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A Strong Start
28 September 2010
Tomorrow When The War began is a film adaptation of the first from John Marsden's much loved Tomorrow series. It follows the story of a group of teenagers who survive an invasion of their country by hiding in the wilderness and who ultimately decide to fight back using guerrilla tactics - the plot is one that will be very familiar to anyone who's seen Red Dawn.

I have fond memories of the books, which I read several years ago, and it's difficult not to let a comparison of book vs. film colour the review. I'll get the one comparison I really would like to make to the books out of the way straight away. I felt like the movie failed to capture some crucial elements of the atmosphere of the books, and what made them good reads. The books were very heavy on realism. The movie turns up the action a little bit higher than the books, with a stronger focus on cool explosions and excitement than almost purely on the psychological horrors of war. This is still absolutely a factor in the film, and is handled relatively well, but I felt like the greater emphasis on action in the movie hurt the realistic feel that was present in the books. Similarly, a lot of detail was omitted that's present in the books that focuses on the more practical aspects of what's going on. These changes are understandable though, and serve to make the movie better paced and more marketable. Essentially what I'm saying is that, while it'd be easy to be critical of the differences in tone between book and film, the movie is probably better, and more appealing to a wider audience, thanks to these changes.

The film's script is one of its strong points. In such a serious, grim war-drama kind of film I wasn't expecting anywhere near as many laughs as I got out of it, and yet the film manages to get away with it without feeling like a parody. There is a particularly memorable scene towards the films finale which was simultaneously very fun and extremely tense - not an easy combination to pull off.

The actors are generally Good Enough. There are a few stand-out moments where the script is really brought to life and you become extremely immersed in their performances, but there are also moments where things feel a little forced or unnatural. I think going with (mostly) unknown and inexperienced actors was a good choice for the type of film Tomorrow is, but the flip side of that is that occasionally their lack of experience shows. For the most part, the performances were competent, leaning towards good.

The film's direction and production are generally fairly standard. I like the visual style employed by the film, and some of the characters and locations really meshed with the way I imagined them from the books. There are a few choice shots in here in terms of composition, and the action scenes are well shot in that they're easy to follow and exciting to watch.

I worry that this film will be misunderstood as something that aims to demonise Australia's international neighbours, and I'm sure it's a take that we'll see in the media, but I think such an interpretation is somewhat unfair, and there are a few scenes in the film that make it abundantly clear that this isn't the wish of the filmmakers. Nor was it ever the wish of the original author, which is why details about the invaders are sparse in the books. This aspect has been preserved in the film, however I think the issue of race will definitely be sensationalised to a degree here. In some ways it might be a worthwhile film to see because the fallout might be not insignificant and worth understanding.

Tomorrow When The War Began is all around a solid film with a very good script, decent action scenes, and decent actors, all of which comes together in quite a neat little package. I think this movie will definitely stand on its own even for people who haven't read the books. I recommend Tomorrow When The War Began, and I hope they do well enough to carry through with their plans for the rest of the series - with some maturation, this could become a pretty outstanding set of films.
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Disregard the Hype
21 September 2010
Paranormal Activity is a film about... well, it's really all in the name. It's about a young couple who are trouble by some strange and disturbing phenomena and decide to video-tape their experiences. The film is shot in a style similar to Blair Witch. To Paranormal Activity's credit, it's less annoying to watch than that film because there's much less running around in the dark with constant screaming. The film benefits from a more subdued pace, which results in fairly well developed characters and a fairly complete exploration of the plot. The acting and scripting both feel very natural, lending a little bit of credence to the film's set up as essentially found footage.

That may all seem like not-insignificant praise, but the truth is I really didn't enjoy this film. I was going in expecting to be scared. That's the reputation the film has - as one of the scariest films of all time. But I simply couldn't buy into it. The film spends a lot of time with not much happening. This isn't uncommon for horror films, and in fact I tend to prefer films in the genre that spend some time building up suspense or a feeling of dread. But Paranormal Activity doesn't do that. It builds on character (generally in fairly superficial ways) and on a plot that, while well-developed is simply not that interesting, but neglects to build any kind of real sense of suspense that would add impact when things really do get strange.

