Friday, 26 February 2010

McCabe & Mrs. Miller Review at Row Three

I've posted a review of Robert Altman's classic 70's western McCabe & Mrs. Miller on Row Three as part of their Easy Riders Raging Bulls Marathon:

Sunday, 21 February 2010

God Man Dog Review at Row Three

I reviewed the multi-story Taiwanese drama God Man Dog over at Row Three:

Friday, 19 February 2010

Scent Reviewed in Little White Lies

Excuse the self-publicity, but the production company I work for Blueprint: Film's latest short, Scent (which I edited) got a glowing review over at Little White Lies - check it out here.

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Capsule Reviews

Over the last month or two I've seen a few films that I didn't get round to reviewing for whatever reason, so I thought I'd collect most of them together and do some brief capsule reviews to catch up.

Terminator Salvation

Year: 2009
Director: McG
Writers: John D. Brancato & Michael Ferris
Starring: Christian Bale, Sam Worthington, Moon Bloodgood, Anton Yelchin

I first caught this at the cinema on it's release and I was pleasantly surprised to find it better than most critics were making out. Watching it a second time though was a different matter all together. Some of the action set-pieces are well staged and contain some great uses of long-takes, but the script and handling of anything other than action is woeful. I don't know how I missed all the terrible dialogue, clunky exposition and hammy performances the first time round, maybe it just caught me in the right mood. Granted it's an entertaining film in a throwaway way, but it's pretty bad at times and doesn't hold up to repeated viewings like the first two films do.


United 93

Year: 2006
Director: Paul Greengrass
Writer: Paul Greengrass
Starring: J.J. Johnson, Gary Commock, Polly Adams, Opal Alladin

I avoided this film for a while because of a number of reasons. Firstly it just seemed like a terrible idea coming so soon after the events which were beyond heavily covered in the media. I expected lots of nauseating flag waving, overly heroic characters and one dimensional villains, not to mention the thought of sitting through a two hour film where I know most of the characters will die in the end. Failure just seemed inevitable for me and even though reviews were positive upon it's release I just ignored it.

Well I can say now that I was an idiot to put off watching this film. Paul Greengrass doesn't put one foot wrong in the potential minefield of making it. Everything has been so carefully thought through; the film seems unnervingly natural (largely due to the unknown actors and loose camerawork) and because the outcome is known from the outset there's a sickening tension that makes the thought of the ending seem terrifying. Yes it's heavy going, but it's handled with such intensity that you can't help but be gripped by the ordeal. United 93 is one of the most well made films I've seen for a long long time and I would recommend anyone who put off watching it as I did to buy or rent it this instant, you won't regret it.


Mr. and Mrs. Smith

Year: 2005
Director: Doug Liman
Writer: Simon Kinberg
Starring: Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Vince Vaughn, Adam Brody

Mr. and Mrs. Smith is an enjoyable but forgettable bit of fluff. The two leads seem to be having fun (the off screen romance might have had something to do with it) and some of the action set-pieces are extravagantly over the top, but it never engages enough and the premise isn't exploited in the right ways for my liking. It has a similar set up to True Lies (which itself is a remake of a La Totale!), but I preferred that film, which has a similar level of over the top action, but balances that with some broad yet likeable humour. That's not to say Mr. And Mrs. Smith takes itself seriously, but the comedy didn't work for me, other than in a few of Vince Vaughn's scenes. Also, James Cameron has a better handle on the carnage than Doug Liman does, with True Lies trumping this in the violence and explosions stakes.



Year: 2009
Director: Zack Snyder
Writers: David Hayter & Alex Tse
Based on the Graphic Novel by: Dave Gibbons & Alan Moore (uncredited)
Starring: Malin Akerman, Jackie Earle Haley, Patrick Wilson, Billy Crudup, Matthew Goode

Even after a second viewing I still can't decide whether I like Watchmen or not. I love the graphic novel and this adaptation sticks pretty much as closely as possible to it (bar the ending and the intercut comic and news articles). This is the film's biggest problem though, it's just too close to the original source material which doesn't always translate well to the big screen. Also, recreating something this meticulously just seems like a bit of a waste of time. That said, Snyder is clearly a massive fan and visually he nails it, pulling off some of the graphic novel's iconic imagery very effectively. Controversially I think his choice to change the ending works too, although one could argue there are flaws to it's logic. Some aspects don't work though, such as a painfully cheesy sex scene and an overuse of flashy slow motion action. Watchmen was never about action, it was about the characters and I think Snyder overdoes what little violence there is in the film, which doesn't settle well with the core of the material's strengths. All in all it's a bold move to attempt to make the film in the first place and a lot of the time it works, so I'd still recommend the film, but never over the book.


The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

Year: 2007
Director: Andrew Dominik
Writer: Andrew Dominik
Based on the Novel by: Ron Hansen
Starring: Brad Pitt, Casey Affleck, Sam Rockwell, Jeremy Renner

The Assassination of Jesse James is a beautifully shot, slowly paced yet intoxicating film from the director of Chopper. It's a dissection of fame and obsession, following the Jesse James-idolising Robert Ford as he gains entry to the famed outlaw's gang and strives to take his place as a living legend. It's a brilliantly acted piece, with Casey Affleck in particular delivering a stunning performance as the deluded Ford. It looks amazing too, with a sparsely lit midnight train robbery standing out. It's a little on the long side and does feel quite slow, but the sheer quality of it all draws you in and keeps you there. I found the voiceover narration a little annoying at times, but I could see Dominik's intention in using it to make events in the film feel like they were something of history or legend. It's a great film though and it's a shame that it performed so poorly at the box office as Dominik is a talent that needs to be nurtured.


