Saturday, 29 March 2008

The Orphanage, (El Orfanato) Review

When a film is 'presented by' someone it usually means one of two things. Firstly that the film maker doing the presenting is the 'hot shit' of the moment, that they can do no wrong and their mere name attached to something will double the box office. Secondly, if the presentee is worth their sodium, the project will be very much of the type that they would have been happy to make. In the case of Guillermo Del Toro presents The Orphanage both such cases are correct.

The film tells the story of Laura (Belen Reuda) and her return to the orphanage of her childhood. Now a mother herself she brings her family back to the old home to re-open it as a school for handicapped children. When her son starts to play act with his new 'imaginary friends' he finds around the house things take a turn for the worst. Soon the child is missing and Laura will do anything to find him again, including venturing into the spiritual world.

There is a hell of lot to recommend this film. The story is compellingly told and should keep the most questioning audience member guessing. The acting is top draw, the design creepy and the jumps come at all the right moments. To tell too much would be to spoil the plot (and I only spoil the plot for films that I want to, i.e bad films) but suffice to say the mystery element is one of the storngest characteristics of the film.

Having won awards for his short films Spainish director Juan Antonio Bayona is not unaccustomed to having praise heaped on him and with his first major film the kudos are still coming. And rightly so. With The Orphanage he has constructed an intriguing ghost story that, while at times may slip down the occasional plot hole and take a quick trip down cliche alley, holds itself high as one of the best of its type since, well, The Devils Backbone.

The Game Plan Review

Do you remember when Arnie, the big hard man of Hollywood, went all soft on everyone and danced around in tights and sang Elvis Presley's Are You Lonesome Tonight? to a small child? No, thats because he didn't. He did however get pregnant which is pretty gay. But for Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson ballet and crooning seem to be the key to showing that he's a shary carey man, in Disneys latest nausia cause.

Dwayne (as he insists on being called now) is Joe Kingman an NFL player whose life is (American) football. A selfish player with more money than he could possibly use and a similar amount of women discovers that he has an 8 year old daughter. Lets see, do you think Joe might be able to learn something from this newly acquired offspring? Perhaps learn something about looking out for others and the true meaning of life?

Well spoiler warning ahoy! He does indeed learn lots of lovely things, which to be honest I'm not complaining about. Its a Disney film, of course lessons will be learnt and hugs will be exchanged. What is annoying is the amount of lessons that are learnt and how horribly they are presented. The film is one long running, sports metaphor/lesson espoused/Dwayne looking foolish/lesson learnt combo that repeats itself ad nauseum til the credits roll.

The little girl is especially annoying, coming across like an extra from The West Wing, with so much knowledge about the evils of fast food and such. Rampant consumerism does get a free ride as the little brat seems to shut up about the evils of the world when she's put in a toyshop with all her mates. Oh and the bad takeaway food company is called Fanny Burgers. Americans may think this slightly funny, Brits with as immature a sense of humour as me, find it hilarious.

Saturday, 22 March 2008

10,000 BC Review

After actually sitting through the brain rotting entirity of Meet the Spartans (I really did, all 82 cocking minutes, including credits!) the words of D:Ream resounded through my head. Things, could indeed, only get better. How marginally better things could get, I'm still struggling to believe. For 10,000BC is as risible a production as you will see at the movies this year. Part Braveheart, Part 300, Part Gladiator, All Wank.

D'Leh is a woolly mammoth hunter living a few millenia ago. All is splendid in D'Lehs world, looking as he does a bit like Colin Farell with dreads, until his tribe is set upon and his girlfriend captured. This annoys him a bit so he gets some friends together to go get her back. On his way he domesticates a sabre tooth tiger, fights giant ostriches, learns agriculture and stops the Pyramids being built. Which will surely fuck up the Egyptian tourism industry in years to come.

Its about 5 minutes in when a waft of quite repugnant stench comes emminating from the screen. Forgetting for a second the perfect skinned, styled goateed, English speaking tribesmen. Forgetting the most boring voiceover ever recorded. Forgetting still that, somehow, even though we're 12,000 years in the past 'Middle Eastern looking' guys are still the baddies. What tipped me that this film was as bad as the Chinese government was that the one thing that was supposed to be good, The Special Effects, were terrible in places. Yes the mammoths look good but when you can see so obviously that all dialogue scenes are filmed in a studio, any realism is lost immediately.

