Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Scary Movie V - review

The moment that Lohan realised that even appearing in a scary movie
wouldn't help her career rise from the dead

The majority of the running time for Scary Movie V was spent doing two things:
a) composing a letter to Entertainment Film Distributors outlining my intention to sue them under the trades description act and b) trying to figure out exactly when this movie had been filmed.
Seemingly beginning with the Paranormal Activity films as their main target, it suddenly decides to use the plot from the film Mama which was only released in February, also including "parodies" of the new Evil Dead film which is actually released a week AFTER this film in the UK. In a desperate attempt to try and be up to date and given the quality of the script, performances and filmmaking, it is entirely possible that it had been filmed over a couple of days last week. I can just imagine that in Scary Movie VI, they'll be parodying horror films that haven't even been made yet.
On the other hand the film, which comes from a series that originally started as a parody of horror movies, spends considerable screen time spoofing films like Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes, Black Swan and Inception with the entire film being narrates by a guy who sounds like Morgan Freeman, why? Despite only being 2-3 years old, the references feel almost completely out of date compared to the horror references. And they have no relevance within the story being told. They just feel shoehorned in. Some of them could possibly have had merit if the referencing had led to actual gags but the laziness of the script seems to think that simply going "Hey look it's that guy from Inception", that is enough to merit a laugh. It is not.
The Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes parody only seems to be there so they can have a running gag about monkeys throwing their shit against the wall.
Sadly this seems to have been what happened during the writing process for the movie: throw any "joke" about sex, drugs, bodily fluids, etc against the wall and see what sticks.
The parody film genre has become a pale shadow of itself from the days of Airplane and The Naked Gun. 33 years on, Airplane remains one of the funniest and most quotable films of all time. As for Scary Movie V? Well let's just say "looks like I picked the wrong week to quit sniffing glue!"

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Oblivion - review

Oblivion begins with what feels like an eternity's worth of voiceover narration from Tom Cruise's Jack Harper, telling the audience in the minutest detail about how the earth was attacked, last people on earth, alien scavangers, drone maintenance, yada, yada, yada (at least I assumed he was talking to us because the only other person around was Andrea Riseborough's co-worker and late night skinnydipping partner Vika and she's already aware of the situation).
Already the audience might be thinking that this feels rather similar to films like I Am Legend and WALL-E, however WALL-E was able to introduce the world it had created with zero voiceover, just creative storytelling.
Then if in any doubt that this film will be mish-mash of elements from other entries in the sci-fi genre, the title card appears with a gigantic blast of the "Inception horn".
Yes, not only is the plot highly derivative but the score is a collection of outtakes from The Dark Knight Rises, Inception and Tron Legacy.
A lot of reviews for this film have criticised it over its similarities to other sci-fi classics, even going as far as explicitly naming several movies, which could act as possible spoilers due to certain plot points. This is actually doing the film a disservice.
"Everybody steals from everybody. That's movies" says Ron Livingston's character in Swingers in a debate over Tarantino's work versus Scorsese, and its true. Tarantino doesn't get nearly as much abuse as genre movies do for recycling ideas from other movies. Just look at John Carter last year. Criticised for being a rip-off of Avatar, Star Wars, etc despite being based on a 1917 novel that actually inspired those films in the first place.
All that should matter is whether or not the movie is actually any good.
My advice would be to skip reading about what movies it has ripped off, only watch the initial trailer, which unlike the others actually doesn't give too much away, because there is certainly a lot that can be appreciated in Joseph Kosinski's world. It might not be a hugely original film but it certainly isn't a bad film either.
Much like his previous film Tron Legacy, Kosinski (with his background in architecture and engineering) is very adept at creating fully realised worlds, whether it is recreating the ruins of a football stadium or the Empire State Building on the barren wastelands of Iceland or designing a living quarters that looks like it has been furnished top to bottom by Apple. All of it beautifully shot by Claudio Miranda, who just won an Oscar for his work on Life Of Pi.

