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Friday, April 29, 2011


So officially, the Summer Blockbuster Season is now upon us. So as we settle down for the next three to four months of overused CGI, shoddy storytelling and horid dialogue with the occasional gem thrown into the mix (fingers crossed "Super 8") we have first to set it off with a huge bang. Now some may argue that it was last weeks "Fast & Furious 5" which started things off. I however like it to be as close as possible to the real Summer (April 21st is still Spring!), even if Hollywood is insisting that it gets earlier and earlier each year. It has been said elsewhere of the oversaturated and heavy competition of this years Blockbusters, so that points to why Hollywood is racing forward before the green light of actual Summer has even been lit. So before we have alien invasions, giant robots, nefarious pirates, mutant superhero teams and a boy wizards last battle for his school, we have...........a Norse God with girly hair in a red cape. Yes, incredibly Marvel Production Company has decided, in raiding their entire back catalogue of (lesser known) Superheroes, to settle on 'Thor' as their next multi-million dollar property; a mythic norse god who wears a pointy helmet, throws a giant hammer about, and lives in a different realm to Earth, as being worthy enough to bestow a $150 million franchise on? I mean, I'm sure the guy has his fans in comic book circles, but is betting quite a lot on him for the Summer, and not to mention next Summers "Avengers" film (more on that later) taking too big a risk? Well incredibly and astoundingly, the answer is no. Marvel must be thanking their lucky stars, for their biggest risk and potential laugh inducing super hero film for this Summer is actually rather good fun.

That "Thor" is not the misfire many (including myself) thought it would be is down to its director, and its directors choice of leading man. "Thor" was always going to be a risky sell to audiences, but when news came in that Marvel had hired Kenneth Branagh as its director, eye brows were raised. Of course Marvel now have a track record of picking unexpected, but nontheless perfect choices or their films. Following on from Jon Favreau (who's directing career went stratospheric after "Iron Man") and Joss Wheadon (who just screams out as the only director who could potentially get "The Avengers" movie/behemoth right) Kenneth Branagh seemed at once both unthinkable and perfect for "Thor". Well now you can see how right Marvel were in hiring the man. He brings gravitas in the more dramatic scenes, while also later playing up Thors inherent ridiculousness. Mixing epic fantasy with the sci-fi of most other comic book movies was always going to be a tricky hurdle, but Branagh pulls it off. With a brief prologue introducing our earth bound heroes Dr. Natalie Portman (natch), Stellen Skarsgard and the sardonic Kat Dennings, Branagh wisks us off to the aethereal realm of Asgard. Narrated by Odin (Anthony Hopkins) we are swiftly brought up to date on the Nine Realms, Frost Giants and the fact that we Earthlings have been protected by these Gods for hundreds of years. And as if all this wasn't enough information to take in at once, we have also to be introduced to our mighty hero Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and his shady younger brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston), just before a peace treaty is broken and our Asgardian heroes have to travel to Jutenheim to confront those pesky Frost Giants again before a huge effects laden skirmish breaks out. Phew. And thats only the first fifteen minutes or so. To be fair Branagh moves things along as fast as they need to be. Asgard is just not that fun a place to be. Sure, initial glimpses of the city and palace are pretty impressive, but the longer we spend there, the more dreary it gets with CG fatigue quickly setting in. Only when Thor's actions force his father to banish him from Asgard and down to Earth does the film begin in earnest. This is where the second reason the film works is revealed; Chris Hemsworth. Pretty much unknown for those who don't watch Home & Away or are Trekkies; here he arrives as a fully fledged star. His initial scenes on Asgard, while effective doesn't allow him to reach his potential as when he arrives on Earth. Those fish out of water moments are part of the films charms, as Thor has to find a way to adapt to his new surroundings. The film balances this wonderfully and doesn't push it too far and begin making a caricature of their hero. Sharing an easy chemistry with Portman, Hemsworth effortlessly glides into the character. All dashing smiles and muscles for the ladies; while still wielding Mjilnor (that's his giant hammers name for you 'norms') with plenty of conviction for the guys.

