Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Only Lovers Left Alive - review

In spite of the constant thirst for blood and aversion to things like sunlight and garlic, there has always been something quite sensual and romantic about being a vampire.

An ability to appeal to the opposite sex, never growing old, eternal life, etc and let's face it, despite what Queen might have said, who wouldn't want to live forever?

But what exactly would vampires do with an eternity on earth?

Only Lovers Left Alive provides one possible answer to that question. They'd get bored!

Adam (Tom Hiddleston) is a Kurt Cobain-esque Gothic rocker recluse hiding away from the outside world in an old house in Detroit.

Eve (Tilda Swinton) is living in Tangiers, reading and hanging out in Souk bars with Kit Marlowe played by John Hurt.

Both are vampires and more importantly, husband and wife.

Were they the first of their kind? Unclear. As is the reason they live on opposite sides of the world. Perhaps they are just like any other couple and after centuries of being together they needed some time apart from each other.

And they have been around for centuries, that much is clear and even though they have spent that time cultivating knowledge of science, nature and the arts, Adam has grown tired of of the apathy of the "zombies" who inhabit the earth now, unable to appreciate the world and its cultural wonders.

So as he ponders a game of Russian Roulette with a wooden bullet, Eve hops on the next overnight flight to Detroit to pull him out of his slump.

Looking for a plot? There isn't one to be found here. This isn't a film about action or change, after all vampires don't.

This is a film about existence.

There is a melancholic scene where Adam describes to Eve how a giant theatre used to play concerts to thousands of people but now is crumbling and abandoned and nothing more than a car park.

Civilisations have come and gone and they are the only constant in each other's life.

It's a rather unique take on the mythology in how it showcases the normalcy of being a vampire.

Vampires might be allergic to sunlight and drink blood instead of red wine but there still human. They have family issues. They can hold a grudge, "Are you still made about that? It was 87 years ago." and they moan about having to get up out of bed to feed.

Here the vampires feast on blood taken from hospitals not because they have turned "vegetarian" like those who "sparkle", or dislike killing but because they are worried about the purity of the source, disdainful of the diseases and drugs that the "zombies" Adam refers to pollute their bodies with.

Rather ironic since they treat it more like a drug than food, feeling a euphoric high after every hit.

This is just a drop from the rich vein of dark humour running throughout the film, such as Jeffrey Wright's various nicknames for Adam dressed in a Doctor's outfit (Faust, Strangelove, Caligari) and the hints at the influence of vampires over such artistic legends like Wilde, Shakespeare, etc that appear on a wall of fame.

Many of the film's biggest laughs come from the unwelcome arrival of Eva (Wasikowska), Eve's "sister", the closest the film comes to having a Deus Ex Machina, injecting some (after)life into proceedings.

The script's wit is as razor sharp as their teeth and dripping with deadpan delivery by Hiddleston and Swinton who are both able to hint at the old souls behind the young eyes of these eternal creatures of the night.

Shot with an ethereal beauty and a killer soundtrack, it can easily stake a claim as the best vampire film since Let The Right One In.

4 stars

Monday, 27 January 2014

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit - review

Not content with playing a new version of Captain Kirk, Chris Pine steps into the shoes previously worn by Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford and Ben Affleck in this full system reboot of the Jack Ryan franchise... even if this is the first one to feature his name in the title.

Would the casual cinemagoer actually be able to tell you that The Hunt For Red October, Patriot Games, Clear and Present Danger and The Sum Of All Fears were all linked by the same character?

Quick as a flash we speed through John Patrick Ryan's, Jack to his friends, backstory:

  • A shot of him at London School of Economics tells us he is smart.

  • Seeing him watch 9/11 on TV and a guy saying "hey, you're American. Sorry man" tells us he's American.

  • We then cut to a military helicopter in Afghanistan to tell us he is a soldier.

  • The copter is then attacked and we see him on a stretcher. He is hurt but a hero.

    Character building on the most economical of scales.

  • He recovers in hospital where a date with Keira Knightley is used as an incentive to heal. Some might prefer to stay in a wheelchair! Bazinga!

