Friday, 30 September 2011

Drive (2011)

Drive follows the story of a nameless Driver (Ryan Gosling), a Hollywood stuntman who, in his spare time, hires himself out as a getaway car driver. He has very strict rules: for 5 minutes he is at the disposal of the criminals, no matter what occurs; 1 minute either way and the crooks are on their own. He doesn’t carry a gun, he just drives. This serves him well, despite looking bit bored with life. However, his life is altered in a way he couldn't predict when he meets his next door neighbour Irene (Carey Mulligan) and her husband Standard (Oscar Issac) who has just been released from prison.

Despite the film being called Drive, there wasn’t too much driving (fine by me, I’m not a petrol head by any means) and it certainly doesn’t glamourise cars. When Ryan is driving, the film is kept fresh and dynamic by sharp editing and clever uses of the camera by director Nicolas Winding Refn. The film is very stylish (not the cars particularly, except for the Mustang), but just in the slick way it is filmed. Ironically I didn’t think that Ryan’s character was that stylish; he constantly wears a jacket with gold embroidered scorpion on the back and has a toothpick permanently poking out of the side of his mouth.

The focus of the first half of the film is the growing relationship between Ryan and Carey, and they are both brilliant. Ryan is always very cool and calm, and having come across as being fairly disinterested and bored with life, he starts to come to life as he gets to know Irene. Carey Mulligan is very good once again, she is very cute and bashful, not knowing how to play the relationship with the Driver, knowing that her husband is getting out of jail.

Having slowly built up the relationship in the first half of the film, there are some tremendously shocking moments in the second half; again the Driver showing how cool and calm (and lethal) he is under pressure. The film really accentuates the shocking moments by turning down all the sound prior to the scene that will make you jump out of your seat. The mob element was nicely done, Ron Perlman was fairly scary and Albert Brooks was very scary. Oscar Isaac played Standard in a very clever way, I really didn't know how he was going to react to the Driver's relationship with his wife. He showed that it wasn't a fluke that he was the best actor in Sucker Punch.

A great movie that was very well made, with the right balance of character development and hard hitting action. This film really goes to show how a simple concept, well written characters, and good film making can make a stand out film. Ryan Gosling and Carey Mulligan are both fantastic, though I think I would have appreciated a little more time spent with Mulligan’s character because she’s a great actress. I didn’t expect to be quite so shocked, but there were moments when I had my hand to my mouth in surprise. Definitely one of the most original and well-crafted films this year.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Jurassic Park (1993)

Hold on to your Butts!

Jurassic Park really doesn’t need any introduction. An absolutely fantastic adventure that blew me away when I saw it back in ‘93, and still looked amazing this year when it was re-released for a short time. I’d forgotten how amazing the initial T-Rex attack is! Every bit as breathtaking as the train crash in Super 8 or the train/robot shootout in Sucker Punch. The cast is completely superb, Spielberg really knows how to direct this kind of action, and John William’s score is so evocative (I still got goosebumps as the music swelled while the helicopter first lands on the island).

Of course an important part of the film are the dinosaurs; and ILM’s groundbreaking (in ‘93) CG blend seamlessly with Stan Winston’s incredible animatronic creatures. However, the amazing thing I noticed this time was actually there is not that much dinosaur action in the film! Sounds crazy huh? Well it just so happens that the excellent cast infer as many terrible lizards as we see. It has been said that 80% of acting is reacting (I just made that figure up, but you know what I mean), and Jurassic Park really demonstrates this. None more so than Dr Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern):

The Shiznit does it best:

Laura isn’t the only one to get her dino-reaction on though:

and the fabulous Nedry (Wayne Knight):

In fact, other than the dinosaurs I think Nedry might be my favourite thing; he’s just so brilliantly nervous, not really wanting to get into any kind of trouble, yet absolutely loving the espionage gizmos! Though actually Jeff Goldblum is typically brilliant; and Richard Attenborough is great; and John Williams’ score is amazing; and that T-Rex scene is truly outstanding! Dammit! It’s all fantastic. I want to see it again, now!

