Saturday, 21 May 2011

REVIEW: Julia's Eyes - Turn Around Bright Eyes

The Iberian horror renaissance looks set to continue with Los Ojos des Julia or Julia's Eyes to folks like you and me.  Optimum seem to have focused on the jumps and scares in marketing the movie, but in reality it is actually a tense thriller with an tremendous central performance by Belen Rueda.
Belen Rueda was hoping that her Derren Brown routine would get her out of making horror movies
Rueda plays identical twins Julia and Sara who both suffer from a degenerative eye disease that causes blindness.  When Sara apparently commits suicide, Julia suspects foul play and tries to solve the mystery with the begrudging help of her husband Isaac behind her death before her own eyesight fails.
Going into Julia's Eyes expectations were high as the last film to get the 'Guillermo Del Toro' presents above the title was the outstanding The Orphanage, which was one of my favourite films of 2008.
Julia might not be able to reach the dizzying heights of excellence as The Orphanage but director Guillem Morales certainly displays some talent behind the camera, creating a thriller that evokes a similar sense of blindness and helplessness that featured in Wait Until Dark starring Audrey Hepburn as a blind woman whose apartment is terrorised.  He uses various in-camera effects to give the audience a sense of Julia's deteriorating vision, frames the action is obscure peoples faces, and during the film's climax, features a sequence that takes a beat from Rear Window and cranks it up to 11.
It does feel a little too long however and the pacing could have been tightened up once the "invisible man" is revealed.  Plus there is epilogue that some will find far too schmaltzy compared to the tone of the rest of the film, but your acceptance of this will greatly depend on how much you buy into the central relationship between Julia and her husband.  Personally, in a couple of short scenes they provide a complete back story to their relationship and a convincing sense of true love.
As with The Orphanage, the film's true strength lies in Belen Rueda, once again delivering a performance that grounds the film in reality despite the weird going-ons and takes the audience along the journey with her.  The only fault I could find with her was that her impressive and ample bosum kept causing a distraction to me... but that is a problem I'm seeking help with!
Another welcome antidote to the generic thrillers and horrors that Hollywood are producing.  It will be on limited release so "see it while you can" - ha ha ha

4 stars

Thursday, 19 May 2011

REVIEW: Attack The Block - Aliens in the Hoodies

So is Attack The Block the next film that continues people to shout from the rooftops about how 2011 is the second coming for British cinema? Or is it, as Total Film might describe it using there patented "X film meets Y film" poster quotes, "Eden Lake meets Critters" with a group of happy-slapping hoodies as unlikeable lead characters?
Ultimately, it's a bit of both, and I won't let the fact that I met Joe Cornish last week, who is a lovely man by the way, have any effect on my review!

Kids find an alien after it crashlands on Earth.  So far, so Spielberg but this alien landed in South London and gets its head kicked in by a bunch of hoodies. Rather than Spielberg, Cornish draws more influence from the work of John Carpenter and it plays out like a British sci-fi version of Assault of Precinct 13 as our hoodies fight off a group of pissed off aliens from tearing up their yard (to use the modern parlance of our times).
As a sci-fi horror/thriller it is very effective, building tension and atmosphere and delivering on action but don't go to ATB expecting a hilarious Shaun Of The Dead style comedy as has been marketed.  There is some humour in it but mainly the odd quip to break the tension and usually spoken by the characters of Pest or Brewis.
The film certainly nips along at a fantastic pace, with a running time of 88 minutes it is the perfect antidote to the bum-numbing summer blockbusters like Pirates Of The Caribbean.
The lean running time does create a problems however in how it affects the protagonists.
The movie opens with the audience following Jodie Whittaker's nurse Sam as she walks home from work.  Before she gets there she is mugged by a group of hoodies, and they are interrupted when an alien crashlands into a nearby car and they quickly kill.  The story then follows these kids as they return to their council estate aka "The Block" triumphantly showing off their trophy only for a few dozen of it friends to come and attack them seeking retribution.
The problem which many people have had with the film is that the main characters are unlikeable and unsympathetic, therefore making it difficult to care about their fate when their lives are at stake.  In cinematic terms, they would be considered anti-heroes, but this only really works when the characters go on a journey and you see them change by the end of the film.  The perfect example of this is Phil Connors in Groundhog Day.  The problem with the kids in ATB is that they don't get any real screen time to develop their characters beyond the briefest of sketches, thus preventing me from empathising with them.

