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And The Result At Half-Time Is...
We live in an age where a comic book movie is not classed as a true comic book movie unless it is brandishing a certain cookie-cutter label. Yes, folks, Marvel now own the franchise on comic book adaptations and - fan boys be damned – anything else is considered an aberration. More so, when said aberration is interpreted as trying to cash in on the Marvel cash cow and copy its highly successful business model. And that's what we have here: two of DC's most famous characters united in one movie and... the Marvel cinema contingent is having none of it.
Batman V Superman was the target of negative publicity almost from day one and barely stood a chance: there were the accusations of this being rushed; that it was a force-fed 'shared universe' wannabe rather than the expected Man of Steel sequel; plus, of course, the 'Dawn of Justice' tag just seemed added on and rubbed everyone up the wrong way. Then you also had to contend with the fact that Man of Steel's ultra serious tone and dour color palette – of which this is a successor - contrasted sharply with the humour and shiny pastels of Marvel's fan boy friendly output and you had a recipe, if not for disaster, for the next closest thing to it. But taking all that into account, here is the shock: Batman V Superman is a very good and competent superhero vehicle.
The set up that kicks everything off is very well done, with the events from Man of Steel's conclusion playing out again from the perspective of Bruce Wayne: one of his buildings is demolished in the Superman/Zod battle and his employees die. Thus, the roots for hatred are quickly sown and it is through this and a combination of hate inducing dreams that the growing resentment of Superman begins to grow. Bruce Wayne clearly has issues, let's not forget - he dresses up as a bat...
As a superhero movie, ignore all the flack it has received - this really delivers. Rather than being the alleged rushed production most would have you believe, there is actually a lot of thought and ideas in it. It looks great – genuinely like a comic book - and has some great scenes: Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent trade sarcastic insults at a party, Batman and Superman have a wonderful initial confrontation where Superman tells Batman to consider his 'letting him off the hook' an "Act of mercy" – it's effective because we know Superman could easily crush Batman at that point. Plus there's a dream sequence where we see Batman wearing goggles and wearing a coat – while still clad in the Batman outfit – genuinely thrilling to look at. Plus the scene where bystanders touch Superman as if he's some kind of messiah figure is realistic and plays true to life. And on top of all that, when Wonder Woman eventually does appear in the movie, boy is it one hell of a great entrance.
The Batman suit here is a huge improvement over the one in the Nolan trilogy. Whereas that one seemed to be modeled on the late 80s/early 90s Tim Burton iteration of the character, the new suit is bulkier and looks all the better for it. And this suit too marks a welcome return of the shorter 'bat ears' compared to the long, protruding spikes of the Burton/Schumacher/Nolan interpretations. And then there's Batman himself. Whereas in the 'Dark Knight' trilogy, the Bale Batman used a lot of stealth to take down the bad guys, in this version the emphasis is on bulk and brute strength - you don't doubt for one moment that Batman couldn't take out a group of armed bad guys. He's a hulking guy who's prepared to smash heads without hesitation.
Henry Cavill proves once again why he is the best Superman since Christopher Reeve, not only looking like the character, but also actually possessing the acting chops to play it so well. Ben Affleck is a big surprise in this. He pulls off a very effective Bruce Wayne/Batman and is very good in the role. So good in fact, his Batman comes across more as a masked force of nature who is all about brute strength, compared to the wiry/fast incarnation of the Christian Bale movies. And his Batman sounds better than the much-lampooned Bale version – a bit of a misstep in the Nolan trilogy. Jeremy Iron's Alfred has a lot more to do in this than previous Alfred's and comes across as a sarcastic, tough, possibly ex- military type. In his relationship to Bruce Wayne, we really believe they've been playing vigilante games for the past ten years.
There are a couple of small missteps, though: Gal Gadot, while looking the part, lacks something in the delivery of her dialogue. The Wonder Woman outfit is hard to get right and looks kind of like Xenia: Warrior Princess. In addition to this, Jesse Eisenberg seems to be doing the exact opposite - overdoing it and trying to do a 'Heath Ledger as the Joker' in his rendition of the Lex Luthor character. Not terrible, by any means, but it could have been reigned in a bit. As for Aquaman, well, the jury is still out on that one...
Still, it's got spectacle, big action, scale, depth and ideas in abundance (how would the public actually treat a real life superhero?) and says things you will not find in any of the Marvel movies in a month of Sundays. But the real fun here is the almost Shakespearean interactions (in tone) between Cavill and Affleck as the titular characters. There are very good scenes in here. Watch it and you will be impressed. If people are willing to cast aside the Marvel bias, they will see it's a better movie than the bile-filled hoards are willing to give it credit for.
Not too long, long ago in a galaxy not too far, far away... two guys, Larry and JJ, were sitting in an office trying to write a script...
JJ: I just can't crack the script, Larry. I can't. Suddenly there is a knock at the door: it's George Lucas. GEORGE: Hey, guys, I have an idea- JJ: Not now, Georgie boy
George Lucas exits. JJ: So what am I doing wrong here, Larry? LARRY: You're approaching it the wrong way, Jj. What I propose is we essentially rewrite the first movie Georgie boy made back in '77. JJ: He will be very annoyed if we do LARRY: Who cares – he lost his rights to be annoyed when he sold to Disney. Retooling the first movie is the way to go, I'm telling you. JJ: it's a revolutionary thought, Larry – do you think it can work? LARRY: Duh, yes! But we must update it for the 21st century, addressing all those aspects that annoyed people back in the day. For example, let's have another Luke Skywalker type character going on a hero's journey, but this time we will make her female.
JJ: That will bring in the ladies! LARRY: Yes and we can really pander to them by having her remarking that no one needs to be holding her hand and pulling her out of danger! They will like that! And she can have latent Jedi powers JJ: Oh, my - toy sales will be doubled! LARRY: What's another common complaint? The lack of black people. The one black guy there is, well, he betrays Han Solo. So let's make the second major character in the movie black. Let's make him a Stormtrooper but a good one. He's basically gone rogue JJ: And that Poe Dameron guy we discussed – he can be our new Han Solo! LARRY: But didn't you say you want to bring Harrison back? JJ: Oh shoot Yeah you're right! I guess we can just have Poe disappear off the screen until Solo dies? People won't notice it cos they will be so caught up in the magic of Star Wars! What about a villain? LARRY: Easy – we will just conjure up another masked Darth Vader type. Might be a good idea if they want to make a prequel trilogy further down the line showing his origins. He will be part of a sinister movement like the Empire
JJ: I know - The First Order!!! LARRY: Brilliant! But where will they come from and how do they get to power – considering the evil has been vanquished at the end of Return of the Jedi? JJ: Larry, we don't need to explain all that – the magic of Star Wars, remember. People will be so caught up in the space battles they won't even question it. But we will need a poignant Obi Wan-type death sequence moment LARRY: Here's what we could do: make this masked villain Han Solo's son and and he could be the one who kills Solo! There's your poignant death scene just like the first one! JJ: That's astounding! I'm tearing up here right now just thinking about it! LARRY: Where exactly will Luke Skywalker fit into all this? JJ: We can have him being a hermit on an island at the end. The plot could be about a map inside a cute little R2D2 type robot and they're trying to find it.
LARRY: Find the map and they find Luke Skywalker! Yes! But why does he leave a map to his location? JJ: Who cares – that's the magic of Star Wars! We can explain it in the next one! LARRY: And if you're putting another robot into this, what will we do with R2D2? JJ: Good question I guess we could put him asleep in the corner? As in on standby? LARRY: For the entire movie? JJ: Yeah, why not. People won't even question it
LARRY: This First Order group is going to need another massive weapon... JJ: What about another Death Star-type thing? LARRY: Is that not a bit similar, though? JJ: Well, Georgie boy got away with using the Death Star twice, so surely we can too? But it can be much bigger. They could have actually hollowed out a planet this time. LARRY: Good idea. I still feel we need another black actor somewhere in the mix. But it must be a respected one. JJ: But who can they play? All the human roles are taken! LARRY: You're not thinking outside the box, Jj! What about having a brand new Yoda type character created through CGI? I think the story will need it, anyhow. He or she could play that? JJ: But what's the point in casting a respectable actor and then obscuring them by CGI? That makes no sense. LARRY: But an extra ethnic actor's name will look good in the cast list! JJ: You know what, you're right!
LARRY: We've yet to sort out the Princess Leia character JJ: Stick her in some of the tactical scenes, doing the same stuff she did in the first trilogy. That'll take care of her. LARRY: And the whole movie could end in a climatic light-saber battle where the heroine fights the lead villain JJ: What will the ex-storm trooper be doing during all this? LARRY: He can get injured and be unconscious JJ: But shouldn't he pick up the light-saber too? LARRY: No – he's a Stormtrooper, silly! JJ: But if we go to all this trouble of putting in a black lead, people will complain that the black man still doesn't get to handle the Light-saber at the end of the movie LARRY: Sam Jackson did in the prequels JJ: But he was a Jedi! LARRY: Jj, you are right! Granted, it won't make any sense in the context of the story, but you're right! Let's have him pick up the light-saber and engage in battle! That's how he gets injured!
JJ: I think we have the makings of a blockbuster, Larry!!! Let's go out and throw tennis balls at George to celebrate!
World War Z (2013)
World War Z gained a lot of notoriety from all the rumors of production problems, reedits and expensive re-shoots. From all those negative stories, you would be forgiven for expecting an incoherent vomit of a movie; that it's not only easy to follow, but also well made and gripping is a massive plus. WWZ tells the story of a mysterious global pandemic, the source of which is unknown, but which turns the majority of the earth's population into rampaging zombies. We see the outbreak from the perspective of Gerry (Brad Pitt) and his family, as they witness it first hand while stuck in rush hour. From there, Gerry – a former government agent - is coerced back into action to find a cure and it is action all the way until the end.
You have to admire this movie on many levels. It's supposedly a summer 'tent pole' release – traditionally a time for family movies - yet, it features lots of zombies running around biting people while getting shot in the process. There are panoramic shots of zombies running amok and the ensuing widespread destruction. And even if the bloodletting and gore levels are appropriately sanitized and restrained for the summer audience, still you have to revel in the joy of an actual summer zombie movie. When has that happened before? When is it likely to happen again?
Brad Pitt (looking about 35 here) makes for a solid action hero as he goes through one hellish experience after another. Strangely, he doesn't really have a regular counterpart/sidekick to bounce ideas/dialog off, resulting in a lot of him asking questions on behalf of the viewer. The one time it seems as if he's going to get a sidekick, said sidekick is dispatched rather quickly in an unintentionally amusing fashion – presumably to give Brad/Gerry more to do. Furthermore, there isn't really the usual secondary subplot to cut to and as such as we see the chaos unfold mostly from his viewpoint. This has the unforeseen consequence of giving the movie a very 'chaptered' form; one-off events – almost like little mini-stories in their own right - take place in one country after another with their own beginning middle and ending and usually as Pitt the lone protagonist as the witness.
The zombie action is excellent and we see suitably large-scale set- pieces of wanton zombie destruction. There is a level of scope and ambition here that you just won't see in something like 'The Walking Dead'. Though it has to be pointed out that those wide vista shots of the zombie hoards building 'ant hills' to scale walls happens only a handful of times in the movie. Even at that, you've probably already seen them in the prevalent trailers, which admittedly takes away some of the 'Wow Factor'.
Now onto the aforementioned 'productions problems' and 're-shoots' that littered this movie's gestation. It's hard to evaluate it without taking those 'issues' into account. Why? Because the telltale signs are so evident. The story takes strange turns, focusing on some elements while completely ignoring others. For example, early on in the story, we see Gerry and his family rescuing a young boy – who we assume Gerry will semi-adopt and become a surrogate father figure to since his offspring are girls; this is how it seems it's being set up - yet the child is never seen or referred to again.
Similarly, Gerry later takes a wounded Israeli soldier under his wing but she is so underwritten and cipher-like, you wonder: what's the point? If that's not enough, then take a high profile actor like Matthew Fox (of Lost); he features early on in the story and you assume he will figure prominently later; instead, he just shows up a handful of times in what could be the role of a background extra and one not worthy of Fox's talents. Just like John Cusack's shorn role in Terence Malicks's 'The Thin Red Line' (1998), what you begin to suspect is that Fox too was a victim of all the re-shoots/re-edits and his arc probably featured more prominently in the earlier version. And if you really want to nitpick, a scene at a facility, while admittedly a stand out that's very well executed, still feels very glued on almost as if it came from a different movie. Yet another legacy of the re-shoots? Probably it certainly feels that way.
As for the pandemic, a reference is made to rabies early on in the story, then it's never really mentioned again. It's vagueness like this that rears its head again and again. Still, it's not the disaster that had been foreshadowed by some members of the media. Yes, it may feel chaptered but it's an intelligent film – for a zombie movie, anyway – that has stuff to say while showing you big spectacle. You really get the impression that this is truly a global pandemic.
And that's the one thing this movie has going for it over a lot of movies of the genera: take any of the Romero zombie movies or any zombie movie from the last few decades, and what you find is the action/outbreak is always restricted to small areas/backwater towns. Not so here – this is the real zombie deal on a massive scale. For the first time ever, you see a zombie apocalypse taking place in cities in populated streets and not just on some back road in the middle of nowhere. But there has to be a trade-off: you can do spectacle or gore but you can't do both. That type of thing costs money, and if you're spending a lot of money, you want your product to be seen by the widest audience possible – meaning what essentially boils down to a bloodless zombie movie. Still there is enough good material in here to keep you interested and make the idea of a sequel/sequels a not altogether unwelcome proposition.
