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How much do you like Melissa George?
In the pre-publicity for Hunted, a big deal is made of how Melissa George did her own stunts and got battered and bruised for her craft. She needn't have bothered, since the action and fight scenes are notable only for the appalling editing. Usually the only reason for this is when actors can't learn or won't be allowed to perform multi-movement sequences so every little punch, slap and shove has to be filmed separately and cut together. Melissa's previous film career includes many great horror / thriller performances (Triangle in particular) so it's not her fault. Somebody also needs to take the blame for her being a deadly & efficient spy/ex-soldier some of the time and making stupid tactical choices the rest of the time. The only fight shots shown in their entirety are when she eventually snaps necks, which is odd as most TV and films look away to avoid unfortunate playground recreations the next day. Maybe she's doing it wrong and it's perfectly safe. I won't know until I try.
The acting is a mixed bag, albeit in one-dimension. Adults get three basic choices: ominous looks, sad staring or constipated anger, and the dialogue is all terribly serious all of the time. Anybody cracking a smile is obviously a loose-cannon. A couple of child roles are just Macguffins, with dialogue and direction even less realistic than the adults. Melissa's interaction with the kid (this is not a spoiler) includes a cute-connection to her own childhood, because no film or TV show gets greenlit without this Spielberg-esque 'emotional moment' bull; thankfully it's not quite a nursery-rhyme or "you're a poopy-head" shared phrase, but I worry for the safety of my TV set if this turns out to be in important thing later in the series.
The spies and bad guys are all so far up themselves they're inside-out. Nobody interrupts or talks over each-other, all sentences and exchanges are perfectly formed and delivered (it sounds planned and pre-written rather than natural) always dripping with exposition; plus regular flashbacks and recap shots to make sure that even pets can follow the story. I think the central plot is otherwise fairly good, even if these high-tech spies are being outwitted by a conspiracy that Private Eye would be able to expose in an afternoon. I'm getting sick of the table-top computer at HQ. It might look fancy the first time when you open & fling files around the table, but it's a lot less practical than everybody being able to see everything on a wall-mounted screen.
Hunted takes place on a planet similar to our own, but a lot cleaner and emptier. Locations are perfectly dressed and lit to BBC guidelines (neutral in the daytime, shadowy at night even indoors), and no signs of actual daily practical use or personal taste. Apparently when you're 'abroad' everything is in a gold/sepia tone but North Africa still looks cold. And it doesn't rain as much in the other Scotland. Apologies for being a bit facetious; I'm not against visual cues and themes, but it's all a bit sterile and perfunctory - there's zero style and no flair. If you think about the best horror films and thrillers, there is so much you can do with the language of lights & camera & editing to add tension or pace, to direct or misdirect attention, to build excitement or suspense. There is literally none of that here. It comes as no surprise to see that all four directors listed so far are very much from the competent but creatively-comatose school of BBC serial drama; I do not see Hunted getting picked up (unless to licence a remake) by Sky Atlantic, HBO, FX or any of the other channels turning out actual exciting, creative and visionary shows.
Frank 'X-Files and X-Files spin-offs' Spotniz is the big-name writer/creator attached to the show, which may be why I'm enjoying the plot, and Melissa George always gives 100%, but with everything else I've mentioned stacked against it I don't know if I'll be able to make it to the end. The sooner she goes back to making movies the better.
The Hurt Locker (2008)
How can a film about danger and explosives be so boring?
Synopsis: Some soldiers like soldiering, some don't. Bombs are dangerous. What a revelation.
Hurt Locker is too contrived to be a documentary, but not exciting enough to be a drama. I didn't care about the characters at the beginning, and I didn't care about them at the end. Most frustrating of all, I didn't care (and wasn't surprised) if and when any of the bombs went off. There are plot/narrative problems in virtually every scene. For a film with otherwise decent acting and production values, this is appalling.
