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12 Years a Slave (2013)
"I have had a... difficult time."
I watched this last night and I'm still trying to pull my thoughts together on it. I'd heard a lot of hype about the movie, with people declaring it to be the best picture of 2013 and an Oscar winner several months into last year, and I probably walked into the theatre mentally challenging 12 Years A Slave to live up to that hype. I actually didn't think that it would. I mean, how could it?
But it did.
I honestly can't remember the last time I was this devastated whilst sitting in a movie theatre.
I guess that's probably due to the movies I tend to see there, which place spectacle above characterisation and dramatic weight, but this movie broke me. I was fine for the first two thirds, admiring the editing and mentally applauding the fantastic acting on display, but the final third of the movie finally reached inside and just tore something out. By the time we had reached poor Patsy begging her master for soap just so she could clean herself, I realised that I was actually crying. From that point onward, I no longer felt like an observer but someone who had walked those painful years with Solomon, and I shed more tears as we reached that final apology, and that swelling music, and the cards telling us how Solomon Northup was denied justice and that the date, location and circumstances of his death were unknown. That text was almost as bad as anything I had been confronted with prior to its appearance; the mere thought that this great man - who had endured so much and been witness to such unspeakable things, who hung from a rope and came back from it, whose time as a husband and a father was snatched away by a single mistake - had vanished without a trace from the Earth saddened me greatly.
I've not seen any of McQueen's other movies and will now, of course, remedy that. This was a difficult movie but one I'm glad to have experienced, even though it chiselled away at a little piece of my soul. It's a testament of how terrible humans can be to one another, but also how great film can truly be in the right hands, as it's a medium which can achieve many things but here, in 12 Years A Slave, it is used for the highest of purposes; to entertain, to elevate, and to educate. I did not know Solomon Northup's story before I watched this film but now i will never forget it and, if this does become an Oscar winner as so many have predicted, it will be one of the few cases in which that award ceremony got something absolutely right.
"What if people start forgetting the way back?"
In 1940, almost the entire population of a town in New Hampshire mysteriously leave their homes, their belongings and even their pets, and head north along a trail into the dense wilderness. The corpses of those discovered are the only trace of what might have happened to the people of Friar. Many years later, Teddy Barnes and a team of researchers, pathfinders, historians and psychologists decide to follow the same trail and uncover the mystery of what happened in 1940. But what waits for them at the end of the trail - and will they survive to reach it?
I know what you're thinking. This is a movie about a group of people who, whilst following a mysterious trail through the wilderness in search of answers, begin to perish. It therefore must involve masked killers or mutated bears, right? Actually, no. "YellowBrickRoad" takes its inspiration from some of the classic older horror movies – such as "The Shining", "Deliverance" and the original version of "The Wicker Man" – and, instead of aiming purely for the eyes of the audience, it also aims for the mind. This is a slow-burning psychological horror filled with sights and sounds which get under your skin and worm their way into your brain; just as they do with the characters themselves.
That's not to say that there isn't gore or violence in "YellowBrickRoad". There are several scenes involving terrible, bloody things happening to people, but the film-makers shoot those scenes in a way that forces the audience to let their imaginations run rampant and fill in the gaps. It's not really these death scenes that will stick with you after the movie has ended, though. It's the way that "YellowBrickRoad" forces you to watch as the seemingly well-adjusted individuals to whom you're introduced at the beginning rapidly drift into insanity, rage, loneliness, brutality and utter confusion as the rules of reality change around them.
For a good portion of its running time, "YellowBrickRoad" is a creepy and unsettling story that fully preys upon our fear of the unknown. Without resorting to cheap scares, the movie accurately portrays how a group of people might act if they took too many steps northward and suddenly found themselves in the Twilight Zone. All of the main actors do a fine job and, despite working with an obviously limited budget, the directors utilise sound, along with moody, lonesome cinematography and the rustic setting to create a tense and spooky atmosphere.
Some may have a problem with the ending which perhaps veers a bit too closely into David Lynch territory, but I found it to be an interesting and apt way of closing the movie. For those who are fans of horror cinema, such as "Session 9" or "The Shining", in which the protagonists are confronted with something unknown and terrible that slowly burns away at their sanity and willpower, this may be close to essential viewing for you.
Could Have Been Better
Just after midnight, a young London couple receive a visit from their friend David who appears distraught, telling them that his girlfriend has been unfaithful and needs a place to stay for the night. Sometime after three in the morning, David is left downstairs whilst the others depart. It's only whilst looking in a mirror that David sees something out of the corner of his eye and, as he investigates, he comes face to face with something utterly nightmarish. But this isn't his first encounter with the horrors that lurk in the dark. He's met them before... and now he's brought them with him to his friends' apartment.
This low budget British movie from Andrew Cull and Steve Isles has drawn a lot of comparisons to "Paranormal Activity" which is unfair. Whilst there are certain similarities (characters stalked within a building by an unknown horror over a series of nights and the use of POV shots), those similarities are quite superficial. "The Possession Of David O'Reilly" was conceived and shot before "Paranormal Activity", and seems to draw more influence from the works of Clive Barker and George Romero than Oren Peli's 2007 horror movie. This is a movie steeped in a foreboding atmosphere with long silent scenes taking place in virtual darkness, events illuminated only by a single light source – such as a cell phone or the moon through curtains.
That's not to say that the movie doesn't have some significant problems. Despite not using the 'lost footage' style of "Paranormal Activity", the directors frequently film scenes from the point of view of one of the three characters. Whilst this does add tension in certain places, it's ultimately overused diluting the intended effect as the movie continues. As with most horror movies, the main characters are also prone to making bad decisions which make their situation worse and this only serves to undermine the story in places. In addition, we are given very little back story about any of the characters and there are some definite pacing issues.
What's most frustrating about "The Possession Of David O'Reilly" is that it has the potential to be a lot better than the end product suggests. The make-up effects for the horrific creatures are generally pretty good, and often accompanied with terrific eerie sound effects that heighten the scares. In the main role, Giles Alderson is fantastic; perfectly demonstrating his character's loosening grasp on reality as events unfold. Finally, the story itself succeeds as many times as it fails, and some scenes will definitely make you jump if you're watching the movie in a dark room with no distractions.