Monday, 26 September 2011

The Lovely Bones (2009)

So, I wasn't really paying attention when this was on telly (I think I was booking holiday stuff), therefore my observations may not be entirely accurate. Consequently this review is just of my general impressions.

I think I'm right in saying that the film is based on a book; and I could see how the idea of a murdered girl discovering the afterlife and helping her family find her killer could work in a  novel. But adapting this idea for a film was a very ambitious project, and I'm not quite sure that Peter Jackson et al really pulled it off. Like I say, I wasn't entirely paying attention, but it felt a little disjointed, and the afterlife sequences were particularly confusing (rather like the beach scenes towards the end of Tree of Life).

The cast however were mostly excellent. Saoirse Ronan gives another incredibly mature performance, she really has played some very demanding roles, and hasn't really failed at all as far as I'm concerned. Mark Wahlberg was alright, that is he wasn't really annoying. Rachel Weisz was good (as far as I remember) and gave a very emotional performance. Stanley Tucci was the best by far. He was superbly creepy throughout the whole film, being secretive and smarmy, yet with the potential to snap at any moment.

I have a feeling that this film came in for a lot of criticism when it was released, maybe some of it was deserved; though I suspect it might be because it was quite a confused interpretation of what I suppose was quite a challenging source. Some of the special effects were definitely spectacular, I just wonder whether the film was too reliant on them. I think if the two main lead characters hadn't been so good, then my overall impression might not have been so good.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

The Man with the Golden Gun (1974)

The man with the arched eyebrows is back, and on the trail of Francisco Scaramanga the titular Man with Aurum Armoury. James receives a golden bullet with 007 etched into it, indicating that he has been targeted for assassination. He therefore decides to track down Scaramanga before he is tracked down himself and eliminated; the story culminating in a one on one duel on a remote island.

I really liked the idea of the duel between these two shooters, Scaramanga being 007's equal in the use of weapons; it should have been a tense, gripping finale. Unfortunately it is all a bit campy and psychedelic, no doubt Scaramanga’s circus history showing through; but this rather destroys any tension that there might have been. Though to be fair, the way in which 007 nails Scaramanga shows a cunning more typical of Dr No Bond, which is cool in a film which is surprisingly bereft of gadgets, also like some of the earlier films.

The plot is fairly straight forward, and is fairly succinct in itself; it is just spoilt by too much “comedy”, and some rather bizarre script:

“I always thought I loved animals, Then I discovered that I enjoyed killing people even more.” ??

The worst offender is the return of J.W. Pepper, on holiday in Bangkok from Louisiana. Now, I realise that I did defend his inclusion in LALD to an extent, arguing that his interruption of the boat chase prevented it from becoming stale and monotonous. But, was he really that good an idea that it was worth bringing him back? In a time when the franchise can't string two consecutive Felix Leiters together, Clifton James is allowed to reprise his foolish role! Just when you think that it can’t get any worse as an elephant tries to pickpocket him and he heeeelariously falls into the water, he’s feckin’ back again, chewing the cud in the car chase and calling everyone Bwaaaoooy! This nonsense, and Hip’s nieces turning out to be karate experts (just an excuse for another fish-hooked eyebrow) are the worst offenders. Though an honourable mention should go to the random Clanger noise as the car loops over the broken bridge!

“The fried mushrooms look terribly interesting.” WTF?

This is not to say that the film is awful; there are plenty of shining moments. There is a pretty good scrap in the belly-dancer’s changing room near the beginning, and it is good to see that someone tries to attack 007 with a chair. Though, are we really meant to believe that the mangled bullet passed through Bond’s digestive system without it shredding his guts? There is also some good banter between Bernard Lee and Desmond Llewelyn when they are discussing the origin of the golden bullet, and again later after Scaramanga has escaped. The car chase was pretty dynamic too, and well filmed; it was just spoiled by unrealistic and unnecessary pile-ups, and of course JW.

