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Sinister (I) (2012)
A Delightful Horror Treat!
26 September 2012
When the trailer boasted the producers of "Paranormal Activity" and "Insidious" the idea of what tone this film would be reared it's head. Based around a series of jump scare sequences and slow character sections in order to attempt to make you feel for the characters while easing the tension of the situation. It's a tired formula that is becoming all the more clichéd and repetitive. However Sinister manages to find ways to break free of these leashes that the horror genre is becoming tied down to.

Ethan Hawk stars as a true crime writer known as Ellison who moves into a new home with his wife, Tracy (Juliet Rylance) and his two children, Ashley (Clare Foley) and Trevor (Michael Hall D'Addario) near the site of a local crime in order to get inspiration for his novel. During an exploration of the house Ellison stumbles across a box with an 8mm camera and a selection of films, which upon viewing exploit gruesome murders. This thrusts area hero into a terrifying mystery as he tries to piece together the meaning behind it all.

With horror films these days we come to know what to expect. We're given characters that we can't connect with merely there to service the plot and an un-original story that we've seen time and time again bringing the audience no sense of engagement. But mostly we're never scared beyond the mere technique of a jump scare. With director Scott Derrickson we are shown again how mainstream horror can creep on us with effective imagery and suggestion. The scares here can be portrayed by just using obscure camera angles and bizarre images that unsettle us. Derrickson understands though that using loud bands and noises to jolt the audience can be done effectively. By backing up these moments with his strong imagery he uses it as a tactic to implant these horrific moments in our minds.

The highlight however is the use of the 8mm films. Sinister is in love with the idea of film, from celluloid to digital as not only are we treated to disturbing super 8 films but Ellison boasts are large collection of VHS tapes of his old achievements. It's a nice, simple touch that film fans will appreciate. These 8mm films though boast some truly graphic sequences, one particularly involving a garden tool. Backed with a moody soundtrack by Christopher Young who's worked on other horror gems such as "Drag Me To Hell" and "The Exorcism of Emily Rose". It feels more of an ambiance piece rather than a fully diegetic score merging together a series of dark and effective sounds building the feeling of dread constantly throughout.

Written by Derrickson himself and writer C. Robert Cargill the screenplay manages for the most part to push past the bland formula we've grown to endure with horror films of late. The film brings an intriguing plot that manages to put you in the position of Ellison's character, uncovering the plot and mystery when he does. There are scenes in which are hero re-visits the 8mm films and discovers new elements to them which adds a new depth to the story. The film feels relentless, rarely taking time to slow down and constantly feeling as though it's propelling towards something. However elements of the script are where the weaker parts of the film shine. While managing to bring interesting uses of horror and tension the film often retreads over clichéd ground as though it's trying to keep a warm attitude towards mainstream audiences. These are the times when the film feels as though it may lose focus but always manages to pick up its feet again. Alongside this we have some underused side and poorly written characters such as a police deputy who doesn't feel natural within the whole scale of things.

Sinister may tread over worn ground by it still manages to feel fresh and revitalizing in an age where we've conformed to the degrading standards of horror. It embraces the roots of horror and film in general making it much more than a homage and a feeling of an original yet genuinely terrifying story. Hawk manages to carry the emotional tangent of the narrative while the other characters are merely serviceable. It's not groundbreaking but for a mainstream horror film it takes some inventive and daring steps creating a terrifying, disturbing yet absorbing piece of cinema.

4/5 Stars.
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Rises Above The Rest!
18 July 2012
Trilogies can be a dangerous area to play with, especially with a series that is already hailed for its direction. But Christopher Nolan enters this zone with "The Dark Knight Rises" after the phenomenal success of his previous adaptation of the Batman figure, "The Dark Knight". With such hype and public following backing up this production is it worth the risk? To jeopardize you're recognition for re-inventing the superhero movie just for a few extra dollars? A series that has pushed the limits of this universe to the brink? In this case of Nolan's direction with this film, the answer is yes… and he does the impossible with ease.

The events of this story take place 8 years after "The Dark Knight" where the mysterious, yet ruthless Bane enters Gotham City setting off a chain of events that forces Bruce Wayne to don the bat suit again and protect the city for the injustice that is being served. Along side this is an array of new characters that propel the plot while also creating an emotional resonance within. Joseph-Gordon Levitt plays the rookie, idealistic cop John Blake with such enthusiasm and depth that makes for an instantly relatable bond between the audience and the screen. Adding to the already stellar cast is two strong, independent female leads. Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard), a recent addition to the Wayne Enterprise who creates a connection with Bruce Wayne, and the slick, yet sexy Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway), a Robin Hood esque vigilante that lives away from the rich and luxurious world that most of our characters live amongst.

Showing the way Selina Kyle lives opens up to some of the themes that are a large concept in this essentially extravagant, epic summer blockbuster. Class crisis plays a large part as the rich have become powerful and the poor are becoming desperate. It's a contrast to our economic climate making this film more relevant than it initially appears. Metaphorically showing how people stand up to oppression and create anarchy is achieved through visually stunning set pieces, intertwining ideas and action into a competent mix. These ideas are there if you're looking for some contextual backbone, but not necessary for you to fully dissect.

By grounding the series to reality Nolan has essentially created art house films with his Batman realizations, mixing ideas with spectacle against a visually independent backdrop. The colour tones that filter the screen play against the mood of the characters and Wally Pfister's cinematography turns the epic scale all the way up to 11, while still making the low key and character filled scenes visually exciting. The direction is superb, managing to juggle the variety of characters on display giving them all the depth and development they all deserve. Managing to create this level of emotional engagement against a numerous amount of set pieces is a hard feat but the film is paced as the roller-coaster ride it is, taking the necessary twists and turns the plot decides to venture towards.

