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Sunday, October 30, 2011

Trailer - "Livid"

Appropriately enough for Halloween, the new trailer for Inside directors (review here) Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury's new shocker has gone online. While Inside is certainly one of the most brutal and violent films I have ever seen, it also is one of the most effective and was frequently pant wettingly intense. While reviews so far have been quite mixed for their new effort, general consensus is that at the very least, do not go in expecting another Inside. It would have been easy for Bustillo and Maury to recreate their debut effort, so kudos to them for trying something more, in their own words as being like in a waking nightmare. Atmospheric imagery abounds here in the Livid trailer, and while the film is reported to be more fantasy like at moments, it still looks like uncomfortably haunting stuff. The trailer is in French sans subtitles and hopefully it doesn't spoil some of the surprises in store. While Livid is released in it's native France this week, it so far has no been set any release date for the UK or Ireland.


Sunday, October 16, 2011

Trailer - "Shame"

The last time Michael Fassbender and director Steve McQueen teamed up, the result was the utterly stunning and absorbing Hunger. Now comes the trailer for their new release and much like their previous venture Shame is garnering plenty of critical buzz on the festival circuit. It is also garnering notoriety for other reasons too, not least about the graphic sex reportedly displayed throughout the film. After this and Hunger, it seems the two are not afraid to shy away from the more controversial stylings and their work is the stronger for it. This  looks set to continue their beautiful and artistic aesthetic. The film has been rated NC-17 in America no less - a usual death knell for films in the States, however it is clear the two have higher aspirations than box office. Release is set for January 13 2012.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Trailer - "The Avengers"

After that brief teaser at the end of Captain America and those blurry on set pics that were leaked, now comes the best look at the Ultimate Superhero team up. And it looks great! I don't know what it is about this one but I really can't wait. I mean, none of the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies has been truly awesome stuff  but something about the thought of all these larger than life characters sharing the same space makes the fan boy inside me pass out in deliriousness. The trailer certainly delivers on the spectacle promised by these heroes, but it also gives a glimpse into how their dynamic might work. Not very smoothly from the looks of things and from Tony Starks snide comments towards his new found team mates to internal punch ups (is that Thor and Captain America locking fists?) shows that before any threat to Earth is truly dealt with, these guys are gonna need plenty of group therapy. Joss Whedon looks set to have nailed this and hopefully have brought some of his sparkling wordplay to proceedings. Expectations are sky high, but it looks like the team up might just deliver....

Wednesday, October 5, 2011


It is infuriating how much Lars von Trier let's his ego and big mouth ruin many of his films. Sure the whole Cannes debacle surrounding this film might have been surprising, but it wasn't shocking. From von Trier, it is almost to be expected. As a result of episodes like this, I find it even harder to like his already difficult films; almost as if I don't want to like them. The man shows nothing but contempt for his audience, so why should I show nothing but contempt for him? Von Trier's last film Antichrist, was horrific for all the wrong reasons. Very unpleasant and shocking only for the sense that he put those unspeakable things on screen merely to provoke than for any true artistic statement. However he has proven himself to be capable of memorable works before, as I'm sure he will be again. It's just that I wish his gobby mouth wouldn't make me question the validity of his work; is he a clueless sap, who occasionally lucks out by working with talented people, or is he a true revolutionary genius in cinema? I've not made up my mind and in truth I probably never will. His films will continue to provoke outrage and debate. One thing is for sure; they will always be memorable. Here he finds himself working within the loose realm of science fiction. Not that true science bears any effect on the storyline, von Trier decides rather to have it metaphorically inform the picture and instead focus on the social embarrassment and human melodrama that he specialises so well in. Here that metaphor as macguffin is the rather enormous rogue planet of Melancholia, that threatens to engulf planet Earth any day now. Of course, it is almost half way in until anyone even mentions this; von Trier instead opens on a (disastrous) wedding in part 1 and introduces our two sister characters, along with a range of entertaining supporting characters. The melancholia here is Dunst's Justine; struggling with depression and destined to forever push away those she loves. Symbolism is rife and when the destructive planet rears it's head in part 2, it is merely an extension of Justine's psyche made physical. There is nowhere to run, nowhere to hide, melancholia will eventually engulf all. Von Trier is about as suble as a hammer to the head, but to his credit, he explores Justine's mental state very well. Dunst is stunning and in the more showy of the two roles (Charlotte Gainsbourg thankfully is stretched no where near her Antichrist limits) she handles it beautifully, eliciting both emotion and understanding from the audience, even when she does some pretty unforgivable things. As Gainsbourg takes center stage in part 2, we instead focus on the isolated estate as the impending doom draws ever closer and the stakes are ratcheted up. We are in fairly straightforward von Trier territory here and there is nothing as polarising as some of his previous features have been. While events are still pretentious (it's a Lars von Trier film!) it is somehow relevant to the gloomy goings on in both the film and planet. Apart from a quite beautifully shot and surreal opening, the man shies away from anything too ostentatious and instead let's the films themes do the talking. It is certainly dour throughout; (in a film called Melancholia how could it not be?!) but thankfully there are a few moments of understated humour highlighting the innate ridiculousness of it all. At the end of the day the film is absolutely stunning to look at and features fantastic acting from all involved. It's just that the inherent kitschiness of it all engulfs proceedings at times. What is certain is that after watching the beauty of Melancholia, it won't be forgotten in a hurry.

Verdict: 7/10
Handsomely shot with a stunning performance from Dunst. Von Trier courts controversy wherever he goes but where he not so prone to incomprehensible ego-laden outbursts, his films would have a better chance of standing up for themselves. Anyone who hated the man before should stay well away, but for others this is an original and very memorable dissection of depression. God certainly loves a Trier.

"Melancholia" Trailer

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Red State

Kevin Smith is no stranger to controversy. In fact, most of his career has been bathed in hordes of media attention over some of his more notorious features - from Clerks' potty mouth to Zack and Miri Make  A Porno's banned original posters. Say what you will about the man's talent but make no mistake, Kevin Smith is not marketing movies, he is marketing himself. Right now, I'm struggling to think of another director that receives the same obsessive fanbase as Mr. Smith. Through various means on online outlets, he regularly updates them with everything going on in his private life. Through regular live tour dates across America and Europe fans can even literally reach out and touch him with their fingertips. Why he has inspired such an intense and loyal following is beyond me; he has, like most directors a fairly mixed filmography. A few hits, a few duds and outside Clerks absolutely no great movies. I feel that the reason he commands such a fanbase is down to relatability. Kevin Smith wants you to think he is one of you. Some regular small town dude done good. He talks movies, makes dick jokes and openly expresses his views just like anyone of your mates. This comraderie however can only extend so far. When he first came on the scene all those years ago, I found he had a fresh compelling and unique voice in cinema. Recent years have seen him grow stale, almost as if he is running out of ideas. Even his direction shows no signs of improving. He openly admits to being a writers director, not a directors writer. As a result he has never been able to mature as a film maker or even explore different avenues in the art. Or rather unwilling to do so. This inability to ever grow has flummoxed me over the years. There will always be those who love the man, but the 90's was a long time ago now, and his oeuvre shows signs of waning. Anyways, in what seems to me like a desperate ploy to garner media attention at this years Sundance, he held an auction for this film in question. Somewhat surprisingly however it was he himself who purchased the rights to sell and distribute Red State for a mere $20 and offered to take it on a screening road trip of sorts. Talk about enterprising. Many observed that the man was finally imploding, that his rallying of fans to come out and support the film smelled of desperation. Especially after many of the reviews were less than glowing. Well, in a rather surprising turn around of my initial preconceptions, I actually rather liked Red State.

