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34 reviews in total 
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Outrage (2010)
15 out of 20 people found the following review useful:
Yakuza mayhem à la Takeshi Kitano, 30 March 2011

Viewed at the Festival du Film, Cannes 2010

Takeshi Kitano's return to his familiar stamping ground, the Yakuza, their intrigues, vendettas and highly inventive ways of inflicting extreme unpleasantness on one another, was given less than a stellar welcome by critics at the Festival. A common refrain was that there was nothing new on offer here, no new insights, just a retread of the familiar. Well, they are right, but is that really such a bad thing?

I say no, not when we get tough guys, sharp suits, black humour, extreme violence (you might never want to visit the dentist again), a convoluted plot that is hard to follow but has something to do with rivalry, inheriting the reins of power and inflicting extreme violence on the other team. Oh yes, there's also betrayal and extreme violence.

Outrage is old-school Takeshi Kitano, a (for me) welcome return to his glory days, not that he ever left them behind (I've time for all his films, if not his gameshows). If you like the man, as actor or director, then you won't be disappointed by this film, just as long as you are not expecting something new and different, that is.

Thirst (2009)
28 out of 35 people found the following review useful:
A vampire film but different, 15 May 2009

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Viewed at the Festival de Cannes 2009

Sang-hyun, a beloved and admired priest in a small town serves devotedly at a local hospital. He goes to Africa to volunteer as a test subject, is infected by a deadly virus and dies. A blood transfusion brings him back to life and turns him into a vampire. Word spreads that he is a healer and people flock to him. Among them is an old friend, Kang-woo, and his wife, Tae-ju. She and Sang-hyun begin a love affair, which soon spins off into murder. While Sang-hyun tries to hold onto his humanity (he refuses to kill and has a novel way of getting the blood he needs), Tae-ju really gets into this whole vampire thing, whereupon Sang-hyun realises something has to be done.

Fans of Park Chan-Wook will have no trouble with this film. Yes, all his visual tricks and techniques are there, but he sets them in scene as skillfully as ever.

The performances, every single one of them, are all top notch. The blood, when it comes, is red and raw. At the same time, this is still very much the thinking person's vampire film. If you're into wooden stakes, bats, garlic, holy water, decapitations etc. then this isn't the film for you. If you enjoyed, for example, Abel Ferrera's The Addiction (1995), then it most definitely is.

Typically for a park Chan-Wook film, especially coming on the heels of I'm A Cyborg, But That's OK, there is a lot of humour; black, mordant and very funny, both visual and verbal. The audience at the press screening laughed frequently and often loudly.

The fact it's a vampire film may deter some viewers, which would be a pity. It makes me want to say "It's a vampire film, but ..." and then tell them why, if that's a problem, they should overcome it and give the film a chance. It would also be unfair to call Thirst (to use its international title) a horror film, given the connotations associated with that label. If you can accept Master And Commander as a buddy / relationship film, as well as an action-adventure, then I hope you know what I'm trying to say.

If I have one criticism to level against this film, it's the length. 133 minutes are just too many. It could lose quite a few of them with no harm to the narrative or characterisations. But that is not a reason not to seek out the latest film from this excellent Korean writer-director.

Brotherhood (2010/I)
6 out of 15 people found the following review useful:
He ain't heavy, he's my brotherhood, 29 March 2011

Viewed at the Festival de Cannes 2010

The fraternity (and sorority) system is something very peculiar to US colleges, but thanks to films such as Animal House people in other countries now have a very good idea how things work: all beer, parties and panty raids right? Not quite! Because Brotherhood takes the concept of initiation rites and works it into a very taut thriller about power and abuse and how far would you be willing to go to protect your fellows as opposed to doing the right thing.

Not wishing to give anything away (I don't write spoilers, even intentionally), what starts out as a prank, robbing a convenience store, spirals out of control as every attempt to put right the wrong just makes things worse. Pretty soon, to misquote Macbeth, those involved are now so deep in the brown and red stuff that turning back is no longer an option.

The kicker at the end, by the way, is excellent.

15 out of 21 people found the following review useful:
Barrel scraping, third division mess, 29 March 2011

Viewed at the Festival de Film, Cannes 2010

If all you want from a horror film are some gory kills and blood, go ahead, knock yourself out and have a ball. But if you want anything more, say a decent script, a story that makes sense, characters, even one, you can root for, some logic, even internal logic, and finally a decent killer with motivation, look elsewhere. Make no mistake Chain Letter is a mess.