The series has built up to this epic conclusion in a film that feels entirely relevant and a director's work, instead of a studios decision. The level of spectacle on display is phenomenal giving the modern day film going the price of his admission plus more. The film takes the best parts of the previous installments and throws them into a circumstance that makes the last Harry Potter film look like child's play. The places the film goes are so unexpected and breathtaking that it's hard not to be amazed and fall in love with superhero films all over again. "The Avengers" may have created a visually exciting and enjoyable romp of a film, but "The Dark Knight Rises" manages to take those positives and attach a real sense of weight and peril to the situation. Though the story is primarily Bruce Wayne's and how he must rise to protect everything he holds close, it's just as much as the city of Gotham's film. You feel the danger; you feel the stakes, which is something that we haven't felt within a film of this caliber for a long time. With Hanz Zimmer score adding to the levels the film is escalating towards branded together with a phenomenal sound design making sure you feel every explosion, punch and gunshot it's hard not to feel the inner child within yourself trying to break free.

We've come along way over the last decade with superhero films. The idea of a comic book playing out as a motion picture has traveled so far and ventured to every corner of the spectrum that it's lacking the one thing that made them so special in the first place… spectacle. We've been treated to awe of seeing our beloved characters jump to the big screen but how it all plays out rarely changes. Christopher Nolan is the game changer though, in his 164 minute epic "The Dark Knight Rises" we journey to those points and clichés we've grown up with merely to push past them, break them, entering a film that we are unlikely to see the likes of again or at least for a very long time. There may be the odd contrived moment but for a film on this scale they are easy to let go and are overshadowed. This is a dark; emotionally draining experience expertly crafted alongside beautifully staged action set pieces but it's a ride and it's certainly one that deserves to be taken.
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Great Fun, But Not Amazing
19 June 2012
Warning: Spoilers
In 2002 Sam Raimi created the first of his soon to be "Spider-Man" trilogy with "Spider-Man". Apart from "X-Men' there hadn't really been a large superhero film since the classic "Superman" films from the late 70's, early 80's. 2004 came and Raimi built upon the solid foundations of his initial creation with a near perfect, smart film made for all audiences, even those who had no love for superhero films known as "Spider-Man 2". Years later he would go on to make "Spider-Man 3", a heavily flawed but still somewhat enjoyable experience. Now 5 years on from the last incarnation of the web slinger we are presented with director Marc Webb's (Who also directed the fantastic "500 Days of Summer") perception of the masked crusader in "The Amazing Spider-Man".

Starting from the ground up we are re-introduced to Spider-Man with a central performance from Andrew Garfield playing Peter Parker, the high school student who receives extraordinary gifts reminiscent of a spider through a bite of a genetically engineered arachnid. Alongside having to understand his newfound powers he gains a love interest with fellow student Gwen Stacey (Emma Stone) and discovering the mysterious disappearance of his parents as a child with the help of one-armed scientist Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans) who worked alongside his dad. However Connors is trying to work on a cure for his arm through the DNA of lizards and ends up becoming a monstrosity known as The Lizard in the process. Now it's up to Spider-Man to prevent The Lizard from tearing apart the city.

Marc Webb has taken up this huge task of re-booting the series and has managed to craft a solid piece of summer entertainment, but not without it's flaws. However on the positive side he creates a brilliantly paced blockbuster with the first hour building on the characters and the second hour bringing high-octane action in a constant rhythm without becoming stale. He also manages to capture the character of Spider-Man fantastically bringing the humorous one-liners that he quips from the comic books and adds it to his film without ever over doing it. Along side his great action, pacing and realization of Spider-Man it's backed with a thumping score which breaks into moments of greatness as it reaches different tones, a heavy standout being the horror track that backs a lot of The Lizard scenes. Along with some great direction from Webb showing one or two scenes of true horror making him an interesting choice from a film in that genre.

Its not just Webb's directing that stands out, Garfield creates his own version of Spider-Man and not only captures it but embodies it. It's a role he was born to play and it's evident that he's enjoying every scene he's in playing this character, alongside playing Parker. Being a surprising addition to the cast is Martin Sheen as Uncle Ben who brings a more heartfelt and lovable interpretation to the role that the other films were never able to capture. Ifans is a great choice for Connors as well and dominates the scenes he's in with his strong presence being felt. It's just a shame this is lost when he becomes The Lizard and the CGI creation becomes a cheesy mess with no real threat or character as the computer generate scenes play out. The most disappointing of all however is the character of Gwen Stacey. As strong as Stones performance is the character is not. She feels more like a plot device at times than a genuine love interest for Spider-Man and since their relationship grows so fast it's hard to really grab anything from what you're being given.

The biggest problem with the film however is the script, which Webb manages to keep on top, but not without it's flaws. At times it comes an inconsistent mess, for example in one scene Parker would touch an object which would suddenly stick to his hand and then the next scene he would be able to grab objects with ease, but then after this would go back to the prior problem. There's also some forced narrative choices as well, especially the scene in which Parker comes up with the idea for his suit which felt completely un-natural and a jolt out of the story. Alongside some forced plot ideas were certain plot strands that were left un- resolved, a main one involving Uncle Ben that reaches a crescendo and then never ties it's self up. The whole script feels unfinished and flips between a positive storytelling experience to a completely unpolished one.