    He is also recruited by Kevin Costner to the CIA to work on Wall Street to follow the money and find potential terrorist groups.

    Before you can say "America. F*ck Yeah!", Cut to ten years later and Ryan uncovers a plot by some stereotypical 80s bad guy Russians led by heavily accented Kenneth Branagh (pulling double duty as director too) to launch a terrorist attack on the US and then sell huge reserves of dollars to crush the economy.

    Follow that? That's the simplified version that Costner asks Ryan to explain the plot to him (and the audience) in layman terms.

    So in the words of Team America: World Police:

    "From what I.N.T.E.L.L.I.G.N.C.E has gathered, it would be 9/11 times 100.
    9/11 times a hundred? Jesus, that's...
    Yes, 91,100."

    Cue Jack Ryan becoming a fully operational agent which involves him:

  • having the bathroom fight scene from Casino Royale

  • several scenes of his girlfriend thinking he is having an affair because he is off doing spy shit before breaking the oath he took when joining the CIA to tell her the truth, which obviously then gets her into immediate danger

  • the needing to download files from the bad guy's office while his girlfriend distracts him over dinner scene from a Mission Impossible movie

  • ending with the race against time to find and diffuse a bomb from "EVERY action movie ever made"

  • Can't say I'm looking forward to the sequel where he must rescue Keira and their newborn child in Jack Ryan's Daughter.

    2 stars

    Grudge Match - review

    We've all had those arguments as film fans where we discuss who would win in a fight: an Alien or a Predator, Superman or Incredible Hulk, etc.

    In most cases (AVP aside), these debates remain an unquantifiable fantasy yet the makers of Grudge Match have decided to answer the question that not many film fans would have been asking... who would win in a fight between an old Rocky Balboa and an old Jake La Motta?

    That's right. Grudge Match is Rocky versus Raging Bull.

    The result? Raging Bullshit!

    To quote the tagline from that other cinematic showdown Alien vs Predator, "Whoever wins. We lose."

    Before we can shout "Sly, get in the ring already. Bobby De Niro's waiting" and find out who wins, you have to first sit through 100 minutes of badly CGI'd young versions of Sly and Bob, lots of jokes about old people, poor spoofs on the training montages, desperate reconnections with old girlfriends and a son who calls himself BJ.

    Yes, that is correct. A guy named Bradley James (played by Jon Berthnal) actively calls himself BJ. Cue lots of jokes and sniggering plus an inability to take the character seriously.

    The fight footage is not bad, with it looking like both actors did a fair amount of the actual work, which saves it from a technical knock out but if this was a proper boxing match, someone would have thrown in the towel by now.

    2 stars

    August: Osage County - review

    We've all probably had a family dinner like the one that is the centrepiece of August: Osage County.

    Arguments as heated as the roast potatoes, secrets are revealed, dirty laundry is aired, a ruined dish here, spilt drink, spilt blood there, etc, etc.

    All bets are off as the Weston family spectacularly implodes over the funeral dinner that brought them all back together.

    Based on the play by Tracy Letts (who also wrote Killer Joe); the story, action and resulting fallout take place over a few days however I feel that if it had all taken place in the space of a couple of hours over dinner, then this could have been a great film.

    Unfortunately it doesn't really come to life until this moment (ironic being that it is a death that causes this) and then fails to recapture that magic later on (although Julia Roberts does here best with a foul-mouthed tirade about eating the "f*cking fish bitch!").

    No mistake about it, this film is all about the Weston Girls (played by Streep, Roberts, Lewis, Nicholson and Martindale), and people claim there are no good roles for women out there. I have no doubt that this particular film would pass the Bechdel Test multiple times over.

    Don't get me wrong, they do talk about men but it ain't pretty. Men do not come off well in this story. At all! One dies, one has cheated on his wife, one is possibly slightly mentally retarded and another is a potential drug-taking paedophile.

    Each man is there as a plot point or way for Meryl Streep's matriarch Violet to pour scorn on her daughters, which leads to the ultimate showdown between herself and eldest daughter Barb (Roberts).