The film is a heavy handed and not too subtle attack on the fundamentalist Phelps family, ie, America's most hated family and just how religion can drive people to do some of the most heinous things in life. When talking the film up at the script stage, Smith spoke of how it was a horror movie. This is not really true of the final product; it may start as darkly tense genre picture that flirts with torture porn, but then it swiftly morphs 180 degrees into a full on 'Waco' style siege film. We begin with three horn dog teens looking to pop their cherry. Looking online they see an older lady willing to oblige them not very far from where they live. Somewhat excitedly they arrive at her door only to be drugged and kidnapped. Their captors are religious zealots, hell bent on violently ridding the world of homosexuals and other such 'blasphemers' that don't fit in with their view on what the Bible says about the world. So far, we are in standard horror movie territory, except we don't actually care about the three guys. In fact, the film doesn't really have any character you can cheer for; something I'm sure Smith fully intended. So as word swiftly gets out at what  these evangelical terrorists are up to, the FBI intervene in a hail of gunfire and brimstone as the film suddenly switches gears. It's clear we're in a Kevin Smith film (the dialogue is frequently Smith-esque) but one very different to any we have seen before. The man must be applauded for trying something completely different to anything he has ever done before and for the first time fighting the urge for non stop fart gags and to allow himself to develop as a filmmaker. The film is very nicely shot throughout and has a pleasing gritty and grimy handheld aesthetic which chimes nicely with the various themes the film discusses. It must be said that Smith doesn't aspire to subtlety and lays out his views for all to see like a hammer to the head. All those years ago he explored religion in Dogma; here he full on attacks it. It is just a shame that the film doesn't more acutely handle this, as a better grasping could have yielded very impressive results. This seems like Smith chickened out ever so slightly and doesn't ever fully commit to the themes he puts forward by the climax. Sure, the typically charismatic Michael Parks delivers a lengthy sermon (thankfully cut down from the reported 20 minutes from the original Sundance cut) but a little more care and precision would have hammered home just what Smith - the writer wants to say. There are many that won't appreciate it. As stated earlier, it isn't the most tenuous experience you may have all year, but it is memorable. It has an almost Grindhousey feel to proceedings and have plenty of gore soaked action in between all the firefights. With this Smith surprised me. After Cop-Out I suspected the man had lost the passion. His View Askew-niverse had lost charm long ago and he seemed a man desperately searching for a voice he had lost. With this, it seems he has found it again. Hopefully by his next project (his mooted swansong Hit Somebody) he can continue to grow and confidently expand upon what he has done here. Basically, he needs to get out from the cushion of all his fans and show everyone he still knows how to make a film without relying on himself to sell it. As a proud independant filmmaker he will discover their are plenty more ways do so, than exhausting his celebrity.

Verdict: 6/10
A sometimes too bluntly delivered tone threatens to overtake proceedings and if Smith had shown just a bit more faith in his script then this could have been a glorious comeback. As it stands it is a successful change of direction and one in which for the most part is an interesting oddity. Not as bad as initial reviews might have pegged it, but not anything truly remarkable either.

"Red State" Trailer

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Crazy, Stupid, Love.

Romantic comedies are an incredibly difficult genre to wring any originality from. It has a tried and tested formula and one in which almost every single film of this nature follows to a tee. Which means that, to a certain degree, a romantic comedy is completely hamstrung by it's genre before it has even begun; there will never be any surprises in store for the audience. Well very refreshingly, Crazy, Stupid, Love approaches the genre from a very real and surprising place. For once, a romantic comedy has it's fair share of originality and twists that does wonders for the story. Led by the directors of last years uber-unconventional and very rude I Love You, Philip Morris, Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, seem to have carved out a nice original niche in genre films. This films surprise factor plays a huge part in why the film works as well as it does. However, when a film is this tightly written and performed with spark by a great cast then any stale notions of what the genre might entail are swiftly forgotten. Love, it seems can drive people to do the most irrational of things. The most confusing and yet common emotion, the film rather smartly explores variations on the theme. Unrequited teenage lust, stale marriage woes and those first exciting springs of discovery in someone new are all smartly woven throughout the story. As a result, the film is most certainly romantic, but not in erring to the overly sentimental side of things. Unsurprisingly, sex has a huge part to play in connections with others. Steve Carell stars as Cal, a 40-something going through a very painful divorce with his wife, Julianne Moore. Frustrated by love and hamstrung by a very nerdish demeanor, professional womaniser Jacob (Ryan Gosling) takes him under his wing to help teach him the ways of the mysterious woman. So what follows is a Hitch of sorts, with plenty of comedic material being derived from Cal's unfortunate adventures in this strange new world. Of course, things are not as simple as that, and the film has plenty of more tricks up it's sleeve throughout. Led by a smart, sassy and sexy script, characters are subtly developed so that while certain motivations for things might not be initially obvious, the more time we spend with these people, the more we understand about them. Wisely the film does not spoon feed the audience, but rather let's it's characters naturally progress onto events and earn the confusion, emotion and comedy that the film does so well. The only thing that the film let's itself down in, in fact, is a trite denonoument that trips over all the cliches and conventions it had smartly avoided for most of it's running time. It's not enough to derail the film, but it does leave a bad after taste when everything before was so much stronger. Overall, the film is a refreshing success. There was plenty of potential pitfalls throughout but for the most part, the film is an entertaining, witty and smart take on an otherwise stale genre. It also has the best scene set on a lawn you will see this year.

Verdict: 7/10
Apart from a disappointingly mundane and cheesy ending, the film offers plenty to say on the reality of love and sex and everything in between. A tight script effortlessly interweaves through a fantastic cast and the film has a fresh take on romance than is usual for a film of this type. Who says romance is dead?

"Crazy, Stupid, Love." Trailer

Monday, September 26, 2011


How does Ryan Gosling do it? The man is in front row to be my hero of 2011. His acting talent grows ever more intriguing and varied with each role he undertakes and he has a great eye for picking fantastic parts in great films. Blue Valentine  is quite possibly one of my favourite films this year, this week he is in two notable release (the other being Crazy Stupid Love) and with George Clooney's The Ides of March garnering serious oscar buzz for later on in the year the mans star wattage shows signs of growing ever brighter. Hands in the air, I have a serious man-crush on the guy. However here he achieves greater acclaim for making a quilted sports jacket with a gold scorpion on the back while mysteriously chewing a tooth pick look like just about the most stylish thing you may see all year. Drive is for all it's hints of loneliness and existentialism is far more concerned with smooth and pretty surfaces. Like Gosling's unnamed character, the film might have torrents of emotion running underneath, but it rarely lets them out. Unless to cave someone's head in that is. Drive might be ultimately shallow and even perhaps contrived at times in it's storytelling but when everything is handled as well as it is, it's hard not to fall in love with it's arthouse/action stylings. Dutch director Nicholas Winding Refn (him off ultra violent and questionably pretentious fare like Bronson or Valhalla Rising) deserves applause for delivering stale plot threads and characters through anything but standard means. Through every frame, the film brims with gorgeous images and subdued, yet vibrant colours. The story goes that upon Gosling and Winding Refn's first meeting, the heavily medicated director, recovering from a cold, burst into tears in a flood of inspiration at hearing REO Speedwagon on the radio. This was their 'Driver'. A lonely guy who drives around on his own all night listening to 80's pop music. True to his word, Drive is the perfect marriage of 70's/80's car chase 'heist gone wrong' thrillers, updated with a cool indie sheen. And it's all breathless, adrenaline inducing stuff.

From it's credits of retro indie beats mixed with pink font you know there is something striking in store. Gosling plays the Driver with no Name who works as a Hollywood stuntman while moonlighting as a getaway driver at night. His life is one of solitude and never getting too close to anybody. That is until new neighbour Irene (Carey Mulligan) moves in with her son and the two strike up a relationship. As the Driver begins to melt his hard exterior and get close to this new family, his violent past comes crashing back into everyones lives. Along the way, supporting characters are filled out by fantastic character actors from Breaking Bad's Bryan Cranston (his usual reliable self), Ron Perlman (having great fun), Oscar Isaac (about the only one who escaped from Sucker Punch untainted) Christina Hendricks (fans of Mad Men will not be happy with her limited screen time) and the usually typecast Albert Brooks. Brooks in particular is mesmerizing. Usually seen in childrens fare and nice guy roles, here he plays the psychotic main antagonist to fantastic effect. Interestingly, he is infused with layers making his violent actions all the more shocking and unpredictable. Surely an oscar nod can't be far off? And then there is Gosling. Given little to no lines throughout, Gosling gives a hypnotic and quietly powerful performance and one that is sure to be remembered in cult circles for years. Winding cast his film perfectly and everyone delivers in their respective parts. That is, apart from Mulligan. A usually fantastic talent, she is never less than entrancing in anything I have seen her in prior. Unfortunately here she seems distractingly miscast and is given little or nothing to do. One minor flaw in a fantastic film. Spontaneously prone to breaking out in hyper violence as it is in 80's synths, the film is certainly one of the more memorable you will see. Gorgeously shot and impeccably acted, Winding Refn has crafted one of the best of the year with scenes that will stick with you for a long time after. An art house version of an action film and one that is filled with as much quiet moments of introspection as it is in gun fights and car chases. Channeling the vibe of Bullitt and early Michael Mann, Drive is every bit as exciting and interesting as that might expect. While it's title might suggest revving auto parts; what it in fact refers to, is the driving force behind decisions and what consequences they may take.

