★★★ "The Cabin In The Woods" (15)
Posted on April 18th, 2012 by David Keeble
- "It's like an academic version of Scary Movie, but with respect for the horror genre."
When I first watched Scary Movie (2000) I found it funny through all of its goofiness. Out of them all, I controversially prefer Scary Movie 2 (2001) which is deemed the weakest. None of them had any respect for the horror genre but the first two recognised the importance of archetype characters. Serious horrors such as John Carpenter's Halloween (1978) and Wes Craven's Scream (1996), which both used the 'hack n slash' formula, were laughable to certain extents due to the type of characters that were killed off one by one. The Cabin In The Woods is fully self aware of what cliches and stereotypes it's playing on that in its own kind of way, becomes a horror, academic lesson and a tribute to both 'B-movie' and 'A-movie' horrors from over the past fifty years. It's funny, scary and has some depth, just not always at the same time.
Five college students decide to go to a lake-house for the start of their summer vacation. A virgin, a stoner, a jock, a scholar and a blonde are the ones who are telling the narrative. They first stop off at a remote gas station inhabited by a creepy hillbilly which reminds us of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974). Moving onwards they eventually arrive at the cabin in the woods. Everything is fine until they stumble across a basement full of records and documents of the past inhabitants. What our characters are unaware of is that their fates are controlled by crazy, corporate scientists whom are overlooking their every move in a big brother fashion. The characters seal their fates and the scientists make sure the end result is that non-one makes it out alive. And our characters have chosen flesh eating zombies.
Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard seem to have this fan boy tone when it comes to their directing and writing. Seeing as Whedon has just done the new Avengers movie I'd say that was a fair statement to make. Ironically Chris Hemsworth, whom also plays Marvel's character "Thor", is in this as well. When people involved with a script have genuine affection and knowledge for the past material, it shows through one way or another. It happened recently with the new 21 Jump Street, which also hashed up the 80s stereotypes in a self aware fashion. The Cabin In The Woods is exactly the same. It realises the stereotypes and cliches of old and new horror movies, turns them upside down, shakes them all about and has some fun with them all. The only problem is it cannot always make up its mind on when to be a horror and when to be comedy. It's not the end of the world but it becomes annoying at times none the less.
It is simply a study and horror movie fans will love it as they try to work out what's going to happen next. Will the characters be killed off in the traditional fashion that is made so apparent in 90s horrors? Will there be any survivors, and if there are, will they go against the archetypical results of those whom would normally survive? It's all one big puzzle and it's fun trying to piece it all together along with our characters who have no control over the outcome. The scientists control the situation in the narrative and we are controlled by the filmmakers. All we can do is wait for the doomed inevitable. Then again, when it comes down to survival, maybe just not.
★★★★ "Avengers Assemble" (12A)
Posted on April 28th, 2012 by David Keeble
- "Whedon's script is epic in wit and set pieces, seamlessly bringing its heroes together and dedicating enough screen time to each of the assembled. However it's Tom Hiddleston's villain who truly steals the show."
Scarlett Johannson's character Black Widow approaches a glass prison holding the antagonist Loki. Tom Hiddleston's character plays the scene with such menace and with such a piercing gaze, that I was instantly transported back to the iconic cage scene between Hannibal Lektor and Clarice Starling from Silence Of The Lambs (1990). Amongst all the colorful and huge action set pieces it is Tom Hiddleston's villain who steals the show. Avengers Assemble marks the beginning of what will be known as the year of film, especially that of the comic genre. Joss Whedon's script brings the characters together effortlessly and dedicates a decent amount of screen time to each individual superhero allowing for a re-introduction for the fans and an introduction to those whom are new to the Marvel universe. It's big, loud, comedic and simply very entertaining. However as Roger Ebert recently declared:"The Avengers" is done well by Joss Whedon, with style and energy. It provides its fans with exactly what they desire. Whether it is exactly what they deserve is arguable."
Nick Fury (Jackson) calls upon the superheroes Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Thor (Hemsworth), Dr. Banner (Ruffalo), Captain America (Evans), Black Widow (Johannson) and Hawkeye (Renner) to fight against Loki, the adopted brother of the Norse god, who desires to conquer planet Earth. An extraterrestrial cube called the "Tesseract" is seeked by Loki, which will open a new dimension, a portal into outer space, where his robotic, alienoid army is lingering. Will our superheroes successfully unite under the "Avengers Initiative" and save the planet or will Loki prevail?
Joss Whedon has achieved something special by pulling together all these champions into one picture. It was never going to be an easy job. Each character has something different about them; be it their powers, personalities or origins. The only thing the screenplay doesn't focus on to much, and rightly so, are the origins of the characters. Their is simply not enough time to visually explain so the audience is bought up to scratch through quick narrative as to why they are who they are. It might be a problem for non fans whom want to know more and if so, they will have to buy the films separately. It didn't bother me. Why? Because if I cared enough, I would have watched them all already. Whedon's script is superb. The script has all the elements of a good blockbuster and allows the comedic actor, Robert Downey Jr. to shine the brightest.
I like realism in my comic books, especially in the on screen adaptations. I like the superheroes Spider-Man and to an extent, Iron Man. The one Marvel film that really did it for me was the recent Kick-Ass (2010). Comics that do not lost sight of their humanity or realism are brilliant. We live in an age where technological advancements have created a movie-goer that wants both worlds. They want a film to be realistic whilst still managing to to delve into the unrealistic. It is a very sophisticated form of escapism and a hard one to please at that. Luckily, Avengers Assemble does not lose sight of its humanity but through no fault of its own, loses sight of realism. Why? Because that is how Marvel have created their universe. Some will argue from a comic perspective it has every right to not be realistic because it is exactly that, a comic. From a film-making perspective, what with the amount of money, productions and technology, the argument can swing the other way. Either way, what is completely unarguable is that the set pieces are highly entertaining spectacles.
Of course the production is big, it was never going to be anything less. It's like Transformers (2007) but on a serious dosage of crack. And just like Transformers it dedicates a good hour at the end to show it all off. Again it was all expected. It's a re-occurring formula: Good guys, bad guys, planet under threat, throw in a 3D/CGI dazzling showdown towards the end and shazzam...you have your blockbuster. There was some serious creativity and fluidity within this showdown that will probably separate it from the majority of other blockbuster showdowns. I found myself, as well as many others in the audience clapping to a specific scene and rightly so.
I was recently contacted by someone, telling me that they could not see the screen properly due to the darkness caused by the 3D. I agree. I don't like 3D. We know it causes lighting problems and it does again in this. Marvel's universe is undeniably colorful and I'm sure in 2D there is an all round better visual experience to be had.
Avengers Assemble has delivered and will go down as 2012's first blockbuster, amongst the various that are set to be huge this summer. I predict there's going to be some anti-climaxes this year and luckily, much to Marvel fans delight, this is not one of them. However, what with there being rumored six more movies in this franchise, the question is where does it creatively and satisfyingly end?
★★★★ "The Pirates! In An Adventure With Scientists" (U)
Posted on April 2nd, 2012 by David Keeble
- "The comedy lies uniquely in the peripherals, not so much the focus."
Step aside Bruckheimer, Aardman are here to show us how it's done. They gave us the brilliant Chicken Run (1999) and the iconic duo, Wallace and Gromit back in the early 90s. Therefore, I had every right to walk into this with the highest of expectations and I was not let down. Aardman's trademark use of clay and stop-motion artwork, instead of the regular computer animation, delivers the goods in the most educational of ways. Pixar films have always excelled at not just creating vivid graphics and memorable characters but also in their abilities to tell a good narrative. Although Aardman's story is not the strongest of pirate adventures you will encounter, its charming attention to historical and educational detail makes for a refreshing and chuckling time.
Year is 1886. We set sail on the seven seas with "Captain Pirate" and his swashbuckling crew of treacherous criminals. Except they're not. As the captain puts it to his crew: "The best part of being a pirate is not the looting, or the exotic diseases, neither the women... the best part of being a pirate is... "Ham Nite". Hapless is one word to describe this crew. However, the "Pirate of the Year" award is coming up and whilst the majority of pirates have '£150,000 doubloon' bounties on their heads, Captain Pirate has '£12.00 doubloons and a free pen' on his. They are a crew out with something to prove to the rest of the pirate community and upon stumbling into Charles Darwin's ship, they might just get the stroke of luck they've been looking for. None of it will be easy however, as old Vic and her British imperials are also out to stop them.