    It is here that Roberts comes into her own, going toe to toe with Streep and delivering an excellent performance which will leave us all asking the same question: are we destined to turn into our parents or can we change our fate?

    August, with a mouth-watering buffet of talent on offer might make it seem like a Michelin-star feast awaits yet with some meaty turns on show here it will ultimately leave you slightly in satisfied and hungry for more.

    3 stars

    P.S. this may seem incredibly harsh given the reasons for her character's appearance but I could not get this image out of my mind after Streep's first appeared on screen...

    Inside Llewyn Davis - review

    It's been six years since the Coen Brothers topped the charts with No Country For Old Men. Since then they have failed to recapture that magic.

    Burn After Reading split opinion. A Serious Man alienated and confused the casual fans and a cover version of country hit True Grit had commercial success even if some of the lyrics were difficult to understand.

    However the Coens are back to their best with an ode to the folk music scene of Sixties Greenwich Village.

    Recruiting Llewyn Davis for lead vocals was an interesting choice. Originally part of a successful double act, one might worry he couldn't handle the pressure of carrying the show but his voice has a rawness and melancholy that draws the listener in.

    His songs tell a story of the pressures of conformity, the price of fame and the journey one takes to truly find themselves and their place within the music scene.

    One fears that Llewyn might be trapped in an ever repeating circle of failure and obscurity but this album will stand the test of time and he'll be remembered as an artist who deserved greater success (Oscar, I'm looking at you).

    Davis was part of a scene that was rich with unique characters. Some producers might question the need for all these quirky character collaborations throughout the album but that is what the Coens do so well and they leave their stamp on the production that you can instantly tell who made it.

    Stand out tracks include:

    Please Mr. Kennedy by Jim, Llewyn Davis & Al Cody

    "Where's his scrotum?!" by Lillian & Ulysses the Cat

    Chicago Road Trip by Llewyn featuring Roland Turner, Johnny Five & Ulysses

    Inside Llewyn Davis, like the album of said name, might not be to everyone's taste but those who appreciate its quirks and charms will find a 4 star album filled with the odd 5 star song destined to be on repeat for many years to come.

    4 stars

    Saturday, 25 January 2014

    Devil's Due - review

    Right, I already touched upon this in my review of Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones, but what really grinds my gears at the moment are these horror films which are filmed and marketed as "found footage" yet have no framing device.

    The Blair Witch Project worked because it was presented as pieced together video footage of three people who disappeared.

    Cloverfield worked because the camcorder footage was classified as government evidence of the attack on New York City.

    Nowadays, we just get launched into these films where some idiot spends too much time documenting everything on their brand new HD camera instead of turning it off and actually trying to solve the mystery or just get the f*ck out of dodge.

    This one is even worse but it goes from the couple's video diary of their wedding, honeymoon and unexpected pregnancy to cutting between that, surveillance cameras a mysterious cult have set up in their home and random clips from a other couples camcorders that hint at other gruesome events.

    What is the purpose of these editing choices if it is not a found footage document of the event? There is none as far as I can tell. This sub-genre of horror really needs to go the way of Betamax and disappear quickly.

    Oh, what about the film itself? Crap. A poor, lazy retread of Rosemary's Baby for the modern generation with forgettable characters, distinct lack of scares, chills and menace and is as unwanted an addition to the horror genre as the resulting pregnancy was to the main characters.

    1 star

    Saturday, 18 January 2014

    The Wolf Of Wall Street - review

    Wall Street, Rogue Trader, American Psycho, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, the news in general.
    It would be fair to say that cinema hasn't painted the most flattering of pictures when it comes to bankers and traders and just when you thought it was safe to go back in the trading floor, along comes Scorsese's blistering biopic of Jordan Belfort aka The Wolf Of Wall Street.

    Belfort made millions of dollars through selling dodgy penny stocks to wealthy people and pocketing the commission amongst other securities frauds. At least I think that's what he did. It's all financial mumbo-jumbo to most people and Belfort even breaks the fourth wall to tell the audience he's not going to bother explaining what he's doing as they'll never follow it anyway.