Stylish, exciting and frequently adrenaline pulsing stuff, this takes the stale notions of what a crime movie might usually entail and turns them into a far more interesting and memorable experience. It may not be deep, but Winding Refn handles the atmosphere perfectly and delivers one of the sure to be favourites of the year.

"Drive" Trailer

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Trailer: [rec] 3: Genesis

The eagerly awaited teaser for the latest in the [rec] series has finally debuted online. A teaser in the true sense, this gives next to no plot details away and only a few tantalisingly gruesome images for the gorehounds. Taking the action out of the old apartment block that [rec]'s 1 & 2 so ably used in their stories, this time the action is transplanted to a wedding just down the road. Secrets are still in abundance, but you can be rest assured that director Paco Plaza (co-director on the first two: Jaume Balagueró is helming number 4 on his own) will have plenty of tricks up his sleeve and pack the film with the same rollercoaster ride of fear the series is renowned for. [rec] 3 is due for release in it's native Spain in March 2012.

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Troll Hunter

It could be lazy to compare The Troll Hunter to fellow Scandinavian fantasy Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale from last year, but there are an abundance of similarities to be found. Both are fantastical tales, borne out of the dark side of fairytails. Both utilise their almost mystical landscape to great effect in helping to craft some of the fantasy. And then there is the fact that both come from histories steeped in rich mythos. So while Rare Exports centered on the fact that not only does Santa Claus exist, but he is a centuries old demon, imparting only terror and misery on those at Christmas time, The Troll Hunter rather matter-of-factly deals with the very real secret of giant trolls living in rural, remote Norway. The film begins on a small group of film maker students, interviewing the locals and trying to find the culprit behind the bear slayings in their town. Through this they find Hans (Otto Jespersen), a very private man reluctant to let any camera upon him or be interviewed. However, those pesky students follow Hans one night and find a lot more than they bargained for. As it turns out, Hans works for the Norwegian government as (very large) pest control for the problem of trolls. Disillusioned with his work and sick of being undervalued, he eventually agrees to let the small camera crew document his hunt for the various trolls that have breached their territories and the reasons behind this.

Through it's found footage mockumentary stylings, director André Øvredal has great fun in exploring the various types of troll, their behaviour and just how they have managed to exist all this time without the public knowing about them. Like the aforementioned Rare Exports it is also very refreshing to see films coming from somewhat smaller countries and competing with Hollywood in the broad entertainment stakes. While The Troll Hunter certainly had a small budget, it still delivers it's fair share of 'money shots' through the escalating set pieces and troll attacks. The film is a monster movie of sorts, as each of the trolls tower imposingly over our hero with each desperately eager to drink the blood of a Christian man. Hans is hilariously unfazed throughout. Wisely, the film doesn't take itself too seriously and this is personified in Hans. To the film makers and the audience, the events are frequently amazing and yet to him, it is all in a days work. The designs and effects of each troll is wonderful and original, giving valuable personality to many of the different creatures. The sound design must be applauded also for adding to the nuance and tension so that while the camera might not pick up what is stalking them, the various thuds and stomps let the audience know that something big and imposing can never be too far off. Alas, it's basic format seems to be the films main drawback. While it was obviously chosen as a means to paper over any budgetary concerns with the monsters, it seems that the 'found footage' format' is only growing old at this stage. Sure the film offers plenty of hair raising moments with great effects, but that is only ever followed by endless scenes of Hans driving through (admittedly stunning) Norwegian fjords and landscapes along with the dreaded Blair Witch patented effect of 'shaky cam running through the woods as something chases from behind'. Surely a more traditional narrative approach could have worked better while still keeping it's minimal effects to the basics. Don't forget that for Jaws the prosthetic shark on set barely ever worked which led to Spielberg having to come up with ever more ingenious ways of personifying danger without ever showing the monster. You don't need poorly shot shaky hand held camera for the audience to visualise themselves in the situation.

Verdict: 6/10
A frequently fun and exciting monster movie. Norway competes with Hollywood and for the most part admirably succeeds with it's effective low key CG effects and designs. It's themes and main character are original and it is only in it's mockumentary format that shows the genre is growing ever more tired and which takes some of the steam out of proceedings.

"The Troll Hunter" Trailer

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

30 Minutes or Less

Coming off the back of such mega successes as Ruben Fleischer had with Zombieland and Jesse Eisenberg with The Social Network, can always be tricky territory. Between Fleischers debut being the huge critical and commercial success that it was and Eisenberg's oscar nomination, it seems that all eyes are on them for what they will do next. I'm sure there might be some out there who bemoan the fact that they have turned their attention to something like 30 Minutes or Less, a film that flexes very little of it's brain muscles. However, while it may not be terribly bright, the film is terribly funny. Utilising a core group of hilarious up and comers in comedy to maximum effect, events coast by easily on the casts charms. So while some plot inconsistencies might be raised, they are quickly forgotten in a rapid quick fire assault of jokes and vulgarity. In a Summer crowded with R rated comedies (Bridesmaids, Bad Teacher, The Hangover Part II, Horrible Bosses) competition was certainly raised for 30 Minutes or Less. Thankfully, the film delivers laughs in spades and while it may not be the most memorable experience you will have in a cinema this year, it certainly packs in plenty of fun in it's sparse running time.

Eisenberg stars as Nick, an underachieving slacker/pizza delivery boy. Playing fast and loose with a very crude screenplay, it is nice to see Eisenberg ditch his usual nervy, love lorn and misplaced genius persona and give Nick an air of apathy about him. If previous Eisenberg portrayals had the problem of caring too much, then Nick cares too little - about his life, his job and his friends. He suddenly finds he cares a lot more than he thought when bumbling and incompetent local bums Dwayne (Danny McBride) and Travis (Nick Swardson) strap a bomb to his chest and order him to rob a bank for them. Sure Eisenberg still retains his usual 'Eisenberg-iness', but he casts an air of palpable panic to Nick and grounds proceedings in his drama. As the two would be criminals Mssrs. McBride and Swardson are their usual reliable selves. Swardson usually only shows up in bit parts or brief comedy sketches elsewhere, so it's nice to see he has the chops to deliver a genuine full rounded character without growing tired before things end. McBride gives another one of his 'red neck asshole' performances that where he not so pitch perfect doing it, would have grown stale long ago. Contrasting their plight with Nick and his best friend Chet's (Aziz Ansari) is nicely handled. Chet is the only one left to turn to when Nick finds himself in his predicament. As his partner and accomplice, it is great to see Ansari finally get the break out role that any followers of his will know, was a long time coming. Eisenberg and Ansari have great chemistry and in that bank robbing scene alone, we see how well they play off each other. In fact, the comedy builds steadily throughout, only heightening as events get more and more dangerous. So as things get more and more farcical, the laughs grow bigger and bigger. Fleischer delivers a funny, fast paced, thrill ride comedy and doesn't dilly dally as things are quickly wrapped up in no time. In fact at a sheer 80 minutes, it's running time is one of the reasons it all works so well. It's cast do great work with their profanity-laden parts and Fleischer proves that Zombieland  was no fluke. Sure it's not big or clever, but it sets out to deliver laughs across a high concept format and it delivers in spades. It's cast ensure that the jokes keep on coming and it's short running time is enough to distract you from any glaring plot holes or contrivances. All the film wants you do to is sit back and laugh at stupid people doing stupid things, so why should you fight it - especially when it's got a killer car chase set to this.