However, just because it overcomes its biggest obstacle does not mean it doesn't falter over others. Tom Hiddlestons performance is a little too 'low-key' to really register, there is a huge over abundance of CG, and all these names ('Jutenheim', 'Heimdall', 'Mjilnor') and talk of intergalcatic portal and bridges soon becomes a little too daft. The mythology is too big and the story sometimes struggles to fit it all in. However the film is light and breezy which is something always to be welcomed when more and more blockbusters are going darker and darker; mistaking dim lighting for something genuinely deep and transcendant. What happened to Blockbusters being simply fun? For all its faults "Thor" does not forget to have a good time. One other minor niggle is Marvel linking all their films together in order to set up all their heroes finally uniting next Summer. Now a brief nod here and there is fine, but is it just me, or is all this just beginning to seem like a very expensive and long trailer for next years Avengers film? Don't get me wrong, I'm looking forward with baited breath at seeing all those heroes (and cast) sharing the screen together, but Marvel need to remember that these should be all stand alone films films first, and set ups for next years epic smack down second.

Verdict: 6/10
Marvels riskiest gamble is pulled off in fine form by Branagh and a star making turn from Hemsworth. A knowing sense of humour and fun is brought to proceedings and it nicely sets up Julys "Captain America". Daft, silly and forgettable but enjoyable nontheless. Now just bring on "The Avengers" already and stop teasing us.

Saturday, April 23, 2011


"Scream 4's" recent box office failure in the States at the very least, makes one thing, thankfully, very abundantly clear. There will not be a "Scream 5" (or '5cream' if you will). This is something to rejoice in for a number of reasons, the most pertinent of which is that "Scream 4" is not very good at all. I could argue as to the many reasons why this sequel does not not work but it will always come back to the main fact that had the film doomed straight out of the gate. "Scream 4" was unnecessary. No one was waiting for a fourth entry into the franchise, especially after the dismal third chapter. "Scream" is a product of its time. It worked because it kick started the referential and acutely self aware trend in films, that had never really been done before that point. It was fresh and new. It's concept could not last beyond it's first sequel, of which it just barely did. Then it just began repeating itself. In "Scream 4" all original surviving cast members return, in an attempt to restart the franchise for a new generation. Sidney (Neve Campbell) is now an established author, writing about her traumatic experiences and self-help. On the fifteenth anniversary of the Woodsboro killings she returns home on her book signing tour. However, as soon as she arrives home, more killings start. Killings tracking Sidneys niece Jill (Emma Roberts) and all her high school friends. It's up to Sidney and the now married Sheriff Dewey (David Arquette) and Gale (Courtney Cox) to find who is behind all these new slayings. People forget just how hip the original "Scream" was. It had a hot young cast on the (thought to be) verge of some very big things; an original, achingly cool script, and a renowned classic horror director looking for his big come back. Flash forward eleven years since the last film, and most of its cast have all faded away into obscurity, its writer has a slew of failed film projects and bad TV and the directors last film went straight to DVD over this side of the pond, so bad was its failure in America. This reeks of its original creators cashing in to each give their flailing careers a much needed shot in the arm. The film isn't absolutely atrocious but it really doesn't do itself any favours when it constantly succumbs to the horrible horror cliches it constantly pokes fun at. "Scream 4" wants to have its cake and eat it, which it just can't do. The films witty and all too knowing nature clash violently with its scary and tense framings. Wes Craven is a horror institution but is showing more and more how hard it is to sustain a career in it, whilst still trying to come up with something scary. "Scream 4's" scares are tired and predictable. The most terrifying thing in it is Courtney Cox's horribly stretched and botoxed face. It's characters are all one note and the films final reveal (without giving anything away) is easily the worst in the franchises history. On a positive note, the new generation of victims aren't grating for the most part and some of its digs at recent horror remakes and torture porn are slightly amusing. But it just isn't scary enough or witty enough to really convince as something truly relevant anymore. If its argument is 'there's nothing left to do with horror, lets just have some fun with it all', then why attempt a reboot in the first place? Sure, it's better than "Scream 3" (Scr3am anyone?) but that wasn't exactly too hard in the first place. It is struggling to find a voice in a horror climate that didn't ask for it. It can't mock horror conventions and then fall prey to them itself. "Scream 4" has turned into the thing the film series originally set out to make fun of in the first place.

