Coming soon...

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

AUSTRALIA (2008) - Baz Luhrmann

If Baz Luhrmann will be remembered for one thing, it will be for the striking visual style he injects into his films. While Luhrmann has only so far directed four films, he has become known as a director of big, epic, romantic films. Romeo + Juliet and Moulin Rouge! were highly successful films that pitted two people from opposite backgrounds who find love despite the odds. Not much has changed with Luhrmann’s latest, an epic tale of romance set against the backdrop of World War 2 and how it affected Darwin and the nation of Australia.

Lady Sarah Ashley is married to a wealthy landowner who is living in Australia looking after his cattle ranch. Lady Ashley travels to Australia to oversee the sale of Faraway Downs. She is met in Darwin by Drover, a tough Australia cattle drover who will escort Lady Ashley to Faraway Downs. When Lady Ashley arrives at Faraway Downs, she finds her husband murdered, supposedly at the hands of an Aboriginal man named King George. Her land is under threat from Neil Fletcher, a man once employed by her husband. Fletcher wants the land for himself. Lady Ashley has little choice but to drive 2000 cattle across the Northern Territory to Darwin. She takes with her a half-Aboriginal boy named Nullah and enlists the help of a reluctant Drover.

When I was sitting watching the opening scenes of Australia, I found myself watching a film I wasn’t really prepared for. I had prepared myself for something more... serious. But having thought about it, the film fits in exactly with Baz Luhrmann’s style. While the film deals with serious matters, the film feels like it belongs to another era. It feels like it’s a film that was made in the forties or fifties, but with today’s technology and budgets. Which is what I guess Luhrmann was going for. The film does have the feel of a John Huston epic. There are huge, open vistas, a rich romantic plot and clearly defined heroes and villains. There’s no room for ambiguity here.

However, Australia is quite a flawed epic. While Romeo + Juliet and in particular, Moulin Rouge! were quite solid films, Australia falls down a few areas. It’s a long film. Very long. And in areas, you can’t help feeling that the film would have benefited from a bit of editing in the script stage. One thing that Luhrmann could really have cut back on is cliché. The film lathers on the schmaltz very thickly and thus, falls into a few obvious cheese traps. From the opening few scenes, you pretty much know exactly where the story is going, and surprises are few and far between. Having said that, the film doesn’t suffer really badly from these faults. If you can overlook these problems, the epic nature of the film will suck you in.

Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman are cast as the two lovers from opposite worlds, Lady Ashley and the man known only as Drover. Each of them are suitably different that it’s believable they’re from opposite worlds. Nicole Kidman’s not an actress I’d rush to see. It seems the woman has no soul. It was hard to see her as a romantic lead since her last few films have required her to be cold. However here, she’s a lot easier to warm to. Jackman, on the other hand, once again delivers a great performance. While the film doesn’t require the depth Jackman has shown in The Prestige or The Fountain, Jackman can play tough and he does so here. But the real heart and soul of the film lies in the character Nullah, played by newcomer, Brandon Walters. Walters is the incredibly optimistic and playful Aboriginal child who brings and ties Lady Ashley and Drover together. It’s a great performance from the kid and is the soul of the film.

While Australia is flawed, it’s still very entertaining. It’s huge, epic and hopelessly romantic. And while some of the special effects are a little poor, this is due to the constraints of making a film outside the Hollywood studio system. We’re too used to spit and polish and poor story, but Australia overcomes these minor flaws to remain faithful to it’s goal. Australia looks gorgeous and it’s full of compelling if somewhat clichéd characters. It’s not quite as good as Luhrmann’s other work. But it’s still great to watch.


Sunday, December 28, 2008

YES MAN (2008) - Peyton Reed

Jim Carrey is one of those actors that polarises audiences. Some hate his frantic limb-flailing schtick, while others love him for it. I have to say, I fall into the later category. But I think Carrey’s done his best work when playing against type in films such as Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, The Majestic or Man On The Moon. I haven’t really enjoyed a Carrey film since Lemony Snicket’s A Series Of Unfortunate Events. But this month Carrey’s back to comedy with Yes Man.

Carl Allen’s a pretty miserable guy. His wife left him. He can’t get a girlfriend. He hates his job. And his relationship with his friends is at breaking point. His misery comes from his unwillingness to get out of his routine and try something new. Allen runs into an old friend who has changed his life due to a self-improvement program that teaches that ‘yes’ is the key to happiness in life. Allen is challenged by Yes guru Terrence Bundley to say yes to every single request presented to him. At first Allen is dubious, but as he agrees to everything asked of him, he starts to see a real change in his life.

