Thursday, 29 September 2011

Planet of the Apes Review

Summer 2011

Genre: Fantasy Action-Adventure

Starring: James Franco, Frieda Pinto, John Lithgow, Brian Cox, Tom Felton, David Oyelowo and Andy Serkis.

Running Time: 105 mins. approx.

Certificate: 12A.

Seen At: Parrs Wood Cinemas, Didsbury.

On: Friday, 19th August, 2011.

In a summer that has seen the return of pirates, mutants, masked serial killers and a certain boy-wizard; we then turn to the slightly unusual choice of rebooting a very different movie franchise. This is actually the seventh movie incarnation of The Planet of the Apes and its counterparts – including of course the 1968 original with Charlton Heston, and the 2001 Tim Burton version, universally panned by the critics.
   This latest however, is meant to be looked upon as a prequel to all that has gone before it.
   James Franco plays Will, a young, ambitious scientist working at a facility that houses chimps to test on, whose somewhat experimental methodology leads him into developing a new gene strand which he believes, can be used as the cure to Alzheimer’s disease.
  Will’s own father, played by John Lithgow is gradually suffering from the condition himself – however of course, it must first be tested on the chimps - with revolutionary repercussions…
   After a baby chimp’s mother is fatally shot at the beginning of the film, he is adopted, reared and taught by Will. Naturally, he’s giving a sample of the strand, and the results prove astonishing.
   Named Ceaser, his cognitive skills are astonishing, but of course, it isn’t long before he grows too much into his adulthood to be kept at home, so he’s admitted into a harsh, prison-like institution with the rest of his kind. Don’t despair though, as the affects of the drug are far from wearing off, as he leads his own species on an ulrelenting uprising to fight back, and reclaim rightful domination...
   This film is simply a joy to watch on every level. The screenplay, which could so easily have become bogged down with technicality, is structurally simple and easy to follow, and it’s paced perfectly.
   James Franco is an ideal leading man, injecting Will with all the necessary sensitivity and understanding. My one and only criticism is the need for Freida Pinto, who only serves as being a completely pointless cardboard-cutout girlfriend figure for Will, and is given nothing else to do.
   Where the film really excels is in its combination of two elements: its sheer scale and both the level and indeed standard of its visual effects.
   Andy Serkis, now having become synonymous with his work with motion-capture performance with Gollum in The Lord of the Rings and another ape in King Kong, is once again utterly spellbinding as Ceaser, with every single nuance, every subtle facial expression, perfectly pitched. 
   In fact, as an audience you completely forget you’re watching incredibly detailed and lifelike computer-generated work, and just emotionally invest totally in Ceaser – he is the full force the film’s whole protagonistic drive. Surely Serkis should be in line for a deserved Oscar nomination.
    There are also a couple of jaw-dropping moments, not only in the huge- scale action sequences which occupy the last forty minutes, but also during smaller, much more intimate moments such as Ceaser’s response to a couple of human commands, as well as how the apes really form a strong bond with each other. 
   The sequences where a multitude of apes unite first on city streets and finally on the Golden Gate Bridge, are utterly breathtaking, taking on everything from entire buildings, to helicopters and ultimately humans.
   The film feels like its on an epically cinematic scale, helped enormously not only by plenty of blistering action set-pieces and some of the finest, most convincing visual-effects in years, but also by Patrick Doyle’s suitably dramatic musical score. 
   The level of the emotional component which accompanies the film is also staggering – by the end, it’s impossible not to feel moved. 
   The best film of the year so far by a mile, and certainly the most impressive and enjoyable blockbuster of the summer. Let’s hope it’s the recipient of the accolades it deserves. Intelligent, emotional, refreshing and truly spectacular.

Rating: * * * * *

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Horrible Bosses Review!

Summer 2011

Genre: Black Comedy/Caper.

Starring: Jason Bateman, Kevin Spacey, Jason Sudekis, Colin Farrell, Charlie Day, Jennifer Aniston, Jamie Foxx and Donald Sutherland.

Running Time: 99 mins. approx.

Certificate: 15.

Seen At: The Trafford Centre

On: Thursday, 28th July.

