Reviews written by registered user

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85 reviews in total 
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Avatar (2009)
3 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
Avatar, 9 May 2010

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Just as I did in Star Trek, I'm going to again single out Zoe Saldana as the one who walks off with the show. Granted this time her wonderful performance is only made possible through the truly, truly astounding work the tech guys did on bringing the Na'vi to life, but still, her character (well-written, strong, developed) is all her own. She's like a proper kick-ass, fully-formed, independent, very sexy (yes you read that right; move over Jessica Rabbit) fiery, spunky heroine, and I thought she was awesome. It's her - not Sam Worthington and her, just her - who gives the film such real heart and means the emotional stuff really does work exactly as it was intended to.

In 3D IMAX the spectacle is immense. I don't quite know what I was expecting for this - my first time seeing either 3D or IMAX - but as soon as I walked in I dialled down my expectations a touch. The whole 3D thing is brilliant, and although I unfortunately had the projectionist's reflection at the extreme right of my vision, and - undoubtedly due to my somewhat poor eyesight - it occasionally became a little "squinty" around the edges, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Not all of Pandora is photo-real (and alarmingly, not in the opening shot!) but much of it is. And I mean photo-real. The thrilling first scene set at night, with the forest illuminated only by a touch of moonlight and Jake's flaming torch is for me the technical standout (the Na'vi notwithstanding) because everything in the frame looked absolutely real, yet none of it was. At many times during the film I had no idea where to put my eyes. There was so much going on, and the screen was so big, the detail so vivid, the design so spectacular.

My major fears about the content of the film itself proved unfounded. No it's not a groundbreaking plot, but the presentation makes it feel - if not new - certainly nowhere near as hackneyed as it might seem on paper. The characterisation is about what you'd expect from a film of its type, and if Sam Worthington doesn't make much of an impression as Jake, Saldana, the always-brilliant Stephen Lang, and Sigourney Weaver all impress to one degree or another. Thanks to the technical achievements the plight of the Na'vi is often heartbreaking. They're big blue aliens but before long they were as real to me as anything else. Once key scene where they're subjected to a horrendous attack seems to last forever, and is a forceful and tragic piece of cinema the likes of which modern Hollywood event pictures never see. This was the part where I was closest to welling up, although there was a touch of that kind of thing towards the end.

The Iraq/Afghanistan allusions (is that the right word?) are blatant; impossible to miss. I personally don't think that counts as heavy-handed though, not in this kind of film. Cameron's not making an allegory here, he's not making a political point, he's not even asking us to think. He's merely saying "What happens on Pandora has many similarities to what's happening in Iraq and Afghanistan" and nothing more.

The action sequences are spaced out nicely and none of them outstay their welcome as is almost always the case in my opinion. They're approached in the same visionary manner as everything else that even the familiar seems fresh. The final battle was awesome (even if Jake's pathetic rallying speech before it was a shocking damp squib.) The humour - all of it - works.

The score is good, but it blatantly rips off Enemy at the Gates at one point, and Aliens in another.

I have a feeling this rating will go down on subsequent viewings, but as it stands now I can't find significant fault with it; its strengths and achievements tower over and so thoroughly dominate what weaknesses it may have; and I honestly can't remember the last time I was this excited about a film after I've seen it that it's top marks from me.

The sheer magnitude of that scene where they're destroying Hometree was staggering. I thought, They're not going to nuke it? Well then how will they destroy something that huge? Then the ships lined up and started a very familiar, almost mundane pounding. And pounding. And I realised that's how they were going to do it. Endless waves of artillery. They're just going to keep chipping away at this noble tree with their ignoble weapons until it falls. That was all just tragic to me. It's a testament to the writing, the acting and the CGI that this destruction felt so... wrong.

I loved Jake fending off the "dogs" before he meets Netiri. As great as anything I've seen in recent sci-fi. Loved the design of everything, especially inside Hometree with the vines. That exhilarating ride/climb/jump (!!!) up to the Hallelujah Mountains was another standout moment; in fact the whole sequence was. As they leapt from the tip of that vine my heart jumped into my throat along with them. Later when Jake's wrestling that banshee and he slips over the edge I had a similar reaction. Breathtaking stuff.

It's rare these days to get a proper, honest-to-goodness look at something (Quantum of Solace, Transformers step forward) but Cameron's eye is so keen that he's confident enough in everything to put it all up there on the screen. Ebert was right about the way he spent the money. Every penny is up there, without question.

6 out of 7 people found the following review useful:
Battlefield Earth: A Saga of the Year 3000, 19 April 2009

And 3000 years is about as much time as you'll guess you've been sitting there when the credits roll because, astonishingly, Battlefield Earth really is as bad as you've heard.

