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The Avengers (2012)
Joss Whedon Has Done It Right And Well
With the success of Jon Favreau's 'Iron Man' in 2008, calls started ringing out across the comic book universe for not only further comic book movies, but also for the 'The Holy Grail of Cinematic Superheroes,' which is also known as an 'Avengers' film. What followed was four more Marvel Universe movies, the introduction of many favoured and established characters and the continual teasing of fans across the globe with post-credit sequences. The introduction of Samuel L. Jackson as Commander Nick Fury inevitably announced to fans that an 'Avengers' movie would come to fruition and it brought forth the key question of when rather than where, who and why.
The man tasked with throwing all these vibrant characters into a smouldering cauldron of excitement and pure unadulterated geekiness is one Joss Whedon. He's already created three incredibly successful television shows and an incredibly successful tie-in movie in 'Serenity,' but this is undoubtedly his biggest challenge to date. Today sees the release of 'The Avengers' (or 'Avengers Assemble' in the United Kingdom) across the globe, and while it contains evident flaws, it's nothing short of a two hour canonical ride across the Marvel Universe which provides everything to satisfy fans, nerds and casual cinema-goers alike.
Buried deep beneath a Government facility is the mystical cube known as the tesseract. When it begins to mysteriously start operating by itself Commander Nick Fury, and his agents Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) and Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders), unexpectedly come face-to-face with the Asgard deity Loki (Tom Hiddleston). The God is being seemingly controlled by a higher being, with but one simple, yet distinct aim, to control, enslave and destroy the Earth and humanity. With reluctance, Fury initiates the 'Avengers' protocol, which brings together the rag-tag team of superheroes consisting of: Iron Man Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), the Asgard God Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Captain America Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), Clint 'Hawkeye' Barton (Jeremy Renner), the Black Widow Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) and the unpredictable Dr Banner (Mark Ruffalo).
Where 'The Avengers' had the ability to fall pretty darn hard was with the amount of material ready at hand. Joss Whedon could've potentially created a ten-hour-three-film epic without even scratching the surface of what drives these beings to do what they do. Instead, in the running time which extends to just over two hours, he's created an intimate and humanised portrayal of six individuals who may be Gods, geniuses, super-human beings and destructive radioactive experiments on the outside, but all reflect deep, inner trauma on the inside.
The initial meetings between the characters show an element of distrust and reluctance. Why should one be subordinate to others when, by all accounts in their own minds, they all have the better technology, powers or intellect? With their flaws prominently on show from the beginning Whedon doesn't just show the audience superheroes, but he creates them before your own eyes. Building these characters from the inside, outside he allows the audience to empathise with their plights. After all, Thor is simply an Asgardian God with family issues, Dr Banner simply wants to be left alone in isolation to his own devices, and Black Widow and Hawkeye seem to battling those basic primal urges that come with humanity and prolonged friendship.
But one character that does continually feel out of place is the antagonist of the piece, Loki. Despite Tom Hiddleston creating a superb maniacal villain with thespian traits who thrives on power and destruction, it's hard to shake-off the fact that Loki he is constantly being undermined by those pulling his puppeteering strings. Yet, this should not detract away from his performance which constantly steals the show whenever he is on-screen with other members of the Avengers initiative, and which can be partly attributed to Josh Whedon and Zak Penn's slick screenplay.
The script contains some suspect writing in places, especially with regards to Dr Banner and some of the more unusually up-beat and intellectually void phrases he spouts. But aside from the odd sentence here or there, Whedon and Penn's script manages to combine the right mix or humour, bravado and arrogance allowing, not only each character's personality to thrive, but also the plot to be continually be driven forward. Whether it's the blossoming relationship between two prominent superheroes or the developing nature of the narrative, the film is never stagnant, and it's this plot development which gives Joss Whedon the ability to let his comic book geekdom roam free in the final act with an enthralling visual action-orientated conclusion.
Starting in Manhattan, the action takes place on the ground, in the air, inside buildings and generally anywhere where there's an enough room to photograph a glorious all battle of good versus evil. Explosions saturate the air, but there's also an enjoyable emphasis on hand-to-hand combat, especially when the likes of Hawkeye, Black Widow and Captain America are left without their weapons. Beautifully choreographed, fast, frenetic and aesthetically pleasing the final thirty minutes are a fitting and welcome conclusion to an epic comic book movie. Joss Whedon hasn't only managed to finally bring the six glorious superheroes to the big-screen. But he's also also managed to do it well, very well.
The Iron Lady (2011)
The Iron Lady Is More Than A Little Rusty
It is not a rare occurrence to see a biopic centred on a political figure emerge during any given calendar year, nor is it uncommon to see a biopic appear when the subject is still alive. But, it is unusual to see a film materialize when the said political figure is controversial in nature and divides opinion across the board.
