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Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Toy Story 3

It is hard to believe that the first "Toy Story" was released 15 years ago. I myself can still remember seeing the film excitedly with my friends on my 9th birthday. Its sequel, made 4 years later achieved the impossible task of being as highly praised as its predecessor. Simply put, I grew up with these films. They set the template for Pixar as it is today and are two of the best and most loved childrens films ever made. To make a third would be sacrilege, right? Wrong. Pixar haven't got to where they are today by churning out story and relying on tired old routines for their success. The genius of the company lies not just in its stunning animation, but rather its attention to story and its characters. Pixar are walking an extraordinary fine line, in that they (the minor "Cars" aside) have yet to release a lacklustre film. The pressure mounting up with each release must be immense. Added to the fact that these original films have become something more than the huge box office successes they originally were. They have become almost works of art; films to cherish and pass down. So if this film is to succeed it must do so on many levels; box office, prior film achievements and intense love for previous adventures with these characters. How can Pixar satiate all these needs, while still being able to deliver a rousing time at the movies?

Well some day it will inevitably come, but Pixar can sleep calm tonight, for yet again they have delivered a film going experience that can stand proud and tall with the previous entries to the series. In many years to come I believe people will hardly be able to fathom the intense critical and commercial success Pixar have had for years. While only earlier this year Dreamworks made a great claim to the animation crown with "How To Train Your Dragon", this surpasses a lot of almost every other animated films abilities and operates on levels few other films can even dream of. This is the Pixar genius. What most would see as its greatest obstacle, ie the huge passing of time and therefore higher scale of expectation it has drummed up in its fans hearts, Pixar uses as its greatest strength for the latest and last adventure from Woody, Buzz and co. This strength is simply that we have all grown up with this series. Pixar have always played just as well to adults as toddlers, but here it reaches its zenith. Children can laugh and marvel of the characters and adventures they get themselves into, but some adults may be quite shocked by the layer of depth this film has. This film plays with themes of existentialism and confronting ones own mortality. All in eye popping 3D. And its just a kids film?

Years have passed along in real time since the events of the last film. Andy is all grown up. Voiced from the beginning of the series by John Morris, we have all grown up with him. Now too old to play with his toys he is now packing up his life and moving to college. The large group of his toys from the first film has dissipated into a shell group of only a small few, as they all attempt to come to terms with the fact that they have been outgrown. Woody and Buzz realise that they are coming to the end of the line; it is either the rubbish bin, or the attic for them. Events transpire and lead them to the suspiciously named 'Sunnyside Daycare'. Finally they think they have found a new home. Here they will never be outgrown. Here there will always someone to play with them, and they will not be forgotten as Andy has. Or so they think. After an hilarious massacre sequence of the toys and their new very young 'owners' they realise Sunnyside is not for them. But can they break out and find Andy one last time? The film moves at great speed and once it sets its plot in motion, it barely has time to pause. Screenwriter, Michael Arndt manages to throw in some inspired gags into the mix showing that there is still plenty of fun to be had from Buzz Lightyear and Mr. Potato Head. So while Pixar know that the key to a successful finish is a very emotional one, they do not forget that it is a kids film. These films are as successful as they are because we love going on adventures with these characters. There are some cracking sight gags that stand up with the best of what the company have given us over the years. Tom Hanks and Tim Allen again do sterling work as their now iconic characters. While sometimes veering close to territory that has been covered before, they still manage to enthrall and tickle our funny bone as much as ever. Of the new toys added to the mix, Ned Beatty turns up as a villainous 'Lots-o-Huggin' Bear' and Michael Keaton gains most of the laughs from a very confused 'Ken' doll. His anger at being mistaken as an accessory doll are a prime source of the films many amusing moments.

Staggeringly, the way Pixar decide to round off their incredible trilogy may shock some parents, eager to just simply amuse their tots for an afternoon. Some certainly will not be expecting the film to go the mortality examining places this does and by the end may have some uncomfortable questions from some of its younger fans aimed at them. This however makes for the most moving moments in all the three films and for Pixar to attempt make some of lifes more harsher realities 'tot friendly' shows guts. They achieve this beautifully as all events come naturally, servicing both story and character. As ever, the film is impeccably scripted. Lee Unkrich had the unenviable job of Directing. As editor of the first and Co-Director of the second with John Lasseter, he was more than up to the job. However to round off proceedings to such a pitch perfect degree shows the high level the company works at. They know exactly how to end this story and how it should be done. Playing so perfectly to audience no matter what age they are is one of their defining characteristics, yet this offers emotion in ways other Pixar films haven't. This emotion does not stem from our concern at actions on screen, but rather our own personal feelings. We as the audience have grown with these characters. We have all grown up and got older. It is a fact we have to all come to terms with, as the toys have to as well. We will not be around forever. The film examines this beautifully. Tears come the end are because it is just that, 'the end' that we are crying at.