Jennifer Aniston is normally so incredibly typecast, that even before her next film starts, you feel like you’ve already seen it: optimistic and free-spirited, but unlucky-in-love, she finally finds her Mr. Right.
  So, it’s very refreshing to see her in a whole new light, playing a sexually frustrated nymphomaniac dentist no less!
   Her usual golden locks are gone, replaced by devilish brunette tones, which only serve to hammer home her character’s man-eating status even more.
   The basic premise is as follows – three supposedly ordinary friends (played by Jason Bateman, Jason Sudekis and Charlie Day), are each under the thumb of a maniacal boss.
   Bateman has to contend with Kevin Spacey’s threatening slave-driver, Day is the dental assistant to Aniston – falling as the unsuspecting victim to her frequent advances, while the third boss is my favourite of the three – Colin Farrell’s cocaine-addicted discriminator with a comb-over. They’ve had enough, and set out to inconspicuously murder each other’s bosses...
  If that scenario sounds familiar, you’re most likely remembering what I consider to be one of Hitchcock’s finest films – the 1951 classic Strangers On A Train.
  The screenplay is erratically written and patchy to say the least, which means the dialogue is only occasionally mildly amusing, whereas the film’s misleading marketing means it’s advertised as being more consistently hilarious. Considering are empathy ought to lie with the three employees, why then do we as an audience seem to have so much more time for the three horrible bosses? Because they’re the ones having all the fun.
  Kevin Spacey is clearly reveling in being so deliciously evil, Colin Farrell’s character is probably the funniest, while also oddly becoming the most insubstantial – owing to the fact it’s severely underwritten, and Aniston’s foul-mouthed innuendos are a rare treat to behold - like having her way with her patients while they’re under the influence of anesthesia – right there in the dental chair!
   The admiring, occasional homages to Hitchcockian sentiment are lovingly crafted, and the ratio between the black-comedy element verses pure, knockabout slapstick - abundant with jokes centering around split stashes of  cocaine, basic toilet-humour and cartoonish car chases – is tonally well  balanced. It’s only lacking in the diamond-sharp screenplay that could’ve made it so much funnier, considering the sheer mass of comic potential on display.

Rating: ***

Monday, 26 September 2011

Harry Potter Review

Summer 2011

Genre: Family Fantasy adventure sequel.

Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Alan Rickman, Micheal Gambon, Julie Walters, Mark Williams, Nick Moran, Maggie Smith, Ralph Fiennes, Helena-Bonham Carter, Robbie Coltrane, Tom Felton, Helen McCrory, Jason Isaacs, David Thewlis, Gary Oldman, Miriam Margoles, Kelly McDonald and John Hurt.

Running Time: 144 mins approx.

Certificate: 12A.

Seen At: Altringham.

On: Sunday, 17th July, 2011.

After ten years, seven novels, and this – the eighth and final film – this is the end of the Harry Potter phenomenon, singularly the biggest and most commercially successful book and film franchise worldwide.
  Fans around the world have been waiting a whole decade for this final showdown between our young, bespectacled Harry and – You-Know-Who…
   Hogwarts School is no longer the safe haven it once was for students. In fact, it is now in a state of total lockdown – being run by none other that the sternest of potion masters – Alan Rickman’s Professor Severus Snape, who eventually shows us where he true allegiances lie.
   It is a customarily lip-curling performance from Rickman – there’s a definitive art to the exact way he accentuates his language – really chews on those words of malice, so that if he’s playing a villain, what you then have is this tremendous sense of power and authoritarianism. He’s certainly the aspect of the series that I’ll miss the most.
  Director David Yates has had to pull out all the stops to satisfy the millions of fans and he succeeds in doing so in suitably spectacular fashion – particularly as this final chapter, has the ultimate ‘Battle for Hogwarts’. So, in terms of the special effects, it has just about everything from spells to spiders and snakes to trolls. This is where the 3D becomes especially spellbinding, most notably during Harry and Voldermort’s final duel!
  It’s an oddly somber sensation when you realize that it won’t be coming back next year, so it’s just as well that it bows out with such spectacular flair and panache.

Rating: * * * *

Friday, 23 September 2011

Transformers 3 Review

Summer 2011.

Genre: Sci-fi-Action/Fantasy/Sequel.

Starring: Shia LaBeouf, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Josh Duhamel, Patrick Dempsey, John Turturro, Tyrese Gibson, Alan Tudyk, John Malkovich, Frances McDormand, Ken Jeong and Buzz Aldrin.

Running Time: 157 mins. approx.

Certificate 12A.

Seen At: Didsbury.

On: Friday, 15th July, 2011.

Michael Bay is a fan of huge-scale blockbusters. From 2001’s epic World War Two drama Pearl Harbor, to 1998’s sci-fi disaster Armageddon and the 2005 highly original futuristic thriller The Island – the spectacle of flashy visual effects is never more evident, than in the Transformers franchise.
    Based of course on the famous children’s toy, these films pitch huge mechanical robots of virtual metal against each other.
  This time, for the third movie in the series, as the war between the Autobots and Deceptacons intensifies, we also have the somewhat far-fetched backdrop of a piece of crash-landed alien matter sabotaging the 1969 moon-landing...
   It all turns out to be quite a disappointment, which is a great shame – particularly when proceedings started off so well. We’re presented with an astonishing opening space battle – which is where the 3D aspect is really allowed to come into its own. Flying ships zoom past your head and lasers blast right in your face – but unfortunately this level of excitement fails to be maintained all the way through. Shia LaBeouf returns as the supposed ‘every-teen’ Sam Witwicky, and with the well-documented axing of Megan Fox from the series, she’s replaced by Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, who’s so extremely wooden that it’s impossible to ever feel at all captivated or engrossed by her relationship with Sam. Worse still is the total waste of such talented actors in thin, frankly rather pointless supporting roles such as John Malkovich or Ken Jeong, and particularly Frances McDormand – she has little else to do than stand around looking overly authoritative.
  That said, LaBeouf still does a great job as Sam – quick-witted, relatable and always likeable – he remains one of my favourite actors. It’ll be interesting to see him progress onto more mature roles that he set in motion with the likes of the Rear Window pastiche Disturbia, and Oliver Stone’s Wall Street sequel opposite Micheal Douglas last year.
   The technical skill involved in the huge action set-pieces remains truly staggering. Having to task of reacting to monumental robots constantly fighting each other must present a great challenge for the actors. Especially memorable is the apocalyptic sight of spacecrafts dominating the skyline, and an entire building split in half, as our characters cling on for dear life. The standard of the special effects on display is stunning.
  Also, these machines possess the ability to transform themselves into sleek sports cars – blisteringly vibrant in either orange, yellow or white. So obviously, Bay can’t write state-of-the-art sports cars into the script and resist including at least two surprisingly gripping car chases halfway through.
  And talking of the screenplay, the dialogue is maddeningly expositional, frequently clichéd and the laboriously overlong running time of well over two-and-a-half hours certainly doesn’t help matters.
  It is novel to see a rare glimpse of the real Buzz Aldrin in a cameo though, but here’s hoping that this is the last installment, to save the franchise from descending into the deliriously excessive.
    Loud, overcooked and far too unsubtle.