Man of Steel (2013)
Just like the reboot/remake/sequel/whatever that was 'The Amazing Spider-Man', 'Man of Steel' chooses to retell an origin story. Except unlike that movie, this one at least has a good excuse: the original 'Superman: The Movie' came out in 1978 and is ripe for reinterpretation. First off, let's be honest: the late great Christopher Reeve was a brilliant Superman. He was also a brilliant Clark Kent, having the talent to thread a fine line with a performance that was at once comedic and sober. For some, he will always remain the quintessential Man of Steel. Rather like Sean Connery in the Bond franchise before him, he is the original and all who come after-wards have to stand in his shoes and be compared to him
And admittedly, they are rather large shoes to fill
They had previously attempted to fill those shoes in the 90s on TV with Dean Cain in 'Lois and Clark' and failed. They had tried it again in the 21st century in 'Smallville' with Tom Welling, which while being a huge improvement over the Cain version, was still missing something. The fact is, just like Batman/Bruce Wayne, Superman/Clark Kent is an extremely hard role to get exactly right. You can usually get somebody to do one or the other, but it's rare that they can do both. Among the things they got right this latest retelling of the story of Kal-El is the casting of Henry Cavill as the Man Of Steel. He is without doubt the best actor to don the cape since Christopher Reeve.
Whereas Brandon Routh's rendition in the 2006 movie 'Superman Returns' is an honorable failure, the biggest problem with his interpretation of Kent/Superman seemed to be he was doing an impression of Christopher Reeve. Spot on as it was, he was channeling Reeve (probably at the behest of director Bryan Singer) to such extremes that you wondered why they even bothered. Another issue with that movie was Routh looked too young in the role: it's not Superboy/Boy of Steel, its Superman/Man of Steel, and as such, Cavill – even though he would have been in his late 20s during the time of shooting - brings a maturity and gravitas to the role unseen since Reeve's heyday. Rather than doing an impersonation, Cavill brings a fresh approach to a role that could have been one-dimensional - yes, he's THAT good.
Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight) produced this and it's easy to see his influence. The movie is meant to be rooted in reality with a gritty sense of realism. For one thing, check out the title: it's not called 'Superman' but the 'Man Of Steel'. So dedicated it is to this realistic approach that when the character is called Superman by someone, they are interrupted before they can finish; when we do eventually hear Cavill's character being called 'Superman', it's with an apologetic – almost embarrassed – tone. Seriously, what is wrong with it, and why couldn't they just have called this movie 'Superman'?
No expense has been spared on this production and they have got a terrific cast. While the 1978 movie was great, it wasn't perfect. Terence Stamp's rendition of General Zod was slightly one-note; Michael Shannon in this gives a more three dimensional performance. And the growing romance between Lois and Clark here is done much better. But the unsung hero in all of this, it has to be said, is Kevin Costner playing Clark Kent's dad. His screen time may be minimum, but his impact is huge. Just like the greats of the past – Marlon Brando/Glen Ford playing the Kent's dad in the original - he casts a large shadow and his scenes with the young Kent as he reaches maturity are brilliant, genuinely touching, and heartfelt. Even after his arc of the story is completed, his ghost seems to loom throughout the remaining picture, with Kent/Superman carrying his legacy. Russell Crowe might be equally as good in his role as the father of Kal-El, but Costner leaves a lasting impression. Do they give Oscars for super hero movies? Just saying because, honestly, this movie needed more Kevin Costner in it.
There are some small issues: the Krypton here is a vibrant, active world that seems very much alive; at least the Krypton in the 1978 version looked like it was already in the throes of death. This Krypton is also so hi-tech – you can see space ships - that you just have to wonder why Jor-El and wife don't just jump into a ship and escape with their baby? Similarly, what exactly is going on with Superman's breathing: he breathes in space; no, he can't; wait yes, he can
But the obvious question is: is it as good as the original 1978 movie? Is it even fair to compare the two? It's inevitable comparisons will be made but the simple answer is no, it's not as good because the original had a magic that isn't really present in this newer, rawer take. While there is no question that Messrs Cavill/Costner/Crowe/Shannon are definitely on par with the originals in the 1978 movie, somehow the wonder that was in that movie is missing here. For one thing – obviously attempting a 'clean slate' - they eschewed the brilliant John Williams composed theme. No musical themes here leap out and grab you the way that did. Furthermore, the effects in the original – dated though they are – have a realness to them because they were all done practically. This movie, it has to be said, turns into a CGI fest to a massive extent. While the CGI is more effective in the background - for example, when buildings are falling etc., - it's a bit less effective during the superhuman-on-superhuman bouts. Still, overall it is a worthy and spectacular watch. It beats Bryan Singer's entry in spades and is a more than deserving addition to the Superman cannon.
Cloud Atlas (2012)
Clever... Ambitious... Entertaining... Epic...
So here is a movie that has everything: gore, sci-fi, violence, drama, action and huge visual effects
Yet it's very telling that when it came out in the US it flopped. Big-time. There were lots of walkouts because it was 'too hard to follow' for some and 'too boring' for others. For a generation weaned on endless Michael Bay helmed Transformers toys advertisements – sorry: movies - or regurgitated Spider-Man remakes/reboots/prequels/sequels/who-the-hell-cares, Cloud Atlas committed the ultimate sin: it was a movie that strayed from accepted convention, playing out multiple story lines that seemed unconnected over a huge ass-numbing running time. Punters voted the only way they knew how: with their pockets. Simply put, they stayed away in droves.
And who could blame them? After all, it wasn't a reboot; it had no fighting robots and featured no vampires. However, this is exactly what makes the reception to the film all the more telling because - get this - Cloud Atlas is an exceptionally brilliant movie. Even more tellingly, it's (A) Easy to follow – the stories are surprisingly simplistic - and (B) not boring at all – the movie, in fact, moves at a very fast pace. It's very telling that even after you take those aspects into account, it still managed to go over US audiences' heads. So what was the problem, if any? It seems Cloud Atlas's biggest sin was it attempted to be bold, ambitious and original - probably not the kind of thing that would go down too well with an audience waiting for the latest Marvel rehash.
Based on the novel by David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas tells the somewhat fanciful stories of people and events that while happening far apart from each other – mostly in other times - are intricately linked beyond time/space. It may sound unwieldy at first but it works: a lawyer (Jim Sturgess) on an ocean voyage is being slowly poisoned by his greedy doctor (a brilliant Tom Hanks); a sassy journalist (Halle Berry in top form) is investigating some nefarious matters concerning a nuclear plant; a revolt by robots (fabricants) in a futuristic Korea is being suppressed by authorities; some senior shenanigans goings-on at an old folks' home where a literary agent is sequestered; there's post- apocalyptic bloodletting in an age many centuries from now and finally, two composers war over a piece of music which they're claiming equal ownership of – the 'Cloud Atlas' sextet of the title.
While this may sound like a storyline that is has too much going on for its own good with its 'everything but the kitchen sink thrown in' approach, it still works and there is a reason for it. If there is one thing that has been overlooked with Cloud Atlas it has to be the remarkable feat of editing. Surely, this has to be one of the best edited movies in years? Editor Alexander Berner has no fewer than six stories to juggle, which in lesser hands, could have been a huge 'throw it at the wall and see what sticks' mess, but in Berner's hands, the stories are inter-weaved and played out to perfection. There's a lot of ground to cover here. When juggling that amount of stories, the editor has to have the precision of a surgeon. It's a balancing act for sure: when do you cut away? When do you return to a story? When do you introduce a new story? When do you cut away from that and go to the next strand? And so on. It was a massive - nay, typical - oversight on behalf of the Academy that it wasn't even nominated.
The cast are great too and play multiple roles across the vast layers of stories: Tom Hanks doing the best Irish?/British?/Scottish? accent this side of Dick Van Dyke and Halle Berry playing a white woman that resembles Madonna back in her 'Vogue' days; Jim Sturgess playing an Asian (with a distinct Neo-vibe from The Matrix) and Hugo Weaving playing a chilling demonic entity - there is no-one dragging their weight here; everyone is giving it one-hundred per cent. While some have sniffed at the notion of white people playing other races, it's important to point out that blacks and Asians also play whites in this movie. In fact, there's a strange fascination in trying to spot who's playing who in what era/role – kind of a generational 'Where's Wally?' if you will.
This approach may have been budget-driven; after all, if you're going outside the so-called 'Hollywood system' to independently fund a movie, doesn't it make financial sense to have you're A-Listers playing more than one role? Why hire others to play them? Furthermore, it also indirectly benefits the whole mystical conceit that we are all linked through time – would the movie be as effective if different people were playing these roles? Who knows.
Like the 'Tree of Life' before it, it's been favorably compared to another not exactly mainstream movie: '2001: A Space Odyssey'. Both mix story and theme strands, but while Tree of Life maybe be the more Kubrickian, it has to be said that on the whole, Cloud Atlas is the more successful of the two, expertly weaving and interweaving to perfection the multiple scenarios that are cross-cutting across the huge running time.
This movie could easily be put in the 'don't make 'em like they used to' category: just when you thought that large, epic filmmaking was a relic of the past, here comes Cloud Atlas to shift your views: it's huge and dazzling entertainment, for sure, but the really telling thing is although it's juggling six story lines for almost three hours, it remains riveting the whole way. Brilliantly directed by Tom Tyker and the Wachowskis with a great musical score, Cloud Atlas is nothing short of a criminally underrated classic. Watch it and you will be transported, spellbound, touched and more importantly, entertained.
Life of Pi (2012)
A large scale yet very intimate epic
Based on an apparently 'unfilmable' book, Life of Pi tells the powerful story of an Indian man named Pi (after a French swimming pool but shortened to the name of the mathematical number) who recounts the tale of his epic – and fantastical – survival at sea in the company of a Tiger named 'Richard Parker' (seriously) and some assorted wild animals after their ship sinks and they are cast adrift in a lifeboat.
First things first: this is an absolutely incredible movie. In fact, this movie is so good, it ranks as one of the best of 2012. And if there is any justice in the world, it will garner an Oscar for Best Picture, Best Director (Ang Lee), Best Actor (Suraj Sharma – young Pi), Best Supporting Actor (Irrfan Khan – adult Pi) and Best Visual Effects, but more on all these later. Heck, let's throw Best Adapted Screenplay in there too, because this is a movie so well made, it actually hearkens back to a bygone era, almost eradicating the term 'They don't make 'em like they used to'. The scope may be massive, but the movie that is so old fashioned, you could easily imagine it being released eons ago in the 1940s.
Ang Lee, director of the underrated 'Hulk', really deserves a lot of props here. While the easier route would have been to drastically change the story and cast an American in the lead role (stand up M. Night Shyamalan who did just this in 'The Last Airbender – subsequently angering an entire generation of Asians), Lee goes the opposite way and casts an Indian actor, or rather in this case, an Indian non-actor: Suraj Sharma - who plays Pi - had largely no acting experience prior to being cast, making the performance Ang Lee has coaxed out of him all the more extraordinary. You believe his every nuance and considering ninety-nine per cent of the time, he was probably acting with something that was not actually there, the conviction he injects into each scene is amazing.
There has been animosity from some quarters regarding the whole framing device of the adult Pi recounting the story to a writer, dismissing it as an unnecessary obstacle to the crux of the movie: the survival at sea. But those criticisms are wrong; the introductory scenes of the adult Pi recounting his early life in India to the writer interviewing him are a hundred per cent necessary for what eventually transpires. In fact it could be argued that these early scenes are what make the movie: they give a much needed back-story to Pi's youth: being raised at the family zoo, how he got his strange name, and his relationship with his decent - but very tough - father (a brilliant Adil Hussain), who teaches him a very harsh lesson about life and death. These scenes are riveting in themselves and serve as the icing on the cake for what's to come.
Strange as it may sound, the movie actually has a few things in common with a huge sci-fi movie: Avatar. Avatar looked great and the fear was we would have to wait until Avatar 2 before we would see a movie as beautiful again. Not so. Life of Pi is the first movie since Avatar to look THIS amazingly good. As with Avatar, the imagery has a fantastical element mixed in with all its sheer beauty. Furthermore, Life of Pi is also one of the first movies since Avatar to feature a CGI creation that is so photo-realistic and lifelike, that you can't actually tell which is which. The Tiger - Richard Parker – is a complex blend of real animals and computer generated ones. When it moves around on the boat, it's actually difficult to believe it's not a real Tiger – they got the weight distribution and movement so accurate, it's actually difficult to believe it's CGI. The effects company who did it deserve a lot of credit because they must have done a lot of research into the movements of Tigers to get such an accurate representation here. Let's just say Richard Parker in the Life of Pi puts Aslan the Lion in the 'Chronicles of Narnia' movies to shame. The seemingly small scale of the story somewhat underlies the evident technical wizardry that has gone on behind the scenes.
The movie moves fast, is very clever and intelligently executed, and always remains engrossing – despite the hefty running time. There is a very obvious religious motif that runs through the entire thing, which may irritate those who don't like being sledge hammered with spiritual doctrine. You see, much to his father's chagrin, Pi follows three religions simultaneously: Hindu, Christianity and Islam. If you came here for some fast 'put your brain in neutral' action, then you came to the wrong place, pilgrim.
As with Avatar, the 3D stands out as one of the better examples of the format (check out the lizard running up and flicking its tongue into camera at the opening). Refreshingly, it has been shot in 3D rather than being doctored in 3D in post-production and for the most part avoids the old hurling stuff at ya' template that has become the common, go-to practice with movies such as these. With 'Life of Pi', Ang Lee has created a modern classic. Yes, there are elements of darkness to this tale, but surely all fables have those? Simultaneously life affirming while teaching a life-lesson too, this movie will have legs. While a lot of movies come and go, some even largely forgotten, this one looks and feels like something whose life can only extend and whose fan base can only build over time – due, no doubt, in part to the fact that it will become one of those perennial favorites; those rarities that are replayed endlessly every Christmas for new generations to enjoy. Yes, it is THAT good.