If this all sound incredibly po-faced and sad then fret not, as the film offers the same great action beats its predecessors had. Our world is animated and realised beautifully, however not overly so, as to keep in with the previous films look. The 3D is used very subtly. It works best in action scenes, but very sparingly and never as a cheap trick. It enhances our world and draws us in closer rather than getting us to jump and 'oohh' and 'aahhh' at objects coming out of the screen at us. Pixar realise that the love these characters have and give them the fitting send off they deserve. Re-visiting their most beloved franchise after 10 years could have been a disaster. Sharp writing, exciting adventure, and the most heart tugging climax you may see all year add up to a perfect end to a perfect trilogy. We may be all getting older but we have certainly not out grown these toys just yet.

Verdict: 85%
An emotional and very fitting send off for Buzz and Woody. The action crackles and the laughs come thick and fast, but it is the emotion that will have you reminiscing about your own childhood and the greatest days of your life, that you will take from the picture.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

May/June Round Up Part II: How To Train Your Dragon/ MacGruber

How To Train Your Dragon
Hiccup wants to be a Dragon hunter just like his Dad. However, his poor body strength and clumsiness gets him into into constant trouble with the monsters that stalk his land. Then one day he accidentally captures a rare and greatly feared Night Fury; a dragon no one has ever seen in the flesh before. Instead of trumpeting his capture, the two slowly form a strong friendship together. Can Hiccup keep his Dragon a secret and will his Father find out? The secret of "How To Train Your Dragon" is not its excellent 3D, as it has been sold on. It is its storyline. Brought to life by the acting talents of its cast, the film becomes ever more moving as it goes on. At its center, the Dragon 'Toothless' is a great creation and is very well realised by the animators. It is this relationship at the the heart of it all that drives the film. That it also has some eye popping action scenes and inspired use of 3D adds to the proceedings. Its animation is often fluidly done and all character design is fantastic. While I have yet to see "Toy Story 3" it will have a lot of work to do to beat this gem from Dreamworks, which shows Pixar, there is still plenty of competition on its back. A solid treat for everyone to enjoy.

Verdict: 80%

Upon the announcement that they were turning the 30 second 'MacGruber' sketches from SNL into a full length feature many scoffed. How could a sketch, so resolutely one note manage to sustain an entire feature running time? I myself had quiet high hopes, considering I am a fan of not only star Will Forte, but also its Director and co-writer, Jorma Taccone. I knew these were men who could bring the funny. I stayed quietly optimistic that while there hadn't been a decent film from a 'Saturday Night Live' sketch in quite some while, these men would finally break the curse. So it is a relief then, that for the most part, the film manages to escape its one note origins to deliver an incredibly smutty and crude lampoon of action films. Forte delivers some funny one liners as the oblivious title character and he is very ably supported by the 'funniest woman working today' Kristin Wiig, and Ryan Phillippe as the straight man to MacGrubers bumbling incompetance. Val Kilmer turns up as our hero's arch nemesis 'Cunth' (much fun of which you can imagine, is derived from his name). The problem is that the film is incredibly silly and rarely offers you more than constant snickers throughout. When I was expecting constant belly laughs, it is a slight disappointment. The cast all do great work, and Director Taccone shows surprising flair behind the camera, but it is just not enough. Its scatalogical jokes wear thin come the end and it isn't memorable in all the ways it should. However those of you expecting very little will find there are plenty of laughs to be had, and any film offering the 'least erotic sex scene' in all of cinema history cannot be all bad. One to rent.

