Coming soon...

Friday, March 28, 2008

The X-Files 2

Keeps in tone with the show. I'm pretty excited by this!

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

THE ORPHANAGE (2007) - Juan Antonio Bayona

With is flair for horror and fantasy, Guillermo Del Toro has led the charge in recent years for new Spanish horror films. His films Cronos and The Devil’s Backbone, he’s paved the way for other Spanish directors to try their hand at horror movies. In 2001, Alejandro Amenábar directed The Others, a great haunted house horror movie albeit in the English language. And a film similar to The Others, and produced by Del Toro is released this week, Juan Antonio Bayona’s El Orfanato, The Orphanage.

The Orphanage is one of those great spooky haunted house horror movies that hides it’s scares in shadows. Taking place in modern day, it tells the tale of Laura who returns to the orphanage she resided in as a child before she was adopted. Her plan is to restore the house and turn it into a care home for disabled children. She brings with her her husband Carlos and adopted son Simon. Things start off fine, but when her son befriends an imaginary boy named Tomas, things begin to turn a little eerie.

The success of The Orphanage is helped by the setting. The orphanage itself becomes something of a fourth character after Laura, her husband Carlos and Simon. It seems to take on an ominous personality of it’s own. It’s a beautiful house that’s lit beautifully by Oscar Faura, and becomes exactly what you’d expect from a haunted house. Added to this, the sound design is also brilliantly executed, with bumps and bangs at exactly the right moments. The dark history of the orphanage is revealed slowly throughout the film through the use of flashbacks to Laura’s childhood. But it’s not a contrivance, and doesn’t get in the way of the story.

There are elements to the film that have been seen before. Like the film mentioned before, the film is somewhat reminiscent of The Others. The Others was another film that relied on it’s setting as an integral part of the film’s success. The Orphanage also features a séance that harks back to Poltergeist. Except in this case, the séance is a lot more realistic. It’s a wonderfully creepy part of the film, with most of the ‘action’ revealed through monitors hooked up to cameras dotted throughout the house. In fact, it’s at this moment that the film really takes off. It’s somewhat of a slow burner, starting off slowly and building tension instead of going straight for the jugular immediately.

Aside from the wonderful tension created by director Bayona, the other thing that makes The Orphanage such an wonderfully executed horror film is the question you keep asking yourself as to whether the events unfolding are actually supernatural or the psychological breakdown of Laura, the main character. It’s this kind of questioning that grounds the film in reality rather than letting it drift off into the fantastical. The performance by Belén Rueda as Laura ties all the other elements together. It’s vital that she is believable as a frantic mother struggling to protect her child (without giving too much away). And she achieves this very well. Few people, especially her husband believe her when she starts to think more supernaturally than realistically. But she is firm in her beliefs and resolute without ever becoming a frantic screaming damsel in distress.

In an age where horror films are either remakes of foreign language films (and yes, even The Orphanage is ALREADY slated for an American remake) or god-awful gore fests, the occasional psychological horror does manage to restore faith in filmmaking. And while there are elements of The Orphanage that have been seen before, the story, and especially the excellent pay-off in the third act make for a really brilliant film.


Tuesday, March 18, 2008

10,000 B.C. (2008) - Roland Emmerich

Roland Emmerich has somehow forged a career making a particular type of movie. They’re heavy on special effects and light on story. For the most part, his movies range from silly to absolutely ludicrous. His latest movie, 10,000 B.C. marks an all-time low for Emmerich in not only the reality stakes, but the quality stakes too. It’s a strange film to watch because, while it’s absolutely appalling, it’s laughably stupid too, so you will find yourself in hysterics during the film.

The implausibility begins, a little over 12,008 years ago in some unnamed land. A tribe of mammoth hunters are facing tough times. The mammoths they rely on for food have become scarce and times are tough. However, not all is lost as the resident loon reveals a prophecy that tells of a warrior and his blue-eyed woman will lead their people to a new age. Years later and the kid is grown up and goes on his mammoth hunt. Through a remarkable amount of luck, he fells a mammoth and becomes the bearer of the white spear, an impractical ceremonial weapon that makes the bearer the leader of the tribe. But D’Leh cant handle the pressure and packs the leadership in. The tribe is attacked by another tribe and Evolet, the blue-eye girl and some other tribesmen are carried off. And so D’Leh and some of his fellow villagers head off to get their people back.