Verdict: 3/10
The first "Scream" loved horror and loved scaring you with its wit and intelligence. "Scream 4" hates horror and doesn't know what to do with itself. Poor work from everybody involved.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Your Highness

It's even harder to accept when a film doesn't live up to your expectations, when it is created by a group of talented people who have a proven track record of delivering well crafted material. I am a huge fan of nearly everybody involved in this film. Whether director David Gordon Green does sensitive indie, or raucuous comedy, he is never less than intriguing. Writers Danny McBride and Ben Best created the excellent and near classic HBO comedy series "Eastbound and Down", not to mention McBrides ability to never fail to be gut bustingly funny. Zooey Deschanel always provides loveliness and is one half of 'She & Him'. The other two; James Franco and Natalie Portman are both either oscar nominated or winners. Simply put, how did a film so bad get such a great group of people involved in it? I suppose McBrides and Bests intentions were noble. They wanted to craft a silly and very rude medieval fantasy comedy; a hark back to the cheesy epics of the 80's. Films more concerned with muscled men, godawful special effects and nonsensical plotting. But that in itself is one of the films problems. Those films are already unintentional laugh out loud fests. They do not need fun being poked at them for the average person to get that they are outdated. But then again, this would not be a problem had the film delivered decent gags. Dick and fart jokes are funny for about 5 minutes, until you realise that the film has another 90 or so to go. This is a sketch of an idea unmercifully stretched to feature film length. It's probably why that initial red band trailer raised expectations so much. The films main concept: that of a lazy coward younger brother, to the more classicly heroic older brother should have borne far funnier material that what we are left with. Instead, almost nothing works. Infact the films one saving grace comes in the form of Justin Theroux as the evil wizard Leezar. Usually known as the writer behind such recent films such as "Iron Man 2" and "Tropic Thunder" here plays a pretty warped and egotistical wizard. His odd and increasingly surreal musings provide the few moments of humour in the film. McBride and Best have previously gone on the record saying that while the entire film was written, most of it was changed and improvised on set. This scatter-shot approach groans and creaks throughout. With talent of this calibre, everything should really be of a much higher standard. It's not quite bad enough to truly damage anyone involved, but everyone will have to work extra hard next time, to erase this from memory. Magical it certainly isn't.

Verdict: 3/10
Too silly, too scatalogical and too disappointing when everything signalled so much more. If you're fans of the guys then it might be diverting enough, but for everyone else, this is a missed oppertunity.

"Your Highness" Trailer

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Trailer - "Making Ugly"

A new trailer and poster have debuted over at for the new independant British thriller. In these uncertain and hard times for independant film makers, something like "Making Ugly" must be both applauded and supported. A truly independant feature, the film is nearing the end of post production, leading up to a number of screenings at film festivals across Britain and Ireland. The film will hopefully be hitting a cinema near you in the future. For more information head over to

Making Ugly Official Trailer from Squarebox Yellow on Vimeo.


When you think about it, horror is a tricky genre to get right. How hard is it to scare, I mean genuinely scare people? The line between something terrifying and something that is unintentionally funny is sometimes hard to traverse. Of course some films use this to their advantage, ranging from "The Evil Dead" series, to "Shaun of the Dead" to "An American Werewolf in London" right up to "Drag Me To Hell"; a film that shares a few parallels with "Insidious". It's a difficult balance and one that "Insidious" never fully commits to throughout its running time. For most of it, the film is a deliberately creepy and deliciously unnerving jaunt through a haunted house; a sub-genre I haven't seen in a few years. And yet, as atmospheric and tense as it gets, there are moments in this which are decidedly more eccentric than the average horror cinema goer might like. This is by no means a bad thing; in fact it was something I was lapping up throughout. For two thirds, the film is by far, one of the better shockers I have seen in recent memory. But then the dreaded third act curse happened. This is something I cannot fathom when it rears its ugly head. Simply put, this film had me. I was prepared to let myself jump and squirm along with the audience, and loving where it was bringing me. But the problem with these types of horrors, is that they have to inevitably explain where the danger and spiritual threat is coming from. And so the film succumbs to three of the things that always render any horror film unscary, in my opinion. It tells us where the menace is coming from, why, and then shows us what it is. Things hidden and barely hinted at will always go farther in audiences head, than anything film makers can explain or show us. Which brings me back to my point; where the film more at ease with its humour, the ending could have worked better. You see when the film decided to forgo any of its mystery then the oddity of where the film takes us would have delivered had it utilised some of its more humourous undertones. Rather than this almost-great horror film we have here; something far more annoying than any bad film could ever be. Like a loved one, this film had won my trust and respect. I cared about its characters and story. Then it betrayed me. This is far worse than a film I never held any feeling for could ever do.