Director Phyllida Lloyd proves why it is so unusual in her biopic of Margaret Thatcher entitled 'The Iron Lady' the nickname attributed to Thatcher by the Soviet press after her scathing attack on the Communist model which gently saunters between the important political moments in her life, whilst also trying to convey an appearance of regret, sadness and guilt by creating a humanized portrayal of a woman once dubbed "the most hated woman in British Politics."
But instead of creating an engaging piece which examines the life of one of the most enigmatic Prime Ministers of the twentieth century, the audience instead is left with a dull, uninspired mess which simply evades some of the most important social, economic and political events of her life to instead attempt to create some semblance of regret and humanity from the inner depths of this aging former Head of State.
Told through the flashbacks of an ailing former Head of State, Margaret (Meryl Streep) constantly engages in conversation with her deceased husband Denis (Jim Broadbent) and her daughter Carol (Olivia Colman), as she remembers past events the good, the bad and the downright terrible during her time as a young woman attempting to achieve some form of acceptance in the male-centric world of British politics, and finally as the first female head of a Western government.
From the tender opening moments to the solemn conclusion of this biopic, Phyllida Lloyd sets out to portray Maggie as a human being through her declining on-screen health which also mirrors the current state of the former Prime Minister. At eighty-six years old, Thatcher is understandably frail with her mental health constantly on the decline; it is an unfortunate prerequisite of aging, but it is not only common to those who have lived polarised lives in the eyes of the British public.
While Lloyd shows Thatcher constantly remembering past events, she never imposes any judgement, opinion or verdict upon anything that is visualized, instead treating it as a nostalgic and deeply sentimental walk-down-memory lane. Maggie remembers her successes and failings, but falls short of actually stating some form verdict on her past choices. Instead of watching a frail Margaret Thatcher dissect the events of her life, the audience is simply left to, uninterestingly, watch as they're recreated.
Aside from the portrayal of the frailty of Thatcher, her career itself is constantly over-shadowed by the more tender moments that Lloyd wishes to portray. The audience is essentially treated to a simple-minded examination of her early political career which extends as far as saying that Margaret Thatcher went into politics because she had ambition, found trouble in the form of institutionalized sexism and eventually established herself due to her husband Denis's influence as a middle-class businessman.
Other major events in Thatcher's career, including her challenge and rise to the leadership of the Conservative Party and the various controversial policies introduced during her reign as Prime Minister (privatisation, unemployment and the closure of twenty-five coal mines in 1985 among others) are simply portrayed as minor events.
Very little of the one hour and forty-five minute running time concerns itself with these events, aside from the occasional use of archive footage depicting public anarchy in the United Kingdom during the testing times of economic hardship during the 1980's, the audience is left to understand little in the way of why Thatcher chose to commit to certain policies except for the fact that she was a stern and incredibly stubborn woman when it came to deciding what and where she would impose upon the British public.
However, despite the major flaws in the form of Lloyd's film wishing to be somewhat of a cinematic memorial to Thatcher rather than a straight-edged biopic examining her tumultuous life, the saving grace comes in the form of Meryl Streep's wonderful performance as the famous leading lady. She is strong, commanding and visceral as Baroness Thatcher, constantly dominating the screen and drawing the audience's attention toward her prestigious manner.
Jim Broadbent as her late husband Denis, Richard E. Grant and Anthony Head among others, are depicted somewhat as 'Spitting Image-esque' caricatures of men who were nothing more than emasculated doormats in both a personal and a political cabinet, who didn't have the guts and gall to stand up to their overbearing leader. While Olivia Colman provides the only true emotional response in the form of Maggie's daughter Carol Thatcher, but these performances cannot save Lloyd's film from its own severe narrative flaws.
Since its inception, Phyllida Lloyd's Margaret Thatcher biopic has courted controversy among the family and various political circles of the former Prime Minister, and it is this controversy which has no doubt had a profound effect on the production of the film. Rather than becoming an intricate and interesting examination of a woman who was, and still is, worshipped and loathed by many members of the general public in Great Britain and Ireland, it instead became a slow inoffensive look at a woman who at eighty-six years old is shown to regret some aspects of her life.
'The Iron Lady' has an enormous amount of untouched potential that another director, producer or artist should be looking to exploit in the immediate future. And whoever should tackle this biopic, should once again call upon the talents of Meryl Streep and Olivia Colman as their performances save this film from being more boring and dreary than the most recent Conservative Party Conference.
The Big Year (2011)
Its mediocrity at its best...