Aimed squarely at kiddies, it's impossible for adults to take seriously. The Psychlos are represented primarily by John Travolta and Forest Whitaker, but their brand of Disney villainy extends only to constant bickering which may well be unintentionally hilarious but it's not the least bit menacing. Indeed Travolta makes for one of the worst screen villains in recent memory, his Terl coming across as petulant, stroppy and very, very campy rather than the terrifying monster the film is so desperately crying out for. It's this need to keep things safe so the little 'uns won't be scared that saps any sense of danger from proceedings. I mean, his big evil plot is to use the humans to mine gold on the side so he can retire. Hardly Earth-shattering stuff. . .

Still, it's not all bad. Barry Pepper as the heroic Jonnie Goodboy Tyler is magnificent, expertly capturing the awesome personal charisma of the character and - oh who am I kidding? He's as dull as dishwater.

The modest budget shows in every frame, and much of it appears to have been filmed in the same warehouse re-dressed numerous times. It's all shot in tight close ups at wonky angles in an ill-fated attempt to hide the generally cheap nature of the thing. Right down to the hair extensions and prosthetic Psychlo hands it all has a compromised, that'll-do feel.

There are huge holes in the plot. And I'm talking about several of them. Gaping ones with barbed wire fencing and flashing warning signs around them to stop audiences falling in. However they're not as jaw-droppingly stupid as the massive chunks they either forgot or couldn't afford to include. But then again this is a film where spending a few hours in a library can enable a man who can't read to become knowledgeable on just about everything - including besting a warrior race at military strategy - and a couple of days in a flight simulator means you become an expert fighter pilot. Logic is not Battlefield Earth's strong point.

Neither is its score, a truly dreadful effort in which even the instruments it's played on sound like they were found in a skip.

The final battle is spectacularly inept, and springs from nowhere with no build-up. It's quite amusing actually; before you realise it's started it's there in front of you and then it's not.

But the most staggering thing about the film is that not only was it not knocked together by a bunch of disinterested monkeys, it was in fact a labour of love for John Travolta. This is something he'd wanted to make for years, so how it turned out so indescribably, monumentally atrocious is a mystery.

Runaway Jury, 19 April 2009

A classy, exciting thriller, and a cut above the usual John Grisham fare.

This is one of those rare films I can happily watch a couple of times a year and still enjoy because it's so completely satisfying. It's got a great cast all doing fine work, a nifty plot, an exciting score, and is full of fantastic little moments. It's gripping too - which a surprising number of modern thrillers are not - and is generally executed brilliantly.

It's a shame that so few sparks fly between Gene Hackman and Dustin Hoffman. Their moments together are good but they don't burn up the screen in the way one might hope. Nevertheless Hackman in particular is excellent, and everyone involved looks to be having a lot of fun.

3 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
The Hot Chick, 19 April 2009

Delightfully stupid fluff, The Hot Chick might be marred by Rob Schneider's ever-so-slightly annoying characterisation but it has many other good things going for it.

Anna Faris is good as usual, even if she does play the same role in everything she's in. The delightful Rachel McAdams handles both her "characters" very well, but is especially fun after the switch. It's a shame she's given so little screen time as she makes for a fine villain.

The jokes aren't exactly plentiful but they're funny for the most part. What came as a surprise to me was the lack of crass humour and the fact the film had so much heart. The scenes with Jessica and her budding cross-dresser kid brother Booger were underplayed nicely and were downright subtle by Schneider movie standards. The pep talk to the unhappy mother, the locker room talk, letting April down gently - it was all rather touching.

I'm surprised so few people like this one, but then again I enjoyed Deuce Bigalow. . .

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
The House Bunny, 17 April 2009

Decent comedy, but most of the laughs are to be had in the first half - discounting the grating opening Playboy mansion sequence, that is - and as the plot starts to kick in the jokes seem to take a back seat.

Anna Faris is a deft comic actress and her performance here is very good - even if she's not always given lines that match her talents - and the film benefits from excellent casting of the Zeta house sorority girls. They all work well together and are a likable bunch that's easy to root for.

It's not the greatest thing ever made, it's not even as sweet or charming or as fun as it should be. but it works well enough and I'm sure its target audience will be satisfied.

16 out of 22 people found the following review useful:
The Lookout, 16 April 2009

This quiet, understated drama-thriller may take a while to get going, but the characters are fascinating and Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Jeff Daniels have a wonderful chemistry that lends the film an unexpected heart. As a brain-damaged student and a blind wannabe entrepreneur respectively, their relationship is very sweet and would probably work well in a buddy comedy.