Verdict: 7/10
It's not going to win any awards, but Fleischer's film delivers jokes by the bucketload. Naysayers of any the cast before will find nothing revolutionary here, everyone else will be laughing too hard to notice. Short, sweet, punchy and very entertaining.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Kill List

There is a stunning sense of dread that permeates every frame of Kill List. It is unfair to call the film an outright horror - although things do get mighty horrific, building steadily to more disturbing happenings; the film rather, is it's own thing completely. It's own curious oddity. That underlying tension throughout proceedings helps subvert genre. Parts gritty drama, hit-man thriller and buddy comedy, the film is every bit as original as you might expect from such a blend. Taking such stale staples of cinema as it's starting point, Kill List then uses them to mould an increasingly bizarre, violent and disturbing tale and is one that come it's end, will leave a cold grasp on you. In fact that is perhaps where the film may get it's true power from; in letting some of it's more subtler character beats and plot developments mature in your head, you realise just what director Ben Wheatley and his cast have crafted. This is a film that makes you work for it and you will only get out what you put in. But if you're prepared to go the distance - and Kill List goes to some pretty dark places, then you will have one of the more original hard hitting films this year. Somewhat unfairly, the film has been proclaimed to almost 'instant classic' status by some reviewers; a move that while it will surely help it's box office, can only leave most somewhat underwhelmed by such a high benchmark. Not to say the film isn't good enough, rather it would seem that the film is simply too small for the masses. This is something that works best as a more cult finding. Those who discover it knowing as little as possible will be those whom the film works best on. I would even go so far to suggest not even reading this review for fear of only adding to the hype machine, but I digress......

Focusing on the minutiae of British suburban life, we open on Jay (Neil Maskell) and wife Shel (MyAnna Buring). Locked in a passionately violent marriage, the stress of bills and mortgages are taking their toll as their young son Sam (Harry Simpson) watches on helplessly. So far, so regular, until we discover Jay has the far from regular job as a hit-man. Eight months after what seems a disastrous job in Kiev, Jay reluctantly takes on another job with cohort and best mate Gal (an excellent Michael Smiley): the titular list. Of course in films, that 'one last job' is never a good idea and pretty soon, the two find themselves in increasingly murky territory as each hit on their list leads them down darker alleys. The cast are all uniformly excellent. Wheatley and the cast spent almost as much time improvising various takes as with scripted material and the result is incredibly effective. Maskell and Buring's relationship is painfully conveyed to almost too realistic effect. A couple that bicker and fight, only to make up seconds later; it is obvious to everyone but them, that they should not be together. At the heart of things however, is Jay and Gal. As the two embark on their murderous road trip, they paint a memorable couple. Killers with their own set of moral codes; they are fiercely loyal to each other. The two actors do a fine job in making the audience believe the bond between the two. Their core relationship also leads to some of the more wittier moments; never too far off it seems and perfectly breaking up all that tension and misery in between. However, as the List becomes unofficially longer, and the boys realise they are in over their heads there is only more and more unresolved questions stacking up. Who exactly is the man who hired the guys in the first place? Why do Jay's targets continually thank him before each murder? What exactly is that mysterious symbol scribbled on the back of the mirror in Jay's bathroom? All and none of these questions are answered. Mystery surrounds every corner of Wheatley's story and while he may not give a solid answer to any of them, you can rest assured that he has provided enough hints prior to let you connect the dots. It is also safe to say a second viewing will be almost as enlightening as the first, and help clear up some of the mystery. Throughout, Wheatley effortlessly builds tension. Though not much at all may be happening, there is a sea of violence just waiting to explode at any time. All this is only built on by the films atmospheric soundscapes, breathing deep unease into the images. Overall the film is an incredibly peculiar chiller. Not outright horror, drama or crime/thriller, it is hard to categorise.  Instead of this being a hurdle, the film uses this confusion to build a very original and disturbing tale, although definitely not for everybody. If you let the film work on you, by the time the lights come up you may be shocked, confused and just a little bewildered, but no less stunned. But don't listen to me, you're better off taking the film on it's own merits and finding out for yourself.

Verdict: 8/10
A frequently disturbing and odd film that effortlessly blends genres to stunning effect. Some will bemoan the lack of cohesion come it's end, but everyone else will be taken on a very uneasy and murky ride through the underside of British suburbia. Darkly comic and very unsettling, it is an experience you might not be able to shake soon after.

"Kill List" Trailer

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Top 10: Aliens

A mainstay of all cinema since it's inception, has been it's exploration of science fiction themes. It is only natural for humans to ponder their own place in the Universe and whether or not there are any other forms of life out there. Through the varied forms of extra terrestrials in film, Hollywood has explored almost all sides of what our first contact with life from another world might be like; be they gentle and docile or ferocious invading monsters. Throughout the many genres Hollywood goes through the ages with such as musicals, pirate swashbucklers and epic period films, they inevitably will fall afoul of their time and cease to attract audiences. Sci-fi never goes out of fashion and is always a successful genre to utilise. However, this means it grows ever harder to provide new takes on any visitors from a different world. This Summer alone shows the genre has no signs of dying with Super 8, Cowboys & Aliens, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Thor, Green Lantern, Attack The Block and even The Tree of Life, each pondering the hows and whys of the Universe, to varying degrees of success. Here is a list of my personal favourites:

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial

OK, obvious choice here, but he truly is one of the most memorable creations ever to grace the screens. That a creature as ugly as he could elicit genuine emotion and feeling from the audience to such a degree that no matter if they're child, woman or man, will always be left bawling on the floor come that end, is quite an accomplishment. In a genre crowded with terrifying marauders and invading robots, E.T. is a reminder that there are a few nice guys out there in space.

The Thing

Released the same year as E.T., but to far less commercial success, it was only in later years that the cult of John Carpenters classic began to grow and people realised what a terrifying achievement it was. To this day, many of the prosthetics and effects hold up brilliantly and still continue to shock and unnerve. It's terror comes from the fact that this life form could be your best friend and you might never know. That coupled with it's brilliantly utilised and claustrophobic Antarctic setting make it's effect all the greater. While we never actually get to see the original shape of the creature, it's various graphic shape shiftings is enough to imply we never want to. That remake/prequel due for release later this year sure has a lot to live up to.


Somewhat sullied by those pointless and horrible Alien Vs. Predator mash ups, this guys power remains undiminished. While the film begins as a very standard boys action rescue flick, it quickly morphs into a tense face off between the hunter from another world and Schwarzeneggers lone special ops agent. History has it that one of the creatures most defining physical aspects, it's mandible face actually came from a James Cameron design. While the late great Stan Winston helped create the iconic design, it's original effort was far from the imposing warrior. In fact it more closely resembled a small version of a man in a Godzilla costume mindlessly running about - brief snippets of which can be seen on the DVD. Had that actually been it's final design then you can rest assured, it would be a very different film than the one we are left with.


Perhaps possibly the monster that comes to your head when you think of aliens on film, HR Giger's unsettling and disturbing design of a phallic, acid blooded and almost indestructible killing machine was the stuff of nightmares for years after that first Alien film. Yet again, those pesky Alien Vs. Predator films, plus it's franchises own turds (Alien Resurrection) have come close to dwindling the immense power of such a classic movie monster, but have failed. A truly unsettling creation; a creature that grows inside it's host before unceremoniously giving 'birth' to itself through it's hosts ribcage would be bad enough, did it not also grow into a two metre tall, unstoppable and incredibly pissed off monster. From the facehugger to it's adult stage, it goes through many incarcerations, each one of them incredibly effective.

District 9

The aliens in District 9 are not part of a hostile planet takeover of Earth. Rather they are a weak species who have crash landed in Johannesburg. Interestingly, we do not treat them as an historical first meeting with inter dimensional beings we could learn something from, rather a burden on our economy in which director Neill Blomkamp makes some not so subtle comparisons with racism in his native country. While they are described as drone workers for a much stronger infrastructure of aliens that have already died by the time they get here, they are nontheless strong and vicious enough to take care of themselves. However, if these prawns are the weaklings, then imagine what the big guns will be like like when they return to Earth in the mooted sequel. Our main guide into their world is Christopher Johnson, whom we discover shares a few parallels with human behaviour and is sometimes more human, than the humans themselves.


The thing about Paul is that while the film may not be a classic by any means, the great animation on the character mixed with Seth Rogans delivery of him means he is one of the first CGI characters to hilariously riff and improv with our main live action characters. I love that thousands of dollars went into a character that moons, curses, smokes weed and quotes various sci-fi films at our heroes. Because of this, it is easy to forget that Paul is entirely CG. Putting so much pressure on the character to succeed was a risky move, but they pull it off; so much so in fact, that most of the films success is down to the little guy.