As for the 'hero' he's as useless as a Breville sandwich toaster in prehistoric times. All he does is get his friends kidnapped or killed because he steadfastly won't listen to anything anyone else says. Every moment that he does succeed in doing something that isn't retarded it turns out to be a fluke or a prophecy. So while at the end of the movie he is transformed into a hero none of this is his doing. Instead we have to spend almost two hours in the company of the wettest caveman since Barney Rubble. That little bastard got the hot girl too.

Meet the Spartans Review

Just Fuck Off. Please, please just Fuck Off.

Thursday, 20 March 2008

Step Up 2: The Streets Review

Whilst watching the latest dance shit fest I was struck by how non-linear the narrative was. Amazingly time jumped back and forth at a level usually associated with art house cinema thus rendering me unable to keep up with a plot that was more akin to Lost Highway than High School Musical. As I sat panicked by the fact that Step Up 2 was fastly becoming one of the most subversive films of the year it dawned on me. I'd put the the sodding reels in the wrong order.

When assembled correctly this film is an identikit transfer of every teen/dance/ballsathon out there. Girl from street gang (Briana Evigan) has to join an elite arts school or she'll be sent away to somewhere (I wasn't really paying much attention). At the school she starts to hang around with the losers that inhabit it and, for doing so, gets kicked out of her crew. She then enlists the services of these losers to engage in a 'stepbattle' with her old crew. Balls, balls, balls.

All the 'actors' have clearly been chosen for their dance abilities which leaves any dramatic scenes devoid of any credibility. Saying that, I can't think of a single thespian who could deliver lines such as "I can't believe what they did to you last night!" in response to a rival gang being shown up on the dance floor. Its not like they raped their grans in front of you. After a massive speech made by the lead girl to win all these naughty gang members round you might actually be wanting some non-consenual octagenarian sex to liven things up.

I knew full well going in this isn't exactly the film for me and the 'reels out of order' confusion did manage to keep me entertained for a bit but the level of illegality given to the subject of people having a dance is ludicrous. I once read a review (I believe by mega-critic Paul Ross) that described something as being "grittier than Friends". The question that buzzed through my head for days after was "What could possibly be less gritty than Friends?" Ladies and Gentlemen, after years of searching, we've finally found it.

Wednesday, 19 March 2008

Diary of The Dead Review

The camcorder could well become the anti-hero of 2008, featuring heavily in Cloverfield, Vantage Point, In the Valley of Elah, Untraceable and now taking pride of place at the front of Romeros latest. For some reason, known possibly only to the writers and not the directors, all the people wielding the cameras are assholes to the 9th degree.

A group of student filmmakers and there tutor are shooting a horror film when the news that the dead are rising from the ground comes in. Seeking an opportunity to become the documentary master he's always dreamed of Jason puts all his loved ones behind him and focuses on completing his film, now with real-life death. The rest of his crew are just hoping to get home as the world around them crumbles.

There are some nice touches with this latest Zombie flick (Amish dynamite-throwing deaf guy, Drunk professor who utters nothing except quasi profound philosophy) but these are all bogged down in multiple themes that smacks its audience in the face in the hope of either removing the head or destroying the brain. Before the theme of rampant consumerism was under the surface in Dawn and the War on Terror was secondary in Land. Here, thanks to a terrible voiceover, the messages are rammed down our throat. People are self destructive, they would rather watch death than stop it, we are too pre-occupied with the media, and on and on.

By forcing these ideas Romero has also had to break with the chronology of the Dead series meaning you now can't watch the series in one go. The dark humour that was once one of the strongest selling points of the Zombie flick has been replaced with a seriousness of alarming pretentiousness. The final line of "Are we worth saving?" sadly puts this film in the same category as the others named in the opening sequence. And that category is Shit.

The Cottage Review

Any scriptwriter/filmmaker will have written something when they were young that didn't quite work. A first attempt at something new, a little naive and most importantly an excercise in learning that should never really see the light of day. Paul Andrew Williams follow up to London to Brighton (a tense thriller dealing with the world of prostitution) is a prime example of something dusted off the shelf once a name has been established.

Gangster brothers Peter and David have a plan to make themselves rich and worry free. They have kidnapped the daughter of a local mob boss, taken her to a remote cottage and plan to ransom her. Unluckily for them she's a mouthy little mare with enough aggresion to spoil their plans. Even more unluckily for all involved a vicious killer is picking off bystanders and keeping their heads for trophies. As they do.

Many of the faults of the script lie in a teenage over reliance with thinking bad language makes the characters sound 'ard. While there may be a smile raised the first time Jennifer Ellison cries 'cunt' in a thick scouse accent, the repitition of all things 'fucky' and 'cunty' soon start to grate. The other two leads Reese Shearsmith and Andy Serkis are also given dialogue and roles they can't do much with. Although the former having some experience in the field of horror/comedy does manage to do better with the material given.