A low-key and not very action packed Bond
In 2006, Martin Campbell directed 'Casino Royale' starring the then controversial choice of Daniel Craig. The casting of fair-haired Craig marked him as the first Bond to be blonde and – unlike his predecessors – the first actor to play Bond who was under six-foot (for the original producer, the late Cubby Broccoli, this would have been something of a strict no-no). The decision was greeted by almost widespread disapproval (heck, someone even set up a website to vent his fury at the decision)and things were not looking good. However, the risk paid off and Casino Royale turned out to be one of the best Bond movies in recent years. It did good business and laid the groundwork for the follow-up (and sequel, of sorts – a Bond first) 'Quantum of Solace'. While still being a huge hit, the words "boring" and "hard to follow" were not exactly uncommon place at the time. Which leads us onto the latest movie 'Skyfall' – the twenty-third in the franchise (that is if you don't count Sean Connery's 1983 venture in 'Never Say Never Again' and 1967's 'Casino Royale' starring – ahem – Woody Allen as 'Jimmy Bond').
After an operation goes wrong, Bond goes missing in action for a while – not in the least helped by the actions of M (Judi Dench). Meanwhile, a shadowy and ruthless figure from M's past comes back to haunt her by first of all exposing the names of undercover agents before moving on to more explosive tactics. This forces the now embittered double-o-seven to put his anger aside and return from the 'dead' to help his boss out with this latest threat to Queen and country.
First thing's first: there is a lot that this movie does right. The entire cast are excellent. From a fantastic opening scene and the refreshingly low-tech opening titles which could have came from the seventies (a far cry from the CGI drenched titles of the Brosnan years) to the title song, sung in an unshowy, understated fashion by Adele, this movie marks a return to the basics in a way unseen since From Russia With Love. You see, Skyfall is not really about set pieces and gadgets; it's more of a drama this time – but with some action thrown in.
As with the previous Craig movies, this kicks off with a – surprise, surprise – chase. Whereas Casino's was on foot and Quantum's was in cars, this one starts on foot, moves to motorcycles before ending up atop a moving train. Make no mistake: it really is riveting and on edge of your seat stuff, but it's something that comes back to haunt the filmmakers later on Yes, you've guessed it: this movie suffers from a severe aliment known as 'The Dark Knight Rises syndrome'. What this means is the opening is SO good and spectacular and sets the bar so high, whatever comes after it can only hope to live up to it. And unfortunately, as with The Dark Knight Rises, Skyfall also shoots its load too soon and although it tries, never quite lives up to the breathtaking opening.
There are some aspects of this movie that don't make any sense. They may be a legacy of last minute script editing and if this is the case, it really shows. For example, in one part of the movie, Bond and co discuss a certain evil character who has no country/nationality/next of kin and is basically a 'ghost' with no permanent base/home; yet Bond quickly gets the location of his next destination via a simple text. In another part, Bond is taken to meet Silva - the bad guy of this movie (a fantastic Javier Bardem) by boat. While on deck, he takes out a homing device and puts it in his pocket. This understandably has bad repercussions for Silva and leads inevitably to the obvious question: why on earth wasn't Bond frisked beforehand? Meanwhile, in another scene, two people are trying to flee stealthily from a violent shoot- out/assault in a rural area so as not to alert the ruthless hit men; yet they don't have the gumption to avoid switching on their flashlight which alerts the bad guys. It is silly moments like these that really drag the quality of this movie down a notch. There's no excuse – the makers have had four years to sort this stuff out. And let's not get started about all the product placement
The rather odd thing about this movie is it cost a reported two hundred million dollars to put up on the screen, but it does not look it. James Cameron was able to make Avatar for just forty million more and in 3D. For the amount of money that was spent on Skyfall, you kind of expect spectacle, i.e., envelop pushing action scenes. In general, most people come to see Bond movies for the excitement and the action. Who can forget the helicopter/roof chase of 'Tomorrow Never Dies'? Or the huge, multiple tanker truck set piece at the end of 'Licence to Kill'? With the exception of the exciting – and spectacular opening scene -sadly, the set pieces here are few and far between. There's a few sporadic action scenes scattered throughout the long running time but they're so brief as to not stand out like previous Bonds. Yes, Sam Mendes may have took the admirable step of taking things back to its 'roots', but it comes at a cost of the very thing that Bond is known for.
In conclusion, while Casino Royale still remains the benchmark of the Daniel Craig outings – if not also the best Bond movie of the last fifteen years – this is still a huge improvement over Quantum of Solace, and makes for an engaging two-hour plus of good story telling. It's just a shame that the number of large-scale action set pieces can be counted on one hand.
The time travel genre is nothing new to movies. It's been done brilliantly (The Terminator/Back to the Future/12 Monkeys) and not so well (Timeline/Freejack/Time After Time). Even still, it's a story arc that offers so much potential for imaginative plots, filmmakers continue to come back to it again and again. Which is fine, providing it's done with some panache. Looper is yet another addition to that long traveled path to the time travel well and with a cool sounding premise, promises the same kind of dizzying concepts and brain muddling story arcs. At least that's what you expect. That it falls a bit short is really a surprise. And a shame.
Upon release, critics were literally creaming themselves and foaming at the mouth over this movie. There simply wasn't enough descriptive expletives in the dictionary to summarize how amazing this movie was meant to be. It was also not uncommon to hear it being compared with such esteemed company as The Matrix and Inception. While it's not as good as the former, and not as clever as the latter, it's still an okay – if unremarkable - watch. Basically, take one-third Terminator, add a touch of 12 Monkeys and mix in some Carrie, and the result is Looper. And if that sounds a bit on the loopy side, that's because it is.
In the future, there is time travel, but as it's banned, the only people using it are criminals. They send back ex-colleagues and other targets to be executed in the past by 'Loopers' – specialist executioners who incinerate the future garbage. Literally. So when a Looper called 'Joe' (Gordon Levitt – in makeup) gets his latest victim, he's in for a huge shock when he discovers it's himself. Or rather an older version of himself (Bruce Willis). And so begins a sometimes interesting, though occasionally confusing chase/hunt as the younger Joe tries to zero in on his older self.
On the plus side, this has lots of really good ideas and interesting concepts in it: the younger version of Joe can send messages to his older self by cutting his instructions in his flesh; memories are simultaneously created and rendered vague by the actions of the younger iteration; and in one scene another older Looper - who escaped death earlier - starts to literally fall apart as his younger version systematically loses limbs though surgery performed by the bad guys who are financing all the Loopers. It's a scene that is slightly reminiscent of the Black Knight's demise in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, though much more grueling and shocking. Also, the makeup on Gordon Levitt is quite subtle and very effective: you actually believe both him and Bruce are the same person, albeit from different places in time. The future world looks unique enough without being completely alien and unfamiliar to us. So where does it all go wrong? About half way through
For a movie with such an intriguing premise, promising every manner of head spinning older assassin against his younger self interactions, along with the customary shootouts and all the ensuing paradoxes resulting from traveling through time, this takes an abrupt turn that is so left-field you'll feel you stumbled into a different movie It's almost like writer-director Rian Johnson ran out of plot after breezing through the first half and said: "Where else can I take this I know: a farm where etc" This sudden turn is so out of sync, as to feel it doesn't belong in this movie. The clue is in one of the movie references mentioned above. It is a shame because it's fifty-per cent a very good movie.
The cast are very good too: Gordon Levitt doe a really good job as a younger Bruce, while Bruce himself starts off sympathetic but gradually changes into something that is both ruthless and quite monstrous. Emily Blunt also does good work as gun-toting farm owner. So if they're all that good, then where does this go wrong? Obviously, this movie probably looked brilliant on paper, but after execution, is decidedly lacking. What you're expecting is not what you get – and not necessarily in a good way. You think you're going to get something dazzling - something with the intricacies of the brilliant Spanish time travel movie Timecrimes; but what you actually get – at least for half of it - could easily be a standalone, and pretty pedestrian horror movie. Again, you wonder: why wasn't somebody standing at Johnson's typewriter with a cattle prod, telling him to come up with something better?
There's a lot of inconsistencies too: without being overly specific, stuff is done in this movie that makes no sense when you think about it after wards (heck, even the central premise makes no sense – surely the criminals would be using time travel for something more ambitious than to just bump people off?). Also, there is a central antagonist that is meant to play such a huge part in ruining older Joe's life, older Joe wants to hunt him down; yet we never actually get around to meeting this evil doer, only a different, more vulnerable version of him.
Inconsistencies aside, you're left with a movie that somehow misses the mark despite the groundwork being laid for something really special. It's not as action packed and visionary as The Matrix, and not as clever as Inception. Maybe it's the type of movie that could get better on a re-watch – i.e., once you're familiar with the direction it ends up going, it might actually be possible to end up liking it for what it is – but as a first time viewing, the movie falls a bit flat and that's entirely a legacy of the final half. Want some advice? Go watch Timecrimes instead.
Combine the attitude/violence of Robocop with the cityscapes of Bladerunner and you've got DREDD!
It's surprising that for an iconic comic book legend like Judge Dredd, a tent-pole character in the equally iconic 2000AD comic - which itself has been around since the 1970s - there's been just one movie adaptation: a 1995 vehicle starring Sylvester Stallone, where he famously removed the sacred helmet of the character (a strict no-no in the comic) and spent most of the movie's running time as a fleeing fugitive rather than as a 'Judge' out in Mega City One dispensing brutal justice. It was a flop at the time, not in the least bit helped by someone as famous and larger than life as Stallone playing an equally famous and larger than life character like Judge Dredd.
The good news is that Dredd 3D is a massive improvement over the Stallone version. Firstly, Karl Urban makes for a more effective and menacing Dredd. Secondly, the helmet stays ON for the movie's entire running time – a rarity in today's world of celebrity egos that an actor would actually agree to that. The story is way better too: Dredd and a rookie Judge called 'Anderson' are called to a tower block where three people have been skinned alive and thrown to their deaths. Unbeknownst to Dredd and Anderson, this block is run by a major crime lord - 'Ma-ma'(seriously) – who's manufacturing a drug called 'Slo-Mo' there – a narcotic that slows down time for the user. After Dredd and Anderson arrest one of her perps, Ma-ma opts to shut down the entire building rather than letting Dredd and Anderson leave with her stooge, effectively making them prisoners in the block and forcing them to shoot/fight/blow their way out of this hell hole.
Although this is meant to be a review of Dredd 3D, it's almost impossible to resist comparing it to the Stallone movie. As mentioned above, Karl Urban is great as the eponymous Dredd and puts in a better interpretation of the character than the Stallone iteration. Witness the delivery of Dredd's iconic and immortal line: whereas in the 1995 release Stallone shouted: "I am (pause) The Law!"; in this version, Urban growls it more effectively: "I am the Law!". Also, in the comics, Dredd sometimes almost came across as being a futuristic Dirty Harry – a fact lost in the 1995 movie, but corrected in this version: here we see Dredd throw people to their deaths/execute/head butt/punch his way out of danger. In essence, it's everything you would expect from the classic comic icon and a lot of that is thanks to Urban's steely portrayal.
It may be dark and murky, but it's still a very stylish (and stylized) movie. The effects of the Slo-Mo drug are stylistically rendered, with everything happening at a fraction of the speed of reality. As a comic book adaptation, it even resembles a comic book with its parade of contorted faces, arms and torsos being shot and/or shredded in extreme slow motion and usually in close up. So much so, you could almost imagine it as a panel on a comic page with the accompanying 'Thud!' or 'Ka-pow!' captions.
As Anderson the rookie, Olivia Thirlby puts in a good, not too showy performance. Anderson is a mutant possessing psychic powers and there are some effective and imaginative scenes where she utilizes them to full effect. There's also a very poignant moment where the full gravity of being a Judge hits her for the first time, as her psychic powers hammer home a sad realization to her based on her performing the compulsory duties of a judge. It's details like this that make this movie several notches above other comic book movies like it.
It also even seems to have been informed by the Christopher Nolan take on Batman/The Dark Knight: everything is gritty and grounded in realism, and Urban's growling delivery of the dialog is not exactly dissimilar to Christian Bale's own take on delivering dialog when in Batman mode. Both also share a similar ruthlessness when trying to 'obtain' a confession/ information from a suspect.
There are a few small minuses: the Judge Dredd of the comic was a proud, dedicated lawman, who was committed to his job with military efficiency; therefore it doesn't really make sense that he would show up for duty in a dusty uniform and a beaten, scratched helmet. Similarly, while they may have got the design of the aforementioned helmet right, they've taken some large detours from the original design of the uniform: gone is the eagle from the right shoulder; instead, it's been worked in as a kind of padding. Worse, the iconic bike – the 'Lawmaster' – looks cheap and none too powerful. This was one of the few elements the 1995 version almost got right. And if you really want to nitpick, in one scene, Urban says, "Sh*t!" Everyone knows that in that particular scene, he should have actually said "Stomm!" or "Drokk!" - Dredd's trademark swear words.
Even the plot bears an absolutely uncanny resemblance to that of another of this year's releases: The Raid. Just substitute gunfights for the balletic martial arts on display in that film, and you've almost got the same movie. Hell, even the look and the music score are similar. The makers of Dredd must have had sunken spirits when they saw it. As Dredd was made first, the jury's out on exactly what – if anything – is going on, but this has to be the most unbelievable case of psychic plagiarism ever seen. Which is a shame, because if The Raid hadn't existed, this would have been brilliant rather than just great. But don't let that put you off. Dredd is still a super and very noisy comic book movie that will keep you gripped to the very end. If this is the beginning of a trilogy/series, then it's off to a good start. See it now.
