Sunday, 17 August 2014

Wakolda - review

X-Men: First Class featured a scene where Magneto tracked down former Nazi officers to a remote region in Argentina to exact revenge.

While that movie might be classified as science fiction, it is a fact that many Nazis escaped to Argentina after the war to avoid prosecution for war crimes and Wakolda is based on the true story of how the "Angel of Death" Josef Mengele integrated himself into the lives of one Argentinian family and continued to pursue his research and experimentation by using the children, in particular the young and innocent Lilith (an excellent Florencia Bado).

Mengele himself is played with a quiet, eerie calm and charm by Alex Brendemuhl, who portrays him as a man rather than a monster.

It is effectively directed and filmed in a style reminiscent of films like The Lives Of Others and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy but is let down by some rather clumsy metaphors (the father who produces unique handmade dolls is persuaded to manufacture identikit figures) and a final scene which is incredibly over-scored and out of place with the rest of the film.

Very nearly "the Reich stuff".

4 stars

All This Mayhem - review

In this modern age of having every single detail of an upcoming film spoiled and analysed on the internet before its release, it is a great feeling when you watch a film you know very little about beyond the trailer and emerge at the end genuinely surprised and thrilled by the end result.

This is how I felt watching All This Mayhem.

I went into it expecting a talking heads documentary about the skating rivalry between the Pappas brothers and Tony Hawk but what I got was something much deeper, darker and more disturbing than I had imagined.

I didn't recognise the names Ben and Tas Pappas from my skating experience (which amounted to playing Tony Hawk's Pro Skater on the PS2) and to film goes onto to show exactly why that would be the case.

The Pappas brothers took the Vert skating scene by storm, first in Australia and then the US, beginning a long rivalry with Tony Hawk, continually trading places in the Top 3 in competitions with Tas becoming World Champion in 1996.

The Pappas boys embraced the rock n roll lifestyle that went along with that world and their loud, brash style both on and off the track and like the fabled 900 trick, it resulted in both of them crashing and burning on a public stage.

There are hints and signs early on as to where the story is headed but it takes more twists and turns that one of Tony Hawk's links.

Tas makes for a refreshingly candid, entertaining and honest interviewee as he looks back over that turbulent time.

Not only is it interesting to see how the skating scene and tricks have evolved over the years but also, rather amusingly, the increase in quality of the recording equipment to capture these events.

You do not need any prior knowledge of the skateboarding world in order to enjoy this film which makes it accessible and worth a watch by everyone because at no point are you ever board and it never skates around the darker aspects, instead ramping up the tension to deliver a terrific documentary amid All This Mayhem.

4 stars

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Finding Vivian Maier - review

In the Sixties there was a film called Blow Up where a photographer played by David Hemmings believes he has captured a crime on camera and sets out to solve it.

Finding Vivian Maier is a documentary that features a similar mystery at heart but it isn't trying to solve a crime captured in a photograph but one man's search to discover who took a photograph.

John Maloof bought a box of negatives from an auction in Chicago and discovered a series of amazing photographs from a woman called Vivian Maier.

The only problem was that neither John nor anyone on google had seemed to heard of this photographer. Maloof sets out to find out who she was and why she hadn't become a famous artist.

He discovers she had died shortly before he found the negatives and Maier worked for most of her life as a nanny and took thousands of photos whenever she could thanks to a camera she seemed to permanently keep round her neck.

Interviewing the people she worked for and looked after, Maloof begins to piece together the puzzle of who Vivian Maier was whilst simultaneously building an archive of her photographs and showcasing her work around the world.

Maier would in death find the fame she never had in life but it is clear that it is not something she would have necessarily wanted or enjoyed.

What she did enjoy however, and predating the current camera phone trend by 50/60 years, was taking "selfies". So many in fact, that she could have even coined the term.

Unlike the majority of her photos, Vivian Maier's background and personality was certainly not black and white but this film does its best to add some colour and shade to this unique character.

4 stars

The Expendables 3 - review

The Expendables line up features John Rambo, Rocky Balboa, The Terminator, Conan, John Matrix, Ivan Drago, Indiana Jones, Han Solo, Martin Riggs, Mad Max, El Mariachi, Blade and, err, Frasier Crane.

What do the action stars made famous by playing these characters have in common?

Sadly it is that in terms of modern day box office, they are expendable.

None of them have been able to generate a box office hit on their own in quite some time and even with their powers combined they still can't generate that much of an audience.

Much of the "plot" of The Expendables 3 can be seen as a reaction to Hollywood's treatment of the action genre (it begins with rescuing Wesley Snipes from prison for "tax evasion", Stallone decides his team is "getting too old for this shit" and replaces them with a bunch of new kids).

The problem with the film is that instead of rallying against the changes, it embraces them.

The first two films were not very good but at least they were unashamed in their attempts to bring back the hardcore, ultra-violent action films of the Eighties and early Nineties where you would kill a man in cold blood then throw out a cool one-liner.

Here the cast recycle and shoehorn in tenuous links to old catchphrases (Arnie shouts "Get to da choppa!") and the (financial) decision to cut the film for a 12A/PG-13 has completely neutered the action sequences.

Back in 1985, at the climax of Commando Arnold Schwarzenegger single-handedly dispatches 81 people in typically bloody Eighties fashion.