Verdict 54%


From its promotional campaign, you could be forgiven into thinking that "Splice" is just another trashy B-Movie Creature/Horror extravaganza, just like "Predators" was only a few short weeks ago. Ironically both also feature Adrien Brody as the male lead, but whereas the films are similar in genre and in dealing with alien forms of humanoid life, both are tonally, very drastically different. "Predators" offers the more shallow nights entertainment. You bought a tickets for very scary looking creatures attacking humans and thats what you get, nothing more or less. However buying a ticket and going into "Splice" you could easily be forgiven in thinking that the same nights entertainment lies in store for you. This is because "Splice" is an entirely different beast altogether (pun intended). A thoughtful and sometimes uncomfortable probe into humans obsession of genetics and cloning, it features conflicting themes of raising children in modern day America, while simultaneously being a "Frankenstein" story for the 21st Century. As a result, its nature is quite divisive, leading to potential reactions from being very thoughtfully impressed by the deep themes this film attempts to go into, and those who dismiss it as laughably cheap and ridiculous to the point of extreme. I fall somewhere in the middle.

Bio-Chemists and partners Clive and Elsa have created life by splicing together the DNA of various different animals as research into curing different diseases and plagues of the world. The large maggot like creatures they dub Fred and Ginger offer a glimpse into the future of genetics and where it could take them. However, the two push this research into morally questionable territory when they add human DNA into the mix and they give life to a new type of creature; not entirely human, but not all animal either. The life form matures at an alarmingly fast rate and it is not long before the two find themselves, in attempting to keep their creation hidden, raising the child 'thing'. They name their creation 'Dren'. So while Elsa loves it in the ways her own Mother never loved her, Clive finds himself growing ever more attracted to the creature. Clive and Elsas background and relationship problems will come to feature predominantly and eventually lead to whether the two can actually control and raise this creature, while trying to keep her secret. The film for the most part is at the very least, very original in its ideas, which in 'Sci-Fi' is always far more important than spectacle. Director Natali focuses on characters above all else and in humanising its main creature, makes Dren at turns incredibly sympathetic, whilst keeping tabs on the fact that she is also incredibly dangerous. This is a B-Movie, albeit a very thoughtful one, that might lead to its downfall in some audiences. The film will not play well to all, rather only those who are willing to go along and explore the various psychological undertones that this film has to offer. This all mixes schlocky and 'icky' thrills, with sometimes uncomfortable questions about human nature in how they react to not only each other, but also their ability to simultaneously create and destroy. Everyone has tremendously selfish flaws. Everyone, even Dren is dealt in very human terms. It simply wont play to everybody and many will snigger at some of the antics on screen.

I however found parts to be very entertaining and thought provoking. It plays on levels its genre should, but also brings in some very dark notes of humour. That it offers the audience some very uncomfortable questions to ponder, adds to its surprising originality. Brody and Polley both deliver strong work. Brodys submissive and weak minded character works well with Polleys all controlling and domineering bitchiness. Both offer subtle character details important for actions later on in the films and as events turn ever more outlandish, our basis in the two leads grounds the proceedings. However, the films secret is Dren, played by Delphine Chanéac. At turns an alarmingly sympathetic but frighteningly alien being; she is excellent and a great creature. In a film of this nature, its success lies in its monster and Dren is one of the best in recent memory. Possessing agile hind legs, three fingers on each hand, gills, wings and a long tail with a spike able to dispense poison on her victims, her effect is stunning. A wonderful combination of CG, and prosthetics work, actress Chanéac brings Dren to life to great effect. All the more impressive considering she has only her stunning expressions and features to gain the audiences sympathies. Effects for the creatures are all top notch and initial scenes in the labs offers some squirm inducing splatter for the gore hounds.

Director Vincenzo Natali and producer Guillermo Del Toro offer shocks in body horror that would make Cronenberg proud, yet never forget that crucial human element. The idea is fantasically played out to sometimes shocking effect. However it is only during the climax that the film dramatically falls apart. Up until this point, the film has been anything but stereotypical, yet it soon transforms into predictable and lazy horror territory. It's almost as if its makers lost interest come the final third. It does not fully manage to ruin the entire experience; if you have been with the film up until this point, you will forgive it. However, it is just a shame the film takes such a nose dive in its final few scenes. In walking a very fine line between exploitive and intelligent film making throughout, the film always threatens to let its outlandish and sometimes uncomfortable ideas devour proceedings. For the most part, it is a very fresh take on the sci-fi horror genre. Brody shows more range a million miles from his tough guy soldier in "Predators" and Polley takes a risk with her icy and psychologically damaged 'mother'. Chanéac helps create one of the finest movie monsters in recent memory and all effects for the creature are thoroughly convincing. It's weak climax and often unusual tone threaten to derail things, but for the most part "Splice" offers a refreshing take on the Frankenstein story.