However, I was left feeling largely ambivalent at the conclusion of "The Possession Of David O'Reilly". Whilst there were glimpses of a great horror movie at times, the absence of information regarding several key story points, and paper-thin characterisation ultimately makes it difficult to recommend. Fans of small, independent horror productions such as "The Blair Witch Project", "Bug" and (in my opinion) the inferior "Paranormal Activity" will most likely enjoy this movie, despite its flaws, and owe it to themselves to take a look in order to make up their own minds. All others should probably tread carefully here, as the decidedly average script and the previously mentioned pacing issues may not compensate for the occasional jump scare in a darkened room when something with half a face appears in a sliver of light.
Black Death (2010)
"We journey into Hell... But God travels with us."
Set during the period of English history when the Bubonic plague spreads death across the land, a troubled young monk named Osmund is recruited by a band of soldiers to investigate a village that remains untouched. What they find there will change them forever.
Having enjoyed Christopher Smith's previous movies ("Creep", "Severance" and "Triangle"), I had high hopes for "Black Death" and was not disappointed. Although the gore of his previous movies is still evident during the battle scenes in which arms are severed by swords and heads crushed by maces, it's largely underplayed here with the script placing greater emphasis on the story's themes of faith, religion, superstition and love. It is this emphasis, along with the various twists in the plot, which make the choices faced by the characters in the third act of the movie so very interesting.
I was repeatedly reminded of the original "Wicker Man" whilst watching "Black Death", not only because of the central theme of a devout Christian confronting something terrible which attempts to challenge and undermine his own beliefs, but also because of the cold, bleak cinematography reminiscent of a seventies horror movie. The entire production is nicely directed and Smith utilises his horror knowledge to keep a constant and oppressive threat running throughout the film, regardless of the scene, to maximum effect. The visual effects, whether for the symptoms of the plague itself or for the various wounds suffered by the characters, are also excellent.
The cast are universally fantastic, although Sean Bean's towering performance – portraying the leader of the soldiers and a man "more dangerous than pestilence" – steals the movie. Eddie Redmayne does well in the central role of Osmund and manages to make his character's personal journey both interesting and believable, whilst Carice van Houten is also memorable in an important role during the second half of the movie.
I was very impressed by "Black Death" and would recommend it to those who enjoy atmospheric horror movies such as the aforementioned "The Wicker Man" or "Don't Look Now", as well as those who seek out movies set in or around this period of Britain such as "In The Name Of The Rose" and "The Reckoning". Although parts are grim and even upsetting, it's never dull and is definitely a movie worthy of your time and support.
Great Title. Terrible Movie.
Around twenty minutes into this movie I started to wonder if "Reykjavik Whale Watching Massacre" was meant to be a dark comedy. After all, how could this be a serious horror movie when it included scenes such as a traumatised woman singing Björk's "It's Oh So Quiet" over the loudspeakers of a ship whilst a tragedy occurs on the deck? Or the moment in the movie where the scene suddenly changes to a group of people discussing their love for whales? But if it's a comedy, where are all of the scenes designed to make you laugh - or at least smile? It's almost as though the scriptwriter was as confused about the movie they were making as I was about the movie I was watching.
Obviously "Reykjavik Whale Watching Massacre" is a homage to the far superior "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" - the original Leatherface (Gunner Hansen) even shows up here. However, everything that "Texas" did right, "Reykjavik" does wrong and then some. The victims here are some of the most one-dimensional stereotypes you could ever assemble from the loud, drunk Frenchman to the Japanese tourists with their camera gear, and none of them are particularly sympathetic or appealing. The only exception is a young black American man (portrayed by an actor in serious need of accent training) whose sexuality prompts one of the most unrealistic dialogue exchanges i've heard (and that's before you take into account the fact that this exchange takes place whilst the two characters are running for their lives from insane whalers). I'm not even sure who was supposed to be the main character in this movie which shows how problematic the story was.
This already unsteady boat is further sunk by gaping holes in logic which will leave you scratching your head in disbelief. For example, early in the movie we're introduced to a character whose presence seems to indicate that our victims have been lured into a trap. However, their fate actually has nothing to do with him but rather an unfortunate (and highly unlikely) accident. This is indicative of the poorly written script in which strangers suddenly and inexplicably relate their life stories to one another merely for the purpose of giving the audience some back-story, or act out of character to set up a specific plot point (see the crazy sequence of events which begins with the line "Your father was a real kamikaze!" for evidence of this).
There is only one death scene that is of any interest and the villains aren't terribly memorable. Whilst it's exciting to see a slasher movie emerge from somewhere other than America, I can't recommend "Reykjavik Whale Watching Massacre" due to its many, many flaws. You would be advised not to waste your time and to instead watch a movie like 2006's "Severance" which manages to be both funny and frightening - two things which "Reykjavik Whale Watching Massacre" completely fails to be.
The New Daughter (2009)
"There's something wrong with Louisa....."
A recently divorced father (Kevin Costner) moves his teenage daughter Louisa (Ivana Baquero) and son Sam (Gattlin Griffith) to the rural town of Mercy, South Carolina for a fresh start. In the dark forest beyond their new house, strange noises can be heard, and soon the father comes to believe that there's something wrong with his daughter. Is it connected to the strange mound of earth amongst the trees?
"The New Daughter" is not a bad movie at all, but it's not especially great either and that's what I found so frustrating about it. It comes so very close to being brilliant but somehow fails when it should have succeeded. Perhaps part of the reason it fails is that it needed a stronger leading man at its centre. The entire movie rests upon Kevin Costner's shoulders and he seems to virtually sleepwalk through it. The only time you see a glimmer of emotion is when he pounds his fists gently against a wall in one scene to show his anger. The actors playing the children are fine, even if they don't exhibit a lot of emotive moments and simply go from A to B as required.
The director does a superb job providing a growing sense of dread at the situation, and there are a number of scenes where he employs the 'less is more' approach, leaving it up to the imagination of the audience as to what a dark shape amongst the trees might have been, or what might be making a strange noise behind a closed door. The movie has a slow, moody pace similar to movies such as "Signs" and "The Others" which also helps to enhance the atmosphere. The special effects in the later part of the movie are also very well done.
