Coming soon...

Monday, June 30, 2008

WANTED (2008) - Timur Bekmambetov

2008, the year of the comic book movie... although recently, every year has seemed to be the year of the comic book movie, marches on with another adaptation. Where as the bigger names, the Batmans, Iron Mans and Hellboys are more recognisable to the general public, Wanted, adapted from Mark Millar’s comic of the same name, will be less recognisable. It arrives with less of a fanfare than the other films mentioned, and doesn’t feature leather or rubber clad super humans. Instead, it’s a bit of a gun fetishist movie.

Wesley Gibson is an office-working drone with a cheating girlfriend, miserable apartment and a life that nobody would envy. He’s prone to anxiety attacks and apologises constantly for things that aren’t even his fault. One day he’s approached by a woman in a drug store. She tells Wesley his father was one of the worlds’ greatest assassins and that he is a marked man himself. Wesley is introduced to The Fraternity, an ancient brotherhood of assassins who take orders from fate and assassinate people in order to keep the world stable. Wesley is told he has inherited his father’s gifts and must use them to take his father’s place as one of the world’s top assassins.

Some comic book movies take themselves very seriously. Which works for them. Some are a bit camp, which fits in with some views of the comic medium. And then you have the films that are just about the action. And this is the category Wanted falls into. You really need to check your brain at the door, because there is nothing in the film that really needs any use of the old gray matter. It’s a film that’s all explosions and bullets. There are some real tongue-in-cheek humour moments and plenty of gore. As long as you’re aware of what you’re letting yourself in for, there’s plenty of enjoyment to be had from the film.

The plot of the film is pretty thin. Paper thin. It’s yet another origin story, but since there’s not much to the characters, the origins part is more like a training montage from the Rocky films. These characters don’t have super powers or fancy gadgets. What they do have, however, is a love for guns and bullets that is a little odd. The type of love a man should really reserve for his partner. Or a very fine pair of pants. But if you’ve seen the trailer, you pretty much know what to expect, so don’t complain about the lack of plot.

The performances are very much in tone with the plot. There’s little to do but provide mouths for dialogue and hands for guns. James McAvoy plays the weak Wesley quite convincingly, and can deliver the action parts when necessary. Although there’s little bare knuckle fighting to be done, he has two legs for running, a finger for pulling a trigger and he uses them well. Angelina Jolie has little to do but smirk, stand around and look sexy. She pretty much delivers that by turning up to the set, and when she’s required to deliver some action, she too has little problem. Everyone’s favourite mentor, Morgan Freeman plays Sloan, the leader of the Fraternity. I have a feeling Freeman did this one for the dollars, as it’s not exactly a taxing role. Although it’s worth the price of admission alone to hear the man who embodies gravitas say the line ‘kill this motherfucker.’

Director Timur Bekmambetov previously delivered the almost incomprehensible but visually entertaining Russian films Nightwatch and Daywatch. Those films were thick with visual style, and Bekmambetov delivers the same here. There are some moments that will either make you grin or roll your eyes. Some of the action sequences get a little confusing. But it’s a frenetic film and it makes no apologies for being that way. Really, Wanted is 2008’s 300. It’s absolutely nothing but testosterone and action. For some, that will fall far from the mark of a decent film. But if you accept the film for what it is, you’ll at least be entertained.


Dead Man's Shoes, Dog Altogether and Paddy Considine

On Saturday afternoon, the IFI screened Shane Meadows' Dead Man's Shoes as part of the Darklight Film Festival. After the film was screened, we were shown Dog Altogether, directed by Dead Man's Shoes actor, Paddy Considine. Considine was on hand to answer a few questions about the film and his work in general. The screening was packed.

If you've read anything I've written about Shane Meadows, you'll know I'm a pretty big fan, and Dead Man's Shoes is an excellent film. The performances from Considine and Toby Kebbell are amazing and the script, co-written by Meadows and Considine is both funny and devastating. It's a great film. Dog Altogether, Considine's first outing as director is a Bafta winning short about a violent, angry man who is seaching for any shred of redemption. It's a dark watch, but features a brilliant central performance by Peter Mullan. Hopefully Considine continues to explore directing as well as acting.

As for what he has in store, Considine stated that he's currently exploring a film with Shane Meadows which he referred to as 'King of the Gypsies.' He didn't say much about it, but they're seeing about putting it into production next year. At the moment, Considine's concentrating on writing more than acting. He went on to explain that working with young directors was a mixed bag. While the directors certainly had visual flair, he found that their direction of the actors left something to be desired. So his decision to step behind the camera was driven by a desire to put what he had learned in front of the camera to good use. When asked by an audience member if he considered doing the bigger roles such as The Bourne Supremacy as 'selling out,' Considine quickly retorted that he'd sell out in a second, which resulted in laughter, clapping and cheering from the audience.