The cast were scared to see that Robbie Collin's 1 star review was lurking around the corner
Putting this major flaw aside, it does work as a purely enjoyable thrill ride and there is some interesting social commentary within the film; Moses remarks to Sam that they wouldn't have mugged her if they knew she lived in the block and Sam replies "but it's OK if I don't?!" and what is more dangerous, the aliens outside or the visious drug dealers running the block?
Cornish certainly displays enough filmmaking talent to warrant his name being mentioned in the same breath as the likes of Richard Ayoade, Gareth Edwards and Duncan Jones.  I look forward to the inevitable spoof version At-toy-ck The Block!

3 stars

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Pirates Of The Caribbean Bore... I mean 4

Captain Jack and the gang return to the big screen on Wednesday with Pirates Of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides in rum-swigging, swash-buckling, insert another adjective 3D.
After two over-long, confusing, plot heavy, far-too-many-character filled sequels that prompted this response from Mark Kermode, have they managed to return to the sense of fun and action that made The Curse of the Black Pearl such a surprise hit?
The short answer is... HELL NO!!!
"I'll get my boat" - Time's up for the Pirates franchise
They managed to ditch a lot of the extraneous characters (Knightley, Bloom, Crook, etc) but just replaced them with dull, lifeless new ones (a missionary and a mermaid) or fiesty ones (Cruz and MacShane) but didn't give them time to develop their characters, which is strange it is still as long (141 minutes).  The plot is as bloated as a beached kraken, Depp looks like he's just sleepwalking through the film doing his pantomime schtick and there are more holes in the plot than an entire swiss cheese shop.  You will literally spend the next day picking it apart going "Hang on, what about...".
Having expressed my displeasure for the film, I must state that Penelope Cruz still looks absolutely stunning with a moustache, and is one reason to see it in 3D ;)  Plus the mermaid attack is an original and exciting highpoint of the film.
Rather than paying your money to see Pirates 4, why not just watch this Lonely Island video called Jack Sparrow which features Michael Bolton and is more fun and entertaining than the film and only 3 minutes long!

BlogalongaBond #5 - You Only Live Twice

Relevance of pre-credit sequence:  Very relevant as SPECTRE initiate their evil scheme by capturing a US space shuttle.  Yes Bond films have entered the space race.  Bond himself is "shot to death" after receiving a massage from a woman in Hong Kong.  Odd to see Hong Kong back in the 60's without many of the iconic buildings that feature so prominently on the skyline these days.

Bond song:  You Only Live Twice as sung by Nancy Sinatra.  One of the best instrumentals of the series but not as strong a vocal as the bombastic Welsh warblers of recent films.  Come on Nancy, give it some welly, or get your dad to help out!

Time elaspsed before we hear "Bond... James Bond":  Not said in this film at all!

Attractiveness of Bond Girls:  Depends if you like girls of Asian descent I suppose.  There are two in this film that Bond makes sweet sushi with - Aki and Kissy and they are both Am-Asian! (sorry).  He also sleeps with a redheaded woman working for SPECTRE to stop her from killing him.  As Bond says himself "The things I do for my country".

Best Innuendo: Tiger - in Japan, men come first, women come second.  Bond: I just might retire to here.
Best One Liner when despatching an evil henchman:  [throws someone into the pool of piranhas]  Bon Appetit!