 Rating: * * *

Bad Teacher Review

Summer 2011

Genre: Comedy

Starring: Cameron Diaz, Justin Timberlake, Jason Segal, Lucy Punch and Phyllis Smith.

Running Time: 92 mins. approx.

Certificate: 15.

Seen at: Didsbury.

On: Thursday, 23rd June, 2011.

Comedic favourite Cameron Diaz makes a welcome return to considerably lighter material than recent years, similar to territory such as The Sweetest Thing, My Best Friend’s Wedding and There’s Something About Mary. This is her funniest role since 2008’s What Happens In Vegas opposite Ashton Kutcher. It’s a really great character for Diaz to play, because of just how fearless she is in it, proving still that she is one of the most naturally gifted comediennes in the business.
   She plays teacher Elizabeth Halsey – although teacher may be something of an overstatement.
   Lazy, rude, razor-tongued and foul-mouthed, the scenes where she arrives late for class in dark glasses either severely hung-over - sneaking an extra bottle of vodka into her desk draw - or under the influence of illegal substances, are a real treat to watch.
  Supposedly an English teacher, she resorts to the old – ‘shall we just watch the video instead of reading the book’ scenario. Consequently, her students can often be found slumped in front of a screen watching Michelle Pfeiffer in Dangerous Minds to name just one. Either that or looking on in astonishment as she takes part in a scantily-clad sponsored car wash.
   In fact, Elizabeth is only using teaching as a stop-gap in order to fund her true ambition – to have a boob job! There’s a hilarious sequence whereby she attends a demonstration of this at a clinic, and let’s just say the actress in question wasn’t wearing a bra!
Matters are further complicated for our boozy heroine, with the interference of the excruciatingly irritating Amy Squirrel (played by very funny British actress Lucy Punch) – a pristine goody-too-shoes who constantly delights in being the principal’s favourite member of staff, until her true colours are finally exposed as superficial.
  Help is at hand with the arrival of substitute teacher Scott Dellacord (woodenly played by Justin Timberlake). Needless to say, from there on in the film becomes more than a little predictable, with the pair soon falling for each other.
  A solid enough script outweighs the fact that it’s a bit too long, and it’s refreshing to note that on this occasion, the filmmakers chose to break tradition by not making the rebellious Elizabeth a totally ‘reformed character’ by the end. 
  Rating: * * *

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

X-Men 5 Review

Summer 2011

Genre: Superhero/ Sci-fi fantasy blockbuster/prequel.

Starring: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Kevin Bacon, Rose Byrne, Oliver Platt, Nicolas Hoult, Jennifer Lawrence, Lucas Till, Alex Gonzalez, January Jones, Zoe Kravitz, Jason Fleming, Caleb Landry-Jones, Rebecca Romiijn and Hugh Jackman.

Running Time: 132 mins approx.

Certificate: 12A

Seen at: Altringham

On: Sunday, 5th June, 2011.