Okay, I know it’s a film that is wrought with historical inaccuracies. And many films are like this. And things like historical inaccuracies never really bother me. Hell, even dodgy special effects can be forgiven if the story is strong. What is a real issue though, is plausibility. And plausibility is completely thrown out the window in 10,000 B.C. It’s so implausible that at times I was struggling to contain my guffaws of laughter. At one point, the main characters cross from a frozen tundra to a tropical jungle and then to a desert in a matter of days. The landscape changes dramatically, giving the impression that we’re witnessing months of travel only to have one of the characters proclaim ‘we’ve been walking for days!’ Characters are mortally wounded only to heal overnight and be back bounding across the plains the very next day. It’s moments like these that expose the film’s ludicrous script.

In another particularly ridiculous moment, the main character shows a ridiculously amount of stupidity by freeing the sabre-toothed tiger from the film Ice Age from certain death, only to have the tiger take-off without attacking him and even turning up later on to save D’Leh from something that wasn’t assured death and then disappear again for no reason. It’s just another symptom of the problems with 10,000B.C. Nothing makes any sense. Steve Strait plays D’Leh, the ‘world’s first hero,’ and the main character in the film. His problem is he is completely devoid of any charisma or personality. At one point, he gives a speech to a number of different tribes to unite them as a force to take on the bad guys. The speech is laughably devoid of anything resembling inspiration, and the twenty or thirty men he gives the speech to are anything more than a rabble of trouble makers. Braveheart, this is not.

D’Leh’s woman, Evolet, played by Camilla Belle makes no impact. And Cliff Curtis, who deserves better, is inconsequential as tribal leader Tic’Tic. Although this character does seem to have Wolverine-like healing powers, at the point of death at one point and fully healed the following day. I know the X-Men films say Wolverine’s age is indeterminable, but I doubt he’s over 12,000 years old! The main bad guy is a stereotypical evil doer at one point, only to expose himself as a physically weak man obsessed with getting a sniff of female anatomy at another. In fact, the only reason he seems to have achieved his status as the leader of the baddies is that he has an electronically-enhanced voice. It’s baffling to understand why he has this Darth Vader-like vocal enhancement other than laziness on the part of the script writers.

In fact, the laziness of the writing is apparent throughout the entire film. Gaping plot holes are glossed over and ignored in a shocking display of disregard for the audience’s intelligence. But then this kind of thing is prevalent in all of Emmerich’s films. From the Apple-computer interface with alien technology in the reprehensibly jingoistic Independence Day to the completely implausible ice storm in The Day After Tomorrow, Emmerich’s films are wrought with plot holes that take the piss out the audience. 10,000 B.C. continues this trend, but ups the ante to the nth degree. I find it hard to comprehend how the final cut was viewed by anyone involved and they didn’t balk at what they were witnessing. This film is astonishingly bad. It’ll be hard to find a film in 2008 that will be worse. The only reason I’m even giving this film a 1 is that no film deserves a 0. It’s a complete work and some people did put some effort into it. Otherwise, this is one of the worst films I’ve ever seen.

10,000 B.C.? 10,000 B.S.


Monday, March 17, 2008

The sorry affair that is the Spaced remake.

This is unusual. For once, movies don't come into this. It's about cinema's little brother, television. As you may or may not be aware, there is a remake currently in the process of being made in the US. Remakes, for the most part, are bullshit. Occassionally they manage to improve on the original (John Carpenter's remake of The Thing, David Cronenberg's remake of The Fly). But for the most part, remakes are uninspired, tired rehashes of material that doesn't warrant a retelling. History has seen many attempts at remaking British television. And now the much-loved (by those of us in the UK and Ireland and a select audience in the US) Spaced is being treated to the remake treatment.