Will 'Grabbers' grab you? Yes!
When one thinks of creature features, you generally associate them with small towns situated somewhere in the American heartland: some rural place where a handful of locals must fend off/barricade themselves against some rampaging monstrosity. Generally, you don't usually tend to associate 'monster on the loose' movies with Ireland
That is until now: because that's exactly what you've got here: a monster flick that while not actually set in Ireland, is actually located on one of its many small islands - 'Erin Island' to be precise. Garda Ciarán O'Shea (Richard Coyle) - Garda is what Irish police officers are called, by the way – and his colleague look after all things law related on Erin Island. When his colleague goes on holiday, rookie Garda Lisa Nolan (Ruth Bradley) is sent from the mainland to replace him for two weeks.
The only problem is her arrival coincides with something that has fallen to earth from space, which also contains a semi aquatic form of alien life. This strange creature then goes on the offensive and proceeds to snack on all the locals – drinking their blood. It's up to the small local police contingent of O' Shea and the rookie Nolan to figure out that the creature needs rain to move on land. The only problem is, with a bad storm coming in that will completely isolate them and the locals on the island, the outlook is not good; but somehow they discover a somewhat unorthodox way of protecting them and everyone against the creature – sort of. Lots of inventive high jinks and monster attacks ensue along with enough blarney and banter to make your head spin.
It is fair to say that the director and/or writer may have had one too many themselves when they dreamed up this concept. Admittedly, with a title like that, you're not going to know what you're getting yourself into. While it isn't exactly a comedy, it isn't completely a horror movie either. You get a mixture – for every one-liner, there's a decapitation or messy slaughter thrown in. Tone –wise, it's somewhere in between and comparable to other similar movies of this genera like Eight-Legged Freaks, Slither and Tremors. Heck, it even steals a line from the latter ("I discovered them, I get to name them") and even the name of this movie 'Grabber' is a direct reference/lift of the term 'Grabboids' in the movie Tremors.
The game cast are uniformly good and put in a lot of effort. Everyone gets a fair share of mostly funny one-liners. There's lots of eccentricity going on: the weary bar man and his interfering, nosy wife, a guy who keeps a monster in his bathtub and a babbling, eccentric British scientist, who's not as smooth as he thinks. It shouldn't all work, but, damn, somehow it does. The misty island locales play a vital part in adding a suitably unique atmosphere to the entire mix.
The creature effects – a combination of CGI and practical – are very effective and well done. The monster appears to be some sort of squid and possesses numerous tentacles (the 'grabbers' of the title). There are several stand out scenes with the creature; one – an attack on a car – is extremely effective. For a movie that was made on a comparably low budget, it has a slick look to it and seems quite expensive. Had this been made in the America, it's fair to say it probably would have probably cost five or six times as much.
This movie wears all its inspirations like a heart on its sleeve. If you look closely, you will see many homages: Jaws, Alien, Aliens ("Get away from him, you c**t!"), and the aforementioned Tremors why stop there: even the score bears a resemblance to Jerry Goldsmith's score for Alien. Even the overall concept: a group of people trapped on an island during a bad storm while creatures run amok outside reminds you of a certain movie with dinosaurs. Now all you have to do it add in all the blarney and alcohol to the mix and you have something unique. And Irish.
Yes, admittedly, there is a lot of alcohol in this movie and it does play a major part in the overall story, which may not sit well on the shoulders of people who are offended by the 'drunken Irish' stereotype. Hell, even the lead actor is playing an alcoholic. However, a word to the wise: the fact is, they're on an island with little else to do, so it's no different to setting the movie in the American South in moonshine country: you kind of expect this sort of behavior. Besides, how can you hate a movie in which the heroine tries to be heroic while at the same time clumsily and tipsily lumbering through a potentially deadly situation?
Overall, this is a very good and effective movie. It's smart and there's a lot of laughs and wit thrown in. It's well shot and directed, and is entertaining enough to keep your attention right to the very end. It has a pacey and swift running time so there's no danger of it outstaying its welcome either. This is a movie for everyone – especially those who like horror and comedy or a mixture of both - and will play across cultural divides. If you liked any of the aforementioned movies, you will like this.
The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)
The Amazingly Unnecessary Spider-man
With the success of the first X-Men movie in 2000, Bryan Singer pretty much paved the way for all the comic book movies we see today. That included a certain super hero movie made by Sami Rami in 2002 where a nerdy guy (Tobey Maguire) gets bitten by a radioactive spider and inherits superhuman powers. If Singer had paved the way, then Rami provided the icing on the cake: a faithful, smart, well-acted super hero flick that had as much heart and sincerity packed in as it had all those set pieces. It also lead to a superior sequel and the much maligned, though underrated, third episode.
Which brings us to what we have here: while not a beat for beat remake, you get the same story more or less with a different love interest and villain. Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) sneaks into a research facility and gets bitten by a radioactive/genetically enhanced spider. He gets super powers and becomes Spider-Man. Meanwhile, a doctor (Rhys Ifans) working at the same facility, is being forced to close down his research into tissue regeneration. In desperation, he injects himself with an untested self-generating lizard vaccine and becomes a half man/half lizard thing. Spider-Man is then forced into action to stop him from spreading this contagion throughout the city of New York. Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) is the damsel in distress/love interest and plays a role in trying to stop the crazed beast.
First things first: this is not a bad film. It's well acted by all the principals, has good effects, a scary and menacing villain, some nice action sequences and web swinging effects that are generally slightly more realistic than the Rami version. Parker is more evidently scientific and intelligent here. Also the police's notion that Spider-Man is a menace to the public is more clearly defined, especially in the scene where he disarms an officer. The new idea is that Parker can hear the movements of spiders and it's a good addition. So where does it all go wrong? The short answer: it's just that it's so pointless.
We had already seen the story before. There was absolutely no reason to tell it again. This movie could easily have been Spider-Man 4 with Andrew Garfield filling in the Spidey spandex instead of Tobey Maguire. But Marvel – in their infinite wisdom – just chose to tell the same story a second time. Going by that rationale, presumably Andrew Garfield will be cast aside like a disused sock when they inevitably choose to 'reboot' the franchise again in ten years or so. It is a scarily unimaginative tactic and it is one they will continue to do until there is a massive financial failure.
This movie follows the same set up as the 2002 version: Parker being picked on, getting advice from his sage-like uncle (Martin Sheen), being bitten, getting his powers/climbing walls, and turning his back on a situation which unfortunately has tragic consequences for a family member. It's all a case of been there, done that. If you want to compare it to the Rami original, then the short answer is; as good as Andrew Garfield is, Tobey Maguire was better. Maguire filled the suit better; on occasion, Garfield is prone to looking thin and scrawny during several scenes. Even the suit looked better in the Rami movies. And those earlier movies had a heart and sincerity – especially in the relationship between Peter and his aunt and uncle that you don't see here. Again we ask: why does this movie exist?
And there are holes: there's a massive lizard running around, wreaking havoc; yet the police are more preoccupied with pointing their guns at Spider-Man – despite the fact that he saved a child in a (surprise, surprise) rehashed scene set on a bridge taken from Rami's first movie. In another part, the citizens of the city (once again - in a bit taken from Rami's movie) unite to help Spider-Man cross the city using tower cranes – despite the fact that there are buildings all around him. Heck, even the villain is initially a do-gooder like Norman Osborn and Dr. Octavius – again from the Rami movies.
It also seems to pull inspiration from another super hero movie: Christopher Nolan's Batman Begins (2005) in that it's slightly darker, tells such a large origin story that just like Batman Begins, Spider-Man doesn't actually show up on screen for the first hour. So if you take two parts Batman Begins and add a touch of Rami's Spider-Man, the result is what you have here. Additionally, the introduction of the web shooters, while being faithful to the original comics and emphasizing Parker's intellect, is a bit of a mixed blessing. The notion of the web being an organic material rather than being fired from mechanical devices actually made more sense.
It's not that reboots are a bad idea, they're not. In certain situations they can work well, provided for example, enough time has elapsed. But there is no point in retelling the same story if the initial release is still relatively recent. In addition, it helps if the story wasn't covered well the first time, or it was a bad movie to begin with. Going by this criteria, Marvel's latest cash cow is unnecessary on all three accounts.
In closing, if you haven't already seen the Rami movie from 2002, go watch it instead. If you have seen it, then this probably won't live up to it and you will be left feeling a little underwhelmed. It's fair to say that for anyone over the age of eighteen, this movie will seem rather half-hearted and senseless; for those under eighteen, this movie will probably be the greatest super hero flick ever. Yes, it's a movie that will divide opinions, primarily on the sole reason for its existence. Not a bad, or a badly made flick, by any means just a pointless one.
Srpski film (2010)
Yes, it's A Serbian Film alright – and a pretty crappy one at that
Movies are like bodybuilders: they're always trying to compete and outdo each other, have the biggest muscles and get the most attention. Even at that, you will always get one 'pee-wee', a former weakling who is so insecure and lacking any shred of common sense, he will walk through the door with muscles expanded to bursting point by steroids that almost say: "Look at me, everybody!! Just look at me!!" If this analogy can be applied here, then that makes 'A Serbian Film' the same peewee at the gym: it's the former hundred pound weakling on steroids who vying hysterically for yours and everybody else's attention.
Milos, a famously well-endowed porno star (Srdjan Todorovic) wants to quit the porn business and settle down. But as of late, he has become disillusioned with the difficulties of life with his wife and child, and is financially in very bad shape. After a conversation with one of his former co-stars, however, he gets an offer he can't refuse: to star in a new movie and get paid tons of money for it. Unfortunately for him, said movie turns out to be a violent, sex filled snuff film and the aging porn star soon find himself in over his head in death, gore and filth.
If you want to know exactly what the "gore and filth" is, here's a taster: a woman is beheaded by a man having sex with her only he continues to have sex with her corpse; another woman is smothered by a penis shoved down her mouth - while her nostrils are clenched shut; a man is sodomized while unconscious etc. Even if that's acceptable to you, then it commits the cardinal sin: the abuse of children. A newborn baby is plucked graphically from the vagina of a pregnant woman by a repulsive man who then goes and fornicates it. Yes, even though it may be a prosthetic baby, the filmmakers clearly went to a lot of trouble by getting the best possible sound of a crying baby to symbolize pain as it's being violated. As if that's not bad enough, this movie ventures into pedophilia for a second time: a child is sodomized by his unknowing father. We see a glimpse of blood flowing And on it goes
As movies go, it's competent on a technical level and is well acted, but it's just so damned tasteless. At the time of release, the director Srdjan Spasojevic alleged that among all the sleaze that's going on, there is actually a 'meaning' to this film, saying it was about Serbia and what's being done to its people, and also the totalitarian censorship. While this is all fine and dandy in theory for those who may have read those interviews, the message won't be quite as apparent to someone viewing it cold and with no prior knowledge. Clearly, the cast is game and in on the 'joke' – the director must have done a really great job in articulating his lofty intentions because you wonder how else he was able to pull something like this off? The fact is whatever the ambitions of the director, everybody else in the world would clearly need to have a PHD in mind reading to arrive at such a context, and the cast are left with egg on their face because they fell for it hook, line and sinker.
In the end, whatever alleged message this movie or its director is trying to convey is lost amongst all the sodomy, rape and pedophilia on display. Again we come back on to the whole argument that a movie should be based on the story and what you can actually see; not on underlying meanings and what you can't. A movie shouldn't have to be deciphered, which is the primary reason why this doesn't work. If the director wanted to make a movie about Serbia, why didn't he do that then? Why hide his message amongst the pedophilia – not once, but twice? The point is, being a metaphor for something does not give you a license to put whatever you want up on a screen. There are boundaries. There has to be. The line has to be drawn somewhere.
Let's be honest: the main reason this movie even exists is not to pass a social commentary on the state of Serbia, it exists only because of the determination of the director Srdjan Spasojevic to get his name on the map and hopefully the attention of Hollywood and a production deal. If this is actually the case, he might be hard pressed to find anyone who would work with him based on this steaming turd. Even taken as a movie, A Serbian Film is one heck of a slow, dull and boring film. It'll be lights out within twenty minutes if watched while tired. But at least you'll miss all the twisted visuals that are on display.
Made by pornographers not filmmakers, A Serbian Film is a repulsive little movie full of repulsive characters. That it fails in conveying the alleged message it's attempting to deliver, clearly indicates its sole reason for being here. Devotees who think this is a good film/misunderstood masterpiece are at best fooling themselves and are at worse defending a film that revels in the rape/violation of the very young just for the sake of it. One comes away from the film wondering about the mindset of any parent who would authorize their child to be in such a movie. To show the rape of a child even once is bad; but to do it twice? Where is the context and the social commentary in that?
In conclusion, 'A Serbian Film' is the little peewee at the gym; the hundred pound weakling who's so insecure he's resorted to steroids to get attention; that sad, lonely little figure, flexing muscles that scream, "LOOK AT ME, EVERYBODY! JUST LOOK AT ME!"
The Thing (2011)
Okay, here's the thing about 'The Thing'...
When it was announced that this was going into production, there was a level of confusion/curiosity regarding what exactly it would be: remake/reboot/sequel/prequel? Also, would it utilize prosthetic effects like the 1982 original, or would it go all out CGI splatter? As it turns out, it's a combination of the former and the latter. The new 'The Thing' wants to have its cake and eat it too: you see, technically, it's a prequel but for some reason, the makers have molded it as kind of a remake as well. That's both clever and rather infuriating in equal measures. With regards to the effects, yes, they are CGI for the most part, but they look practical and are done well.