The end result was that I was bored for most of the film. The characters are well-developed, but they're also kind of boring, and not enough to carry the film. When there is actually something paranormal happening, there are basically two extremes shown in the film. There are events which are so benign as to be... yes, a little odd, but not really terrifying or troubling beyond that. And there are events that are fairly over-the-top and just ridiculous. The film goes to great lengths to set up a realistic atmosphere, presumably so that you'll accept the more outlandish events, but it had the opposite effect for me - the movie spent so much time building up a certain atmosphere, that when I saw those scenes, it had the effect of destroying any sense of immersion I may have had. They simply didn't fit. There was not one good scare in this movie as far as I'm concerned, and it failed to create much psychological horror or dread. As I said, I was bored for most of it.

There are aspects of this movie that aren't terrible. If you liked The Blair Witch Project, you might well enjoy Paranormal Activity - I think it's a markedly better film in the same style. It's still not very good, though. In fact, in this man's opinion, Paranormal Activity is a pretty lackluster film indeed. Avoid.
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A Refreshing Change
15 September 2010
Pickman's Muse is a good film marred by a few serious flaws.

Pickman's Muse tells the story of an artist's descent into madness and draws a heavy influence from the works of H.P. Lovecraft. There are a few moments in the film that manage to catch a true sense of dread and mystery, but unfortunately it falls a little short of being a truly remarkable film, and a country mile short of being as effective as the stories which inspired it.

The script and direction are both adequate, with the latter occasionally being excellent - there are some truly striking shots in this movie, along with a good use of colour and lighting to evoke a strong atmosphere. Although it does suffer fairly severely from teal-and-orange syndrome, an effect that I'm getting a little tired of, there's enough variation in palette to keep things interesting.

The sound and music in the film is a very strong point. Music is generally subtle, ambient buzzing, and there's often some kind of repetitive or pulsating background noise, and effect that is mirrored in the lighting in a number of scenes. This fairly effectively creates an oppressive atmosphere and makes one slightly uneasy.

Unfortunately, the film is marred by acting which is in many cases quite flat. Most lines are delivered ploddingly and don't feel natural at all, and as a result it becomes difficult to relate to the characters on screen in any meaningful way. The script does little to help in this department. As I said earlier, it's generally adequate but there are some very predictable or cliché moments.

It's unfortunate that the strongest reaction this film manages to elicit is unease - there was a chance here to make a really disturbing piece, that echoed the darkness and madness of the source material, but Pickman's Muse doesn't quite make the grade.

Still, the film is a good watch with a decent central story, and it makes a refreshing change from most horror films on the market - Pickman's Muse focuses neither on gore nor on sudden shocks or cheap shots, but rather on a subtle, unsettling atmosphere. This is a type of horror film I'd like to see more of, but hopefully through better executed, more effective films than Pickman's Muse.
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Solomon Kane (2009)
A Competent Dark Fantasy Epic
2 August 2010
Solomon Kane is the story of a man's quest to redeem himself from the evils of his past.

The film gives us a historical time and location, but the setting isn't exactly realistic or historical, with a fair bit of magic (particularly religious magic). The setting is best described as 'dark fantasy.' To my mind, the setting of the film and the way its presented is one of the better aspects of this movie. I'm a sucker for dark fantasy style settings and there's plenty of grit here, replete with brutal combat, witches, mutants, zombies and the looming threat of eternal damnation.

It's a shame the story and characters aren't a bit more interesting to really round the film out. The plot is fairly straightforward and not very original, and could've been better presented - the movie feels like it drags on a bit, and is pretty heavy on exposition. Similarly, the characters are quite cliché both in terms of their personalities and their character development arcs. A particular problem for me is the damsel in distress of the movie, who is so poorly developed as a character that I had a really hard time caring much about her fate.

The film's script and direction are both competent but uninteresting. Both are predictable. The script feels really hammy at a few points, but the delivery is good enough not to make it cringe-worthy. Not to say that the acting was amazing - just that it wasn't bad, generally speaking, although a few of the minor characters left a fair bit to be desired.