First of all, why bother? Spaced was so perfectly judged and executed that there is literally no reason to remake it. There's very little in it that US audiences couldn't latch onto. Sure, there are one or two cultural references that they might not get, but there's more than enough for them to 'get.' But aside from the film and television references that are spread throughout the show, Spaced was such a brilliant piece of work because of the spirit of the show. There's a tremendous amount of love that is put into the work and it oozes out of every scene. It's a personal piece of work and is absolutely imbued with the personalities of Simon Pegg, Jessica Hynes and Edgar Wright. It is their child, and they nurtured it into the little genius it is. Will any of this be in the remake? Hell no.

Why? Simple answer really. The powers that be have decided, in their infinite wisdom, to completely ignore Simon, Jessica and Edgar when it comes to the remake. Aside from a shameless piece of name-dropping in the press release, which went so far as to COMPLETELY IGNORE Jessica Hynes' input on the show, none of the creators have been consulted on the show. Legally, Warners aren't obliged to consult Pegg, Hynes and Wright on the show. They unfortunately signed away their rights way back in the day. However, that this has happened shows an enormous amount of disprespect for the creators. And now the show is in the hands of a 'director' known only as three letters. McG. The 'talent' behind such cinematic gold as Charlie's Angels and Charlie's Angels 2, and director of the already controversial (at least in geek-dom) new Terminator trilogy is executive producer on this remake. Were this hack to do the right thing, he'd involve the show's creators in the remake. With or without their concent, the show will go ahead. Hell, there's money to be made here, people! But if they're so insistant on dumping on the show's origins, at least have the decency to chat to the creators about it.

What I'm saying here isn't new. It's been commented on many times already. But as a fan, I just had to voice my thoughts. If what I'm saying here reaches some folks (and it's not like this place has a huge readership!) well then, I'll be chuffed. Some of you who read this may not have heard of Spaced. If you haven't, seek it out. Immediately. You already love movies, or else you wouldn't be here. And anyone who has the remotest bit of love for movies will fall for the charms of Spaced. It's essential watching. The remake is a disaster in the making. The Office worked. But it worked because Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant were involved from the very start. And when the show stopped trying to be the British Office, it became something quite good. The same will not happen with Spaced. And it's a sad state of affairs.

Simon Pegg's thoughts on the situation.

Jessica Hynes' thoughts on the situation.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

IN BRUGES (2008) - Martin McDonagh

Martin McDonagh is best known as an award-winning playwright. Writer of The Beauty Queen Of Leenane and A Skull In Connemara, in 2004 he turned his hand to filmmaking with short Six Shooter. The short went on to win an Oscar for Best Live Action Short Film. This year McDonagh reteams with his lead man in Six Shooter, Brendan Gleeson, for the dark comedy, In Bruges.

Ray and Ken are two London-based Irish hitmen. After a hit ends in disaster, the two men ordered to go into hiding. Unfortunately for Ray, they’re sent to the town of Bruges in Belgium and told to wait for a telephone call from Harry, their boss. Ray’s a young, smart-arse and hates the picturesque beauty of the medieval town. Ken, on the other hand is a culture vulture and takes the town immediately. Ray wants to get pissed, Ken wants to see the sights. For some reason, they’re constantly at logger-heads. While on a night out, Ray meets Chloe, a Belgian girl working on the set of a film who sells drugs to the cast and crew. Ken finally gets the call from his psychotic boss, Harry. And from then on, things get a little heated.

The strength of In Bruges lies in McDonagh’s screenplay. The dialogue is smart and funny and the characters, while somewhat unrealistic for real life, fit the film perfectly. In Bruges is the kind of film that would fit into the whole Guy Ritchie kind of crime comedy genre. A genre that has truly become tired with the endless amount of films that try to emulate that style. But In Bruges avoids becoming just another of these films by avoiding trying to be ‘cool.’ It relies on the characters rather than the style of the film. There are a number of eccentric secondary characters that fill the cast, but none of these are too derivative.