However despite these flaws Webb manages to keep the film afloat with some great characters, exciting action and an enjoyable time overall. Audiences should not soon forget though how great Sam Raimi captured Spider-Man in his direction though and the chemistry of the cast, each having their own story arcs. It'll be interesting to see where Webb takes his creation, as there's a lot here to like, just a weak script and some un-polished characters stop it from being the greatness it could have been. With films such as "The Avengers" and "The Dark Knight Rises" being the heavy weight superhero films to storm multiplexes it's hard to see "The Amazing Spider-Man" finding a heavy footing. But it's still worth checking out and will provide an entertaining two hours for audiences. There's still some web left in this spider after all.
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A Fresh Take On Modern Horror
6 April 2012
On the dusty shelves at MGM's studios lay "The Cabin In The Woods", the new film by "Cloverfield" director Drew Goddard and "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" writer Joss Whedon. Although completed three years ago the project was backlogged due to financial difficulties at MGM until Lionsgate finally picked it up and have finally distributed it ready for eager audiences to see. At no better time either with Whedon's upcoming highly anticipated "The Avengers" making the risk of this under the radar release minimal and lowering the effect of potential damage.

Explaining any of the plot would be doing the film a disservice, as it's jigsaw-esque structure is one of its strongest points. The basic premise however is five high school kids take a break to a remote cabin in the woods where their stay escalates into disastrously horrific results due to an unseen force, which may or may not be controlling everything that is happening. It's billed and sounds as though it's journeying down the same road that most teenage horror-slasher films seems to take but that would be far from the truth as the story takes all the conventions of which we've grown accustomed to; the slow build-up, the unnecessary sex scene, the stupid decisions the protagonists make which cause you to shout at the scream due to their choices and throws it all on it's head creating a tongue in cheek comical look at how horror movies have become.

All the characters tick all the boxes for the traditional teen horror movie conventions. Dana (Kristen Connolly) is the sensible, timid student; Curt (Chris Hemsworth) goes along the typical jock lines; Jules (Anna Hutchison) comes across as the girl who craves attention, dressing in scantily clothes; Marty (Fran Kranz) is the stoner who brings the comic relief and there's Holden (Jesse Williams) as the sensitive male. Unlike other horror movies with these presets we care for these characters as they essentially start as five normal teenagers, the story forces them to fall into their caricatures, which gives them more of human, approach rather than the stale interpretations that other horror films do. Alongside the cast are two other actors worthy of a mention Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford as a duo, comical double act, their role however is not worth mentioning as it's better to be experienced not knowing.

What really makes Cabin stand out amongst the long stream of consistent horror movies is how it manipulates and twists the traditional conventions of a teen slasher horror movie and turns it into a useful and developed plot choice. No one exclaims how the situation their in is remnant of the films they've grown up with, breaking that wall between the film and the audience, the conventions are used to push the story forward and give reasoning forward. For example, why do the majority of modern horror films include and scene depicting sex? Why do characters decide to split up, allowing themselves to be picked off one by one? All these are answered and none of the reveals for forced or unnecessary, but well crafted plot points bringing a tongue in cheek style to the story without over playing it unlike films such as "Tucker & Dale Vs Evil", a small independent horror-comedy which goes for the same vibe and oversteps it mark. Cabin causes for a sly satire.

Any reservations about this film are minuet but are still worth noting. Though billed as a horror/comedy, the film rarely reaches any level of terror unlike the brilliance of "Shaun of the Dead" but never reaches the over comedic levels of say the increasingly tedious "Scary Movie" saga. It doesn't particularly reach a happy medium, however it does stay highly entertaining from the moment the titles appear to the end credits. During this 90-minute ride however are small plot holes, which may bring a viewer out of the experience, but for a film of this stature a certain level of disbelief has to be brought in on the audiences part. The whole premise could seem ridiculous as it plays out, especially during the final act where the tension and entertainment explode to a high-pitched level, though the film earns that right and brings a unique ending to the film that will stay engraved into your memory for weeks on end.

With all the low standard horror films that are streamed into multiplexes it's refreshing to see a project not backed with an adapted script or a revitalization of a previous film, which provides a tongue in cheek approach to the horror genre. It's not a particularly deep character piece; neither will it sweep up a large amount of awards at the Oscars. It is however a highly entertaining, tense, comical approach to modern day horror movies, turning the genre on its head doing something bold and fresh. This is a film made by the fans, for the fans.
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A Morally Corrupt Abomination Of A Film
11 March 2012
Sometimes a straight to DVD release can slip under the radar and become a highly under-rated and cult hit. 'Elephant White' does not fall under this category. Djimon Hounsou stars as professional hit man Church who is contracted to avenge the murder of his client's daughter. Alongside is Kevin Bacon, an arms dealer known as Jimmy who assists Church while he tracks down the men who committed this terrible act.

The horrific abomination that this movie is seeps through from the very start where subject matters are introduced and dealt in truly sleazy ways. One being the a side story revolving around teenage prostitution that puts no effort into showing how revolting it truly is but merely using the dark subject and trivializing it to push the plot forward. The character development barely changes from what they all originally were. Church remains a destructive force, merely dispersing people feeling no remorse or consequence for his actions. It would be understandable if the film was trying to remain a bland action film but it feels as though it's constantly trying to push out some awareness to something but failing in every sense due to terrible direction from director Prachya Pinkaew.

All these points are nothing compared to the absolutely stale performances that are woven within this destructively vile film. Notably the worst performancethat Kevin Bacon has done in his career. He brings across his own take of a British accent, which teeters between that of a southern Englishman and an Australian. Accompanied with this is his Keith Richards impersonation he adds to the mix, which brings it to the point that you actually want to avert your eyes. Jirantanin Pitakporntrakul stars in her first role as Mae, a 14-year-old teenage prostitute and after this performance it wouldn't be surprising if it was her last role. She comes across and whiny, annoying and self centered, which could all be down to poor direction but that would not change the fact her character was not believable or easy to relate to.