Best Gadget:  While Bond does prove smoking kills with a cigarette that can fire bullets, the award this time round goes to Little Nellie.  A portable mini helicopter with a plethora of projectile weaponary.

Evilness of villain:   This was where we finally get our first full look at SPECTRE's Number 1 and arch-nemesis of Bond, Ernst Stavro Blofeld (played this time round by Donald Pleasance).  Whilst it is undeniable that some of the threat and menace of Blofeld has been diminished thanks to Mike Myers and Dr. Evil, Blofeld is still a criminal mastermind, willing to get rid os expendable assets to get the job done and only fault in this film is the cliche of failing to just kill Bond when he has the chance.  Pleasance gives him a quiet eloquence that is disarming yet the cold, calculating evil is never that far below the surface.  Having said that, Bond could kick his arse in 10 seconds flat then probably punt his cat across the room afterwards just for kicks.

Feasibility of evil scheme:  SPECTRE charge $100 million to start a war between Russia and the USA by stealing spce shuttles and causing the two opposing superpowers to blame each other.  While the technology required seems slightly implausible, the notion that USA and Russia would go to war is completely feasible, so not a bad plan overall.

Does Bond end the film on a boat in a romantic clinch:  Of course he bloody does!  Bond and Kissy Suzuki escape the volcano and end up in a raft furthering international relations when a British submarine surfaces underneath them.

This film was always one of my favourite Bonds when I was a kid.  I think I loved the whole scale of it, with Bond, normally the lone wolf being helped by Tiger's ninja school as they storm Blofeld's hidden lair inside a volcano.  Of course looking back on it some aspects of it have not aged well.  For example there is the section where they have to disguise Bond as a Japanese man to sneak him onto the island.  Not only is he about a foot taller than anyone else but the transformation process is about as convincing as the valmorphisation technique used in Team America!  You could almost call the film "You Onry Rive Twice"!
But the casual racism aside, and why not since they are fine with sexism too, this is still a cracking Bond film and the first one to take the idea that if Bond fails then the fate of the world is at stake since World War III could break out.  Damn these superpowers and their nuclear weapons.
I would also put this film joint first in terms of influence on the Austin Powers series.

James Bond, but not Sean Connery, will return in June in On Her Majesty's Secret Service.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

I SAW THE DEVIL... and all I got was this bloody terrific revenge thriller

Any Korean revenge movie released these days will have the spectre of Cannes Jury Prize winner Oldboy hanging over it, and this one more than most due to the fact that it also stars Min-sik Choi who famously played Oh Dae-Su on his quest to discover why he had been imprisoned for 15 years.
A pictoral representation of the spectre of Oldboy leaning over the film
Devil goes toe to toe with Oldboy for acts of twisted, insane retribution. Not for the faint hearted, the extreme level of violence that is perpetrated by both men makes The Bride’s quest for revenge in Kill Bill look like a playground scrap.
In this film however Min-sik knows exactly what he is being punished for – the rape and brutal murder of a former police chief’s daughter and fiancĂ©e of a Korean special agent.
What follows is a dangerous and sadistic game of cat and mouse as Kyung-hul is hunted by the Terminator-like Kim Soo-hyeun, who will not stop until he has his vicious revenge.
It is a fascinating study of evil with large helpings of gore and violence (sliced tendons, broken fingers, cracked skulls, etc) delivered with skill, style and a dash of humour as black as the hearts of the protagonists. Yet it is not just violence for violence sake.
Who is the proverbial devil of the title? Who is the real monster? The sadistic serial killer or a man driven to violence by the pain of loss? These questions will stay with you long after the end credits role.
The two lead actors are excellent and deliver performances that lift it out of what could have been a mere exploitation movie. Min-sik switches between goofy and sadistic at the flip of a switch, creating a truly malevolent screen villain whose cool exterior slowly crumbles under the pressure of the hunt, banishing any thoughts of the sympathetic Oh Dae Su from the mind. Byung-hun plays it more internally, keeping everything bottled up inside. His vengeful lover has a face of stone but his eyes reveal a window to his soul, telling the true story, which makes his emotional catharsis towards the end of the film all the more powerful.
Byung-hun didn't agree with Min-sik's choice for the Palme D'Or
Some might find the running time of 141 minutes rather slow, painful and due to the extreme nature of the content (including a controversial rape scene) difficult to watch. However that is exactly what torture is, and as Kim Soo-hyeun says “If it was that easy, I’d have killed you already”. Kim Soo-hyeun, like the director Jee-Woon Kim, takes his time in executing his revenge before ramping up the pace in a thrilling final act that is reminiscent of Se7en and Saw.
Denied a proper cinematic release due to its extreme content (it was only on at the ICA in London) but is really worth checking out on DVD available in most good DVD stores or probably much cheaper online!

