Coming soon...

Saturday, December 29, 2007

I AM LEGEND (2007) - Francis Lawrence


I love science fiction. It’s a brilliant genre due to it’s very nature, almost anything is possible in the genre. As such, some amazing stories have been written and some of the greatest writers have made their names in the genre. One such writer is Richard Matheson. Aside from writing some excellent Twilight Zone episodes, his books have been made into films of varying quality. I Am Legend, released this month is the third adaptation of the book of the same name, although unlike The Last Man On Earth and The Omega Man, this adaptation retains the book’s title, and you would think, remains closest to the source material.

The year is 2012. New York City has become a desolate place. There are no signs of human life. All that remains are empty buildings, abandoned cars and the city that once never slept, is a decaying shell. However, one man remains. His name is Dr. Robert Neville and his is the sole survivor of a disease that wiped out 90% of mankind. Neville spends his days patrolling New York, hunting deer, playing golf, waiting for survivors who have heard the message he sends out at all times, and basically fending off the madness that can set in when you have no interaction with another human in any way. However, despite being the only human left in New York, Neville is not alone. The disease has changed those who aren’t immune into vampiric mutants, unable to emerge from darkness during the day. Neville searches for a cure for these mutants while they do their best to hunt him down.

At one point in time, the script for I Am Legend was itself somewhat of a legend. It was one of those scripts that people wanted to see, but was never made. Despite such high profile names such as Ridley Scott, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Johnny Depp being attached at different times, the film could not get put into production. And you know what, I wish it had stayed that way. Because the film that they’ve finally made deviates from what was a brilliant original idea, and turns the concept into a film that feels rushed and extremely disappointing.

Without giving too much away, in the novel, Neville is a man without purpose who hits rock bottom and finds a way back. He gains a purpose in his life and because of this purpose, he eventually becomes what the title says, a legend. The vampires of the book form a new society. Neville hunts them while they sleep. Ultimately, in a twist on the original vampire premise, Neville becomes a monster to them. He becomes their Dracula. Their legend. It’s a brilliant idea that’s completely lost in this film. Their are tiny little shreds of these ideas spread throughout the film. However, it feels like they diluted the plot of the book so much, that it’s barely an inspiration for the film.

I Am Legend isn’t completely terrible, I must say. The first twenty minutes or so of the film are quite promising. However, the film quickly becomes clichéd and redundant and becomes ultimately tedious. The ending is entirely pointless and a pointless character decision considering what has gone on for the rest of the film, and leaves you scratching your head, asking why Neville made the decision he made. It makes no allusion to the title of the film. In fact, the filmmakers continually make reference to Bob Marley’s ‘Legend’ album, which is a ridiculous script decision.

Will Smith’s acting is perfectly passable. He continues the trend of butchering sci-fi classics he started with I, Robot, and considering what he’s given with the script, he does his best, and it’s not terrible. But it’s the script that’s at fault when Smith doesn’t entirely convey his character’s descent into the madness he supposed to be experiencing. The mutants Neville is pitted against are almost completely CGI. And as such, they’re in no way menacing or scary. They look completely rubbery and fake. While it would have meant that the mutants weren’t as agile as they are in the film, it would have been a FAR better idea to use actors in make up. As they are, the mutants are just cgi monsters that have no shred of humanity and thus are stripped of any emotional connection to the audience, be that connection empathy or even fear.

It’s such a shame that this film is such a disappointment. The source material would have made a brilliant film, but this is what we’re left with. It feels rushed. It deviates almost entirely from the source. And it’s not even remotely scary. It’s a sorry way to end 2007 in terms of cinema going. But then, 07 wasn’t such a great year, despite some great films. And I guess the damp squib that is I Am Legend sums up the year perfectly.

Oh, and just for you American readers, No Country For Old Men and There Will Be Blood aren’t released here til next year, so while these films certainly seem to have elevated 2007 to something more than it was here, we haven’t gotten to see these yet!! Roll on 08!