So much of this film makes no or very little sense it's hard to know where to start. Basically, teens who receive a chain letter and fail to pass it on get offed. Why they are getting this letter I could never figure out. How the killer manages to do what he does defies even the often screwy logic of such films. At times he seems to be in several places at once, doing different things. It's almost like the producers took every draft script and shuffled them together, pulling out 100 pages at random and saying, "Now let's make this one"!

Even if Chain Letter were good, and it's anything but, it would still not rise above the level of clichéd and derivative: the Japanese do it so much better. Heck! Just about everyone does it better!

I love horror films, I even enjoy ones that are so bad they're good. There's usually something to be found in them. But treat Chain Letter like the real thing: don't pass it on no matter what the promise, just trash it.

Dead Cert (2010)
12 out of 14 people found the following review useful:
Neither one thing nor the other, 29 March 2011

A bit like my old school reports, Dead Cert invokes comments such as "Must try harder" or "Can do better" and "Needs to pay more attention."

A London gangster-vampire hybrid, which is a fine idea in itself, Dead Cert is a case of ambition running way ahead of ability in, well, just about every department! So badly do the two concepts fail to meld, or work even on their own individual basis, it makes me wonder what kind of script the film has. Did it even have one or were the cast allowed to busk their way through? There's certainly no sign of firm direction on show here.

Budgetary constraints are obvious, but time and again talent can cover for this if the core elements are present and correct. But where there is no drama or tension, where the characters are so flat as to be thinner than cardboard, then why should the audience care?

Dino Time (2012)
14 out of 25 people found the following review useful:
Cute!, 29 March 2011

Viewed at the Festival de Cannes 2010

An animated film that doesn't insult kids' intelligence, isn't about shifting as much merchandise as possible and won't have parents hitting the booze in the middle - that's Dino Mom.

Technically, as in terms of animation, Dino Mom hits above its weight. It's no Pixar of Dreamworks, or Disney, but nor is it churned out shovelware either. There is ability and care on show here, which extends to the characters, both humans and dinosaurs, too. The moral of the story, moms are a good thing, is simple and nicely done. The film might not stand up to repeat viewings but for a one-off treat, something the kids can be left to watch while parents do something else (Get drunk, maybe?), it's perfect.

134 out of 146 people found the following review useful:
Hugely funny, technically brilliant, 24 October 2006

I saw Flushed Away at a press screening in Berlin where it was shown in English to an overwhelmingly German audience. Leaving aside the clichés (Germans DO have a sense of humour - it's just different, okay?!), coming as yet another in a long line of CGI films and with (let's be honest here) a less than gripping concept, Flushed Away had only a certain amount of goodwill from this professional crowd. So when an audience like this, yours truly included, laughs aloud and often then there's something special up on the screen!

The humour is overwhelmingly English and there is none of the morality messaging that makes family films from certain other studios such a cringe-inducing experience. The characters are very well drawn (literally as well as figuratively) and the voice casting is universally excellent. The standard of animation is fantastic but you never once get the sense that anyone is showing off what they can do. This is a story- and character-driven film, with the technology there to serve. Anyone writing it off because it is not claymation is doing themselves a great disservice.

Lovers of Wallace & Gromit and Aardman's work in general will have a ball spotting the oh so many references. The level of detail is amazing and it's going to take many viewings and many hours with the DVD on pause to spot them all. There are the bunnies from Curse of the Wererabbit, for example. I spotted the Lion King on the little girl's windowsill, and so on. And on.

When a film credits several writers, plus comedy consultants, it's usually a sign that the script has gone horribly and tragically wrong. Maybe it did, to begin with, and the start is just a tad slow, but it soon picks up speed and the jokes, verbal and visual, just keep coming.

Like the best family films, Flushed Away appeals to audiences of all ages, but the very young might find it a bit long. Not that it lags at any time, merely that the wee tots might get fidgety, you understand.

The cast do a great job and I'm not going to single out anyone for special mention. The performances are spot on and everyone is obviously having a tongue in cheek good time. For professional reasons, I get to watch some 300 or more films a year. Flushed Away belongs to the very, very few that I wanted to see again right after it had finished. And before you ask, no, I am not being paid, induced or threatened at gunpoint to write this. I had a cracking good time, as did my girlfriend (Julia, German, with sense of humour) and you will too.

GasLand (2010)
5 out of 15 people found the following review useful:
The truth is often stranger than fiction, 30 March 2011

Viewed at the Festival du Film, Cannes 2010

There are times when a documentary can be more dramatic and gripping than many a feature film and Josh Fox's Gasland is one such documentary. Offered $100,000 to let a natural gas company do some exploratory drilling on his land, Fox sets out to investigate just what's involved and opens an ecologically nightmarish Pandora's box.