If you are expecting to receive belly laugh out loud moments every minute of every second, then you will be disappointed. I walked into it with that exact pretense. However, about half way through I realised Chicken Run (1999), also directed by Phil Lord, was never hilariously funny, it just had a lot of chuckling moments. After a change of mind-set, I started to thoroughly enjoy this feature. Lord and his team have not held back with the humor coming from tangents such as inuendo and mild language. In one scene they board a boat hoping to raid it for treasure, instead they are greeted by lepers and when ones arm falls off due to the disease it is both humorous from certain perspectives and borderline offensive to a select few.
The majority of the comedy very cleverly comes from the peripherals not so much the focus. If you keep your eyes peeled and switched on, you'll notice the vast amount of historical and visual comedy to be had. The comedy is educational and has substance, making it all the more worthwhile.The young audience are introduced to Queen Victoria, The Elephant Man, Charles Darwin, the Galapagos etc. This is an animation that doesn't just rely on the characters to promote good morals and social conduction, to gain critical acclaim. Praise goes to Phil Lord for his clever directing and Gideon Defoe's novel material.
Aardman have shown that since their last feature: Wallace and Gromit: Curse Of The Were-Rabbit (2005), they have not lost their touches, reminding Pixar that they were first on the animation scene back in 1972 and are still a force to be reckoned with.
★ "Wrath Of The Titans" (12A)
Posted on April 4th, 2012 by David Keeble
- "I'll take Ray Harry Hausen's archaic, stop-motion artwork any day of the week."
I grew up with the original Clash Of The Titans (1981) that starred Harry Hamlin and Lawrence Olivier. Whilst it might not be the best of films looking back, it is still a childhood film and one that I am fond of. Ray Harry Hausen's archaic stop-motion effects had me glued to the screen and were a pretty big deal back then. The advancements in CGI technology and 3D have pushed Hausen's artistry to the back of the line...but as shown with Clash Of The Titans (2010) and now Wrath Of The Titans (2012), at the end of it all, substance is a far more valued factor than style. It will never be a substitute. Sadly, Wrath Of The Titans, like the original re-make, happily bombards us with eye blistering effects but offers little else where it should really matter. I walked into it with low expectations but actually, I should have gone in with them even lower as I still managed to walk away disappointed.
Ten years after saving Andromeda from the Kraken, the demi-god Perseus lives a quiet life in a Greek fishing village with his young son. However, trouble is stirring in the Underworld. The walls of Tartarus are beginning to crumble due to a lack of devotion to those on Olympus. After Perseus rejects his father's pleas, Zeus travels with Poseidon and Ares to the underworld, in hope of gaining an alliance with his banished brother, Hades. Zeus becomes betrayed and held captive so Hades and Ares can revive their father Kronos and remain immortals. Will Perseus and his winged stallion Pegasus save the mortals?
I've academically analysed Homer's Odyssey and Virgil's Aeneid along with the Iliad. Therefore, I like to think I have a relatively decent understanding of Greek and Roman mythology. I find it all fascinating and epic, just like the scope of Wrath Of The Titans itself. Dan Maze's and David Leslie Johnson's screenplay delivers the goods by introducing the audience to all these mythological characters but none of them have any depth. It's as if the producers have gone in and reminded everyone involved that the screenplay has little time to focus on these characters. I really could not care less if Perseus failed. The only character I cared about was Bobo the mechanical owl from the '81 version, who makes a short and silent appearance.
Wrath of the Titans features an ensemble cast. Worthington, Neeson, Fiennes, Nighy, to name a few. But again, none of them bring any inspiration to the screenplay. Sam Worthington reportedly apologised in an interview saying how sorry he was for his performance in Clash and promised to do better next time. Well Worthington lied. He's just as wooden and jilted as before and completely un-inspired. The only thing that has changed is his new curly haircut which I'm sure even Medusa herself would turn to stone upon viewing. Liam Neeson, whom seems to be taking pages out of Lawrence Olivier's 'do a role where there's money' book is surprisingly average. This is a good actor, but Wrath is all about visual substance and little else.
Credit is due where it is deserved and the last ten minutes had me in awe at the CGI. Seeing Pegasus fly against a giant Kronos is a feast for the eyes and it is not disappointing. The CGI effects are special...but that's why they're called "Special Effects" surely? It succeeds where it desires to in the CGI department which will appeal to a certain type of pissing-money-away-moviegoer but all round it succumbs to the cliched, wooden depths of the first installment. 3D however is a problem. It takes away light and you will find that in dark scenarios of the picture, a pain is to be had. I'll take Ray Harry Hausen's stop-motion effects and Harry Hamlin's curly locks any day of the week.
★★★★ "21 Jump Street" (15)
Posted on March 16th, 2012 by David Keeble.
Who would have thought Channing Tatum, the man better known from the films Step Up (2003) and the recent The Vow (2012) would manage to outshine Jonah Hill on the comedic front? Amazingly and surprisingly he does just that in this film version of the hit, 80's TV show, 21 Jump Street, a name better known for launching Johnny Depp's early Hollywood career. It also happens to be Phil Lord's and Chris Miller's first feature film since their animated, debut hit, Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs (2009). The picture manages to successfully rope in all the cliches and stereotypes associated with society and culture of the 1980's, highlighting them, turning them upside down and inside out, with the end result being a very unexpected and an affectionately satisfying satire.
Morton Schmidt (Hill) is a high-school, slim-shady looking nerd whilst Greg Jenko (Tatum) is the good looking, popular, idiotic jock. In a nutshell, 80's high-school is Jenko's playground and Schmidt's social nightmare. Fast forward ten years. Both are now at the police academy, and in order to graduate they unexpectedly form a friendship based on helping each other overcome their weaknesses. After being re-assigned to Captain Dickson's (Ice Cube) revived specialty program on 21 Jump Street, they are ordered to go back to school as undercover cops, to bring down a synthetic drug ring.
Michael Bacall's screenplay is where the picture gains its deserved praises. So many stereotypes and cliches are made noticeable and are satirically played upon. In one scene during a car chase, a gas canister falls in front of a petroleum tanker on the freeway. We wait for the explosion and nothing happens, a comedic anti-climax. "I really thought that was going to explode" exclaims Schmidt. And It should have exploded. Not because of science and probabilities but because 80's TV shows like Miami Vice (1984-88) dictates that's exactly what should happen. Even Ice Cube's role as a police Captain, is blatantly used due to his song "F**k Da Police" from his N.W.A. days. The screenplay is quick to stick two fingers up to all the improbabilities and just have a good time. There is nothing worse than a film believing it has the ability to be ground breaking with a story and screenplay like this. May be that is why the Miami Vice (2006) film adaptation did not meet expectations.
21 Jump Street launched Johnny Depp's career. It only seems fitting, that just maybe, the same title will also launch Channing Tatum's credibility to new heights. He is the surprise package with his brilliant ability to portray a low level intelligence bloke and deadpan comedic timing. I never would have thought Jonah Hill would be outplayed on the comedic front by someone whom I considered, up until now, to be a very average actor. Unexpected moments like these make films so much more rewarding and credit goes to Directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller's leap of faith in casting Tatum. Jonah Hill might have lost weight since his Superbad (2007) days but he has not lost his comedic touch. Hill and Tatum simply make for a brilliant duo.
If nothing in my review has persuaded you in viewing this picture then that's fine. But I guarantee the surprising, well hidden from the internet cameo that occurs in 21 Jump Street, is worth the price of admission alone...
★★★★ "The Hunger Games" (12A)
Posted on March 24th, 2012 by David Keeble.
What with the unique, Japanese film, Battle Royale (2006) already using this concept, one would initially see this as a Hollywood-goes-in-and-ruins-it-all-kind-of-day. My pre-conceptions were wrong. The Hunger Games has recently annihilated US Box Office records, taking in $155 million on its first weekend alone. And rightly so. I wonder if Suzanne Collins (author of the novels) was expecting this level of reception? Films like these Twilight soaps seem to have the ability to strongly appeal to their teen age brackets. The US Box Office will not complain. But that is not to say the films have substantial art and depth. Just take a look at Twilight: New Moon (2010): Awful. Luckily, Gary Ross's well handled directing, Jennifer Lawrence's gripping performance, James Newton Howard's score and Suzanne Collin's fascinating concept make for a superb on screen adaptation.