Sunday, December 23, 2007

I'M NOT THERE (2007) - Todd Haynes

When is a biopic not a biopic? The answer is when it’s Todd Haynes’ examination of the life and experiences of Bob Dylan in I’m Not There. Dylan is one of, if not, the greatest songwriter of all time. As well as writing some of the greatest songs ever sung, Dylan’s life has seen the singer go through many different personas. After emerging as the great poster boy of 60’s folk music, enlightening a generation to social problems, alienating a great many of his folk fans by switching to electric guitar, to his ‘rebirth’ as a Christian, Dylan’s life would make for a pretty packed straight biopic. But Haynes departs from the conventional biopic and presents Dylan’s many personas through a number of different characters. This is not Walk The Line.

As mentioned, I’m Not There concentrates on six different characters, each of which personify either Dylan at a different time of his life, or an aspect of his life. Firstly we have Marcus Carl Franklin who plays an eleven year old boy by the name of Woodie Guthrie (after the folk singer and inspiration for the real Dylan) who travels the south in box cars, singing songs and spouting wisdom far beyond his years. Christian Bale plays Jack Rollins, a protesting folk-singer who turns his back on music in favour of devotion to God. Heath Ledger is Robbie Clark, an actor who makes his break playing Jack Rollins in a biopic of the singer. Ben Whishaw is Arthur Rimbaud who answers questions in front of what seems to be some sort of panel of agents. Cate Blanchett portrays Jude Quinn, who is the personification of Dylan we’ll be most familiar with. Quinn has just arrived in Britain to hoardes of fans, accusations of selling out, and more drugs than he can handle. And finally, Richard Gere plays Billy the Kid who has turned his back on society to live a life in solitude in some sort of anachronistic version of the old west.

As much an examination of what a biopic is as a study of Dylan’s life, I’m Not there mixes many different styles and techniques as it presents each story. For example, the segment about Jack Rollins is shot as a documentary that is a retrospective of Rollins’ life. Where as, the segment about Jude Quinn is more what would be expected from a conventional biopic. Haynes mixes up the stories and cuts back and forth between each character. The result is we never quite know what time period we’re in, and where things are happening. The Quinn part being the only sure part of the film since that period in Dylan’s career is probably the most famous. We see Quinn’s first live performance using an electric guitar, something that horrifies his fans and spills over to the tour of Britain he undertakes where cries of ‘Judas!’ are heard from the crowd.

In biopics, the performances of the actors portraying the real life person is always going to be under the most scrutiny. Having six actors portray the same person, or an aspect of that person does make for an incredibly interesting experience. Yet it’s not like you spend the film thinking ‘well, that actor is more the Dylan I know than that actor.’ In fact, every performance in the film is excellent, whether it’s one of the six central actors, or a member of the supporting cast. One of the best performances in the film comes from Bruce Greenwood, who plays Keenan Jones, a BBC journalist who personifies all the journalists who attacked Dylan for turning his back on humanity and the plight of his fellow man when he made the change from folk to electric. Greenwood also plays and aged Pat Garrett, the arch nemesis of Billy the Kid, who wants to destroy the town the Kid has come to love after turning his back on his former outlaw life.

However, the performance that is getting the most attention, and deservedly so, is Cate Blanchett, who plays Jude Quinn. Aside from the fact that Blanchett is a woman portraying a man, she also becomes a version of Dylan that is instantly recognisable. Anyone who’s seen Martin Scorsese’s brilliant No Direction Home will recognise what Blanchett has achieved when they see the footage of Dylan in Britain in the 60’s. Not only is Blanchett brilliant at portraying this pastiche of Dylan, she also puts in a brilliant performance of a singer at the height of his fame, and how the excesses, and his own personality are slowly destroying him physically. Blanchett’s scenes with Bruce Greenwood, and the moments with David Cross as beat poet Allen Ginsberg are among the highlights of the film.