In Birding terms a 'Big Year' is: "to see who can see or hear the largest number of species of birds within a single calendar year and within a specific geographical area." So, what do you achieve if you finish at the top of the list on December 31st? Money? Adulation? Endorsements? Not really, but more of a self-satisfying inner air-punch knowing that you, and you alone, are currently the greatest birder in North America. Director David Frankel, the man behind 'The Devil Wears Prada' and 'Marley and Me,' takes an interesting premise, but unfortunately he does nothing with it. Instead he creates a 'safe bet,' a film which is guaranteed to entertain during the brief moments which do contain some semblance of excitement and humour, whilst also refraining from being offensive in any manner whatsoever, but this results in a film which will fails to suitably engage a mass audience for its one hour and forty minutes running time.
'The Big Year' follows a poor, young, yet aspirational birder in Brad Harris (Jack Black), who also serves as the films narrator, and a retired former-CEO named Stu Preissler (Steve Martin) who wants to leave his world of work behind him once and for all (he's attempted retirement before) and actually enjoy the finer points in life for once. Brad lives with his parents after his previous marriage failed and despite his financial insecurity and his father's reluctance, he places everything he has into making a Big Year. While Stu, supported by his wife Edith (JoBeth Williams), just wants to experience birding for what it is. Despite an insurmountable mountain of wealth at his fingertips, he instead opts to drive, pillage and work toward his birding conquest by himself and along the way he meets the determined Brad as they strike a friendship up over their common love for the feathery creatures.
Alongside their story, there is also Kenny Bostick (Owen Wilson) who holds the Big Year record, once a contractor, he decided to turn his efforts toward his childhood hobby of bird watching, and his hard-work eventually paid off as he became the most recognised birder in the world, but this wasn't without consequence. Fast forward a few years later and now Bostick is attempting to settle down with his new wife Jessica (Rosamund Pike), but when January 1st rolls around again he can't shake the fact that somebody may be attempting to break his record and he sets out once again to complete yet another Big Year and in the process he places yet another marriage on the slippery black rocks of potential divorce-hood as he must carefully navigate a tight-rope between his hobby and his future.
The picture opens with on-screen titles stating that this is a true story, except for the fact that all the facts have been changed in this adaptation of Mark Obmascik's book, a relatively subtle and mild-mannered joke which sets the tone for the rest of the movie, the key word here being: mild. 'The Big Year' contains an established cast, a well-developed script, and an experienced director at the helm, but it consistently fails to grab the audience's attention, instead opting for the precariously easy route of birding puns and slapstick gags instead. For the birding enthusiasts among us, the constant quick-witted use of bird names in various puns and humorous jokes is no doubt going to tickle a few feathers, but to uninitiated it becomes a painfully slow descent into somebody else's hobby and somebody else's dream scenario.
While, the characters themselves all seem to develop at a pace, it is the script, despite being neat, concise and thorough it lacks anything of vigour. The characters, despite being slightly more than one-dimensional caricatures, have very predictable and tired journeys, whilst Bostick also comes across as somewhat of a red herring. For one moment he comes across as the brash, arrogant antagonist of the piece, whilst the next he is the honourable birder who wants to do nothing less than recreate the blissful childhood joy he had when he was a child growing up around many winged creatures. This could have been bird-watching's quirky equivalent to Christopher Guest's 'Best in Show,' yet it is more of an example of how filmmaking, no matter how competent, can still refrain from fully engaging with an audience by simply refusing to take any chances whatsoever, especially when it is attempting to bring a mass audience into such an original and individual recreational activity.
In Time (2011)
'In Time' is a few seconds off....
According to statistics from the United Nations, there are now seven billion people inhabiting this planet and with this figure the issue of overpopulation is once again reignited. Andrew Niccol's latest feature explores this concept of a dystopian future where the population is curbed by the time you are allowed to live for, and while it is a simple, yet innovative concept, it doesn't quite live up to expectations. 'In Time' is the typical cinematic case of having a really interesting and promising concept, but being unable to capitalize on any of its potential, leading to a disjointed plot and a poorly paced narrative which ends up simply recycling the same old sequences again and again.
It is sometime into the future where time has replaced currency as the fruitful commodity of civilisation. Once every human being reaches the ripe old age of twenty-five years old, a clock begins on their arm which counts down the time until their death. Death can be postponed and time added to any civilian's clock through the completion of work and other related day-to-day tasks within society. But with the cost of living continually rising, time starts to become an increasingly valuable commodity which thrives with the rich and desecrates upon the poor. Will Salas (Justin Timberlake) is just another patron of the ghetto; he lives his life from day-to-day with his bodyclock constantly teetering on the edge of expulsion, but after a chance meeting with a seemingly immortal wealthy socialite Henry Hamilton (Matt Bomer), Salas is given the opportunity to experience the other side of the divide. Prosperity, bodyguards, and luxury await him in New Greenwich, a place where immortality is no longer a myth, but with his new found life comes new and dangerous obstacles for him to overcome.