    Besides this film is not concerned with exactly how he made his fortune but what he did with it once he got it.

    This is a movie that is all about excess as Belfort and his cronies indulge in a copious amount of sex, drugs and a MPAA record-breaking number of F-Bombs.

    Some have complained that the film glamorises Belfort and his lifestyle but it is the same as Trainspotting in that it is important to show the highs (why people become addicted to this lifestyle) in order to sell the lows and inevitable downfall.

    This is a movie about sales and the entire cast sell the hell out of their roles.

    McConaughey shines in an early scene imparting advice onto DiCaprio's Wall Street newbie, setting the tone for the rest of the film. Australian Margot Robbie delivers a flawless New Yoik accent, Jonah Hill is more than just teeth and tantrums and there is an entire portfolio of juicy cameos including Jean Dujardin, Rob Reiner and Joanna Lumley!

    Yet this is Leonardo DiCaprio's film. With shades of the Goodfellas Henry Hill voiceover, DiCaprio is our (potentially unreliable) narrator on this career-best descent into quick cash and quaaludes. He is as comfortable charming his clients out of there money as he is a woman out of her panties, offering up the perfect amount of sleaze to seduce and repel us at the same time.

    What is surprising though is how good DiCaprio is at comedy. Although not an out-and-out comedy film, it is funnier than most mainstream comedies of the last couple of years and in one hysterical sequence of physical comedy, Leo has to shuffle and scrape his way along the floor of a country club to get to his car after vintage quaaludes kick in.

    Like Belfort after taking a Popeye-sized hit of cocaine, it feels like Martin Scorsese is firing on all cylinders, giving us a film with more energy and balls than filmmakers half his age. All while delivering a 179 minute long opus that feels like 90 minutes.

    Leo was once rumoured to play Patrick Bateman in American Psycho but Belfort is just the type of Paul Allen, Grade A Douchebag that Bateman would take an axe to. He lies, cheats and steals. Buys into his own hype after being called "The Wolf Of Wall Street" after his first wife tells him there is no such thing as bad publicity and there is no thought or remorse shown for his victims. Why not? Because he probably didn't have any. This is a man who sold out his own friends to reduce his own sentence.

    For those people that claim the movie glamorises Belfort, if you come out of this film wanting to be like him, you are probably already a complete and total banker.

    Wall Street said "Greed is good" but Wolf Of Wall Street would say that "Greed is Motherf*cking Great!". It's lewd, rude and crude, un-PC and offensive and I for one fell for Scorsese's sales pitch and enjoyed every minute of it. I'm investing all my cash in Marty and Leo's next project.

    5 stars

    Thursday, 16 January 2014

    The Railway Man - review

    Thanks to series of delays and changed trains, railway enthusiast Eric Lomax (Firth) meets Patricia Wallace (Kidman) by chance on the journey from Crewe to Carstairs. He's on his way home to Berwick-Upon-Tweed, she's off for a tour of the Highlands.

    Before you can say Brief Encounter, he uses his timetable to meet her at Edinburgh Waverley and a whirlwind romance begins resulting in their marriage.

    On their wedding night, Eric suffers a panic attack at the memory of a past trauma. Unable to get through to her increasingly distant and fragile husband, Patsy sets out to find out the root of the tracks of his tears by speaking with former war buddy Finlay (Skarsgard).

    Through flashbacks, the truth is revealed that both men were POWs in WWII and forced to work on the railway the Japanese were building in Burma. Young Lomax (here played commendably by Jeremy Irvine) is subjected to further unknown tortures at the hands of a Japanese soldier called Nagese.

    "War leaves a mark" Finlay tells Patsy, and Lomax's marks are more than skin deep.

    This is not a film where "love" is the thing that offers redemption. This is a film about honour and the knowledge that for some, the war is never over. What they have to decide is whether they live for revenge or forgiveness.

    This dilemma is at the heart of the film's third act (and best section), when Lomax returns to Burma to confront his captor after he discovers that he works at a museum dedicated to the railway.