Matthew Vaughn, who originally came to filmic fruition with a much darker, edgier project, the 2004 British gangster vehicle Layer Cake – starring Daniel Craig and Sienna Miller, then moved to considerably lighter fare with the fantastical family blockbuster Stardust. Last year, he completely reinvented the comic-book genre with the decidedly adult Kick-Ass.
   Now, he infuses those doomy sensibilities into the latest addition to the X-Men cannon. This time, it’s a prequel, telling the story of how the young versions of the brilliant Professor Charles Xavier (played by Patrick Stewart in the original trilogy) and a troubled, angst-ridden young man, Erik Lehnsherr (formally Sir Ian McKellan), came to meet.
    We’re put directly into a very bold context straight away. It’s useful to finally see the sharp antithesis established between the very privileged, public-school upbringing of Xavier, compared with the shocking origin of Erik, who, as a holocaust victim, was raised in a prisoner-of-war concentration camp.
  Considering this has the very clear watermark of a family-friendly summer blockbuster, Vaughn makes some very brave tonal choices during the opening sequences, not least Kevin Bacon’s brutal execution of Erik’s mother – not graphic in an overly explicit sense, but still surprisingly violent. At one point, during the final demise of Bacon’s antagonist, the action is slowed down, as we even see a coin pass bloodily in and out of his skull – gruesome, but effective...
  The action is then set in the early sixties. Refreshingly, the overall artistic ambiance is one heavily reminiscent of the early Sean Connery era of Bond films, mixed with a slight Kubrickan observation. Some of the best set-pieces take place in The Mandela Club – where it’s all retro skintight fashion, cool cocktails and tuxedos. 
  There’s also a plethora of new additions to the X-Men, including the flighty, winged Angel, and Banshee, who’s power manifests itself through his ability to emit sound waves. The best of the new talent however, arrives in the shape of the young Lucas Till as Havok, a human rotatory deflector-shield, who produces vivid red rays when he spins around in a hula-hooping motion to generate momentum. 
  Of course, Stewart and McKellan are two considerably impressive boots to fill, and by and large, McAvoy and Fassbender succeed admirably. It’s clever how neither portrayal turns into an exact impersonation, and yet both still manage the task of being original, and capturing their predecessors qualities. Micheal Fassbender is well on his way to fast becoming one of the most impressive and exciting emerging talents of recent years. Always relied upon to be versatile – (a hunger strike victim to vicious Nazi to comic-book adversary), his intense characterization of Lehnsherr should satisfy even the most cynical of fans. You understand how somebody who’s continually persecuted against can easily go from quietly menacing to a power-hungry megalomaniac.
  The eclectic choice of casting is also interesting. It’s great to see vastly talented television talent breaking through into movies like Mad Men’s January Jones and Damages star Rose Byrne. Jones plays Emma Frost, a modestly cool customer who can turn her whole body to icicle-encrusted diamonds. Byrne plays the impulsive Dr. Moira McTaggert, who proves she’s just as capable with the fight scenes as her male counterparts.
  A team of screenwriters, including Jonathan Ross’s wife Jane Goldman, chose the Cuban missile crisis to serve as a contextually political backdrop for the action to take place within. This is sadly never explored particularly fully, although the script does manage to sneak in a couple of really well-judged cameos from familiar faces.
  It’s also inventive to witness more perfunctory versions of later inventions in the stages of their mere infancy – such as Cerebro. We see younger versions of well known supporting characters such as Jennifer Lawrence’s Mystique and Nicholas Hoult’s blue-footed Beast – still striving in their age-old struggle for acceptance in a world fearful of abnormality.
  There’s a good dollop of mass-scale action, particularly once our heroes master the jet plane. We’re helped in understanding the reasoning behind certain situations. We finally learn exactly how Xavier ends up in a wheelchair, as well as witnessing the dawn of a new reign of terror when, in the final moments, Erik becomes Magneto as we see him only in silhouette, wearing the infamous burgundy helmet – helped enormously by Henry Jackman’s pounding final track of score.
  Original, aesthetically inventive and atmospherically refreshing.

Rating: * * *

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Pirates of the Caribbean 4 Review

Summer 2011

Genre: Action-Adventure/Blockbuster/Sequel.

Starring: Johnny Depp, Penelope Cruz, Ian McShane, Geoffrey Rush, Sam Claflin,
Astrid Berges-Frisbey, Kevin McNally, Richard Griffiths, Keith Richards and Dame Judi Dench.

Running Time: 136 mins.

Certificate: 12A

Seen at: Didsbury.

On: Saturday, 28th May, 2011.

In 2003, the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie was the unexpected runaway success of the summer. Now, two sequels later, Johnny Depp returns as the infamous Captain Jack Sparrow – a role and indeed a character, that is one of the most iconic of its generation.
   This time around, there’s a much more patriarchal feel to the proceedings, as the action opens in the courts of Buckingham Palace, where our piratical protagonist is captured and forced to face Richard Griffith’s oily King George, who sets him on a quest to find the Fountain of Youth.
   Along the way he reignites a spark with his voluptuous old flame Angelica (a fiery Penelope Cruz), who’s father just happens to be the so-called: ‘pirate all pirates fear’ – Blackbeard.
   Considering this tyrannical figure is supposedly such a threat, Ian McShane’s performance is oddly downbeat, with lots of ghoulish facial expression, but not much substance.
  Unfortunately, the absence of both Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley as young lovers Elizabeth and Will is far too keenly felt for this to equal the standard of the first three installments.
  It’s not the only problem either. The plot is as muddled and convoluted as ever, with too many double-crosses and triple crosses to keep track of. There is an influx of intriguing new talent however, in the shape of Sam Claflin as young servant boy Philip – of course the substitute for the Orlando Bloom mould. Astrid Berges-Frisbey plays a mermaid who’s given little more to do than flop around, and Geoffrey Rush is sadly rather underused.
  Thank goodness once again then for Johnny Depp. It’s a joy to see this character again, and Depp infuses Sparrow with his trademark sparkle, wacky facial expressions and sharply anecdotal witticism. ‘I saw everything – I can name fingers and point names’ – is one of many slurred sayings that are slyly observational.
   The action set-pieces are also suitably impressive. Early on, Sparrow is seen balancing on top of two horse carriages, one of which is occupied by a quixotic society lady – none other than Judi Dench – in a delightful blink-and-you’d-miss-it cameo. Assuming she is about to be propositioned by the dashingly irreverent Sparrow, Depp simply snatches one of Dench’s earrings as she replies incredulously: ‘Is that it?’.
  Where the original film utilized the conceit of pirates turning skeletal in the moonlight, here we have the price that mutineers must pay while under Blackbeard’s servitude, as well as a genuinely spooky mermaid attack, made all the more unsettling by the duel combination of Hans Zimmer’s rousingly shocking score, and of course the novel addition of 3D.
   3D was at its very best when suited to the florescent, frenetic frenzy of a huge effects vehicle like TRON. Here, the overall feel – cinematographically at least -  is rather dark and dingy occasionally – but thankfully, there are plenty of moments that serve the extra dimension very well – with the tip of a sword swung right up into your face.
  To conclude, this is a lively, always entertaining mixture, of laughs, adventure and extravagant effects, with Depp on peak form and a witty screenplay, but here’s hoping that Bloom and Knightley decide to agree to reunite once again when the sails are set for a rumored fifth outing. I wonder just how much leverage is left in a filmic formula where they remain absent – because these wonderful movies – my favourite film franchise of all time – it just isn’t the same without them!