Tom Cruise is dependable as ever, recycling the Everyman role he does so admirably, with the usual amount of stunt work and running added to meet his quota for the year.
The real one to watch though is Andrea Riseborough who elevates what could have been an underdeveloped role of just sitting in front of a desk reciting computer jargon into something much more engaging, delivering at times an icy turn that channels a Weyland-Yutani Company suit but with a vulnerability and longing underneath that makes the pairing "an effective team", much more so than Cruise & Kurylenko.
As with I Am Legend and WALL-E, Oblivion is a much more interesting film when exploring the post-apocalyptic world it has created and starts to lose its way with the arrival of new characters/humans/monsters and starts to unravel quite quickly under the weight of the various plot holes (if Jack has had his memory wiped how can he remember someone telling him about a Superbowl game from 70 years ago?) and the need to tick the boxes on summer blockbuster action set pieces.
Ultimately watching Oblivion is like going to a really expensive restaurant and having a Michelin-star looking plate of food only for it to still leave you feeling hungry and remembering that you've eaten a dozen similar meals which were all much more satisfying.

3 stars

Monday, 8 April 2013

Evil Dead - review

A man called S. Leonard Rubenstein once said "Curiosity is a willing, a proud, an eager admission of ignorance".
Never has that phrase been more true than in the genre of the horror movie.
Curiosity is what causes people to wander around in the dark when they hear a strange noise.
Curiosity is what causes people to ask "who's there?" when it can only be the killer.
Curiosity is what causes people to read from a book bound in human skin that has repeated warnings inside telling them NOT TO READ FROM THE BOOK!
And curiosity is what killed the cat... rather emphatically in the case of Evil Dead (2013), as there are dozens of dead cats strung up in the basement of a cabin in the woods where five hot young kids find the Book Of The Dead wrapped up neatly in black bags and tied up with wire.
Everything about this situation says "put it down immediately and get the f*ck out of Dodge", but they won't. Everyone knows they won't. They could try and leave but the way will be shut. They HAVE to read from the book.
Why? Because if they didn't then we wouldn't have a movie AND because this film exists in a post-Cabin In The Woods world.
There was always going to be a danger that a film such as Evil Dead would suffer following Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard's take on the horror genre, but it actually stands up very well and feels like it could have been one of Hadley & Sittersen's successful appeasements to the ancient gods.
It succeeds because it knows what its purpose is and pays attention to the dialogue spoken by Dana, the final girl in Cabin, upon realising their fate "They don't just want to see us killed. They want to see us punished."
And "punished" would be a very mild word for what happens to the kids in Evil Dead.
There are needles, nailguns, nastiness, mutilations, disfigurations and amputations galore in this deliriously deranged and violent body horror that is fully deserving of its 18 rating.
Director Fede Alvarez deserves credit for sticking to his (nail)guns and not cutting back on the gore front. Also for the decision to film everything using practical effects wherever possible rather than going with the CGI option which heightens the 'ick' factor.
As a fan of the horror genre, it is refreshing to see a film like this that embraces its video nasty roots rather than compromising in order to get a lower certificate to increase box office or overuse CGI effects at the expense of practical work.
I have always been a firm believer that practical trumps CGI every time, as evidenced if you compare the original The Thing vs the 2012 prequel, and I'm glad this director is of the same mind.
Yet it is not just gore hounds that Alvarez needs to satisfy with this film. There is a shadow cast over the film by the original Sam Raimi version and one of the most distinctive chins in the business in Bruce Campbell's iconic Ash.
Now this is where a few feathers might get a little ruffled. *in a hushed whisper* The original The Evil Dead is not actually all that great.
Rewatching it recently, yes it is incredibly violent and creative in its use of gore on a minuscule budget, but once you get past the elements that made it one of the original video nasties, some of the acting and filmmaking is rather amateurish.
This is not a slight against Raimi, Campbell, et all. They have admitted as much themselves (after all it was their first film) and I consider Evil Dead 2 to be one of the greatest horror movies of all time with Campbell's manic turn as Ash one of the great horror performances and a masterclass in physical comedy.
It is one of those classic horror films of the seventies and eighties that actually could benefit from a remake, and Raimi & Campbell essentially remade it themselves in the first 10 minutes of Evil Dead 2.
And yet the 2013 Evil Dead could argue its case that it is neither a remake nor a reboot of the franchise.
Between a pre-credit sequence featuring a family trying to exorcise a Candarian demon and the fact that when we are first introduced to the character of Mia she is sitting on top of a broken down Oldsmobile (is it Ash's car?), this leads towards the idea that they are simply the latest group of people in a long line of those who have fallen victim to what is released from the Book Of The Dead.
Alvarez (with a script polish from Diablo Cody) does a fine job on the balancing act of paying tribute to the original film yet at the same time putting his own stamp and twist on the material.
This is apparent from our introduction to the main characters with their reason for visiting the cabin in the woods being to help Mia (Jane Levy) quit her addiction to drugs cold turkey.
This allows for the group to initially doubts Mia's claims of there being "something in the woods" and subsequent demonic behaviour as products of her imagination and deteriorating physical and mental state due to the detox.
However Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci who kept making me think I was watching Jared Leto) has read from the book and soon realises something more serious is happening once Mia starts vomiting blood and slicing her tongue in half and giving her friends French kisses.
"Something is attached to Mia's soul. In order to help her, we're going to have to kill her."