    With the story, perhaps unintentionally, falling into three main sections (romantic love story, POW flashback, confrontation), it suffers slightly as certain characters get lost along the way.

    Kidman is given little to do for two thirds of the film as the love story is sidelined for the war plot line and Firth doesn't really come into his own until the final showdown with Nagese.

    The grown-up Nagese is played by Hiroyuki Sanada, who appears in just about every US/UK film set in Japan or in need of a Japanese character (Sunshine, The Last Samurai, The Wolverine, 47 Ronin). He takes a character who is initially portrayed rather one-dimensionally and develops him into a real person who has also been scarred and changed by the events of the war. The one-on-one confrontations with Firth are the most emotionally charged and moving of the film.

    Watching this film in the cinema is rather like a train journey. You initially balk at the ticket price, the refreshments are daylight robbery, the progression is a little stop/start with a feeling like "are we ever going to get there" but ultimately it gets you to your destination and the resulting emotion is enough to forgive any issues you may have had.

    3 stars

    Tuesday, 14 January 2014

    Delivery Man - review

    Let's get the jokes out of the way shall we?

    This is a film where Vince Vaughn is a massive wanker.

    Vince Vaughn is such a wanker that a mix up at a fertility clinic where he had donated a LOT of sperm has resulted in him being the biological father of 533 children, 142 of whom are suing the clinic to find out who he is.

    I keep saying Vince Vaughn as there is no point in telling you the character's name as Vince Vaughn is once again doing his usual Vince Vaughn schtick.

    I really hope one day he gives buddy Owen Wilson a call and asks him to put in a good word with Wes Anderson who might be able to give him the same type of career boost that Bill Murray got from working with him as it really is time to try something different (and this is coming from a huge fan of Swingers).

    Rubbish at his job, up to his eyes in debt and a terrible partner to his girlfriend (who is now pregnant), Vaughn finds one thing he is good at: after looking at the details of the children he has unexpectedly fathered (against the advice of his best friend/lawyer played by a movie-stealing Chris Pratt) he becomes a "guardian angel" to the children, helping them out in little ways.

    Not only is he taller than all of them, which results in some terrible cinematography that cuts off the top of his head similar to the above poster. What's most amazing is that out of the 142 children he meets and helps, not one of them is an obnoxious asshole.

    One of them is a drug addict but in a scene weirdly played for laughs, Vaughn ends up signing her release form after an overdose and trusts she will succeed in a new job at Bloomingdales rather than enter a drug rehabilitation program.

    It is just one example of plot points that are created and then forgotten about: the reasons for Vaughn being $80,000 in debt are never really explained, there is no time spent developing the relationship between Vaughn and Smolders so it has no weight or value, the storyline with the disabled son Ryan looks to being going somewhere then disappears.

    I guess it is too be expected that not enough time can be given to all the plot threads since Vaughn's character will not be able to devote that much time to any one particular child.

    Delivery Man might have hit the money shot in terms of a sweet natured film about responsibility but unfortunately it fires blanks in terms of laughs. Not one you'll be filing for sole custody of anytime soon.

    2 stars

    Short Term 12 - review

    Arriving in UK cinemas with very little hype aside a few US Indie Awards, it managed to make a lasting impression on film critics and audiences that has seen it end up on many Best Of 2013 lists come the end of the year, including this reviewer's.

    Admittedly the synopsis: inspirational and caring youth worker is forced to examine her own problems when a new arrival stirs memories from the past; sounds familiar and potentially cloying and sentimental but thanks to strong writing and terrific ensemble performances the result is an emotionally honest and assured feature debut from Destin Cretton.

    Set in a foster-care facility for at-risk teenagers, the film opens on a group of twenty-something counsellors sharing an anecdote with newcomer Nate. The tone is relaxed, the story hilarious yet humiliating when suddenly they have to spring into action when one of the teens attempts to escape and they need to calm him down.

    That ability to delicately handle those abrupt shifts in tone; from happy to sad, comic to tragic is not only important for the counsellors but also writer-director Cretton.