Salas's narration opens the picture by announcing that there isn't enough time for him to explain why society is time-centric and biased heavily towards the wealthy, and initially this doesn't provide any distraction from the narrative. But once the third act begins, plot holes begin to originate due to the lack of information being relayed to the audience. With a constant lack of engaging material to keep the audience hooked on the plot, the film becomes somewhat stale and formulaic. Also, instead of intertwining the plot with a deep-seated moral and financial message aimed primarily at those who are at the centre of the current economic recession, Niccol's script fails to dutifully act upon the message it wishes to convey and stops short. This is no more evident than in the final concluding sequences of the picture, which contain some ambiguous socio-political sentiments regarding the nature and solidarity of the human race when it comes to change, difference and revolution. Despite gearing up to make a resounding point during its conclusion, 'In Time' instead decides to take the safe, Hollywood and financially friendly studio route instead.
Following on from its constant lack of engaging material, the nature of 'In Time's' formulaic plot creates a repetitive sequence of events which becomes very old, very quickly. Once Salas has teamed up with a rebellious, yet incredibly wealthy socialite Sylvia Weis (Amanda Seyfried), they attempt to repair their imbalanced society through a crime spree. Coming off as a futuristic Bonnie and Clyde, bank-robbing, hold-ups and Robin Hood-esque deliveries of time to people who are less fortunate becomes their mission. However, while this aspect initially provides moments of exhilarating action, the repetition of each sequence, almost down to a tee, quickly takes away from its impending impact. Essentially for the entire second act, and the beginning of the third, Salas and Weis relatively easily break into banks, steal time, distribute the time among the poor, and then hide in a downtrodden motel where they don't expect to be found, until the street-smart Time Detective Raymond Leon (Cillian Murphy) deduces where they are and initiates an attack upon their location.
This repetition becomes increasingly tedious as the remaining running time of the film dwindles by, resulting in a rushed and poorly crafted final act in which each character's own stories are tied up quickly to give the appearance of some form of a conclusion as the final credits roll. Unfortunately 'In Time' has a very interesting premise, but Niccol's failure to create an engaging narrative beyond the first act leads to a film which ends up regurgitating the same sequences over and over again as the characters motivations become devalued in the face of lacklustre set-pieces.
Real Steel (2011)
It is a harmless, easy-going picture...
Shawn Levy has made a name for himself as a director who likes to converge upon and exploit the family-friendly cinema market for everything it is worth. His recent outings include the two successful 'Night at the Museum' films and the Steve Carrell driven 'Date Night,' and with his latest effort 'Real Steel' he carries on this trend of bringing a large-scale, blockbusting picture to the big-screen that appeals to both children and parents alike. As expected with a film involving fighting robotic androids, it's an over-the-top, CGI-laden action-fest that never attempts to be anything else which somewhat works in its clichéd favour.
It's the year 2020 and human boxing no longer exists due to human beings insatiable taste for increasingly violent blood sports reaching new, unbridled heights. When society wouldn't sanction anything more violent and deadly, the World Robot Boxing league was created to satisfy man's urge for destruction. Here huge, metallic robots battle each other in front of hundreds and thousands of spectators to determine which man, woman or child has created the ultimate, well, killing machine. Charlie Kenton (Hugh Jackman) is a former pro-Boxer and full-time loser, his arrogance and stubbornness is a constant contributing factor towards his failure in life to provide for himself and his friend Bailey (Evangeline Lilly). But when his ex-girlfriend dies and he is left with custody of his eleven year old son Max (Dakota Goyo), he must not only juggle his job as a poor man's robotic boxing coach, but also a young, animated child who understands that the man before him is only his father by blood and nothing more.
Cheesy dialogue, energetic action sequences and exaggerated emotions prosper in 'Real Steel,' because Shawn Levy has decided that this film does not need to be taken seriously by any members of the paying audience watching in a nearby theatre or home cinema. Hugh Jackman and Dakota Goyo play overstated characters whose emotions are literal thrown at the viewer. When they're feeling a bout of sadness, arms flail, voices rise and tears flow. In no way do the characters react to the subtle nuances that govern everyday life, but instead, they perform to an overstated level, because everything in this film is placed into entertainment overdrive. The robots are huge, meandering objects of destruction, and the underground arenas are stereotypically on the 'bad part of town' (except for a Zoo, of all places). While the script perfectly encapsulates the desperate, stereotypical situation this father-son duo find themselves in both financially and emotionally, as their relationship slowly develops throughout the course of the film. Essentially all three elements combine in their own tawdry way to create something which can easily be described as; harmless, brainless fun.