This is a Carrey comedy that doesn’t fit in with the mad-cap films he’s done like Dumb And Dumber or The Cable Guy. It doesn’t really feel like a Carrey vehicle. Instead, it’s a romantic comedy (but not really) that features Carrey. Which will be a relief for some. Sure, there are moments of classic Carrey. One particularly funny scene features a very drunk Allen getting into a fight with another bar patron. But overall, this is a comedy that really could have starred Carrey, Steve Carrell or Jack Black. It’s pretty generic. But the writing is pretty good so it’s not awful.

Carrey is his usual great self. Carrey’s a very good actor. He proved he has the chops in his more serious roles. When he’s required to be dull and dour, he can pull it off just as much as the more mad-cap moments. What makes his character work is that Carrey and Zooey Deschanel have a lot of chemistry. She plays the love interest, Allison, a woman who is every bit the opposite of Allen. Deschanel was awful earlier in the year in The Happening. But that really seems to be down to M. Night Shyamalan’s direction. Here, she’s a lot better. One of the highlights is Rhys Darby who plays Allen’s boss, Norman. Darby’s one of the stars of HBO’s Flight Of The Conchords. And while Norman is essentially a more optimistic version of Murray Hewitt, Darby’s character from the show, it’s still great to see Darby get some big screen exposure.

Yes Man isn’t the greatest comedy in the world. And it certainly isn’t Carrey’s best. But it’s a funny movie with a quite optimistic and uplifting message. Probably more suited for DVD than cinema, Yes Man is entertaining, funny and unoffensive.


Wednesday, December 24, 2008


Tis the season, and all that, so I thought I'd present my own personal top 5 Christmas or Christmas related movies. These are the five movies that must be watched during the season, and while they don't necessarily feature Santa or the other fella who's associated with Christmas... what's his name... Jesus, they are set during the holidays and are strictly reserved for December. Well, except for one particular movie.

1. It's A Wonderful Life (1946) - Frank Capra.

Come on, was it ever going to be anything else?! The quintessential movie for restoring faith in humanity and joy to all men. If you aren't moved by this movie, you have no soul. Fact.

2. Die Hard (1988) - John McTiernan.

A bunch of hi-tech Eurotrash thieves want to steal millions in bearer bonds. But the monkey in the wrench, the fly in the ointment, John McClane is on hand to stop them. Unfortunately for McClane, he just wanted to spend Christmas patching up his marriage.

3. The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) - Henry Selick.

A twisted, wonderfully idiosyncratic Christmas movie, Burton's story of the king of Halloween wanting a piece of Christmas is unlike any other movie for the period.

4. The Snowman (1982) - Dianne Jackson.

I work in animation. I know how difficult paper animation is. The Snowman is a brilliantly written and made. A very underrated achievement. And David Bowie in a sweater.

5. National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation (1989) - Jeremiah S. Chechik.

Guilty pleasure. I make no apologies for it. Hilarious in every way.

Monday, December 22, 2008

LAKEVIEW TERRACE (2008) - Neil LaBute

Neil LaBute was once known as a director who made gritty, misogynistic films that definitely weren’t family fare. His films were dark and menacing. So when it came to an unnecessary remake of the classic Wicker Man, LaBute seemed like a choice that may bring that menace to the film. Unfortunately for all involved, The Wicker Man remake was a complete disaster, widely derided for it’s unintentionally hilarious moments and ridiculously over the top performance by Nicholas Cage. LaBute needed a film to redeem him, and thus, we have Lakeview Terrace.

Chris and Lisa Mattson are a recently married couple. They buy a house in a part of Los Angeles that is well-off but infamous for the Rodney King incident of 1991. The couple move in next door to Abel Turner, widower and father of two. Turner is a Los Angeles cop by day and neighbourhood watchman and less than ideal neighbour by night. Turner is incensed when he oversees Chris and Lisa having sex in their backyard pool. He’s not angry at their antics. It’s the fact that Chris and Lisa are an interracial couple that causes his consternation. And so Turner embarks on a campaign of intimidation in an attempt to drive the couple away from the neighbourhood he has lived in for twenty years.

Lakeview Terrace could easily be seen as a pretty average thriller. The premise has been done before and is pretty familiar. However, the protagonists and their motivations are different here and that’s what sets the film apart from other similar films. In Lakeview Terrace, the antagonist is Samuel L. Jackson. And thus, the film raises questions that wouldn’t have been too easily derided had Turner been a white man. We now live in a world where the United States has it’s first elected black president, so Lakeview Terrace’s timing couldn’t be better. It’s just a shame for the film that it isn’t a widely-seen film. The film plays on the notion of white man’s guilt, which really emasculates Chris’ character, played by Patrick Wilson. He’s almost helpless to defend his home against Turner, who sees his anger not as intimidation but as righteous indignation.