Roger still seems to be enjoying the role and is very comfortable in it. Christopher Lee is very good, he is always very cool, calm and calculated, but he just lacks the extra menace that would make him a great villain. Maud Adams is very good as Scaramanga’s kept woman, Andrea Anders. She essentially engineers the entire premise of the film. She is smart, manipulative, knows precisely what she wants and how she will get it; almost a perfect Bond girl; except she dies! Presumably Britt Ekland is the main girl, and although she is by no means good in TMWTGG, she is very sexiful in that bikini! Another honourable mention should be made here to Choo Mee; is she the first Bond Girl to be naked for all of her screen time?

“I maybe small, but I never forget.” Huh?

The Man with the Golden Gun is an enjoyable romp; however it is a couple of great characters short of being a great film, and a bit too full of redneck Louisiana sheriff and other “comedy” moments, to be up there with the best of the 007 series so far. No matter how much furniture fighting there may be!

Order of Preference so far:

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (2011)

Years ago I remember starting to read Smiley’s people, and having to give up because I hadn’t a clue what was going on. So you can imagine my surprise when I left the cinema having actually understood (more or less) what had happened in TTSS. Of course before I saw TTSS I didn’t know that the main character was that very same George Smiley, played with typical aplomb by Gary Oldman. Though for a while there I thought it may have been a silent performance from Gary, as he didn’t speak for ages.

In fact the whole cast is brilliant. I did like the way that alongside the fantastic old guard of John Hurt, Gary Oldman & Colin Firth, and the newer talent of Tom Hardy, Toby Jones, Mark Strong & Benedict Cumberbatch, was Kathy Burke, probably most famous for being one half of the slobs! There is also a nice cameo by Trigger (Roger Lloyd-Pack) as a sort of fixer. Of the roundly superb cast, I think that I was most impressed with Cumberbatch. He puts me in mind of a version of Brad Pitt from the 2001 Ocean’s 11 remake; with similar sharp suits to match.

In fact the whole of the film is very stylish, mostly. You would hope that on a salary from Her Majesty’s intelligence services, most people would be able to afford good clobber; however, all the agents look immaculate and beautifully turned out. They are definitely more the suave Dr No 007 than The Man with the Golden Gun’s crimes against fashion. Standing out again is Peter Guillam (Cumberbatch), who oozes espionage panache; undercover urbanity, if you will. However, set against the sharp-dressed men, are some very bad hair days. I’m not talking Donald trump here, they aren’t bad hairpieces, they’re obviously intentional 70s hairdos, they’re just awful that’s all. Tom Hardy and Mark Strong in particular have bad barnets.

There were a few moments when I lost the plot missed a plot point (according to my wife) but not crucially though. For instance, I hadn’t realised who the guy dying in hospital near the beginning was, and wondered why he had just disappeared from the film! In my defence, I was too busy admiring the beautiful photography of old London Town, well 70s London Town anyway. Needless to say, the film looks great, from the subtle colours of the London exterior, the bright colour of the sound-proof meeting room to the autumnal colours towards the end. Add to this the stylish fashion, and the film is really a feast for the eyes.

Wonderful acting, not as confusing a plot as you may imagine, and a generally beautiful film; excellent and understated. Very impressive from director Tomas Alfredson, (the Swedish guy who directed Let the Right One In), who seems to be directing his first English language film, and cinematography by Hoyte Van Hoytema (also of Let the Right One In).  A real breath of fresh air after all the summer blockbusters, especially given that it is mostly just a bunch of men talking.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Letters from our Fathers/Flags of Iwo Jima (2006/2007)

Both Flags of our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima tell the story of the battle for Iwo Jima, a small island to the south of Japan. It is 1945 and Iwo Jima is a strategic island because the Americans want to use it as a staging post for attacking mainland Japan. Flags of our Fathers tells the story from the American point of view; the capture of the island and the raising of the American flag on the top of the hill. A photo was taken, and the picture became an iconic image of the war, and as such was used to generate much needed revenue for the war effort from the American public. Three of the remaining soldiers who were in the photo were taken back to the US and paraded around the country to help raise the money; except that one of them wasn’t in the photo! The film follows the stories of these three soldiers, as well as the fighting on the island that led to the raising of the flag and the death of the other soldiers in the photo.

