Antal sets the mood well, but quickly bottles it as the human element is rushed in. Set pieces arrive and disappear a little too rapidly, and the climax and resolution leave you thinking 'what? That's it?' as the end credits roll.

Performance wise, I was dreading watching Beckinsale and Wilson play off each other. Neither of them are known for their thesping talents, but both play their characters with enough conviction to draw you in. Character actor Frank Whaley does his bit as the creepy motel owner, but it's a role that's been done many times and many times better. Anthony Perkins' famous motel owner role isn't in under any threat of being out done.
Like I said, Vacancy is half a good movie. But by that rationale, it's half a bad movie, and probably something best kept for DVD... or even television viewing. Interesting, but forgettable.


Sunday, July 8, 2007

DIE HARD 4.0 (2007) - Len Wiseman

In the past, I've made a lot of sounds about the decisions 20th Century Fox were making with the production of Die Hard 4.0, or Live Free or Die Hard as it's known in the US. And last night, I finally got to witness the all the decisions put together into the third sequel in the John McClane saga. The hiring of Len Wiseman as director, the decision to tailor the film to the PG-13 market, the signs were not good for the film. However, as with all films, it deserved it's chance to impress, so I walked in with as open a mind as I could manage. And for the next two hours, I watched a film that is in no way, shape, or form, a Die Hard film.

Die Hard 4.0 opens with a bunch of computer geeks doing some computer stuff that leads to a bunch of FBI agents getting all hot and bothered. They send out a call for police departments all over the US to bring the top 1000 computer hackers in for questioning. In New York, John McClane (Bruce Willis back for a fourth outing) is spying on his daughter getting jiggy with a young fella. McClane steps in, only to have his daughter chastise him for never being around and telling her pop she doesn't want to see him anymore. That's their relationship firmly established. McClane is ordered to go pick up Matt Farrell (Justing Long), one of the hackers on the FBI's list. McClane arrives to pick up Farrell and that's when the bullets begin to fly. A group of cyber terrorists want Farrell dead for his part in their grand plan to bring the US to a stand-still. And thus begins the chasing and killing as McClane struggles to keep Farrell alive and bring down the terrorists. Oh yeah, there's a bit where the terrorists kidnap McClane's daughter, just to up the stakes a little.

Okay. Die Hard is a modern classic. In it, we had a normal, blue-collar cop trading bullets and one-liners with Euro-trash terrorists, and coming out on top. The key to the success of the film was the fact that McClane was an average guy. He hurt, he bled, he looked like he suffered. Sure, this was diminished slightly in the two immediate sequels, but the essence remained. What we have in Die Hard 4.0 is an indestructible, superhero. This is the first problem with the movie. Willis, who is pretty much reliably entertaining in most of what he does, really gives it his best shot to recapture some of the character he created way back in 1988. He cracks wise at the appropriate times. He punches and fires a gun with suitable conviction. But taken in context with the rest of the movie, this just isn't McClane. The action is so utterly over the top and unrealistic, that the character becomes a tiny element in the overall spectacle. McClane takes on wave after wave of bad guy, helicopters, even a fighter jet (which is piloted by the most incompetent pilot in the USAF) and walks away unscathed.

There are some interesting set pieces in Die Hard 4.0, but absolutely nothing original. Director Len Wiseman, who has previously only made two pretty dire Underworld movies, plagiarises everything from The Lost World: Jurassic Park II to True Lies in a desperate attempt to prove he can make big budget action. And because of this, the film becomes tiresome pretty quickly. The script, written by Mark Bomback, really tries to make this a Die Hard film by putting as many references to the previous films as possible, but in the end, this is just an action film with a character and title that's familiar. Other than these weak references, there's little else to make this a Die Hard film.