Rating: ***

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Scream 4 Review

May 2011.

Genre: Horror/Comedy/Sequel.

Starring: Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox-Arquette, David Arquette, Emma Roberts, Hayden Panettiere, Rory Culkin, Erik Knudsen, Nico Tortorella, Marielle Jaffe, Marley Shelton, Alison Brie, Mary McDormand, Adam Brody, Anthony Anderson, Anna Paquin, Kristen Bell and Roger Jackson.

Running Time: 111 mins. Approx.

Certificate: 15.

Seen at: The Trafford Centre’s Odeon Cinemas.

On: Thursday, 5th May, 2011.

In 1996, horror veteran Wes Craven, who made his name with a plethora of terrifying horror classics such as The Last House On The Left, The Hills Have Eyes, Friday The 13th and Nightmare On Elm Street, completely remade and reinvigorated the tired slasher genre that was once so popular with such milestones as John Carpenter’s 1978 seasonal babysitter shocker Halloween.
    Scream, like Jamie Lee-Curtis before her, made a scream-queen out of Neve Campbell as Sydney Prescott, an unsuspecting teenager who falls victim to being stalked by a masked serial-killer, known elusively only as ‘Ghostface’...
    From the moment Drew Barrymore picked up that fateful phone in the opening sequence and heard the chilling catchphrase – ‘What’s your favourite scary movie?’, Craven solidified Ghostface as an instantly iconic killer of the classic horror-movie cannon, in a similar mould to Freddy Kruger and Micheal Myers.
   The most distinctive watermark that makes the Scream  franchise so unique is the fact that its screenplays are constantly referencing the movies throughout , both visually, and in their dialogue. There’s endless talk of body counts, remakes and sequels. Craven is so refreshing in the method he utilises in approaching his audiences. He’s saying that we already know all of the conventions of the genre, so he then delights in usurping each one of them. Phones ring, doors creek ajar and shadows lurk outside windows, but always, never in the way we expect.
Lines like: ‘I’ll be right back!’ and ‘The five things you must do to survive a horror movie are…’, are constructed in such a way as to make the characters think they’re almost in a movie of their own.
  Scream also has the admirable distinction of being the only horror franchise that is actually just as funny and clever as it is scary or gory, with audiences screaming and laughing in equal measure – a notoriously difficult conceit to accomplish. It does this in such a way that strikes a pitch-perfect balance between always being just light-hearted enough, with its tongue firmly in its cheek but always without descending into spoofery territory, such as the parody of the Scary Movie series, which are funny films in their own right and certainly have their place, but only if you’ve seen - and are a fan of – what they are parodying.
     With this latest instalment, it’s ten years since the excessive events of Scream 3, and Sidney Prescott, now a life-coach author, chooses for some reason to return to her secluded hometown of Woodsbourghro – you’d have thought she’d have known better by now wouldn’t you?
   No sooner has she arrived back, when the phone rings (what else?) only for Ghostface’s chilling tones to declare: ‘Welcome home Sidneeey, watch the preview of coming events’...
   Because a decade’s past, of course technology has changed a great amount, so whereas the original trilogy had the distinct nineties zeitgeist of high-school lockers and house-phones, appropriately, this time around, Facebook, iphones, BlackBury’s apps and Twitter are all quickly established to reflect the apparent rise in social networking.
      David Arquette is still Dewey Riley, officially the worst police officer in cinematic history, and his wife, formally news reporter Gale Weathers is now a struggling novelist. Suffice is to say, it’s not long before this latest gaggle of perfect-looking teenagers are gradually disposed of one by one...
    In the now legendary pre-credits sequence, this one is particularly inventive as it sees three sets of teenagers each watching an instalment of the film’s very own movie franchise – Stab. It’s tantalisingly clever, as it completely fools us, subverting our expectations of what we think we’re watching, despite the fact that many of the purposefully clichéd conventions are still present in homage to the original, including a hapless victim’s particularly gruesome fate with an electric garage door.
     Other Hitchcockian references are especially clever this time around as well, whether it be a Vertigo-like fall from a parking lot, or a mock-up of the foreboding,  low-angle shot of the showerhead from Psycho’s iconic shower scene.
So clever, and just so much fun to watch. Here’s hoping there’s a fifth one soon...
Rating: * * * *

Monday, 12 September 2011

The Tourist Review

January 2011.