The film is not a complete failure as there are some funny gags (the room full of moths and the slow crawl to help certainly stand out) and the horror is handled well. The two films in one angle draws comparisons with From Dusk Til Dawn and the new wave of Brit Horror Comedy is much more welcome than the old wave of Brit Gangster flicks. But when all is said and done sometimes its best to leave that first script where it is, written but unfilmed. Or perhaps filmed but only shown to friends.

Sunday, 16 March 2008

Dr. Seuss' Horton Hears a Who! Review

The third Seuss film of the decade is upon us and its out with the scary rubber masks and in with the computer animation styling of the Blue Sky team (Ice Age, Robots). For anyone else that thought The Grinch and The Cat of the earlier outings looked just plain creepy this can only be a good thing. Happily, its also the best suited format for this wacky world, being able to show off all sorts of imaginative tricks that live action wouldn't be able to handle.

Horton the Elephant is a happy go lucky kinda mammel, swimming around in his jungle paradise generally having fun. Until that is he hears the screams of a speck. The speck transpires to be Whoville a tiny, tiny world that is unaware of its fragile existence (metaphor anyone?). The Mayor of Whoville and Horton team up to protect the speck while forces in Horton's world seek to destroy it for the simple crime of spurring on imagination.

Having the super enthusiastic Jim Carrey (on Ace Ventura/Cable Guy levels of mania) and the super enthusiastic Steve Carrell (like Jim Carrey in Ace Ventura/Cable Guy) is a great way to keep the kids and adults entertained. While their voices run off the screen with a degree of joie de vivre usually associated with people in padded cells, they both fit perfectly in the Dr's world. The gags, while never hysterical, come often and are well placed enough to make the brief running time fly by.

Older members of the audience can have plenty of fun playing guess the under-underlying message. Is it a statement on climate change, the climate of fear, climate control in cars? Who knows, but the message intended for kids, is spelt out clearly and beautifully; "Even though you can't see them at all, A person's a person, no matter how small." Perhaps if people of all ages took this on board those more 'adult' problems may be lessened. Even if there are only lessened a tiny, tiny amount.

Saturday, 15 March 2008

The Spiderwick Chronicles Review

My name is Owen Nicholls. I'm 25 years old. I get scared by films rated PG. P sodding G! That means its intended for children, possibly unsuitable for under 8's so bring an adult. I am a fricking adult what am I supposed to do. I'm guessing my folks were asleep at midnight when I viewed this and I don't think my manager would be too happy if I brought my parents to each and every screening just in case I poop myself. The words large, young female and thin cardigan spring to mind.

Jared Grace (Freddie Highmore#1) moves with his mother, sister and twin brother (Freddie Highmore #2) from New York to the country when his parents split up. Angry at the divorce, he acts out treating all in his family like garbage, smashing things up and playing Marcel Marceau (thats silent not dead). When he finds a book that opens a world full of goblins and fairies he begins to open up. But the evil chief goblin (Nick Nolte) seeks to get the book back and destroy the world. Now Jared has to look out for those around him, beginning to take on the responsibility his fathers absence has given him.

Nearly all the aspects of this film work. Lots of care has gone into the script so that every clunky line is balanced out by one with a little bit of thought. The set design and effects work is second to none and the photography seems way too good for the intended ickel ones to enjoy. Freddie plays both his roles well and considering he's carrying the movie himself that's good work for one so young.

Another fantasy based on a kids book shouldn't really work as well as this does. And while it doesn't have the same place in my heart that Bridge to Terrabithia received last year it will certainly contend for a place in the 'best family films' of the year category once Decemeber rolls on. Oh, and in relation to me being a big scardy pants The Spiderwick Chronicles does represent the first time this year that I've been genuinely a bit shaky in the cinema. Considering I'm over 40 films in, thats not bad, is it?

Friday, 14 March 2008

We Are Together Review (and a word about U2 and Hannah Montana)

Once there was a time when if you needed information you'd go to the local library, if you needed pornography you'd have to buy it from a shop. I remember a time when the big four would always be in the FA Cup final. And not so long ago you'd go to the cinema to watch a movie. But alas the times they are a changing. So now the multiplex is awash with music concerts and 3-D wizardry with nary a storyline in sight. Armageddon surely must be close.