Letters from Iwo Jima tells the story from the Japanese point of view, the awful conditions of the soldiers and their desperation to defend the island. The story is told through the eyes of a foot soldier Saigo (Kazunari Ninomiya) and General Kuribayashi (Ken Watanabe). The soldiers regularly write letters home, but of course once the fighting starts no more letters are delivered. However, as one of the few survivors, Saigo manages to bury a bag of the letters before he is captured. In true Saving Private Ryan style, the film begins in the present day, where we see some historians digging in the caves in Iwo Jima and unearthing something; at the end of the film we flip back to present day and the bag of letters that Saigo buried is unearthed.

FOOFs is much more of a spectacle than LFIJ, and this makes sense in that the three soldiers are paraded around the USA, making speeches, taking part in naff re-creations of the flag-raising, and generally being wined & dined as heroes. In this way, the film is almost a celebration of war. Of course the soldiers don’t feel like heroes, and the film is concerned with them fighting their demons; losing friends on the battlefield, struggling with an alcohol problem (Ira Hayes; played by Adam Beach), or not even being in the photo!

LFIJ is far less a celebration than a depiction of the grim reality of war; constantly eating weed soup, backbreaking work digging tunnels, and the desperation of the soldiery when it is clear they can’t win. What is interesting is the common ground to the films; the fighting. The conflict is gruesome, relentless and confusing on both sides, and all of the battle scenes are essentially black & white. There is some vague colour but it is very mute; the only full colour coming from gunfire and explosions, serving to highlight the terror. In this way the cinematography is fantastic, beautifully framed shots, including some really cool pilot-cam moments from the American fighter planes.

The most poignant scene of both films is a moment in LFIJ, when having captured an American soldier who subsequently dies from his wounds, General Kuribayashi reads out a letter that the GI received from his mother. All of the surrounding Japanese soldiers are amazed at the ordinary content of the letter. One of the soldiers remarks that his mother tells him about the same kind of things from back home. At this moment it hits the soldiers that the enemy are just people too.

I did enjoy both films. The direction by Clint Eastwood is solid, the cast are great in both films, and the look of the films is excellent. I think I was just a bit under-awed by them. Clint’s films are so often tremendous that I expected more “Wow” from the movies. They are both very well made films, no doubt, I just wasn’t amazed by them.

Bladerunner (1982)

Wake up, time to die.

I must admit to having never really “got” Bladerunner in the past. I know it is regarded as a classic (my wife even did an essay on it in Academy), and so I had tried to like it, but just never quite did. Then the local multiplex (my first ever visit, having previously steered well clear) did a one off showing as part of the local TechFest (2 weeks of public science events here in Aberdeen), because apparently NASA has praised Bladerunner for its scientific accuracy. So I paid my £12 to see Ridley Scott’s epic on the big screen.

To say that I am completely converted would be an understatement. It was fantastic. The look of LA in 2019 was simply amazing, and the score by Vangelis just adds layer upon layer of atmosphere so that the whole film is simply dripping with it. As I was listening to it I could hear parts of it were obviously inspirational for Daft Punk in their soundtrack for Tron Legacy. The End Titles also sound like they could have been inspirational for Hans Zimmer’s “Time” on the Inception soundtrack.

Ridley Scott’s direction for Bladerunner is understated verging on the minimal. Harrison Ford, Daryl Hannah, Rutger Hauer, William Sanderson et al. spend a fair amount of time not speaking, rather simply being in this intricately created environment. The constant shifting of light across the actors either highlights or subdues their emotions and reactions. I also loved the fact that the film isn’t in a hurry; the pace of the film is fairly slow, but it doesn’t care, it just builds tension and atmosphere, as the plot slowly unfolds.

The cast are consistently excellent. I think Harrison Ford is perfect as the world-weary pulled-out-of-retirement Bladerunner, he brings complete credibility to a character whose job it is to kill synthetic humans. I think he works so well because he plays the character as your average cop, rather than trying to be all sci-fi or other-worldly; this means that we can relate to him far more. Rutger Hauer manages to convey a lot in his fairly small screen-time as Roy Batty, a particularly dangerous replicant. By the end of the film we are left sympathising with Batty, such is the quality of the writing and the performance.