There is absolutely nothing to take from Elephant White, aside from a semi-enjoyable sniper segment but even after that you'll have a sour taste in your mouth just for even thinking there was something enjoyable to take away from this film. It's dripping in filth, un-moral subject matters and bland, annoying characters. Truly one of the worst films in recent memory that nobody should have to endure.
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Win Win (2011)
An Unlikely Friendship
11 March 2012
Despite the title 'Win Win' doesn't indeed feature much winning, but instead the consequences from actions and the ripples of repercussions that follow said incidents. Paul Giamatti stars as lawyer Mike Flaherty, a family man, down on his luck and trying his hardest to keep everything afloat. However after a chain of events he stumbles into temporary adoption of a teenager known as Kyle who may be the motivation that the lost character needs.

Billed as a comedy but coming across with more substance than anything you'd expect. A plot that builds itself up to comical instances but never does. It takes a more calmer and human approach often giving the characters more personality and a higher chance for the audience to connect. The film revolves around mistakes and how each player must find a way around them, which is probably a catalyst for the title. The characters gain personal victories but not through the traditional and heroic way that is usually portrayed. Mike takes advantage of one of his clients who is in late stages of dementia for his own personal win, Kyle is filled to the brim with a troubled past and various other characters are flawed, none are perfect.

The only problem with Win Win is that it's too neat. It spends a good portion making imperfect and damaged characters to only bring it to a traditional and clean conclusion. This is more than likely down to the uplifting vibe that the film slowly builds throughout, but it would have been refreshing to see a darker and more human ending. That said the film is fantastic in every other respect. The screenplay is phenomenal, written and directed by Thomas McCarthy who also worked on Disney's 'Up'. Every line feels nigh on perfectly written and is reminiscent of real world dialogue from real world people. It's a refreshing and uplifting comedy that brings a lot more to the table than you might expect.
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A Claustrophoic Experience
11 March 2012
Films about Vikings usually involve a large amount of shouting, gore and half dressed men. It's surprising to realize that Valhalla Rising is a quieter take on the history and is more of an experience rather than an actual film. Dwelling on the plot would be doing the whole journey a disservice, knowing a minimal amount will enhance the experience. However the basic outline is that it's a character study of the character 'One-Eye' played by Mads Mikkelsen who pushes to the audience and intense and broody screen presence.

The time spend with Valhalla Rising was an intense and captivating experience. It strays away from typical film making to create a truly beautiful yet brutal experience, filled with religious metaphors and harsh landscapes. Each viewer will have a different interpretation on the events that transpired. However the main problem with the film is how truly intense and claustrophobic it actually is. You feel trapped alongside these characters, despite the large open backdrop it's set against. There's an extraordinary lack of dialogue in the film, which in no means is a criticism but only adds to the slow brooding tension underlining the whole film. It would be easiest to class this film under a horror genre, as it's one of the tensest experiences I've had with a film.

It's hard to recommend this film, it holds very little plot, a slow pace and is extremely brutal and harsh yet strangely captivating despite the entrapment I felt from it. I did however feel I gained something from my viewing and am glad I managed to stick with it. Mikkelsen brings across a strong cold performance that had me going through one extreme to the other and the cinematography is gorgeous. Director Nichols Winding Refn has managed to construct a film with so little plot yet so much content that it never becomes stale. That said I don't think I could sit through it again.
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Margin Call (2011)
A Fascinating Depiction
11 March 2012
From first time director J.C Chandor is 'Margin Call', a financial drama that takes place within the first 24 hours of a crisis within a large investment bank and shows the actions and motives of the players involved within this financial collapse. After a liquidation of a large portion of the companies staff a young risk analysts discovers a document left behind by an ex-member of staff which projects a large financial loss. From the on forward we see the chain of events that followed throughout the company to prevent this from happening.

On paper 'Margin Call' sounds quite bland but actually proves to be a dense and intense drama, holding the audiences attention throughout, despite the fact the film mainly takes place within a work place. It shows the lengths people will go to just to protect themselves without caring how their actions affect others. Jeremy Irons plays 'the big cheese' of the company and asks his employee's to talk to him as if he was 'a dog' and through this manages to keep the audience aware of what's happening who may not be familiar with the stock market. The script works as strongly as though Aaron Sorkin, who wrote 'The Social Network' and 'Moneyball', wrote it. In comparison it ranks quite proudly next to those films which both managed to bring subjects that weren't interesting to many people but still managed to bring in mainstream audiences. It's a shame this hasn't had the same marketing as I feel it could have reached that same level if given the chance.

However if there's anything critical to say about this film it's that it feels like a televisual drama rather than a cinematic experience. Where as 'The Social Network' was directed by David Fincher, a director with a clear style managing to create a film generally about people sitting around in rooms beautiful and captivating, Chandor hasn't quite grasped that niche yet and falls short on creating an experience that needs to be seen on a big screen. That being said it provided a story that I knew nothing about and more importantly, cared nothing for and managed to create a brilliant look at a financial crisis while giving it real human character which drove the story forward and was more about the consequences of actions than the impending doom that was looming over them all.
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John Carter (2012)
The Book Was Ahead Of Its Time, The Movie However Is Not
11 March 2012
For films such as John Carter, you have to accept them for what they are. Unfortunately John Carter fails on the aspects it hopes to appeal too. Based on the 1917 book 'A Princess Of Mars' written by Edgar Rice Burroughs it stars up and coming actor Taylor Kitsch as John Carter himself, a civil war veteran who is mysteriously transported to Mars and quickly involved in an on going war that the planet faces.

Coming straight from directing animated Pixar films such as 'Finding Nemo' and 'Wall-E' Andrew Stanton hasn't quite grasped how to deal with a live action film. Mars is host to a wide array of human-esque characters and a large amount of CGI aliens known as the Thark. Through his directing he appears to have given the effects more life and personality than any of the human counterparts, which remain fairly flat and unremarkable. This makes around half of the film fairly interesting while the other half lies flat and dormant. Kitsch tries his hardest to bring himself as a charismatic and relatable character but the dreary cast keeps him back. Dominic West poses as a bland villain along side Mark Strong who demonstrated in 'Tinker Tailor Solider Spy' that he can be a highly qualified actor when given the right role.