Close Encounters of the Third Kind
Spielberg's second appearance on the list with yet again, another cuddly pacifist view on what visitors from another world might be like. The true drama in the film comes from Roy Neary's (Richard Dreyfuss) obsession with his first initial and brief encounter with them as it threatens to overtake his life and destroy his family. So come the end, when the little grey guys (the most typical design on this list, but no less effective) turn up, they bring awe inspiring spectacle and dazzling technology shrouded in glorious light. These guys are more curious and insightful than hell bent on enslaving man kind for their own ends. The end result is one of the most incredible climaxes in cinema history, using music as communication to stunning effect.

The Abyss
Again, another variation on more peaceful aliens, this frequently overlooked James Cameron classic, is still an incredibly tense and often claustrophobic thriller, set deep under the oceans. The film supposes that aliens have been here all along, living unbeknownst to man in the deep abysses of our oceans. When they finally appear for the films climax, they appear almost angelic and help save our heroes. Of course they also manage to show mankind the error of their ways and come off more as observers than any life forms willing to make contact with us. This scene is perhaps the most memorable in the film.

Independence Day
OK, so some of it's power may have diminished with director Roland Emmerich deciding to do almost the exact same thing with each disaster film since this films release but the fact remains, that this films has has one of the most epic alien invasion build ups ever and some pretty great set pieces. Thank god that alien technology was compatible with Apple otherwise we would have all been screwed. This one is for the boy inside you.

Before both M. Night Shyamalan's career went down the pan and found footage movies were overdone, we had this great moment from Signs. Up to this point we know something is happening in the world, but don't know what and this brief but incredibly hair raising moment from the film works wonders in upping the horror stakes. It's cam recorded footage on the TV only adds to it's effect; we could imagine watching the news and reacting much like Joaquin Phoenix character does. It's effect comes from us putting ourselves in that situation and wondering just what the hell we would do? Of course, the film then squanders all this in the third act showing that the only thing that can kill the aliens is water. Good work then on invading a planet that is almost entirely covered with the stuff.

Friday, August 26, 2011

The Inbetweeners Movie

Whenever a successful British TV show is transplanted to the big screen, the resulting answer on how to update proceedings without repeating what has gone before seems to be always the same; 'let's go on holidays!' A recent example of this was Kevin and Perry Go Large, a film painfully stretched from it's sketch format across 90 uneventful minutes. Well unfortunately the makers of The Inbetweeners Movie have learned nothing from past disasters such as this. Snatched from it's small screen origins the film repeatedly mistakes bad language for genuine comedy and never reaches the highs of the original series. While the original E4 comedy show was never classic in my book, it still featured embarrassingly crude situations, a novel core relationship between it's four friends and amusing potty mouth. It had relatable teens doing relatable things and that was what was part of it's charm. Unfortunately, this does not translate to the big screen. Here the film finds Will, Simon, Jay and Neil finished with school and deciding to go to Malia for their holidays - as any young, girl obsessed teenage boy would. While there was plenty of comedy that could have been mined from their unfortunate trip, the film never manages to find it's gear and outside of one funny empty dancehall scene, is noticeably short on decent gags. It speaks wonders in fact that that one humourous scene is classic slapstick, while the rest of the jokes the film has to offer is based almost entirely on crude variants on words for female genitalia. At least the show balanced this out with relatable issues that any teen goes through, such as girls, social status and school. Here our morons act, for the first time like annoying morons - completely out of touch with reality, never learning a thing and end up as winners. As a result, any camaraderie you might have felt for the lads is gone. At least before they seemed to want to do the right thing and it was always their own bad circumstance and attitudes that tripped them up. Here they are just stupid and shallow and hard to empathise with. Overall the film gets by on the likeability of the actors who do just barely enough with their characters to make things bearable. However at the end, you can't help but feel that the film is the equivalent of when a young child screams out 'POO!' in public. He might think it's hilarious, but everyone else just wants him to shut up.

Verdict: 3/10
Sexist, far fetched, immature and crucially, not very funny. Timing for jokes is off, everyone seems to think they are crafting comedy gold and the guys likability factor dwindles. A shadow of what has gone before.

"The Inbetweeners Movie" Trailer

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Final Destination 5

That a franchise with 'Final' in the title is now on it's fifth entry is deeply ironic. This is certainly one series that should have been left well alone long ago. Indeed, after eleven years of studios mindlessly hashing these things out, it is easy to forget that the first release was actually an effective little thrill ride. Sure it was never going to win any awards, but in a genre that at that time, was overcrowded with self knowing slasher flicks, this 'Mouse Trap' compendium took a novel approach to the way it offed it's respective teens. However, one sequel was more than enough before it started repeating itself and here we are somehow - on entry five. Each chapter follows the exact same formula as the last and this one is no different. Sam is on his way to a team building exercise with his company when he finds himself in the middle of a huge  collapsing suspension bridge disaster. We find out the tragedy was in fact a premonition and Sam luckily manages to save himself and a few of his friends by warning them just before the actual disaster occurs. From then on, it's business as usual as Sam and the gang discover from scary deep voiced coroner (Tony Todd) that they have not escaped death, merely slowed it down. Pretty soon, one by one each of the team slowly succumb to overly elaborate and very painful deaths involving freaks of chance. It's many intricate murders is what the series has always been known for. There was something original about it being fate itself hunting those victims, rather than any personification of evil. Here, those scenes seem to aspire for winces and groans, but end up becoming very yawn inducing, very fast. Sure the first few are fun, but after a while interest begins to wean seeing yet another one of the gang being conveniently left alone to fall prey to rickety massage tables/laser eye surgery/gymnastics and gain yet another supposedly hilariously gruesome death. And all in gore-popping-3D. It doesn't help that each one of the very annoying characters is played by very annoying actors. We hold absolute no sympathy for anyone and mostly look forward to their fates catching up to them. The first one was novel for not knowing who or when anybody could go; here we know exactly who and exactly when, subtracting all tension from proceedings. The only thing left is how and that is all the film seems to care about. Director Steven Quale is a protege of James Cameron no less and while he shows proficiency with effects and the like (that opening bridge collapse is admittedly, pretty impressive stuff) he couldn't care less about plot or character. Overall this is a dead franchise that should have been itself killed off long ago. After watching this, it begs the question; who did it have to kill for Death to pass it over?

Verdict: 3/10
Outside of a very well handled opening disaster, the film quickly fizzles out from there leaving you wondering what the point of it all is. At this stage of the game everything has become tired, monotonous and predictable and is yet another example of a franchise being hammered mercilessly into the ground, leaving no survivors.

"Final Destination 5" Trailer

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

I don't think anybody saw this coming. That a reboot/prequel of a forty something year old franchise would go on to become the best blockbuster of the Summer completely came out of left field for me. Sure, that first glimpse of CGI from the film was incredibly photo real but a good film is not made on special effects alone. Added to this, the first trailers released seemed hokey and moronic. Now while I have never seen any of the original Planet of the Apes films (minus the horrid 2001 remake), I couldn't see how a film like Rise could or would ever be relevant to cinemagoers today. Well this has turned out to be one of the films biggest strengths - low expectations. Everybody was more fixated on giant fighting robots, boy wizards and Captain Jack Sparrow this season, than a film about CG monkeys. Despite it's few minor flaws, this late addition to Summer is frequently visually stunning, offers a strong plot and features one of the most gasp inducing scenes in recent memory. Director Rupert Wyatt made waves with his debut feature The Escapist in 2008. Filmed primarily in Dublin's Kilmainham Jail, it was notable for it's fantastic ensemble cast, a rare lead for Brian Cox and how accomplished it was despite it's low budget roots. After a number of directors had come and gone for this gig, Wyatt finally got the unenviable job of crafting another chapter in the somewhat sullied Apes franchise. Here, he aces it, proving that The Escapist was no fluke and that he is just as home with huge budget effects laden extravaganzas as he is in more intimate character driven features. That his film is the success it is is down to one very important thing; Andy Serkis. Despite his British theatrical roots, Serkis has garnered more critical success with his CG animated characters, than any of his live action ones. The words 'oscar nomination' have been bandied about since this films release and upon viewing the film it is easy to see that such claims are not exaggerated at all. Serkis is simply remarkable, breathing impressive life into a simian who can barely communicate. His Caesar is not only a true watershed moment for CGI, but also for performance capture. It is after all, a true performance, eliciting genuine emotion and true depth behind those eyes. Using very little other than his movements, Serkis manages to imbue his CG character with important character tics and traits to staggeringly real results. It is magic come alive on screen.