4 stars

Saturday, 7 May 2011

HANNA - Hit Girl? More like Sh*t Girl!

I had mixed feelings going into this action film by the director of Pride and Prejudice.  Following in the footsteps of Mathilda in Leon and Hit-Girl from Kick-Ass, would their be room for Hanna in the crowded marketplace of teenage girl assassins?

"Screw you Portman and Moretz, I'm the Daddy now!"
Hanna lives in the wilderness being trained by her father until she is ready for her purpose, but what is it?  Hunted by the CIA she goes on the run to try and discover details about her past.
It should play out like a teenage Bourne movie but unfortunately it is lacking in that sense of urgency that drove the trilogy.
Apparently the script for Hanna had twice appeared on the 'black list' which is an industry list of the best unproduced screenplays, but from the results I wonder how this could be the case.
One of the problems I had with the film was that everything felt rather underdeveloped, particularly the characters.  Whilst Hanna herself gets to go on a voyage of self-discovery and awakening (well played by Saiorse Ronan) certain interesting aspects are hinted at but then forgotten, and the supporting characters seem like mere one-dimensional sketches:  Bana is solid but seems to have walked staright off the set of Munich.  Cate Blanchett's CIA operative has a wicked nature, wicked Texan drawl and is obsessed with dental hygiene but we never get to understand her true intentions for Hanna, but the biggest disappointment is Tom Hollander's tracksuit wearing killer.  This could have been a scene-stealing performance but he doesn't get the opportunity to break out from an underwritten part.  Blanchett comes to him because he is apparently very good at his job but we never get to see how vicious he can truly be.
I don't know if this is the fault of the script or the director who might have ditched characterisation in favour of super cool cinematography.  Hanna must be up there with 127 Hours as the most over-directed film of the year, to the point of distraction!
Since this is a Joe Wright film, we get the obligatory "look at this really cool extended Steadicam tracking shot" as Eric Bana heads underground from a train station into a fight with four armed men.
However the biggest problem I had with the film concerned a scene where Hanna and Sophie, the young English girl who befriends her, are lying in a tent talking to each other face to face.  Yet for some reason their heads are at alternate sides of the frame which started me thinking about whether Wright has done this for some unknown stylistic reason or whether it was a massive cock up?!  Any time that an element like editing, cinematography, music, etc makes you come out of the story and start analysing the film is never a good thing.
But I'm being very negative, there must have been some good points right?  Right?  Yes there was actually, in the form of the score by The Chemical Brothers.  This rather slow paced film really bursts into life when their music kicks in and is the driving force behind the film's best action scenes (the highlight being Hanna's escape from the military base).
The Chemical Brothers have continued the now worrying trend set by Daft Punk of having cool bands provide the soundtrack for crap films.  I sincerely hope that Basement Jaxx don't make it a hat trick with Attack The Block.
Hit Girl set the bar high last year when she burst onto the scene asking "OK you C*nts, le't see what you can do now?".  In Hanna's case?  Not enough!

2 stars