The acting from the two principles is excellent. Brendan Gleeson has been in this kind of film before. In 1997’s incredibly underrated comedy, I Went Down, Gleeson showed his flair for comedy. Yet in that film he was the idiot, bumbling his way through proceedings, but getting the job done. Here, he’s a lot more subtle, and almost plays the straight man to Colin Farrell’s character, Ray. Yet he still has his moments for comedy, and seems right at home working with McDonagh.
Colin Farrell’s character, Ray is the main source of comedy for the film. He’s impetuous and quickly bores, and while he initially hates Bruges, once he gets out into the town and starts interacting with the denizens, the chances for comedy increase. But Ray is also the heart of the film. The disastrous hit that the men are on the run for is entirely his fault, even if circumstance does come into it. He’s incredibly affected by what he’s done, and it really shows. Farrell’s known more for his personality than his acting, but here, he shows he’s got talent.
Ralph Fiennes has a smaller, but pivotal role as Harry, the foul-mouthed, hot-tempered boss. Fiennes rarely does comedy. He’s known for his very dark roles, and it’s this that adds to his character. In a way, he seems like a comedy version of Ben Kingsley’s character Dom Logan from Sexy Beast. However, that’s not saying that Fiennes is just rehashing the role. He does make Harry his own.

As I’ve said, McDonagh’s script is the star of the film. But his skill at directing his actors also deserves mention. He gets the best out of his cast, and there’s never a dull moment. It's full of funny moments, but at the same time, it has a dark edge. A surprisingly dark edge. But any mention of that would lead me into spoiler territory, and that's not somewhere I want to go. It’s McDonagh’s first feature, and I hope it’s not his last. While his experience as a playwright comes through in the script, that’s not a complaint. Occasionally an Irish film does make an impact. Last year’s Once sure made it’s mark. While In Bruges is a totally different film, it deserves to be seen. Not flawless, but damned entertaining.


Monday, March 10, 2008

NEW Indy Poster

This is where it's at really! The new poster fits in perfectly with the style of the previous posters. The 'head' posters as it were.

Friday, March 7, 2008

It ain't the mileage, it's the years!

Just released is another new image from Indiana Jones And The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Indy seems to be heading straight into the business end of an AK-47, but then reckless endangerment of one's own life was never a concern for our fedora-sporting hero. I just hope the leap doesn't result in some sort of hip-breakage...

And in other news....

Actor Aaron Eckhart has confirmed that Two-Face, the evil incarnation of Harvey Dent WILL make an appearance in the upcoming The Dark Knight. Long rumored, but never confirmed, there was speculation that the sequel to Batman Begins would be a film more about the fall of Dent rather than focusing on The Joker. This seems to confirm this. What's even more encouraging is that Eckhart says the Dent/Two-Face arc will continue into a third film. Great news, as long as Christopher Nolan and his crew stay on board...

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Here are (most of) the WATCHMEN

Full character shots of some of the central characters in Watchmen, due next year. They've hit pretty close to the mark for the most part, while updating the costumes for the big screen. Most laymen wont be familiar with these characters, but for those in the know, this is pretty exciting. What Zack Snyder delivers should be pretty freakin sweet.


The Comedian-


Nite Owl-

Silk Spectre-

THERE WILL BE BLOOD (2007) - Paul Thomas Anderson

There are good films. There are great films. And then there are films that come along, once in a decade, if we’re lucky, that are so different that they seem to reinvent the medium. These films are received in different ways. Sometimes they’re heralded as the second coming, and sometimes they are even lambasted by critics and it’s years before they’re properly appreciated. What defines these films for me, is their affect on me. How much I’ll be thinking of them after I see them. Rarely has a film perplexed me and astounded me as Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood.

Adapted from the Upton Sinclair novel, Oil!, first published in 1927, There Will Be Blood is a tale of greed versus religion and a clash between two forces who are relentlessly ambitious but have vastly different goals. The novel Oil! was a very political novel with Sinclair even sending it to members of congress. In his adaptation, Anderson changed the protagonist and stripped the novel down to the story of Daniel Plainview. Plainview is a silver prospector who stumbles across oil in his silver mine. He drills for oil and hits paydirt, but in the process, one of his workers is killed, leaving his son an orphan. Plainview takes the baby on as his own. Years pass and Plainview has made a name for himself in the oil business when he is approached by a young man who claims his home town is rich in untapped oil. He sells the location of the town to Plainview, who takes his son H.W. and seeks out the town. When he finds that it is indeed rich with oil, he sets about selling himself to the town to take their oil. But the brother of the young man who approached Plainview, Eli Sunday has his own plans. He’s a shrewd preacher who wants Plainview’s money to build his church. They have vastly different goals which cannot be achieved without great confrontation.