Verdict: 65%
The cast all do strong work and in Dren we have a stunning new movie creature creation. Vincenzo Natalis subversive take on the sci-fi monster genre will divide audiences but for those willing to accept its outlandish themes, a very thought provoking, uncomfortable and sometimes shocking foray into horror is waiting for them.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010


Christopher Nolan works above almost every other Director working today. He exists with a rare few, who seem to achieve the impossible with almost every film they direct. His films are at turns, brain bustingly clever and original, but most important of all, entertaining. He does not pander to his audiences; rather trusts that a clever and original story well told will be all they need to grasp onto the world he puts them in. Don't forget that Nolan never tries to wrong foot or trick his audience (The Prestige aside), rather he is just asking them to go along with his characters for the ride. His stories are straight forward. His own original spin he puts on them, is what separates them from the norm. Whether it be "Memento's" detective story told backwards, "Insomnia's" shifting good/bad guy dynamics, "Batman Begins" audacity in (for once in it's long history in cinema) focusing on the highly complex title character, "The Prestige's" box of tricks non-linear narrative or "The Dark Knight's" obsession with how far can a hero stoop to stop an enemy threatening everything he stands for, Nolan tells conventional stories, in the most unconventional ways. In his new film "Inception" he does so in ways far more daring and thought provoking than anything he has explored before. In fact, there are things in "Inception" which I have never seen attempted in cinema before. Nolan has always loved playing with time and daring linear subterfuge, along with audiences perceptions of that which he puts on screen before them. Here he almost outdoes himself on everything he has achieved before. Not bad work considering he has yet to make a bad film and his last, is one of the highest grossing of all time. I will say off the bat that I consider "Inception" a masterpiece. I show nothing but unashamed love for this film. It plays on levels far beyond what Blockbuster entertainment should be and offers epic visuals, Art House cinema could never have the budget to muster. Apologies for those unhappy with the arse licking that is going on display here and for those who disagree with this review, however I will go on to describe just how and why "Inception" is the best and most important film this year.

For those who haven't yet seen this film I will say bypass this review. The films success is best achieved knowing as little as possible and just letting the world this film has to offer unfold around you. The plot exists in a world where 'dream-sharing' exists. This allows people to break into the dreams of certain 'marks' to then steal important information which can then be in turn used against them. We follow dream expert Dom Cobb (DiCaprio), as he and his specially assembled team, then break into a persons mind, for that one last elusive job. Of course there is far more going on than this, which would be too cruel to spoil here. That the film has plenty of surprises up its sleeve is an understatement. It is the most original heist movie you might ever see. DiCaprio is very ably joined by Joseph Gordon-Levitt as his right hand man, new 'Mad Max' Tom Hardy as a 'dream forger' and Ellen Page as 'the architect'. Page in particular acts as the audiences introduction into the world while also balancing an emotional counterpoint, crucial to DiCaprios character. We learn what the rules are, how it works and what the dangers are of dream sharing through her. Irish actor Cillian Murphy turns up as the unassuming 'mark' who DiCaprios team are trying to subconsciously break into. Ken Watanabe impresses as the client who originally offers the job to Leo's team along with the tantalising prospect of Leo's character finally being able to return home upon its successful completion. Marion Cotillard shocks (however to speak much about her part, would spoil too much of the story) and even Michael Caine turns up in a small role as Leo's professor. The cast are all uniformly excellent. Nolan works his ensemble so that everybody gets something to do and is very memorable in their own right, without ever losing track of the overall story. Murphy in particular entices (and is given the only other character arc of the story other than Leo's) as the young entrepreneur struggling to come to terms with the death of his Father. No mean feat considering he has a lot to do throughout films running time. Hardy also impresses and gains most of the films laughs as the sly Eames, while Gordon-Levitt is given the most awe-inspiring action beat of the film, as one of the most original fist fights ever staged is conducted in a revolving hallway. Even as the screws tighten, and the film grows ever more action packed and tense, Nolan never loses sight of character and emotion. Some have crticised the film as while being technically stunning, lacking in emotion and depth. How this could be argued is beyond me. It is Nolans most emotional film to date and this drives the entire narrative. It is about one man trying to get home to see his family. It is about the dark secrets of regret and angst that everyone carries around deep inside them. It is about learning to let go of the past and come to terms with your world as it is now. In essence, it is all about emotion. That, and huge explosions.