The Princess and the Frog

Year: 2009
Director: Ron Clements & John Musker
Writers: Ron Clements, John Musker, Greg Erb, Jason Oremland, Rob Edwards
Starring: Anika Noni Rose, Bruno Campos, Keith David, Michael-Leon Wooley

The Princess and the Frog is Disney going back to it's roots. Shunning 3D and sticking to old fashioned hand drawn animation (with a lot of help from computers I imagine) and employing the writer/directors behind The Little Mermaid and Aladdin, this really feels like a proper Disney film after 10 years of trying to be 'down with the kids' or struggling to keep up with Pixar's standards. Yes the film has a hammered home message and it's share of cheese, but it's presented in a refreshingly non-ironic, wholesome way that feels acceptable. It doesn't try to be anything else other than an entertaining family film packed with great songs, simple humour and a few frights to keep everyone excited. There are no lazy film or TV references ala Shrek, no over-pandering to adult audiences and no saccharine pop ballads. It whizzes along and leaves you with a big smile plastered on your face, which is exactly what I want from a Disney film. It's no Lion King and it has it's issues, but overall The Princess and the Frog is top-notch entertainment and shows that there's life in 2D animation after all.


Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Apocalypse of the Dead

Director: Milan Konjevic & Milan Todorovic
Screenplay: Vukota Brajovic, Milan Konjevic & Milan Todorovic
Producers: Milan Todorovic, Vukota Brajovic, Loris Curci, Zeljko Mitrovic
Starring: Ken Foree, Kristina Klebe, Emilio Roso, Miodrag Krstovic, Vukota Brajovic
Year: 2009
Country: Serbia/Italy/Spain
BBFC Certification: 18
Duration: 96 min

Apocalypse of the Dead (AKA Zone of the Dead) is a low budget Serbian zombie B-movie due a UK DVD release in March. Featuring a lead performance by Ken Foree, star of Dawn of the Dead and featuring a plot combining Night of the Living Dead with Assault on Precinct 13, Apocalypse of the Dead is clearly made by fans of the horror and exploitation genres. So the question is can these first time directors channel their fan-love into something close to it's influences?

Well the short answer is no. Apocalypse of the Dead shuffles (and runs) down a well-trodden path of zombie-movie clichés. The premise is that an experimental gas which can bring dead cells back to life is being transported across Serbia. Things go wrong of course and the gas container is accidentally blown open unleashing a zombie plague across the city of Pancevo. Our protagonists are chiefly a group of Interpol agents transporting a dangerous prisoner to Belgrade who end up having to work together to fight off the hordes of the undead surrounding them. Along the way they meet some teenagers coming home from a wild party, an old English professor and a psychotic bible-quoting skinhead with a never-ending arsenal of weaponry at his disposal.

That last sentence probably perked the interest of action and horror fans, but unfortunately the skinhead is criminally underused, only really pulling out all the stops at the end of the film. Plus, although he provides the film's most fun moments, he's also one of the weakest actors, struggling to deliver his pretentious dialogue with any conviction. The performances in general are a real sore point in this film. Now I usually don't care too much about the acting in zombie movies, but here it's really quite painful. The main cast members aren't the worst I've seen, they fit in with the B-movie vibe (Foree has some nice moments), but most of the supporting cast are Serbian actors forced to speak English all the time (even to each other), probably in an effort to make the film more appealing to an international audience. It means that anyone not in a starring role is either badly dubbed or stumbles through a language that is clearly not their mother tongue. Why they didn't just subtitle all of the Serbians and keep the main cast members speaking English I'll never know - their characters are supposed to be from the US anyway.

As I said though I can usually forgive cheesy performances in a film of this type, but unfortunately it didn't deliver in the departments that matter either. For me a genre movie succeeds if it either does something original with it's concept, goes way over the top in the exploitation stakes, or simply does what that genre does best (i.e. scares or excites). Apocalypse of the Dead never really does any of these. The filmmakers do nothing original at all, apart from maybe set it in Serbia. Every zombie cliché you can think of is included, from the group member being bitten early on who will need to be killed at some point (I'll let you guess when) to the old character asking to be left behind to die. As for going over the top and doing what a horror film does best, this is where the film disappointed me most. The film starts very poorly, largely because it relies heavily on the terrible supporting cast, but also because it takes a while for any serious zombie carnage to kick in. The only really impressive and exciting scene comes at the film's finale when the survivors have to fight through a vast wave of the living dead armed with a variety of guns and a samurai sword. This scene is great fun, but was too little too late for me. There are one or two moments in the middle which are entertaining enough too, such as a decapitation by harpoon, but generally it's just a queue of cheaply reproduced scenes that we've seen many times before.

I generally like to give all types of films a chance, especially horror and action movies because I'm a fan of the genres. Apocalypse of the Dead however just felt a bit lazy. The potential was there for a fun 'beer and buddies' movie, but it's overuse of actors working away from their native tongue and far too many clichés just left me wanting to revisit better films. Those who are big zombie fans and don't want anything extra added will get a few kicks from this, but I'd prefer to whack Evil Dead on again.


Thursday, 4 February 2010