The only minor issue I have with the film is the romance between Deckard and Rachael. Not because it isn’t appropriate or anything, simply because Rachael looks weird! Her hair is just strange, until she lets it down and then she looks fairly normal! But I think that is the minor-est of minor niggles in what is an excellent film.

So I finally get Bladerunner. A stunningly imagined and realised future LA, moody, atmospheric and incredibly detailed. The characters are brilliantly portrayed, and there is no doubt that they inhabit the world that they are in. Very understated direction by Ridley, which is complemented wonderfully by the music and the layers of light used in the movie. I will definitely be buying a copy on DVD now.

Monday, 19 September 2011

Goodfellas (1990)

As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a Gangster.

Following Henry Hill’s (Ray Liotta) life of crime from a (relatively) innocent age to a very well respected gangster, Martin Scorsese’s epic film of New York mafia is funny, shocking, brutal, but above all completely compelling. Scorsese manages to make a very complex story with many different characters manageable, so that the viewer never feels lost. Much as I love The Godfather (and I really do), one criticism may be that Coppola tries to get too many characters in. I think that the balance in Goodfellas is perfect.

The cast obviously help to make the film great as well. Robert De Niro is fantastic as the very influential Jimmy Conway; Ray Liotta probably gives the performance of his career, and Joe Pesci is terrifying but brilliant as the unpredictable Tommy deVito. There is even a very brief appearance by Samuel L Jackson. One of the best (and scariest, most uncomfortable) scenes is the famous “funny guy” scene; this really demonstrates how well Liotta and Pesci work together in this film.

The film is not without its fair share of movie-making excellence either. Scorsese always finds the best place to put the camera, there is a very nice scene where the camera tracks around a large table in a restaurant as we are introduced to several characters, and a brilliant one take steady cam shot following Ray Liotta into a restaurant as he takes girlfriend Karen on a date.

On top of all this, there is a fabulous soundtrack, which often seems at odds with the action on screen; Sunshine of Your Love as de Niro sits at the bar smouldering and with one blink seals the fate of someone.

I feel that I’ve always preferred The Godfather over Goodfellas as the ultimate gangster film, I think I still do, but only just. With a great cast, tight script, and excellent direction Goodfellas is an almost perfect film. I just wish Joe Pesci wasn’t so damn scary!

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Predators (1987 & 1990)

There’s something out there waiting for us, and it aint no man.

Now let me get this straight, this is not about Predators (2010); I haven’t seen it and I’ve no burning desire to either. Predator 1 & 2 were made fairly close together, and so seem fair game to be given the double bill treatment. Made in the mid-late 80s (1990 may as well be the 80s let’s be honest) the films are from a time of macho action, explosions and swearing, when swearing was cool and not clichéd.

Bur before we begin, here’s some great music by Alan Silvestri to read by:

Predator and Back to the Future, not at all disparate!

Predator is set in the Central American jungle and the story (set out in the first 6 minutes of the film - I like that, no messing around) revolves around a squad of soldiers called upon to rescue a diplomat who has been caught by some rebels. Dutch (Schwarzenegger) is the commander of the squad who are “thrown into the meat grinder”, they successfully infiltrate the rebel camp, but discover that the diplomat story was a set up. Soon that doesn’t matter at all as they discover that something is stalking them and picking them off one at a time.

Predator 2 takes place in L.A. during a very hot summer when gang warfare is rife. Hard nosed cop Mike Harrigan (Danny Glover) gets caught in the hunting ground of the Predator while trying to bust opposing drug trafficking gangs. He is told to back off by a special division of Feds led by Peter Keys (Gary Busey) who are investigating the alien. However, when Mike’s partner is killed by the creature, he takes it personally and is determined to get the killer.