Nolan had been working on the script for over 8 years. It was only with the astounding worldwide and critical success he had with 'The Dark Knight' that he suddenly discovered how to complete it. The fact that he also was given over $170 million to achieve his vision, I'm sure also helped. Forever fascinated with the inner workings of the mind, Nolan loves making his audience think. When the film was first announced it came with the tantalising prospect as being 'a sci-fi thriller set within the architecture of the human mind'. 'What the hell could it be about?!' we all pondered aloud to each other. This again is part of the Nolan way; he never once set out to deceive us. This is exactly what the film is about. That it is that and so much more may not come apparent until seeing the film itself. The story is very straight forward and apart from a few brief flashbacks is almost completely linear. But this is where something quite extraordinary happens as Nolan, within the rules he has set for himself in his dream world (as most of the film is set) is able to stage sequences on top of each other, each set in different realms of the same dream. If it sounds complicated, it isn't as Nolan ensures that in between all the car chases and gun fights, the story is kept resolutely clear at all times. The only thing is that the story is so unlike anything we've seen in quite a while and provides almost limitless ideas for the film and our own minds to follow, and as a result, is quite a mind bender. Nolan has the audacity to at some stages of the film work 4 different action scenes on top of each other, in 4 different dream realms all at once. That each dream level has longer stages of time than the one prior, means that he plays around with time in a way that I have never seen attempted before in a film. I believe this (in the same way "Memento" was noted for) ability to play around with readily established timelines and means of telling a story in such an original manner deserves to be studied for many years to come. Nolan really is that good. Or that may just be the arse kissing I warned you about earlier again.

Leonardo DiCaprio, for the second time this year is a revelation. From his beginnings as the heart throb of the month well over a decade ago now, he constantly challenges and exceeds expectations in every role he commands. In fact his earlier film this year "Shutter Island" could work as a nice (brain bending) double feature with "Inception" as both films deal in similar themes of warped reality and distorted perceptions about what we believe to be real around us. Here he offers untold depths and distressing memories and regrets about the past. However, what separates it from his detective in "Shutter Island" is that the audience gets to physically travel into his subconscious, to better understand the inner workings of him and his traumatic past. His complex and very weighty emotions is what drives the plot. That "Shutter Island" is my second favourite film this year speaks wonders about his talent and ability at picking stand out parts. I am however sure at this stage that he must be aching to do a comedy after all these po-faced roles.

So arse licking all over, what we are left with is a stunning thriller. In a year seemingly devoid of originality and excitement in the theatres, Christopher Nolan has once again captured what films full of good story telling, acting and originality can achieve and it is far more than 3D or mindless CGI can muster. Nolan doesn't make movies for the Summer, he makes films for the ages as all the best auteurs do. In the lacklustre year of cinema it has been, along with excitement generated by "The Dark Knight", Nolan had a lot of hype to live up to. Maybe that he exceeded it is not surprising, seeing as he has done it so many times already, but that the film is a success in all the unforseen ways it is, should be applauded. In selling their biggest film of the summer without any previous tie-in to any film or comic before it, Warner Bros. took a huge risk which paid of handsomely for them. The film never pauses for one moment and yet incorporates character and emotion seamlessly into its narrative to stunning effect. It's most minor criticisms stem from not much characterisation from those after Murphy or DiCaprio, and its long running time. All of this is insignificant however. Nolan once again achieves the impossible in cinema in glorious fashion. This is a film to be watched and studied many times over, to work out its many stunning idiosyncrasies. It is a film that will not leave your mind after first watching it. It is a film as this review will tell you, I love. If we see any film until Nolans 'Batman 3' that even comes close "Inceptions" excitement and stunning film making, then we will be very lucky indeed. This is not a dream, "Inception" is indeed, far and away the best film you will see this year.

Verdict: 91%
Christopher Nolan returns with an epic study of emotion, regret and loss. His first original work since 'Following' over a decade ago, and it's a belter. Shot with Cinematographer Wally Pfisters stunning eye, another classic score by Hans Zimmer and the most exciting action you may yet see all year, Nolan is back showing was can be done with the magic of cinema.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

May/June Round-Up: Iron Man 2/ Sex & The City 2/ The Killer Inside Me/ The Collector

I haven't been writing for the last few months and have missed out on a few releases. So for anyone interested, here is my take on them.