This film is a case of; if you drop your cinematic guard and allow yourself to be sucker punched, you'll probably come away happy. If an audience member goes into 'Real Steel' with high expectations, he or she should come away feeling mildly disappointed, however if the audience member in question goes into the theatre with low expectations, there is no doubt that they would come away feeling somewhat satisfied. This doesn't necessarily mean that every scene contains engaging entertainment, but the majority do, including the final act, in which even the terribly tacky product-placement can't ruin a predictable, yet enjoyable conclusion.
The Adventures of Tintin (2011)
It doesn't allow you a second to breathe...
Recently Steven Spielberg has been one busy man, not only has he been producing numerous television and film properties over the past year or so, but he has also been juggling two directorial properties. While 'War Horse' isn't due to be released for another month, his latest offering, 'The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn,' is based on the classic, best-selling comic books created by the Belgian artist Georges Remi (who was also known under the pen name Herge). The comics follow a young Belgian reporter named Tintin and his dog Snowy as they go about their days solving mysteries and getting into various misadventures along the way. Directed by Spielberg, produced by Peter Jackson and written by the British trio of Edgar Wright, Joe Cornish and Steven Moffat, it marks a new turn in Spielberg's cinematic journey as he ditches live action for motion capture, and while the film takes full advantage of the technology at hand to create lavish environments, the story itself is too disorientating to hold an adult audiences attention for its one hour and forty minutes running time.
Tintin (Jamie Bell) along with his faithful dog Snowy, is enjoying his day meandering around a local market when he finds an intricately designed model ship called the Unicorn available for sale by a somewhat anxious merchant. Once in Tintin's possession, the ship sets off a sequence of events which sees the young reporter come up against the mysterious Ivanovich Sakharine (Daniel Craig), befriend the alcohol loving Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis), and help the bumbling Interpol agents Thomson and Thompson (Simon Pegg and Nick Frost) in their many endeavours, as he attempts to unravel the mystery behind the legend of the Unicorn and the secret cargo stowed away by the ships fabled Captain Sir Francis Haddock. Action, adventure, explosions, and bumbling detectives follow as Tintin races throughout the world to solve the mystery of the Unicorn.
It is a phrase which is thrown around a lot when evaluating films within the action-adventure genre, but 'The Adventures of Tintin' is literally a non-stop thrill ride. But, while this phrase would usually be attributed to the praise of a motion picture, in the context of this film, it becomes a part of the criticism. From the beautifully crafted opening titles to the closing scene, there isn't a moment which goes by in which something isn't being blown up, jumped on, ridden or used as a makeshift weapon. It is as if Spielberg doesn't trust the primarily young audience members to actually engage with the film when a lavish action set-piece isn't taking place, and because of this, the audience is presented with a film which becomes disorientating due to its constant fast and frenetic pace. Also, due to the narratives exhilarating pace, the film requires that many of the large set-pieces take place one after the over, thereby once again detracting heavily away from their overall impact on the viewer.
Aside from the fast-paced nature of the motion-picture however, the performance capture works well, as the computer generated backgrounds, locations and scenery are a startling indicator of how far technology regarding motion capture and three-dimensional imagery has come in the last decade. When it comes to the characters themselves however, while the motion capture allows for startling facial detail, it cannot replicate the emotional disparity of real human beings. The script written by three of the most promising British filmmakers at the moment contains a multitude of in-jokes, friendly humour and an attempt at characterisation. But again due to the pace of the film, this aspect falls flat due to the central narrative stream taking precedence over everything else on-screen throughout its running time.
'The Adventures of Tintin' is a family-friendly, fast-paced, loose, action-adventure film that will no doubt be lauded by children across the land. It is essentially Spielberg doing what Spielberg does best: entertaining the public. But unlike the 'Indiana Jones' series and 'E.T,' among many of his other films, 'Tintin' is unable to cross generational boundaries to become a film for all the ages. While children will appreciate the non-stop, in-your-face action sequences which are constantly loud, bright and full of computer-generated destruction, older cinema-goers will no doubt become tired of the repetitive series of events. With a 'Tintin' sequel and even a trilogy potentially on the cards for the future, it would have been nice if Spielberg had attempted to scale back the action sequences for further plot and character development, rather than throwing every available device at the viewer hoping that something would eventually stick. While this approach may work with young children viewing the picture, it will almost certainly pass most adults by.
Paranormal Activity 3 (2011)
They sacrifice storytelling for mediocre scares...
Since 2009, the 'Paranormal Activity' series has eclipsed the 'Saw' franchise in topping both the domestic and worldwide box office gross during the weeks leading up to and proceeding the Halloween weekend. A combined worldwide gross of just over $370 million dollars from the two previous outings made a third film inevitable, and despite the on-screen decade changing to encompass a prequel, the basic voyeuristic concept stays exactly the same. In their first fictional feature-length debut, 'Catfish' directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman take over the reins of the popular franchise and while they infuse their own directorial sensibilities upon the project, it ultimately fails to both engage and frighten the audience to any satisfying, bowel-movement inducing degree.