The acting isn't the only problem here. The plot has a lot of meat to it but that doesn't mean that it's in anyway interesting. It meanders and drags switching between all the various different factions and with the human characters being as plain as they are it makes their scenes extremely un-engaging. For those who haven't read the book the story will feel like it's swaying all around the place. An unnecessary plot line involving Carters nephew on Earth feels completely out of place and only features at the very beginning and the very end meaning that half way on through the time on Mars you will have forgotten all about it making the ending not as satisfying as it should have been. A forced romance plot line weaves its way through the plot as well that makes for some truly awkward and wooden acting between Kitsch and Lynn Collins who plays the Princess of one of Mars cities known as Helium. The only strand of the film that is somewhat compelling is the involvement with Thark's where again Stanton demonstrates he's best suited with animation.

A Princess Of Mars heavily influenced many science fiction films that exist today, without Burroughs books there wouldn't be films such as 'Star Wars', 'Avatar' or 'Stargate'. The only problem is the film is now in a world where said films do exist so it makes a hard time for the audience not to compare it to such films. The desert planet is reminiscent of Tatooine from 'Star Wars', the Thark resemble the civilization from 'Avatar' and the soundtrack boasts that of the original 'Stargate' film. The fact that these films have happened makes John Carter all the more pointless for existing. Its time has passed and as a result won't flow as well in this day and age.

That being said there are things to like about John Carter. The first portion of Mars is entertaining as Carter attempts to get used to the environment and the species on the planet. It builds for some genuine interest and excitement. But as soon as the rest of the cast is introduced, unfortunately spirals downhill. Another positive factor is the set pieces. Because they are so far apart they provide a refreshing change of pace. There's a particular standout scene in which Carter is fighting an array of enemies but the film also cuts back to a previous part of his life on Earth, interchanging between the two scenes. Unfortunately though these positives don't bring cause for a recommendation to see John Carter. It's bland, slow, boring and has a thick and overflowing plot that won't appeal to a large variety of the audience. The book was way ahead of its time, the film however is not.
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Fun, But Flawed
7 February 2012
There are times in our lives where we meet people who would love to kill, but what if we got the courage to do it? 'Horrible Bosses' is a comedy where our main protagonists pluck up the courage and decide to kill their truly evil bosses. With a concept like this it would be easy to completely destroy the general idea and create distasteful comedy full of crude humour and pop culture references but somehow manages to stay afloat. Kevin Spacey, Colin Farrell and Jennifer Aniston are our horrible bosses in the story and are each introduced with their own evil trait. Spacey first appears to be a manipulative, joyless long time financial boss, Farrell as the newly appointed narcissistic head of his fathers company and Aniston as nymphomaniac dentist. Each character has their moments but are essentially supporting characters.

Though the script is often funny, 'Horrible Bosses' is far from perfect. It shy's away from the dark side in which it could have approached and wraps it's self up too neatly. The jokes can come across as hit and miss with some being just plain awkward and the stronger ones thrown around in passing conversation. A stand out character however is Jamie Foxx's who portrays a serial killer and steals the screen within the scenes it's in. The same however can't be said about the bosses though as, much as Spacey and Farrell portray really evil characters, Aniston's rarely reaches the same level as those and comes across as the weakest plot strand and disappears from the story for a lengthy amount of time to the point where it wouldn't be surprising if you forgot about her.

Another major problem is its misogynistic approach to female characters within the story. Aniston's role is the only real main lead that women can have any real connection too, but her character is so exaggerated that it's difficult to find any key elements that they can relate too. There are other small female roles such as Spacey's wife but she is constantly referenced to committing adultery in derogatory ways. It's fine for a film to contain a male headline cast but when that's used as a tool to use prejudice sub context towards females it's hard not for it to surface above the comedy which should be the front hold.

Though despite these criticisms there's a script there that is genuinely hilarious but could have been developed stronger and funnier if it decided to delve deeper into the dark story it is essentially playing. It's a fun way to spend two hours, the story is amusing, the script is strong and as a majority the cast manages to bring a special little something into each of their roles. I just wish it were a bit more horrible and a little less prejudice.
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True Romance
13 December 2011
When we fall in love we assume it will be forever and that's the case with our protagonists in Blue Valentine. The story follows the relationship between a withered married couple, cross cutting between the present and the past showing how their relationship built and the point of which it has now come too. At a glance it's easy to compare to the 2004 film 'The Notebook' which Gosling himself starred in but that's far from what this picture is. Blue Valentine approaches a difficult subject of how relationships between people can change and how the person we once fell in love with can be completely different deeper into the time they spend together.

What makes Blue Valentine so impressive is it's harsh brutality to the subject and not sugar coating the situation just merely showing it for what it is. Gosling and Williams act their hearts out and bring across a credibility that at time borders into too realistic territory. It's a dark, gritty love story that almost anyone can find a element of to relate to which makes for a truly beautiful and heart breaking watch.
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Fair Game (I) (2010)
A Fantastic Political Thriller
13 December 2011
Aiming at one demographic and not considering that some audiences aren't familiar with the affairs can bring down sometimes bring down political thrillers. In 2008 Ron Howard brought us Frost/Nixon, which dealt with the interviews between former President Nixon and television host David Frost. It was a subject I knew very little about but the film managed to address that and still make it entertaining and interesting while actually involving the audience in it's subject matter. Fair Game does the same.