Iron Man 2
The first big tent pole release of the Summer went off with a bang. Our hero Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) has to face off against new enemies in the shape of a psychotic Russian 'Whiplash' (Mickey Rourke), who possesses the same power as the Iron Man suit and rival arms manufacturer Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell), who is hell bent on acheiving the same success that Stark has. Other turmoil comes from Starks discovery that his suit is also slowly killing him, and tension between him and best bud Rhodie (Don Cheadle). If that sounds like a dark and convoluted super-hero extravaganza (a la, Spider-Man 3) then rest assured that Director Jon Favareau manages to keep proceedings as light and breezy as the first chapter. Downey remains as likeable as ever, and the new additions to the cast all deliver, especially Rockwell as Starks business rival, who is far too desperate to be like him in every way. The material could have become too convoluted for its own good, so kudos to Favreau for keeping an eye on things and easily matching the first in terms of excitement and fun which is all the series ever set out to do in the first place. Also in that Monaco sequence near the start, he delivers the action scene of the year thus far. Problems include Scarlett Johannsson getting lost in the mix, and that the film never rises above its 'fun' origins, means it never fully gives the adrenal glands the work out it should, however in a Summer full of lack lustre releases, this can stand above them all. Until Inception is released that is.
Verdict: 69%

Sex & The City 2
If, upon the original success of the show back in the late 90's, you had told its fan base that the once insightful, clever and witty formula, would dissolve into a camp, bloated and very cynical juggernaut, would any of its viewers have actually turned off? We find the 4 girls, for the second time in the series' history, not feeling fully fulfilled after becoming 'happy ever after'. A rut in marriage, the complexities of juggling a career and family, the sheer hell raising children can be and the eternal battle to stave off old age are all dealt with by our leads. Unfortunately for Jessica Parker, Cattrall, Davis and Nixon is that these so called problems all come off as whiny and selfish. These could have been dealt with far more intelligence, as to give a decent meditation on any of these subjects could provide interesting observations on life for 40 plus women. Unfortunately, the film seems to be far more concerned with fashion and Liza Minnelli singing Beyonce, than any true drama. Not for a second the realistic take on 'women' that the show once set out to be, it has become a parody of itself. Hell, there is even very little sex and practically no city, as the girls (and writers) struggling to keep things fresh, decide to take a sojourn to Abu Dhabi. This is where the franchise reaches its low point. In trying to inject fresh life into it, the film becomes ever more shallow, stupid and almost offensive to the point of ridiculousness. Contrasting and compromising the differences between West and Middle Eastern women should have been ripe fodder for some interesting and yes, witty observations on the differences. This just comes off as being naive to the extreme. If the series is meant to be fun, then where are witty exchanges that made the show famous in the first place? In fairness, the leading ladies all gamely try and inject fun into proceedings (they have been playing these characters for far too long to not be able to), but it is no where near enough. The series has become as tired as Kim Cattrall and should be put out to the pasture. The fact that it didn't make quite as much money as the first in theatres, shows that fans may be slightly in agreement, that this is surely, one trip too far.
Verdict: 25%

The Killer Inside Me
To release this film smack bang in the middle of the Summer Season is quite odd. A slow burning and occasionally sadistically shocking study of a very disturbed mind, it does not scream 'summer crowd pleaser'. To say this film is its own beast, is an understatement. It plays entirely on its own terms. In fact those of you can stomach the brutal bouts of violence, and quiet intensity, might not even like what they find come the end. Casey Affleck proves yet again, what an actor he has been the entire time, while his brother hogged the lime light and media glare. There are a few moments in his performance where it is are quite disturbing to see what a true monster lurks behind his good looks and soulful eyes. That Affleck conveys these small moments so well is a tribute to his skill. The plot is set in the 1950's and centers on young Deputy Sheriff Lou Ford. He attempts to blackmail the local town head honcho, which spirals steadily out of control. This is all a facade however, as the film really concerns itself with the psychotic inner workings of Ford himself. An unreliable narrator, we see the world through his eyes entirely, which must be remembered come the films close. A very damaged individual, all the films drama stems from his thirst for murder and intense hatred of women. He is joined by a surprisingly capable Jessica Alba. Kate Hudson also manages to escape her bland filmography and apparant lack of acting skills and they both engage as the women who attempt to love Ford, without fully knowing what he really is. The film, however will be mostly remembered for its shocking bouts of violence. Now, it must be stated that for all the headlines this film grabbed about its excessive (hardly) and shocking (very much so) violence, is that there is very little of it in the actual film. It is all simmering under the surface of Fords facade, threatening to brim over, and when it finally does, it can be very tough to watch, even for this battle hardened veteran of violent film extravaganzas. The film has also been accused of misogyny, which it is. However, the main reason for this, is that that is what Ford is and it is through him we experience everything in the film. As a result, throughout watching it, I see-sawed in between hating and being quite intrigued by what I was seeing. Director Michael Winterbottom is a master of switching genre whenever he feels and must be applauded for his ruthless adaptation of the original 1952 novel. However, as curious as the end result is and the strength of every performance, especially Afflecks, it just may seem, that you may not be willing to spend as long inside the head of a man like Ford, for the films duration. File under as one of the most curious releases of the year.
Verdict: 59%