Story-wise, with the exception of some additions, it hits the same beats as John Carpenter's original movie too. An alien vessel is discovered frozen in the Antarctic permafrost by a Norwegian research team. Finding a mysterious life form, they bring it back to their research station. Even though there's no mention of an American in the original, the makers shoehorn one in here, clearly unconvinced that a movie comprised entirely of Europeans would sell. And likewise, it's a female – once again, you get the feeling they're not confident that an all male cast would sell this time round and are taking no chances.
The American, a palaeontologist (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), is drafted into the equation by a member of the research group. Then they set about participating in a scientific study of the alien creature. Only problem is, it returns to life, and being a shape shifter that can replicate any living organism, starts to hide amongst the group, leading to lots of finger pointing, flame throwers, explosions and suspicion fueled arguments. Sounds rather familiar, right?
Whereas the original 1982 movie was all about paranoia and the fear of the unknown - the alien hid among the human hosts, desperate to remain concealed at all costs, only showing itself when it felt its identity was compromised - it's distinctly not the case here. In this movie, the creature revels in revealing itself at every available opportunity. With bells ringing. It screams and shrieks its presence to such an extent that all notions of a story based on the mistrust and doubt of an isolated group of characters goes out the window. What's the point in being a shape shifter if you're going to constantly give the game away? Then there's another aspect that doesn't quite ring true: early on in the movie, the characters witness a violent helicopter crash. The logical thing would be to go out to investigate it and search for survivors but for some reason, they all choose to ignore it. Additionally, one can't help but wish the makers had called the movie by a different title; after all, if it's meant to be an official prequel to the 'The Thing', why call it the same name?
It's not that it's bad movie; as remakes go, it's really rather good and executed with a lot of style. Sequel-wise, it's up there with Psycho 2. As with the original, we get a scene where there's a 'big test' as Mary Elisabeth attempts to ascertain who's who in the group. In the original, Kurt Russell used blood samples; here, they go for an admittedly clever spin on that scene, while being totally different, adds a new aspect to the creature while also playing as some kind of homage. You might even conclude that since this is a prequel, then you must know the ending, right? After all, we saw how it ended in the opening scenes of the original 1982 movie starring Kurt Russell. Wrong. While they don't violate the events, they take the movie in a whole different direction but still shrewdly stick with the original time- line.
Mary Elizabeth Winstead is very good in this. She doesn't strut around with a "Look at me, I'm so gorgeous" expression; in fact she plays the role - sans make up, for the most part – with a level of icy, cool female conviction unseen in a movie about a creature from outer space since a little movie made in 1979 called 'Alien'. It can't be an accident that she reminds the viewer of the Ripley character played by Sigourney Weaver in the same movie and even possess a similarly unconventional beauty. Based on this, it wouldn't be surprising if she ended up replacing Weaver in the inevitable reboot/remake etc. of that franchise.
The John Carpenter original was rightly celebrated for its surreal effects, giving audiences something that was genuinely cutting edge and never seen before at the time. Happily, there is lot of utterly bizarre transformations going on here as well that will make your jaw drop: a guy's face splits open; two men fuse together and in an attempt to outdo the spider-head of the original, we see a monstrous four-legged creation stalking its prey. While everything is 90% CGI, once again it's done in such a way that it almost homages the original. For the most part the effects here look similar to the 1982 movie, except they're done with a sheen that only CG could create.
In conclusion, is it any good? Yes, it is. It's not the disaster some snotty critics would have you believe. While it's not as good as John Carpenter's move (but then, what is?), it still honors the original while effectively and cleverly building the story that lead to the events in that movie. Yes, the aforementioned 'Thing' does shout and scream a bit too much, giving away its presence all too often, but that could easily be interpreted as a legacy of its inexperience with humans. This is a prequel, after all. But don't worry - by the time Kurt Russell and pals come along, it will have learned its lesson.
The Devil's Double (2011)
Hollywood style gangster epic set in Iraq
After the 1991 Iraqi conflict, stories of the atrocities perpetuated by the country's then 'president' Saddam Hussein were sadly all too commonplace. But Hussein's son, Uday, almost became as famous as his father when stories would leak out about him: his penchant for young girls, his love of torture and his starving hounds who he kept on standby to occasionally tear apart and eat any woman who dared turn down his "charms". Through all this, apparently, he had a double who witnessed the whole thing and it's his story that's detailed here in The Devil's Double.
Loosely based on the book by Latif Yahia – the alleged double – who, let's be honest, looks nothing like Uday Hussein, despite his claims to have had surgery, The Devil's Double tells the story of how hardworking, honest Latif is forced before Uday, the son of Saddam with a simple request: be his double, his 'brother' as Uday prefers to put it. Since Latif is presumed dead, having fought in the Iran/Iraq war, he's told he has nothing to lose but much to gain by accepting. However, Latif still refuses and is basically tortured and beaten into submission. What follows then is the story of Uday Hussein, told the point of view of his double, who witnesses from the sidelines the gradual descent of the always unstable Uday into fully fledged, certified coke head crackpot.
One could imagine the early production meetings and director Lee Tamahori going "I'm going to make a movie set in 80s Iraq but it will be about the rise and fall of an 80s criminal!" He's clearly aware of the doubts about Yahia's veracity and seems quite content to make what is essentially an Arabic gangster thriller. If you want proof of this, the '91 Gulf war only gets a passing reference and it's literally that: a passing reference. Forget about politics. The movie has other things to deal with, the least of which is Uday Hussein's very mixed and colorful sex life: he liked women and men – especially transvestites. There's even a short scene that hints at an incestuous affair with his mother. You can forget politics when you've got this salacious stuff going on.
Malta, standing in for Iraq, is a very convincing location. It feels like Iraq, it has the right atmosphere, desert vistas and architecture. The buildings are suitably luxurious and opulent. In fact, the presentation of Iraq here can't be faulted until, that is, the moment you see all the distinctly western women populating the palaces and nightclubs.
Look, we know Iraq won't be safe to shoot in for maybe over a decade, but really, they could have made a bit more effort here. For a movie supposedly set in Iraq, all the women look either European or American. Could they not get any Arabic women? One look at Ludivine Sagnier, as capable as she is, and it almost becomes farcical. She's so clearly not from Iraq, you're almost reminded of the olden days when an actress would simply don a dark wig to play lady from – any – foreign country. It's very lazy casting and serves to only sink the verisimilitude they had achieved up to this.
Director Tamahori must really have trusted his actor. The notion of one actor playing both roles could have been a laughable disaster. Different actors could probably have played them and you would have gotten the same effect, but Cooper manages pulls of it off effortlessly. However Dominic Cooper's rendition of Uday Hussein isn't scary; over the top, yes, but scary, no. Instead, he plays it with a slightly comical edge that makes Uday Hussein more camp than anything else. So much so if fact he really wouldn't be out of place in an Austin Powers movie. It's an energetic performance for sure, though not as edgy as you would have liked.
In addition to the lack of Arabic actresses, there is also another problem that tends to undersell the entire enterprise: too much of the action takes place in nightclubs. The location sheet for the shoot must have surely read like this: palace, nightclub, desert, nightclub, swimming pool, night club etc., because the amount of nightclub scenes in this movie is over the top and not necessarily in a good way. Once again, you realize Lee Tamahori's debt to a certain gangster movie directed by Brian De Palma in 1983.
So how much, if any, of this is real? That's anyone's guess. There's no question Uday Hussein was a very disturbed psychopathic individual who was capable of pretty much anything imaginable, but how much of his story recounted through the eyes of his so-called double can be relied upon? For all we know Latif Yahia could be a Walter Mitty type who made up the entire tale. But whatever the truth, as a movie, The Devil's Double is not perfect by any means. But it's worth watching for the convincingly unhinged performance by Dominic Cooper.
The Tree of Life (2011)
Lots of thorns on this particular Tree...
This has been compared to Stanley Kubrick's '2001: A Space Odyssey'. Although they share a few things in common - ultra-slow pace, long running times, symbolism, spirituality – they're two completely different beasts. For one thing 2001 is a science fiction fable; this is – for the most part – a family drama. 2001 has - with the exception of that rather dubious jump-cut ending – a simple and straightforward story that's easy to follow. While Tree of Life is a similar comfortable watch, putting the meanings together afterwards isn't exactly easy.
Simply put, the film tells the story of Jack, a somewhat strict and overpowering husband (Brad Pitt) who with his saintly wife (Jessica Chastain) are shaken to their cores upon the sudden death of one of their three young boys. Friction starts to develop between the eldest boy 'Young Jack' (Hunter McCracken) and his father. From there we are shown the creation of the world and dinosaurs (seriously) in an almost twenty minute sequence before going back to the family again and seeing the rest of drama between father and son play out. What was once friction has now evidently become hatred for young Jack towards his tough father. This bit plays out very straightforwardly until things go 'far out' once again for a somewhat 'WTF' ending.
So what exactly is this strange mix of a film trying to say? On one hand it could be classed as being religious. The movie is introduced with a biblical quote and has spiritual themes recurring all the way though it. There's even a colorful, undulating amorphous light that pops up at periodic intervals that seems to symbolize the presence of a divine deity. But it could also be classed as cynical. While the death of the child is sad, it figures almost trivially when fitted into the overall scheme of things. Among the many things the film seems to be saying is that death – no matter how tragic – is only a small cog in the universe. Things are born and they die. That's just the way it is. Even during the much lauded 'creation of the world' sequence, the film is at pains to point out that the earth and life was not created by the hands of God, but by the immense forces of nature . It's this 'open to multiple meanings' aspect of the film that will get people on the defensive.
Of course it's not a perfect film by any standard. It's overlong and even if the Kubrickian 'creation of the world sequence' was removed, you would never even miss it. But for all the vitriol, there are connections to the rest of the film here during the aforementioned sequence. For example we see the much discussed/dismissed dinosaur bit: a beached Plesiosaur stares longingly at the ocean and knows it can't get back, while an injured herbivore is about to be pounced on by a carnivorous dinosaur, only for the carnivore to seemingly hesitate and have a change of mind.
These portions have been classed as doing nothing beneficial for the movie but they are relevant: lack of water will kill the Plesiosaur whereas the family child dies due to too much of it, i.e., drowning. In another pivotal scene later on, young Jack watches hatefully as his father works underneath a car. He stops at the lift handle's release and we know he's considering letting the car fall down on his father. But like the scene with the carnivorous dinosaur and the helpless herbivore, he hesitates and doesn't follow through with it. Are we witnessing the birth of choice/conscience?
Brad Pitt is excellent as the strict authoritarian but otherwise decent father. Likewise Jessica Chastain playing his long suffering wife adds a much needed gentleness to many tougher scenes. Hunter MacCracken, while effective as young Jack, was seemingly told to emit one facial expression for the whole running time.
Terrence Malick has a lot in common with Stanley Kubrick: they both shun the limelight, both have a small back catalog and only make movies once every few years, and both have a deep interest in the human condition. Heck, even their names are similar. But if Terrence Malick is Stanley Kubrick's heir, one thing his movies have is heart, whereas Kubrick's output was more soulless and clinical. It's the same thing here: this movie has a lot of heart.
Of course there are a lot of critics who are applauding this as a 'masterpiece' for the wrong reasons. Let's just say the gift of hindsight is great thing. Many of the critics who slated aforementioned 2001: A Space Odyssey upon release in 1969 were left with egg on their face years later when that film's initial reception was revised and it was hailed as a modern classic. Likewise modern critics seem to be only too aware of this fact and are clamoring to praise Tree of Life, just in case its reputation grows over time too.
This is a movie that won't be to everyone's taste. In fact to the majority of people, it will come across as being boring, over reaching, ponderous and pretentious. The slow pace will feel like it's doubling the already hefty length, pushing the patience of most viewers to the limit. There are a lot of whispery voice-overs in this film. It plays out almost as if those lyrical poetic voice-overs from Malick's own 'Thin Red Line' were stretched to feature length. If you like the idea of that, then you may like this. But compared to the standard stuff that clogs up multiplexes on a weekly basis and the formulaic movies that roll down the Marvel 'production line', 'Tree of Life' has a heart, sincerity, and an intelligence that's rare in movies today and for that reason alone it must be applauded. Even if you only ever watch it once in your lifetime, it's still worth watching at least once.
Source Code (2011)
BANG, rewind, BANG, rewind...
Time travel stories are a penny a dozen and as old as hills themselves, so it's always a challenge for filmmakers to come up with a new spin on a very old tale. This is where 'Source Code' comes in and thankfully, it succeeds.
Plot-wise the movie is very succinct: there's been a tragic terrorist incident involving a bomb on a Chicago train that resulted in huge loss of life. Another attack is imminent. Jake Gyllenhal plays a soldier – Colter Stevens - who's participating in a top secret experiment – the 'source code' of the title – whose job is to investigate the 8 minutes preceding the explosion so he can ascertain the identity of the bomber and hopefully prevent another catastrophe. The one negative side effect of this is he's ends up being constantly sent back in time only to get blown up again and again - until he can find out what exactly happened.
The movie plays out in a 'rinse and repeat' fashion, advancing bit by bit, gradually – and enticingly - revealing more and more information each time. With every replay, we see a new item of information or something we haven't really noticed before. If this scenario reminds you of a certain comedy starring Bill Murray and a groundhog, then you're not far wrong. It's the same basic concept of 'rewinding' time, but whereas the explanation of that movie was left to the viewer to decide how or why it was happening, Source Code tells you up front that there's a Sci-fi angle anchoring everything. You could also throw other movies like Vantage Point into the mix and you'll get the general drift that we're seeing a single event played out umpteenth times.
