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Saturday, July 26, 2008

THE DARK KNIGHT (2008) - Christopher Nolan

In case you’ve been living under a rock for the last six months, the marketing for Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight has been gaining frantic momentum. The film finally got it’s release in the last week. The Dark Knight is the sequel to 2005’s Batman Begins, the film that resurrected the franchise after it was beaten to a horrible neon death by Joel Schumacher. The film, and it’s sequel, take a whole different approach to the subject matter, aiming for films more grounded in ‘reality’ than the whole gothic approach established in Burton’s movies. And while it may be difficult, I’ll resist the urge to descend into hyperbolic fanboy ranting when I talk about the film.

The Dark Knight sees Batman dealing with the problems of escalation which he and Jim Gordon discussed at the end of Batman Begins. Crime in Gotham is taken to a whole new level when a character known only as The Joker begins his campaign to bring chaos to the order in Gotham. However, the new district atourney, Harvey Dent is Gotham’s shining knight. He’s incorruptible and determined to bring a new age to Gotham. Seeing this, Bruce Wayne begins to envision an end to his crusade. Gotham will no longer need a hero in him. They’ll have a public hero in Harvey Dent.

It’s very difficult to know where to begin with The Dark Knight. The thing that has people talking the most is Heath Ledger’s performance. A pretty vigorous campaign has been launched to see the actor at least nominated for an Academy Award. While I think that’s all rather stupid, I will admit, his performance is astonishing. I remember when he was cast, many people doubted the actor could pull it off. I did raise an eyebrow, but I maintained that Nolan knew what he was doing. And he certainly has proved the doubters wrong. Ledger’s Joker is quite unlike any comic book villain put to screen. Forget Nicholson’s now camp gay uncle Joker from 1989’s Batman. This Joker is formidable. He does get laughs, but the laughs for the most part are out of shock. Ledger spent a great deal of time becoming the character, and every nuance shows how deeply he immersed himself in the role.

And while Ledger is the face and body of the Joker, a great deal of credit must go to Christopher Nolan and his brother Jonathan for writing the character. What I found most interesting about their script is that when he’s off screen, even then the sense of malice created by the Joker lingers over proceedings. To that end, the point can be made that the Joker almost overshadows the entire film. Which, if treated incorrectly, could have spelled disaster for the movie. However, the Nolans’ writing is meticulous. Some people have complained that the film is too long. I couldn’t disagree more. It is long. But the pace is relentless. There’s plenty to cram in, and if I was to have one complaint about the film’s running time it would be that the inclusion of Two-Face was a little brief. Two-Face is, for me, is second only to the Joker as Batman’s most compelling villain. He was once a pillar of virtue who, through tragic events, turns to the dark side. He’s obsessed with chance, and this makes for a very compelling character. Aaron Eckhart, who plays Dent certainly delivers a compelling performance. He’s dynamic and energetic, but he also has an edge. An edge the Joker seems determined to exploit. It’s a shame Two-Face makes such a brief appearance, because Eckhart certainly makes him a character worthy of a film by himself.

On the other side of the coin (see what I did there?) we have Christian Bale and Gary Oldman returning as the good, Bruce Wayne/Batman and Jim Gordon. Something that was only touched upon in the last film was Bruce Wayne’s billionaire playboy lifestyle. In The Dark Knight, we get a better view of Wayne’s lifestyle. Bale delivers the goods here, certainly carrying across the cocksure attitude Wayne has developed to throw off suspicions that he is Batman. The Bat-voice is back again. It’s a little strong at the start of the film, but eases up and never becomes too much of a hindrance. Gary Oldman delivers the second best performance of the film. It’s a very understated performance, and it’s so subtle, it almost goes unnoticed. But Oldman’s presence is so integral to the success of the film that there would be a huge void were his character removed. In a film that’s jam packed full of larger than life characters, it’s a stand out performance to have someone so real as Gordon.