Taking place in the build up to the Iraq war Naomi Watts plays a CIA agent juggling her dangerous job with her home life. Her husband (Played by Sean Penn) publishes a paper scrutinizing the Bush administration of their involvement with Iraq and as a consequence his wife's name is leaked to the public. Despite knowing very little of the events leading up to the war in Iraq the film did a good job of familiarizing the audience with the motives behind doing so. Based on real events the film uses everyone's real name within each event that occurs and is not scared to show what it believes in and is trying to represent. Alongside this however we also have the conflict played between Watts and Penn as their beliefs of the American government differ. This story however isn't as strong as the message the film is showing of how governments can make mistakes and be corrupt so plays backbone to what could have made some interesting chemistry.

That being said the film is a strong piece and stands up for what it believes in, not shying away from any of the details. The fact that this all happened is astonishing and even people who know very little about the Iraq war will still gain and be entertained by the themes of corruption and family.
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I Am Number Zzzzzz
13 December 2011
Billing it's self as Twilight for males is probably the only recognition this film is going to get. Alex Pettyfer plays John Smith an alien from another world trying to hide from another alien race known as the Mogadorians who have been picking of his kind one by one. That is essentially the plot of the film and the whole journey of that could be shown within a 40 minute television special. What we have though is awkward scenes trying to mimic the Twilight formula. Pettyfer's character moves to a new school and falls for an outcast girl who starts off as a borderline pervert as she photographs the public without them realizing and uploads them onto her website. Not only do we have her but we are introduced into a stereotypical outcast boy who's father filled his head with thought that aliens are real.

None of these characters are interesting. The only semi interesting character is Timothy Olyphant's who plays a mentor/guardian to Pettyfer's being. Added with this is a plot, which we've all seen time and time before while also being created more effectively and entertaining. Characters are introduced and then not shown again till the final act and by that point you'd forgotten all about them and lack the ability to even care what happens to them. The film just didn't feel like it had a defining purpose than to merely market people into seeing it by sprinkling essence of Twilight all over it and to be honest, Twilight is more interesting than this.
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50/50 (2011)
An Emotional Roller-coaster
13 December 2011
Films that deal with sensitive issues in a comedic fashion run the risk of being to trivial and not giving enough light on the dark matter that is at hand. 50/50 however takes this risk and succeeds in it's efforts. Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Adam, a young, healthy individual who is shocked to find he has a rare type of cancer with only a 50/50 chance of survival. Finding a comedic side of this is hard but director Jonathan Levine makes it so the characters bring a comical side to how they deal with the situation, rather than poking fun at the tragic event itself.

Going into this film I had reservations having the memory of watching Adam Sander in 'Funny People' which failed to make me laugh, cry or feel any emotion at all. It came to my surprise however how 50/50 managed to change the emotion I was feeling within in minutes but doing so in a seamless way. This was mainly due to the central performance by Levitt who blew me away with how calm he kept his character throughout despite the desolate situation he is in. It's also worth noting that Seth Rogan, who plays Adam's best friend, Kyle, managed not to bring the obnoxious, drugged up performance he usually does but a realistic and touching approach to a friend who tries bring his friend through this time.

50/50 is one of the best films I've seen this year. It deals with a dark issue while managing to keep a smile on your face throughout. It never minimalises the seriousness of cancer and never over exaggerates it. It keeps it on a perfect balance and is a film that's message is it's all going to be okay.
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Cedar Rapids (2011)
Check In At Cedar Rapids
13 December 2011
Cedar Rapids starts out as though it's an advertisement selling the American Dream as we are shown the 'perfect' life of the 'perfect' Tim Lippe, represented by Ed Helms. Lippe is tasked by his boss to fly to the resort of Cedar Rapids to win the Two Diamond award for his insurance agents and it's here he will learn more about himself and life it's self. Though it all sounds uplifting and pleasant deep down there's some dark, serious segments, which are bogged down by the cheery atmosphere the film tries to bring across. Varying from the first interaction Lippe has at Cedar Rapids is a conversation with a prostitute without him knowing to an unhealthy use of drugs.

The main problem I had with the film was that it wasn't funny enough until the final act at which point it was barely worth it. The humour in this film is more chuckles worth rather than out loud laughter. Despite the slow start however there was a lot to like as by the end of the film I wanted to spend more time with the characters, the main one being Ed Helm's. I felt a connection to his character, I saw myself inside him and that made for some great relation scenes. There was a real sense of accomplishment as the film starts off boxed in within this confined environment, representative of Lippe's closed off personality but then opens up into new territories and reacts exactly how I would react in those instances. So despite not delivering on the promise of a laugh-a-minute comedy there was enough in it and parts that worked to make it a satisfactory watch, which resulted in me wanting to stay longer in Cedar Rapids.
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Red Hill (2010)
Not A Classic, But Still Great
13 December 2011
The only western I've watched this year being the Coen's version of True Grit, Red Hill has a lot to live up to. Ryan Kwanten plays Shane Cooper, a young police officer who has just moved to the isolated town of Red Hill. His first day goes off course though as a local prison has a breakout and convicted criminal, Jimmy Conway (Played by Tommy Lewis) is on the loose and heading for Red Hill. This simple story has a lot going for it accompanied with an excellent shot choice, reminiscent of the Coen's 'No Country For Old Men', in fact, the whole film felt like a homage to western's in general and that's the main flaw of the film. It never has it's own voice; it feels like bits picked from various other and more rounded films so doesn't give it's own flavor.

It can be commended however on it's playful way of mixing horror into the mix. There were countless scenes where the tension was dialed up to 11 making it an edge of the seat experience, not relying on quiet environments followed by loud bangs to get inside the audience's head. It was a very atmospheric piece and Tommy Lewis's representation of Jimmy Conway added to that having a terrifying yet, electrifying screen presence truly invoking a sense of dread into you whenever he was on screen.