Given the gushing praise by the critics, perhaps I should expand on some of the problems I have, so here goes. Sgt James: When he acts recklessly, irresponsibly and possibly illegally, there are no consequences either from his team, other soldiers or his superiors (eg. throwing down a smoke-screen so his team can't see him, even though anyone nearby holding a detonator still can.. kidnapping an Iraqi to drive him off-base into the night, armed & alone, breaking into / trespassing into Beckham's home, all apparently for nothing.. leading his team, again alone, into what could have been a back-alley ambush leading to an international incident..). However, when Sgt James does something logical - like discarding bulky armour which would have offered no protection against a huge bomb, allowing him to work faster and more comfortably to disarm it - his colleagues go nuts. If this is truly against the rules (in real life), then why again are there no consequences. A punch in the mouth for threatening his and possibly others' lives is not 'a consequence'. Also, perhaps I am wrong on this point, but if I was working to defuse a bomb and my teammates were bickering over the radio and would not shut up, I think it is entirely reasonable to turn that radio off or to shoot one of them.
Why do the soldiers speak almost no Arabic? I can understand the need for translators at times, but I live under the assumption that soldiers in foreign countries are trained to communicate with the locals to a basic degree, and - hopefully - to behave towards them with a little more respect, if they expect any sort of cooperation. The behaviour of all military personnel in Hurt Locker only reinforces the worst stereotypes of the US forces.
Would a lone shepherd, in poor cover, really try to take a few shots at an unknown number of armed soldiers? Would those same soldiers have trouble working out that several accurate and deadly gunshots might be coming from the three or four men obviously taking cover in the only structure in a 360 degree radius? Antics at the base: I imagine a lot of soldier-types probably do wrestle or fight or hold stomach-punching competitions, but this does not endear me to their characters. Quite the opposite; it confirms negative stereotypes, and I hope that anyone not able to function at 100% the next day because they allowed a colleague to beat them up (along with that colleague) would be subject to some sort of punishment. Is that how soldiers really bond? Do they sniff each other's asses and chase cars too? Am I supposed to care about these morons? A thought about casting: When you have unknown actors working hard to put in good performances, try not to a) tease us with Guy Pearce & Ralph Fiennes - two of the finest actors in the world - only to get rid of them both within a matter of seconds, or b) disrupt the end of the film with an appearance by somebody as recognisable as Evangeline Lilly, but give her nothing to do which essentially means that her only character trait is 'hey, it's Evangeline Lilly from Lost'. It's not fair to these actors, or to the other actors, or to the realism of the film.
Finally, although I like the look of The Hurt Locker (locations/sets/photography) it strikes me that there are no evocative views, no contemplative shots, no really authentic 'foreign' scenes. Again, HL doesn't work as a documentary, so why not get some free emotion out of the cinematography? The soundtrack (if there was one) does nothing. And the sound effects are not real-enough; gunshots and explosions in real-life are temporarily deafening, producing disorientation and ringing-in-the-ears (and drama). All they produce in Hurt Locker is ennui.
Not what I was promised.
I remember the trailers teasing whether the trespassers/terrors were real/supernatural or otherwise, and I will admit I was expecting/hoping for more of a modern terror/horror film than the almost understated thriller we are left with. That's not to criticise the film itself, which I rather enjoyed. At a bare 70 minutes, I cannot remember another 'feature film' which is so lean on the cut - no sub-plots, and an opening scene that adds nothing. But the pace of what is left works very well, and never feels too long or too short. The acting is extremely good, with leads that portray very believable & sympathetic characters, and behave more rationally under stress than most thriller/horror protagonists. Anyway, watching Olivia Bonamy do absolutely anything is no chore.. This film is based on real events, which makes the ending all the more poignant. If I had to criticise, it would only be that the film isn't 'bigger' in ambition as they clearly had the talent, but I guess the true story already defines the limitations of the film. A very well-made and engaging thriller, but it doesn't have the luxury of imagination or scope that great (fictional) thrillers rely upon.
Beautiful, but not perfect.
Every second of the film is gorgeous. And that's why it earns a 7, because the plot is not especially devious, and thinking back over the last 90 minutes I never really felt any excitement or investment in the characters. If anything, the luxurious graphics and framing have made certain scenes (the car chase, for instance) more pedestrian than they ought to be - not that they don't look lovely and have some very original design and occasionally novel camera angles - but they are missing the kinetic movement and close-up shots that are part of the language for any normal action/thriller. The first hour plods along, and the dialogue feels very edited and a bit stagey - people wait for each other to finish and don't always react in a natural cadence, which would be a problem of recording each individual's dialogue separately. On rare occasions the emotions in the voices don't quite match those on screen; something that should really have been avoided. The futuristic architecture is very attractive (lots of glass walls/ceilings/screens, lovely smoke/mirage/special effects) and nice-looking cars, but again - it's more an exercise in graphic design, having no real impact on the story. I'd argue that the whole point of using drawn animation (instead of actors/CGI) is to really push the limits of imagination and design; to do that which is too difficult/impractical in other mediums. Although the animation in Renaissance is certainly stunning and incredibly well-accomplished, I never felt like I was seeing something that hasn't been done before.