Nolan’s direction is meticulous. He stated that Michael Mann’s Heat was a great inspiration for The Dark Knight, and you certainly get that impression watching the film. As with Heat, the pace moves very quickly, with not one scene wasted with pointless exposition. As we’ve come to expect from Nolan’s films, there are some sleights of hand in the writing. Nolan seems to delight in misdirection, and it’s no different in this film. There are many themes touched upon in the film. Light and dark. The question of the goodness in human nature. At moments, the morality is with little subtlety. But the film never gets too heavy handed. It’s also a beautifully shot film. Wally Pfister has developed a relationship with Nolan since Memento, and their combined efforts make for a visually stunning piece of film. Special mention must be made for the score of the film. James Newton Howard’s themes return for the film, but this time Hans Zimmer completes the score. For the Joker, he uses one simple note played out on violins. It’s incredibly ominous, and just added to the menace of the Joker.

As a comic book film, The Dark Knight is without a doubt the finest comic book adaptation put to screen. The Batman animated series from the 1990s was one of the most faithful depictions of the character, and this film is as close to that series as you’re ever going to see. But the film transcends the pigeon holing that comes with the words ‘comic book movie.’ Sure, it’s a film about a guy who dresses up as a bat and hunts down a murderous clown. But it’s as good as any crime drama you’re likely to see. The hype surrounding Ledger’s Joker is not exaggerated. He is every bit as good as you’re hearing. He’s incredibly menacing, yet still humorous as you’d expect from the character. He’s the best thing about the very strong ensemble cast. There are a few elements I haven’t covered. The fact that we see Batman as a detective, the essence of what the Batman character is. Maggie Gyllenhaal’s performance as Rachael Dawes, which is vastly superior to Katie Holmes’ performance in Batman Begins. The superb chase through Gotham streets, one of the stand out action sequences not only in the film, but this year. But to cover these things would require another review by itself. The Dark Knight is incredibly entertaining and compelling. As well as being the best film of the summer it’s one of the best of the year. It’s the finest of all comic book films.


Monday, July 21, 2008

WALL-E (2008) - Andrew Stanton

Only two weeks ago, I saw Dreamworks’ big animated release for this year, Kung Fu Panda. And it was a damn entertaining watch. Funny, exciting, with gorgeous character designs, I thought it would be the best of the CGI films of this year. That was, until I witnessed the pure joy that is Pixar’s WALL-E.

Set in the distant future, Earth has been abandoned due to the planet becoming overrun with garbage produced by the corporation, Buy N Large. Every human has abandoned the planet to live on large interstellar luxury liners. Left on earth are robots, Waste Allocation Load Lifter Earth-Class or WALL-E. The last of these robots is our titular hero. He spends his days compacting rubbish. However, whenever he finds a trinket he is fascinated by, he keeps it. Years of isolation have led to this one robot to develop a personality. He loves musicals, is mesmerised by the simplest of trinkets and has a cockroach friend. One day, a ship lands on Earth and drops of EVE, a feminine robot tasked with doing reconnaissance on Earth. WALL-E is immediately infatuated with her and after a few aborted introductions, they become close. But EVE’s mission is a success and she is recovered by her mother ship. And WALL-E does everything he can to rescue his love.

There’s so much right with WALL-E, it’s hard to know where to start. Firstly, the film looks gorgeous. From the character designs to the production designs and cinematography, there’s not one frame of WALL-E that isn’t worthy of a poster by itself. WALL-E’s design is pretty basic, he’s a box with a head, arms and treads. But in the hands of the Pixar animators, he bursts with personality. The first thirty minutes of the film are dialogue free. This time is mainly spent with WALL-E exploring and discovering. And had the film continued this way, I’d have been perfectly happy! But then, this is a narrative film, so story had to take precedence. It’s a testament to the quality of animation that this simple act of exploration is so compelling. But maybe that’s just the animator in me wanting to see more!

It would have been very interesting if the team behind WALL-E had let the entire film go without a single human character or line of dialogue. Sure, WALL-E has little words to say now and again, but for the most part, everything is conveyed in gesture. And every emotion and thought is perfectly clear. When the humans do appear, the film takes a knock. While it’s an obvious route to have to go down, it’s just a shame that it needed to be done. I cant see any reason why anyone wouldn’t engage with the personality of WALL-E and his love story with EVE. We didn’t need the human characters in the film.