Basically, the gas companies use a process called hydraulic fracturing ("fracking") to crack open the underlying rock strata and release the natural gas. This involves pumping in a chemical cocktail of great toxicity and where nature has a way...

Fox and his sometimes wobbly camera then travels around the country, meeting people whose lives and health have been irreparably damaged. He might play the effect one or two times more than is needed since we've got the point by then, but being able to set light to your drinking water is not a benefit! And the mud brown chemical concoction coming out of the tap is not something you would wish to drink anyway.

Unlike Michael Moore, whose preaching has become a turn off, Fox is laid back, non- dramatic, letting people tell their stories. The calm, matter of fact narrations add even greater drama to the story. These are ordinary people whose lives have been destroyed.

With the natural gas industry in full hue and cry after greater profits, the lawyers riding their coattails sorting out the settlements, compensation and gagging clauses, Fox is a lonely voice but his quiet resolution makes him even more worth listening to.

To those reviewers who really do seem to be paid flacks for the gas industry, I am not a socialist, do not hug trees, do not dislike capitalism, I am a guy who loves watching films and being moved by them. If you can watch Gasland and can come out still thinking life is wonderful and nobody has anything to be worried about here, then you need to look to your conscience, because we all should be very concerned indeed.

16 out of 25 people found the following review useful:
It's a start, but not a very good one, 30 March 2011

Viewed at the Festival du Film, Cannes 2010

There's no doubt France's colonial history is a treasure trove for film makers, and the country certainly has some coming to terms to do with its past, but Outside The Law, for all the fuss it raised in Cannes (including a protest by former white residents of Algeria), is, sadly, a missed opportunity.

True, the film does try to cover all the bases, and the French treated the Algerians appallingly, both in Algeria and in France itself. But what comes out is a very anodyne and clichéd soap opera about three brothers who eventually end up taking criminal paths, either within the Algerian terrorist movement or the underworld.

Although great care has been taken with the costumes, sets, props etc. to create a very credible sense of period, Outside The Law is let down by its script which, in striving for balance and neutrality, robs the films of any drama or tension and purses a by-the-numbers narrative. Everything is signposted in advance and duly arrives on time.

Outside The Law is to be applauded as a start in tackling this incredibly complex and still painful subject, but it's not a very good one. The protesters, who most likely had not seen the film, would find nothing to fear here. And they too also have a story that should be told. Whether other film makers pick up the gauntlet remains to be seen, but I suspect box office results for this film will show that this is a market best served by TV documentaries instead.

Ice Age (2002)
Not at all bad. Not the best, but not at all bad, 1 March 2002

Ice Age is the latest computer animated film to come down the pipe and is certainly a pleasant way to spend time staring at the big screen while transferring popcorn to your mouth.

The story is simplistic (a mammoth, a sabre-toothed tiger and a sloth return a lost baby to its tribe) and appeals more to younger children, lacking the multi-layered depth of Shrek and even Monsters Inc. Not that it's boring. Indeed, there is some stand-out stuff, such as the running gag with the squirrel and the priceless sequence with the dodo's. This latter is not only laugh-aloud funny, but qualitatively even seems lifted from another production altogether. As if often the case, you can tell some scenes had more care, attention, and most likely money, lavished on them than others.

In technical terms, Ice Age breaks no new ground and the script and characterisation, as well as the animation, also lag behind Shrek and Monsters Inc. The fact of the matter is, these two films, have now raised the bar so high they are very hard acts to follow.

The children who were at the press screening I attended certainly sat attentively (but they are German and their teacher had threatened them with massive death if they so much as ... ) and did laugh a few times.

Ice Age certainly qualifies as a good family film and if it gets the kids' minds off the latest Harry Potter merchandise then that's a relief to parents everywhere.

Where the film suffers, though, is the appalling voice performance of Ray Romano as Manfred the Mammoth. He sounds like John Ratzenberger (Cliff the mailman from Cheers), only drugged, depressed and telephoning in his lines. Literally!

Romano might be a name in the US, but anywhere else? So what if he stars in Everybody Loves Raymond? (And what kind of suspicious title is that? "Whaddya mean you don't love Raymond?! What's wrong wit yer?! You some kinda commie?!"). To most of the world he's Ray Who and it's I've Never Heard of Raymond, Haven't Seen The Show and Care Even Less.

OK, so the film will be dubbed, or at least subtitled, outside english-speaking territories, but his performance is so bad as to seriously drag it down. It's thanks to John Leguizamo, as Sid the Sloth, that the energy isn't so sucked out of you that you dissolve in your seat and slide, a shapeless blob, to the floor. I've thought long and hard about when I last heard such a miscast cartoon voice and still haven't come up with one.

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