The plot concerns Dr. Will Rodman (James Franco) as he tries to discover a cure for Alzheimer's, as he watches his father (John Lithgow) slowly succumb to the disease. Through his many tests on Chimpanzee's we see it having a side effect and making one in particular, more intelligent that the rest. As can be guessed from the title, events lead to a full on simian revolt against the humans but what surprises the most is how easily Wyatt manages to make even the more far fetched elements of the script, plausible. Whereas those trailers seemed daft and illogical, the film takes the time to fully develop it's themes, so that when some of the more outlandish things happen, they are entirely inevitable in the plot. The respective monkey poo does indeed hit the fan here, but Wyatt manages to stay focused on the story side of things, never leaving the films core relationship of Will and his pet Chimp Caesar (Serkis) off screen for too long. To say the effects are stunning is an understatement; throughout they constantly dazzle and impress, but crucially never overwhelm the story. There are many instances were the various assortment of Chimps and Gorillas are actually photo real. Throughout, each simian performance fully convinces and while any casual observer on set must have had some alarming thoughts on why such a large group of middle aged men are dressed in leotards acting like baboons, the finished result is nothing short of miraculous. The films protagonist isn't it's human Will, it is entirely Caesar. It is he who shows a true character arc and whom the audience fully emotes in - Franco is there to better sell the Chimp action to the audience. Sure there are flaws; Freida Pinto's girlfriend gets nothing to do, while the films assortment of bad guys: David Oyelowo, Brian Cox and Tom Felton have no depth and come off more as villainous pantomime characitures. But overall this is a film that asks interesting questions about animal testing using it's technical accomplishments to further the story, rather than over power it. Sure the other Apes films had more social/political undertones enriching any allegorical context, but we are after all only on film one of a new proposed franchise. There are plenty of directions to take Caesar in which none of the bigger themes will be shied away from. In evidence of this, a sequel might not be such bad thing for once.

Verdict: 8/10
A fantastic addition to the Apes canon and perfect as a stand alone story for anyone unfamiliar with the franchise. Incredible special effects, stylish direction and a stunning performance from Serkis makes this, hands down, the best film of the Summer.

"Rise of the Planet of the Apes" Trailer

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

"Super 8" OST

A cue off Michael Giacchino's fantastic score for Super 8. Taken from it's emotional climax, the similarities to John Williams are completely intentional and help mould some of the magic JJ Abrams was trying to achieve on screen. Some he gets wrong and some he gets right; here is one moment where he gets everything perfect to goosebump effect.

Cowboys & Aliens

Following on from the likes of Snakes on a Plane, Alien Vs. Predator and Ernest Goes to Africa of films that let you know their plot from their title, we have Cowboys & Aliens; a film that does pretty much exactly what it says on the tin. While I am not usually a fan of these titles that do the marketing teams job for them, I have to admit, something about cowboys facing off against aliens intrigued me, as it would the young boy in any cynical, jaded young man. Then it was announced that none other than both Indiana Jones and James Bond would be taking these alien marauders on and I suddenly sat up and took notice - boyhood dreams are made of this. Unfortunately the final product does not wholly deliver on those rabid fanboy expectations. Director Jon Favreau could have had a gleefully wild and fun adventure ride, and instead the film takes itself too seriously, which only ever expands on it's flaws. Not that it isn't a fun night out, rather the film seems tonally unsure of itself and never truly knows in what way to play these two opposing genres off against each other. Despite a stellar line up of talent both in front and behind the camera, it seems that everyone was betting everything on this films title rather than a fully rounded concept. Favreau has himself, promoted the film through old fashioned ways; rather than the film being presented in nice and shiny 3D with a million bells and whistles, Favreau decided to shoot on film and have only his two leading men's star power as being sufficient enough to entice audiences. It worked for me, but there is a whole other generation that doesn't hold Harrison Ford close to their hearts as we do and Daniel Craig hasn't been seen in any (action) roles in three years. Will it be enough? Well the answer is both yes and no. You see while there is a certain amount of nostalgic delight in seeing Ford in a fedora again and extraterrestrial predators falling prey to Indian arrows, there just isn't enough adventure on display to this journey.

Craig plays Jake Lonergan, a wanted criminal who wakes in the middle of the desert, with no recollection of himself or how he got there, with a mysterious clunk of mettle slapped on his wrist. As his townsfolk is suddenly attacked by strange flying shapes in the night sky and family members abducted, Lonergan must join forces with enemy Colonel Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford) to save the day and find out about his mysterious past. Throughout, Craig is all grimaces and scowls. As The Man With No Past, he says very little and carries a 'don't mess with me vibe' that comes in handy when those aliens show up looking for their bracelet back. He is effective as the lead but doesn't wholly gel with Ford. As much as it pains me to say it, there are times when the once Dr. Jones' performance seems off. He is always value for money, but he fails to carry any sense of conflict either about getting his son back, Craigs loose cannon team mate or this historical first contact with the miners from a different Galaxy. Any initial tension between Lonergan or Dolarhyde quickly seems forgotten and the film never derides any hostility or unease between the two. Olivia Wilde looks misplaced amongst the grit and her character only provokes a million more questions about her past while all Sam Rockwell seems to say is 'they took my wife'. However, it is a good cast. In between Craig and Fords superstardom everyone else is filled up by a nice line of reliable supporting character actors. What carries everything through is that same central idea. While Favreau still seems unsure of how to direct action he delivers the Western side of the genre very well without playing it up or making fun of itself. As a result everything is quite gritty and much more tough than you might expect. The sci-fi side of events unfortunately has more than it's share of plot holes. If it's aliens are so smart and powerful than why don't more of them use their weapons instead of ripping everyones throat out? Why are they really here for? Just where did Olivia Wilde come from? The film never satisfactorily answers these questions, but it is fun and interest in events is maintained. It seems that while the script seems unsure of which way to play things, Favreau was right all along; it was it's cast's mere presence that help sell the action, and it's simple title that would get you into the theatre in the first place.

Verdict 5/10
The film is fun, but never fun enough and has a tonally unsure script to match it's plot holes. However, you gotta love that cast and in it's concept alone, there is plenty to see on screen which hasn't been seen in a while.  The western works just fine, but the sci-fi needed more polish.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Super 8

Inevitably and almost unfairly Super 8 has to be able to stand up to some of the greatest films ever made. JJ Abrams certainly has set the bar high for himself. You see, by crafting something as deliciously nostalgic and warm as Super 8, it must first come out out of the shadow of it's forebears and stand on it's own. That shadow is Steven Spielberg, the man who's DNA permeates every frame of Super 8. Abrams has made a film-cum-love letter to the man and for 112 minutes, we are in one epic homage to the legend. Not many filmmakers could stand up to such glaring reverence on screen, but Spielberg has influenced so many directors now, that it seems a film like Super 8 was inevitable. And while the man himself has not made a film since 2008, this is certainly the Summer of Spielberg. He has produced many of the years tent pole releases and the rest owe a great deal to him. The one thing that ties these films (Cowboys & Aliens, Transformers 3) together is extraterrestrials; a genre that has always been synonymous with the man. Here it reaches it's apex in Super 8, a lovingly crafted throwback to simpler times and better movies. So while Spielberg produces, Abrams has taken it upon himself to try and recreate some of the magic the bearded man has put up on screen. As a result, the film is a perfect hybrid of both their styles. Abrams wrote and directed and it is obvious the story is personal to him. What is surprising that for such an 'event' film like this, it is the story and characters we take away from it, rather than it's set pieces. Not that this film doesn't have any 'wow' moments; far from it, but they refreshingly occur at the service of the plot, rather than being for the sake of it just to keep the young 'uns interested.