After a civil war seventy years ago, each year, the elitist Capitol selects a young man and woman from each of the 12 districts of Panem in a broadcasted event known as a "Reaping". The chosen ones are put forward to represent their districts in what is known as the annual "Hunger Games", a brutal televised event where each person will fight to the death in a forestry arena and their can only be one victor. Against the favorable odds, Katniss Everdeen's younger sister Primrose, is selected to compete. In a bold move by Katniss, she volunteers as tribute alongside Peta Malarke, a baker's son. After being transported to the city, the 23 tributes are trained over a week to fight to the death. Will our heroine make it out alive?
Suzanne Collin's concept is fascinating and inspires many questions on philosophical, political and social levels. The obvious social question would be: "How can people sit back and watch such a blood thirsty event take place on national television?". What we forget is the Romans were doing this in the Colosseum thousands of years ago, just without a broadcast medium. It's a futuristic concept already explored by a civilisation in the past. On a political level: "Is this all a result of a totalitarian state?". I would say yes. Look at the rise of National Socialist Party and rebellions in 1930's Germany. Look at how Hitler ruled with a police state and under his Wehrerziehung programme in schools and Hitler Youth, desired to see students in strong, physical conditions. On a philosophical level: "If in the future dystopia overrides, will I be seeing this concept occur in my lifetime?". Maybe. When people lose sight of ethics and morals are severely oppressed, extremities are issued. As you can tell, it's a concept that intrigues me.
Director Gary Ross's last film was Seabiscuit (2003) and although it was a good film, he would not of been my first choice to direct such a film. However, as Brad Bird recently proved with MI: Ghost Protocol (2011), directors can cause surprises in unexpected circumstances. Ross manages to keep the picture relatively realistic and handles the emotional scenes effectively. I've read reports of people crying at certain scenes and whilst I was not to that level, I can certainly see why.
However, top marks go to Jennifer Lawrence's performance and James Newton Howard's score. Although she's not to the same standards as Sigourney Weaver's "Ellen Ripley" (Alien, 1979) as I have stupidly read recently in one review, she brings a vulnerable but brave and strong presence to her character. A three-dimensional actress whom shows her moral conflicts with what she has to do to survive against the system. It was crucial Lionsgate picked the right actress for this role and luckily they did. It is not hard to see how she has already been nominated for an Oscar (The Lovely Bones, 2006). Such a strong concept deserves such a strong performance and Lawrence delivers the goods. James Newton Howard (Blood Diamond, 2007, The Dark Knight, 2008) also delivers once again with a tremendous score.
I have not read the novel but I am certainly inclined to now. The Hunger Games proves that with truly talented people involved and a decent screenplay, on screen adaptations of this Anthony Horowitz bracket can actually be fantastically layered in depth and entertaining at the same time. I now really want to take up Archery.
★★★ "Project X" (18)
Posted on March 3rd, 2012 by David Keeble
I'm 21 and I go to university - parties are everywhere and I have a great time. But I also belong to the iPhone generation. A generation where viral hype, technology and mass media dominates the scene. If something is going down, I know about it within seconds through Facebook, Twitter etc. I also belong to a generation where innocence is lost from a young age through sex, alcohol, drugs. That's not too say the 60's, 70's and the 80's were clean. They had their moments...but there was innocence back then. What many of my generation fail to realise is that at a Jimi Hendrix concert back in the 70's, instead of buying burgers at stands, there was a menu of drugs. Respect the music, respect those around you and still have a great time. Not anymore. Corporatism, materialism and social status is more important than genuine content. A generation that likes too think we know it all, have no consequences to our actions and our peers will always bail us out. Project X manages to highlight everything that makes my generation so fun and wrong but it refreshingly pulls out the reality check punches where it matters most.
The story follows three high school, archetypical characters, who instantly remind us of Superbad (2007). The main guy is Thomas, the guy with a social standing equivalent to the Inbetweeners (2008) over here in the UK. Not cool enough to be popular but not nerdy enough to be a recluse. It also happens to be his 18th birthday, the coming of age. However, everything is about to change. His two pals have have put the word out through various mediums to ensure that Thomas has a party that will be "game changing", and we are invited. Topless girls, alcohol, a pool, stunts, drugs, DJ's and about a thousand people. As the marketing slogan put it "The Party You've Only Dreamed About" and it really is. But for every action there is a reaction and to drastic consequences.
Project X is shot in the same style as Cloverfield (2008) and with just as much madness. I like this style of filming. It is controversial but I happen to like it. Many don't however. The picture plays out like a steroid version of Risky Business (1986) just without the slick cinematography, Tom Cruise and the Tangerine Dream score "Love On A Real Train" in the background. Project X is every parents nightmare but every teenagers party wet dream. The enjoyability factor is simply subjective to each individual, mind sets and ethos. Luckily I was bought up on respect so I am able to sympathise with the older generation. But many of my generation have not and they will disrespectfully declare it as "the best film of the year".
While I'll probably get stick for my somewhat negative outlook, I need too attend a party of this caliber before I die, especially whilst I'm old enough know better and young enough not too care. The young adult in me was loving everything on the screen. It truly sets the bar for all other parties and the cliche characters involved give the picture a somewhat lighter tone.
Where Project X saves itself is in the last quarter, and when I say "saves itself" it really does. This is a film that in reality should gain one star tops, that is until the last show. Actions have consequences and Todd Phillips (The Hangover, 2009) through experience, knows this is the films saving grace and it needs to be highlighted. It's refreshing to see a teen movie with a conclusion that goes against the iPhone generation's outlook. I wish I had a swimming pool...
★★★★ "This Means War" (12A)
Posted on February 10th, 2012 by David Keeble
Many critics have slammed this picture and I sympathise. I consider Mr. and Mrs. Smith (2005) too be the first film to use this rom/com mixed with action formula, and you know what, I actually quite liked it. Films like these have no in between. They're the Marmite of the film world, with most critics refusing to spread them into their film review diaries too quickly. The plots are illogical, fantasy, ridiculous and the list of synonyms could go on. However, luckily for films like This Means War, cinema was built on escapism back in the 1920's of Hollywood. Some people just like to go and watch a film that can make no sense whatsoever and still walk away satisfied, as long as they're taken away from their day job and "entertained". I suppose This Means War puts me in that category of people. It's confident in its context, not pretentious and it made me laugh. I had a smile on my face whilst walking out of the viewing and sometimes that's simply more than enough.
Tom Hardy and Chris Pine star as two CIA hot-shot assassins. They're the white versions of Will Smith and Martin Lawrence's characters from Bad Boys (1996) and Bad Boys II (2003). They've had each others backs on every mission they've undertaken in the name of America. That is until they both accidentally hook up with the same woman, blonde city bimbo, Lauren Scott (Reese Witherspoon). Friendships and work are put to the test as each bloke battles to win her heart. They resort to reconnaissance missions for intel and dirty tactics to get one over the other. However, a Russian criminal is also back on the CIA's radar out to get revenge for his brother's death. Will they get him and which bloke will succeed in winning the girl?
This genre is a recent phenomenon with Hollywood. The recent: The Bounty Hunter (2010) and Knight and Day (2010) are good examples. This Means War's plot is ridiculous and suspends belief, much like McG's other film Charlies Angels (2003). The gangster on the loose sub-plot also doesn't do it any favors. It really means nothing. The love-triangle is the central plot of the picture because this is where the comedy is supposed too come from. Luckily it does. You know what you're getting into with these plots, there's no point going too view them as serious thrillers because they are never going to be that. It's refreshing to see a plot that knows how to just have some fun, regardless of the genre stereotyping.
Its production is a stand-out with decent aesthetics. It's slick, cool, stylish, sexy, sophisticated, all the things that I'm not. Very few blokes will turn down the chance of wearing a suit when the occasion arises and luckily Pine and Hardy know how too work their looks. But that's not to say the production makes the film realistic. Just fun. People who live in LA apartments with a swimming pool for a ceiling is insanely cool from a visual perspective but highly unrealistic, regardless if you are the next 007 or not.