Genre: Action/Adventure/Spy/Crime/Romance.

Starring: Johnny Depp, Angelina Jolie, Paul Bettany, Steven Berkoff and Timothy Dalton.

Running Time: 103 mins. approx.

Certificate: 12A.

Seen At: The Trafford Centre’s Odeon Cinemas.

On: Sunday, 16th January, 2011.
Picture the scene: Kevin Spacey’s Verbal Kint is walking down a street gradually dropping the pretence of being physically afflicted as his hand straightens, and his formally inward feet return to normal. We then cross-cut to a fax machine as a hand-drawn e-fit of a mythical serial killer is being printed. Suddenly, the penny drops and Kint is finally revealed as the notorious Keyser Soze. Thus ends one of the most famous and classic shockers’ ever in modern cinema, as the twist in a deadly game of cat-and-mouse finally reaches its crescendo, in 1995’s double oscar-winner, The Usual Suspects.
   Its screenwriter Christopher MacQuarie, pens this latest project from a director with the best name in the business, Florien Henkel Von Donnersmark, who burst onto the directorial scene a few years ago with flair and substance with the lives of others.
   Many of the ingredients which MacQuarie weaved in so well into Suspects are thankfully still present, (the teasing chase of cat-and-mouse for instance), but they just lack quite as much punch. In typical style again, there is a final twist, but it’s rather more damp squib than fire-in-the-hole when really, there is no surprise at all.
  But actually, none of that matters when this is so much more fun and enjoyable than Suspects. Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie are an absolute powerhouse example of Hollywood casting at its peak – casting two of the industries’ most bankable stars really works a treat.
  Depp plays Frank Tupelo, a shady and unassuming everyman who meets Jolie’s glamorous femme fatale Elise Ward on a train. A case of mistaken identity ensues as Frank is thrown into a world of intrigue, kidnap and attempted murder. Depp is clearly having fun as he jumps over rooftops and dodges bullets.
    It transpires that Elise’s ex-lover is arch criminal Alexander Pearce who owes a large sum of money to Steven Berkoff’s threateningly imposing antagonist. Frank is of course mistaken for Pearce... 
   What I loved so much about it was all the elements of both the classic, traditional old-style Hollywood caper and its glamour, captured perfectly. The handsome, relatable leading man, a stunningly beautiful temptress, and a truly magnificent setting (in this case, the picturesque gondolas and sunsets of Venice), or various Hitchcockian MaGuffins.
    John Seale’s glossy, luminescent cinematography is simply gorgeous, whether it be photographing boat chases, a ballroom sequence or Jolie in one of her many mesmeric dresses. ‘You look ravenous’ says Frank, with a twinkle in his eye, as he prepares to accompany Elise to luxurious ball. ‘Don’t you mean ravishing?’ Elise asks. ‘I do’  is Frank’s chuckled reply.
   The rich dialogue retains all the humorous wit and sparkle you’d expect from our two stars, again wonderfully reminiscent of Hollywood’s golden age.
   It’s fiendishly Hitchcockian – it is of course no accident that these two characters should first meet on a train – there is of course the obvious comparison with 1951’s wonderful Strangers On A Train, but you suspect that cast and crew were even more heavily influenced by one of my most favourite pictures by the master of suspense, the Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint 1959 classic – North By Northwest.     
    One of the most striking qualities of the film is James Newton-Howard’s pacy, conspiratorial score.  Starlight and Map of the Problematique are just two of the songs on the soundtrack, by the brilliant band, Muse, and they prove an ideal choice.
It’ll also come as little surprise to learn that the relationship between our duo is practically sizzling before too long.
    One of the best and cleverest films of the year, if only for sheer, simple entertainment value. Depp is outstanding in one of his very best roles. 

Rating: * * * *

Sunday, 11 September 2011

The Kings Speech Review

January 2011.

Genre: Biopic/Biography/Period-Drama/War.

Starring: Colin Firth, Helena Bonham-Carter, Geoffrey Rush, Guy Pearce, Michael Gambon, Timothy Spall, Jennifer Ehle, Derek Jacobi, Claire Bloom and Ramona Marquez.

Running Time: 118 mins. approx.

Certificate: 12A.

Seen At: Parrs Wood Cinemas, Didsbury.

On: Monday, 10th January, 2011.