Well at least We Are Together can pass as a documentary film, following the lives of the residents of Agape, an orphanage in Africa that using singing as a way to bring their community together. The main part of this film is dedicated to how their music helps them through bad times and is quite affecting. But the Aids crisis which is such a huge humanitarian crisis seems to be deemed only worthy of a sidenote. Instead as the singing children go on a fundraising tour Bastard faced rich Bastards get to feel all warm and gooey inside because they paid a few quid to watch some Africans paraded around like freaks.

While the 'coming to America' segment is only about 10 minutes long, it's enough to ruin everything that had come before and also enough to put the horrible doubt in my mind that the filmmakers were just as exploitative as Mr. Simon and co. If you want to hear the music (which is the main reason for the film) buy the album but don't kid yourself into thinking you're making any difference at all you smug middle class pricks.
(And yes I am a smug middle class prick myself but I'm not rich or influential in any way, most of the people in the audience at the 'Charity' gig could actually do something if they chose to)

Speaking of people who think they're making a difference, Bono and chums were at the cinema over the last few weeks. As I'm not a U2 fan, and this is simply a U2 concert, I decided to sit this one out. Instead I'll say that the 3D is impressive and tell you a reasonably funny joke.
Q. Whats the difference between Bono and God?
A. God doesn't walk around Dublin all day pretending he's Bono.

This week sees the Cracker Spawn of Satan (thanks for that one Bill), Hannah Montana get a big screen gig. Again I'm not mashochistic enough to sit through this concert of filth but I would very, very, very much like to point out that her tour title 'The Best of Both Worlds" is the same title as the hermaphroditic porn that Randall watches in Clerks. The idea that little Cyrus is hiding a little secret down her pants certainly makes the wait for Armaggedon a bit more enjoyable.

Sunday, 9 March 2008

The Other Boleyn Girl Review

Damn there are some good genes in the Boleyn household. The mother is the none too shabby Kristen Scott Thomas, the youngest daughter is the alluring Scarlett Johansson and the eldest, well anyone who knows me knows that I'm a smitten kitten for all things Natalie Portman. But good looking stars does not a good film guarantee. (For proof of the opposite look no further than Peter Lorre and Steve Buscemi's eclectic careers). I'm happy to say that, while this is BBC drama department writ large, the easiness on the eyes of the cast is not the only thing to recommend it.

Natalie is Anne Boleyn, an ambituous little minx whose main aim is to marry well. When the position of mistress to Henry VIII (Eric Bana) comes a knocking she duly accepts the challenge and sets out to woo said King. After a riding accident leaves Henry a tad embarrassed he sets his sights on Anne's sister Mary (Scarlett Johansson) leaving Anne a little bit on the peeved side. Thanks to some fantastic (offscreen) teaching by the Queen of France, Anne sets out to win the King's affection by some stunning cock teasery.

For fear of repeating myself about marketing campaigns being as reliable as a two legged chair, The Other Boleyn Girl is not, as the poster suggests, about two sisters divided for the love of a king. If you are looking for a love triangle you will be left wanting, as love has nothing to do with the actions of anyone involved in this film (save possibly the mothers love for her children). Instead power and influence, and the corruption therein are the order of the day, with everybody out for themselves.

What seems to be the most successful aspect of the film is that the selfishness of Anne does not automatically mean she is unsympathetic. In fact the opposite seems to be the case, even after we have seen some machiavellian moves that would make Karl Rove (google him, he's a bad man) blush, we still feel for her. And with her sister Mary being wetter than a Tewksbury doorstep she is certainly the sister that doesn't deserve to be called 'The Other'. But then, I would say that, she's played by Natalie Portman.

Vanatge Point Review

Early on in this laughably serious 'thriller' a newsreader says to her producer, "You mean dumb it down?". As said newsreader pops her clogs pretty early on there remains no one to question how stupid this film becomes and dumbing down becomes the dish of the day. Included is a 'rewind technique' that not only makes you feel nauseous but sits you down like a child to explain that "Listen children we're going to go back in time to the start of the story. Is everybody sitting comfortably? Good."

In a clever homage/total shitting rip off (delete where applicable) Vantage Point takes the Rashomon idea of viewing something from multiple angles. In this case its a Presidents assasination/terrorist attack from the angle of a tourist (Forest Whitaker), a secret service man(Dennis Quaid), a newsproducer (Sigourney Weaver), a spainish cop (Eduardo Noriega) and in a bizarre 'twist' (given away in the trailer) The President (William Hurt) himself.