It was great to see Dead Man's Shoes on the big screen, and opportunities to see shorts are few and far between. Considine was very relaxed and open with the packed cinema and it was very interesting to see him speak about his work.

For more information on The Darklight Film Festival, check out

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Time waits for no man...

Today seems to be Brad Pitt day. Just came across the trailer for David Fincher's new film, The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button. Fincher's one of the finest directors around and the subject material is really interesting. And I have to admit, the film looks pretty damn awesome. We'll have to wait until the end of the year for this one, however. By which time, we'll all be a little bit older.

THE HAPPENING (2008) - M. Night Shyamalan

M. Night Shyamalan hit the big time in 1999 with his third film, The Sixth Sense. It saw his career skyrocket from relative unknown to claims that he was the next Spielberg. However, since the release of The Sixth Sense, Shyamalan’s career has been on a steady decline. It hit an all-time low with 2006’s Lady In The Water, a film so utterly self-indulgent and ridiculous that many thought the director had committed career suicide. However, this year we get his follow up in The Happening. Is it a
return to form?

The Happening begins with an event in Central Park that defies explanation. People stop moving and then inexplicably commit suicide. In Pennsylvania, the faculty of a school is called together and told to go home due to a ‘terrorist attack.’ We then join Elliot Moore, a science teacher and his family as they get as far away from the large cities as possible. But as the film progresses, it becomes clear that what his happening is nothing to do with a terrorist attack, and may be something far more sinister and dangerous.

I dunno where to start with this film. The premise is interesting. People start dying and there’s no explanation as to why. But this has been done before. In many movies. The problem with The Happening is, it’s all premise, and no story. The opening twenty minutes or so do pique your interest. The mystery is set up and well, that’s pretty much it. After that, the film goes nowhere. And for a film that’s ninety minutes long, this is a detrimental thing. The script is utterly farcical. The dialogue is clunky at best, and laugh-out loud at worst. When characters aren’t standing around explaining things to each other and revealing exposition, they’re attempting to discuss relationships with each other that are never fully fleshed out. When we finally do find out what’s happening, eye brows are raised and belief flies out the window. In fact, the film would have been far more credible if it had accepted it’s B-Movie tendencies and had the trees actually start physically assaulting people. At least then Shyamalan could have stopped trying so hard to be grave and serious and could have had some fun.

The acting in the film is quite honestly, appalling. Mark Wahlberg and Zooey Deschanel, the two leads in the film are capable of far better performances. Yet here, they’re no better than amateurs. At times, I found myself staring in awe of how bad their acting was. Yet it’s not entirely their fault. The script they have to work with is very weak, leaving them with very little motivation and dialogue that just sounds awful. It’s never fully explained as to why we’re following these people or why we should care about their plight. Indeed, when Wahlberg starts spouting science, the film takes a turn into the comedic.

And there are plenty of comedic moments in the film. I don’t need a twist in a movie. In fact, sometimes a twist can be a bit of a cop-out. But it seems the twist in The Happening is that the comedic moments aren’t funny and the non-comedic moments are unintentionally hilarious. And it’s these moments that are the only reason to see The Happening. In one hilarious sequence, an old woman literally starts head-butting her way through a wall. While it’s supposed to be horrific and scary, the entire audience I was watching the film with were in convulsions of laughter. This really is a terrible, terrible film.

M. Night Shyamalan may not have committed career suicide with Lady In The Water, but The Happening does not in any way redeem him after that awful film. It seems that Shyamalan has run out of steam and now is more interested in promoting himself as the saviour of man-kind. Something he started in his last film. The closing moments of The Happening feature a ham-fisted attempt at a warning to the audience about environmental disaster. But it’s such a badly conceived moment that it actually made me want to set fire to a pile of tyres just to piss Shyamalan off. This is a bad film. Poorly scripted, appallingly acted, with a premise that is kind of ridiculous and no third act, there’s nothing really redeeming about it.


Coen Brothers' next hit

The Saul Bass inspired poster for the Coen Brothers' latest, Burn After Reading has been released. The follow up to the highly successful No Country For Old Men sees the Coens once again tackle dark comedy. And seeing as my favorite of their films is The Big Lebowski, I for one, am pretty excited. The impressive cast includes George Clooney, Frances McDormand, John Malkovich, Tilda Swinton and Brad Pitt, who looks to be bringing the goods once again after his brilliant performance in The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford. This comes our way in October.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Stan Winston 1946-2008

Special effects and make up legend Stan Winston has passed away at the age of 62. Without the legendary make up wizard, such films as Terminator 2, Aliens and Jurassic Park would not have had the visual impact as they did. In an age where computer generated effects are taking over the role of the make up artist, it's sad to see such a visionary as Stan Winston go.