The special effects in this movie are pretty bad, and occasionally detract from the overall atmosphere of the film, but they're about the best you can expect from a low-budget film like this, and all things considered aren't TOO awful. They're used sparingly, which is good because if there had been a heavy reliance on the CGI it would've really hurt the experience of watching the film.

I liked the atmosphere of the movie, and the brutal feel to the film's action sequences, but the story and character's weren't interesting enough to warrant a particularly strong recommendation. If you're a fan of the epic, you could do worse than this movie, and parts of it are reasonably entertaining, but don't expect to be watching it more than once.
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Inception (2010)
An Highly Original and Entertaining Film
27 July 2010
Inception is a highly original, thoughtful, and incredibly entertaining sci-fi/thriller romp and comes with a hearty recommendation.

The direction, acting, script, action and special effects are all super-tight. There are a few points where the script falls down very slightly, but in the bigger picture of the movie as a whole these are relatively inconsequential, and similarly there are a couple of lines that maybe aren't as well-delivered as they could've been, but again, overall the cast does a superb job.

The pacing in the film is fantastic - there's a perfect balance of exposition mixed with action and although Inception is a long movie, it doesn't feel that way when you're watching it, and despite quite a lot of time spent of exposition, the film never stagnates, and keeps popping along at a fairly furious pace. Evening the opening act during which the plot and characters are established is dealt with in perfect time, and I never felt a desire for them to 'just get on with it.' The core of the film is a philosophical and existential dilemma regarding the nature of reality. Thematically, it parallels The Matrix extremely closely, but the actual plot of the film, as well as the details of its setting, are extremely original. The only reason I might NOT recommend this film is if you're tired of movies on this kind of topic. It is a very good take on the issue, but if you're tired of that whole area altogether it might be best to give this a miss.

The entire movie was very tasteful in terms of maintaining a feeling of mystery and ambiguity. I sometimes feel that movies of this type have a tendency to over-explain, instead of leaving more up to audience interpretation. I felt that Inception struck a perfect balance between explaining enough not to be frustrating, but keeping enough ambiguous to hold interest after the credits roll.

This is a movie that I'd really like to see expanded upon with a sequel. There's a lot of potential here that wasn't tapped in the film to show on-screen some really incredible dream-like or nightmarish imagery. The special effects in the movie were fantastic, but they could've done more in terms of showing surreal circumstance, architecture, and characters. There was no time for it in this film, and it wouldn't have quite fit, but it'd be an excellent area to expand on.

Inception is an excellent film, and one that I think will become a staple science fiction movie.
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See No Evil (2006)
A Cavalcade of Mediocrity
26 July 2010
See No Evil is an extremely average slasher-style horror film. It seems like it sets its sights fairly low - aiming to be a disgusting/entertaining late-night flick. It's not completely without plot, with an extremely loose philosophical underpinning, a vague explanation of the characters motives and back-stories, and the obligatory plot-twist, but all of these elements felt cliché, predictable and/or generally uninteresting. The film does do better than some in this genre at making us feel some understanding for its villain, but it wastes the opportunity to make more out of that aspect of the film, which may have made it a more interesting watch.

This isn't to say that See No Evil was a terrible film. The gross-out factor is fairly high, which is something I tend to enjoy and is perfectly at home in this kind of movie. The actors are generally competent and suit their roles, although the cast doesn't have any stand-outs, and the direction and scripting are adequate. It's worth noting that this film is less annoying to watch than some in the genre because the protagonist's aren't extremely annoying - I didn't want them to be killed just so they'd shut up.

I found the film's fatal flaw to be a failure at developing any kind of suspense. There are sections of the movie that obviously have this intention, but things don't quite click and it all just fell a little flat to me, making the film a much less entertaining watch than it otherwise might've been. If the film had had some real tension, or at least a few really good shocks or scares, I might be able to give it a tentative recommendation for fans of the genre.

Probably the most entertaining thing about the movie is some unintentionally hilarious lines, reaction shots, or situations, but these aren't frequent or silly enough to warrant a recommendation on the grounds of "it's so bad it's good."

As it stands, there's nothing really awful about the movie, but it's just not that much fun to watch. If you're bored and want to see a little ultra-violence you could do worse than this flick, but in most cases you'd be better off looking for a superior overall film to tickle your blood-lust.
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