The Collector
For whatever reasons I initially went to see this film, I could not remember come the films end. Another (yawn) excessively violent torture porn yarn, this one gets more kudos than it deserves thanks to a genuinely tense and inventive first 45 minutes. After the film descends into grand guignol and people start losing limbs left right and center, you will be become completely immune to the shocks and scares that this film initially threatened to offer. That the film has an inventive idea at its core reeks even more of a missed opportunity. Diamond thief Arkin breaks into a remote and apparently empty mansion to steal from the family he has been casing out. However, upon his arrival he discovers that something far worse has got there before him and are holding the family who live there at bay to torture and maim them. What follows is an interesting idea as our hero becomes quite conflicted in his feelings to either stay and try to save those he initially tried to rob, or to save his own skin. That the leather masked murderer also laced the house with inventive and deadly booby traps to prevent anyone from escaping adds to the tension as it becomes a warped version of 'Home Alone'. Unfortunately this is where the film decides to become a daft exercise in torture porn as tension gives way to blood red viscera that is no more shocking or scary than Macauley Culkin's antics were. The film grows ever more stupid and tiresome until it finally peters out. That it is from the writers of 'Saw's 4,5 and 6 show you all you need to know about the film. When are horror screenwriters going to remember the lost art of things hinted at, are far more terrifying than anything they could ever show us? After its rapid downhill descent you will be begging for the Collector himself to come take you away.
Verdict: 35%

Friday, July 9, 2010


The tagline to 'Predators' is 'fear is reborn'. Rather apt on the audiences part, as it seems that despite the first entry to the saga back in 1987, Fox has been churning out films starring the mandibled, Rastafarian, space-psycho ever since, with each one hugely lowering in quality from the last. It is a saga that never got going. This can also be applied to the (admittedly more successful) saga that 'Predator' shares most in common with: 'Alien'. In owning two of the best movie monsters from recent years, Fox seem so intent on screwing up their legacy as to wondering how those original films ever even turned out to be as good as they were in the first place. Including the excretable 'Alien Vs. Predator' films, these entries have at least 3 classics between them ('Alien', 'Aliens' and 'Predator'). In 3 sagas which altogether includes 9 films over the course of 4 decades shows Fox really has lost what made those films so special in the first place. However, with the news in mid 2009, that Robert Rodriquez had shown interest in reviving the 'Predator' franchise and giving the first one a sequel it deserved show that Fox may be waking up. This coupled with recent news that Ridley Scott is to direct (with an idea/script from James Cameron?) an 'Alien' prequel, show that Fox may have finally decided to stop squandering these monsters, and put them to use in films worthy of their forebears. However, talk about the 'Alien' franchise is for another day, as first out of the cage is Rodriquez's effort. Alluding itself with James Camerons classic sequel title, by adding an 's', immediately shows Rodriquez's intentions. This is a saga to be treated with respect. The respect it owes to both the original 1987 effort, and its many fans, that have sat through too many poor treatments of their monster to finally give up hope. Rodriquez claims he is the man that could save it.

First things first, it should be noted, that the original 'Predator' is by no means a stone cold masterpiece in certainly not the same way the first two 'Alien' films are. While on many levels an extremely tense and exciting ride, it also features some horrid lines of dialogue and some questionable levels of male flesh (pun intended) on show, even in a place as hot as the South American jungle. From the start these films were quite trashy and forgettable. What elevated the original was the design of the Predator, (now a classic monster in my mind) and the set pieces; particularly Arnies heroic last stand against the creature. In the 80's, Arnold Schwarzenegger had killed and destroyed all that there was to. Nothing could stand in his way and no one could stand up to even coming close to defeating him. That this is partly why the film works, is one of the main reasons all the sequels haven't; until the Predator came along, we all believed Arnie could never be defeated. But here was a more than formidible foe, which bested Arnie and his team on almost every level, and almost destroyed them all easily. This is one of the main reasons the first is as successful as it is. The second one may not be as bad as we all seem to remember, however two major mistakes it made was casting a portly Danny Glover in the lead and focusing far too much time on the monster itself (we have never actually been given a name for the creature in any of the films). This took away from the group dynamic of the first, and the tension of not knowing what our heroes were up against. That the sequel was by no means as big a hit as the first meant the franchise was stalled. Fox obviously had no idea what to do with it. Thank God then, that Rodriquez did.