While it’s all well and good to gush endlessly about how impressive the technical aspects of the film are, it wouldn’t be a film without a story. After all, WALL-E is essentially a love story, and makes no apology for it. It’s a pretty heart-warming love story too. WALL-E is such a compassionate and dedicated character that it’s difficult not to be turned into a blubbering mess when watching him. In fact, it’s easy to say that if you aren’t won over by the character, it’s proof you were born without a soul.

There’s no real point in going on with this review. WALL-E’s a brilliant film, and while it doesn’t have the laugh ratio of Kung Fu Panda, it’s just a better movie. It’s one of Pixar’s best, and something all involved with should be very very proud of. As an animator, it’s a stunning piece of work and proves that you can put personality to anything, no matter how organic or inorganic it is. As a film fan, it’s a touching, warm, gorgeous film.



The Chronicles Of Narnia: Prince Caspian marks the second film in the series that could possibly (although not probably) run to seven. Andrew Adamson returns to the director’s chair for the sequel which, to put it kindly, isn’t the most engaging of films. I mean, the scenery is beautiful. It’s full of action. But for some reason, the film lacks almost anything worth caring about.

In this film, we open with Prince Caspian, the heir to the throne of Narnia being smuggled out of his kingdom. His evil uncle, Miraz, wants the Prince dead so he can place himself in the throne. Caspian escapes an assassination attempt and calls for the old kings and queens of Narnia for help. The Pevensie children, Peter, Edmund, Susan and Lucy are whisked back to Narnia, where they find the landscape changed to the point where it’s unrecognisable. And worst of all, the Narnians are in hiding, thought to be extinct. And Aslan is nowhere to be found. Prince Caspian raises an army of Narnians to take back his throne and bring peace to Narnia but is disappointed to find that the kings and queens he summoned are mere children. And so two battles begin. One, a battle of wills between Caspian and Peter Pevensie as to who should lead the army, and the battle between the Narnians and the Telmarines, the humans who forced the Narnians into hiding.

One word can sum up The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian. Boring. From the beginning to the very end, you’ll be hard pressed to raise more than one eyebrow in anything resembling excitement, surprise, tension or entertainment. Sure, the New Zealand and Czech Republic backdrop is gorgeous. But it’s gorgeous in any film. It takes more than pretty scenery to make a decent film. The film breaks down like this. Escape, return, argue, attack, argue, defend, attack, go home. That’s literally the film. The characters are in no way engaging and the battles are sleep inducing. Unfortunately, Andrew Adamson cannot direct a fight or battle scene. He ends up using that tired old cliché, slow motion and everything just becomes lacklustre. There’s a lot of proclaiming ‘FOR NARNIA!’ ‘FOR ASLAN!’ For Christ sake, gimme something interesting to watch.

I’ll admit, I haven’t read C.S. Lewis’ books. But from watching the film, it just seems that despite 1300 years passing from the time the children left Narnia to the time they returned, they’re not all that sad everything has changed. They lament for a quick moment that their friends are all dead, but then they skip off into the wood to meet delightful mouse creatures with miniature swords and badgers who can talk. It’s just all a little trite. The five principal actors, the Pevensies played by William Moseley, Anna Popplewell, Skandar Keynes and Georgie Henley and Prince Caspian, played by Ben Barnes either bicker amongst themselves or stand with jaws agape, staring at blank spaces to later be filled by special effects. Their performances, if you can call them that, are just ineffectual. In fact, Barnes, who plays the titular character, seems to be a second tier character. I just found myself wishing King Miraz, the villain, would slap the children and tell them to behave.

The only actor who actually was worth watching was Peter Dinklage as a miniature Hulk Hogan. Dinklage is a fine actor, and plays the gruff dwarf Trumpkin with gusto. At one point I found myself waking up as Tilda Swinton’s White Witch made an appearance, but that quickly faded as it became clear she was only popping in to make a cameo.