In conclusion, I would have to say that "The New Daughter" is 'okay'. It's certainly worth a rental if you like slower paced psychological horrors rather than the type of movie where everyone runs around attempting to avoid crazed killers. There's hardly any blood, and it does contain one or two good scares, although the plot is a bit predictable in places. I only wish that it was more than 'okay', because all of the elements were in place to make a far better movie and that's what ultimately frustrates me.
A chance meeting between smart, sensitive Stephen Grace (Jackson Rathbone) and charming, mysterious Quaid (Shaun Evans) results in a college project to study the intimate fears which people have. With the help of fellow student Abby (Hanne Steen), the advert is placed and the camera begins to roll on a series of interviews as the trio start to document their findings. However, each of the three has their own fears to deal with, not least of all Quaid whose childhood is stained by a terrible trauma...
Having never read the original short story by Clive Barker ("Hellraiser", "Lord Of Illusions") that "Dread" is based upon, i wasn't certain what to expect from this movie. Last year we were given the impressive (and criminally overlooked) "Midnight Meat Train" also based upon a Clive Barker story, and "Dread" continues the trend of incredible horror movies adapted from his work.
"Dread" takes its time setting up its premise but i hesitate to call it slow-moving. Every scene is important to the story, and the chemistry between the three leads ensures that you keep watching. There is a real tension in "Dread" as Quaid's behaviour becomes more erratic whilst his obsession with the project starts to grow to dangerous levels. By the point at which the taped confessions are no longer enough for him, the audience has spent enough time with the characters to feel uncomfortable at what might occur next. It's rare to find a horror movie where you feel genuinely sorry for the victims.
It's also good to see a movie about students which appears to be set in the real world rather than a stylised Hollywood version of it; these are multi-dimensional young adults rather than catalogue models reciting hip dialogue to one another. The cast is excellent without a bad performance to be found. Evans impresses as a character who is capable of moving from charming to dangerous without blinking, but the stand-out would have to be Laura Donelly who plays a girl with a gigantic birthmark covering one side of her body. Although initially brimming with confidence, her heartbreaking vulnerability gradually rises to the surface and you can't help but emphasise with her. Jonathon Readwin is also fantastic in a smaller role as one of the trio's interviewees.
Don't be fooled into thinking that "Dread" will be your average teen-stalker horror movie. Sure, there is blood and death but this a more cerebral effort than usual; a bone-chilling descent into madness and obsession with a careful and deliberate pace. There are no sudden scares to be found here; only a creeping sense of foreboding and a third act that will stay with you long after the credits have finished rolling. Make no mistake; the final scenes in this movie are ruthless and nasty, but they are also very well-written.
"Dread" is a solid effort. If you are a serious horror fan, this is certainly worth your time.
"You Will Come Back....Won't You?"
How to talk about "Triangle" without giving anything away? It's a puzzle equal to that which the movie presents its audience, because this isn't your standard horror movie. It has more in common with plot-twisting movies such as "Momento" and "The Machinist" than the gory likes of "Halloween" or "Ghost Ship".
Perhaps a good start is offer some praise to the director Christopher Smith whose work i've been a fan of since "Creep". I also greatly enjoyed his follow-up "Severence", but "Triangle" is easily his most mature effort so far; and the entire movie has an almost dream-like atmosphere to it. It certainly looks beautiful and the haunting music adds to this ambiance.
Melissa George, who plays the central role here, is quietly impressive; she's never really been an actress who has stood out to me in her previous roles, and so it was a pleasant surprise to see her rising to the occasion of taking center stage. It's only a shame that her character is so haunted and inaccessible. This isn't George's fault; the role is written in a way which keeps her detached not only from the other characters but also from the moviegoers. She's constantly aloof and distracted which can be initially annoying; it's hard to care for a character which you can't warm to.
I would certainly applaud the makers for attempting something different to the standard horror story (although, I do admit that it is very similar in theme to one other recent movie that you'll probably see mentioned a few times in the forum for "Triangle") and I certainly enjoyed the experience. I'd recommend staying away from learning too much about the plot beforehand (the trailer, in particular, gives far too much away) if at all possible.
"Triangle" is very much like a movie-length version of a "Twilight Zone" episode but its also a very flawed piece. There's an intelligence at work in the script; the way in which the pieces of the puzzle are presented to the audience is done in a skilled manner but it also suffers from thinking it's far cleverer than it actually is. There are plot holes to be found by those who dwell on the story, and the ending isn't quite as neat as the movie believes it to be.
Still, this is an impressive effort and well worth checking out (especially if you're a fan of the two superior movies mentioned earlier - "Momento" and "The Machinist"). In a world in which cinematic horror tends to involve torture and cheap shocks, it's nice to find a more psychological effort that looks for other ways to creep under your skin.
"You Just Woke Up?"
I'm a big fan of science-fiction horror movies as long as they're done well. The last movie of this type that i recall enjoying was probably "Event Horizon" which replaced the typical haunted house concept with a spaceship. It's probably no coincidence that the director of that particular movie was also the producer here for the two have several things in common - including the fact that I found "Pandorum" equally enjoyable.
I've read other reviews criticising the storyline of "Pandorum" and some argue that the movie attempts to throw too many different things into the mix - you have the protagonists waking with no memories as to where they are, you have the introduction of space madness (the 'Pandorum' of the title) and you have a group of angry mutants racing around eating people. For me, these parts came together perfectly and i never found myself thinking that the plot was too busy. The screenplay is actually very well written - there are mysteries presented to the viewer which are gradually answered, leading into other mysteries.
The director has done a great job here with the camera carefully weaving through dark corridors, whilst the sets are magnificent; you truly feel as though you're trapped inside this dying vessel with Bower (Ben Foster) and Peyton (Dennis Quaid). Foster, in particular, keeps your attention on the screen as he struggles not only to survive in the hellish environment he's woken up in, but also to reclaim the memories of why he's here in the first place.
Perhaps it's not incredibly scary but the movie works more as a mystery than a horror. That's not to say that there aren't any horrific elements - some scenes are fairly gory. I'll also praise the makers for choosing to use make-up and physical effects for the mutants rather than bland CGI.