While far from being perfect Red Hill is a perfectly fine nuts and bolts westerns with enough plot twists and turns to keep you interested. You just can't help but get a strong sense of déjà vu within the viewing and reminds you of other and far better westerns which have truly earned their rights of classics. Red Hill isn't a classic, but it's a damn good time.
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Time Killer
13 December 2011
Matthew McConaughey plays the sleazy, street-wise lawyer Mick Haller who at one point exclaims that he 'couldn't believe he was representing an innocent man' which goes to show the types of people he defends. The Lincoln Lawyer follows the story of Haller as he takes on Louis Roulet (Played by Ryan Phillippe) who has been suspected of assault. But as he represents him starts to question the good in what he is doing and the morals of his actions. This is one of McConaughey's finest roles in a long time but is nothing compared to William H. Macy who plays his detective in the case and brings a charismatic and involved attitude, stealing the limelight off of anyone else on screen.

The problems that lie within The Lincoln Lawyer however are the horrible plot points that often appear out of nowhere to do nothing other than twist the story, especially around the halfway mark of the film. Along side this is the constant thought of how this would fit better as a late night television movie, it doesn't feel cinematic enough and the courtroom scene feel like missed opportunities to show this. That being said the film is entertaining enough while it lasts and the actors really throw themselves into their roles, despite the clichéd character development. There are worse ways to kill a few hours.
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Great, But Not The Greatest
17 October 2011
It's hard to imagine this documentary being present anyone other that 'Morgan Spurlock'. His charismatic nature grabs you from the get go and refuses to let go. Back in 2004 he brought us 'Super Size Me' in which he challenged himself with the task of only eating McDonalds for 30 days, now he brings us 'The Greatest Movie Ever Sold' which explores the world of product placement within films and whether or not it's a benefit. If 'Werner Herzog' were to direct this feature a more tightened and more polished experience would have been provided but Spurlock is let loose with the idea of bringing awareness of product placement to audiences in a free spirited and pop culturist way which is where the heart and fun of this film lies.

Large portions of films shown within your local multiplex are funded through product placement, which is the incorporation of perhaps a Pepsi can within the shot or a conversation about a popular deodorant. It's a subtle marketing tool used to sell that product to the audience without them realizing. Spurlock uses this a tool and for the basic premise of the film. To fund the film entirely through product placement. It's a hard feat but Spurlock rises to the challenge and with so provides us hilarious results, for example one of the products he manages to convince to fund his film is 'Mame 'n Tail' which is a shampoo not only for humans, but for horses as well.

The main sponsor however is 'POM Wonderful', the drink that is composed of '100% pomegranate juice' and even bags the films official title of 'POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold'. As Spurlock takes us through these different company meetings to raise money for his feature we are shown the amount of control he is giving up over his film and how much the corporations can dictate into the creative process. Interviews with 'Quentin Tarantino' and 'J.J Abrams' enlighten us with their experiences and their views with Tarantino explaining how his early films all consisted within the same branch of fast food restaurants and Abrams perception of product placement being that it should never interfere with the main principle of film, storytelling.

Despite these realities though, it's a comical, breezy affair and that's what it's intended to be. Spurlock has never been more engaging and fascinating to watch, he drives the film with a passion not seen by many other men and would make a great promotional speaker. We see him pitch ideas for his film and even the idea of 30-second commercials within the film for the companies that decide to work along side him from 'POM' being able to give more stable erections to a 'Mame 'N Tail' spot featuring Spurlock bathing with a horse. Half of the fun however is the awareness of product placement being shown to us and through a variety of montages we see this and becomes clearer. Having watched 'Real Steel' immediately after it was interesting to note how many placements actually laid within a big blockbuster release and after one scene had a sudden craving for a particular energy drink.

In 2006 'Kirby Dick' released a documentary known as 'This Film Is Not Yet Rated' in which he tried to expose the American film ratings board and exploited the idea of whether movies were rated fairly. The film portrayed the ratings board in a negative light so it was easy to grasp but at the same time showing representatives from both sides of the argument. Spurlock however never really nails a side of the argument and gives us an unbiased view, which is fine but then he never represents clearly what he intends to bring to the audience. Is it to show that he can in fact produce a film entirely through product placement? Are we meant to be aware of what's been shown to us? Or are we being pushed to our own side of the subject matter? With no defining conclusion other than the film being released it's hard to maintain a focused idea on what we're being shown and never works on the same levels as great documentaries do.

Despite this however it was an enjoyable way to spend the 80 minutes I sat and watched it. Through a constant bombardment of gags and comical situations it never becomes boring or dull as some documentaries ever do and at the same time is constantly informing the audience. It has certainly opened my eyes to product placement in films and that may be the whole purpose of the film, but it's never interpreted in that way and the scenes of Spurlock trying to fund his film are far more interesting than other peoples views or opinions on the matter which makes it work more on a film level rather than the documentary it intended to be.
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Drive (I) (2011)
Miles Ahead Of Anything This Year
2 October 2011
The man with no name is a term used mainly as protagonists in westerns, most notably being Clint Eastwood in Sergio Leone's 'Dollar Trilogy'. We are introduced to The Driver who holds no name and no emotionally attachments, he is there to drive and driving he is. By day his job entails as a Hollywood movie stunt driver and by night switches to that of a getaway driver. He shows no contrast been the two, he drives. Nothing more and nothing less.

'Nicolas Winding Refn' recently directed 'Valhalla Rising' and this film feels like a modern companion piece. It features little dialog and focuses on character emotions physically to express their feelings. He has a fantastic sense of directing characters into showing emotion through their body movements. 'Ryan Gosling' sits in behind the wheel as the Driver who is represented as the modernized man with no name. Little is spoken of Gosling as he calmly soaks up the screen with little emotion. A toothpick lies between his lips in which if set within a western setting could be replaced by straw. You imagine he was just placed here with no background, no childhood and no family but merely to drive. A connection is developed early on with his next-door neighbor, Irene (Carey Mulligan) and her son, Benicio (Kaden Leos) in which without expressing himself with words we see through long stares, subtle smiles and the occasional touch he has grown close too. But as a sour heist threatens him and more importantly Irene and Benicio his character opens up and shows through extreme acts of violence and his skills as a driver he will endanger his own life to save theirs.