Originally written in 1994, the script was only recently dusted off from the inner vaults in the Fox studios which got everyone remembering how great the Predator was and still is, as a movie monster. So Rodriquez polished off the script and hired the unfortunatley named Nimrod Antal to direct. Fans were cautiously optimistic. It is a relief then after all that, to announce that 'Predators', while by no means approaching the excitement on the first is a step in the right direction. The fact that it is the second best film in the series, (though from its prequels that may have been not that hard to do), does show that Fox are headed in the right direction. Indeed, Rodriquez and Antal have fashioned a very entertaining nights fodder down the mutiplex, one that pays respect to the original, while also being unique and original in itself to be a stand alone entry in the series. So a series that was becoming quite a laughing stock, is brought back from the brink, and not in the nick of time. But is it enough to sustain its running time and lift it above the many other mediocre efforts of the Summer thus far? The answer unfortunately is 'almost'.

The films main selling point is that it is set on a different planet from ours. In getting back to the team-based dynamic of the first, we follow a group of Planet Earths best cold blooded killers, each plucked randomly it would appear, as they struggle to comprehend what is going on around them. Indeed the films title could also apply to our main characters; back home, they themselves are all predators. So in order to survive, our team is going to have to learn to work together. Of course this is all before any appearance of three-pronged laser sights appear aiming at anyone. Chief among them is Adrien Brodys 'Royce' as the hesitant leader of the group. Antal and Rodriquez wisely spend time with the characters so we can identify each one, and get some nice character detail before the havoc ensues. Included, we have a member of the Japanese Yakuza, a member of a Mexican drug cartel, Russian militia, an American death-row prisoner and a South American sharp shooter. As broad as their backgrounds are, it also unfortunately also stems to the characterisations themselves. It isn't long before Brody realises that they are being hunted, and are on a game preserve, albeit one covering the entire planet. The Predators it would seem, drag their prey here, in order to hunt and become more efficient killers. Carnage ensues. Relatively straight forward, as any 'Predator' movie should be, this wisely focuses on characters before the creatures show up bringing back a sense of tension missing from every entry into the series since.

The film has a few more tricks up its sleeve along the way and keeps the viewer engaged for most of its running time. However, one of its main problems, ironically lies in its direction. Scenes of action are sometimes clunkily handled and while Antal is a million miles ahead of any of the directors of the 'Alien Vs. Predator' movies, you can't help but wish Rodriquez had stayed in the directors chair on this. Another problem lies in its script itself. Throughout its running time, the film shows flickers of originality and welcome bouts of humour. Unfortunately, these moments are too few and as the film goes on, it grows less exciting. What is good is the cast. Brody here easily proves himself as a tough guy, spouting some pretty bad-ass lines of dialogue; any doubts about whether or not the skinny dude from 'The Pianist' can hold an action role convincingly, will be fully put to rest, come the films climax. He is ably supported by everyone from a scene stealing Walter Goggins as a shank wielding inmate, to a nice cameo from Laurence Fishburne which unfortunately, is over all too soon. Topher Grace shines as a Doctor with a secret and Alice Braga keeps up the 'Predator' tradition, of having a South American woman, who knows more about the alien creatures than anyone else does.

One of the biggest successes of the film is actually making the Predators threatening again. After the cartoonish depiction of them in previous films, we have finally got back to the root of what made these guys so memorable in the first place. For seeing, appreciating and mainly remembering the potential the Predators have, Rodriquez should be thanked. That it never fully hits the heights of the first one is regrettable, but a sure sign that they are back on track, and that the inevitable sequel, will put rights to that.

Verdict: 61%
Robert Rodriquez reboots the stalled franchise just about. Set pieces never quite deliver the intensity they deserve and it slightly runs out of steam towards the end. But for an entertaining night of B-Movie monster entertainment, which is all the franchise ever set out to be, you will not be dissappointed. Oh, and that ace shot of Brody covered in lasers from the trailer? Sorry to disappoint you, but is sorely absent from the final film.