    The natural, fly-on-the-wall cinematography helps create a pseudo-documentary feel to the early proceedings where we are introduced to some of the children under the care of the home.

    People like Marcus (Keith Stanfield), about to leave the facility due to him turning 18 and facing an uncertain future, and Jayden (Kaitlyn Dever), a young girl who dresses all in black, wears black eye make up and generally has an angry demeanour. The performances from Stanfield and Dever are very impressive. They take scenes which could potentially be cliche i.e. revealing their hidden pain and trauma through rap or a children's story, and turn them into something heartbreaking.

    When Jayden reads Grace her self-penned story called The Shark and The Octopus, it is one of the most moving scenes in the film and a major turning point for both characters.

    Grace starts the film by telling newcomer Nate that "We are not their parents or their therapists. We're just here to create a safe environment". She is a person who likes to keep a level of separation, from both those in her care and also to an extent boyfriend/co-worker Mason. The arrival of Jayden and the discovery of the roots of her pain cause Grace to have to confront unwelcome memories of her own, ones that she has been unwilling to talk or even think about for many years.

    There are reasons that counsellors Grace and Mason feel an affinity to the care offered by Short Term 12. Mason was brought up in a foster family but Grace's reasons are unknown and its only with the arrival of Jayden and her own investigation into the teenager's backstory that her own walls start to crack and crumble as she is forced to deal with her own past in order to move forward.

    Brie Larson's turn as Grace was one of the break-out performances of 2013.

    Gradually peeling away the layers to reveal the truth, Larson never resorts to the showy histrionics that some actresses may have used. Instead she plays it internally and reserved so when the truth is finally revealed, her pain and sadness feel affectingly authentic and honest.

    So if, like Grace, audiences are willing to take the risk and open themselves up to the world of Short Term 12, they will find a rare gem of a movie with more truthfulness and heart than any other film of recent years.

    5 stars

    Thursday, 9 January 2014

    12 Years A Slave - review

    Steve McQueen has never been afraid of making films about difficult subjects, such as the 1981 Irish Hunger Strike in Hunger or sex addiction in Shame.

    Here he tackles the true story of Solomon Northup, a free black man who was separated from his family, kidnapped and sold into slavery. He is forced to suffer all manner of cruelty and indignities, all the while clinging to the hope that freedom will be regained.

    Django Unchained this is not. There is no light relief, no moments of respite from the bleakness of the situation. The only exploitation here is that of the African-Americans like Northup.

    Slavery is an ugly part of history, one that people would like to forget but this film makes the audience confront it head on.

    Sean Bobbit's camera is unflinching. Where the instinct is to turn away from a brutal flogging, our view is focused on the flesh being torn from the back of a slave. As Northup is hung by a tree, toes barely touching the ground, gasping for breath, the camera remains fixed on him as life on the plantation goes on as normal.

    Yet the cold gaze of commitment to the truth comes at a cost.

    There is a sense of distance and detachment from the central character. The audience witnesses Solomon's struggle, yet never really learn too much about him.
    Given the advice "to say and do as little as possible", Ejiofor's Northup is a masterclass in restraint and subtlety. The only times the anger and injustice felt inside manifest results in violence, sadly normally to himself or other slaves.
    Keeping it all bottled up throughout the film, allows for the heartfelt emotional payoff at the end of the film when "freedom is opportune".

    Due to his quiet nature Ejiofor is at times overshadowed, presumably intentionally, by the his owners/abusers.

    Fassbender's Edwin Epps is a drunk, abusive, bible-ranting cotton farmer. He could easily have been the Calvin Candie of the film but fills his character with an air of self-loathing, a conflicting tenderness towards favoured slave Patsey that turns him away from the cartoonish to the chillingly real.

    It could be argued that his malicious wife (played by Sarah Paulson), overseer Tibaults (Paul Dano) and Giamatti's slave trader are even more repellent.
    Benedict Cumberbatch is Northup's first owner, showing him kindness and respect, but is just as guilty as the rest for taking part in the trade.