Tom Hardy, Chris Pine and Reese Witherspoon are talented actors but Spoon's character is annoying and unconvincing in this. What our male leads see in this woman I don't know. Death is also not an issue with our protagonists because they are cardboard cut outs of this genre. If I'd killed a bunch of guys, regardless if I was a crack agent or not, I'm sure I would be traumatised for a week or so. But not these guys. The comedic formula, although will strike a few creep chords with those whom are looking for the blatant negatives, is actually funny. If you walk into it expecting a ridiculously far fetched, action rom/com, you'll see why I've given it 4/5 stars. If not then God help you.
★ "Ghost Rider: Spirit Of Vengeance" (12A) (3D) Posted on February 23rd, 2012 by David Keeble
I have not seen the first Ghost Rider (2007) and after this, I really don't intend too. I like a good superhero film as I mentioned recently in my Chronicle (2012) review. If I had to take a guess between Marvel and DC creating a character like Johnny Blaze, I would have put money on it being Marvel. Apart from Spider-Man, I don't think they have created anything to the level of realism I enjoy to see in my superhero screenplays. Iron Man at a push, maybe. As cool a bloke Nicolas Cage is, even he cannot prevent this second installment from failing on pretty much every level of artistry. If there is a plot in this film contact me, show me and persuade bloody Odeon to re-fund me my overpriced 3D ticket!
The narrative comes through our hero, Johnny Blaze, a stunt motorcyclist who has been cursed (I assume from the previous film). Cyclops from X-Men has laser vision, Spider-Man has a web and Johnny Blaze has a long chain. Oh and the ability to suck the souls from the wrong-doers. Something tells me the chain alone is not quite good enough for Marvel. Its realism is just too much for them to cope. Blaze is on a mission in Eastern Europe to save a boy, whom has the same powers as him, from being captured by the devil and his disciples. If Blaze saves the boy he may also be able to abolish his curse.
The film is written by David S. Goyer and in case you did not know, he is also writing The Dark Knight Rises (2012). Things have got very interesting. If Goyer's writing is as bad as this in the upcoming Batman film, then I might have to put him above George Lucas as one of the biggest screw ups to have touched a set of films. Whatever is going on here, only the hardcore fans of the books will appreciate. I have not even read the comics and I literally could not care about the plot whatsoever. If the boy died, oh well I was still coming home to eat my Dominoes pizza at the end of it all. The plot is terrible, with no depth whatsoever.
The screenplay plays out like a watered down version of Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1996), just without Cameron's masterful direction and writing, a memorable, bad-ass villain and Schwarzenegger's terrible yet acceptable, Austrian accent.
You know what through all of its flaws it does have a couple of positives. The picture's partial saving grace is Nicolas Cage's cool persona which he has so often been able to put across, even in his most bad films. Cage has this honesty and whackyness about him, which makes him easily watchable and likeable. Also, I happened to like some of the CGI effects. Rubbish 3D, but the CGI used in the motorbike chases are actually pretty good.
Ghost Rider: Spirit Of Vengeance is just for the fans of the comic and the first installment. If you liked them, then I'm sure you will not be disappointed. But for me, Marvel have simply proven once again why I prefer the DC universe.
★★★ "Safe House" (15)
Posted on February 26th, 2012 by David Keeble
Whenever I watch a film starring Denzel Washington I am instantly hooked on everything the bloke has too offer me. He has this cool, wise, demanding presence, that places him solidly as an action-thriller veteran. When he speaks, you listen and it is as simple as that. If you have seen Training Day (2001) or Man on Fire (2004) you will grasp my tangent. Safe House is blessed with two solid lead roles from Denzel and Ryan Reynolds, as the insecure bloke trying to work it all out. Sadly, they are not blessed with such a strong script, which sees its plot succumb too the predictable and the un-imaginative. Unless you are going to confidently pitch against the Bourne films then you run a high risk of falling short in this genre. It gains a very weak three stars due too the screenplays' last thirty minutes.
Matt Watson (Ryan Reynolds) is a trainee agent who maintains a CIA safe house post out in South Africa. His job has become tiresome and isolated, restrained to staring at either a set of CCTV monitors or "four walls" as he puts it to his peer back in Langley (Brendan Gleeson). That is until highly trained CIA rogue, Tobin Frost (Washington) is caught and becomes his house guest. After the house is attacked by a group of unknown operatives, Watson and Frost go on the run in hope of solving who wants them dead.
The writing by David Guggenheim offers a lot of thrills and the screenplay does it well. However, not so much can be said for Guggenheim's predictable and un-inspired plot. It has been seen in so many films of this nature before. American agencies must be truly sick and tired of Hollywood making buckets of money from the same, "government officials are corrupt and agent is on the run for the truth" formula. If you are going to green light another film based on this formula it has to be done right, offering something new and fresh, away from the post-Bourne era. Sadly, Safe House does not, and its predictability shines through in the first hour. I even guessed who was corrupt in the trailer, let alone the full feature.
The editing has also received negative reviews. I disagree. While its narrative lacks the Robert Ludlum punch, its visuals are decent. In a few scenes I automatically thought of Green Zone (2010) and The Bourne Supremacy (2004). It came as little surprise to me that after researching, the Editor is Green Zone's Rick Pearson and the Cinematographer is Bourne Supremacy's Oliver Wood. Both films directed by Paul Greengrass. The car chase scenes reek of Greengrass's style and that is a good thing. Its action sequences are simply well handled and edited by Director; Daniel Espinosa and Rick Pearson.
Safe House is saved by the presence of Denzel and Reynolds performances. Denzel's hardcore fans may not be entirely satisfied as his real talents go partially to waste in place of a paycheck, but Reynolds holds his own. Wether you view their serious commitment to the picture's predictability as an insult to your intelligence however, is up too you. Mind you, Jay-Z's "No Church In The Wild" at the end credits did get me psyched however...
★★★ "Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace" (3D) (U)
Posted on February 19th, 2012 by David Keeble
J.R.R Tolkien, the creator of The Lord Of The Rings, is a philologist and too brand him a genius would be an understatement. In all respects, George Lucas is exactly the same. The only difference is, Lucas put his universe onto screen first, compared to Tolkien's universe being put on to paper first. Lucas's space opera Star Wars has all the elements of Tolkien's genius except the mediums were initially different. Star Wars Episodes IV-VI began in 1977 and ended in 1983. Just before the turn of the millennium, Lucas bought out this graphically enhanced, digitally re-vamped first chapter. I fondly recall going to see it back in 1999 and walked away in awe at Jar Jar Binks, the pace of the lightsaber duels and the epic Podracing. However, looking back it's not hard to realise that George Lucas's writing is poor and while the Phantom Menace is undoubtedly the most important chapter in the Star Wars saga, it is ultimately the worst.
The story starts a long time ago in a "Galaxy Far Far Away". The Galaxy is a Republic governed by democracy and a senate with the Jedi Order acting as peace keeping guardians. Their abilities to use the "Force" prove invaluable and their gift of foresight have seen problems stirring in space. Two Jedi Knights, Obi Wan Kenobi and Qui-Gon Jin, acting on behalf of the Jedi council's orders, have been sent to negotiate a treaty with the Trade Federation's Viceroy Gunray amongst growing fears that an invasion is under way after a blockade is set up in the atmosphere of the planet Naboo, home of the Gungans and Queen Amidala. After the two Jedi Knights are ambushed and escape, we follow them to the planet of Tatooine where we are introduced to Skywalker, the prophesied "chosen one" who will supposedly bring balance back to the "Force".
If there has ever been a commercial film writer focusing on blockbusters, It's George Lucas. However something happened to Luca's writing between 1983 and 1999. Okay It's a long gap, but his writing changed. We forget that within that time period, Lucas had written the Indiana Jones trilogy, which had been and gone. A popular set of films and just as iconic as Star Wars. Those who know their trivia will undeniably agree that Episode V: Empire Strikes Back is the strongest of the whole saga. The Phantom Menace has the creativity of the originals but with tons of digital effects and CGI green screens. It's as if Lucas's vision was intended to be this commercial all along, but he was re-strained due to the technology not being as superior back in 70's and 80's. It's focus on digital effects rather than plot material made kids like me stare in fascination but hardcore fans cry. The amount of times I watched the originals on VHS are no odds to anyone so I could tell even when I was nine, something was wrong with Phantom Menace.