Highly recommended for fans of horror looking for an original science-fiction story that isn't a remake, or simply something to entertain them on a dark night.
"Who brings the nightmares?"
Unknown to the human race, two supernatural forces move secretly amongst us. There are those who give us strength and hope when it is needed and fill our minds with pleasant dreams as we sleep. And then there are those who whisper dark suggestions in our ears and corrupt our slumbers with terrifying nightmares. Caught between these two powerful forces are John, a man who has replaced his family with ambition and greed, and his young daughter whose soul has been kidnapped by a dark stranger named Ink whilst her body languishes in a coma. Can the young girl be saved before she is offered as a sacrifice to the dark ones?
"Ink" is a tough movie to describe and it's an equally tough movie to love. There will be those who dismiss it, perhaps finding themselves confused by the puzzle it builds its story around or disappointed by the flaws which come from making a movie on a low budget. And let's be honest here - there certainly are flaws. The acting is merely adequate, some of the prosthetic make-up could be improved and some of the footage has the look of your standard straight-to-video movie.
If you can overlook these problems, you might find yourself surprised by "Ink". The budget may have been low but there are still certain shots in this movie which will make you wonder how the director managed to achieve them - such as the main look of the antagonists (the nightmarish Incubi whose features distort behind planes of glass bolted across their faces), the scene in which a room grows steadily darker with the mood of those within it until only the inhabitants remain and a collision sequence which occurs suddenly and with great realism.
The story, as mentioned before, is actually a puzzle and it doesn't offer any easy solutions. Although the final twenty minutes provide many satisfying answers to questions which might have arisen on the journey to reach them, there are almost as many left untouched; and viewers are expected to draw their own conclusions. If you like everything explained and neatly wrapped up, you'll be left scratching your head as the credits roll. If "Donnie Darko" had been filmed for less money, it might have looked something like "Ink".
This is a movie that will divide people. Some will reach the conclusion (or perhaps not even make it that far) and possibly hate what they've seen. Others will watch the credits rolling and realise that they've witnessed something special. It is a movie that will touch certain people, beguile them with its story of a struggle to save a young girl's life and her father's soul, dazzle them with its occasional moments of wonder, and impress them with its wonderful soundtrack (the haunting main theme, crafted by the director and writer, adds to every scene in which it appears).
You may love this movie. You may loathe it. You owe it to yourself to watch "Ink" and discover which.
Ghost Town (2008)
"Only a life lived for others is worth living" - Albert Einstein
Let's get this out of the way at the beginning of this review. I don't like romantic comedies. There, I've said it. I'll watch practically anything but if you were to put something like "Sleepless In Seattle" in front of me I'd leave the room.
Why then, did I enjoy this movie so much? A large part of that answer comes from the man chosen for the lead - British comedian Ricky Gervais has had a great deal of success with the creation of "The Office" and his "Extras" television series. As Bertram Pincus (great name, by the way), the lonely dentist who loathes human contact (and human beings in general), Gervais' style of deadpan humour shines in almost every scene.
He is backed by a superb cast, including Greg Kinnear as the ghostly husband of widow Tea Leoni (an actress I've never particularly warmed to but who actually surprised me in this movie), whose performance never overshadows Gervais' but provides great support especially in the scenes where the two are alone together.
Whilst it may not feature many laugh-out-loud moments, "Ghost Town" has the ability to bring a genuine smile to your face and has something which many other comedies lack - a heart. Sure, it could easily be described as 'Scrooge In Manhattan' and it features many things you will have seen before (such as onlookers staring in horror at Gervais who appears to be talking to himself when he's conversing with the ghosts), but "Ghost Town" has many of its own unique charms.
Directed by David Koepp, the movie is a genuinely moving experience featuring a believable transformation in its main character who comes to realise that his self-imposed isolation and selfish ways are only hurting himself.
I found myself thinking about "Ghost Town" long after the credits had rolled, and have since recommended it to friends. It's a terrible shame that the movie didn't find an audience when it was released in cinemas, but I hope it will find one on DVD. It certainly deserves to and that's not a statement I often make about romantic comedies.
Chasseurs de dragons (2008)
Have you heard the story about the reluctant heroes who were hired by a King to slay a dragon? Oh, you have? Was it set in a world entirely composed of small islands floating above clouds, and did the heroes have to make dangerous leaps from one island to the next on their journey? Did water flow upwards and remnants of great cities levitate on the horizon? I didn't think so.
I stumbled onto this movie by accident and I'm really glad that I did! It's one of the most beautiful movies I've ever seen. Much like the Pixar movies, it's a piece of computer animated art that could only be possible in today's world. The animators have invested thought into almost everything that appears on the screen, and this attention to detail is staggering (the scene where the mushrooms in the foreground belch green smoke whilst the characters walk obliviously in the background is one of my favourites). The monsters are also fully realised and wonderful to watch in action.
Although the plot may not be entirely unique, the movie has enough charm to make sure you keep watching. Our protagonists are likable and interesting, ensuring the audience is behind their almost impossible quest to reach the end of the world and destroy the dragon which might otherwise devour everything in its path. Of course, Hector is the character most will fall in love with. A small blue creature with a crazy grin and a tendency to speak a mixture of nonsense and English, Hector provides comedy relief in a way Jar Jar Binks could only dream of.
In summary, I'd recommend watching The Dragon Hunters if you get the opportunity. Watch it for the incredible animation, the breath-taking battle scenes and for a glimpse into a world that's unlike anything else you've seen on a cinema or television screen. At the very least, it's a fun way to spend an hour and a half - no matter if you're nine or twenty-nine (which, in fact, I am)!
The Promotion (2008)
A Little Comedy With A Big Heart
I really, really liked this movie.
If someone asked me to list my top twenty movies, it's very unlikely that a comedy would ever grace that list but there's a possibility that "The Promotion" might appear from now on. The strange fact is that it's the characters and the story of "The Promotion" which endeared the movie to me rather than the humour.
That's not to say that "The Promotion" isn't funny because it is. It may not be laugh-out-loud funny but it's filled with enough strange little moments (a scene of one employee at the supermarket shaving in the middle of the aisle for example) to raise a few smiles.