The true stories of the Royle Family are always a great success with award voters. Five years ago in 2006, Stephen Frears directed one of his finest films, The Queen,  with Dame Helen Mirren’s magisterial portrayal of Queen Elizabeth II – for which she deservedly swept the accolade board.
   Now, distinctive second time director Tom Hooper, already experienced with biopics in his first feature of football manager Brian Clough in The Damned United, collaborates with the immensely talented British actor, our very own Colin Firth, in the charming, inspirational and heartwarming true story of King George VI’s struggle to overcome a terrible stutter – and his tutorship under the speech therapist Dr. Lionel Logue, in his attempts to rectify the impediment.
   It’s in fact his wife’s idea to find alternative treatment. Bertie, as he was affectionately known by his friends and family, had tried everything including marbles to aid in ridding him of his stammer.
   There is a heartbreaking scene towards the beginning of the film, where, at one of his public speeches in the stands of a racecourse, the future King’s throat becomes clogged with the debilitating stammer, as his nerves get the better of him.
     Remember, the mid nineteen thirties was also a time when the birth of radio was just starting to become conceptualized, so, up until a time came when more sophisticated recording devices were to be developed, politicians and newscasters had no choice but to deliver their speeches in public. So ensues an enduring, touching and at times highly amusing relationship with Logue, a charismatic Australian whose methods are more than just a little unorthodox… Don’t be too fooled by its seemingly simple premise though, there is a definite dark layer ever-present consistently, whether they be personal – (Goerge V’s death, or Bertie’s recounting of the premature death of his younger brother, Prince John, at the hands of the then unnamed disease of epilepsy).  Or, on a far more worldwide scale – (the pounding threat of the impeding Second World War)...
   Don’t at all be deterred to join the millions of cinemagoers who are currently sending the multiplexes takings skyrocketing though. One of the film’s most endlessly endearing qualities is its great capacity for warmth and humour, most notably in another attempt to help relax Bertie’s vocal chords, he lets fly a tirade of expletive swearing, in one of the funniest scenes.
    The level of both the popularity and awards buzz surrounding this film is huge. In the truest possible sense of the phrase, it really has captured all the hearts of the nation.
  Colin Firth, as was the case with Helen Mirren before him, has most deservedly won every major award of the season. It is an absolutely masterly performance. With the stutter in question, he captures it so expertly, you can even see Firth’s vocal chords tightening and blocking with vulnerability. There are even moments when the burden placed on him as the future King (due to his mocking brother, Guy Pearce’s Edward VII’s abdication of the throne thanks to his scandalous affair with the American socialite and divorcee Wallis Simpson), simply becomes too much.
  Outstanding support includes a pitch-perfect performance from the eclectic Helena Bonham-Carter as Bertie’s wife (the future Queen Mother), and Geoffrey Rush’s wonderfully funny turn as therapist Lionel. ‘Your physicians are idiots’ he remarks. ‘They’ve all been knighted’ is Bertie’s reply. ‘Makes it official then’ is Logue’s smug retort.
  Artistically, proceedings are a faultless marvel. Whether it be a gently atmospheric score by stalwart Alexandre Desplat, the haunting sight of blip zeppelin’s towering above the London cityscape, blisteringly voyeuristic, frequently low-angled cinematography from Danny Cohen to put us directly at the heart of the action, or an acerbically sharp, witty screenplay from David Seidler. The peerless final scene of Bertie’s final speech, where Logue is almost conducting opposite him as he addresses the troops and we cross-cut to the trenches accompanied by Beethoven, is so uplifting you’ll feel like cheering him on. A sensational delight and instant classic.

Rating: ***** 

Friday, 9 September 2011

Meet The Little Fockers Review

New Year 2011

Genre: Comedy/Sequel.

Starring: Ben Stiller, Robert De Niro, Teri Polo, Blythe Danner, Owen Wilson, Jessica Alba, Dustin Hoffman, Barbara Streisand and Laura Dern.

Running Time: 98 mins. Approx.

Certificate 12A.

Seen At: Parrs Wood Cinemas, Didsbury.

On: Wednesday, 5th January, 2011.

The original Meet the Parents was a worldwide smash-hit, with the inspired pairing of comedic favourite Ben Stiller and Hollywood great Robert De Niro, both proving to audiences just how funny they both are.
  An even more impressive sequel followed in 2004, introducing us to Greg’s (Stiller’s) full-on parents played by Dustin Hoffman and Barbara Streisand.
  Now, a trilogy is created. It’s smartly released over the festive season not only to increase its box-office success but more importantly because it presents an endless capacity for various yuletide-related humour, most memorably a messily disastrous carving of the turkey at the annual family thanksgiving.
  There’s a flurry of new characters such as Jessica Alba’s conniving gold-digger colleague, and a brilliant turn from Jurassic Park’s Laura Dern as a spritely schoolteacher. It’s lovely to see Dern back on the big screen – she’s and actress I feel we don’t see enough of – here’s hoping the spinning rumour-mill regarding the alleged fourth instalment of the blockbusting dinosaur franchise is true.
   One observation of this film though, is that considering its title refers specifically to the children of that nearly profanity-sir-named family – for all its visual jokes and comic misunderstanding, not very many of either seem to feature the youngsters themselves.
  The focus remains instead on the continued retorted sparring between the affably unlucky Stiller and the grimacing disapproval of De Niro’s Jack – either caught up in a word of words or an unfortunate bathroom incident. Alas, once again toilet-humour never fails to make an appearance, even if a substantial amount of that involves one of the best running gags of the series – Mr. Jinx the Persian cat!
  Performance wise, Hoffman and Streisand’s relationship is still among one of the highlights, they bounce of each other wonderfully – it’s just unfortunate that Hoffman in particular is rather underused.
  To conclude, while not quite equalling the hilarity that ensued in the second film, this does actually surpass the original.