The film is set with a young family moving into the 'house of their dreams'. Then small but strange things happen around the house. Things get moved, odd sounds are heard, and there are brief visions glimpsed. Suddenly, one of their children Dalton, goes into a coma. The Doctors don't seem to know what is wrong with him and he is not responding to anything. It seems he is just an empty vessel. As they bring their young child back home, more and more creepy doings occur, all the while sending the young couple, Josh (Patrick Wilson) and Renai (Rose Byrne) into an ever more frenzied state. When they turn to a medium (Lin Shaye) things get really scary. For most of its running time, the film effortlessly builds tension. Most of the fantastic shocks and jumps that happen nearly all land because the film has earned them. The cast all help sell the scares as the talented Wilson and Byrne have a track record of doing. However credit where credit is due, the films success is down to director James Wan and writer Leigh Whannell, the duo best known for creating the "Saw" franchise. Now while I was never a fan of any of those exercises in gore, I was most pleasantly surprised that they both eschew from any violence or viscera to help the scares in this film. They rely on atmosphere, and the film works wonders because of this. Littered throughout, is obvious, loving homages to their favourite horror films; a bit of Raimi here, a dollop of "The Shining", "Poltergeist" and "Susperia" there. It also is linked to producer Oren Pelis "Paranormal Activity", of which he himself wrote and directed, and something which I'm sure was a friendly source of rivalry on set. Put simply, when this film is good, it more than delivers on shocks. But then that ending happens.

These guys know their horror and have proved that they know how to do it without relying on gore effects and elaborate and overly confusing/nonsensical plotting. The film is pleasingly simple. It follows a nice line of atmospheric set up-jump-laugh-rinse and repeat formula. Before it is fully revealed, it has a great demon antagonist who is after Daltons body. But then the creators go too far into their retro homaging. Put simply, some might not like the slightly cheesy, smoke machine infused and dimly lit world they bring us into for the films climax. It is a misjudged step too far. I know for me, it spoiled everything that had gone before it. This is a huge shame. "Insidious" had a great chance at being one of my favourite recent horror films, something that is few and far between nowadays. The cast all deliver, and the film has the best scares you may see all year, but it is the director/writers own instincts, which hamstrings them.

Verdict: 6/10
For two thirds of its running time this is a fantastic throughback haunted house movie. Pity it doesn't stay true to its initial set up for the denouement. That which is in the shadows is always going to be more scary, than anything that is revealed.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

"The Hobbit" - Production Blog

We've been given updates surrounding every stage of casting and (the infamously tortuous) pre production, but today Peter Jackson has released the first in his production blogs. For any fans of "The Lord of the Rings", this is incredibly thrilling. I defy any fans not to get shivers of excitement seeing all the newly rebuilt sets from the original trilogy mixed with that music. Things have been incredibly difficult in getting the film to this stage, so lets hope for everyones sanity that all their troubles are behind them. The cast seem to have the right amount of camaraderie as the original Fellowship did over ten years ago and everyones heart seems intent on bringing Tolkiens classic to the screen in the very best form it can be. For more head on over to Peter Jacksons Facebook page and enjoy. The excitement starts here. "The Hobbit" is finally happening.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Top 10: Extended Takes

The extended take is something that I always take great pleasure in watching in cinema. When I see one, the film immediately earns a bit more respect from me. Some see it as flashy and showy film making which it could be argued that it is, to a certain extent. I however, see it as one of the most fluid and natural forms of cinema. It is something in which all facets of film making are all in evidence, working in complete tandem at once. Great acting, cinematography, directing, set design, lighting, choreography (to name but a few) must all be at the top of their game if they expect to pull off something as difficult as an extended take. It is a means of wholly transporting you into its world, of seeing things through the characters eyes, and when it is pulled off, the results can be stunning. The best ones are those that most don't even realise actually is an extended take, so enveloping are they. For my choices here, I tried to cover a range of different films and shots, to cover a broad spectrum of films they have been used to fantastic effect in. Surprisingly, there were a lot of personal faves of mine that simply couldn't make the cut. So, in no particular order, here are my favourite extended shots of all time. Some spoilers follow.