Friday, June 13, 2008

THE INCREDIBLE HULK (2008) - Louis Leterrier

Once upon a time, Ang Lee directed a film about a giant green man who had anger management problems and liked so smash things up. The powers that be, along with a large number of fans didn’t think the movie was up to scratch. They complained and complained and the large green man’s opus disappeared into obscurity and the cast and crew who brought the green man to life were dropped from any subsequent film about the character. Five years later, a new director, and a new cast came along and the green man was resurrected in an attempt to reboot the ailing franchise. And thus, in 2008, The Incredible Hulk was unleashed.

The Incredible Hulk pretty much picks up where the last film left off, without making any reference to it’s predecessor. In the credits sequence, we’re given a very light version of how Bruce Banner’s gamma ray experiment went horribly wrong and turned him into the mutating green Hulk. We see how he went on the run and General Ross, the father of Banner’s love began the odyssey to find Banner. We’re then transported to Brazil where Banner is working for a bottling plant while in his spare time he searches for a cure for his Hulk infection. After a freak accident, General Ross learns of Banner’s location and sends a squad of soldiers led by somewhat mad soldier Emil Blonsky to bring Banner in. After it all goes horribly wrong, Ross attempts to create a super-soldier using all-too-willing Blonsky as a guinea pig. But Blonsky becomes addicted to the serum and eventually turns into Abomination, whom only the Hulk has the power to stop.

I have to admit, I’m one of the few who really enjoyed Ang Lee’s version of the Hulk story. I will admit, it did have it’s problems. Eric Banna was a little too dashing to play Bruce Banner. The Hulk’s nemesis in that film was a little far out in terms of the usual super-hero villain. But aside from those minor quibbles, I thought Hulk was a massive and quite refreshing departure from the usual comic-book fare. So when I heard of Louis Leterrier’s reboot of the franchise, I was a little surprised. And having watched the film, it’s clear that Marvel pretty much wanted to ‘make up’ to the fans of the Hulk for the lack of action in the first film. So what we get in The Incredible Hulk is a film that is basically a bunch of action sequences tied tenuously together with a very thin story. In terms of story, the most interesting moment for me lies in the last few moments. A character from a recently released Marvel adaptation steps into this film and begins to tie a number of franchises together. While, for me it’s no Batman and Superman teaming up, it’s still a moment you can’t help grinning at. Especially if you know exactly where all these little moments are going.

What makes Bruce Banner/Hulk such an interesting character is his relationship to anger. His attempt to control this rage inside him and how it overcomes him and unleashes this Hyde-like character. The unfortunate thing with The Incredible Hulk is that this side of the story is only lightly touched upon. We have some interesting moments at the beginning of the film where we see Banner learning techniques to control his anger through breathing. We see him use... a watch to monitor his heart rate. Not exactly Shakespeare, but it carries the idea across. But once the first confrontation happens, everything else takes back seat to getting to the action sequences. In fact, you wouldn’t find yourself lost if you fast forwarded through the moments in between the set pieces to get to the next fight.

As for the fights themselves. Well, they’re quite impressive. There’s plenty of smashing, destroying and demolishing to keep the audience entertained. The fight in campus is more amusing than exciting as the military start with pistols and as things keep failing to bring the Hulk down, Ross just orders in bigger and bigger guns. The most interesting moment in this confrontation is between Hulk and Blonsky who’s been injected with the serum giving him super speed and agility, but keeping him human. Seeing more of this would have been great. Where the action does fall down, however, is in terms of special effects. Here, the film does seem to suffer. When the action with the Hulk kicks in, the film starts to look way too much like a cut-scene from a computer game. It’s not just that the Hulk looks way too CGI. It’s that everything, the Hulk, his environment, it all just looks too out of place within the rest of the film. One scene, featuring the Hulk and Betty Ross is more impressive than the others, but you still feel like every time the camera focuses on the Hulk, you’re looking at a cartoon. The design in Lee’s Hulk was just that bit better. It seemed less cartooney, more real and looked a helluva lot more like the Banner of that film than this Hulk does of Edward Norton. Once Norton changes into the Hulk, there is nothing of a resemblance between the two sides of the same character.