It’s needless to say that the soundtrack is fantastic. Haynes doesn’t just go for the instantly recognisable songs from Dylan’s vast catalogue throughout the film. Of course, anyone vaguely familiar with Dylan’s music will recognise some of the bigger hits. However, Haynes also employs a number of artists to cover Dylan’s songs throughout the film. The characters sing Dylan’s songs, but sung by different artists. There are Dylan-sung Dylan songs in there, but by the cover versions add a refreshing twist to the film, and suit the scenes perfectly.

Of course the question begs, is there anything for non-Dylan fans in this film? While I’ll admit, being a Dylan fan, and having knowledge of his life certainly did add something to the film, I think there’s plenty to allow non-fans in. Like I said, I’m Not There is very different to the likes of Walk The Line. It’s certainly a more art-house film, and in no way a conventional biopic. But for someone as enigmatic as Dylan, it’s the perfect way to take a look at his life.


Friday, December 21, 2007

WE OWN THE NIGHT (2007) - James Gray

James Gray’s We Own The Night follows a long tradition of cop and criminal dramas. It’s heavily influenced by some great films such as The Godfather, but despite this, We Own The Night falls a little flat. It’s not a terrible film by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s just not remarkable either. Maybe I’ve set the bar a little high when it comes to movies, judging films as either incredibly brilliant or utterly terrible. Or maybe We Own The Night is just a very average film.

Taking place in New York in 1988, We Own The Night focuses on two brothers, one a cop, one a nightclub manager, and their father, also a cop. Joe Grusinsky has recently been appointed as the head of a taskforce charged with putting an end to the drug trade perpetrated by the Russian mafia. In order to do this, he needs his brother, Bobby Green’s help. Bobby has distanced himself from his family and ingratiated himself into the Russian community in New York. He’s a popular guy, and through his connections, he can be quite an asset to the police. However, Bobby is not willing to help his brother, unwilling to upset the status quo in his life. But as events unfold, and Joe closes in on the Russians, Bobby will be forced to choose a side in the war between the cops and the criminals.

The focus of We Own The Night is on Joaquin Phoenix as Bobby Green. He’s the catalyst for the film’s events and as such, the film pretty much rests on his shoulders. And Joaquin Phoenix does a fine job in the role. He’s a good actor, and as proved with Walk The Line, he can carry the film. However, the overall film is filled with some pretty contrived plot twists, lacklustre dialogue and clichéd characters. It’s this that brings the film down. Mark Whalberg, who plays Joe Grusinsky does a fine job with what he’s given, but it’s not much of a role. Robert Duvall and Eva Mendes round off the central cast, but both characters suffer from being unremarkable. We’ve seen these characters before. And we’ve seen them written better.

On the plus side, there is a very good car chase in the film. Shot during a torrential downpour, the tension is palpable as the gangsters close in on a number of the main characters during heavy traffic. It’s the only really memorable part of the film, and is quite good. The soundtrack is also filled with classic songs. It’s quite impressive that the Gray was able to get so many good songs to put into the film. It must have cost quite a bit in royalties. However, when the soundtrack is the best thing about a film, it pretty much sums up the weakness of the material.

As I’ve said, there’s nothing terrible about We Own The Night. It’s just not great by any degree. There are far better cop movies out there. And despite the best efforts of the cast, they can’t make a better film out of weak source material. A short review. But what else can you write about a film that is pretty forgettable once it’s over.


Raising hell... have gotten hold of the teaser for Hellboy II: The Golden Army. The sequel to 2004's Hellboy is once again directed by Guillermo Del Toro, one of the best directors working at the moment. His films always have amazing production design and special effects. It's the perfect vision for bringing Mike Mignola's character to life, and despite not being as big as the Spidermans and Batmans of this world, I thought Hellboy was a great film.

Hellboy II: The Golden Army arrives on our screens next summer.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Friday, December 14, 2007

... and this is who he's looking for

Here's another image, hot off the presses. I like this one more.