The film draws it’s strength from a wonderfully creepy performance by Samuel L. Jackson. When it comes to roles, Jackson is bit like the man from Del Monte. He say yes... to literally every role. His performances can sometimes be flat and dull. But when a film requires more, Jackson can deliver. And he does so here. Turner’s definitely not someone I’d like to mess with. He’s creepy, intimidating and cold, and has the muscle to back it up. Jackson literally seethes with anger and looks like he’s ready to explode at any given moment. Compared to Turner, Wilson’s Chris Mattson is even meeker than he would seem against a regular guy. But Wilson’s got the meekness maintained at the right level. You know he’ll stand up to you. However, he won’t get violent. It’s something that Turner exploits throughout the entire film. Kerry Washington plays Lisa Mattson. It’s not an exceptional role, but Washington does enough to play the wife who loves her husband, but still recognises the difference in their cultures.

The film isn’t perfect. In the last act, it does resort to the conclusion you’d expect from a thriller like this. It’s a shame because you hope throughout the film that it won’t go down that road. Having said that, it’s not a bad thriller. Had it been another actor in the role of Abel Turner, I don’t think the film would have worked. Jackson does elevate it to something more than it should be. For LaBute, it almost makes up for the incredible disaster that was The Wicker Man. Almost.


Monday, December 15, 2008

THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL (2008) - Scott Derrickson

I saw the original The Day The Earth Stood Still years ago. I was a young teenager, and while I had the whole ‘that looks so fake’ attitude, I still enjoyed the film for what it was. The story was great and it had that whole 1950’s innocent attitude to it. It’s a sci-fi classic and remains so to this day. So why remake it? Why indeed. With the disappointing invasion movies of the reprehensible Independence Day and the strictly average War Of The Worlds, it seems that the invasion movie really isn't that viable an idea. But that’s what we have in Scott Derrickson’s remake, released this week.

Helen Benson is a molecular biologist. One evening, she is called upon by the US government to come to a gathering of great scientific minds. Being an emergency, she is told nothing. However, it seems that something on the outskirts of the solar system is on a collision course with the Earth. The scientists are drafted to organise the aftermath of the impact. The unfortunate thing for the scientists, and the citizens of Manhattan (the impact site) is, there is only 78 minutes to impact. The object doesn’t smash into the Earth, but lands in Central Park. From the object, a humanoid emerges. He is shot, grabbed and experimented on in order to see what he wants. But this stranger is a harbinger of doom. Humans have damaged the earth almost to the point of no return and the aliens are here to wipe out the human race and save the Earth from her most advanced species. Benson does her best to convince Klaatu not to destroy the human race, but the time of destruction is rapidly approaching.

The original The Day The Earth Stood Still is a pretty iconic movie. The image of the robotic Gort standing guard over the ship he and Klaatu arrived on Earth in is a classic sci-fi image. So why bother remaking a film which is essentially a classic? There are some ideas in the updated version that are relevant to today. The film raises some points about the environment that are relevant to today. We’re poisoning the Earth and wiping out species at an alarming rate. Yet if even something as seemingly irrelevant as the bee were wiped out, we’d die off as a species. But could the world survive without humans? Absolutely. So we’re privileged to have this planet as our home. This is the message that is peppered throughout the screenplay.

Central to the film is the role of Klaatu. This character is an alien living in a human body, existing in a world that to it, is alien. To achieve this unworldly performance, Derrickson cast the similarly alien-named Keanu Reeves to play Klaatu. And it’s a brilliant casting choice. Reeves, while never destined to achieve Lawrence Olivier-levels of acting prowess, does have a talent to play characters who are out of their comfort zone. Reeves proved this with The Matrix, where he was required to stand around looking like he was struggling to comprehend what’s going on around him. And he did it brilliantly. Here, he plays a character seemingly bored and unfazed by human beings. And this he yet again achieves without much effort. Jennifer Connelly does a serviceable job as Helen Benson. She leads Klaatu about the place and fears for her adopted son. Her son, played by Will Smith’s son, Jaden Smith, is by far the most irritating element of the film. He gets everyone into trouble and yet prances about on his high-horse demanding death to the outsider. I found myself praying for his untimely and painfully drawn-out death. Kathy Bates and John Cleese also pop up for two roles that are essentially cameos, playing conscience of the military and thoughtful wisdom, respectfully.