Of the two main characters, Sean William Scott is the one whom the audience is drawn towards. Scott is possibly at his best in "The Promotion" where, for once, he's not required to channel Stiffler from "American Pie". Instead he plays a well-mannered loser whose only ambition is to become the manager of a new supermarket so he can finally afford a new house for himself and his wife. His competition for the position is played by the always reliable John C Reilly and it's nice that Reilly's character isn't presented as the bad guy but just a normal man with his own aspirations and dreams. Although it's a story of oneupmanship, it doesn't fall back on the broadly stupid ways other movies might have presented their conflict.
If you're a fan of Wes Anderson movies ("Rushmore", "The Royal Tenenbaums") then it's quite likely you'll find something to love here. The same is also true if you enjoyed "The Weather Man" (also written by Steve Conrad) or "Juno" (Jason Bateman from that movie appears here in a brief cameo incidentally).
Beneath the humour, i liked the message of "The Promotion" and the way in which it told that message. It's a study on human beings ("We're all just out here trying to get some food... sometimes we bump into each other" Reilly's character explains at one point) and, more specifically, on what it's like to be a man in the modern world.
It may have some problems here or there (the Scottish accent used by Reilly's wife is terrible for example) but it has a big heart and is incredibly entertaining. It also has an uplifting ending in which a long-running joke is finally paid off, which made me clap my hands and smile.
For the first fifteen minutes or so, you are convinced that "Taken" is just going to be another run-of-the-mill action movie, albeit with a strange choice of action hero. We meet Bryan (Liam Neeson) who seems quite ordinary, as he attempts to hold onto his relationship with the daughter (Maggie Grace) who lives with his ex-wife. He takes a brief job as a bodyguard and we see a glimpse of something extraordinary about Bryan when the girl he is protecting is attacked. So far though, the movie is pretty average.
But then his daughter is kidnapped in Paris and that's when the entire movie moves up about five gears.
Although there are certain plot holes in the story, if you're looking for something to satisfy your craving for action in the style of the Bourne movies, then you're going to forgive those and go along for the ride. And what a ride it is! Once Bryan arrives in Paris, the concerned father persona gives way to another; a terrifying whirlwind of fury which will do anything to get back what was taken from him. Legs are broken, faces destroyed, rounds of gunfire are emptied into fleeing men and torture is employed. If you thought a 56 year old Liam Neeson would be slower and less impressive than a 32 year old Matt Damon, you'd be dead wrong.
Once the main storyline of "Taken" began, I found my eyes glued to the screen. You see, Neeson does two things here - firstly, he completely sells the audience the fact that he is a father who will go to any lengths to get his daughter back alive. You see the concern in his eyes when he learns who has taken her and you see the absolute, unconditional love he has for her. Secondly, he convinces you that he really does possess the "particular set of skills" he warns one of the kidnappers about. You've seen Neeson in many movies but you've never quite seen him like this. The scene where he takes out an entire den of kidnappers at high speed by stabbing and shooting people before they barely have a chance to react is a particular highlight.
In summary, "Taken" is one of the best action movies of 2008. Give it a chance and I think you'll be pleasantly surprised at just how enjoyable it is.
Most prison movies are essentially the same story told with different characters. Usually the protagonist is convicted of a crime (which he did or did not do), is sent to prison and finds that they have to either adapt to their brutal new surroundings or die. Allies are won, enemies are made, death lurks around the corner. "Felon" is no different but three things raise it above most others.
First is the setting. Filmed at the New Mexico State Penitentiary, the movie carries an air of authenticity and gritty realism that movie sets simply can't provide.
Next is the casting. Stephen Dorff has always been a very underrated actor and here he provides a wonderful portrayal of a man let down by the legal system and cast adrift in a living nightmare. His descent from upstanding family man to an enraged prison inmate with fire in his eyes and blood on his knuckles is perhaps predictable but Dorff sells the portrayal to the audience completely. However, Harold Perrineau and Val Kilmer are the real stars here. The first (whom avid fans of the television shows "Lost" and "Oz" will already be familiar with) offers a great performance as Lieutenant Jackson, a happy family orientated man outside of prison but a monster within its walls. Kilmer, meanwhile, is John Smith, the philosophical but potentially dangerous convict who comes to befriend Dorff's Wade during their time together.
The third and final ingredient that ensures "Felon" impresses, is the passionate directing by Ric Roman Waugh who also wrote the screenplay (based, apparently, on events at the notorious Californian State Prison). With the help of some incredible editing, the movie powers along at a frantic rate and rarely gives the audience time to breathe. If the ending is somewhat contrived, you can forgive it because the journey to reach the conclusion was so intense.
Highly recommended, especially for fans of "The Shawshank Redemption", "The Big House", "An Innocent Man" and "Lock Up".
They Wait (2007)
Perfect For Late Night Television
After the release of Japan's "Ringu", Eastern horror became extremely popular in the west and lead to a series of remakes including "The Grudge" and "The Ring". "They Wait" isn't a remake of an existing Eastern horror but an original production in which an American mother (played by Jaime King) and her six year old son find themselves facing the ghosts of the Chinese community into which they have arrived from Shanghai. Although it may not be based on a Japanese or Chinese horror movie, "They Wait" unfortunately comes across like a compilation of greatest hits from such productions.
There's one very good scare quite early in the movie but, once this is over, everything else comes across as quite tame. "They Wait" also unfortunately employs some terrible CGI effects in places. Some of the ghosts (especially those seen before the titles roll) look like something from a Playstation game! This is quite surprising as the rest of the movie looks to have had quite a bit of money thrown at it and director Ernie Barbarash (who also directed "Cube: Zero") knows how to make his movie look extremely polished.
The lead performances are all very good (Ms King, in particular, proves to be a strong center for the story) but the plot is quite uninspired. You'll quickly guess what's going on and who is responsible, and the way in which things are resolved also leaves a lot to be desired. But is it a bad movie? No, not at all. If you catch it on television late at night, you'll probably be perfectly entertained throughout its running time and enjoy something that has many charms amongst its faults. If you pay money to rent it out, however, you might feel you've wasted money on something that seems incredibly similar to so many other movies.