We are never given any background detail on Gosling but we see through long focused shots on his calm exterior that a dark past lies behind those pale eyes. 'Newton Thomas Sigel' did a fantastic job with his cinematography his beautifully crafted shots depict of very little happening physically but on an emotional level the characters are shown to be considerably deep and complex. Goslings character reminded me of 'Josh Brolins' portrayal of Llewelyn Moss in 'No Country For Old Men' in which he says very little but he has one clear goal and we are shown it and taken on the path that he follows. However the Driver manages to make us feel sympathetic towards him mainly through the way director has crafted his film. The camera is very rarely detached from Gosling and in that sense, neither are you, his decisions are very clear and because of the amount of screen time we are given of our Driver the way his expression changes, no matter how subtle is clear for us to represent so we can be attached and relate to his motives.

At it's heart 'Drive' is an art house picture, it looks and sounds beautiful, a thumping 80's soundtrack plays through the background with it's electronic beats and vibes representing much to the state of a mechanical nature of a vehicle. A particular scene is when Gosling expresses his emotions through driving as he takes Irene and Benicio on an off road experience as the uplifting, 80's tune 'A Real Hero' by 'College' serenades within the background. Though the way the film is shown it's art house style lies within some director choices, imagery which could very well become iconic is shown and each shot is blessed with given care and subtle details like mirrors placed strategically in the background to show other characters out of shots. During driving sequences we are made to feel as a passenger of the car and part of the experience as POV perspectives are shown twisting around the interior and out of windows while various car components are glazed over. It's given a slick, sexy feel and inanimate objects are made to be humanized.

'Drive' portrays the dark side in characters and what they will do to protect what they care for and want but even throughout this, Gosling's character remains relatively calm even through intense moments. At times the film hits exploitation film levels as scenes of extreme violence are shown and the film builds up to these moments to deliver them in the shocking and painful vision that they are intended to be. It's much similar to how 'David Cronenberg' uses violence within his films, giving a realistic and emotional depth. 'The Fly' for example used gore to create strong sympathetic values towards 'Jeff Goldblums' character where as Drive uses it to show characters anger and pent up emotions that are built up to brink through slow, moody scenes until it can't be caged anymore.

This is not an action flick. There are no CGI set pieces, there is no mindless violence, it's quiet and moody but at the same time it's not an easy watch. Sigel has a created a dark, complex film showing basic human emotions through deep body language and motives. Gosling's uses every part of himself and the vehicles in which he inhabits to cause you to feel sympathetic and engaged towards his character. It's a film that takes multiple viewings and each viewer will have their own interpretation as to what has been perceived. 'Drive' is an example of powerful directing, brilliant acting and most importantly an engaging story line bringing an experience that is miles ahead of anything else this year.
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Warrior (2011)
Hits You So Hard That It May Even Knock You Out
2 October 2011
Stripped down to its basic components 'Warrior' is a family drama depicting the relationships between two brothers and their father who are backed up with the memories of his alcoholism and domestic abuse from an early age. But with the formula of boxing added to this equation we see their emotions shown not only in their personal traits but also through outbursts of violence and other physical movements, which are shown in powerfully effective and moving ways.

Brendan Colon (Joel Edgerton) is an elementary school teacher of physics who lives with his loving wife and two children, but within this picture perfect life is presented with the obstacle of bills and the fear of his home being repossessed. On the other side we are introduced to Tommy Conlon (Tom Hardy), who is an ex marine and is seen as dark character using alcohol and drugs to cope with his past. With their past experience in boxing from their father, Paddy Conlon (Nick Nolte) the situations are now in motion, forcing them to make a living through what they know best.

We are shown through contrived situation after another, which unfortunately runs it's course early on but we know it's to get to where the situation is heading. The final confrontation between Tommy and Brendan where all the emotions they have built up from their father, separate lives and what they're fighting for now will come into play. Though we know this is the path we are heading it doesn't matter as the payoff is satisfying, but the journey is far greater. We go through the emotions that the characters themselves go through which is a rare feeling but because of this end up caring for them all by the end as we are shown, despite their physique none are perfect or special, only human.

There is a clear separation between both brothers as Tommy moved away with his mother where as Brendan stayed by his fathers' side before eventually abandoning him. Neither brother shows much care of affection towards their higher arch with Brendan requesting only to be rang by him and Tommy using him only as a trainer, maintaining an emotionally distance. Nick Nolte brings a powerful performance showing the anguish he is faced as he battles his alcoholism to try and rekindle the love between him and his sons which makes for a heart wrenching character. Due to the separation of the brothers at that early age it is seen as a wall is dividing them, setting the sides, but you never root for one with the way the film depicts it's un-biased views.

Emotions within these characters raise throughout the whole film and none more so that within the ring itself. Early on the fights are shot on steady cams but that term is used loosely as it's hard to grasp on what's going on and who's doing what. But this is soon calmed down and we are given more thrilling and engaging conflicts. There are whole sections when are protagonists don't talk but we see through the force of their bodies and facial expressions what exactly their goals are and how they will stop at nothing to reach them. The fight is their place to let out their raw emotions in the only way they know how and with each fight you want to cheer and punch your fist into the air which is when you then realize how engrossed and involved you are into the film.

It's a rarity in modern cinema to become so attached to a small set of characters within such a small time so that by the end of your film your eyes may even fill up with tears, but it works. The film felt like it needed to be ten or twenty minutes longer to wrap a few things up but it is still left on a strong, abrupt point without over doing it. 'Warrior' is a strong drama, which hits you so hard; it may even knock you out.
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