The special effects in the film are suitably special. Gort, who this time is G.O.R.T., looks pretty spiffy. Less clunky than his 1950’s counterpart, and technologically organic for the 21st Century. The film’s trailer is cut as a big special-effects blockbuster, but this is something of a misnomer. There are only a few big sequences. This is more of a drama than a blockbuster, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Some will want more action. But it would seem contrived.

While The Day The Earth Stood Still won’t set the world on fire, it’s a pretty entertaining 104 minutes. While purists will balk at the desecration of their classic, this remake isn’t as terrible as some remakes in the past have been (Hallowe’en and Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, I’m looking at you), but it’s nowhere near as good a remake as John Carpenter’s The Thing. The strength of the film really comes from Keanu Reeves who’s performance is ironically devoid of emotion. Sure, it’s throw-away. But the Day The Earth Stood Still is at least worth a look if you’ve nothing else left to see at the cinema.


BODY OF LIES (2008) - Ridley Scott

Ridley Scott was once, and still is to some respect, one of the greatest directors working in the industry. In the seventies and eighties, he created some of cinema’s most iconic worlds and directed some classic films. They were few and far between, but when a Ridley Scott film arrived in the cinemas, people sat up and paid attention. However, in recent times, Scott’s output hasn’t really matched his earlier work. In between some pretty decent films (Black Hawk Down, American Gangster), Scott’s films just weren’t didn’t seem to live up to his status. The films became more frequent, but the quality was up and down. Body Of Lies, released this month unfortunately follows this trend.

Roger Ferris is a CIA agent stationed in Iraq. While on assignment, Ferris uncovers evidence linking terrorist leader Al-Saleem with a series of bombings in London. Ferris devises a plan to infiltrate Al-Saleem’s network using contacts under his superior Ed Hoffman, stationed in CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, and Jordanian Chief of Security, Hani Salaam. However, as Ferris gets drawn into the case, he finds his loyalties divided, and his life at risk. Things go from bad to worse as Ferris finds himself falling in love with Iranian nurse Aisha and his case puts her too at risk.

A thick and politically-charged plot, two stellar leads in Leonardo Di Caprio and Russell Crowe, and director Ridley Scott at the helm, Body Of Lies has all the elements for something great. So why does the film feel totally underwhelming? Firstly, Ridley Scott is a master of creating worlds. Alien and Blade Runner are so visually unique and have rarely been matched in terms of style and production. And yet, here in Body Of Lies, it feels like the Ridley Scott who created these worlds is nowhere to be seen. Sure, it’s a slick movie. But films with high production values and a talented director are always going to be slick. Comes with the freedom of cash. There’s nothing outstanding about the film and even the action scenes, which are few and far between aren’t that outstanding.

The performances are rock solid. You can’t really fault them. DiCaprio separates himself even more from the teen icon status he achieved with the truly awful Titanic. Despite his youthful looks, DiCaprio can pull badass off, and he does so here. Russell Crowe does that thing he does every so often to get into a different, non-butch role. He piles on weight. Fat Crowe is just as good as trim Crowe, so it baffles why he feels this is necessary. His Ed Hoffman is a pretty unlikable guy. And I suppose if Crowe feels the belly helped him get into this role, so be it. But the stand out performance is by Mark Strong as Hani Salaam. Strong’s been making quite a name for himself recently, and he excels here. His Salaam is slick and charismatic. But you know underneath his slick exterior brews a creature of real danger. We rarely see this side of him, but we don’t need to. Strong makes sure we know how dangerous a guy he is without needing to resort to stereotypical evil twitches.

The story in Body Of Lies is pretty intricate. There’s a lot going on, and plenty to keep your brain ticking over. Yet at the same time, it’s nothing outstanding. If you took out the stars, and took away Scott’s slick direction, it’d just be a pretty standard thriller. It just feels like an average film with really big names attached. And a huge let-down is the ending. The film seemed to be going in a bold direction, setting up something quite shocking. But at the last moment, it took a u-turn, letting what had just happened down and confusing plot elements that had taken place earlier in the film.

It’s not a terrible film, but I do feel Body Of Lies could have been a lot more. Take out the stars and there wouldn’t be much. Ridley Scott’s recent output hasn’t been groundbreaking, and this film certainly doesn’t buck the trend. Nothing terrible, but nothing particularly special either. Letter to Ridley Scott’s parents- Ridley must do better apply himself more.


Claws are out...

After the awful conclusion to the X-Men trilogy, the franchise seemed to be heading in the wrong direction. However, taking the character everybody wanted to see, the powers that be saw fit to give Logan his own film. Thus, we have X-Men Origins: Wolverine. The film gives us the back story to Wolverine, glimpses of which were seen in the X-Men films. The hotly-awaited film hits screens next summer.


Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Arnie-less Terminator trailer

We finally get our first proper glimpse of one of the most hotly debated films of 2009, Terminator Salvation. The trailer was released last night and, I must admit, it doesn't look as bad as I thought it would. Despite Terminator 3, the comedy Terminator being a god-awful steaming turd, and without Arnie, Cameron and with McG on board, it seems that T4 might actually resurrect the franchise. Of course, it doesn't hurt to have Christian Bale on board. He's notoriously picky about his projects, so his involvement is encouraging. After all, he told McG the only way he'd do it is if the characters worked. He wanted the script to be able to be acted on stage... which would be quite a play. Anyway, enough talk-

Monday, December 1, 2008

ZACK AND MIRI MAKE A PORNO (2008) - Kevin Smith

Kevin Smith’s career took a knock when he released the pretty awful Jersey Girl. It became clear that outside his Jersey saga, Smith seemed to flounder. After the lukewarm reception for that film, Smith went back and wrote a sequel to his massive first time success, Clerks. Now, his follow up film once again abandons the safety of his home state, as Smith jumps on that wagon that carries many a band- Judd Apatow’s. And the result is the controversially titled Zack And Miri Make A Porno.

Zack and Miri are friends from childhood. They live together in a pretty dire flat, scraping a living and barely paying their bills. When their last utilities payment goes unpaid, their electricity and water is shut off. Looking for a quick way to make a buck, the friends turn to porno. It’s quick, easy and will sell enough videos to make them money to pay their bills. But sex is never just sex and they find their relationship pushed when they have to bump uglies for money.

Smith’s main ability over the years has been his ability to write pop-culture thick dialogue. His Jersey films, filled with nerds and comic-fans has thrived on this ability. Yet when Smith steps away from this, he finds himself floundering somewhat. The same applies here. By no means is Zack and Miri as bad as the reprehensible Jersey Girl. But is shows little of the ability Smith once had.

One of the main things that puts people off the film is the starring role for Seth Rogen. But I don’t really have a problem with the guy. Sure, he plays pretty much the same role in every film. And maybe he’s running out of steam. But in this film he does his schtick well. Elizabeth Banks, the actress who is appearing everywhere is once again very solid. She’s the heart of the film and plays off Rogen surprisingly well. The real star of the show is Craig Robinson. The actor, who’s become a familiar face thanks to The Office (US) has real comedy talent and shows it here. Also pretty good are Smith regular Jason Mewes and real life porn star Katie Morgan.

While Zack And Miri Make A Porno isn’t terrible, it will piss off some people. The majority of the laughs are in the first 45 minutes and there is one surprisingly funny moment in the second half of the film. But it’s nowhere near as good as Smith’s Chasing Amy. Though it does show he can do something outside Jersey.


MAX PAYNE (2008) - John Moore

Video games. They don’t really make for good movies. Super Mario Brothers, Silent Hill, Resident Evil... the list doesn’t really read like a list of cinema greats. And now another addition to that list; Max Payne.

Max Payne is a cop on a revenge mission. His wife and baby are murdered and Payne spends his days going through cold case files, searching for clues as to who murdered his young family. While investigating their murder, Payne uncovers a drug ring that causes people to behave incredibly violent, or else causes them to have horrific hallucinations.

Well, Max Payne does the video game movie no favours what so ever. It’s pretty awful. Director John Moore has watched Sin City one time too many and really longs for Max Payne to be a film that could fit right in with Robert Rodriguez’ vision. The film just looks like a Sin City rip-off. The action sequences are surprisingly rare in an action film, and while it strives to be something more than a video game adaptation, it just ends up getting bogged down in it’s own desire to be more than it is.

Mark Wahlberg needs a good director to coax a good performance out of him. And unfortunately John Moore is not the man. Wahlberg mumbles and gurns his way throughout the entire film. Mila Kunis is woefully miscast as the femme fatale, who also only appears rarely throughout the film. And Chris Bridges’ wardrobe just makes him look like a comedy character rather than a gritty internal affairs cop.

Derivative, silly and woefully dull, Max Payne has little going for it. Avoid. Seriously.