Although the setup of both movies is broadly similar (group of characters, most get killed along the way, and an alpha male lead role who spends the last 20 alone trying to destroy the Predator), there is quite a gulf of quality between them. Director John McTiernan (soon to really make his name with Die Hard), seems to have knack for directing action. But despite that obviously being the focus of the film, it doesn’t stop him from doing interesting things with the camera. There are some very nicely framed shots, and some great crane movements. I can’t think that Stephen Hopkins creates any moments in Predator 2 that are really worth mentioning.

One of the most important things to get right in films like these are the characters. What you need to do is create a group of characters who just click together on screen, and who you feel that you’ve known all of your life (like Aliens). What you don’t want is a bunch of characters that no-one cares about (Sucker Punch). As Bruce Lee said: “Emotional content... It’s like a finger pointing at the moon. Do not concentrate on the finger or you will miss all of the heavenly glory.” Predator manages to get the characters spot on, and in record time too! Within 10 minutes, I think, we are in the jungle, the plot is crystal clear, not contrived, and we feel like we know half the team already! They have history, they have humour, camaraderie, they have been thought out. The same isn’t so true of the second film. It’s not that we have no connection with them, Mike, Keys and Jerry Lambert (Bill Paxton) are all interesting characters, they just aren’t as well developed as those in Predator.

Both films were written by the same guys, Jim and John Thomas, so it’s not like the writers weren’t as good for Predator 2. I think that because it is set in L.A. the characters suffer a bit; with everything else going on in the city, perhaps less time was given over to character development. In Predator there is only a cast of 9! Coupled with that is a straightforward plot and a jungle setting (no annoying extra people to worry about - other cops, drug dealers, commanding officers, Feds etc), so the film is able to focus on the characters a lot more. That, and I don’t think that Stephen Hopkins is as good a director in 1990 than McTiernan was in 1987, means that Predator 2 doesn't have the impact that the first film does. To his credit, Stephen Hopkins did go on the direct the first series of 24. The strange thing was that after only 5 minutes of watching Predator 2, I was convinced that it was a Paul Verhoeven film! It just had a Robocop/Total Recall feeling to it.

Needless to say, the cast is great in both films. Arnie is a great lead character and perfect for this film; but good as he is in the first film, he would not have been suitable for the second. I think Danny Glover is just right for the L.A.-based cop, he already had a lot of Lethal Weapon experience, and so is a natural choice. As an actor Danny is also more natural; however good Arnie is at leading these kinds of movies (and he is generally great I think; yes, even in Conan he is perfect for that role), he still has a wooden quality to his acting. Carl Weathers and the rest of the Predator cast are all great; Carl and Arnie giving us the most unnecessary testosterone-fueled scene ever filmed I think:

In fact Predator could be the most homo-erotic mainstream film since Top Gun! All the “Boy scout shit” with their shirts off is essentially the “Playing with the boys” volleyball scene no?

I digress! Gary Busey turns in a smart performance as Keys, the smarmy Fed looking down his nose at Harrigan; and Bill Paxton is as likeable (and killable) as usual, though given how great he is in Aliens, he’s perhaps a little underused here.

Of course the star of the show, the Predator, is amazing. A really novel idea, brought to life by the large- than-life Kevin Peter Hall (7’ 4’’), and by Stan Winston’s special effects. The Predator has such an iconic mask, a wonderful array of technology (that can be operated with very long claws), and a fantastic face (though completely impractical fangs and a mouth that looks like a vagina!), but you know, that’s cool.

I think that Predator is a brilliant film, full of great action, characters we get to know well, a fantastic foe, a great music score, and it is eminently quotable: “If it bleeds, we can kill it.” (I didn’t say it was particularly great prose!). Predator 2 is also enjoyable and has its moments, it just lacks the character depth of the first film and its larger scope I think somehow lessens its impact. As for Predators, well maybe I’ll see it sometime, but I’m not in a hurry.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Troll Hunter (2010)

A group of 3 Norwegian college students start following a grizzly guy called Hans because they believe he is a bear poacher, an issue that is currently relevant in their town. After they have followed him into the woods one night they discover that he is actually the titular Troll Hunter. His job involves studying, but mainly killing, Norway’s Troll population. As the students are filming for a documentary, the film is shot from the POV of the cameraman, a la Blair Witch/Cloverfield.