Rating: ***

Thursday, 8 September 2011

MegaMind in 3D! Review

Christmas 2010

Genre: Animation/Family-Comedy/Spoof.

Starring: (the voices of): Will Ferrell, Tina Fey, David Cross, Ben Stiller and Brad Pitt.

Running Time: 95 mins. approx.

Certificate: PG. (Contains mild, comic, action-fantasy-violence).

Seen At: Parrs Wood Cinemas, Didsbury.

On: Sunday, 5th December, 2010.

Thankfully, over the past few months there’ve been a brilliant cluster of computer-generated animations presented in glorious 3D, such as Toy Story 3 and the final Shrek installment. A lot of these films though, have either underused this fantastic tool, or, if it’s possible, even bombarded its audience with too much.
  Here however, refreshingly filmmakers have the restrained balance exactly right – pulling back with only occasional, subtle flourishes of brilliance that really make a difference – whether it be a droplet of rain, the flash of a ray-gun or the peerlessly dazzling cityscape of the comic book-inspired setting, MetroCity.
   The combination of superheroes and animation is nothing new, the most notable examples being of course Pixar’s The Incredibles and more recently, Despicable Me. But what sets this apart, is a catalogue of very cleverly understated references taken from many sci-fi, or superhero movies. From Star Wars to Superman, there’s hardly a film in the genre that isn’t either parodied or spoofed ingeniously...
  Will Ferrell voices Megamind our bright blue dome-headed antagonist who once delighted in being bad but now strives to be a reformed character.
  But not before he’s kidnapped the beautiful hotshot news reporter Roxanne Ritchie voiced by Tina Fey...
  Enter Brad Pitt’s Metroman, my favourite character: an arrogant, vain, quaffed high-flyer adored by his public in the Clark Kent/Superman mould...
  Complete with a hugely upbeat soundtrack with hits including Michael Jackson’s Bad, AC/DC and Elvis’s A Little Less Conversation, this is the best, most enjoyable animation of the year. Vividly colourful and endlessly inventive, this is also the first computerized feature to use 3D technology to its full potential, due to a beautifully crafted, even tactile, attention to detail.
  Hugely entertaining!

Rating: ****
Image result for metro man megamind

Monday, 5 September 2011

Pirahna 3D Review

August 2010

Genre: Horror/Comedy/Remake

Starring: Steven R. McQueen, Jessica Szohr, Elizabeth Shue, Kelly Brook, Jerry O’Connell, Ving Rhames, Adam Scott, Richard Dreyfuss and Christopher Lloyd.

Running Time: 88 mins.

Certificate: 18.

Seen At: Parrs Wood’s Cinemas, Didsbury.

On: Thursday, 26th August, 2010.

The deep blue sea and its inhabitants have been scaring the life out of audiences for almost four decades. This was due of course to the colossal success of the very first blockbuster, in 1975 that made holidaymakers everywhere stay out of the water – Jaws. How fitting then that the opening sequence of this latest summer 3D effects-extravaganza should feature an unsuspecting Richard Dreyfuss, sitting in a tiny fishing boat in the middle of a secluded lake...
  As you might have guessed, he doesn’t last long though. Soon, he’s descending into a whirlpool after being the latest meal to a swarming school of bloodthirsty piranhas...
   Thousands of teenagers then arrive at that very lake in question – Florida’s Lake Victoria, to party over their spring break. Needless to say, those clear-blue waters soon turn a distinct shade of red, as prey is served and predators tuck in...
  The film’s tagline ‘3D shows its teeth’ actually couldn’t be more apt – once the proper carnage really starts, these monstrous creatures of the deep really do look and feel like they’re teeth will come and devourer you up! The 3D itself is on blisteringly terrific form, using every opportunity to great effect. The actual attack scenes themselves are both exhilarating and entertaining to watch, without ever being unnecessarily brutal or gratuitously gory.
  Of course, with the effects being as seamless and superb as they are, the dialogue is often weak, clichéd, even predictable, but there’s one aspect of the script that is surprising; that is that it is just as funny as it is scary – whether you find that this is the case for the right reasons however is an open question.
The majority of roles are somewhat underdeveloped, with most performances being poorly acted, but Christopher Lloyd almost steals the show as a piranha expert.
  If the rumors are to be believed, filming has already started on a sequel to be released next November. Lloyd’s startling revelations in the  final scene certainly provide an ideal set-up for a return. For me, personally I can’t wait to see more, if only because this is so much fun to watch, as it had me screaming and laughing in equal measure – bring on the next one! Enormously entertaining!

Rating: * * * *