Luca's introduction of CGI characters are also questionable. I loved Jar Jar Binks when I was nine and a part of me still does. But he is something more for young kids to relate too and to buy the Hasbro figures. It's both entrepreneurial genius and artistic junk on Lucas's part. When you pitch a character like Jar Jar Binks up against Han Solo's (Harrison Ford) witty sarcasm in the originals there's no competition. Star Wars has a deeply layered, political storyline and kids will not understand it. Make way for Podracing and poetic lightsaber duals. The Podracing and the lightsaber duals are a feast for the eyes and no hardcore fan can deny that. The Phantom Menace breathes new life into the Jedi arts and it is highly entertaining.
As many flaws as Luca's writing has, it is still Star Wars. It is undeniably the most important chapter in the saga and while the hardcore fans of the originals will never forgive him for Phantom Menace, I still found it as highly entertaining as I did thirteen years ago and the 3D is not that bad either. Not as bad as what many are making it out too be anyway. Damn I love Podracing...
----- You can find my entry on George Lucas under the 'Journal' section.
★★ "Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close" (12A)
Posted on February 23rd, 2012 by David Keeble
Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close is an adapted screenplay from Jonathan Foer's 2005 novel bearing the same name. The picture is directed by Stephen Daldry, whom directed the ballerina hit Billy Elliot back in 1998. Sadly, I doubt his latest venture will take off as well as his breakthrough hit over a decade ago. The film's topic is that of the 9/11 tragedy and while it will strike a deep, emotional chord with those who have tragically lost a loved one in the incident, I doubt it will have the same effect on those who haven't. When a film deals with a topic like this, it becomes hard to watch and I dare say enjoy, because the reality is, we should not enjoy witnessing or being reminded of such a powerful event in one of mankind's darkest days. It's a powerful topic and backdrop, played out too a not so powerful story.
The narrative is provided by aspergus sufferer and francophile, Oskar (Thomas Horn) whom is in search of a specific lock across the Manhattan district after he accidentally stumbles upon a key in his father's cupboard. The father (Tom Hanks) perished in the 9/11 attacks, leaving him and his wife (Sandra Bullock) behind. During his time alive he and his son used to play "Expedition" games which consisted of him revealing clues around the city that Oskar would have to find. Upon finding the key, Oskar embarks on a journey across lower Manhattan with a mysterious man (Max Von Sydow), changing the lives of those he encounters whilst conquering his inner fears, all in hope of finding the last message left by his father.
I don't think there have been any films yet that have dealt with the aftermath of the September 11 attacks. Paul Greengrass's United 93 put us intensely on the plane with the passengers and terrorists and Oliver Stone's World Trade Center put us underneath the debris with trapped firemen. The films mentioned have dealt with the topic in the moment, both being powerful, human dramas. Credit should be given where it is due with Extremely Loud tackling the topic from a different tangent. Its writing is both emotional and sincere, but because of the topic not the plot itself, which ultimately lacks the punch its projections desire to achieve.
The characters need to be mentioned. The main character played by the young, talented Thomas Horn, although annoying, is convincing as the supposed aspergus sufferer. From personal experience, I can say that Horn does a fine job as the kid who's incredibly intelligent but is unable to cope with life's many abstract scenarios. To the members of the audience whom have never dealt with an aspergus sufferer, they will more than likely find his performance annoying and mentally crippling and to an ignorant extent I sympathise. But personally, I know he has turned in a fine performance. I expect too see more from him in the future. Tom Hanks' natural aging and weight gains over the years along with Bullock's emotional experiences with The Blind Side (2010) fit them perfectly into the mother and father roles. Also, Max Von Sydow as the elderly eunuch makes Oskar's journey semi-bearable.
At heart, Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close is sincere but it is all encapsulated within a pretentious wrapping. On the surface it shouts out for an Oscar, but due to Daldry's uncertain directing, will more than likely not achieve a single one. Mind you, I have been known to be wrong before. Not much. But it has happened.
★★★★ "The Muppets" (U)
Posted on February 12th, 2012 by David Keeble
A Muppets Christmas Carol (1992) and Muppet Treasure Island (1996) are personal favorites of mine, back in the days when VHS dominated the market. Jim Henson's legacy of the loveable puppets: Kermit, Miss. Piggy and the gang are back on our screens in what I can safely call one of the most wonderful and enjoyable films I have seen in a long time at the cinema. Jason Segal and Nicholas Stoller's writing is hilariously superb and its all round performances innocently charming, making it a perfect viewing for Valentines Day. When a film certified 'U' manages to attract more adults than actual children, you know it's done something right in the process. I looked around and I would say ninety percent of the audience were in the 18-35 age bracket. The character's last full length feature was on our screens twelve years ago and The Muppets is a fine return to form showing everyone that nostalgia can sometimes be new all over again.
The Muppets have gone their separate ways over the years. Their glory days of being on the stage together with The Muppet Show have long gone. Worse news, their former theater is under threat from oil barren Tex Richman (Chris Cooper) and his sidekicks Bobo the Bear and Uncle Deadly, after his company are given permission to drill on the site. Walter, who lives with his human brother Gary in Reno aspires to round up the gang once again under the leadership of Kermit. Can the Muppets get back on stage together and raise the $10 million in order to secure the survival of the theater or will the villain have the last "Maniacal" laugh?
The plot has two inter-linking dimensions. One being a love story between Gary (Jason Segal) and Mary (Amy Adams) and the other being the Muppet's journey in preventing the theater's demise. The love element brings comedy mainly from a musical tangent and the other brings the comedy through some superb writing and narration. Yes it is melodramatic, highly unrealistic and cliche. But this is the Muppets we are watching and those potential negatives should not even be thought about, let alone mentioned. I did not find the plot as strong as Muppet Treasure Island (1996) but compared to previous Muppet features, this story is far more dynamic in its settings along with the handling and introduction of old and new characters.
Where the film excels is in the writing. Comedy, music, sincerity and all round innocence is deployed fantastically into the screenplay. Not once did I catch myself looking around the room trying to pass the time. So many unexpected laugh out loud moments, I lost count. Segal and Stoller have stayed genuine to the tones of the previous installments, blending all those factors mentioned fantastically. The writing's handling of old and new characters along with the introduction of various celeb cameos makes it a complete extravaganza, igniting those old memories of the past whilst appealing to the present.
It would be foolish to not mention the performances from both humans and puppeteers. Chris Cooper is at his most un-restrained as the villain and Jack Black, Neil Patrick Harris (Met Your Mother) and Jim Parsons (Big Bang Theory) turn in fine cameos. However, the puppeteers are once again the stand outs. A skilled profession that looks easier than it seems.
The Muppets is an over the top feast for those who are old enough to know better, but inside, are young enough not to care. In a time when the majority of productions rely on 3D and CGI animations to grab attention, The Muppets stands a firm ground, reminding us that Jim Henson's craft had it all worked out way back in the 1950's.
★★★ "The Woman In Black" (12A)
Posted on February 16th, 2012 by David Keeble
I am one of those people that likes a good ghost story whether on paper or on film. However, I do not like a ghost story or any horror that replaces suspense with severe gore or the repetitive, jump-out-of-your-skin close zoom camera too sound techniques. This feature, luckily does more with the latter and I can live with that. The Woman In Black is an adapted screenplay from the 1983 horror fiction novel by Susan Hill bearing the same name. I have not read the novel so it would be difficult and false too relate to the material. The picture is an eerie, gothic, visual feast taking elements from other ghost stories like J.A. Bayona's The Orphanage (2007), Stoker's Dracula, Sleepy Hollow (1999) and The Others (2001). The feature is also Daniel Radcliffe's first break away from the Harry Potter franchise and while he is not entirely convincing in his role, it is a wise career move that will neither act against him or go fully in his favor.