The cast is perfectly adequate for their roles. The stand out performances are from William Hurt as General Ross and Tim Roth as Emil Blonsky. Maybe it’s because villains get the juiciest roles that these actors seem to be streets ahead of everyone else. But Hurt and Roth are both excellent actors and are certainly relishing playing the bad guys. Edward Norton does a good enough job as Bruce Banner. Unfortunately, due to the script, written by Zak Penn who wrote the excellent X-Men 2 and the truly awful X-Men: The Last Stand, Fantastic Four and Elektra, Norton isn’t given much to do. He looks melancholy when secretly watching Betty Ross. And he looks fearful in the moment before Hulking out. But other than this, he’s not got much else to do other than furrow his brow in concentration when on a computer. Having seen Norton excel in a role that could be seen as similar to the Hulk in Fight Club, it’s a missed opportunity not to give Norton more to do. But then, the script is very flimsy.

Leterrier’s direction is adequate. During some of the action sequences, everything moves so fast and frenetically, that you wish things would just be a little clearer. But this is a minor quibble. It’s no Transformers, believe me. The Incredible Hulk is something of a quandary. For many people, it will be a vastly superior film to Ang Lee’s Hulk due to the injection of plenty of fight sequences. And for others, the lack of substance to the script will be a major flaw. If you could combine Lee’s depth of story to Leterrier’s action, you’d have something really special. But for now, The Incredible Hulk is entertaining, but nothing to get particularly excited about.


Thursday, June 12, 2008

Fourth Dark Knight TV spot

For your viewing pleasure! And it's STILL over a month away!

Monday, June 9, 2008

GONE BABY GONE (2007) - Ben Affleck

Over the years, Ben Affleck’s career has taken somewhat of a bashing. After the whole ‘Bennifer’ debacle, it became hard to take the guy seriously as an actor. Aside from a worthy turn in Hollywoodland, Affleck has become somewhat of a victim of his own fame. So it’s interesting that his third trip behind the camera (after two films that never even saw a release) has garnered such positive feedback. Gone Baby Gone has been quite a success in the states, and after being delayed due to the Madeline McCann case, finally gets it’s release this side of the water.

Taking place in Boston, Massachusetts, Gone Baby Gone centres on Patrick Kenzie, a private detective who specialises in finding people who ‘fell through the cracks.’ Patrick and his girlfriend/associate, Angie are hired by Bea McCready, the sister in law of drunk and sometimes junkie Helene McCready. Helene’s 4-year old daughter Amanda has been kidnapped. Against almost everyone’s wishes, Patrick takes on the case to find Amanda. But as he investigates the kidnapping, it appears that the case may not be a simple kidnapping.

Gone Baby Gone is written by Dennis Lehane, the author of Mystic River. And as such, Gone Baby Gone feels quite like Mystic River. In both style and mood. Both stories take place in Boston, and both stories deal with quite dark subject matter. And while I found myself somewhat baffled with the love that Mystic River garnered from pretty much everyone, I also find myself a bit mystified by the universal love for Gone Baby Gone.

Gone Baby Gone is quite an impressive film from Ben Affleck. He has directed before, but this is his first big release, and he does quite well in the director’s chair. Where the film falls somewhat flat, however, is in the story department. Half of Gone Baby Gone is quite excellent. But the second half of the film takes a twist that makes the film kinda ridiculous. It’s a thriller so twists can be expected. But the twist, and the many twists after this are just a little too over the top. And the sequence of events that lead to the twist are also rather silly. It’s difficult to say much without giving anything away, but it’s all a little too tenuous and unbelievable.

The performances, on the other hand, are all excellent. Ben’s brother Casey, as Patrick Kenzie, again shows his talent after his breakthrough performance in last year’s The Assassination of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford. He’s clearly got the chops his brother seems to be without, and he carries the film well. One particular scene, set in a bar room early in the film shows the talent both brothers have and is almost terrifying. Amy Ryan, who garnered an Oscar nomination for her performance as Helene McCready is also brilliant. Her character is pretty loathsome, and Ryan really pulls this off. It’s an excellent performance. Two of my favourite actors, Ed Harris and Morgan Freeman also fill out the cast. And while they’re both on their usual brilliant top form, their characters are involved in the twists and it somewhat detracts from the overall experience.

Don’t get me wrong, Gone Baby Gone isn’t a bad film. The first hour or so of the film really is excellent. It’s like watching The Wire without the wiretaps. It’s just a damn shame the later part of the film lets the first part down so much. Excellent performances and solid direction cant save the film after it takes such a bizarre and ill-judged twist. It’s not the fault of the actors or director, but the fault of the story. Could have been so much better.


Tuesday, June 3, 2008

What happens when you let your girlfriend choose what movie to see?

She makes you go see Sex And The City over Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull and Gone Baby Gone.

Needless to say, it was crap.