He's watching...

The international poster for The Dark Knight has just been released, and... here it is!

At the moment, I'm kinda torn as to whether I like this or not. It's a very strong image, don't get me wrong. And I like the idea of Batman watching the city, waiting for his moment to strike. However, I think I'd have preferred him perched atop a building or something. Something more ethereal. Maybe it's just me.
The trailer will be released next week. And having seen it, may I just say, it's pant-wettingly good. Not to build it up or anything...

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

THE GOLDEN COMPASS (2007) - Chris Weitz

Since the release of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, studios have been falling over themselves to release movies that capture the magic that Peter Jackson’s movies did so well. To the studios, these movies bring in mega bucks since they’re aimed at the family, the most lucrative of cinema audiences. To this end, they find any piece of fantasy fiction and immediately rush it into production. Unfortunately, the time and care that Jackson put into The Lord of the Rings isn’t always applied to these other movies, and the resulting films always seem to lack something. And this is blatantly apparent in Chris Weitz adaptation of Philip Pullman’s novel, Northern Lights. Or The Golden Compass, as the movie is known.

The Golden Compass takes Pullman’s incredibly popular novel, the first his ‘His Dark Materials’ trilogy, and translates it to the big screen. Dealing with many different (and in some places, controversial) themes, this first movie concentrates on a precocious little girl named Lyra Belacqua. Lyra lives in a parallel universe to our own. A universe where peoples’ souls accompany them in the form of a animal who can communicate, and lives in harmony with his or her human counterpart. Lyra attends Jordan College. After her uncle, a scientist named Lord Asriel leaves for an expedition to investigate the possibility of parallel universes, Lyra comes into possession of an alethiometer, or golden compass which can answer any question Lyra cares to ask it. This alethiometer is something the Magesterium, the overlords wish to possess. To this end, they send Mrs. Coulter to take Lyra away from Jordan. Lyra doesn’t trust Mrs. Coulter and escapes her. She sets off to find her lost friends, who have been taken by Gobblers, who’s sinister plans put the entire world in peril.

That is basically the plot of the Golden Compass. Sounds kind of convoluted, doesn’t it? And in a way, it is. It’s not a difficult film to follow, but there’s a lot to take in. And the plot is fired at the audience so fast that you cant help but feel the film is an incredibly rushed effort. I’ve heard some great things about Pullman’s Dark Materials books, and I do intend to read them. This film really didn’t put me off doing that. However, it’s a badly made film.

As mentioned, the plot is incredibly rushed through. Events pass at a pace that makes you want to shout out at everybody to slow down for a moment at take a breath. But this isn’t a good thing. Everything seems skirted over. And to that end, there’s no sense of dread of events that are perilous for the world. Nothing seems incredibly important, and you just feel that things just keep happily falling into place. Characters pop into the story, and just seem to join Lyra on her quest for no other reason but having nothing better to do. And this is the major flaw of The Golden Compass. Things happen too fast and too easily with no sense of peril if things go wrong.

The direction, from Weitz, who (with his brother, Paul) struck box office gold with American Pie and the surprisingly good About A Boy, seems out of his depth. At moments, the camera makes bizarre swoops and the action cuts to odd angles, and it seems that Weitz is doing this just to add the feeling of something epic to otherwise small worldly events. The pace of the film is bizarrely slow for a film where events pass so quickly, and you will, at moments, find yourself very, very bored. The special effects aren’t bad. I mean, for a film of this magnitude, you’d expect the special effects to be spiffy, and while they’re not groundbreaking by any measure, they’re not terrible. As with the rest of the film, they’re just spectacularly mundane.