During the final shoot out in The Expendables 3, this body count is probably eclipsed but due to the lack of blood and injury detail instead of being an exciting coherent fight scene is turned into a spectacle that is as ridiculous as the scene in Hot Shots Part Deux where a shoot-out keeps a running total of it exceeding the body count from various movies.

This is compounded by an issue that has been growing ever since the first film and this involves minor *spoilers*.

The biggest irony of The Expendables group is that despite the name, none of them have actually been "expended". No wonder the group is so old, Stallone has never had to replace anybody. Even if someone is shot and injured, the audience fully expects them to turn up at the end to share drinks with the crew. There is just no tension or suspense in the fight scenes.

Recent films like The Raid, The Raid 2 and Snowpiercer have show that it is possibly to make quality (if not commercially successful) R-Rated action movies and the action flows so much better when you are not having to cut out blood or breaking limbs every two seconds.

They say you can't teach an old dog new tricks and Stallone should have known better than to try and reinvent the franchise wheel. Terrible as an action film but worth seeing if only for the moment when Stallone managed to say "I Am The Hague" with a straight face... then again it could just have been the effects of Botox.

2 stars

The Inbetweeners 2 - review

With the transfer to the big screen, The Inbetweeners are fast becoming the UK's answer to the American Pie movies; successfully combining gross-out comedy with an underlying sweetness. A film to make you go eeeeeewwwww and awwwwww in equal measure.

Having previously lived it large in Magaluf before heading their separate ways to University, this time round the boys head out to Australia for four weeks to visit Jay who is on a gap year.

Jay's letter home where he bigs up his Australian adventure (by way of a string of absolute horsesh*t is brought to life in an impressively edited one-shot sequence that shows genuine ambition on the parts of the filmmakers to make this more than your standard "Brits abroad comedy".

That ambition however doesn't follow through to the screenplay which is full of your standard jokes and gags about sex, penises, sex, tits, sex, arseholes, sex, top bunk wankers, sex, Australians, sex, Australia, sex, the differences between the UK and Australia and it is all for banter, or "bantz" as they say in an effort to make one of the most awful words currently in use in modern language even worse.

Despite the reservations at the unoriginality in the lewd, crude and very, very rude humour, the fact is that at times it is actually very funny.

There are several set pieces where it is that cringe-inducing level of comedy that invoke a guilty feeling at laughing but you really just can't help it. Whether it is a campfire rendition of 'The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face' or a race down the rapids at a water park, the laughter is as uncontrollable as Neil's IBS.

I normally end my reviews with a summing up paragraph where I shoehorn in a few bad puns about the film's subject but this movie already used the majority of them so I'll just say it gets a thumbs up rather than a thumb down under (which Jay would approve of I'm sure).

3 stars

Into The Storm - review

Into The Storm is essentially just Twister done in a found footage style minus Bill Paxton.

It combines two recorded story threads (storm chasers trying to document tornados and two brothers tasked with filming the local graduation ceremony) although apparently edited into a "documentary", at times it is difficult to know who filmed certain moments and how they got footage from cameras that must have damaged during the storms.

Putting aside those technical implausibilities, the main problem with the film is not the effects which are adequate (although why they didn't release it in 3D is beyond me. Surely an ideal candidate for conversion), but characterisation.

The people threatened by the tornado are completely one-note. They include "dad who lost his wife and has difficulty bonding with kids", "boy who secretly fancies girl", "single mom who left daughter behind at Grandma's to chase storms and money", storm chaser who will stop at nothing to get the shot" and "teenager who won't stop filming despite impending doom approaching".

They all feel like cardboard cut-out characters so it is no surprise to see them get swept up and carried away with the wind, which is more than the audience will be.

The film ends with what the reporters refer to as "the biggest storm ever recorded" but in cinematic terms, Into The Storm will amount to little more than a storm in a teacup.

1 star

Monday, 4 August 2014

Planes 2: Fire & Rescue - review

This review starts with a small disclaimer. I have not seen any of the previous Cars or Planes films and I must admit that I could not fully invest in the story of a champion racer who suffers an injury and trains to become a firefighter because I could not fathom the logic of this world.

I know that might be harsh to the Pixar/Disney franchise, especially when I have no problem with a world of talking bugs or toys that come to life when the kids aren't in the room but the idea of a world populated by nothing but talking cars and planes? Too much.

Perhaps the genesis of this world was explained in one of the previous films but for this reviewer, there are just too many questions created by this scenario.

For example who makes the cars and planes?

Do the vehicles get together and procreate, spawning Minis?

Do they assemble each other? If so, how? They do not possess the opposable thumbs required for the manual labour involved in building a complex piece of machinery.

If they are assembling each other, it then leads to the question, why?

There is a world populated by vehicles designed to transport humans but there are none. Is this some weird dystopian future where humans have died out, leaving behind artificially intelligent vehicles?

If it is, then what killed them? How did they die out? Can't have been from a lack of fossil fuels as there still seems to be enough petrol, diesel, etc to power and entire planet full of planes and cars. And who exactly is mining and refining these fuels?

These are just a few of the questions that came to mind and found infinitely more interesting that the film going on in front of me.

No need to call 999 because it sure isn't plane sailing for this turgid animation as there isn't even a spark to start a fire here.

1 star