Monday, 26 April 2010

Cemetery Junction Review at Row Three

I've posted a review of the disappointing Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant film Cemetery Junction over at Row Three:

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Gutter King

Director: Keith Alan Morris
Screenplay: Keith Alan Morris
Producers: Antoine de Clermont-Tonnerre, Malte Grunert, Jennifer Kawaja, Julia Sereny & Sytze Van Der Laan
Starring: Zeb Crown, Casey Clark, Erica Ramirez, Blake Logan
Year: 2010
Country: USA
BBFC Certification: 15
Duration: 96 min

I was quite excited when I got Gutter King sent over to review from my good friends at Metrodome. As regular readers will know I love a good action movie and the thought of getting to give my first impressions on a fight-fest that no one else seems to have seen yet was enough to get my hopes up. It also had quite a cool looking cover that suggested a no-holds-barred action extravaganza. Unfortunately it didn't quite live up to that promise.

Surprisingly, Gutter King places more of an emphasis on the drama than the action, which of course isn't necessarily a bad thing, but when the dramatic elements aren't particularly well handled or interesting I kind of wished they'd have stuck to the fighting. The film tells the story of Will (Zeb Crown), a young offender pulled out of juvenile hall by Bob (Casey Clark) to start a new life with him and another foster-child Paul (Blake Logan). Will soon finds out however that Bob's motives aren't entirely charitable as he is secretly utilizing these aggressive young men to fight in underground bare-knuckle fighting tournaments. Will still ends up getting caught up in the world though, mainly to help raise money to run away with the girl next door, BeBe (Erica Ramirez) who is struggling herself with an abusive father among other problems. Meanwhile, Bob's previous fighting prodigy Paul gets increasingly jealous of Will's success and makes his life as hard as possible whilst they live under the same roof.

The bare bones of the narrative are pretty standard action movie fare, but it's presented very solemnly with an indie/arthouse sort of feel which theoretically should raise it above and beyond the usual trashy genre entries, but the filmmakers don't have the talent to pull it off. This results in a film stuck in a ditch between classy character-driven indie film and cheesy fight-filled action movie, a balance that didn't work for me. I think a major problem was that the narrative is quite poorly constructed. The film just doesn't flow very smoothly and a lot of the character's actions lack the appropriate level of motivation to make them acceptable. The performances don't help either, everyone comes across as bland and the leads spend most of the film moping around and throwing little hissy-fits now and again, it's like watching some sort of 'emo' action movie. The two street-fighting foster-brothers are strangely cast too, with neither of them that convincing as hardened offenders. Logan in particular who plays Paul just seems quite camp most of the time, mainly due to his constant over the top sulking.

There are some positive aspects to Gutter King though. When the action does take place it is fairly solid and well handled, it just takes a while for any full on fight scenes to appear. It lacks the grace and acrobatic prowess of Asian martial arts films, but makes up for it with a visceral yet not overly edited style. The film looks nice in general actually, with some fetching shallow focus photography on display. This is unfortunately let down by some horrendous sound work though. The music featured is strong, if a little overused, but the location sound recording is terrible and mixed way too low against the music which meant I was straining to hear what was being said half the time.

Gutter King is a film that doesn't seem to know what it wants to be and ends up failing to satisfy in both the action and dramatic departments. It takes itself way too seriously to be a fun fight film and is too poorly produced to pull off the indie drama that it seems to be reaching for at times. Some may appreciate the fact that it's trying to add more substance and weight to a much-maligned genre, but for me it just didn't work.


Gutter King is released on 26th April by Metrodome.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Cinema Review Roundup

I've watched a few cinema releases recently that I didn't get round to reviewing here or at Row Three, so I thought I'd do some brief write-ups on everything I saw to bulk up my database. Plus I had another home alone movie marathon last weekend (not the Home Alone movies, I mean in the literal sense), so look out for a write-up on that over the next few days.