Immortel, another French CGI film, also suffers from an imbalance of beauty over story & pace. To be fair, some marvellous and engaging French movies also have a languid pace, and lingering shots of the look in someone's eyes or the rain on Paris cobbles can evoke great emotion - but animators need to understand that while animation brings unique strengths, it also has weaknesses when compared to real-life technique. Perhaps it would break from the 'noir' rules that the film wants to stick to, but I think the film-makers also missed a glaring opportunity to explore their future society a bit more - the social strata, the fascistic grip of the corporations etc.
I have no problem recommending Renaissance to anybody who enjoys stylistic design and/or animation ('Manga' fans in particular), but I wouldn't make my other film-loving friends sit through it. Take away the sumptuous visuals and it's a barely average film.
White Noise 2: The Light (2007)
As in real life, when white noise is on screen; just turn the TV off.
Spoiler warning(?): I don't give away any real plot twists, but I do talk about stuff that happens through the movie, so it's going to bunch your panties please don't read any further..
Patrick Lussier was a competent Editor on films such as the Scream franchise, Mimic, Halloween H20 and Red Eye. With him as Director, I'm sorry to say I found White Noise 2 hugely disappointing. In particular, despite having lost his wife & son in hideous and unexplained circumstances, Nathan Fillion shows about as much grief as somebody who may have had to throw some food away because it went bad before he got around to eating it. I'm reluctant to criticise Fillion because I am a huge fan of his work, but he has to take some of the blame. The guy could at least have chopped an onion or something before a scene, seriously. It's not that he's emotionally in shock. It's just pitiful storytelling. He watches family videos with all the affection of a distant cousin. Time passes in very strange ways; the bereaved father strikes up a new relationship within about 48 hours (to be fair, it is with Katee 'Oh my God, you're Starbuck' Sackhoff, but still..), and it seems as though only a few hours have passed before he's practically forgotten that he had a family. It's difficult to tell though - the directing/editing is incompetent in trying to convey any sense of time or scale. In one sequence, Katee turns up at his door with wine, to convince him to go out - then we get a shot of him laying in bed in turmoil (as if he turned her down - I think there's a 'scary bit' too) - and then they're outside drinking the wine - WTF!? Ghosts appear throughout & all over the place; extras who obviously spent time in make-up but don't appear to have anything to do with the script. They're mostly used as lazy 'jump scares' to stop viewers falling asleep. There's a 'white noise' thing that jumps around on displays & TV screens but again, has nothing to do with anything. As for the leap of logic that leads Nathan to his '3 day rule' - I haven't seen anything that weak since I tried to make tea without tea bags, and ran out of milk. It's got all the credibility of that game you play at school where you add up the letters in your names to see who is in love with who. Honestly, look up 'non sequitur' and see if "White Noise 2" is cited. If you kept getting ambushed by angry ghosts and having TVs turn themselves on around you, you'd be freaking out - but not in this movie. The ending is rubbish too, although it could have been a good idea if it were spliced onto a much better film. Sexist pig that I am, I'd be prepared to forgive and forget if we got to see Katee wearing something a bit more sexy (or preferably, not wearing it), but we don't get anywhere near, and although she is super-cute she gets surprisingly little time on screen. It's almost a cameo. At least Craig Fairbrass returns looking like a Batman villain (another gaping plot-hole for you there, folks). I do like the idea of making kids at a school recital singing things like Rush - Spirit of Radio instead of awful hymns or show-tunes, but it's the only glimmer of a good idea in the whole screenplay (and we only get to hear a line or two anyway). White Noise 2 is a terrible waste of time and effort.
Less than the sum of its parts
I would say the average score for Severance is too high, and there are a LOT of suspicious looking comments about this movie. I would guess that cast, friends & family are all 'playing their part' because many comments are just too positive and too considered, with none of the enthusiasm or 'amateurishness' you get from real fans.