But thankfully there's a bit more going on besides endless 'play and rewinds' as Colter Stevens also has to figure out his place in the whole 'Source Code' experiment and as with the bomb plot, nuggets of information is given away at just enough intervals to keep the whole thing from becoming too repetitious.
The film is very well executed and acted. The scenario is intriguingly set up and the way it's told will have you glued to the screen from start to finish. In fact you won't want to drop your guard once – you'll be that intent on finding out what's going on in the increasing baffling narrative. The science of the time traveling is also very imaginative and is explained just enough for you to go along with the whole scenario. Of course there is a lot of mumbo-jumbo about quantum physics, but at the same time they don't overdo it to such an extent that you feel you're going to come down with a sever case of the Zzzzs anytime soon.
Jake Gyllenhaal is brilliant as the confused time travel guinea pig Colter Stevens and he effortlessly manages to anchor the whole potentially confusing scenario with a likable presence. He's entirely relatable as the 'every man' caught up in the nightmarish situation. Likewise Michelle Monaghan plays her part with a very appealing 'girl next door' quality and even if most of her role in the movie is of the 'rewinding' variety, it says something that she never allows it to go stale. Jeffery Wright is also excellent as the cold, limping, 'by the book' scientist who's spearheading the entire operation without a shred of morals on display.
Director Duncan Jones' last movie was Moon and admittedly this movie shares a similar DNA to it in that there's a lot of stuff about the nature of identity, second chances, and other life affirming messages, though as with Moon, you have to get through a lot of darkness before you get to the bright stuff. As with Christopher Nolan, he seems to have certain themes and traits that he's evidently very interested in.
The only letdown of this film is, so intent are the film makers/ distributors not to insult certain lucrative foreign markets, they're at pains to sledgehammer home the whole 'never judge a book by its cover' idea, which is a little bit of a disappointment considering the biggest threat to US security is from the very regions they're so keen to avoid offending in the first place. That's the only part of the movie that doesn't quite ring through, which is a shame considering everything else is so damn good.
Like the aforementioned Groundhog Day and Vantage Point before it, the biggest disadvantage of movies like this, is they have a low 'rewatchability' factor because they're so dependent on retelling the same event over and over. They generally wear out their welcome faster than a normal movie because the viewer becomes so familiar with the story beats that after even two viewings, it feels like you've already seen it a dozen times. Source Code is the same. Basically you get all the surprises the first time, but as a first time viewing experience, it's truly excellent stuff and will keep you hooked to the very end.
Battle Los Angeles (2011)
Terrific raw and gritty alien invasion epic
Had this movie been released in 1996 instead of Independence Day - the big alien invasion epic that came out that year - it probably would have been one of the biggest movies – if not THE biggest movie – of all time. But released now in 2011 and Battle: Los Angeles is considered irrelevant by a hard to impress, CGI numbed generation of moviegoers. It seems Battle: Los Angeles' biggest crime is that it's too little, too late, which is a shame because it's actually one hell of a movie.
Even though this is advertised as a big alien invasion movie, let's be clear: it's actually more of a war film. Aaron Eckhart plays a staff sergeant on the verge of retiring from a 20-year career in the Marines, somewhat out of a sense of guilt after allegedly getting a lot of marines killed. His timing couldn't be worse, though, as the earth has just come under bombardment from what is initially assumed to be meteors, but later turns out to be an unstoppable alien invasion. Their mission? To wipe us out and take our most precious commodity: our water. They want to use it to power their ships, run their technology, etc. Eckhart and his men have just three hours to clear an area of L.A. of survivors before the might of the US Air force pummels the area. Cue: some of the best battle scenes and close quarters combat ever shot. You've not seen this intensity of 'on the ground/in your face' war scenes since either Saving Private Ryan or Black Hawk Down.
It's hard to impress in this day and age, but the effects here are staggering and realistically rendered. The alien vessels are very original and unlike anything we've seen before. Even the alien's themselves are ruthless and move around with an authentic scuttle, interacting with their surroundings like real creatures. There is a range of unique alien weaponry on display that seem genuinely dangerous and lethal. And there are some great ideas in here too. As with the marines, when the alien forces have injured comrades, we see them dragging them out of the line of fire – just like their human opponents. When alien ships are shot down, we catch glimpses of water pouring out of them – emphasizing the whole 'water is their fuel' scenario.
It's a very noisy and violent film and considering the unbelievable rating it got, probably too gory for young children. People are blown up, shot, crushed, etc. Even the aliens themselves don't come off too lightly either: in one memorable scene a captured creature gets a virtual autopsy performed on it – while it's still alive – just so the humans can save ammo by knowing where to shoot the invaders. The last hour of the film is virtually a deafening, non-stop action packed, sustained shoot-em-up. You'll feel like you've gone to hell and back by the end.
Cast wise, the first impression initially is: what on earth is Aaron Eckhart doing in this, potentially very superficial movie? However one viewing and you will soon see why: his character is the most interesting and fleshed out in a movie that is virtually non-stop action set piece from start to finish. Michelle Rodriguez is also on hand doing her patented sneering 'bad ass chick' we've seen her do countless times before in the likes of Resident Evil, Avatar and Lost. A change of role and maybe a nice dress might be a refreshing change next time, Michelle. In the background there's a lot of other characters to choose from. Yes, they are stereotypes, but what else do you expect from a war flick? Besides when it's this much fun, who really cares? The film is meant to be a sustained 'you are there' battle sequence, and on that point alone, it succeeds in droves.
Director Jonathan Liebesman handles the action of the movie with a lot of skill and attention to detail and delivers a bombastic experience. The choreography of the action scenes is first rate and shot really well. So well in fact that we rarely feel confused or disoriented. If anything, the on screen action is coming at us so thick and heavy, we don't have enough time for confusion to come in. Even if we do, another – usually jaw dropping - image quickly pummels us.
There's a lot of detail and activity going on in this movie. We see huge vistas of destruction and the alien attack is played earnestly and completely seriously. This is not the tongue-in-cheek hokum of Independence Day, but an authentically shot and choreographed 'what if' movie: what would happen if creatures from another world suddenly invaded us? What kind of a response could the human race put into effect? And this is where the flick succeeds: it paints a credible and realistic portrayal of an actual battle between mankind and aliens. Think of Black Hawk Down, but substitute aliens for militia, and that's what you have here. Whoever dismisses this film, is clearly missing the point.
Yes it could be argued that the opening 'flash forward' is unnecessary and the intriguing way the story is set up – each character is deliberately set aside with on screen name captions – doesn't really pay off with the type of intricate 'character study' it was promising, it's still admirable that a potentially silly premise is treated with such square-jawed conviction. This is genuinely something we haven't seen before and deserves all the more plaudits for it. You won't see any winking at the camera here; nor is the attack thwarted with the aid of some obscure Windows 7 based computer virus: this is the real thing: an attack from space told in real time and treated with a hundred per cent seriousness. See it and be amazed by one of the best war pictures in years except with aliens.
Life's abyss And then you dive
When Poltergeist was released in 1982 there were a lot of assumptions from certain quarters that the credited director Tobe Hooper was not actually the real director, and that ownership of the picture actually belonged to the Executive Producer Steven Spielberg. One look at Poltergeist and it's easy to see why some would think that. If you actually subscribe to the idea of the 'auteur' theory, then it's obvious Spielberg's stamp is on every frame. What's that got to do with Sanctum? A lot actually
In 1989 James Cameron made the brilliant and criminally underrated movie 'The Abyss'. It was met by mixed reviews, despite being that rare animal in Hollywood: an original story. It was also a slow burner of a film, taking its time to rev up before cutting loose and racking up the tension - kind of like a lot of Cameron's films, actually. We have a similar scenario here: an underwater epic that's very Cameronesque in every sense of the word except it's directed by someone else a director by the name of Alister Grierson. So how much of the movie can be attributed to James and how much of it is Alister's? It's anyone's guess. But like the aforementioned Poltergeist, it's got the Cameron branding iron on every frame.
Sanctum tells the gripping story (apparently 'based' on real events - somewhat loosely one would imagine) of a group of cave explorers led by veteran adventurer Frank (Richard Roxburgh) who becomes stranded in a deep network of caves after a tsunami strikes the surface. Unfortunately for them, their surroundings become engulfed by the deluge of water from the jungle above, forcing them to flee from the rapidly rising waters and try to make their way to where the caves exit to the ocean. Decisions that were made earlier with perhaps a lot less foresight than there should have been comes back to haunt them... Ten fold Worse for Frank, his estranged son Josh (Rhys Wakefield) is also along for the expedition, putting additional stress and even more guilt on him, but it makes him even more determined to guide everyone to safety. As you can imagine their efforts don't go entirely to plan and everything goes pear shaped after that.
It's fair to say Sanctum take its time setting up the story and the characters. For a moment you wonder where it's all going then something happens that's along the lines of a certain famous scene in 'The Abyss' and you're immediately sucked into the story from that point onwards. The movie reels you in, drags you down and very rarely lets you up for air. The slow build is necessary when you see what comes after it: it's virtually one crisis after another after another with Director Grierson doing a great job ratcheting up the tension to stunning levels. Just when you think it can't get any worse for the protagonists, some other dastardly thing happens to them. It's great filmmaking and it's sustained for the entire running time. You're on the edge of your seat right to the very end.
The entire cast is very good, but Richard Roxburgh really stands out. At first he's not really too likable and maybe even a bit too gritty and steely, but once that veneer is cracked, you get to really like the guy. In fact it's the entire father-son thing that gives this movie such gravitas. Without it, it would be just another 'lost in caves' flick. Ioan Gruffudd, last seen working for Cameron in Titanic, plays a totally different beast here and does a sort of a comic book turn, but adds something else for the cast to go up against besides the deadly caverns.
The films says a lot about the human spirit and what happens to it when we find ourselves cornered like animals in life or death scenarios. It ably gets across how savage we are capable of becoming once the instinct for survival overtakes us. Some very effective scenes demonstrate this where decisions are made that can be deemed wrong or right – depending on your viewpoint. Nothing is black and white. There is no clearly set out rules when it comes to trying to get yourself out of a predicament alive.
The use of 3D here is subtle and effective. While there's no debris being hurled in your face every few minutes, the 3D seems to bring the water engulfed caverns closer to your eyes. You almost think that if you reached out with your hand, you would actually touch water. The tunnels open up effectively in some shots while being disquieting tight and cramped in others.
As mentioned previously, this still looks like a James Cameron movie. So much so in fact, you can't help but wonder why he didn't actually direct it. It has the whole underwater theme like 'The Abyss' – even the scuba helmets and dialog underwater reminds you of that fact. Like a lot of his movies – from 'The Terminator' right up to 'Avatar', it starts off slow slow before abruptly shifting into gear. Even the poster is pure Cameron. Heck, even the title lettering has the same little glimmer of light that was on 'The Abyss' poster – you'd almost be forgiven for thinking this is some sort of sequel.
But that doesn't detract from the movie in any way. Sanctum is a terrific and very exciting film. While deeply claustrophobic and at times unsettling, it remains entertaining on every level. It's a movie that if you let it hook you, it won't let you go. As with 'The Abyss', it will probably divide a lot people's opinions; but also as with 'The Abyss', its popularity will inevitably grow over time. But that's no excuse for missing it on the big screen now. See it. In 3D. Just don't have an Abyss style injustice happen for the second time. It doesn't deserve it. Highly recommended.
The Tourist (2010)
Johnny + Angie = some good old fashioned star power
Sometimes with the vast amount of special effects extravaganzas, monsters movies and super hero vehicles going around, you can't help but get a bit bored with them after a while. They have a numbing effect the brain and they can get very tedious. As viewers we need a break occasionally. That's why it's always nice just to sit back, relax and watch a straightforward story where good actors do what they're trained for: act. Without a CG creature in sight
And that's exactly what we get here: two good actors having a great time with a slight, though still extremely entertaining and watchable story.
Johnny plays a lonely guy called Frank who, while on holiday in Europe, is approached on a train by a mysterious and beautiful woman called Elise (Angie – who else). Little does he know, however, he's actually being used by her as a decoy to shift police attention from her lover - a financial 'whizz-kid' who ripped off a scummy criminal and now owes the British government over 700 million euros in taxable funds. In a case of mistaken identity, the angry criminals assume Frank to be her thieving lover and he ends up being plunged into a whole web of intrigue, pursued by both the cops and the robbers. At the same time, he's trying to battle his own increasing infatuation with the enigmatic Elise, who keeps ditching him at every turn, but who - in the grand tradition of romps such as this - keeps ending up being thrown into dire situations with him, despite her best efforts.
This is a rather sophisticated and old-fashioned movie and its all the better for it. It would be easy to imagine this being made in 60s with Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn starring in the lead roles. As Frank, Johnny Depp - who really does look about ten years younger than his actual age - once again shows us why he's one of the best out there. It's easy to imagine George Clooney – surely the aforementioned Grant's heir - playing this role, but Depp is more effective and brings a more earthy quality, able to play both plain and debonair at the drop of a hat.
Similarly, Angelina Jolie is convincing as the conflicted mystery woman Elise, and puts in a nice understated performance while at the same time never looking better. The chemistry between them flows off the screen. In fact the interplay between them for the first 40 minutes is absolutely brilliant. You know something is good when simply the sight of two people conversing is keeping you entertained.