The film was a lot funnier than I expected. It was hilarious seeing the TSS (that’s the Troll Security Service) covering up Troll activity by lugging a dead bear to the site, and the stomping around with bear paws on the end of sticks/shoes to leave fake bear tracks! There was also a tremendous scene where Hans has to take a Troll blood sample while dressed in a protective iron suit.

The film makers must have had so much fun making the film. There are a few references to fairy tales; such as the Billy goats gruff in a scene where three sheep are left on a bridge to lure out the Troll lurking underneath. I can also imagine the director, André Øvredal, and cast driving through the countryside filming and making up stuff about what they see and relating it to Trolls.

Even though it is filmed in shaky-hand POV, the Norwegian scenery looks stunning, and the Trolls also look amazing, especially the enormous Mountain Troll at the climax. Of course none of the images have been altered at all (so it says at the start of the film! - all very Fargo), which all adds to the humour of it. It probably doesn’t do anything for the perception of Norwegians, being portrayed either as crazy wild-men, or a bit simple (never questioning why power lines go in a huge circle and don’t actually go anywhere). Though there is an attempt to shoe-horn in some science to explain why trolls turn to stone in daylight, it doesn’t really serve much purpose.

However, this is a great film; funny and very entertaining. It builds the tension well before the first Troll encounter; there were none of the jumpy/scary moments that I was expecting, but none the less a very enjoyable film. Of course, if you’re the kind of person who gets sea-sick watching POV films, then this probably isn’t for you.


Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)

Of all the summer blockbusters, to me it feels like Rise of the Planet of the Apes (RPA) has been the most hyped and discussed. Certainly there have been more blogposts, reviews and opinions that I have had to avoid for RPA than either Super 8, Cowboys & Aliens, or HP and DH part 2. Maybe not for Dark of the Moon though. So, what to make of this eagerly anticipated prequel? Well I really enjoyed it actually.

Presumably the majority of people watching this film know where the plot is headed (though I wouldn’t have 5 months ago), so there are no real surprises. What is interesting is how we get to that stage. It seems as though it is all our fault, or at least the fault of the scientists (typical; my profession being hard done by again). By trying to find a cure for Alzheimer’s disease, top scientist Will (James Franco) has developed a gene therapy treatment that not only seems to cure the disease but actually improves cognitive ability.

Sound familiar? Yup, it’s just like Deep Blue Sea, that paragon of spacker science (that’s the technical term)! Protein to cure Alzheimer’s from Sharks’ brains, need bigger sharks, but sharks become intelligent! I guess in Planet of the Sharks they’d at least be confined to the oceans!

Anyway; Caesar is the offspring of one of the apes treated with the gene therapy LAZ-112, and to save him from extermination (because the experiment had gone horribly wrong) Will takes him home and raises him. This is in addition to looking after his father (John Lithgow) who has Alzheimer’s. The CG work done for Caesar, and all the other apes is just astonishing, WETA have once again demonstrated how ahead of the game they are. There wasn’t a moment when I didn’t believe that Caesar was real, and of course this is crucial for the film so that the audience empathises with him. This of course is also achieved by the humanisation of Caesar. As a baby, Caesar grabs Will’s finger, and after several years he spends most of his time walking on two feet. This humanisation makes us completely get on board with the character, and so the audience feels awful about the way Caesar is treated later in the film. This raises the moral question: “Do we not care about animal cruelty unless they are intelligent?”

So, Caesar and the other apes are fabulous thanks to Joe Letteri’s team at WETA, cinematography by Andrew Lesnie, and Andy Serkis. Serkis’ contribution this time was less obvious, King Kong actually looked like him! However, generally I thought the human cast were not as good as the CG ones. The main human character is Will, but far from James Franco making this his character, I feel that he could have been played by anyone. Obviously he is personally very close to his work because his Dad has Alzheimer’s; but when he finally dies, Will doesn’t seem to care, and then he quits the research project! It felt kind of “Oh well it didn’t work for me so I’ll just pack it all in!” In the words of Homer Simpson to Bart: “You tried your hardest, and you failed. The moral of the story is: Never Try!”