I don’t see The Chronicles of Narnia having much more in the way of legs if the upcoming Voyage of the Dawn Treader is as boring as Prince Caspian. Everything in this movie has been done before, and a million times better by Peter Jackson. Prince Caspian is Lord of the Rings-lite. Don’t waste your money.



Kids’ movies have come a long way from cartoons and furry puppets. It seems with the evolution of technology, storytelling in kids’ movies has also grown up to some respect. And with the arrival of Harry Potter, things have been kicked up yet another notch. Kids in these movies now have to deal with adult situations mixed with the fantastical. And that means there’s also something for the adults in the audience to get to grips with in the movie. One such movie, The Spiderwick Chronicles, was released this year. Yet despite being a pretty strong movie, it seemed to disappear pretty quickly.

Adapted from the books by Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi, The Spiderwick Chronicles tells of the Grace family. Helen, her daughter Mallory and identical twin sons, Simon and Jared move to an old house that once belonged to Helen’s elderly Aunt Lucinda. Helen has recently divorced and is looking for a new start for her family. While Mallory and Simon seem fine with the move, Jared is finding it hard to control his anger, while missing his father. When strange things happen within the house, Jared is blamed. Cleaning up the mess, Jared discovers an old book written by Aunt Lucinda’s father, Arthur. The book, a field guide to recognising and dealing with goblins and fairy folk lands Jared in trouble with the a shape-shifting Ogre named Mulgarath, determined to get his hands on the book so that he can rule the world.

For a kids’ film, The Spiderwick Chronicles is a pretty scary watch. I know, I know, it’s a film about goblins and fairies. But it’s a testament to the crew that they can create quite an atmosphere in a film that’s for children. But it’s not surprising, considering the crew involved with the film. John Sayles worked on the screenplay. Effects legend, Phil Tippet who’s worked on such films as Star Wars, RoboCop and Starship Troopers designed the creature effects. James Horner did the music, and Spielberg’s personal editor, Michael Kahn edited the film. With such heavyweights behind the film, it’s not surprising that the production values are so high.

The acting is pretty top knotch from the cast. Freddy Highmore, who made quite a debut in Finding Neverland plays both Simon and Jared in the film. Highmore’s American accent is a little off, but his performance isn’t. He’s quite different in both roles. It’s more than just a different hair style that separates the twins. While Jared is more the central character, there’s plenty for Simon to do, and both characters are portrayed well. Sarah Bolger plays Mallory, and also brings the older sister bitchiness to the film with ease. The adult actors in the film could quite easily have phoned in their performances, but give it socks. David Strathairn plays Arthur Spiderwick, the man obsessed with the Fairy world. He’s suitably ditzy in playing the professor, and brings a certain gravitas to the role. And crazy old Nick Nolte turns up as Mulgarath. Nolte’s always a joy to watch. You’re never quite sure what he’s going to do, and for the role of the villain, he’s perfect.

As kids’ movies go, The Spiderwick Chronicles is one of the better ones. While it is for kids, there’s the themes of separation and abandonment by a parent also at play. It’s almost Spielbergian how the film deals with an absent father. And the production values also suggest this. But that aside, it’s a pretty good film. And one that’ll keep adults engaged as well as kids.


[REC] (2007) - Juame Balaguero & Paco Plaza

Spanish horror seems to be the new Asian horror. Over the last few years, films like The Others, Pan’s Labyrinth and The Orphanage have shocked and terrified audiences. And each of these films has brought something new to the table. Released last year, [REC] is one of the latest Spanish horror film to arrive at our doors. While parts of the film have been done before, [REC] also manages to hold it’s own when put up against other similar films.

[REC] is a mockumentary in the same style as The Blair Witch project. We observe proceedings through the lens of a video camera, as a documentary crew follows a team of fire fighters over the space of a night. The crew consists of a cameraman we never see and sexy presenter Angela. They hop on board the fire engine after an emergency call is placed. The crew arrive at a tenement building where screams are heard from one of the apartments. When the police and fire crew enter the apartment, they are viciously attacked by a bloody and screaming old woman. Things go from bad to worse when the government arrive at the tenement, seal everyone in and tell them nobody can leave. And the danger from within grows ever more deadly.