The acting isn’t terrible. Dakota Blue Richards (who sounds like some sort of country and western singer) isn’t as bad an actress as the trailer for the movie made her out to be. However, her character is incredibly smug and irritating. I don’t know if she is like this in the book, but in this film, you cant help but find yourself wishing, at moments, that she’d just lose! Daniel Craig pops up for about 6 minutes of screen time as Lord Azriel, and while he’s perfectly acceptable in the role, he has little to nothing to do. Nicole Kidman is in ice-queen mode as Mrs. Coulter. As with most of her roles, Kidman is pretty bland. This, I expect, is the point of the role. But for the film’s ‘bad guy,’ you just don’t detest her enough for her to make an impact. Sam Elliot is really imaginatively cast as an American gun-slinger cum airship pilot. And Sir Ian McKellan resurrects his Gandalf voice for his role as Iorek Byrnison, an ice-bear prince who dedicates his life to Lyra. Oh yeah, Eva Green pops up for a moment as a witch who you feel should be more consequential to the plot, but isn’t. There are other cameos from famous names such as Derek Jacobi and Christopher Lee, but again, their roles are pretty pointless.

The most disappointing thing about The Golden Compass is that you know there’s something to the story. The source material must be jam-packed with glorious detail. I’ve heard wonderful things about the books and I do look forward to them. But the film is stripped of all this. It just all seems rather pointless. And having heard there are themes of atheism that really got the Christians railed up, my interest is piqued even more. However, all this controversial material is removed from the film, and what is left is a really bland, uninspiring, and ultimately boring family film.


Monday, December 10, 2007

Drew Struzan delivers the goods... the GREATS!

If there are some things synonymous with Indiana Jones, they'd have to be, the hat, the whip, Harrison Ford, Steven Spielberg and Drew Struzan. Struzan is without a doubt the KING of movies posters, and has created great images for every Indy film. And now, he's delivered another piece of classic cinema with the poster for Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull.

Captures the essence of the Indiana Jones movies so well. It looks fantastic!

Wednesday, December 5, 2007


The resurgence of the western takes one more step forward with the release of Andrew Dominik’s The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford. After 3:10 To Yuma, you’d think that lightning wouldn’t strike twice for this, the genre that seems to produce the least amount of films. However, this western surpasses James Mangold’s film and is possibly the best film of 2007. In fact, it’s probably no exaggeration to say that The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford is a western that belongs with the greats, and certainly the best example of it’s kind since Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven.

The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford is not a biopic of the famous folk-hero Jesse James. In fact, the early part of the film depicts Jesse and his brother Frank’s last train heist. With the brothers for the heist are a gang of men recruited from the hills in Missouri. Among the outlaws are the Ford brothers, Charlie and his younger brother Robert. Robert Ford has spent his life idolising Jesse James through magazines and stories. He sees this robbery as his chance to get closer to his hero.
After the robbery, James’ paranoia leads him to hunt down his former gang. Eventually James catches up with the Ford brothers. They have good reason to fear James. Despite this, they join him in his journey to catch up with his former gang. But as Robert Ford’s attempts to get closer to his hero are met with rejection and laughter, his obsession intensifies. If he cannot become close to James, he figures there must be a way to best him.

It’s impossible to know where to begin when analysing a film like this. There are so many elements that contribute to it’s greatness. Essentially, it’s an examination of the cult of celebrity and the effects it can have, not only on a ‘fan’ but on the celebrity him or herself. It’s fitting that Jesse James, one of the most famous men of his time should be played by Brad Pitt, one of the most famous actors of our time. James, in the film, is a figure who lives an almost mythical existence. In an early scene, Ford and James sit and share cigars. Ford is literally gushing over the stories of his hero, who turns to Ford and tells him they’re all lies. Instantly, you see Ford’s embarrassment at his attempt to get closer to his hero. Even way back when, stories of celebrity are blown out of proportion.