The year is 1988 and Katie (Chloe Csengery) and Kristi (Jessica Tyler Brown) are two seemingly normal sisters who are looked after by their mother Julie (Lauren Bittner) and their step-father Dennis (Christopher Nicholas Smith). After numerous things go bump in the night, Dennis decides to set video cameras up at various locations throughout their home including their own marital bedroom, the young girl's room and the downstairs living area. As the day and nights go by, videographer Dennis along with help from his technologically savvy friend Randy (Dustin Ingram), begin to notice that all is not what it seems within the household and that a malevolent being may be specifically targeting members of his family. What takes place next comprises of loud noises, unexplained moving objects and another edition to the paranormal franchise in which the audience slowly experiences a family's descent into madness as they try to both understand and overcome their experiences at hand.
The third film in the 'Paranormal Activity' series isn't a terrible film by any standards, but it does fail exponentially in two key areas. First of all, the third film of the scare-inducing trilogy offers up absolutely nothing that is new or innovative in any way, shape or form. The closest Joost and Schulman come in attempting to conjure up a bit of ingenuity is in the use of a mounted camcorder on top of a rotating axis, yet this device is severely underused and instead they opt more for the use of on and off-screen diegetic sound effects. While the narrative itself starts to become interesting as it slowly opens a revealing door of uncertainty to the viewer, potentially exposing what may be behind over two decades of terror in the lives of these two young women. But it instead opts to cut ties during the final act leaving many questions unanswered leading to underwhelming end to the potentially exciting exploration of the mythology behind over two decades of paranormal activity.
Secondly, if audience members have seen the first two films then they will well versed in how the series approach scaring the paying members of a theatre senseless. The scene shifts from hand-held filming to a stationary shot during the night as the members of the family sleep, before an extended period, usually between thirty seconds and a minute, of absolutely nothing happening is utilized to emphasize the vulnerability of the characters, and then the 'scare' happens. Whether it is a banging door or screeching off-screen diegetic sounds, or some form of unexplained paranormal phenomenon such as levitation, after the first two films this predictability becomes ingrained within the viewer and it is easy to simply evade the scare because you can adequately predict when it is going to come. Aside from two sequences in which Joost and Schulman change the record so-to-speak and provide two very well crafted scenes, the majority of 'Paranormal Activity 3' reuses the exact same format as the previous two films and therefore becomes stale, and most often than not, predictable.
Joost and Schulman have essentially created a re-hash of the first two films, except with young children replacing the older, more mature leading characters of the previous instalments. Both young girls give exceptional performances considering the majority of the film hinges upon their interaction with the world around them, and the film itself is competently composed, even if the two decade old tapes do look like they have been meticulously preserved in a state of perpetual perfection. But, it is first and foremost a film within the prosperous horror genre, and 'Paranormal Activity 3' fails on a fundamental level to provide any substance, any originality, or any scares that manage to eclipse the terror of previous two films and add a new level of horror to the already spine-chilling series.
Texas Killing Fields (2011)
Tries so hard to make the audience not care about any of the characters...
Originally scheduled for the director Danny Boyle in 2008, but when the British-born filmmaker abandoned the project a year later, based on the murders of young women in a Texan oil field known to the locals as the 'Killing Field,' Ami Canaan Mann, the daughter of the acclaimed director Michael, took over the directorial helm of the Sam Worthington vehicle the 'Texas Killing Fields'. Mann's feature-film debut is a flat, slow police procedural drama that fails to utilize the acting talent at hand and instead relies entirely upon a stale script. 'Texas Killing Fields' would make for a barely competent television drama, but as a theatrical release, it falls incredibly short of being engaging entertainment for the big-screen.
Detective Mike Souder (Sam Worthington) is a local Texan police officer who believes extensively in only working on cases in his own town's jurisdiction, while his partner Detective Brian Heigh (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) is a former New York City police officer who can't but help others in their time of need. Whether it is a young girl named Anne (Chloe Moretz) who resides with an abusive family, or Det. Souder's former wife Detective Pam Stall (Jessica Chastain), who polices a nearby community in which a Texan oil field known as the killing fields is situated. When Pam requests the help of Heigh in the recent disappearance and murder of women within the confines of the killing fields, he reluctantly obliges, despite the objections of his partner due to their own case against two low-life pimps who are systematically kidnapping and forcing teenage girls into a life of prostitution. What follows, is two differing journeys as both men attempt to bring the guilty to justice through their own, loose methods.