Severance is not a terrible movie. It has a few laughs, and some funny characters, but it's mostly missed opportunities. Certainly not a patch on Sean of the Dead or, er, all the other British horror comedies. (actually, there was League of Gentlemen - also a crashing disappointment). To be fair, this director's first (and last) film Creep was also flawed. It's relevant, because Severance shows he still hasn't got the hang of 'scary'. The forest didn't seem scary, the hostel didn't seem scary, I didn't feel any real tension when they're all walking around on ground full of bear-traps, and it made no difference when the enemies were revealed. Sure, there were a few nice jokes, but not enough to be a comedy. The ending was pretty lame as well. I just don't get it - how does a film this lacklustre get made? Why didn't anyone catch the weaknesses in the plot & script? Is it arrogance on the part of the film makers (who clearly don't know as much as they think they do)? It's a shame, because it could have been good. And I don't think it ultimately helps things by getting friends to write glowing reviews.
Bad News Bears (2005)
It's not School of Rock, but it has its moments
My impressions on leaving the cinema: The script has a light touch. Despite being a film about stereotypically misfit kids and a washed-up single father, you never get any serious Hallmark moments, thank God.
What a strange and joyously un-PC film! It's actually refreshing to hear adults/kids insulting each other, and not necessarily apologising for bad behaviour. Even a cancer joke - wow! Sure, some characters learn to believe in themselves or whatever, but there's no great epiphany / family reunions, and the kids are still misfits at the end. Refreshing.
What happened to the editing? Not to spoil anything, but there was at least one minor storyline that was mentioned throughout the film but never seemed to happen!? Over all: a nice film. Only a few laugh-out-loud moments, but you'll smile all the way through.
I would watch this again right now if I could.
Did you like Oldboy? The Bourne films? Fight Club? Leon? If your answers include "No", you have no place discussing films on the internet. Go back to the Hallmark channel immediately and never return.
If your answers include "I haven't seen it", rectify the situation forthwith. IMDb will be here when you are ready to return.
If your answers are "Yes, Yes, Yes and good golly Yes again!", prepare yourself for another film that reaches the cinematic standard of these stylish masterpieces.
Unleashed (as I saw it) starts with gangster Bob and the boys collecting their protection money, with Jet Li (Danny the Dog) trailed around on his leash as a threat, much as you might with a Dobermann or Pit Bull terrier. Those who don't pay get seven shades of ..something beaten out of their bloody, broken corpses. This is not the purity of Wu Shu Kung Fu, oh no, this is martial arts crossed with no-holds-barred pub fighting: heads smashed, limbs snapped, furniture broken, noses broken, and a great deal of hair removal by fingers alone. Pay up, or pay now and then pay up.
Stuff happens (I'm not going to ruin it), and Danny finds himself alone and taken under the wing of blind piano tuner Morgan Freeman (playing 'Morgan Freeman' on full wisdom & shmaltz settings). By and by, Danny (who's been raised - and badly treated - like a dog) begins to be rehabilitated and discovers the small joys life can bring. ACTION FANS: this is not a bad thing. Jet Li somehow manages to stay the right side of 'cute', Morgan Freeman manages to express waryness as well as a warm welcome, and thanks to superb sound and directing we get one of the most tense moments I've ever seen in any film. I was literally holding my breath, totally tensed up, and thinking "God no! Don't do that!!!". Beware if this Director ever decides to do Horror - it could be so scary he'll have the audience carried out on stretchers & oxygen.
Anyway, Danny's past catches up with him. It always does, usually about two-thirds of the way through a film. And then we're back to some more serious violence, followed by a brief pause before even more serious violence, a 'boss battle' which reminded me of the albino twins in Kiss of the Dragon, and the inevitable confrontation at the end. There's some back-story flashbacks & revelations thrown in too, but not so much as to be annoying. Then the film is over, you walk out of the cinema, and text the mate who couldn't join you to tell him he missed an INCREDIBLE film, ha ha, and I'll see it again if you want to go.
Special mention for Jet Li - a tour de force, not just in the action scenes but also for his portrayal of a man who has basically been brutalised from a very young age, and is even scared of himself.