Sam Raimi always delights in reporting how much he would torture his friend Bruce Campbell during the filming of the Evil Dead movies but its possible that Fede Alvarez has gone to even further extremes with actress Jane Levy.
Between being brutalised by a tree or being buried alive, Levy delivers one of the greatest horror performances of recent years, perhaps even of all-time.
Not only does she go through an incredible physical transformation but the emotional range of her role is extraordinary, going from vulnerable, exhausted girl we meet at the beginning of the film to the anxiety-ridden and paranoid addict in the grips of a heroin comedown to the demonic host of evil determined to destroy her former friends. At times it felt like there were three different actresses playing the various stages of Mia, she just becomes that aspect of her character and disappears into the role completely.
Unfortunately the characterisation of the rest of the group is not as strong or well developed.
Pucci's scholar Eric gets the film's best lines and much of the (admittedly dark) humour and Shiloh Fernandez gets a nice storyline as the absent friend and brother has to become the reluctant hero (complete with blue denim shirt) with the realisation that in order to save the day it may involve cutting up his sister and girlfriend.
The two other female characters sadly don't come off as well with Elizabeth Blackmore's Natalie in particular being rather forgettable until it is her turn to become deadite fodder.
However this is just a minor criticism given this particular type of horror movie and the purpose that the majority of the characters have within the plot i.e. to be killed in dramatic, gory fashion.
In Cabin In The Woods, the teenagers are offered up in sacrifice to the ancient gods and it would be fair to say that I think they would be very satisfied with this gratuitously, gloriously gory offering that climaxes with it literally raining blood, the appearance of a chainsaw and a soundtrack featuring an air raid siren (which will undoubtably become the new "InceptionHorn" staple of film trailers).
It may not have been an offering that many people would have initially wanted but the end result is certainly not an unwelcome one. Under the guidance of Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell as producers, Fede Alvarez's fresh take on the material has resulted in easily the best horror remake since 2004's Dawn Of The Dead.