Sam Worthington's Detective Souder is a brash, uncompromising individual who rarely comforts, but always intimidates, even when he is simply taking a statement from a young, teenage victim. It is briefly suggested that this distance and animosity originates from a rough upbringing, but it is never explored in any suitable detail, and Souder instantly comes across as an unlikeable character that is unable to redeem the glaring flaws in his personality by the conclusion of the picture. The same can also be said for Jeffrey Dean Morgan's performance as a likable and hard-working detective, despite a good performance from Morgan, he is entirely clichéd in his traits and comes across as a one-dimensional cardboard cut-out. The only encouraging performance of the piece comes from the surprisingly mature Chloe Moretz, who at only fourteen years of age has already established herself as young, up and coming actress.
Aside from the acting and the lack of characterisation, the other glaring flaw of 'Texas Killing Fields' is the complex narrative at the heart of the picture, while Souder is investigating Rule (Jason Clarke) and Levon (Jon Eyez) over the kidnapping and forced prostitution of runaway teenage girls, Heigh is helping Detective Stall investigate the killing fields, and the story of a neglected teenager in Little Anne is also thrown in their for good measure. With so many different narrative streams taking place all at once it is easy to become confused about what is exactly taking place on-screen, who is being interviewed and what criminal case they are actually discussing or investigating. On more than one occasion the editing compliments this confusion by cutting needlessly to a scene or character unrelated to the previous sequence without any standing or context. This constant juxtaposition between cases also ceases any emotional connection to any of the characters or their plights.
Ami Mann had the potential, the actors and the setting to create a film which would transcend the typical crime-thriller picture and instead impose another strong character piece with an engaging narrative upon this cinematic year, however instead she has come away with an almost amateur looking motion picture which does nothing to compliment the genre. While the Louisianan outback masquerades beautifully for the desolate Texan fields, the rest of the film is quite horrible to observe, it is a boring, slow, predictable, one-dimensional crime-thriller that should have never been commissioned for theatrical distribution.
Red State (2011)
While it has it's flaws, it is nice to see Smith working outside the confines of his comfort zone...
Trailers and television spots concerning 'Red State' in the United Kingdom have constantly emphasized the fact that Quentin Tarantino "f**king loves this movie." While that may be true, Kevin Smith's latest film has proved to be a film which teeters on the see-saw of opinion: critics and writers alike either love it or hate it. But this is not only the problem with the finished product, but the film itself, it is a mix-match of contributing elements, some that work; the performance of Michael Parks and John Goodman, and others that don't; the lack of depth in the script and the sudden transition in the narrative from an exploration of the most extreme Christian fundamentalism to an all-out fire-fight within the blink of an eye.
Jarod (Kyle Gallner), Billy-Ray (Nicholas Braun) and Travis (Michael Angarano) are three typical Middle American high-school students with only two things on their mind; sex and alcohol. When an opportunity arises for the young men to use an internet website to rendezvous with an older woman named Sara (Melissa Leo) they jump at the prospect and head straight for her trailer thirty miles away in a small town called Cooper's Dell. However, they choose the wrong woman to mess with, after passing out due to being drugged on the floor of her trailer they find themselves imprisoned within the Five Points Church, a fundamentalist Christian group whose leader is the psychopathic Abin Cooper (Michael Parks). Abin Cooper, who also happens to be the father of Sara, is the leader of a small, yet faithful congregation who believe that God's word is scripture and it is there right in this world to enforce it, but before they able to enforce their extreme religious rights upon the world, Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms Agent Joseph Keenan (John Goodman) becomes involved as a fire-fight breaks out at the Church's compound.
Smith's latest outing, which is his first in the horror genre, fails because it starts rumbling but is unable to keep going the political and social commentary rolling towards an appropriate conclusion. The central theme of the film concerns the fundamentalist evangelical Christians who wish to literally wipe the sinners off the face of the Earth as they believe they themselves are doing God's work. Their work, their protesting and their stubborn, dismissive manner is representative of the Westboro Baptist Church, who are briefly mentioned in passing both verbally and visually, but what starts out as a quite brave condemnation and examination of a group of human beings generally avoided in feature films, instead, descends quickly into a comment on the handling of events depicted in the feature by authoritarian bodies in the United States and the methods they employ. If Smith had spent more time examining the relationships and the conflicts of the small, troubling convent of seemingly mild-mannered, everyday individuals, then maybe his final mediation on the nature of evil and hatred within human beings would have had more impact than the somewhat dull and underwhelming conclusion that he instead tacks on the end of his film.
While it may initially feel like a far-cry away from Kevin Smith's more acknowledged offerings, such as the critically acclaimed 'Clerks' and the films that became a part of his View Askewniverse, the lack of any depth within the script, especially during the first thirty minutes, does it at times make the audience think back to Smith's more light-hearted contributions. Jarod, Billy-Ray and Travis are presented as three, typical teenage boys, they swear profusely, they talk about sex constantly and they enjoy drugs and alcohol and that is it. They're supposed to be representative of today's corrupted teenage generation and their strive for sex and alcohol through reaches of the internet, but Smith portrays such an extreme characterisation of the young men that, even when they come face-to-face with the religious fundamentalists, only a microscopic amount of empathy manages to seep through towards the audience. Yet, the film is saved by two key performances by the veteran actors Michael Parks and John Goodman.