Alice in Wonderland

Year: 2010
Director: Tim Burton
Writers: Linda Woolverton
Based on the Books by: Lewis Carroll
Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Anne Hathaway, Crispin Glover

I'm going to be really lazy for this one and just paste chunks of what I wrote on Row Three's Alice R3view comments page:

The film just didn’t engage with me at all, it was all so flat (no 3D related pun intended) and lifeless. It looked nice, but even then it didn’t feel like a particularly new vision, just Tim Burton-lite. The overuse of not particularly impressive CGI didn’t help, giving it a glossy, uncanny sheen. I much prefer to see Burton’s gothic imagery in the flesh so to speak. On a positive note I liked Helena Bonham Carter and the Cheshire Cat, they always gave the film a boost when they came on screen, but no one else grabbed me as such. I thought Alice herself was a little bland and uninteresting, she was supposed to be this quirky woman who defies convention, but she never sold it to me, just coming across as dull half the time. Plotwise it felt too much like a retread of the original story, which made the idea of having Alice older a little pointless although on a whole that worked. The second half just gets into textbook fantasy adventure territory too, but without enough weight behind it to make it exciting.

On Avatar vs. Alice: Personally I much preferred Avatar. They’re both all about the spectacle of course, but Avatar’s narrative, however clich├ęd and cheesy, was actually quite engaging and I was caught up in the fight for Pandora. Alice on the other hand just seemed so uneventful, things just happened one after another and characters just drift in and out without really adding anything to the story. Not that it felt random or messy, it just had no drive or drama. I disagree that it had to be funny, but there were moments that were clearly supposed to be and failed. Johnny Depp’s dance at the end for instance was painful. What the film should have been though was exciting or at least captivating, but instead it was a load of scenes we’ve seen before in other Alice incarnations strung along a feeble story with an overabundance of uncanny-looking CGI.


Shutter Island

Year: 2010
Director: Martin Scorsese
Writers: Laeta Kalogridis
Based on the Novel by: Dennis Lehane
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley, Max Von Sydow, Michelle Williams

Scorsese's latest is a retro B-movie throwback using films like Sam Fuller's Shock Corridor as a clear inspiration. Everything from the music to the stunning cinematography is bombastically done, in my mind for the better. It seems rough around the edges at times (Scorcese and editor Thelma Shoonmaker give continuity error spotters a field day), but this feels at least partially purposeful as the director pays homage to a style of filmmaking long gone as well as using some jarring techniques to mess with the audience's minds. The film is an impressively visceral experience, not in the fast-cutting, shaky-cam way that the Bourne films are, but in bombarding the audience with big sounds and visuals that create a cinematic feel rather than a realistic one.

Content wise it's pretty solid too with an absorbing mystery that turns into a nightmarish thriller. Revelations towards the end of the film feel a little obvious and unsettle the ride the film has taken you on, but a nice touch right at the end makes up for it. This is Scorcese's best for a while.


The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

Year: 2009
Director: Niels Arden Oplev
Writers: Nikolaj Arcel & Rasmus Heisterberg
Based on the Novel by: Stieg Larsson
Starring: Michael Nyqvist, Noomi Rapace, Lena Endre, Peter Haber, Sven-Bertil Taube

The Girl With the Dragoon Tattoo is a consistently engrossing thriller which starts off feeling like something fairly conventional, but draws you in incredibly deeply and adds layers of darkness and character development often lost in general Hollywood fare. The side story (if you can call it that) involving Lisbeth Salander (brilliantly played by Noomi Rapace) is especially shocking and fascinating. The filmmakers don't put a foot wrong for the most part, keeping the viewer on the edge of their seat despite a fairly leisurely pace. The only place that I felt they stumbled was in the last 15 or 20 minutes when the film ties up all the loose ends. It's clearly important to do so, but the preceding 2 hours are so slow burning and dark it makes the rapid and straightforward coda seem out of place, especially since it's stretched out for a fairly long time after the dramatic climax of the film. For the most part this is excellent stuff though and is highly recommended.