Friday, November 21, 2008

Trailer for The Wrestler

The new film from Darren Aronofsky, The Wrestler, comes out in January. The Wrestler is Aronofsky's follow-up to 2006's much-maligned, and very misunderstood film, The Fountain and stars Mickey Rourke in a role he seems to have been born to play.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Henry Selick and Neil Gaiman bring us Coraline

Henry Selick, the stop-motion maestro behind The Nightmare Before Christmas, and the animated segments of The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou and fantasy legend Neil Gaiman next year bring Coraline to the big screen. The film, an animated fantasy sees the titular character move to a house that contains a door to an alternate version of her own life. Selick left production on Wes Anderson's adaptation of The Fantastic Mr. Fox to do this, so hopefully it'll be well worth it. Looks promising!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

W. (2008) - Oliver Stone

History was made in the last month for two reasons. The first saw the election of the first black man to the seat of President of the United States. The other reason was the beginning of the end of George W. Bush’s tenure as president. He remains the most controversial president since Nixon and arguably one of the worst presidents in US history. But this isn’t a political discussion. It’s a review of Oliver Stone’s biopic of the man, W.

W. is released at a strange time. It’s too far into the Bush’s last term to have any impact on his legacy. And it’s too soon to fully judge Bush’s impact. However, the film attempts to understand Bush’s motivations by looking at some of the key moments in his life that made him the man he is now. Starting while Bush is in college, we trace his life, through the many jobs he held until he became governor of Texas, helped get his father, George H.W. Bush elected as President of the United States and then W.’s own election to the same office.

It’d be very easy to label George W. Bush as an idiot and fool who was, and is a front for big oil and similar shady interests. And while I’m sure that’s not entirely inaccurate, there’s no denying that it takes some brains to get to be president. It doesn’t just happen. And despite these assumptions that a lot of people have about Bush, Stone’s film is somewhat gentle on the guy. The easy thing would have been to make a complete farcical comedy about Bush. There’s enough footage of Bush gaffing to make a pretty funny comedy that is steeped in reality. But Oliver Stone instead looks at Bush as a man who’s constantly living in the shadow of his father. It’s somewhere he despises being. He wants to out-do his father while making his individual mark on the world. And in an attempt at being fair to Bush, you can’t help feeling that there’s also something missing from the film.

The performances are pretty good for the most part. Josh Brolin is excellent as George W. Bush. Stone’s film creates a Bush with a lot of charisma, and Brolin carries this across very well. It’s difficult to watch a film like this without seeing some of the performances as charicatures. And is some cases, this is true. Thandie Newton’s Condaleeza Rice does seem like it stepped out of a Saturday Night Live sketch. Yet in other cases, particularly Richard Dreyfuss as Dick Chaney and James Cromwell as George H.W. Bush, the performances are spot on. But over-all, the performances are generally pretty entertaining.

There are some funny moments in W. A few of the famous Bush-isms are featured, although they are shifted in context to fit in with the drama of the film. One particularly outstanding scene is set in the ‘war room’ where Bush and his cabinet discuss the strategy of Iraq before the conflict begins. It’s like a cross between high-drama and Dr. Strangelove-esqe satire. As a document and comment of Bush’s time as President of the United States, Stone’s Bush isn’t that type of film. Subjects like that are more suited to documentary. But as a character drama, W. is quite entertaining. It does, however, feel unfinished. Had the film been made five, or even a year from now, I’d imagine it would have been quite different in many ways.


Thursday, November 13, 2008

Serkis, McKellan, Weaving... and Jones? for The Hobbit

In the interview below, Guillermo Del Toro talks about the current status of The Hobbit. Still in the writing stage, there's not much to report. But the little snippet of good news is, Ian McKellan, Andy Serkis and Hugo Weaving will be returning as Gandalf, Gollum and Elrond, respectively. As for Del Toro regular, Doug Jones... there's no word on who he'll play, or if he'll be involved in the production at all. But Del Toro just loves this guy's work, so I'm sure he'll find something for the lithe actor to do.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Six badass new Watchmen posters

Character posters. Badass. Fox may be trying to put the dampers on the release of Watchmen, but they wont succeed, me thinks. It's coming, and it's going to be mind-blowing... we hope.

New Spock/Kirk posters

Not much to say about this really. They're pretty self-explanatory. Spock. Kirk. Posters. Now give us a decent trailer, please...

Monday, November 3, 2008

QUANTUM OF SOLACE (2008) - Marc Forster

The reinvented James Bond franchise kicked off in 2006 with Casino Royale. It featured a brand new Bond with Daniel Craig and a brand new approach to the character and action. Gone were the gadgets. Gone was the campiness. Gone was the high-tech, slightly ridiculous approach to the character and stories. What we got was a Bond for the 21st Century. Angry, no-nonsense, ruthless. It was an approach not all were convinced about. But the film was a success, both critically and financially. And now, the latest Bond film, a direct sequel to Casino Royale arrives on our screens with (the cryptically titled) Quantum Of Solace. Can lightning strike twice?