    Guilt is one of the many feelings that will be felt during the film, along with horror, disgust, etc. Not an easy film to watch, 12 Years A Slave is an extremely important and powerful piece of filmmaking that is easy to admire, impossible to ignore but ultimately difficult to love.

    4 stars

    Wednesday, 8 January 2014

    47 Ronin - review

    Watching 47 Ronin, it was difficult to work out the target market for this film.
    Here is a movie financed by the US, filmed in Japan, using Japanese actors, speaking English, combining ancient tradition with mystical sorcery, wrapped up in poor CGI and muddy 3D... featuring Keanu Reeves.
    It is hard to see US audiences taking to it (Looking at the box office numbers, they didn't) and unless they did an alternate version with the Japanese cast speaking their native language, it wouldn't play all that well in Japan either.
    It wasn't until the end that it became clear that this was apparently inspired by a real life legend of the 47 Ronin and in retrospect, it feels like someone was trying to turn it into a Japanese version of 300.
    Taking a similar "based on" approach to allow for the insertion of more fantastical elements like a shape-shifting witch and demon warriors who live in the strange tree from Dagobah.
    The way of the samurai is a very serious, honourable way of life and the overall tone of the film is deadly serious tone so elements like the ones mentioned or a potentially fun trip to the set of the latest Pirates Of The Caribbean feel out of place as no one is willing to embrace or even acknowledge the ridiculous. Not even Keanu who you half expect to whisper "Woah" when a witch transforms into a dragon, although Rinko Kikuchi as said witch is the closest to having any "fun".
    With actors who have appeared in such films as Zatoichi, The Last Samurai and The Matrix, the fight scenes could have been the film's redeeming feature yet sadly the editing is too quick to do justice to the final showdown which replicates the third act of Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves.
    What also doesn't help is the lack of characterisation for the 47 Ronin. There is the leader Oishi (Hiroyuki Sanada), halfbreed Kai (Reeves), the son, the dishonourable one, the fat one and 42 unnamed others and as such there is not the same kind of empathy for them as there is in Seven Samurai or 13 Assassins where each character gets a specific trait or moment to shine.
    My advice would be to give this a miss and rent something like the aforementioned samurai films or Hero, House Of Flying Daggers instead, even 300 which in terms of budget shows a much better spend per head ratio: $216666 per Spartan compared to $3.72 million per Ronin!

    1 Star

    Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones - review

    Another year, another Paranormal Activity.

    It's been just over four years since the first film scared the living bejesus out of people, breathed new life into found footage sub-genre and replaced the Saw series as the new annual horror franchise.

    After years of people setting up video surveillance to catch evidence of the evil spirits, The Marked Ones focuses on a group of teenagers investigating the strange death of their neighbour and her connection to one of the boys who may or may not be possessed by an evil spirit.

    Starting out as a separate entity, connections are made to the previous instalments and it continues to flesh out the increasingly complicated backstory to this series of paranormal activities.

    I read a rumour that the writers "know the endpoint of the franchise" and how it all ties together but the writers of Lost also said that and it felt like they were also making it up as they went along.

    For one thing, with ever-diminishing returns in terms of genuine scares, after five films they still haven't been able to answer the following questions:

    1) Why do these people keep filming? Even when the sh*t hits the fan, there is some idiot running around screaming their head off with their finger stuck on the record button?

    2) Why do they insist on remain living in or investigating haunted houses without proper back up?

    3) Who edits this footage together? The original film was presented under the guise of found footage trying to piece together what happened to Katie and Micah but the subsequent films dropped this vital bit of setup and so what purpose do they serve now?

    Perhaps we'll finally get the answers in Paranormal Activity 6 which will inevitably appear within the next year I assume.

    2 stars

    Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom - review

    Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom feels like exactly that, a very long walk due to the decision to try and tell Nelson Mandela's entire life story in one poorly paced film.

    Mandela is one of the most inspirational political figures of the last century and a man who had struggled, fought and accomplished so much in his lifetime that it is near impossible to show all that in a 146 minute feature film.

    Idris Elba gets the iconic voice spot-on and impresses in the early scenes but the 50 year age range covered in the film is too wide to be played by an actor of 41.