At the time of writing, this movie has a 3.8 score on IMDb which is, in my opinion, completely unjustified. I've seen a few movies deserving of a score like that and this movie certainly isn't one of them! I can guess at the reason for this, and that reason would be the presence of a certain Uwe Boll who most movie fans will know as the director of a growing library of terrible movies (Alone In The Dark, In The Name Of The King, Bloodrayne etc). However, it's worth pointing out that Uwe Boll was simply the producer here. He didn't write this movie and he certainly didn't direct it!
In summary then, "They Wait" is an inoffensive horror movie which works nicely as a late night time-waster but not much more.
Anthony Hopkins on Slipstream: "I Did It As A Little Joke."
Given the chance to write, direct and star in my own movie, I would probably choose something about robot women with guns. Anthony Hopkins, however, decided to make possibly the strangest movie anyone has ever seen. "Slipstream" is a movie that is so strange that even David Lynch would probably look at the person next to him and say 'What's going on?'.
This is a movie where, in one scene, a man crosses the road towards a yellow car facing to the right which suddenly changes into a pink car facing to the left. This is a movie where two characters have a conversation interspersed with shots of random people laughing and insects climbing up walls. This is a movie where a man starts talking about "Invasion Of The Bodysnatchers" only for the actor of that particular movie to suddenly show up as himself (and then disappear into thin air).
This is a movie that decides to throw the need for a coherent plot straight out of the window and use fifteen different edits whilst doing so, as well as changing from black and white to colour for seemingly no reason at all.
I must, however, commend Mr Hopkins for his choice of actors in this movie (some of whom portray multiple characters). All of those involved throw themselves into their roles, even if they probably have no idea what they're actually doing. My favourite here was Christian Slater's thug in a hat who was impressively menacing whilst babbling nonsense and singing the American national anthem.
Anthony Hopkins has been quoted saying that he did this movie as a joke and that's possibly the best way to sum up "Slipstream". It's a joke on the audience. You'll watch it from beginning to end, trying to understand what is going on and hoping that the answer will come, only to discover that the answer never actually does. What the punchline to this particular joke is, only Anthony Hopkins will ever know.
I mentioned David Lynch earlier and I'm a big fan of that particular director. I would guess that Anthony Hopkins shares my love for the likes of "Twin Peaks", "Blue Velvet" and "Lost Highway". However, "Slipstream" isn't as satisfying as any of the movies of Lynch despite imitating many of his techniques (although I was surprised to discover that nobody talks backwards in "Slipstream"). It's far too chaotic and random - as another reviewer here pointed out, it's the movie version of Alzheimer's disease. No doubt there are a small number out there who are able to watch this and draw something from it. Unfortunately for the rest of us, "Slipstream" quickly becomes an annoying and confusing experience that was only made due to Hopkins' involvement.
Watch at your own risk.
Mulberry St (2006)
Excellent low budget horror.
New York City has a rat problem it seems. The little furry pests are crawling all over the place and you better hope they don't bite a chunk out of you because, when that happens, you start growing hair out of strange places and want to eat human flesh! "Mulberry Street" is an apocalypse movie which takes "28 Days Later" and filters it through a post 9-11 New York. It begins at a rundown tenement building on the titular street where we are introduced to several of those who live there including Clutch, a retired boxer, a bartender named Kay (living with her teenage son) and Coco who is Clutch's best friend. Meanwhile, Clutch's daughter Casey arrives in New York City after serving in the Middle East and begins making her way home. Unfortunately, there have been several reports of rats biting humans, a nasty virus spreading through the city and people suddenly turning on one another. This results in the subways being shut down and Casey is forced to make her way home on foot. Are all these events connected? You bet!
"Mulberry Street" begins slowly with the horrors kept in the background. A feeling of dread infects the first third of the movie; dark figures shamble around alleyways as the characters walk past, a man sits silently in Kay's bar sweating and acting strangely, rats scurry around nearby gutters and televisions begin reporting strange events. I actually quite liked this - it was nice to watch a horror movie where the characters were developed, allowing the audience to get to know them before the city fell into Hell. There aren't any stereotypes either which makes a nice change. The characters in this movie probably do exist somewhere in Manhattan; enabling you to care about whether they'll survive or not.
The movie was made for a very low budget and features a lot of shaky-cam, which is obviously used to hide some of the effects (although they were, in my opinion, pretty good - the rat people are appropriately gruesome and deformed) but it doesn't hurt the film. In addition, the visuals have a dark and very dirty look to them. For a movie which revolves around rats, this adds to the atmosphere and makes it appear more gritty and realistic.
I really enjoyed "Mulberry Street". The acting was great all round, the storyline was interesting and it was nice to see a movie of this type that didn't use zombies for once! The squealing noises made by the rat people as they flood through corridors and streets was suitably disturbing. If you enjoyed "28 Days Later" or are a horror fan in general then you should certainly check out "Mulberry Street". Jim Mickel is definitely a director to watch out for in the future. If he can produce something this entertaining with such a low budget, who knows what he'll be capable of with more money?
King of California (2007)
A very slow moving movie featuring superb acting from Douglas.
"King Of California" is the art house version of "National Treasure" or "Indiana Jones". It's the story of Charlie (Michael Douglas) who is released from the mental institution in which he has spent several years and is reunited with his sixteen year old daughter Miranda (Evan Rachel Wood). Although he is obviously a few sandwiches short of a picnic, Charlie manages to convince his daughter to join him in a quest for buried treasure. Together they move through Southern California looking for clues leading to the lost doubloons.
If, after reading that description of the plot, you're now expecting these two characters to run through dark tunnels with giant boulders rolling after them then you'd be wrong. "King Of California" is a slow and very quiet movie which focuses more on Charlie and Miranda repairing their relationship than the actual treasure hunt. Miranda has been forced to take a job at McDonalds in order to survive during her father's absence meaning that she is now the rational one whilst Charlie acts as a child. Their search for the treasure takes them to golf courses and busy stores where Charlie sees signs that they're on the right trail whilst Miranda, not fully believing in Charlie's dream, simply wants to spend some time with the father she's lost touch with.
Douglas gives one of his finest performances in recent years as Charlie, managing to make the character seem insane whilst also being totally appealing (witness the way in which he wins arguments by stating absurd facts and telling people to "look it up"). Evan Rachel Wood is also perfect in her role. It may not be as showy a role as Douglas' but Wood convinces you that Miranda absolutely loves her father despite all his faults (and he certainly has a lot).