Edwardian lawyer and a father of a son, Arthur Kipps (Radcliffe) is sent to a remote village in the north east of England to handle the estate of Alice Drablow, a recently deceased, eccentric woman. Kipp's is tormented with visions from his wife whom died in childbirth and is financially strained. Upon visiting, he is befriended by Sam Daily (Ciaran Hinds) who has a past connection to the estate. Only the estate is haunted by the "Woman In Black", an entity whom is causing the deaths of children in the village. Will Arthur survive the house, uncover the truth and make it back home too his wife?
The Woman In Black's excellence lies in its production and photography of depicting the haunted house and the remote village. Tim Maurice-Jones' cinematography and Hammer's productions are the central focus. Every piece of set designs, locations, costumes and lighting effects, fantastically transport us into a bleak and morbid atmosphere for our characters to tell a ghost story. The various production companies involved have done the genre proud.
There's something about a character approaching a destination in a horse and carriage that seems to play well in gothic horrors. Johnny Depp's character Ichabod Crane does it in Tim Burton's beautifully eerie Sleepy Hollow (1999) and Keanu Reeves does it as Jonathan Harker in Francis Ford Coppola's version of Dracula (1992). We know our protagonist is going into certain danger and yet we don't feel obliged to stop him. We are just as curious to see what's around the dark corner eventhough we know our heart rate is about to shoot off the chart.
The Woman In Black sticks to the formulaic chills and thrills of previous horrors and while I can live with that, at times it detracts from telling a potentially really decent and tragic ghost story. It all plays on our senses and too good effect being surprisingly un-restrained for 12A. However, the emotional aspects of story of the actual woman in black and Arthur's past are not developed enough in the screenplay, limiting it from being as hard hitting in it's narrative as it desires and deserves to be. It's a decent story but it wants to be so much more and rightfully so because the emotional pathos of the material is there, it's just hard to pin point whether it's a lack of acting ability or just underdeveloped writing that prevents it from shining fully through.
The Woman In Black is a decent, gothic, visual feast. Radcliffe has made no drastic decisions in picking such a role, which in all fairness, seems to reflect the bloke's real life odd personality. May be that's why he seems at ease with it all. Its shocks come in sporadic but formulaic waves, as seen in many horrors of the last decade and while it's a decent ghost story, it's hard to tell whether it will gain the cult classic status like other horrors in the same vein like the Lady In White (1988) and Sleepy Hollow (1999) it so desires and in places, deserves to be.
★★★ "Chronicle" (12A)
Posted on February 4th, 2012 by David Keeble
I like superhero films. I especially like superhero films that manage to deploy realism into their screenplays. Except this is not a superhero film. In-fact it's the complete opposite, which makes it all the more uncharacteristically unique and interesting to view. Chronicle is Director, Josh Trank's first feature film. As a first time effort, it is a damn good attempt and will act as a solid foundation for any of his future developments to gain recognition. The film is a social study of three humans gaining supernatural telekinetic powers and the affects it has on their day-to-day activities. One of the marketing slogans went by the question: "What are you capable of?". Throughout the whole feature I asked myself "what would I do if I gained un-natural powers". It's a question we have all asked ourselves or discussed with our mates in the past. Would I make the world a better place? Would I use it to my own, selfish advantages? These three just desire to have a good time pulling pranks. That is until they realise the socially unstable person in the trio has the ability to cause mass destruction. To put it simply, Chronicle is Carrie (1976) but less horrified and X-Men but with less steroids and it's more than content with falling in between. What follows is a sci-fi, social fantasy encapsulated within intense realism.
The central focal point of the plot is on high-school kid, Andrew (Dane DeHaan). Andrew suffers abuse at the hands of his alcoholic father and is bullied in the classrooms. Even worse, his mother has contracted an illness that is seeing her slowly pass away. Andrew decides to chronicle his life through the lens of a video-camera. At a party, Andrew and his cousin Matt (Alex Russell) become friends with high school presidential candidate Steve (Michael B. Jordan). Only Steve has found a hole in the ground. A crystalline object exists, giving them all supernatural abilities. The screenplay does not focus on this object neither it's origins. It has no time to explore but simply reveal the after effects of the encounter. The three use their powers to cool advantages, pulling intense pranks on themselves and others in the community. Even flying in the clouds dodging aeroplanes. However, Andrew's power is in conflict with his anger stemming from his troubled background. What follows in the second part of the plot is a crescendo of events, about one's inability to control his telekinesis leading to a showdown of mayhem.
The first part of the story is fantastic. Seeing superpowers documented like this has never been so much fun to watch. The characters play it all with fantastic realism. The writing by Max Landis (son of John Landis) cleverly dedicates time and comedy into the wielding of these superhuman skills keeping us intently focused. The first part of the story is all about the powers rather than the characters. However, the tone changes in the second part, with the screenplay focusing on one particular character and his lack of control. Sadly, the second part cannot decide whether to dedicate more time to being an individual character study of abuse and the consequences of abuse, or whether to keep the super-power element the main attraction. In the end it decides to do both taking away any relatable, realistic edges that made the first half of the film so enjoyable to view. It becomes messy, out of control and wreck-less, which shouts out for an inevitable conclusion.
Apart from the uncommon angle it approaches the "superhero" genre, Chronicle does not really offer anything new. Trank uses the same point of view, camera style as seen in Cloverfield (2008) and REC (2009). I do not have a problem with it. I find this style unique and artistic and it gives logical permission for the camera to switch to CCTV and police footage during action sequences. However, there will be those who simply do not like this style of filming. It is still a controversial style of editing and will be for a long time to come.
On the whole, Chronicle comes from a unique angle on the teen, superhero situation and it is worth watching. Chronicle's first half is incredibly enjoyable mixing the sci-fi, fantasy and human drama genres nicely. However, the last quarter transcends into action sequences that hold more visual substance and grit rather than true emotional depth. In then end, I walked away thinking Chronicle was satisfied with the artistic value that it desired to achieve and for that alone, I cannot praise it enough. Expect a sequel...
★★ "Man On A Ledge" (12A) Posted on February 7th 2012, by David Keeble
Asger Leth's, Man On A Ledge offers a promising and a somewhat intelligent concept, within a plot based on the hero getting revenge on the villain. At times, it is a gripping con thriller. It's kind of like Phone Booth (2002) but without the booth and the intense psychological realism. However, the pictures' major downfall lies with the amount of clichés in the stereotypical actors and narrative, which leads to a conclusion that was always inevitable within the first ten minutes. It's good parts- so good and yet it's bad parts- so bad. In the end, I left the cinema with the same mind set as I walked in, with little desire to reflect on what I just witnessed.
The story starts with escaped convict, Nick Cassidy (Sam Worthington) moving onto the ledge of a balcony. Through a flashback we gain insight into his past, leading up to the current scenario. Nick was an ex-cop, involved in a diamond scam, with a couple of colleagues and a corrupt tycoon (Ed Harris) who's enterprise goes by the name "Englander". To get revenge, Nick has to clear his name by proving that Englander has the diamond, which will ultimately lead to the tycoon's criminal conviction and the downfall of his empire. To do this, Nick has constructed an elaborate heist, which will be carried out while he diverts the public's attention to his supposed suicidal tendencies. The screenplay does not dedicate time to the actual events of the diamond scam. May-be if it did we would have a firmer ground to as to just why we need our protagonist to succeed.
As concepts go, it is brilliant. The heist element is well written by Pablo Fenjves, even though it eventually succumbs to being a popcorn flick based on the cliché intensities seen in numerous films before. Don't get me wrong it's no Oceans Eleven (2001) or 21 (2008), but it has its moments of believability. In one scene, there is a direct parallel to the same camera angle used in the heist at the beginning of Michael Mann's Thief (1981). Pablo Fenjves did some homework but not enough and the rest of the writing is very average, falling into stereotypical, cliché depths.
As interesting as it is to see the heist concept play out, the whole man on the ledge, diversion eventually becomes tiresome. Sam Worthington does not have the charisma to pull the picture off alone. Elizabeth Bank's psychologist, heroine character is only as good as the writing allows her to be resulting in an average performance. The one dynamic character is Ed Harris, whom even though is heavily restrained amongst the villain archetype, actually notices that flaw and goes with it in his own, diverse way. It's as if he realises the screenplay's severe flaws and takes advice from other stereotypical villains in the past like Sir. Christopher Lee and John Malkovich. He vamps up the cliché good vs. bad guy theme nicely. In one scene during the heist, Génesis Rodríguez character undresses, revealing herself in pink laced underwear. While I am not one to complain from a red-hot blooded male perspective, from an artistic angle it is unnecessary and shouts out for attention to those that have started to become a bit bored.