As mentioned, Quantum Of Solace is a direct sequel to Casino Royale. It picks up pretty soon after the previous film’s events. Bond has kidnapped Mr. White, the only lead he has to the shadowy corporation whom La Chiffre was a member. His interrogation of Mr. White goes horribly wrong and an attempt on M’s life is foiled. Bond goes rogue. He claims to be hunting down M’s attempted assassins, but his motives are questionable as he’s also out for revenge for the death of Vesper Lynd, his lover who died at the end of Casino Royale. Bond’s investigation leads him to Dominic Greene, a businessman and philanthropist who’s motives are also questionable. He teams up with a woman named Camille and they both aim to take Greene down.

Casino Royale was a great success. The filmmakers seemed to get everything right, despite an ending that was a little sloppy. So where in the hell did they go wrong with Quantum Of Solace? To put it mildly, it’s a complete mess. The first problem the film has is the story. The script is dull, clunky and pretty much all over the place. They say too many cooks spoil the broth. Never is that clearer here. There are three writers credited with the writing of the film, one of whom is Paul Haggis, writer and director of the Oscar-winning Crash. Yet despite this calibre, Quantum Of Solace zips by with scenes that make no sense, motives that are pretty irrelevant and a Bond who seems to just wander from one scene to the other kicking the crap out of random bad guys and then meandering to the next story event. It seems that everything they got right with Casino Royale, they got wrong in Quantum Of Solace.

Let me get this down for the record. When Daniel Craig was announced as the Bond to follow Pierce Brosnan, questions were raised. Yet, I thought it was a great casting. And, I was right. Craig is the best Bond since Sean Connery, and he suits the reinvented Bond perfectly. And yet here, Craig is given a script that is really poor. They’ve made Bond cold and calculated. Perfect. And yet in this movie they’ve also made him someone subject to events rather than the driving force. It’s a bad move and allows the film to fall flat on it’s face.

Another question that needs to be raised is the question of the Bond girl. Vesper Lynd was a character with a little depth. Camille, the main Bond girl in Quantum Of Solace shows a little depth, but this is abandoned the more the character is developed. And she’s not developed very much. The character ticks two boxes; hot, and pissed off. But apart from that, she’s not got very much. It’s not Olga Kurylenko’s fault. She’s not bad as Camille. But there’s little for her to do in terms of character. And the less said about Gemma Arterton’s character, Strawberry Fields (good Lord), the better. She’s a bad leftover from the Roger Moore era Bond films, and is one of the most pointless and badly written characters in any movie I’ve seen in a long time. Her costume in her opening scene alone is evidence that the writers, and director Marc Forster have lost everything that worked in Casino Royale.

The other glaring fault in Quantum Of Solace is the action sequences. And man alive, this is where I get a little irate about the film. If I wanted to watch one of the Bourne films, I would have plucked one of the DVDs from my collection and not wasted the money I spent on this film. I wonder, if Paul Greengrass watched Quantum Of Solace, did he consider suing the makers of the film for plagiarism. Several action sequences are lifted straight out of the Bourne films. It was obvious from Casino Royale that the filmmakers were influenced by the Bourne films. They did, after all, reinvent the action movie for the new century. But here, Marc Forster et al make no attempt to hide the influence. If you’ve seen the Bourne films, don’t waste your time with Quantum Of Solace. The action sequences, for the most part, are lifted directly from that series. It’s actually quite amazing how similar they are. Marc Forster is a drama director. He did well with Monster’s Ball, and managed to reduce myself and a bunch of other lads to sobbing messes with Finding Neverland. So maybe it’s that he’s not used to directing action. But there is a marked difference to when he’s directing the action and when second unit director, and stunt coordinator on The Bourn Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum, Dan Bradley is behind the camera. One style is sloppy and confusing. The other style is, well... Bourne. Bradley does a great job. But we’ve seen it before.

When it comes down to it, Quantum Of Solace is a mess. There’s no other way about it. The lessons learned from Casino Royale are forgotten here. And what we’re left with is a sloppy, badly-developed and underwhelming film. There is a question as to whether this movie will stand as the bad, middle part of a trilogy. But that’s little in the way of an excuse. Many sequels and bridging films have been excellent, and stand-alone films. However, when, in about 5 years, we have the (possible) Craig-Bond trilogy, I think most will skip the mess that is Quantum Of Solace.