Remarkably, Justin Long is watchable in the film. I really expected to hate his character, as with most of these cliched smart-ass young characters, but he does a fairly credible job as Willis' side-kick. Timothy Olyphant is absolutely ineffectual as bad guy Thomas Gabriel, not even scratching the surface of the brilliance of Alan Rickman in Die Hard or even Jeremy Irons in Die Hard: With A Vengeance. The most interesting bad guys are Maggie Q as Gabriel's kung-fu cyber geek girlfriend and Cyril Raffaelli, who's stunts were previously showcased in the highly entertaining Banlieue 13. Cliff Curtis, who popped up in this year's Sunshine plays the FBI agent in charge of stopping Gabriel, but apart from a weak and highly cliched interdepartmental competition subplot between the FBI and NSA, has little to do. And Kevin Smith also appears... nuff said about that.

Finally, something must be said about the way the film is edited. The reason I bring this up is I found that there was something very wrong with this aspect of the film. As previously mentioned, Fox decided to make this film a PG-13 movie, where as the previous films were 18's (UK) or R (US). This appears to be a decision that was made after the filming was completed. Throughout the film there were a number of occasions where the film was edited extremely poorly, cutting away from characters (most of the time McClane) mid-sentence. I get the feeling that it was at moments where expletives were being uttered. The shots cut away so redubbing could be applied and audio and visuals wouldn't appear out of sync. In one scene in particular, characters speak (albeit in the background) but their mouths don't move, and they face different angles in different shots. Now, I will admit, this is speculation on my part. But given that Fox wanted a cleaned-up version of the film for the theatres, I wouldn't be surprised if an 'Uncut' version of this film appears on DVD with all the original edits in place. If this is the case, it speaks volumes for how dire the state of the film industry is. Anything for a quick buck.

All said and done, there are some sweet little moments in Die Hard 4.0. McClane gets one or two laughs, and Willis does pull off the tough guy thing quite well (even if the action is over the top). But this isn't a Die Hard movie. It's a very very average action movie with the Die Hard title slapped on it.


Tuesday, July 3, 2007

HOSTEL: PART II (2007) - Eli Roth

The phrase 'torture porn' is fast becoming one of the buzz phrases in the movie industry. The movie Saw was the first of this type of sub-genre horror movies to be labeled with this term, and since it's release, a whole slew of similar movies have arrived in the cinema. Some people claim that these films offer nothing but something for gore fans to get all warm and gooey inside about. It is claimed the fans 'get off' on seeing people tortured and murdered in all manner of inventive ways. To be honest, I don't think this really happens. 'Torture porn' really has no bearing on me what so ever. It doesn't bug me at all. What DOES bug me however, are badly written, dull as dishwater, juvenile films that make me want to tear out my eyes in sheer boredom. And Eli Roth's Hostel: Part Two is a prime example of this type of movie.

The plot, if that's what you can call it, sees three American cliches back-packing across Europe. Where as Hostel was all about the boys, the sequel is reserved for the ladies. We have the bitchy, mean slutty type. The boring, diary-loving nerdy type, and the sensible girl who just screams out 'protagonist' at us. Honestly, anyone who has even a scant knowledge of storytelling is going to predict who's going to buy it and who's going to survive, so I'm ruining nothing. The girls start off in Italy in a life-drawing class, for some reason, where the model (who's tits we've just seen, but hey, that's a horror movie standard, so that isn't a complaint) shows an interest in the drawings done by Beth (sensible girl). The girls board a train, only to find the model on the train too. She invites the girls to a spa in Slovakia, and the girls agree to go. There, they are secretly auctioned off to two American guys, and some randomer who turns up for one death scene. We see the American guys (one gung-ho, one not so sure, just to keep the cliches going) arrive in Slovakia and gear up for their torture-murder experience. And so begins the blood-letting.