What works so well with [REC] is that it’s a total slow-burner. The film begins in a light hearted manner. Angela, the sassy reporter is after action and goes through the motions of interviewing various fire fighters while taking the piss at times. As we arrive at the tenement, you feel like you’re watching rough footage of a pre-watershed fly on the wall documentary. We’re introduced to the characters in the film and there are a few funny moments. But as things turn dark, the audience, like the characters in the film become more isolated and confused. There are numerous questions, but no answers. It’s a tried and tested formula, and filmmakers Juame Balaguero and Paco Plaza do an excellent job of building the tension.

The film feels very similar to 28 Days Later. In fact, it’s not hard to imagine that [REC] takes place in the same universe as 28 Days Later, just in a different part of the world. The infection that the people are suffering from shares the same symptoms as the rage virus in 28 Days, and 28 Weeks Later. It's not identical, it just looks the same. So from that respect, you may not be too frightened by the film. But events are kept moving swiftly, and during the tension moments, you are left biting your nails.

However, the real terrifying moment comes towards the end of the film. Like most great horror films, [REC] builds it’s tension to a crescendo and then unleashes the goods on the audience. And I must admit, when events did climax, I was pretty terrified. Again, the moment in the film felt like something I have seen before. If you’ve ever seen the Chris Cunningham short, Rubber Johnny, you’ll have some idea of what to expect. However, despite having seen similar before, the execution of the film pushes these minor complaints out of the picture. The film is better than the sum of it’s parts. The acting, for the most part is pretty good. Angela, played by Manuela Velasco is the character we’re given most access too. She’s the host of the show, and therefore is the actor with most screen time. She’s cocky at the start and terrified by the end, so she puts in a good performance. Everyone else gets little more than passing shots and a quick interview. But when they have to freak out, they freak out well!

As I’ve said, [REC] isn’t the most original film in the world. It lifts elements from other films, however it rearranges them well and builds tension very well. The ending is genuinely terrifying. [REC] would make a good third part of a 28 Days/Weeks marathon night. It shares a similar approach to these films and wouldn’t seem out of place among them. Unfortunately, a US remake is on it's way. Totally unnecessary. One note... there’s a lot of screaming in the film. If you’ve sleeping housemates, keep the volume down!


Saturday, July 19, 2008

Trek... the next frontier.

I cant say that I'm all too excited over J.J. Abrams' new Trek movie. I've always been more of a TNG fan than an original series fan. As casting details of the new reimagining of the original series emerged, I found myself more ammused than excited. But this poster, just released has piqued my interest. Will the movie reignite intrest in the almost dead franchise? Well, if the success of Lost and Cloverfield are anything to go by.....

Friday, July 18, 2008

Who watches the Watchmen...

For any of you who have read the graphic novel, Zach Snyder's adaptation of Watchmen is a film we have eagrely awaited. For years, the unfilmable comic has been greenlit and subsequently pulled from production. Finally, it is upon us. Here is the teaser. The first glimpse of the film is here, and boy, is it something to behold. Hyperbole aside, this will be unlike any comic book movie that has come before. 2009 seems like an age away.

The trailer.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Before the Thunder...

In a twist that mirrors what went on behind the scenes of Apocalypse Now, the team behing Tropic Thunder are working on a mockumentary about the making of the film. The mockumentary is called 'Rain Of Madness.' A comedy version of Hearts of Darkness, it would seem!

Anyway, the trailer is here. Looks like it'll be a funny companion piece to Tropic Thunder.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

KUNG FU PANDA (2008) - Mark Osborne & John Stevenson

After the appalling Shrek The Third was released last year, it seemed that Dreamworks Animation were just gunning for cash, and not particularly interested in releasing animated films with any substance at all. CGI animation is no longer the jaw-dropping visual goldmine it once was, as audiences have become accustomed to high-quality 3D animation. So visuals alone no longer cut it. In order to get the audiences in the seats, the writers of these films strive to write more layered stories, with jokes not just for kids, but for adults too. To this end, sometimes plot can suffer in order to squeeze in one more joke. So it’s refreshing to see a film like Kung Fu Panda. It doesn’t take itself too seriously and still manages to be very entertaining.