Overall, Man On A Ledge is an average, cliché popcorn flick and while it offers a fantastic and promising concept in the heist factor, it's heights and thrills are literally no match for the recent Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol (2011) or the films of this con genre as seen in the previous decade.
★★★★ "J. Edgar" (15)
Posted on January 26th, 2012 by David Keeble
J. Edgar has received mixed, critical reviews as of late. The majority have said that Director, Clint Eastwood has not fully gripped or knows how to approach the "most powerful man in the world". I find it ironically fitting that such controversial reviews have been dedicated to such a controversial character in American history. It would not be right for the film to garner major positives or major negatives as he himself was neither.
John Edgar Hoover became 'Acting Director' of the Federal Bureau of Investigation in 1924, up until his death in 1975. His methods of operational procedures within the FBI, personal opinions on various political figures that came and went in his time in office and his private life, were surrounded with questionable legalities and mysterious speculations. J. Edgar's downfall simply lies in the narrative which does not know what direction to take the character study. But as a period biopic it is flawless and requires patience and intelligence along with our full attention.
The story starts with J. Edgar Hoover narrating his time in office as the camera swoops over a mahogany cabinet of successful memorabilia. The narrative thread is that of a memoir being told to his secretary. This style of storytelling gives the picture a pure biographical feel. The narrative goes into the 1920's before his appointment as Director, focusing on Hoover's ideology and career ambitions, particularly on the early Bolshevik communist fears on home soil (later seen in Senator McCarthy's "Witchhunts" of the 1970's). The Great Depression of the 1930's, sees a focus on Hoover's ideology and desires to curb the rise of the Gangster celebrity crime-wave with the likes of Dillinger, Capone and Lucky Luciano. The 1950's see's J. Edgar Hoover's conflicts with the courts over the bureau's restrictions on dealing with crime due to red tape. The 1960's and 1970's sees the story focus on Hoover's secret dislikes of the presidents: John F. Kennedy and Nixon and the radicals: Martin Luther King and "The Black Panthers". It is a fantastic period biopic, not many films can touch upon so many events in a 137 minute run-time.
Hoover was famous for his un-ethical and illegal contradictory methods on solving crime. Phone hacking scandals, transcripts of political conversations and top secret documents in his coded cabinets, all justified to himself due to his desires to win the fight on crime. Very reminiscent of The News Of The World and Rupert Murdoch in today's age. Hoover's authoritarian approach to his staff whom he requires to be of physical sound and his propagandised superiority in the job is all contradictory to the communist ideology he is trying to eradicate from American soil. His controversial sexual inclinations, and supposed estranged relationship with his mother is also conveyed. It is not easy to throw all these controversies into the fray and expect them to represent a clear character biopic simply because there is no conclusive evidence Hoover's private life was like this. People will walk into the film with non-objective approaches to the character and will ultimately be let down.
Leonardo DiCaprio is expectedly solid as the dedicated, career driven man with a lack of social life and normality concerning certain elements of human interaction. DiCaprio plays Hoover with such diversity. He successfully portrays him as the emotionally unstable, career-driven-paranoid whom cannot take any form of negativity or criticism in both his younger and older years. It is unbelievable DiCaprio has never won an Academy Award for 'Best Actor'.
J. Edgar is basically the flip side to Michael Mann's Public Enemies (2008). Whilst the latter focused on John Dillinger and Melvin Purvis in the 30's, this picture focuses just on Hoover. If the two films were fused together then we'd might be looking at a masterpiece. Even that is a controversial statement. I enjoyed this more than Public Enemies (2008) due to the fact this film actually tries to be a character biopic.
Cinematographer Tom Stern, has worked with Clint Eastwood on every film he has directed. The picture has a stone sepia color scheme to it just like in Changeling (2008). The lighting creates a mood of nostalgia, intelligence and knowledge as rich as the reflections off the mahogany and marble surfaces. The costumes and set designs are effortlessly reconstructed. It is well crafted when concerning design, style and photography.
J. Edgar is a fantastic period biopic but as the controversial character study it is supposed to be it gets it half right, simply because the narrative is incoherent for all these controversies to be bought to our attention. Patience is a virtue with this picture, especially for those whom already have pre-conceptions of the man. But Leonardo DiCaprio is brilliant as usual and Eastwood does his best with Dustin Lance Black's screenplay, which ultimately prevents it from being a complete masterpiece.
★★★ "The Descendants" (15)
Posted on February 2nd, 2012 by David Keeble
Alexander Payne's The Descendants is adapted from Kaui Hemming's novel bearing the same name. The picture recently scored big at the Golden Globes. With five nominations and two wins for 'Best Picture' and 'Best Actor', it is a film that asks for early, high expectations. I walked into it expecting to see a more serious version of Little Miss Sunshine (2006) and I was not wrong. As a human drama, designed to shoot vital life messages across to its audience it is fantastic. A touching film that reminds us all that even for those who live within the most idyllic of postcard settings, life has just as many hardships and heartaches. Sadly, the people who walk through life ignoring these harsh realities are the ones who will suffer the most whilst viewing The Descendants.
The opening scene sees a woman on a jet ski, clearly having a fantastic time in Hawaii. Suddenly the screen goes black and George Clooney opens up with a narrated monologue on how that woman was his wife, who is now in a coma after being severely injured. Clooney plays Matt King, a lawyer whom through generations of heritage is now the sole trustee of half a billion dollars worth of Hawaiian land. Not only is he under a moral pressure to satisfy his bankrupt cousins over inhabitant disruptions, he is now entrusted with looking after his two daughters whom he has been distant from over the years. Due to a generation of parents basing their lives on their own selfishness and ignorance, a dysfunctional family is the result. So dysfunctional, that Matt King's wife was having a secret affair. What follows is the story of a father and two daughters, which through tragic circumstances, set out to re-ignite the connection they have lost over the years through a relatively thin plot of tracking down the man whom his wife was "seeing".
The Descendants plot although tragic, is simply too thin to carry the performances. Instead, Co-Screenwriters Nat Faxon and Jim Rash have intelligently written a screenplay which makes the performances drive the plot instead of the other way around. The writing is superb simply because it manages to fuse comedy into the picture's darkest moments. Not being biased to my nationality, but some of the best British comedies in the history of our television have succeeded due to their tragic elements. Faxon and Rash cleverly manage to make comedic moments spring out of the most emotional scenarios in the picture, making it all the more realistic and heartfelt. The characters, through subtle comedic moments prevent the plot from becoming too emotionally overbearing and the writing excels in its dedication to providing each actor/actress with decent material.
George Clooney whom is known for his suave and somewhat playboy, charming persona, has never portrayed such an emotionally vulnerable character on screen. His portrayal of a fifty something man, whom up until now, has allowed his environment to dictate to him and his life rather than the other way around, is so refreshing to watch. Clooney is not always capable of making his performance look as genuine as possible, he has moments when you feel as if he's reading off a script sheet. Forced might be a better word, but on the whole he is brilliant. However, the real stars of The Descendants are the two daughters Alexandra (Shailene Woodley) and Scottie (Amara Miller). These two should have been nominated in the 'Best Supporting Actress' category. In one memorable scene, Alexandra dives under the water to release her grief on hearing the news of her mothers severely deteriorated state. Shailene Woodley's scene is captivatingly visceral, reminding us of the harsh reality that that our loved ones will one day inevitably pass away.
The Descendants cinematography by Phedon Papamichael is also a stand-out. Whilst the story dedicates time to promote the message of "paradise lost" the same applies to the not-so idyllic setting of Hawaii. We stereotypically think of sunshine, sand, coconut trees, and crystal clear water when "Hawaii" is mentioned. Papamichael is more than quick enough to erase that stereotype, showing the harsher realities of the Hawaiian weather just like the harsher realities of life. The photography has its moments of beauty even if we do not like to see grey skies in a place of supposed tranquility. The family's journey across the ever changing Hawaiian setting actually keeps the picture at a dynamic pace, preventing boredom from striking.