It's a jet setter of a story, mixing a bit of James Bond with a dozen mistaken identity movies. It's lightly Hitchcockian, but in a good way, though it probably wouldn't have been as effective had it had been set completely in the United States. As with the Bourne movies, the European locales prevent it from being just another run-of-the-mill thriller while adding something romantic and unique to it. The photography is gorgeous and the film itself ends up being a good advert for European tourism as all the locations come off looking magnificent.
The story moves along fast and there's plenty of engaging action sequences, the stand out being one involving boats. The supporting cast is good, though Paul Bettany has a somewhat thankless role that requires him to do little more than be grumpy while at the same time barking down a microphone at every available occasion. But it is good to see Timothy Dalton (the best Bond bar none) in an acting role again. Even if it only ranks as an extended cameo, he dominates the screen whenever he's on. Somewhat appropriately, he's even in the position his boss 'M' was in his own Bond movies - a guy who sits behind a desk handing out the missions and giving all the orders rather than taking them. It's almost like James Bond has been promoted to top dog!
There's also another Bond connection (are all these intentional?) in another supporting player Steven Berkoff, who played a slimy Russian general in 1983's Octopussy. Here he plays a similarly depraved and ruthless criminal who's actually British, but surrounds himself with a pack of Russian heavies. He also has the most sadistic scene in a movie that can't really be classed as being overly violent.
Even if it's not the kind of dark Euro thriller you might be expecting, this is still a very entertaining movie that will keep you hooked all the way. It's got everything: action, suspense, comedy and romance. And even if that's not enough for you, certainly the interplay between Depp and Jolie will be. They're really effective in this and display the kind of chemistry we haven't seen since the heyday of the movies, the most recent example probably being Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner. Based on this, hopefully they'll work together again sometime in the near future.
Yes, it's all very old-fashioned stuff and you will feel like you're caught in a time warp to the 60s. It's also a bit lightweight and fluffy, but you know what? When you have a cast this good, just go with it. I enjoyed very minute of it. And if you give it a chance, you will too.
A misguided monster snooze fest
What an ill-advised mish-mash this is: a movie called 'Monsters' that decides to focus on a rather dreary approach to a potentially exciting tale. Here's the promising initial concept: a NASA probe falls to earth carrying microbes from another planet. It crashes in Mexico and the microbial life gets a foothold and thrives, becoming such a problem that the authorities have to wall the creatures into a designated 'infected zone' while simultaneously trying to vaporise their alien asses with missiles fired from F16s. Sounds good so far, right? Wrong: that's just the back-story
Here's the actual pitch: a photographer has to escort his boss's beautiful daughter through said infected zone to take her home
Cue: lots of action, explosions, monster encounters and pulse- pounding action, right? Wrong, yet again
This is where the movie takes a disastrous wrong turn. And then some. It becomes a 'journey of discovery' as the boss's daughter begins to fall more and more in love with the no-nonsense, grizzled photographer. Nothing much happens. They gaze meaningfully at each other and talk about nothing particularly important and that's about it. Most of the dialog for the film was improvised and it shows, painfully at times. In fact by the time the lead actor is babbling on about 'biologists', the viewer will be asking themselves 'what's the relevance of all this and where is it going?' Things don't get any better story-wise. The characters wander around aimlessly, filling the vacuum with meaningless banter and talking about the meaning of life. If it sounds really pretentious, that's because it is.
Basically what you have here is a classic of example of a brilliant concept gone wrong; a story not being given the sort of justice it deserves. In fact you could say that not only is it done zero justice, the real attraction – the monsters of the title - are more or less shoved into the background and used only as set decoration. When we do eventually see them in all their – admittedly, spectacular - glory, it's ahem to watch them procreate. If it's a low budget independent production, so what; calling it 'Monsters' and then going off on an arty, rambling 'journey of discovery' does not necessarily get you a free pass. And that's precisely the problem: the title is extremely misleading. It's an example of false information being given in order to sell a very dull and conceited movie.
If James Cameron had made a movie called 'Aliens' that focused on the characters of Ripley and Hicks going cross-country and 'discovering each other' in the process, would we have accepted it? Not a chance. But apparently arty indie flicks are excused from that sort of thing. The fact is, if Cameron would not have gotten a free pass if he did it, then director Gareth Edwards shouldn't get one either. If he wants to shoot a slow burning romantic road movie then fine, but please call it by another title – one more suited to the 'story' - so that we are at least forewarned and have a better idea of what we're getting ourselves into.
It's not all minuses, though; there are a few pluses. For a movie shot on Hi Def video, never once does it have a 'video look' like Public Enemies for example; it always appears to be shot on film and is very cinematically executed. Also the two actors playing the leads - Scoot McNairy and Whitney Able - his now wife – are very good. They're completely convincing and the love story that develops between them is both understated and believable. To director Gareth Edward's credit, the alien world is established beautifully with foreboding signposts, remnants of military hardware and CGI smoke plumes. The large fences and walls – erected to keep the alien life forms at bay – are realistically rendered. We get a real sense of what this world is like. It looks like it really could happen. He also utilizes various real-life disaster zones to very good effect and paints a credible portrait of the aftermath of a NASA probe triggering a new life form on the planet. So where does it all go wrong? The problem is all this is much more fascinating than the weak story he actually settled with.
Yes, you could argue that this was a legacy of the shoestring budget; after all how much action can you shoot for a few grand, right? But a small budget shouldn't be a 'get out of jail for free' card; a movie should be able to stand on its own feet and be judged not on its finances, but on the final story and on that principle, this movie fails. Big time. The heartiest recommendation that can be given for it is to watch it if you're having sleeping difficulties – you'll be out like a light within fifteen minutes. Story-wise, it's a disappointment on every level. It's certainly not the masterpiece some would have you believe. It's also being compared favorably to District 9, but the difference is District 9 is an energetic powerhouse of a film; this is just a mild asthmatic wheeze of a movie that chugs along with the velocity of an old age pensioner.
As previously mentioned the concept is brilliant; there's some really good stuff in here. There's actually more than enough material to warrant a really good prequel; a prospective science fiction masterpiece that could be a hybrid of Jurassic Park meets Starship Troopers. Under the auspices of an Emmerich, a Cameron or even a Snyder, it could be tremendous. Only please PLEASE on the basis of this, it probably wouldn't be a good idea if Gareth Edwards directed it – one long, rambling, yawn inducing 'journey of discovery' is more than enough. This should carry a health warning - 'for insomniacs only'.
Paranormal Activity 2 (2010)
Things that go bump, crash and clatter in the night
The first Paranormal Activity movie was quite an original little film (well, as original as these 'found footage' movies can get): it had a domestic setting and the mysterious demonic goings-on were being captured by a couple who had cause to set up a camera in their bedroom. With the exception of a silly bit of demonic vocalization and some ill-judged CGI, it was a genuinely creepy little yarn, one that actually came back to haunt the viewer later if he or she was in the proper mindset. Put it like this: you'd never look at an open door leading to a stairs in the same way again
This sequel comes almost snapping at heels of the first due to its fast turnaround time. It's more of the same, of course, but with a slightly different angle on the original tale. For one thing, it's actually a prequel and this time round it's a married couple that is at the center of all the demonic activity. The man, a widower with a teen daughter, is married to a younger woman who we quickly discover is the sister of Katie from the original movie. The devilry is actually captured by a hi-tech multiple closed circuit camera system. The reason behind this is actually worked nicely into the plot: the couple are compelled to install the rig after they return home one day to discover they have been victims of a burglary but, ominously, one in which nothing was stolen. After the cameras are up and running, they start to capture strange goings-on, which start off creepily, though harmlessly enough, but gradually start to escalate to increasingly high levels with most of activity seemingly focused on a specific member of the family.
On the plus side, the film doesn't feel just like a cash grab. There is some thought put into the story. It's a logical sequel/prequel that feels true to the first. Micah and Katie from the original film even show up in a perfectly credible story strand and their connection in the prequel is written effectively into the plot. Overall the story is actually woven believably into the mythology established in the first movie and everything ties in nicely. However, this doesn't come without a price: the prequel is so intent at trying to get Slot A to fit into Slot B that it slightly deviates and in doing so, violates and contradicts some aspects of the original, but these only come to light if you're really looking hard enough. If you're not, chances are it won't be a problem for you.
If the first Paranormal Activity was all about subtle and believable scares, this one is more in your face and suffers all the more for it. Because the spooky happenings are bolder and more ambitious, the degree of realism that the original had all but disappears here. You quickly remember you're watching a film and not some intimate piece of authentic home movie footage. Furthermore, the film replays a lot the scare tactics from the original to the extent that the familiarity factor starts to creep in and any chance of real terror quickly dissipates.
Essentially it's not really all that scary, certainly not the type of film (unlike the first) that will give you the willies if you're all alone later on. Any shock/scare that does occur in the movie is of the loud banging variety and this in itself – as with the first movie, but more so here - is always anticipated by an annoying and continuous sub woofer rumbling which gives you forewarning. Surely a rapid thump without the silly build-up/notification would have been more effective? Even when they do get away from the bangs and crashes, the one standout sequence (shot in infrared) is executed so confusingly, it's hard to even tell what is going on.
Even though the multi-camera system does help to tell the story better and offers more coverage than a single camera would doing the job, a lot of the time it just feels like we're watching um security camera footage which doesn't in itself make a movie. We get endless static shots where nothing is happening and it does grow tiresome after a period of time. While this material is augmented by hand-held video footage (which is always preempted by an 'I'm going to record this' line from one of the protagonists) it doesn't have the same intimate feeling of the single camera approach of the original. Furthermore, because of the 'CCTV' aspect, it always feels like we're observing strangers caught on CCTV rather than getting actually invested in the characters. For this reason alone, the frequently utilized hand-held camera is a Godsend and just barely prevents the movie from becoming just a collage of static security camera images.
There are unanswered elements so presumably we can look forward to parts 3 and 4, as there is more than enough material for it. In this age of diminishing returns, by the time they get to Paranormal Activity 5, the demonic entity will surely be a fully realized computer generated Playstation game type creature. But the logical question is: is the film any good? There are two answers to that: as a standalone movie, it's perfectly watchable and enjoyable. But as a sequel to Paranormal Activity? It's not really that frightening. Loud – yes. But frightening? No. As with part one, the budget isn't spent on lavish computer animated effects. This is movie is all about loud noises and things that go bump in the night but those that are polite enough to give you ample warning first.
Hitchcock is alive and well!
Remember the bit in the James Bond movie 'Diamonds are Forever' where Sean Connery wakes up to find himself locked in a coffin about to be incinerated? Or the bit in 'The Vanishing' where a character wakes up to find he's been buried alive? That's exactly what 'Buried' is; except it's what should be a small moment in another movie stretched to feature running time. That might not seem like a good idea at the first... After all, how many times have we heard of short films being extended to feature length that should probably have remained short films? What hope can there be for a single scene being stretched out to ninety-five minutes? Can it work? You'd naturally assume it shouldn't
it does. For a movie set entirely in a wooden box, Buried works rather well.
The film could be a lesson taken from the 'Alfred Hitchcock School of Suspense Filmmaking' where a single location is utilized with a limited cast. Further proof of this can even be seen in the opening titles and music which are so Hitchcockian in tone, you could almost imagine them being plucked from 1960s Cary Grant film. A man called Paul Conroy (Ryan Reynolds) wakes up to discover he's been sealed inside a wooden box/coffin and buried alive in what we soon discover to be Iraq. He quickly locates a mobile phone that has been placed in the coffin with him and sets about trying to notify the authorities of his terrifying predicament while simultaneously negotiating with the shadowy personnel who put him there in the first place. With his oxygen running low, it's desperate a race against time
Years ago if someone had said it was possible to make an entire movie set in a box with only one character, most people would probably have laughed at them. And rightly so: how exactly do you make a movie set in a box with only one actor? It's impossible, right? Wrong. Director Rodrigo Cortés and writer Chris Sparling have done it: they have achieved what you'd outwardly assume to be impossible. In fact, that is movie is so entertaining at all is a huge achievement seen as it represents everything that so-called 'gurus' like Robert Mckee would probably rally against. It throws the rulebook out the window and tries to do something different.
Movies like this have been attempted before of course – Phone Booth, for example - but they usually cut to different locations at some point and have other cast members coming and going throughout the scenes. Not so here. This is a lesson in claustrophobia where one man is about as much cast you're going to get. It really shouldn't work, but it does tenfold. Ryan Reynolds is really good in this, giving lots of dramatic weight to his role. He really deserves plaudits for attaching himself to such a project, which even if you ignore the financial limitations, must have surely been a strange experience that would have inevitably left a bad taste for a long time. There are moments when he's still on 'Planet Ryan' of course, but for the most part he turns in an intense and completely convincing character. He's easily identifiable as this 'blue-collar Joe' caught up in a situation where no one apparently gives a crap about his predicament. Unfortunately that's where the movie goes into strange political territory, but more on that later.
This is real 'kitchen sink filmmaking' of the highest order because writer Chris Sparling - clearly aware of the potential limitations of his story - throws everything but the aforementioned domestic appliance into the mix for the sake of an entertaining show. He keeps it moving at a fast pace, even finding time for a bit of Indiana Jones-type slithery tomfoolery!
Plaudits must also go to Rodrigo Cortés. He's a great director and he proves his metal here. A lot of directors would be out of their depth making a movie like this (go stand in the corner, Roland Emmerich and Michael Bay) and would probably be feeling very limited and restricted by its scope. Cortés, however, seems to thrive on it, pulling out every trick in his little book on directing to create something that has a lot of variety and depth when you would actually be expecting the exact opposite. It will be very interesting to see what projects he attaches himself to. On the strength of this, he could turn out to be one of the best directors out there.