Although I liked "King Of California", I really can't say that I loved it - the plot was perhaps a little too slow moving for my tastes. I certainly admired its message, however, that you should follow your dreams because dreams give you something to believe in. If you have patience and like character-driven movies which reveal their charms at a very leisurely pace (such as the movies "Sideways" or "Rushmore"), then I'd recommend watching "King Of California" for its superb acting and life-affirming message. Others - like myself - however, who prefer story lines to move along at a much quicker rate may find it a bit boring in places and slightly too whimsical overall.
Storm Warning (2007)
Bloody, brutal and brilliant!
I've been watching a lot of these type of horror movies recently - Wrong Turn 2, Hostel 2, Timber Falls etc. All of them feature normal people who find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time, and usually end up with some - if not all - of their limbs missing. It's been a popular horror genre since the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre came out and so it's difficult to take the premise and make it original. Is "Storm Warning" original? Not really. Is it a good movie? Yes!
"Storm Warning" begins slowly with our two main characters out fishing on their boat. They soon become lost on their way home and end up on a small island as rain clouds fill the sky above. Once they discover a seemingly abandoned house and the storm arrives, all hell then breaks loose. Despite being directed by the same man behind such awful movies as "Valentine", it's one of the better horror movies I've seen recently (and shows that director Jamie Blanks works best when he doesn't have to worry about pleasing the censors).
"Storm Warning" manages to combine elements from movies such as "Deliverance" and "Straw Dogs" to create something that is scary, gory and even funny at times. The three actors who portray the deranged antagonists are all superb and are suitably menacing. You never know quite what they're going to do next - and it's that tension that keeps you watching.
It's Nadia Fares who really sells this movie though. Her character's transition throughout "Storm Warning" is totally believable and the way in which her character eventually fights back leads to some brilliant scenes that will both surprise and entertain you. There were at least two occasions where I even found myself thinking "Oh my god! Did that really happen?"
Yes, it's not original but it's unsettling, well-acted, nicely written, very gory in places and ultimately fun. What more can you ask for from a horror movie?
A triumphant 8 out of 10.
Timber Falls (2007)
If Timber Falls In An Empty Cinema, Does It Still Make A Sound?
When a young couple (Josh Randall and Brianna Brown) go hiking in West Virginia, they meet with a local woman named Ida (Beth Broderick) who recommends that they head along the trail to Timber Falls due to the beautiful waterfalls and gorgeous Appalachian views. Despite prior knowledge that the trail is the least frequently patrolled, Mike and Sheryl decide to follow Ida's advice and end up abducted, tortured and fighting for their lives against... oh, that would spoil the fun wouldn't it?
"Timber Falls" borrows a little bit from "Wrong Turn" (in fact, it was mistakenly marketed as "Wrong Turn 2" in Brazil), a little bit from "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" and a little bit from "Hostel". Unfortunately, it ends up less than the sum of its parts. The best scene in the entire movie comes in the opening segment which features a lot of blood and the rather gruesome way in which a young woman frees herself from imprisonment. Unfortunately, the rest of the movie is nowhere near as bloody or horrific. With only one exception that I can think of, the camera subsequently shies away from showing most of what is happening.
The fact that it borrows from other movies isn't what causes "Timber Falls" to fail. The movie fails because the main characters aren't actually that interesting. They spend the first half of the movie making small talk or simply making out with one another, and the second half crying or shouting. You don't get much back-story either, other than some dialogue explaining that one of them is a nurse. Because of this, you can't really connect to either of them and ultimately don't care all that much about their fate.
It's a shame really because you get the feeling that director Tony Giglio has quite a lot of talent. The Romanian landscape (where the movie was actually filmed) is captured beautifully and he fully conveys the gloom of the location in which the two main characters are imprisoned.
As it is, "Timber Falls" isn't a bad movie. It just isn't a particularly great one either. The torture scenes aren't particularly interesting and there's absolutely nothing here that you haven't seen before in other horror movies of this ilk. If you've already watched "The Hills Have Eyes", "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre", "Wrong Turn" and all the other scary wilderness/torture-porn movies then this will be an okay rental until something better arrives. If not then try one of the aforementioned movies instead
The Box (2007)
This Box Is Empty
"The Box" begins with flashes of gunfire inside a house and a police unit moving into position. Inside the house, the cops discover a stack of bodies and two survivors amongst the carnage. The first is the quiet Finn Williams (Yul Vasquez) who had been enjoying an evening with his friends, one of whom was looking after the house for its owner. The second is Danny Schamus (A J Buckley) who had been one of three men who had invaded the house with loaded weapons in search of the titular box. The two survivors are then interrogated by Detectives Romano (Gabrielle Union) and Burkhalter (Giancarlo Esposito) as to what actually happened.
Despite similarities to "The Usual Suspects" in both its structure and the way it plays with fact versus fiction, "The Box" is ultimately let down by its mediocre script (which relies on a LOT of annoying coincidences) and flat, boring direction. It has the spark of a good idea as the audience is given two depictions of events and invited to choose which - if either - is correct. However, the plot simply isn't strong enough to carry its running time (I started checking my watch around the hour mark) and is hindered by such awful scenes as a couple lying upon a bed as slushy romantic music plays around them. The resolution also decides to throw as many plot twists at the audience as possible and hopes that some of them stick. They don't.
The actors, on the whole, are fine with Max Ryan giving the best performance of the movie as the unhinged Ray Kamen who leads the three home invaders (the scene where he begins hopping around a room like a bunny rabbit in front of a man he's torturing manages to be both funny and unnerving at the same time).
Overall, "The Box" is annoying because it had the potential to be a lot better. I found it less entertaining than an episode of "C.S.I", and it was instantly forgettable afterwards. Instead of renting this movie, I'd recommend watching "The Usual Suspects" instead (even if you've already seen it) or perhaps "Lucky Number Sleven". This box isn't worth opening.
Already Dead (2007)
A Superb Action Thriller!