The Descendants is an emotionally charged film that dedicates time to play on the themes of life, death, family dysfunctions and materialism through heritage. Unfortunately, these are areas that certain people will not want to reflect upon. It is human nature to see the good before the bad. Alexander Payne's film will strike a deep emotional chord for those who might have experienced the recent loss of someone in their lives. Those who view life with such naive optimism will brand it a completely depressing 115 minutes of their life, however, if you are person who is willing to face the brutal realities that life is capable of throwing at you then you will find the various messages all the more powerful and will walk out fully satisfied.
★★★ "Goon" (15)
Posted on January 20th, 2012 by David Keeble
"Based on a true story". Really? Is there really a guy out there who is like Glatt? A socially awkward guy whom overnight became a sensation in the semi-pro hockey league and also won the heart of a woman from a local bar? If so, then fair play to the bloke. Not many of us become a sensational sports star and fall into genuine love within such quick procession. Put all that into an underdog sports comedy and you're onto a winner. Except Goon is not really what I would classify as a "sports comedy". It's actually about a simple, decent man coming to terms with the fact that the talent he has is encapsulated within a brutal and un-ethical profession. Winning or losing is not the central focus with this "sports comedy", just as long as our hero beats someone to a pulp and helps his team. However, it's multiple down-to-earth moments make Goon watchable and at times very funny.
We follow Doug Glatt, played by Sean William Scott in a role far detached from the American Pie days as Steve Stiffler. There's no getting around it. We hear Sean William Scott, we stereotypically think of Steve Stiffler. Glatt is a nice, unintelligent guy, ostracised by his family, stuck in a job that the everyday average person holds down. However, at a fateful local hockey game, his mate's mouth get's the attention of a particular player. Glatt with such effortless strength annihilates this player and luckily the coach is watching from the ice rink. Glatt get's the chance to be a "Goon" also known as an "Enforcer" for a minor hockey league team of misfits. Can Glatt gain his parents respect and bring this team back to it's glory days?
The plot has been seen in many comedies of this nature. The Waterboy (1998) and Happy Gilmore (1996) are probably the best examples. Except Scott is far more realistic and less exaggerated than Adam Sandler's characters. Scott doesn't break any boundaries but his down-to-earth approach manages to make us sympathise and like his character whilst he still goes around beating the crap out of other players. There's nothing worse in a sports comedy where we are supposed to like the protagonist but due to reasons relating to script, acting etc. we simply cannot connect. However, this is a one dimensional plot and luckily, Writers Jay Baruchel and Evan Goldberg (Superbad 2007, Pineapple Express 2008) are clever enough to realise this and add a sub-plot based on romance. After all, we like to see the underdog get the girl.
The romance sub-plot actually saves the film and will most likely bring in the female audience. The majority of the films I mention in this review have romance somewhere along the lines. The writers have made a safe move but these romance elements have the ability to make these picture's cliche. Goon has its subtle moments of sentimental cliche but thankfully the screenplay does not dwell too long on these moments.
However, there are cliche moments with the main antagonist involved. These "sports comedies" always have a villain that stands out whom we are supposed to hate. The good vs evil theme is very cliche but I came into it all expecting nothing less.
There will be cultural impacts from this film due to the various quotes and lines in the screenplay's dialogue. Then again I don't believe the quotes will be as long lasting as Dodgeball: A True Underdog's Story (2004). I don't know of any other "sports comedy" that has so many quotes still circulating, in particular to Ben Stiller's character White Goodman played with such hilarious narcissism. None-the less there is some brilliant, witty one-liners in the dialogue that will create minor ripples in the MTV pop culture parts of society. It may not happen straight away but eventually you will be hearing people say: "that was from the film Goon".
Overall, Goon just lacks that extra bite in the comedic department that could have made it a classic years down the line like Cool Runnings (1993). At the end of the day, it's a comedy that will gain more attention and appreciation from the younger generation, especially those who want to kick back with a few beers, a bunch of mates and watch something that doesn't take itself too seriously. Oh and ironically, Eugene Levy plays the father. He's a classic and if you don't know who he is then I seriously suggest you pick up the American Pie films. You don't want to be branded as "that guy" who doesn't know who Jim's dad is...
★★★ "Coriolanus" (15)
Posted on January 23rd, 2012 by David Keeble
Shakespeare has always been a controversial topic. Be it the infamous conspiracy that he was only a pseudonym that never wrote a single stage-play in his entire life (highlighted in the film Anonymous (2010) or the simple fact that Shakespeare's seventeenth century syntax construction is too difficult for the average twenty-first century person to get too grips with. Throughout my academic years not once have I studied Coriolanus. I have restricted knowledge dedicated too: Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet (even that was only through Disney's The Lion King (1996), A Midsummer Night's Dream, The Tempest and The Merchant of Venice. All these plays mentioned, whether it be through animation or standard motion picture, have successfully crossed over onto film at some point. Coriolanus is no exception. It is an artistically bold, if not egotistical, directorial debut from Ralph Fiennes that highlights the tragedies that come with the fights for civil liberties, one's extreme desire for autocratic power and the segregation of social and political class distinctions.
Gaius Marcius Coriolanus, a Roman general, is fighting a civil war with the people of Italy. A member of the Patrician party, he declares that the Plebians are not worthy of equal rights and citizenship due to their lack of military service. The story is directly linked to Ancient Rome when it operated more as a constitutional Republic centuries before the appointment of the great Augustus and the birth of the Roman Empire in 27 BC. The rogue Volscian Army whom dwell in Antium, are lead by Aufidius (Gerard Butler) as "the lion I am proud to hunt" whom is plotting to take the city of Rome and dethrone the counsel. Through revolts and severe pressure, Coriolanus goes into exile and forms an unlikely coalition with the Volski's in aim of taking the city back by the tip of the sword.
Coriolanus is apparently not one of Shakespeare's best works throughout his playwright career and I can see why. The plot, as good as it sounds, is not as hard hitting as I was hoping for. I was not bothered whether Coriolanus was going to take back the city or not because I simply did not like the character. Rome seemed better off without him. I couldn't relate or have empathy for a character that was driven by such strong desires for authoritarian power. But that's not to say Fiennes does a bad job. Where the picture excels simply lies with the talented cast involved and their effective plays on the themes of power, greed, politics and war.
Ralph Fiennes does a fantastic job as the cold and brutal Coriolanus. He's not exactly layered in complexity, for example, I did not feel sympathy for his character's banishment, but Fiennes has the face, voice and overall presence of a tyrant. Every-time he is on screen his previous experiences as a Shakespearean stage actor shines through with such demand. As good as Fiennes is, my main appraisals go to Vanessa Redgrave as the dictator's mother Volumnia and Brian Cox as his political adviser, Menenius. Both actor and actress play key roles in relation to taming and teaching the autocrat a thing or two about diplomacy. If it was not for these two characters I doubt we would see any tragic weaknesses in the power hungry general.
The writing stays true to Shakespeare's contemporary seventeenth century style of language. Although egotistically and very artistically shown by the actors that they are capable of broadcasting the style clearly, it is simply overbearing at times. Baz Lurhmann did the same with Romeo and Juliet (1996) and Mike Radford's Merchant of Venice (2004) and they had many moments where translation became difficult. As fantastic as it is to hear such a unique style flow so smoothly it's difficult to fully grasp just what is being said. I had to revert to dialogue assumption rather than gaining clear understanding of the points being made. May be I'm being ignorant. May be I am one of a minority whom cannot decode Shakespeare's syntax structure quickly like the majority of the population. Something tells me I'm correct though? I'm sure I will be contacted a lot over this point.
This is a brutal picture. Fiennes does not hold back on the visceral elements. Blood and warfare are shown without mercy just like his character and it makes the cinematography so brilliant to view. The film was shot in Serbia and the bleakness of the countryside and the cold chills in the air are all reflective symbols of our anti-hero's personality. The picture is pure artistry through and through.
Coriolanus is a bold and fantastically acted, directorial debut by Ralph Fiennes. He has correctly surrounded himself within a brilliant supporting cast to help push the film through however for full appreciation, I think you would need to have some knowledge on Shakespeare's career, if not at the very least, the ability to deconstruct the language to fully understand the Shakespearean style of narration. "Once more unto the breach dear friends once...no wait wrong one again.