Now there is a political slant. And the movie works fine with it, but one can't help but wonder if it would have been so much better without it. The film would probably have been more effective as a straight-up, full-on suspense horror movie - aka Saw - where the buried protagonist is being menaced by an unseen presence for reasons not readily apparent. But the moment the filmmakers throw Iraq into the mix and all the uncomfortable connotations that goes along with it, it takes the movie out of its comfort zone and places it into a political allegory for the failures of the war, i.e., the people on the ground are the last priority for those managing any conflict. While admirable, we don't need such overtures in what should be a simple popcorn suspense movie.
But that's a just small aside in a movie that does pretty much everything else brilliantly. The limitations of its setting actually turn out to be its greatest strengths: it should be boring, but it isn't; it shouldn't even be riveting, but it is. This is a great movie and Hollywood producers could learn a thing or two from it. It's very claustrophobic and if you suffer from nerves, probably not for you. But for the rest of us, though, it's a dark, bold and imaginative piece of exciting movie-making – a superior example of filmmakers 'thinking outside the box'. Pun intended.
Joseph Conrad would have been proud...
A married woman (played by the stunning Emmanuelle Béart) believes she sees her missing son in some video footage shot in Burma. Is it really him? She's convinced that it is
But can it be him - considering he went missing during a tsunami? No one is sure. Somehow she manages to convince her disbelieving husband (Rufus Sewell) of the fact and together they take a chartered boat upriver into Burma in the hopes of locating their beloved child. Naturally, things don't go according to plan and the couple's voyage ends up being a nightmare as they face the possibility of being swindled or killed by dangerous locals, going off course into God knows where, and maybe even losing their sanity along the way. Family viewing this isn't
While Vinyan isn't a war movie, this European produced film has a lot in common with a classic of American cinema: Apocalypse Now - really obviously so at times. They even share a similar look and possess familiar story threads: both concern a quest to find an enigma; both are set largely on boats going upriver into hostile jungles, and both have a distant, hallucinatory feel about them punctuated by sudden bursts of bizarre violence. Even the tribe that Béart and Sewell encounter during their travels in the jungle look extremely similar to Colonel Kurtz' cronies in Apocalypse Now. It's fair to say Coppola's movie must have been on director Fabrice Du Welz mind a lot when he was conceptualizing his film: both have dark hearts at their cores and their protagonists are taken on strange dream-like journeys to very strange places.
Surreality is the key here. Even the opening scene – an abstract underwater sequence showing masses of bubbles and flowing hair in extreme close up – somehow gives you the feeling that this won't be a typical, run-of-the-mill movie. Needless to say the entire film lives up to that odd opening scene. As viewers, we can't help but join the protagonists on their hallucinatory voyage into the very depths of madness. And then some. There's a lot strange stuff going on in this movie – including one sequence (clue: a large group of kids get 'friendly' with a nice lady) that's guaranteed to raise a few eyebrows among other things.
The director, Fabrice Du Welz, certainly shoots the film with a lot of confidence and conviction. It will certainly be interesting to see what kind of projects he attaches himself to in the future. Béart and Sewell are convincing as the husband and wife who are clearly out of their comfort zone and in over their heads on their dangerous odyssey. Their relationship bears the burden and is strained believably at times. Béart is brilliantly effective as the single-minded mother on a determined mission to find her missing son.
Even though Sewell is the skeptical, guilt-ridden angry one, he always remains likable and we actually do feel sorry for him, more so as they are pushed further and further into hell by his wife's unflinching determination to locate their missing son who may or may not already be long dead
So what the hell does it all mean? The film doesn't give the viewer many answers. It's very ambiguous to say the least. And it's open to numerous interpretations. Certain things don't quite add up, but this is clearly intentionally rather than being a legacy of bad writing. While there is some mentioning at one point in the movie about when someone dies a sudden death, their spirit becomes angry – the Vinyan of the title - it's about as much explanation as you're going to get.
In conclusion, if you liked Apocalypse Now, chances are you will enjoy this. But it's not a light watch to be assimilated like fast food, only to be forgotten five minutes later; this movie will stay with you for a few days. Because of the detached and dreamlike way the story's told, it stands to reason it mightn't be to everyone's taste. Yes, it makes for heavy going all the way, but it's still worth sticking with. While it's been classed a horror movie in some circles, there's so much more to it than that. In amongst all the strange imagery, there's real substance here.
Some might find it boring or pretentious or even both, but it remains a fascinating watch. Béart and Sewell create believable characters that are both realistic and somehow sad. After all, how can anyone not be affected by a parent's quest to find a missing child? It's a very well made film with incredible location photography that remains riveting viewing.
Piranha 3D (2010)
B Movie Heaven: Monsters, Babes and Sunshine Should have been called Piranha Double-D...
First thing's first: there's something extremely reassuring when a movie comes along with absolutely no pretensions about itself and tries to do nothing else other than what it says on the tin. It's fair to say that this is a no holds barred exploitation movie – the kind that were a staple of the 70s and 80s – and this is a badge it very wears proudly
In fact from the outset it shouts its intentions from the highest hilltop with the loudest megaphone it can find. Make no mistake: the term 'guilty pleasure' could have been coined for this particular film
A man (Richard Dreyfuss in a neat Jaws homage/cameo) is out fishing on a lake when there's a sudden undersea earthquake. Said earthquake unleashes an entire population of prehistoric piranha fish, previously thought to be extinct. They are extremely hungry, but luckily for them it's spring break so the waters are teeming with lots and lots of gym toned male and female bodies. In addition to this, sleazy Jerry O' Connell's character is out to make a nudey Internet flick starring Kelly Brook (now she's come a long way since her squeaky clean image on UK show 'The Big Breakfast'), unaware of the havoc that's about to be unleashed all around them. It's up to the Sheriff (played by Elizabeth Shue in a refreshing gender change from the norm) to save everyone's hides (literally) and also her own children – who, thanks to a neat plot point, are stranded on rapidly sinking/beached yacht after a babysitting stint goes afoul. And so the fun starts with plenty of gore galore.
Director Alexandre Aja handles the action and the scares extremely well. After all, it's very hard to get the tone of a movie right where the reaction might be one of mirth one minute and complete terror the next, but Aja succeeds without ever letting the viewer become confused. And there's good tension to be had here. Every time we see a (usually naked) female in the water, we're expecting the inevitable bloodbath, but Aja holds back and holds back The fact is, in his expert hands, we're never entirely sure when or if it's going to happen to a particular character. There's also one particular sequence involving a floating stage toppling over into the ocean, after a deluge of people swamp it while desperately trying to get out of the piranha infested waters that's handled particularly well.
Playing the sheriff, Elizabeth Shue is solid and does a good turn on very limited material. It's an understatement to say she looks good in the Sheriff's uniform. Christopher Lloyd also makes a brief appearance in one of his token eccentric roles and adds bit of believability to the proceedings. Jerry O' Connell probably does the best work since he's given a fun and entertaining role he can really get his teeth into.
While this is a remake of the original Piranha movie from the late 70s, director Aja has decided to go for a different scenario. Whereas the Joe Dante directed original was made in the shadows of the Vietnam War and concerned shady military experiments, the remake opts for a natural event causing the disaster. This is actually a good idea: in this era of 'climate change' and geological instability, it makes for a more environmentally relevant film. But you can forget about social and environmental commentary because in truth, this movie is essentially about two things: naked babes and killer fish. And boy, do you get plenty of the former
In one unashamedly ogling sequence, Kelly Brook and another actress swim, kiss and caress each other underwater (in the nude) in a pointlessly and laughably extended scene that will have viewers giggling at its crassness. In another scene, a woman paragliding behind a speedboat (topless of course) gets her legs bitten off. There's another scene where aw well, you get the picture. This movie won't win any fans among the feminist movement, that's for sure.
It's also a tremendously gory movie, especially in the final half hour. In the spirit of the exploitation movies of the past, most of the gory demises are once again aimed at females: a woman get scalped by an outboard motor; another woman is devoured after being bitten in the rear while floating on a hollow rubber inflatable; yet another female's insides fall out after she splits in half while being carried to the shore by two good Samaritans.
That's not implying the men get off lightly. In one scene, a character gets his manhood bitten off. Then in an unapologetically tongue-in-cheek move, the aforementioned manhood is spat out at the camera by a piranha suffering from an apparent case of indigestion. Such is the mad tone of this movie: it's crazy from start to finish. One does hope the aforementioned character has a good acting career: if he doesn't, he's liable to be referred as 'wasn't he the guy who got his penis bitten off in Piranha 3D?'
Unlike the original 1978 movie and the James Cameron partially directed sequel, all the fish effects here are done with little or no practical effects. For the most part the so-so CGI serves the creatures well, adding an otherworldly quality to their ugly prehistoric appearance. Director Aja also wisely augments these with some nice 'Point of view' shots AKA Jaws (who can forget the piranha POV speeding towards a floating female's behind?).
It's fair to say that guys might enjoy this more than the ladies. But it's still a fun and insane film. Yes it's very over the top – but in a good way. While the movie is incredibly violent and bloody, it remains riveting viewing. If you can get past the distracting female nudity, it's actually a crazy ride from start to finish and provides and entertaining night in. All aboard for the sequel!
A handful of Predators...
The first jungle-set Predator, released in 1987, went on to become a VHS rental phenomenon throughout the late 80s and the 90s. The second movie, released in 1990, was an admirable attempt at trying to do something different, resetting the events in a violent war zone in Los Angeles. While the story felt a bit episodic, it at least offered some imaginative set pieces. On a more negative note, it also paved the way for the dreaded and completely unnecessary 'Aliens Versus Predators' franchise (or AVP as it became known) with its single shot of an 'Alien skull' on board the Predator's ship. With this new sequel, director Nimród Antal and producer Robert Rodriguez are trying to move away from the excesses of that second movie (broom beating anyone?) and the stupidity of the AVP franchise to get the series back to something approaching the rawness of the original.
Predators tells the story of a group of shady individuals (Adrien Brody, Topher Grace et al), all with somewhat violent histories (black ops, sniper, death row inmate, Yakuza member, and um, a doctor, etc.), who wake up in free fall to find themselves hurtling towards a dense jungle. The team don't know how or why they've been put there and spend a lot of time exploring the mysterious terrain, which, in a neat shot, they later discover to be a distant, alien planet. After being attacked by vicious creatures, which we later find out are a type of Predator 'hunting dogs' – sent in to detect the humans and flush them out – the crew realize their purpose on planet is to act as quarry for the Predators to stalk. They flee for their lives rather than face certain death on the ends of the Predators pointy carving knives and that's when the fun ensues.
This movie had a lot of potential and the signs were that Rodriguez would finally fulfill his promise to bring the series back on course. To an extent, he even succeeds: this is no AVP mish-mash. It's a violent and over the top caper that was clearly made by fans for fans. There are some exciting set pieces in it and it's very well shot and edited with ideas galore. Surprisingly, Adrien Brody even makes for a cool, credible action hero and suits the role down to the ground, creating a good contrast to big Arnie in the original. While watching it, you really think this will be the Predator movie to beat them all, the one you always dreamed of But somehow things go pear-shaped and it doesn't quite live up to the initial premise Rodriguez, clearly wearing his heart and influences on his sleeve, intends this to be a follow up to Predator in the same way that Aliens was to Alien. It even references a line from the Cameron sequel - 'If it comes to that, I'll do us both' - plus we get a whiny 'Hudson' type character in the shape of a death row inmate that is pretty much played in the same mode Bill Paxton played Hudson in Aliens.
Also, this is meant to be a movie where the protagonists are not battling one enemy but several. But fans will be in for a shock: we don't get the masses of Predators promised by the infamous trailer (remember the bit where Adrien Brody's chest is targeted by numerous distinctive red Predator laser sights?): at best we only get a handful. Strangely, even though the same shot appears in the movie, we only see a few targeting lasers on his torso, which begs the question: why would the makers so obviously deceive the audience with an intentionally doctored shot in a trailer that promises so much more than it actually delivers? Worse, this sly deception is even explained away with the lazy implication that the humans of the story are really what's being referred to in 'Predators' of the title and not the Predators themselves Oh ,okay
Some things in the movie don't work. The imprisoned predator at the Predator camp (don't ask) serves no real purpose. It's built up to be something really significant, but proves utterly pointless by the end. Then later on, a Predator-on-Predator fight makes the film start to resemble AVP – the very thing it's trying to avoid in the first place. Even a last minute sudden character shift is so abrupt and unconvincing, you wonder if it was stuck in at the last minute. And just what is Laurence Fishburne doing here? His role is another pointless aspect that drags the pace down for no reason. It also signposts the movie's gaping plot hole: when Larry makes his first appearance, he is camouflaged by wearing the iconic Predator helmet, which offers cloaking properties But surely this would have been a vital tool for Adrien Brody and friends to use against the predators? Surely Adrien would have done his damnedest to get his hands on such a valuable weapon when trying to escape from the crashed ship Fishburne has been using as his refuge? The problem is, the helmet disappears from the film without explanation
There are also nods to the 1987 Predator flick: someone gets injured and must be carried through the jungle; one character willingly stands his ground to go head-to-head with a predator; we even get a waterfall dive and yet another shirt-less punch up with a Predator. Still, the film is entertaining enough and definitely worth a look. While it's nowhere near as good as the classic Schwarzenegger original, it's probably more or less on par with the 1990 sequel, which in itself was nothing to write home about. However, when compared to the 'Aliens Vs Predators' franchise, especially the dribble that was AVP Requiem, it's nothing short of a masterpiece. In a word, while not quite a disaster, the viewer comes away with the uncomfortable feeling that this is something of a missed opportunity.