    Hampered by some unconvincing make-up, the later scenes fail to resonate as the film fails to show the true effects of 27 years imprisonment as Elba's Madiba still looks capable of putting a beat down on a Kaiju or two at the age of 72.

    Last year's Lincoln worked, not just because of Day-Lewis's performance, but by focusing on one specific time in his life; the fight to pass the 13th amendment.
    This film would have been more successful if it had followed suit and looked at his trial and subsequent time in prison, the campaign for his release or his run for President with the ANC party. Obviously they couldn't do the 1995 rugby World Cup as Clint Eastwood and Morgan Freeman beat them to it with Invictus.

    Instead we get every step along that long walk which for some reason includes 30 minutes of painting him as a bit of a player when he was younger; different woman every night, affairs, bad father, etc.

    This is certainly one case where it would be better to read the book rather than watch the film. That, or watch a documentary about him instead.

    2 stars

    Last Vegas - review

    What do four old age pensioners get up to when they spend a weekend in Vegas?

    The answer, according to Last Vegas, is the exact same thing as everyone else.

    There's gambling, partying, proposals, drinking and drugs... well, Viagra anyway.

    At the heart of the film there is a sweet story of lifelong friendship and how growing old doesn't mean that you have to stop living but a lot of that is drowned out by the bright lights and big city noise of the Hangover-style excesses.

    After high-rolling roles in the likes of Casino and Behind The Candleabra it is a shame to see the likes of DeNiro and a perma-tanned Douglas crap out with only Kevin Kline making the most of the hand he was dealt in terms of a lacklustre script.

    2 stars

    Thursday, 2 January 2014

    American Hustle - review

    David O. Russell reunites with Oscar-winner Bale and nominee Adams from The Fighter and Oscar-winner Lawrence and nominee Cooper from Silver Linings Playbook for this outrageous tale of comments, corruption, cleavage and combovers in the Seventies.

    With the addition of Jeremy Renner, O. Russell has assembled himself an ensemble cast of superhero proportions with the movie becoming an unofficial Marvel/D.C. crossover featuring Batman, Lois Lane, Hawkeye, Mystique and Rocket Raccoon.

    Partly based on the real-life ABSCAM scandals, Bale & Adams play a couple of small time hustlers who are forced into running an entrapment con on Renner's sympathetic mark, the Mayor of New Jersey Carmine Polito.

    Starting out as a relatively simple con, Cooper's over-ambitious and quick-tempered FBI agent keeps expanding the reach of the investigation and things soon spiral out of control thanks to the involvement of Bale's wife played by Jennifer Lawrence and a mobster connection with a rather familiar face.

    From Bale's committed turn as Irving, with a combover as complicated and elaborate as the cons he's running and Adams's fake English accent and dresses that are so low-cut her cleavage probably deserved its own screen credit, down to Alessandro Nivola's crazy Christopher Walken impression as an FBI boss, there is not a weak link in the whole cast.

    However if it was possible to single one standout performance from an entire movie of standouts, it would have to be Jennifer Lawrence.

    Lawrence doesn't even bother to pull any type of con, rather she straight up, brazingly steals every scene she is in.
    Whether it is cleaning the house while singing Live And Let Die or making sure audiences will be referring to their microwave as "Science Oven" from now on, as younger, unstable New Jersey housewife, it's a role that is likely to bag her another Oscar nomination if not another gold statue.

    Despite the fantastic recreation of the period, with particular mention going to Michael Wilkinson's costume design and the hair and makeup team, the film does tend to lose its way as the con becomes increasingly more complicated.

    Rumour has it that a lot of the dialogue was improvised from the cast which had an influence on the plot, which has led to a lack of overall cohesiveness.

    What it resulted in however is an unexpectedly hilarious movie with much of the comedy coming from Cooper's character and the one of the best running gags in years where he tries to find out the end of his boss's story about ice fishing and its relation to the case.

    Like any good con, the performances are top notch and while you'll initially leave satisfied you might be left with the feeling that you've been had.

    3 stars