We all sat up and took notice at that that trailer last year. The teaser with the giant train crash. Abrams immediately courted interest and efficiently drummed up plenty of hype with a simple unannounced and unknown teaser trailer. After that the film was coated in secrecy. No one could tell you a thing about the film and speculation about what had escaped from that destroyed carriage, took root in message boards all over the internet. Not that there was any big secret about the film; rather Abrams simply wanted the audience to walk into the film and not feel like they had already watched the damn thing. Plenty of films this Summer had shown their hand in promotional materials well before their release; Super 8 is notable for the fact that it is the only one we knew quite little about. It's hype came from the not knowing. So what we now know is this: set in 1979, the film centres on a group of young boys that are filming their own super low budget DIY zombie film. Upon filming one night, the boys (and girl) are caught in the midst of a catastrophic derailing of a train and from that wreckage, a mysterious creature emerges and begins to wreck havoc on a small town. In between the vicious alien attacks and frequently stunning (but low key) special effects there is the very simple story of one young boy, Joe (Joel Courtney), struggling to come to terms with his mothers untimely death (the fractured family is a Spielberg mainstay) and reconnect with his workaholic Father (Kyle Chandler) by way of getting the girl and catching the 'evil' monster. Abrams cast the young group impeccably. In a film in which most of the characters are under 15, you better make sure that A) they can act and B) they aren't annoying. While some deliveries and moments of humour are a bit off, they are all wonderful for the most part; impressively cussin' and hollering - reacting as most kids would to the larger than life situations they find themselves in. While the third act of the story doesn't wholly deliver on what had gone before it and raises just a few plot holes, the overall effect is unexpectedly moving and touching. Aided by Michael Giacchino's best John Williams impression, the score is suitably grandiose and intimately heartfelt. Overall this is a very welcome and exciting blockbuster that favours story and character over bombarding it's audience with explosions and violence. And in that train crash we glimpsed in the trailer we have the best action scene of the year; heart stoppingly tense and incredibly executed. As all the hulking shards of metal tumble into each other and collapse over the fleeing group, it is that human element which helps sell the danger - we care about these kids.

Verdict: 7/10
The group of kids (The Goonies) all nail their characters. The emotion (E.T.) is touching. The sci-fi (Close Encounters of the Third Kind) is suitably mysterious and the monster (Jurassic Park) is a ferocious treat. Abrams set out to out-Spielberg Spielberg and while the mans oeuvre is too classic to touch, he still does a pretty decent job. Taken on it's own merits, Super 8 is a wonderfully made and lovingly retro hark back to a long gone era of film making. He also turns in the best blockbuster this Summer so far.

"Super 8" Trailer

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Captain America: The First Avenger

Well it's finally happened. Marvel have dropped the ball. In setting all sights on next years epic superhero team-up The Avengers, they have been racing to get all story lines in order before it's release. It was bound to happen really. So far each of the four films in the Marvel Studios Universe (Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, Thor) has done their job to the best of their ability in succeeding being stand alone films first and teasers for The Avengers second. But here in Captain America, shows for the first time that they were clearly more preoccupied with getting all those heroes in the one room for next year, than actually developing a decent story for Steve Rogers et al. Director Joe Johnston has made a career out of being a poor man's Spielberg. Long before JJ Abrams came along with the homage to end all homages in Super 8, Johnston was the go-to-guy whenever getting Spielberg was deemed too expensive. As a result, he turned in such efforts as a poor mans Indiana Jones (Hidalgo, The Rocketeer), a poor mans Jurassic Park (Jurassic Park III, Jumanji) alongside Honey, I Shrunk The Kids and last years contender for worst movie of 2010: The Wolfman. Not exactly an impressive track record. And yet Marvel decided he was perfect for Captain America. Each of their choices so far to helm these huge budgeted superhero flicks has been both interesting and fitting. Jon Favreau and Kenneth Branagh both seemed left field choices to take on films of this nature and yet they knocked their efforts out of the park and both Joss Whedon and Shane Black set to continue that trend with their upcoming efforts across the next few years. And yet when Johnston was announced, I didn't think 'how interesting'; rather a sickening groan of 'oh no'. However, while I had my serious doubts about 2011's previous contender Thor, that actually turned out to be surprisingly good fun, so surely the Captain couldn't be as bad as I might have thought? He is after all, one of Marvel's last untouched top shelf superhero's that they have not yet adapted for the screen in their new line. And so I reigned in my doubts for 'Cap'. How wrong I was....

Captain America has a distinction from most other recent superhero films; it is set almost entirely during World War II. We open with a small, skinny and sickly Steve Rogers (Chris Evens) as he repeatedly tries to join the army, to no avail. Here is a man who detests bullies, stands up for what he believes in and has great values of good and justice. It is for this reason, that Rogers is selected by Dr Abraham Erskine, (Stanley Tucci) to be a contender for some sort of super soldier serum. The serum turns Rogers into the all powerful and muscular Captain America. Meanwhile, evil Nazi's dubbed HYDRA (basically even badder Nazi's than usual - hiss!) have set their sights on an all powerful tesseract with the power to win the war and take over the world. Being led by the sinister Red Skull (Hugo Weaving - he looks exactly like he sounds) nothing stands between them and total world domination. That is, apart from Cap and his team. The cast do their best with the lacklustre script yet fail to add much gravitas to any of the action on screen. Weaving snarls and delivers evil one liners with relish but amounts to little much more, while romantic interest Hayley Atwell contributes zilch to proceedings and is obviously shoe-horned in to appeal to the female demographic. Other supporting roles don't fare much better. Not one character makes any impact on proceedings and each one is vastly under developed. Evans works well enough I guess, but can't really do much with a character as bland as the Captain himself. With Thor, everything was played as a fish out of water comedy to balance out it's more fantastical action and help sell the inherent ridiculousness of such a character - a very wise move indeed on Marvel's part. Captain America has always stood as a cheesy, patriotic, flag waving square to everywhere outside of the US and was always going to be a tough character to swallow for most (that the film is merely named The First Avenger in many territories of the world speaks wonders at how unsure Marvel were to sell their brand). However, instead of playing up just how much of a nerd the man is, Johnston fully indulges him. Within him, there is no confliction or darkness, just an over eager appetite to do good no matter what. This shreds the character of any depth or interest he might have had. This might have been easier to overlook if the man was actually truly super. Compared to the Hulk's might, Thor's power and Iron Man's vast gadgets, Cap does.....very little actually. Apart from running faster that is. Even his shield seems more super powered than the man himself. Throughout, I kept on waiting to see him stretch his powers and do something truly incredible but it never came. This almost certainly will see him stick out like a sore thumb along his more fantastical team mates next year. Action sequences are all poorly staged and have no originality to them - most occur for no other reason it seems than someone deciding 'we need an action scene, let's do one here'. Also, despite it's PG rating, the film is by far the most violent Marvel film to date, with deaths well up into the double digits. I guess when it involves Nazi's you can do whatever you want with them and avoid the pesky wrath of the MPAA. The film carries a pleasing retro vibe throughout, which makes things that bit more tolerable and Tommy Lee Jones is his usual craggy, reliable self, but as the film goes on, it sinks further into it's unimaginative stylings. Not that any of those Marvel films so far were high art, far from it in fact - but they were at least fun and entertaining. Captain America had plenty of potential and only a small percentage of which has been delivered on. Some things work along the way and those looking for nothing more than an effects laden action film could do worse but with so much riding on this guys introduction, he should have landed harder. Thor is a missplaced God with Daddy issues, Hulk is a tragic take on Jekyll & Hyde and Iron Man has his egotistical mouth to match his impressive arsenal of weapons - what does Captain America have? A guy who wanted to be strong and now he is so he beats people up if they're bullies? Not exactly the stuff of legend is he?

Verdict: 4/10
Impressive retro stylings and special effects do not mask what is a clunky mishandle of a character that had plenty more to offer than what is seen here. Under developed and poorly written, this Captain would have been better off being kept frozen.