By now, you’ll have read or heard quite a bit about There Will Be Blood. Not only about the incredible performance by Daniel Day-Lewis, but also about the film itself. But to be honest, it’s extremely difficult to do the film justice here. In fact, just one viewing of the film doesn’t do it justice. It’s so packed with detail that the nuances of the actors’ performances, every minute detail of the production design and direction cannot be taken in first time. Central to this wonderful dilemma is Daniel Day-Lewis’ performance as Daniel Plainview. There are very few scenes in the film where Day-Lewis isn’t on screen. And when he is, it is next to impossible to take your eyes off him.

Plainview is an incredibly complex character. At the very heart of him, he is the embodiment of ambition. Ruthless ambition. But aside from that, there are so many levels to his character. He’s charismatic, yet hates people with a passion. He’s gentle in some moments, and explodes with rage in others. He’s greedy, yet generous if it helps him achieve his goals. Yet the depiction of this character isn’t just of an evil man. Throughout the course of the film we see the disintegration of Plainview into a twisted, bitter old man. By the third act, Plainview is consumed by the worse parts of his character, and in some ways becomes a more typical movie villain. But this isn’t a flaw. This is, after all, a character study film, and this part of it is warranted after what has preceded.

Day-Lewis’ performance is as detailed as the character he is playing. Every gesticulation, every twitch in his face is essential to the performance and is fascinating to watch. While I’d heard great things about the performance before heading into the film, I was fascinated at how Day-Lewis just seems bigger than the screen size. He seems to transcend the film, and at points overshadows the plot. In some cases, this might be a problem, but the tension built in the film prevents this from happening. There are moments of such palpable tension that the film becomes almost uncomfortable to watch. This is what filmmaking can do when it’s executed perfectly. Some have criticised Day-Lewis for channelling John Huston in Chinatown, which is where he drew inspiration for his accent in the film. But if doing this was a problem, it would be a problem I would like to see more in films these days. While I’m trying desperately to avoid hyperbole, it’s no exaggeration to say that Day-Lewis’ performance will be remembered as one of the screens’ greatest. It’s up there with DeNiro playing Travis Bickle and Brando playing Terry Malloy.

Playing opposite Day-Lewis is Paul Dano as both Paul and Eli Sunday. It’s an unenviable task. How do you possibly try to make your presence felt in the face of such overpowering acting? Yet Dano does an excellent job as Eli. Eli is similar to Plainview in only one way- ambition. And Dano carries this across quite well. He’s playing a fire and brimstone preacher, and delivers the scripture spouting venom you’d expect from the role. But it’s when he’s playing off Day-Lewis when he’s at his best. It’s a shame Dano wasn’t recognised more at awards time. Despite being overshadowed by Day-Lewis in the entire film, he does hold his own when opposite him.

But the film isn’t only about the actors. It’s a film not only about ambition, but also made with ambition. A hell of a lot of it. The scope of the film is enormous. It attempts to chart the beginnings of the oil industry through one story. And in a way, it does achieve this. We get a sense of how prospectors and oil companies moved into an area, staked their claim and basically took over. Business took precedence over people, and money was the ultimate goal. This is clear. But at the same time, it’s a microcosm of this, told through the eyes of two men. And it’s this that stops the film from being overshadowed by the acting. It’s through Anderson’s superb writing and direction that the film is such a fascinating watch. There are a number of scenes in the film that are just perfect. The cinematography, by Robert Elswit is incredible. The Californian desert blisters the screen. Jets of flaming oil burn beautifully in the dark. The music, by Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood is very different to what you’d expect from a film as epic as There Will Be Blood. It’s stripped down and doesn’t rely on themes. Yet this compliments the film more than a full orchestral score would. In one of the many perfect scenes, an oil well explodes. Plainview similarly explodes into action. The screen erupts with the image of a towering flame, and the score bursts into percussion. All elements fall into place perfectly.