"Children of Men"
To start things off here is one of the most recent and stunning extended takes in cinematic history. For his sci-fi classic, director Alfonso Cuoron filled "Children of Men" with plenty of extended take sequences; each one of them worthy of this list. However, I had to pick its climactic street battle, which stands out for me as one the most dynamic and all consuming action sequences I have ever seen. For those eagle eyed viewers, there actually is an invisible cut in this clip, but that makes it a no less impressive sequence.

One of the most influential long takes; this stands as one of Martin Scorsese's iconic scenes, in a career full of them. What works especially well, is that it offers a very idolised view of the mafia. In it, Scorsese invites the audience to experience life through their eyes and it is presented very seductively. It is one of the films many strengths, by mixing quite romantic scenes as evidenced here, before the violence erupts and the bodies start piling up later on.

"The Secret In Their Eyes"
An absolutely cracking Argentinian thriller from last year, this quite deservedly won the Best Foreign Film Oscar. This scene occurs just past its mid point, when we're beginning to think our heroes will never catch the man responsible for the rape and brutal murder of an innocent woman. Cut to a crowded football match, where a breathtaking foot chase occurs; all the while with the camera following the action, through almost impossible means.

A far more quieter sequence now. Director PT Anderson favors the extended takes in most of his films (just one of the reasons why he is one of my favourite directors), and so choosing just one is quite difficult indeed. In the end "Magnolia" just barely pipped "Boogie Nights", through it's sheer emotional undercurrent. Although the shot is stunningly lit and photographed, Andersons using it to focus on our introduction to the TV studios where a bulk of the action is set with these characters, adds to the reasons something about it captivates me.

"Touch of Evil"
Only Orson Welles would be so audacious as to attempts something like this sequence back in 1958. With only a few seconds into his film, Welles has the audience on the edge of their seats. The fact that a shot like this would have been far more difficult back then only cements its positioning here; although where this from a film this year it would easily merit inclusion, so masterful is it.

"The Protector"
A incredible take on what could have been a very typical action scene. What makes it special is Muay Thai expert, Tony Jaa, becoming ever more tired as the fight goes on, yet no less a force to be reckoned with as he takes down an entire building of goons. The camera follows his every move. You can see the dedication of the shot in his performance, and the weeks of planning that must have gone into this warrents it's inclusion . It's also really kick ass.

"Shaun of the Dead"
I feel like I'm cheating here by including these, but I always saw it that they are meant to be taken together. For Edgar Wrights first film, he contrasts Shauns slow growing realisation that the world is being enveloped by zombies, with the fact that on first viewing, things aren't really that different from the way they were before. We might all be zombies already. This was the first sign that Wright was going to become a young force to be reckoned with in directing.

This shot very famously apes the side to side retro video games of the 90's. Of course the focus here is on brutal violence, as we see the full extent of what Oh Dae-su (Choi Min-sik) is capable of. Here we see the limits his madness is tested to, in a very original take on the action scene. A remake was bounded about Hollywood in the years after this film was released. After scenes like this, it is obvious that any improvements are futile. The film is near perfect, and would only be diluted by Western hands.

"Hard Boiled"
Rumour has it, that John Woo decided to shoot part of his epic hospital shoot out in an uncut sequence was down more to time constraints, than a nessessary reason to include it in the story. It makes no difference and only adds to one of the greatest (and longest) shoot outs in cinema.