It seems strange to me that we live in an age where scripts for mediocre thrillers such as "Firewall" can draw a big name like Harrison Ford whilst this little gem goes seemingly unnoticed. However, don't let the absence of any A-list Hollywood names stop you from checking out "Already Dead" because Ron Eldard and Til Schweiger are perfectly cast here. Never heard of them? Don't worry - you'll probably recognise them when you see their faces and, if there really is a God, they'll both soon headline much bigger movies.
What's fantastic about "Already Dead" is that it doesn't waste time getting into the story. The movie begins with events set in motion. Our first scene introduces us to Thomas Archer, a man evidently in some degree of emotional turmoil, as he walks through a train station with a large bag. What's in the bag? As he makes his journey towards his destination the audience is given brief flashbacks which bring you up to speed on what has already happened. As the present events unfold, the flashbacks continue until they intersect at a specific point and Thomas Archer is posed with a terrible decision.
I won't mention any more of the storyline because, for me, one of the highlights was the way in which it progressed. Another review on IMDb mentioned the lack of surprises which makes me wonder if we saw the same movie. I was continually wondering about the motivations of certain characters (in particular, Schweiger's character who is simply known as 'The Man') and the ending I predicted never occurred (yet still fully satisfied me). I also have to take issue with another reviewer's comments that the movie was 'slow in the middle'. I didn't find that all.
Despite "Already Dead" being a very polished production, it is deliberately filmed in a very raw way which mainly uses hand-held cameras to make you feel as though you're there with Archer during the movie. Good performances from the two leads as well as the supporting actors (Patrick Kilpatrick and Christopher Plummer) ensure that you're gripped throughout. It also manages to not outstay its welcome; there certainly weren't any moments when I found myself looking at my watch.
If you like smart thrillers with lots of action, I'd definitely recommend checking out "Already Dead". I'd also recommend not reading about the plot beforehand. Watch it without any knowledge of what will be happening and you'll find yourself pleasantly surprised.
Flawed But Watchable Sequel.
In "Stir Of Echoes", the always watchable Kevin Bacon played a man who began to see restless spirits after being hypnotised at a party and subsequently uncovered a terrible crime. "Stir Of Echoes: The Homecoming" utilises this premise and gives it a twist. Our main character here is U.S Patrol Captain Ted Cogan who is forced to give the order which leads to the death of a family in Iraq. He is also wounded and falls into a coma which - much like the hypnosis from the first movie - turns him into a 'receiver', able to see the ghosts around him.
"Stir Of Echoes: The Homecoming" uses the horror genre to comment on the situation in Iraq and its effect on Americans back home. For example, early in the story we have a party in which one of Cogan's neighbours makes a racist joke which results in laughter from some and an outburst of anger from Cogan. It's an interesting idea but, unfortunately, the script is not quite strong enough to quite carry it off. There's a good idea at work here but the movie comes off as far too preachy in places for its own good.
The horror aspects are well done and very interesting. As the ghosts haunting Cogan become more frustrated and aggressive, their attacks become increasingly more violent. Much like Bacon's character in the first movie, Cogan also experiences various hallucinations related to future events. I certainly can't fault the work of director Ernie Barbarish who manages to stretch a small budget out so the movie looks great.
If I had to point out the areas where this movie fails, the most obvious area is the casting of Rob Lowe as Cogan. It would be hard for any actor to follow Kevin Bacon but Lowe appears to sleepwalk through most of the movie. There are moments when you glimpse him come alive but, for the most part, he seems to be there just to pick up his money which is a shame. The second failing of the movie comes with its conclusion which simply didn't sit right with me at all.
Strangely, Bacon's son from the original "Stir Of Echoes" appears in a cameo role in this movie but has been greatly aged which suggests that the sequel takes place many years later. Although it was a nice way to tie the two movies together, this decision ultimately baffled me.
Despite its flaws, its still a watchable movie. If you enjoyed the first movie, then you might still enjoy "Stir Of Echoes: The Homecoming" if you can forgive its sledgehammer approach to racism and the current situation in Iraq. Unfortunately, if you've seen the first movie then you'll also probably realise where the story is going due to certain similarities in its plot. Is it worth purchasing on DVD? No. Is it worth a rental? Well, if you like supernatural horror movies then there are certainly worse ways to spend an hour and a half.
Eagle vs Shark (2007)
"I was going to come as a shark but I realized an eagle was slightly better."
"Eagle Vs Shark" is the story of two people considered 'losers' by society and how they might...just might...be right for one another. On one hand you have Jerrod, a twelve-year old boy trapped in a man's body who enjoys making candles, plotting revenge on the school bully that ruined his life and playing the video game 'Fight Man'. On the other hand, you have the fragile Lilly who sings songs about tangerines, lets people walk all over her and dreams about how Jerrod (a regular customer at the fast food restaurant where she works) may one day love her.
Creating a quirky, whimsical movie featuring two geeks who are awkward and barely able to function in society is difficult to pull off but New Zealand film maker Taika Watiti manages it. What makes this movie different to many others which focus on similar characters is that "Eagle Vs Shark" never stoops to mocking its characters despite the opportunity to do so. The audience is invited to share in their hopes and defeats, rather than stand back and laugh at their offbeat behaviour. It is a romantic comedy about two characters who are ill-suited to the genre (Lilly wears her shark costume while lying in bed with Jerrod for example).
Whilst both leads are magnificent, Loren Horsley is the real find here. With her wide innocent eyes, crooked smile and shy demeanour, she creates a character which you can truly connect with. Jerrod may be a complete jerk and oblivious to everyone around him but you never doubt that Lilly truly loves him. She's the type of girl who fades into the background of any room and Horsley manages to convey her joy and heartbreak in a way that you really want her to have a happy ending. Jermaine Clement as Jerrod is a lot harder to warm to because of his actions (and inactions) throughout the movie but ultimately you come to share Lilly's faith that the two are right for one another.
It's hard to avoid the comparisons to "Napoleon Dynamite" when reviewing "Eagle VS Shark". The deadpan deliveries of the characters in both movies is similar and the tone is almost identical. It's safe to assume that if you hated "Napoleon Dynamite" then you're absolutely going to loathe "Eagle VS Shark". Everyone else should give this movie a chance. Like the characters it features, it's not perfect but, like love, it's an uplifting experience.
Awkward. Quirky. Wonderful.