At this stage, I could write another ten pages about There Will Be Blood, and I’d still not do the film the justice it deserves. It’s difficult to refrain from hyperbole when a film just hits you so hard that you feel it days afterward. With this film, Anderson has elevated himself to the level that few directors achieve. If his career continues as it has begun, we may have a new Stanley Kubrick on our hands. Indeed, it seems fitting that for one particular scene, Anderson wanted to invoke A Clockwork Orange. I do believe that this film is the first classic of the twenty first century. A film that will define this era. The forties had Citizen Kane. The seventies had Taxi Driver. The noughties have There Will Be Blood.


Tuesday, March 4, 2008

JUMPER (2008) - Doug Liman

It gives me great pleasure to introduce a new contributor to the blog. He's a man with impeccable taste, and even better dress-sense. Hopefully this will be the first in a long line of reviews, so enjoy. Jumper, destined to be a classic will be the first of Fran Johnston's reviews. Fran, take it away-

Those crazy cork indie rockers The Sultans of Ping FC once asked the question where"s me jumper? well if their jumper was anybody like Hayden Christensen's character David Rice in the new Doug Liman film Jumper, He was off teleporting himself to far off places like Rome, Egypt, Paris, London or Fiji because that's what good Jumpers do! This might sound like a sweet deal. Being able to pop to anywhere in the world in the blink of an eye. Unfortunatly some people think its a feat that only God should be able to perform. Not least of whom, the righteous leader of a group know as the Paladins, Roland ( samuel L Jackson ), who wants to wipe the Jumpers from the face of the earth. And so begins, with the help of another Jumper named Griffin ( Jamie Bell ), David's fight against the Paladins for his life and the lives of the people he cares about especially his love interest Millie ( Rachel Bilson )

You might think this sounds like a great recipie for a movie. Especially coming from the man who brought us The Bourne Identity. But, even before I sat down in my seat the first bad omen appeared to me in the form of the panpipes version of Celine Dion's My Heart Will Go On blasting out of the cinema speakers. Ok. Fair enough that was nothing to do with the movie but the second bad omen came as the film stared. A monolouge from Hayden Christensen's character David. I thought this was added to save us time by letting the character give us the history of the Jumpers as we drifted in to the begining of his story but it wasnt. It was just a few choice sentences about how great it is being a Jumper. The monolouge then ended never to be heard from again. awww!

The story of David Rice is actually put together pretty well. His relationship with Millie and the discovery of his powers cemented down very early on. His home life living with his deadbeat father and the absense of his mother established solidly and also giving him the perfect platform to run away and enjoy his new found powers.
It is when the grander scheme of the tale enters in the form of Roland though that things start going pear shaped. The basic plot of the movie is Paladins vs Jumpers but we are never given a reason why the Paladins are out to exterminate them. They mention that some Jumpers have gone bad but never say why and their hatred of the Jumpers just seems to stem from nothing. Roland himself coming accross as a near hitleresque character and claiming a divine right to murder these people who, for the record, are mostly just kids.
This massive hole in the history of the players in this movie just leaves you caring less and less about the characters and the story as the movie goes on which is a pity because you do get the feeling that the people behind the film were aiming to be original and not trying to make a no plot no problem movie.

Fifteen minutes before the end two lads behind me started to natter at overly audible levels. Normally I'd care but this time I didn't because you see we had something in common. The film wasn't holding our attention anymore. And as I sat there listening to people rummaging for the jackets they had stuffed under their seats I realised that we wern't the only ones.
Jumper seemed to promise so much but just couldn't deliver and in the end I just came out disapointed. It was like asking for a Transformer for your 10th birthday and getting a Gobot instead. The worst thing about it though was that normally I know if I have really enjoyed this type of film when I jump out the cinema doors wanting to be the main character. For example walking down the street flapping my coat about after seeing V for Vendetta or trying to memorise licence plates while looking like a moody bastard after seeing The Bourne Ultimatum. In this case though I didn't want to imagine I was teleporting out the doors or down the street while making my own sound effects and looking like a mental asylum escapee, I just felt like walking to the train station looking like a man who had just seen a very mediocre movie.
In saying that though as I climbed onto a rush hour train and had my head squashed against the armpit of a tall, overweight man, I did start to wish I could jump to a deck chair on top of the sphinx's head.