Thursday, October 30, 2008

Monday, October 27, 2008

MARTYRS (2008) - Pascal Laugier

Lord knows where to start with Martyrs. Advance word came through that this was the most controversial film of the year. However, whenever I hear this statement, I always find the films to be either complete rubbish or undeserving of such a description. As I sat down to watch Martyrs, I knew little to nothing about it other than it was a French film and whatever the two line plot description on IMDB. I was unprepared for what I was about to witness.

Anna and Lucie are two orphaned girls. In the opening of the film, we see a young teenage girl, battered and bruised, running through what looks like an abandoned industrial complex. She is terrified and clearly fleeing something awful. She escapes and ends up in an orphanage where she is withdrawn and alone until another young orphan befriends her. Years later we see a family sitting down to have breakfast. They are happy. The perfect picture of a family. They young kids playfully bicker while the parents discuss what the older boy is going to study in college. This picture is violently interrupted by the arrival of a young woman bent on bloody murder. This is the older Lucie. She murders the family and calls Anna. There is something desperately wrong with Lucie. She is haunted by something which we are not clear anyone but her can see. Anna arrives at the scene of the mayhem and must clean up what Lucie has done. And as events unfold, things descend into something that can only be described and a horrific nightmare.

As I sit here wondering what to write next, I find it very hard not to go into detail. I don’t want to spoil anything for anyone, as Martyrs has to be seen to be believed. But that’s not a recommendation. It’s more of a disclaimer as nothing I can write can really do justice to what happens on screen. Martyrs is probably the most incredibly difficult film I have ever had to sit through. I’ve seen quite a few difficult films. Some were difficult due to the physical brutality the characters had to endure. Other, far more effective films were difficult due to the emotional hardship endured by the protagonists. Few films I’ve seen seemed to go out of their way to emotionally assault the audience. And Martyrs seems to want to do that in ways that the makers of the reprehensible Saw franchise could only hope to.

The film is split into two separate parts that, while connected by story, are completely different in terms of sub-genre. One half of the film feels like a psychological horror that relies on a creature we’re never quite sure is real or imaginary. The violence in this part of the film is pretty hard core in terms of blood and guts and is difficult watching. However, about half way through, the film takes a complete change of course and becomes something quite different to what came before. And it’s at this point that the film becomes a real test. The violence, both physically and emotionally, is relentless and brutal. At points I questioned myself, worried that I was becoming desensitised to what I was witnessing, but thankfully, found myself appalled at just how far things were going.

There’s one part of me that admires what the filmmakers have done. In ways, the film is comparable to the Saw franchise. But when put next to Saw, Martyrs makes Saw look pretty tame. The difference between the two is in execution. Saw relies on elaborate traps and imaginative death scenarios. Martyrs doesn’t have that kind of thing. It’s just about beatings. And beatings. And beatings. This is far more difficult to sit through than someone with something that resembles an iron maiden attached to their head with a key implanted behind their eye. That kind of thing is just ridiculous, where as we all know what it feels like to take a punch. And the despair that the film creates just never lets up.

The unfortunate thing with Martyrs is that the premise just doesn’t justify the violence. Immediately after the film, I found myself comparing the film to Michael Haneke’s Funny Games. I initially thought where Funny Games was an answer to the audiences’ fixation on violence in 1997, Martyrs was an answer to those who love Saw and Hostel and those kinds of films. However, Pascal Laugier, the director of Martyrs just doesn’t give us a film that justifies what he puts the audience though. The concept, when explained, is quite novel. But it deserves a better film. By the time you finish Martyrs, you will just ask yourself; ‘why?’

It’s abundantly clear why Martyrs is the most controversial film of the year. In fact, I don’t think many films have ever come as close. The screening I was at was packed. But after three quarters of the film had passed, people were leaving. It’s just so difficult to sit through. My jaw hit the floor when I was told afterwards the film has a 97 minute running time. It feels more like a two and a half hour film.

I’m quite conflicted by Martyrs. It’s a very well put together film. The production values, make-up effects and acting are very good. I have to admire just how far the filmmakers were willing to push the boundaries. And the boundaries are destroyed, trampled into the ground and then defecated on. However, the script and plot really don’t justify the volume of violence in the film. You want to have a very, very strong script and one hell of a pay-off to justify what you’re put through in Martyrs. And I really don’t know what that pay-off would be. But Martyrs unfortunately doesn’t deliver. What is very clear about it is, it’s extreme. Few films come close. I won’t watch the film again for a very long time, if ever. I’d love to watch it again, to get a clearer view of how I feel, but I don’t think I could put myself through it. It may seem like a cop-out. But watch it and see if you could put yourself through it twice. As was once said in Futurama- You’ve watched it. You can’t un-watch it. A disclaimer for Martyrs if ever I heard one.