Okay, I will admit, I have, in the past, sat through and enjoyed my fair share of splatter-fest movies. I've witnessed the infamous splinter to the eye scene of Zombie Flesh Eaters (or plain old Zombie 2 to the Yanks!). I've seen Cannibal Holocaust (which did in fact, make me squirm quite a bit). So when it comes to a bit of gore, I'm no new-comer. Blood, guts, brains, whatever, bring em on. And Hostel: Part II does indeed have blood in it. But other than that, there's nothing here. Director Eli Roth has a bigger budget to play around with in this movie. Everything is shot with a very slick sheen. However, the film is just dreadfully dull. There is absolutely no tension whatsoever throughout the film. Honestly, I've felt more tension waiting for a bus. Nothing seems to happen for ages, and then when we get to the guts (pun intended) of the film, it ends. It's almost as if the last third of the script was accidentally deleted from Roth's script, but they went ahead and filmed anyway. And to be honest, when it comes to the blood-letting, apart from one completely ridiculous, pointless, and over the top scene, there's not going to be much here for the gore-hound. I really was expecting more.

What's going on with the horror genre? It's a genre that can deliver some of the most visceral and exciting cinematic experiences in the medium. Yet this is what we're offered? There is nothing scary or even interesting about these types of films. Even if it truly is the filmmakers' intention to make the viewer squirm, there's more uncomfortable viewing on the Discovery Channel. I will admit, there are a few modern horror films worth a damn. Greg Mclean's Wolf Creek was a very successful film in that it was very, very uncomfortable viewing. But Hostel: Part II just doesn't even come close.
If you're looking for a really uncomfortable, blood and guts type film to make you nauseous, go rent something by Umberto Lenzi or Lucio Fulci. Seriously, get your hands on The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (NOT THE REMAKE, THE 1974 ORIGINAL) and see what real tension is. Otherwise, avoid Hostel: Part II. It's just a boring, juvenile, irritating waste of time.


Monday, July 2, 2007

LA VIE EN ROSE (2007) - Olivier Dahan

Biopics of famous musicians seem to be a sure thing for filmmakers these days. After chronicling the lives of Johnny Cash in Walk the Line and Ray Charles in Ray, we now have the life of Edith Piaf presented to us by Olivier Dahan in La Vie En Rose. La Vie En Rose is a biopic with subtitles, no less, which isn't really surprising as Piaf is probably France's most famous export after cheese and surrendering.
I walked into this film knowing a little about Piaf. Her most famous song, Non, je ne regrette rien, is instantly recognisable, and is a fantastic song, but other than this, and one or two semi-familiar songs, I was a newcomer. Piaf was born to poor parents. Her father was a circus contortionist, and spent time in the French army in the First World War. Her mother struggled as a singer, singing for pennies on the streets. Piaf spent time with her grandmother, who was the madame of a whorehouse. She lived briefly with her father in the circus. She was discovered and made famous throughout France. Went to the US and hit the big time after an encounter with Marlene Dietrich. She fell in love, became addicted to drugs and then came her downfall.

Pretty brief description of the life of Edith Piaf, not doing her immense talent justice. But being brief is all I feel like being after the extremely long and drawn out biopic I just witnessed. If the movie is true to what actually happened, Piaf's life was pretty tragic. While she was very talented, her penchant for drink and drugs took it's toll on her body and killed her before her time. She seems to have been a very flamboyant character, and actress Marion Cotillard certainly gives it socks playing the singer. The actor is the key to the biopic's success, and Cotillard is excellent as Piaf. However, the film suffers from a screenplay that jumps about in time and takes forever to get through the story. We see Piaf as an old lady, a child, a middle-aged woman, a teenager, an old woman again, then in her twenties, and so on and so on. I understand Dahan probably didn't want to do a straightforward biopic, but the jumps in time make the film a little difficult to sit through. And because of this, we also get the impression that huge chunks of Piaf's life are ignored. People jump in and out of the story without any introduction, and you're left wondering who these people are and where they've come from.

While certainly not as good as James Mangold's Walk the Line, La Vie En Rose is certainly an interesting portrait of an artist I barely know about. However, due to some dodgy scripting and directing, the film will certainly test some audience members. But Cotillard's powerhouse performance is definitely worth checking out.