Po is the laziest and clumsiest animal in the Valley of Peace. He works in his father’s noodle shop. But his real dream is to be a mighty Kung Fu warrior. When it is announced that Oogway, the master of the Kung Fu temple is to choose the Dragon Warrior, the prophesised warrior destined to bring peace to the valley, Po makes his way to the temple for the festivities. Much to everyone’s surprise (and none to that of the audience), Po is chosen. He gets to train under Master Shifu, alongside his heroes, the Furious Five- Monkey, Tigress, Mantis, Viper and Crane, all of whom resent this blow-in. And in a prison far away from the valley, shamed warrior Tai Lung escapes from his captors and makes his way back to the Valley of Peace to claim the title of Dragon Warrior for himself.

Okay, so Kung Fu Panda’s plot isn’t exactly Citizen Kane. It’s the typical story of a no-hoper who turns his luck around and becomes something nobody ever thought he could be. He faces challenges he shouldn’t overcome, but he finds a way. He rises to the challenge. It’s nothing we haven’t seen before. But in the hands of directors, Mark Osborne and John Stevenson, Kung Fu Panda proves to be a damn entertaining watch. The success of the film rests largely on the shoulders of Jack Black, who voices Po. He’s an actor who’s familiar to both older and younger audiences, and his vocal talents seem to embody Po perfectly. He’s the character who gets all the laughs, which mostly come from Po falling over in various different ways.

That’s not to say that Kung Fu Panda is a film that relies on one element. When the action scenes kick in, they’re very entertaining. And at 92 minutes, the film moves at a very fast pace. At times, character development suffers. And it seems that some of the voice talents are a bit wasted. The Furious Five, voiced by Angelina Jolie, Seth Rogen, Lucy Liu, David Cross and Jackie Chan, yes, Jackie Chan, are given little to do in the film. Their resentment towards Po isn’t really explored. This element is sacrificed in order to keep things moving along. But then, this is a kids’ film, and it makes no attempt to be anything else. And it’s because of that, and despite the minor flaws that the film works very well.

The animation, as expected, is gorgeous. Po’s design works very well for the physical comedy in the film. At times, there are slow motion close-ups of Po’s gurning face, and these moments are pretty funny in themselves. The animation team seem to be having a lot of fun acting with this character. The production design in particular is gorgeous. The film has a visual style of it’s own, blending natural elements such as falling cherry blossoms, with cold, almost industrial style of Tai Lung’s prison. The production team are on top form and have created in Kung Fu Panda the most visually impressive of all the Dreamworks productions to date.

Kung Fu Panda is a kids’ film. It doesn’t layer in adult jokes that other animated films are so fond of doing these days. It’s unashamedly for the kids and if you can accept the prat-falls and juvenile nature of the comedy, then it’s a very entertaining film. Making up a helluva lot for last year’s terrible Shrek debacle, Kung Fu Panda is a film the Dreamworks guys can be proud of. Whether or not it’ll be able to trump Pixar’s Wall-E is questionable at this stage. But it remains a very entertaining film none the less.


Monday, July 7, 2008

THE MIST (2007) - Frank Darabont

Frank Darabont and Stephen King are a combination that work as well as salt and vinegar. Rum and coke. Lucas and Spielberg... well, maybe not so much the last one. The Shawshank Redemption, Darabont’s break out, and his second King adaptation is widely considered one of the greatest films ever made. After Shawshank came The Green Mile, another success. And now, we have The Mist, an adaptation of a King short horror story. While the film was a modest success in the US, it’s release on this side of the water was delayed until now. Why? It’s a mystery.