Special mention for Bob Hoskins - who I've not really rated before, but here he manages to flesh out a very convincing, reprehensible character. Great dialogue gives him a verbal dexterity we don't usually see in our cardboard-cutout villains, as well as a definite emotional connection to Danny (twisted though it is). We're clearly supposed to see him as one of those dog owners who treats his dog very badly, but still cares for it in his own sick way.
Special mention for the director & editor - for fabulous fight scenes, with LONG CUTS so we can actually see Jet Li's skill and Yuen Wo Ping's choreography. Also for maintaining pace and interest through the middle where most filmmakers would die on their butts. Also for creating AMAZING tension (because YES, in real life if you try to rehabilitate/domesticate a wild animal there's always the threat that it could flip out and kill you without meaning to). Also for perhaps the only film I've ever seen with A) car crashes that don't end in ridiculous explosions and B) characters that survive car crashes AND show signs of injuries! Where is this crazy wave of realism going to end!? We'll have characters remembering to eat, sleep and go to the toilet next..
I can only think of two minor criticisms: 1) The middle of the film takes place over a few (or several) months - but you don't get much of a sense of time passing. Like it says in Team America, maybe we needed a montage ("montage, yeah!"). 2) There's quite a big plot point that goes completely unresolved. I can't explain too much, but essentially I believe a significant 'payback' scene is missing from the final third. The main story doesn't need it, but I would like to have seen what happened.
Unleashed / Danny the Dog - whatever it's called, go see it. It's fab.
Good dumb fun.
A little 2001, a little Top Gun, a little Black Hawk Down, a little Dark Star, and - dagnabbit - more than a little Team America in this mix.
There's not much you need to know. Go in expecting to see a comedy, because that's what it appears to be a lot of the time. The flight stuff is fairly kinetic, the explosions are suitably big, and the out-of-control A.I. is suitably loopy. Romance doesn't really get in the way of the plot, and there's enough stuff to keep a big grin on your face for the full two hours.
A paycheck for everyone involved, and an entertaining (if mindless) diversion for you. I will say this - as dumb as it gets, it never gets too boring, which is quite a compliment. As for calling this Rob Cohen film 'Stealth' - how ironic.
The Skeleton Key (2005)
A solid 6/10 - pushing a 7 because the ending is good.
Good performances all round. Good locations. Quite a lot of restraint on the writer's/director's part, building the chills in a more classic 70's way than out-and-out ghosts and scares. In fact, a few more scares after the half-way mark would have been welcome; if the ghosts were used any less, they wouldn't be in the film! The reason I've only rated a 6/10, is because it's so predictable. If you've seen any thriller set in the Deep South, you've seen this one. The background story is textbook 'New Orleans' voodoo vengeance, the characters' motives are obvious from the second they appear on screen, and the solid but pedestrian cinematography means that the locations are massively underused. If you've got a decrepit colonial mansion with antique furniture, surrounded by swamps and trees draped in that Lianna/lichen stuff, you've got to be pretty boring NOT to make it all seem brooding & scary - which is unfortunately what they've done.
Kate Hudson is really switched-on, and not your average dumb heroine. There's even one (small) moment where I think I saw a conscious attempt to subvert the conventions and have her do something quite intelligent while in a perilous situation. It's not a big thing, but I noticed. John Hurt is surprisingly effective, really 'working' his eyes and body, considering he's had a stroke (in the film). Gena Rowlands and Peter Saarsgard are fine, but their performances are hampered by the 'all too obvious' script and direction. Joy Bryant is gorgeous but her character is nothing more than a device to give Kate slightly more personality and a convenient person who can explain about hoodoo/voodoo.
Before I shut up, it's important to say something about the ending (without giving anything away). I'm not talking about the 'third act' - that's a bit OTT, as often happens in horror/thrillers - I mean the final scene.. Although the film as a whole is predictable and doesn't quite live up to its potential, the final scenes wrap up the story nicely and will put a grin on your face.
If you've not seen a lot of horror/thriller films, you'd probably give Skeleton Key a 7 or 8 out of 10 - it's coherent, not too long, and fairly enjoyable (like I say, Kate Hudson & Gena Rowlands are really good). But I have seen a lot to compare it to, so 6/10 it is. Which is still worth watching on a dull afternoon, or on a rental.