I feel that the rest of the cast is similarly meh. Freida Pinto is completely underused, and her only real purpose is to have an interest in chimps; if that’s a purpose. Tom Felton is essentially just Malfoy, and Brian Cox is fairly generic. I think that John Lithgow (Barney’s Dad in HIMYM) was possibly the best human actor. As Will’s Dad with Alzheimer’s, he was very good at being able to switch between the forgetfulness, incomprehension and confusion of the disease with the elation of suddenly being cured.

Now I’ve never seen director Rupert Wyatt’s only other film The Escapist, so I can’t really comment; it just strikes me that all the human characters were not particularly well realised, whereas the the computer generated character was far more believable and well developed.

But all of this sounds rather negative, and the fact is that I really enjoyed RPA. The characters may not be great, but they’re good enough not to detract from the main thrust of the film, which is of course how the apes gain control. I think I’m only picking on the cast because I know they can be so much better. But where some of the human scenes can drag (not helped by more crappy science - why specifically say that apes have a much stronger immune system, therefore they can cope with the more virulent retrovirus? Actually no. The opposite is true. A stronger immune system will reject it far quicker than Will’s Dad ever did), every scene with Caesar and the story of his rise is amazing and utterly engaging.

RPA also includes perhaps the best cinematic moment this year, even better than the train crash in Super 8. **Huge Spoiler** It was almost inevitable that someone would say “Get your stinking paws off me you damn dirty ape! At which point there was a perceptible groan from the audience (especially from me having recently seen Tim Burton's butchered version). But when Caesar then screamed “NO!”, you could have heard a pin drop in the cinema! It was fantastic. **Spoiler Finsihed**

I realise that this review gives rather mixed messages, but I did thoroughly enjoy RPA. The cast is OK, they don’t detract from the film, they just under-perform. The story of the Rise is great and Caesar is phenomenal in all respects. Overall, well worth seeing.

Monday, 5 September 2011

The Guard (2011)

The Guard was never going to get the same kind of press as many of the other films this summer; but with the brilliant pairing of Brendan Gleeson and Don Cheadle, coupled with its wicked sense of humour, more people really should see this than inevitably will. Essentially, it is a fish-out-of-water film (as referred to in the film - very meta). The big-shot FBI agent, Wendell Everett, (Cheadle) is posted to Galway on the trail of some drug smugglers (Liam Cunningham, David Wilmot, and Mark Strong). Along the way he must cope with the Irish “Guarda” (police), most of who are being paid off by the smugglers, and Sergeant Boyle (Gleeson) whose sarcastic, semi-racist character is generally at odds with Wendell’s polite and proper by-the-book brand of policing.

Naturally the bad guys are eventually caught, but this of course isn’t the point. From the opening scene, where a car full of drunk/drugged-up youths driving too fast crashes, and Boyle doesn’t bat an eyelid before trying one of the dead guy's pills; you know that this won’t be an ordinary murder enquiry film. “What a beautiful fucking day!”.

The plot is not intricate, but what makes this film great is the cast. Gleeson is brilliant as the larger than life, confrontational Sergeant Boyle; and Cheadle is equally brilliant. The drug smugglers are also great, in particular Mark Strong; and the idea to have the the three of them discuss Nietzsche and generally be philosophical is inspired. Based around these main characters, the police station contains many other colourful characters; there is a local lad who is obsessed with photographing the more macabre details of the police work, and another lad (mostly incomprehensible) who always rides a pink bike and is accompanied by his dog.

As I’ve said, the film isn’t particularly fancy, but the rugged Irish landscape is beautifully shot, the wonderful characters are brought to life by a brilliant cast, and the film is abound with comedy. From the random Daniel O’Donnell poster in Boyle’s bedroom to the conversation he has with the guy who has come to kill him the film is wry, sarcastic, sharp, and generally laugh out loud funny.