The Mist takes place, as with most of King’s stories in the small Maine town of Castle Rock. David Drayton takes his son to the local shops to gather supplies after their house was damaged in a storm. While in the shop, a mist descends on the town, engulfing all the buildings. But this is no ordinary mist. There’s something lurking in the mist that will kill anyone unlucky enough to get caught up in it. But the mist isn’t the only thing that threatens David, his son, and the rest of the townspeople in the shop. The cabin fever setting in in the shop divides the people into factions. One faction staying as rational as possible, the second faction following the preaching of an increasingly fanatical and dangerous bible-bashing Christian fundamentalist.

There are so many films that have been adapted from Stephen King books, that the poor outweighs the good. While films like The Shawshank Redemption and Stand By Me are great, there’s also tosh like Needful Things, The Lawnmower Man and Dreamcatcher. So whenever a Stephen King book is adapted, approaching the film should be done with great trepidation. However, not all Stephen King books are adapted by Frank Darabont. And in the hands of this director, you’re in for something special. The Mist is essentially a monster movie. There are creatures in the mist and they’re nasty. Very nasty. But what pushes The Mist ahead of the average monster movie is what goes on inside the shop that everyone is stuck in.

While it’s clear that being in the mist is fatal, the atmosphere in the shop turns increasingly dangerous as fear leads to paranoia and the townspeople start devolving in their ethics. Leading the paranoia is the local crazy religious fundamentalist. She’s convinced she’s a conduit to God and when people start becoming desperate, they turn to her for guidance. But her guidance is incredibly dangerous and turns a bad situation worse. Darabont manages to keep the two sides of the story perfectly balanced. While you’re terrified of what’s outside (and there are a few jump-scares, essential horror movie staples), the tension builds to an almost uncomfortable atmosphere inside. With these two sides of the story, the pacing of the film never lets up, and the running time of two hours twenty minutes never seems long.

Because the film works so well as a character piece as well as a horror movie, the performances need to be spot on. And once again, Darabont succeeds in getting the best from his central cast. Thomas Jane plays David Drayton, the story’s main protagonist. Drayton’s the everyman of the film. All he cares about is protecting his son, but when the chips are down, he’s got the drive to act. Jane’s performance is excellent, with a particularly devastating piece of acting that requires me to go into detail I’m going to skip due to spoilers I want to avoid. The standout performance, however, is from Marcia Gay Harden who plays the Christian fundamentalist, Mrs. Carmody. Mrs. Carmody is the kind of fire-and-brimstone preacher who sees all disasters as the wrath of a vengeful God. While her convictions are solid, and her intentions, while crazy, are good in her eyes, she becomes the villain as she allows her delusions take hold and she begins to gain power. Harden creates in Mrs. Carmody a villain you love to hate. The rest of the cast is made up from Darabont regulars in Laurie Holden, William Sadler, and Jeffrey DeMunn and character actors such as Toby Jones and Andre Braugher. And while each of them is excellent, with characters that deserve as much attention, I’d be going on all day.

It’s a credit to Darabont’s script that the characters are so fully realised. It’s the relationships between the many characters that elevate this film above the average horror movie. In fact, I can say quite confidently that The Mist is one of the finest horror films I have seen in a long, long time. The monster moments are horrific and suitable for the genre and the character moments are good enough for any drama. The origin of the mist itself is kept as ambiguous as possible which keeps the audience uncomfortably mystified, just like the townspeople. And with an ending that is astonishing in it’s willingness not to give the audience any sense of comfort in closure, Darabont’s film is as close to the perfect horror film as I’ve seen any film come. It’s almost impossible to lavish enough praise on The Mist. It’s surprising how good it is. But when Stephen King’s stories are adapted well, they make for excellent viewing. The Mist is up with The Sawshank Redemption and Kubrick’s adaptation of The Shining as the best of King’s stories on screen. The Mist is an astoundingly well made movie. And one for the best of ’08 list.


Thursday, July 3, 2008

Klaatu Barada Nikto!

Remake-mania continues! This time, the sci-fi classic The Day The Earth Stood Still gets a 21st Century make-over with the One, Keanu Reeves playing the extra-terrestrial harbinger of doom, Klaatu. At the moment, the film looks like Spielberg's take on War Of The Worlds. Hopefully it'll be a good bit better than that remake!