"Captain America: The First Avenger" Trailer

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Trailer - "The Sitter"

Initially introduced by an alarmingly thin Jonah Hill, this eventually settles into standard movie trailer territory and actually looks to be very funny stuff indeed. Everybody knows that putting kids into adult situations with bad language always equals comedy gold and this looks set to continue that trend. The film centres around Hill's loser slob, who is forced to babysit local children in an effort to boost cash. Of course things go astray and it is not long before Hill and the kids he is supposed to be minding are led into a night of crime and debauchery. Can he get the kids home unharmed in time? Will he get a tip? How much weight did he have to lose for the upcoming 21 Jump Street to look like that? Anyways, the film looks like a barrel of laughs and will hopefully turn out to be marginally better than director David Gordon Green's last comedy effort from this year; the dodgy Your Highness. And anything in which Sam Rockwell is allowed free reign for his rarely used comedy bone always goes to must see in my book. The Sitter is pencilled in for release on January 12th 2012.

Friday, August 5, 2011

First Look - "The Dark Knight Rises" - Catwoman

I'm sure Christopher Nolan is growing ever more weary of those pesky paparazzi that are flanked outside any locations The Dark Knight Rises is shooting and has decided to pre-empt them by releasing an official pic of Anne Hathaway's 'Catwoman', before they get the chance to leak them. And it is very intriguing indeed; it seems Nolan has gone in a completely different direction than any previous vision of Catwoman has gone before. Gone are the feline ears and mask and in, is a new set of blinky goggles. While I'm sure there will be some who are a bit alarmed at such a change of iconic character design, I am staying in the pro-Nolan side of things. Everything the man does is clearly thought out and elaborately planned before it is executed and I'm sure this costume is no change from that. Also important to note is that nowhere on any official studio statements is Hathaway referred to as Catwoman; rather Selina Kyle. Of course everybody knows it is she who becomes Catwoman, but could Nolan be choosing to forego the name in an effort to distance himself from any expectations the character might have? And just why is she piloting the Bat-Pod - did Batman lend it to her or did she steal it? Unfortunately, Nolan's release of one of the biggest tidbits of the film has led to even more questions, which I am sure is what the man had always planned. The guessing continues until July 20th next year......

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Monday, July 25, 2011

Trailer - "Intruders"

Spanish director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo has been mostly quiet since 28 Weeks Later four years ago. Well here's the new trailer to his more recent offering of horror. Starring Clive Owen, it tells of a young British suburban family getting targeted by an ever escalating state of supernatural events. What seperates this from other haunted house pictures like Insidious and the upcoming Don't Be Afraid of the Dark is when a rural Spanish family comes forward with very similar experiences happening to them as well. How are they both connected? The trailer is suitably eerie and is very atmospheric stuff indeed. While 28 Days Later didn't do much for me outside of it's fantastic opening, it is still obvious that Fresnadillo is a talented director and should hopefully be able to mine more menace from this film. That is only however, if the CG apparition that is glimpsed at the end of the trailer is kept to a minimum. Note to all film makers: CGI is not and never will be scary. Intruders is released on January 27 2012. Here's hoping........

First Look - "The Avengers" Character Artwork

The first glimpse of the assembled Avengers has been revealed, albeit in art form. So it may not be a live action shot as exciting as those chairs from a few months ago, but it is still very intriguing stuff. Also of note here is the first shot of Mark Ruffalo's Hulk, looking more faithful to the original comic it was based on than any of the more recent cinematic treatments have and Cobie Smulders' new addition to S.H.I.E.L.D., Maria Hill. While a live action teaser or picture of the entire cast is due for release any day now, this will have to do for the time being. Until it's release on April 27th next year, Joss Whedon has his work cut out for him.

Horrible Bosses

It's been a while since we have seen a decent black comedy on the Hollywood scene. More times than not, America is unwilling and insecure about dark themes such as murder for laughs. While Horrible Bosses is not a classic by any standards, it is still nice to see a film like this in a market usually stuffed with romantic comedies or males bonding over acting like adolescents. That the film is the reasonably diverting experience that it is, is down to it's lead cast. They help sell the darkness of the premise through, so it doesn't leave a bad taste in the mouth. The film is pure farce, but coasts by on it's lead trios sensibilities. Falling somewhere in between Strangers on a Train and Throw Momma From a Train (something the film gleefully name checks) the film follows three undervalued and very frustrated workers played by Charlie Day and Jason's Bateman & Sudeikis. All of them are good people and just want to work in a non hostile environment and in a place where they can be allowed to reach their full potential. However, all three are hamstrung in their respective positions by their evil bosses. Their bosses are each played with relish by Kevin Spacey (psychotic, morally duplicitous) Colin Farrell (cokehead, clueless and ignorant) and Jennifer Aniston (sex crazed, nympho). Each one goes for their ugly characters with aplomb and show no qualms about acting against type. Sure Spacey has done his bastard office boss a few times in the past but we have never seen Farrell or more importantly Aniston go this against previous conventions like this before. So after one drunken night, the guys decide to hire a murder consultant called 'Motherfucker' Jones played by Jamie Foxx (the story of how he got his moniker is priceless) to help them off their respective bosses. Of course, it is from here that things spiral wildly out of control for the guys.

The film flirts dangerously with going off the rails at a few points. Luckily Seth Gordon (who directed the masterful The King of Kong) and his leading trio keep things on track just as your mind begins to wander. The film is very uneven and features a large overabundance of missing gags from it's beginning and end. This top ended feeling stems from people trying too hard for those laughs that just aren't there. Thankfully, the second act of the film finally shifts into gear as they have to get information on their different targets. Featuring cats, bathroom utensils, a syringe and some cocaine, the extended sequence certainly provide the films funniest moments. Praise as well to everyone for trying even as slightly as this film does, to push the darkness. Of course, the fact that the bosses are as broad as they are only helps sell the reasons why anyone would want them dead. Although Farrell is underused and Aniston's performance is largely one note, they still help control the films charms. At the end of the day there is nothing here truly remarkable or memorable, other than a reasonably diverting Saturday night. You'll laugh and chuckle with the guys, but don't expect anything to truly register. It features it's fair share of contrivances and is wildly uneven, but it is an at times very funny comedy. In the end, your enjoyment will depend on whether or not you can accept the fact that any man would ever want Jennifer Aniston dead for trying to have sex with him.

Verdict: 6/10
A noticeably short supply of jokes at both ends of the film do not hamper what for the most part, is a raucous comedy. Events coast by on the easy charms of it's leads. Just don't expect to remember it afterwards.

"Horrible Bosses" Trailer

Friday, July 22, 2011

Trailer - "Drive"

I've been quietly waiting for this one for a while now. Drive is the latest film from Dutch director Nicholas Winding Refn, a director who is certainly one of the more interesting working today. His last two features were very memorable in their own right - Bronson was an awesomely original biopic about the british psychopath with an incredible powerhouse performance from Tom Hardy and Valhalla Rising was more so for the wrong reasons, featuring hypnotising, frequently trippy visuals and a nothing plot. Drive looks set to be more accessible than his prior work and houses one of the best casts of the year. The film casts Ryan Gosling playing a movie stunt driver, who gets ever more dangerously embroiled in a life of crime. Also featured include Carey Mulligan, Ron Perlman, Bryan Cranston, Christina Hendricks, Oscar Isaac and Albert Brooks. Refn seems to be channelling a great 70's vibe for his film and knowing the directors inability to shy away from the more gritty and violent element of things, it will almost certainly feature it's fair share of hair raising moments. The film is released on September 23 later this year.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Production Blog #3: "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey"

After slowly revealing the entire band of twelve dwarves the past two weeks, Peter Jackson has released yet another Production Blog. The entire cast and crew are taking a well earned break after the first block of shooting, so the timing is perfect for Jackson give us more tantalising glimpses from the set. In it, as is befitting the last week, we spend most of our time with the dwarves and get a better sense of their personality and look. Jackson has amazingly managed to give each member a distinct and memorable personality from the last - something the man says was certainly a bone of contention in early stages of design. Everyone looks as if they share the same camaraderie as the original fellowship did ten years ago. Speaking of the original trilogy, we also get our first look at Cate Blanchett's ethereal 'Galadriel', Hugo Weaving's 'Elrond' and even John Rhys-Davies turning up to give some much needed dwarfing advice. Everything looks set in place for another epic and stunning return to Middle Earth. How Jackson is maintaining his sanity after undertaking such a behemoth is beyond me. Also included below is the released pics of the dwarves in full. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey will be released on December 14th 2012.

Nori, Ori & Dori
Oin & Gloin

Balin & Dwalin

Fili & Kili
Bombur, Bofur & Bifur