Yet it’s this celebrity status that makes Jesse James a melancholic and paranoid character. Brad Pitt, who I’ve enjoyed in maybe a handful of roles delivers a career-best performance as the outlaw. James is a quiet, contemplative character, yet underneath his outward control of every situation lies a man who is incredibly dangerous. The slightest provocation turns James from a quiet man into a cold-blooded murderer. When the Ford brothers are exposed to this side of James, they begin to realise how close they are to death. But despite this, James seems to be in a perpetual state of embracing death. It’s almost as if he expects it at any moment. Pitt conveys every side of James character so convincingly that it would be very surprising if his performance is overlooked come awards time.

Playing against Pitt is Casey Affleck as Robert Ford. It’s his performance that is central to the film, and he is outstanding as Ford. His character is in awe of James. He’s a young man who’s life has been shaped around the exploits of Jesse James. When his time comes to meet his hero, he’s does everything he can to endear himself to the outlaw. Yet his attempts are rejected outright. In fact, he’s laughed at by everyone from his own brother to James himself. And with each rejection, Ford descends deeper and deeper into resentment. After he kills James, in what is a cowardly manner, Ford builds a career riding on this one incident. Yet he finds that the celebrity he has garnered brings him nothing but misery. Instead of being a hero who brought down Jesse James, Ford is regarded as a coward, and finds himself as paranoid as his hero once was. It’s a brilliant contrasting performance to Pitt’s James. One of the film’s highlights is a scene involving Ford comparing his life to that of James. His adoration for his hero is met with ridicule bordering on contempt, and watching the two actors face each other is fascinating.

The rest of the cast, including Sam Rockwell, Sam Shepard, Jeremy Renner, Paul Schneider, Zooey Deschanel and Mary-Louise Parker all deliver brilliant performances. Yet in the face of the two central characters, these performances play second fiddle.

Aside from the brilliant cast, the other highlight of The Assassination of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford is the direction and cinematography. This film is probably the most beautiful film of the year. Shot by Coen brothers collaborator, Roger Deakins, the film is incredibly reminiscent of the films of Terrence Malick, in particular Days Of Heaven. The west has rarely looked as beautiful and mythical. Andrew Dominik’s direction is sublime. The tone of the film is quiet and melancholic, like the title character. Dominik’s previous film, the brilliant Chopper, also dealt with a character who was almost a folk hero. Another outlaw who has achieved almost mythical status. There are some outstanding scenes, including a brilliantly shot train robbery. But it’s the character interaction that is in focus here. It’s a long film, running two hours and forty minutes in length. Yet, it’s not a minute too long or a minute too short and is edited perfectly.

The Assassination of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford is possibly film of the year. I’d previously thought Eastern Promises would be the film that would emerge as the film of 2007. But after seeing this film, it’s a very difficult choice. The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford might have the edge. It’s just a stunning looking film with two incredible performances. What’s definite about it, however, is that it is absolutely memorable in every way, and that's the key to a brilliant film.


The Dark Knight gets a poster

Just released is the teaser poster for next summer's second biggest movie (after some film about an archaeologist or something...) The Dark Knight. In case you've been living under a rock for the last year, The Dark Knight is the sequel to Christopher Nolan's sublime Batman Begins. Even if I do say so myself, the poster is one of the best teaser posters I've come across. Suitably dark, in keeping with the tone of the movie, and still manages to whet our appetites even more!

The viral marketing on The Dark Knight has been kicking into overdrive over the last few weeks with all manner of Gotham related viral websites popping up on the internet. Included in the ever expanding list are-

Why So Serious?
Gotham Police Department

Gotham Technologies
The Gotham Times and the Joker-defaced Ha Ha Ha Times
Gotham National Bank
Gotham City Rail
Acme Security Systems

Gotham Victims Advocate Foundation
Gotham Unified School District
Betty's House of Pies

The list goes on. 42 Entertainment, the folks behind this marketing campaign are doing a fantastic job. It's quite possibly the best advertisement campaign I've ever seen for a film. If the film proves as well thought out and brilliantly executed as the work done by these folks, we're in for one heck of a film!