"Russian Ark"
Some may lament this films inclusion here, for the sheer fact that it blows all the other choices out of the water, so mind-bogglingly incredible is it. Of course the entire 90 minute film is one long and interrupted shot, a fact that is a huge testament to the astonishing film making on display. It really beggers belief that something like this was executed as flawlessly. It's only fair to point out that the film itself not exactly riveting viewing, but is still is a huge landmark in cinema history. There is simply no other like it. This clip is taken from near its climax.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Source Code

There will inevitably be some who feel a little cheated by Duncan Jones' new film. With his 2009 cult classic "Moon", Jones very successfully created a very original and low budget science fiction drama which offered plenty of room for thought and urged you to replay scenes in your head to work out its many hidden depths. In traversing his new film, doing the same again will only point out some glaring plot holes upon its denouement. It should be made clear that Jones has not set out to make 'Moon .2'. "Source Code" is an obviously more commercial piece, more concerned with its high concept set-up, than answering many of the questions it asks in its plot. Now this is by no means a bad thing as I will tell you, rather it is something that must be expected when going into see this film. While there are many out there who might see this as the first eventual slide into crowd pleasing commercialism from Jones, they should first look at what he has crafted here, rather than base it on expectations they have for his career. Judge the film on its own merits and you will be very rewarded. Those going into "Source Code" having not seen the directors previous work, and therefore having no expectations apart from wanting to see a good film will be very satisfied indeed. "Source Code" is not "Moon" but it is the most clever and engaging blockbuster since "Inception".

Now a synopsis of the plot without passing into spoiler territory will be difficult (not to mention very hard to describe) so I will give the bare minimum. Capt. Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) wakes up on a moving train amongst strangers, not knowing how he got there. Events get more confusing as Colter realises he is actually inhabiting the body of a different man, one that the commuter sitting opposite, Christina (Michelle Monaghan) seems to recognise as Sean Fentress. Then the entire train blows up killing everybody onboard. Stevens suddenly wakes up talking to Capt. Goodwin (an always luminous Vera Farmiga) and Dr. Rutledge (Jeffrey Wright). Your confusion is as great as Stevens when he is told he is to be continuously sent back into the body of Sean, to find out who was behind the bombing of that train which occured just outside of Chicago earlier that morning. With us so far? So this sets up an engaging "Groundhog Day" dynamic as Stevens must contend with the same repeated scenario again and again, in the hopes of saving a lot of people. Gyllenhaal is fantastic and the best I have seen him in a while. He plays Stevens growing confusion and panic very well and helps ease us into this world caught on an endless loop. In fact, while it's repetitious nature does occasionally become trying every now and again, it is the performances that help keep you involved. It is only Wright who seems to overact his part a little too much, and doesn't help any of his exposition and already far fetched dialogue with his delivery. But then, this is the Bowie Jr. show, and Jones proves that "Moon" was no fluke. The man has genuine chops behind the camera and easily overcomes that 'difficult second film' curse.

If there is one common thread that seems to be developing in his work it is in Jones' fascination in themes of existentialism and what it means to be 'you'. This gave "Moon" a lot of its emotional weight and it does much the same here. In fact, Jones' biggest success is in succesfully traversing big budget effects shots while still never once forgetting the all important human story, so important to its structure. As a result the film is disarmingly emotional; something I never expected from a science fiction film about exploding trains. After this Jones' career will only grow ever more exciting. He is the sci-fi genres new saving grace. He can do thoughtful low budget affairs with big issues, and he can do more action and effects driven features just as effortlessly. Now with his pick of Hollywood, we have the emergence of a genuine true talent and along with Neill Blomkamp, science fictions new saviours, both offering something the genre is in desperate need of. Vision.

Verdict: 8/10
Duncan Jones overcomes second feature jitters, complicated CGI effects and a 'think-about-it-too-much-and-it-makes-no-sense' plot to deliver an exciting and original science fiction film. The cast deliver and the film has genuine emotion to go with its explosive thrills.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Trailer - "Everything Must Go"

With the unveiling of the first thoroughly disappointing trailer for the new Hangover movie earlier today, it was looking like this mundane Friday would be remembered for that first major signpost that everything is not looking good for what seems to be the exact same retread again for the Hangover series. Then this small trailer cropped up underneath the radar. It stars Will Ferrell in the first time I've seen him in a straight role since 2006's great little gem "Stranger Than Fiction". Here he stars as a put upon man who loses his job, wife and house in the same day. It looks as offering some nice laughs, touching observations and the first time Ferrll has stretched his acting muscles in quite some time. Everybody knows he can do funny with his eyes closed, but so far the man has an untapped potential for more dramatic roles. If "Everything Must Go" delivers on its trailer then we may see more of that side of Ferrell in the future. There's no European release date set yet for the film.