Aside from the young men, Smith does manage to convey the dialogue for both the fundamental preacher Abin Cooper and the ageing ATF Agent Keenan perfectly. The subordinate nature of bureaucracy is rarely seen in motion pictures, especially those conveying an elaborate, action-orientated set-piece such as a fire-fight, but Smith manages to relay the situation on-screen through Goodman in a dark and incredibly dry tone. Keenan is an 'old school' agent, he has been there, done that and got the blood-stained t-shirt in the process, but the audience is able to observe the crisis of conscience he has with every decision the high command makes, he wants to stay no, but years of service has rendered him into somewhat of a tired, bureaucratic drone. While Parks manages to take influence from all the religiously fanatical leaders from the last thirty years and he combines the traits from their maniacal lives to create a character that on the outside exudes charisma and influence, but is deep down inside nothing more than a psychopath.
Respect and admiration should be administered towards Kevin Smith for this attempt at trying something new, instead of settling back into a genre in which he has enjoyed continued success; he has instead thrown his hat into the ring and decided to explore differing cinematic tastes to those he is used to probing. While some performances work and the basic principles of the film hold up, nothing is examined in enough depth to truly place the audience in a tantalising and endearing position of thought-provoking spectators becoming involved in a new and varied Kevin Smith experience.
Hard to digest, but brilliantly acted...
Recently Hollywood and the various film industries across the globe have seen an upsurge in the amount of on-screen performers who are taking a break from acting in front of the camera to instead take control from behind it. Paddy Considine, the star of 'This is England' and 'Dead Man's Shoes,' is now a member of this increasingly growing club with his first feature-film debut 'Tyrannosaur'. Written and Directed by Considine, this is an uncompromising debut film from the former photographer, which examines the destructive effects of violence and aggressive behaviour on the lives of two different individuals who are drawn together through their developing friendship.
Joseph (Peter Mullan) is a lonely, cynical, and belligerent working class man. He spends his days drinking alone in the Pub and gambling in the local bookmakers where his only friends reside. Violent and abusive outbursts govern his existence thereby creating a solitary creature who acts on instinct rather than reasoning. However, Joseph's life changes when he meets and befriends Hannah (Olivia Colman), a local Christian woman who is constantly being verbally and physically abused by her sadistic husband James (Eddie Marsan). Both tortured souls, they find solace in each other's lives and develop a friendship which transcends their misgivings.
'Tyrannosaur' is an uncompromising, and at times, difficult film to watch as the characters' lives are laid bare for the whole audience to observe. Joseph responds to problematic situations through the use of his fists, while Hannah simply acts out of fear and denial. Both Peter Mullan and Olivia Colman give fantastic performances; Mullan is initially a brutish, vagrant looking male who can't naturally become entwined in society, but as the film develops, empathy begins to grow for a man who accepts his short-comings and the fact that he may never be able to overcome them. With humanity arising slowly from his dishevelled face through his relationship with the young, neighbourhood boy Sam (Samuel Bottomley).
While Colman's striking performance, which is far-cry away from her role on the hit British comedy series 'Peep Show,' shows a woman who is conflicted in all manner of her beliefs. Her religious beliefs give her the naivety to believe that her husband can change, while her heart knows that he will only stop hurting her when her beatings become fatal. This is most notable in the scene where James breaks down in tears at her feet after striking out at Hannah, as she cradles his head he constantly professes his love for her repeating the phrase "it won't happen again, you know it won't happen again." Hannah constantly reaffirms his worries saying that she does love him, but as she lowers his head, the camera observes her changing emotions as the audience is shown that Hannah is clearly not a woman in love with James, but instead she is simply afraid of him.
Considine's first directorial effort is certainly a competent effort, he never attempts to direct the audience's attention too far from the script or the two central performances at hand, but this itself is the film's primary flaw. While it is captivating and emotionally unsettling, it is also a narrative which is not uncommon in modern British cinema (or known to some as 'miserable British cinema'), and it portrays the same judgements and ideals as many of its predecessors did before without providing anything new to the sub-genre at hand, especially in the culmination of the sub-plot involving the young boy Sam and his neglectful mother and boyfriend.
Despite its unoriginality in the narrative's conclusive mediation, the film still manages to evoke a strong emotional response from the viewer through its combination of horrifying visuals and fragile performances from the two lead British actors, as Paddy Considine begins his feature film journey with a solid and respectable character portrait of two broken individuals.