4 stars

Friday, 5 April 2013

Spring Breakers - review

Around half an hour into Spring Breakers the four "Disney Girls Gone Wild", are partaking in a copious amount of drinking and drug taking (all portrayed in slow motion with a "bangin" soundtrack) and I started to think I made a huge mistake and was witnessing another Project X, one of my most hated films of 2012.
But then something happened. James Franco turned up. James Franco turned up looking like Drexl from True Romance, playing a character called Alien and delivering a performance that was not only from another planet but from a completely different movie.
He is the ultimate Gangsta cliche. A white guy with corn rolls, watching Scarface on repeat, dealing drugs, pimpin' on a bed covered in money and guns while "looking at my shit!".
And then he sings a song to motivate his "Spring Break Bitches". What will it be? Jay Z? Tupac? Lil Jon? Nope, a piano solo version of Everytime by Britney Spears that becomes the backdrop for a montage of their criminal exploits.
This was the moment that I started to understand what director Harmony Korine was going for with this film, although it took me a few hours of contemplation to truly make my mind up.
Spring Breakers is not a movie about Spring Break but in fact a movie about what everyone believes Spring Break to be.
The film is incredibly OTT, sexualised, violent, exploitative and completely unrealistic... but that is the point.
What Korine has created is akin to Grand Theft Auto: Spring Break.
There is a line spoken by one of the girls as the psyche themselves up to commit a robbery in order to fund their Spring Break trip - "Pretend it's a video game".
And that is how the film plays out, using gritty handheld camerawork intercut with more stylised backstory and plot sections, from being bailed out by a criminal, to characters exiting the game and finally the climatic scene that could have been lifted from a mission in Grand Theft Auto: Vice City.
Yes it undoubtedly appeal to a particular demographic who would love to live that lifestyle for real but the film is unafraid to point out how ridiculous it all is at the same time.
One of the lines repeated ad nauseum is "Spring Break forever", with the characters waxing lyrical about how they wish they could stay in this moment forever. But that is what Spring Breakers is. It's a moment. A highly entertaining one but a moment nonetheless. A snapshot of a certain place and time. One that can be enjoyed at the time but should never be taken as a way of life because, to quote another new release, "if you ride like lightning, you're gonna crash like thunder".

4 stars

One huge thumbs up for Roger Ebert

On Thursday the world of cinema lost one of its most distinctive voices Roger Ebert, who passed away after a long fight with cancer.
Roger Ebert was probably the world's most well-known and well-respected film critic. He had been reviewing films for the Chicago Sun Times for over 45 years, becoming the first film critic to win a Pulitzer Prize in 1974 for his reviews and was half of the hugely popular review show "Siskel & Ebert At The Movies", famous for their "thumbs up, thumbs down" reviews.
Sometimes there is a snobbishness and resentment towards critics within Hollywood. The old adage about teaching of "those who can do, those who can't teach" could be adapted to filmmaking and "those who can - do, those who can't - critique" but that is not an argument that could be levelled at Ebert for he also wrote the screenplay to Russ Meyer's cult classic Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls, itself a direct inspiration for Austin Powers.
Certainly the outpouring of affection from Hollywood including the likes as Martin Scorsese, Diablo Cody, Steve Martin and even President Obama was evidence of the high esteem that people held for him and his opinion.
For while you may not have always agreed with his opinions, there was never any argument over the quality of his writing.
Whether it was eloquently scathing thumbs down of Freddy Got Fingered - "This movie doesn't scrape the bottom of the barrel. This movie isn't the bottom of the barrel. This movie isn't below the bottom of the barrel. This movie doesn't deserve to be mentioned in the same sentence as barrels."
Or this moving passage from his final published review of To The Wonder: "Why must a film explain everything? Why must every motivation be spelled out? Aren't many films fundamentally the same film, with only the specifics changed? Aren't many of them telling the same story? Seeking perfection, we see what our dreams and hopes may look like. We realise they come as a gift through no power of our own, and if we lose them, isn't that almost worse than never having had them in the first place?"
Ebert had a way with words that could influence a moviegoer's decision on what to watch that weekend and also inspired countless others to become film critics themselves, whether it be professionally or just for fun on their blog, Twitter, etc.
He was one of the first film critics to truly understand and embrace the Internet as a positive tool for the published word and for a forum in which to debate the world of cinema.
Even though suffering from poor health and the recurrence of cancer, Roger Ebert still filed 285 reviews in 2012. That figure made me feel incredibly lazy in comparison. I love going to the movies and loved writing about them but recently I would always be putting off writing reviews because I was "too busy at work" or too much time had passed since I'd watched it for it to be relevant.
However Ebert's death put it into sharp perspective. Yes, his job was reviewing films but he did it because he loved the movies and loved going to see them. More importantly he would go into a film looking to be entertained, looking for the good in it, not as some critics would do and go in sharpening their knives looking to eviscerate it in a witty, mean spirited way.
That's why I'm making a vow to myself to make the time to write a review of every film I see at the cinema, whether it be 140 characters or 1400 words. Hopefully Roger would give that a nice thumbs up.