There's a neat Fargo-like quality to a lot of the characters and dialogue and while it covers few locations it has that convincing small town feel.

Gordon-Levitt is a night janitor at a local bank who's targeted by a gang and finessed into acting as a lookout while they rob it. Things - as they must - go wrong and he has to summon all the faculties of his fractured mind to save himself.

Isla Fisher is quite revelatory in her small role. As Luvlee she's either rather dim-witted or incredibly cunning. Fisher's performance hints at the deeper recesses of her character but doesn't reveal what they hide. Luvlee is one of those rare characters where you find yourself genuinely hoping they won't turn out to be something other than what they appear. Ultimately there's something curiously redemptive about Gordon-Levitt's journey, where there really shouldn't be. It's a testament to the quality of his performance.

Overall a satisfying drama with sustained tension and some fine performances.

Crank (2006)
1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Crank, 16 April 2009

I can understand why it's so divisive, but for me Crank is an absolute classic.

What can I say? It's a big, dumb, non-stop, deliciously obnoxious action mental case that uses every trick in the book to get as in-your-face as possible while squeezing your two veg and tickling your chin.

While I didn't care much for The Transporter and didn't bother with the sequels, it's so pleasing to see Jason Statham emerge as a fully-fledged leading man; a proper, bona-fide Hollywood movie star, and in Crank he's simply brilliant. Likewise Amy Smart (of all people) as the delightfully clueless girlfriend.

It's consistently hilarious, exhilarating, utterly insane and hugely enjoyable.

0 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Gone Baby Gone, 16 April 2009

Ben Affleck's assured debut behind the camera is an extraordinary achievement by anyone's standards, let alone a first-timer.

It's as authentic a depiction of a city as you could want. The accents, the cast and extras, the locations - everything comes together beautifully to form a complete picture. It doesn't feel researched or studied, it feels like it was made by people with a great affinity for the area, and it was.

It's a shame that at the end of a film marked by such understated realism and naturalism the final twist - the one set on a front lawn - goes several steps too far and is so outside the realms of credibility it shocks more due to the disappointment rather than the surprise. I will say that the ensuing moral dilemma it creates is hugely satisfying though, so the oh-boy-that's-stupid feeling is short-lived.

It's the one single false note in an otherwise outstanding film, and I dare say that the writers and Casey Affleck have given us - in Patrick Kenzie - one of the screen's great heroes. I haven't read the Dennis Lehane novel it's based on, but on screen at least it's no exaggeration to say that Patrick Kenzie is an Atticus Finch for the new millennium. He's the classic Average Joe thrown into something much bigger and important than he, and while he's aggressive and uncouth, he also shows remarkable bravery both physically and emotionally. He'll have to make several tough decisions and sacrifices before the credits roll and it will ultimately cost him everything except his honour and his unerring sense of right and wrong. And Casey Affleck's performance is just stunning. Physically slight yet imposing and occasionally even frightening. Tender and loving, ruthless and callous, yet always noble and dignified.

The mystery is dense and gripping, the dialogue throughout sharp and snappy. And at the risk of sounding too hyperbolic "Annabel" should go down as one of the all-time great final lines in cinema history.

0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Scary Movie, 15 April 2009

With the endless, utterly moronic ". . . Movie" films flooding theatres on a regular basis with their particular brand of "parody" and non-existent humour, it's easy to forget how genuinely funny and fresh the one that started it all was.

The humour is of course very stupid, very base, and very crude but it mostly works, with the dialogue being just as funny as the plentiful sight gags. The performances are generally spot-on - star Anna Faris being the standout in a turn that isn't exactly a tour-de-force but is cute and perfectly suited to the material - and the parody works.

There are one or two hints of things to come with the random Riverdance moment and the Budweiser commercial spoof but this one sticks to the gameplan and is frequently very funny indeed.

The Stepford Wives, 15 April 2009

This comedic adaptation of Ira Levin's novel could potentially have worked very well but it suffers from a painfully unfunny script and the re-shoots are evident throughout.

It's a horribly confused mess, but it's unclear whether all its problems are a result of reaction to poor test screenings or whether it was a lame duck to begin with. There certainly aren't many successful gags in the film, (just many poor ones), the performances are all pitched too high and the music is silly and intrusive. On the other hand it's hard to see how any half-decent writer could allow the issue of whether the women are in fact robots or just brainwashed to become so foggy. Issues like that and the often uneven tone suggest it was a mixture of both.

At least it's brief, and it's watchable - just about - in a car crash kind of way.

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