It actually isn't Rashomon at all I'm just saying that because its an easy comparison. And its a comparison that proves my point about how unintelligent this film is. You see in that classic Japanese movie the differing narratives were conflicting and actually made the audience think. Vanatage Point just shows you exactly the same thing over and over again, just giving you a tiny bit more each time, usually in the form of some cringeworthy expositional dialogue.

The other comparison I've heard is that of 24. Now this one is closer, and not just for Dennis Quaid's 'Jack Baeur in his 50's' performance. But again the comparison is less favourable than setting fire to your own pubic hair. 24 has always been over-the-top enjoyable trash (not all in the creative team may be in on the joke but its clear that seriousness is not always on the menu). Sadly with Vantage Point tongue and cheek are nowhere to be seen. There is a good idea in here somewhere, but once again the filmmakers of this world believe we don't have a braincell between us to comprehend it.

Friday, 7 March 2008

Untraceable Review

The internet kills kittens. Its responsible for the downfall of society, the ever diminishing box office returns (due to naughty downloaders) and piss poor reviews of movies by people who think they know a lot about film. Hello there! The internet is a very bad thing. Or so seems to be the theme of Untraceable.

FBI agent and single parent Jennifer Marsh (Diane Lane) is the head of the cybercrime department trying to track down a serial killer who is going around torturing people to death via his website The hook being the more people that log on the quicker the victim dies. Despite numorous press conferences that tell the public they are murderers if they watch they still log on in their millions.

Pitching closer to Silence of The Lambs than Saw, this isn't your typical gory torture flick. Thankfully there's no MTV style editing and the feel is more slowburn than in your face. The gore isn't in your face either which is good for a big girls blouse like me. Yet at the same time the film never really ratchets up any tension. Instead it drifts by on its gimmick until an ending that is laughably poor.

Maybe its the presence of three writers but there seems to be a clusterfuck of cliches at the end. The 'lightning storm' illuminating the 'basement' where the heroine is 'inches from death' as the police are more than 'two steps behind'. The only novel thing is the fact that her policemen buddies are watching the climax from their office via the web. But this is played so poorly it generates more chuckles than fear. Acting like an American movie audience the cops cry out and cheer as the heroine struggles to her obvious freedom. In the end Untraceable isn't unwatchable, but its certainly not one to add to your favourites.

Wednesday, 5 March 2008

The Accidental Husband Review

I can only blame the fact that its a leap year for the amount of marriage-centric movies doing the rounds. With February the 29th supposedly the one day when a woman can officially propose to her man (or her woman, although I'm not sure how that works, well I know how that works but I mean in the marriage/proposal type thing. Do gay women really only get one day?) Hollywood seems to be taking an active interest with the intention of lovey doving its audience into thinking a trip up the aisle is the best step forward. Sadly the only thing The Accidental Husband might inspire is a shift to celibacy.

Uma Thurman plays Dr. Emma Lloyd a radio love guru dishing out advice to the women of New Yawk City. When she doles out some of this sagey goodness and inadvertently causes Patrick Sullivan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) to lose his fiancee, Patrick seeks revenge. But whaddya know? The two fall in love within 20 minutes. Very, very minor complications ensue until they all end happily ever after.

The Bride is a role Uma has played before but in this version you'd be cheering on Bill every step of the way. She starts off the movie as a bitch and ends it a slightly less nagging bitch. Jeffrey Dean Morgan is a bit of an ass who doesn't really learn anything except "yo, this chick i didn't like is kinda alright." Starring in this and P.S. I Love You is doing you no favours in the quest for survival if I ever get to rule the world Jeff. And Isabella Rossellini pops up in a baffling role to explain who the heroine really loves before she vanishes like a fart in a hurricane.

The one pleasure I did have from this film was thinking about the effects that the characters actions would have in real life. Firstly Uma would spend some time in jail for calling out the emergency services for no reason except to fulfil her selfish desires. Jeff would lose his job for similar abuses of power. Colin Firths character would dump her from his publishers and all her readers would switch off once she started singing a different tune from 'hate all your boyfriends' to 'love them all whatever their faults'. And the little Asian kid would be spending some quality time in Guantanamo Bay for hacking into governmental files. Now thats a movie!

Tuesday, 4 March 2008

27 Dresses Review

I watched The Philedelphia Story last night. I mention that for two reasons. Firstly, to show that Romantic Comedies where guys and gals fall in and out of love and wrestle for each others affections can be enjoyed by a person with a penis. And secondly, to let 27 Dresses off for not being able to quite compare with that particular masterclass so fresh in my mind. It doesn't mean, however, that its not worth a look. It just means if you get the choice watch Cary Grant and James Stewart battle instead.

The perennial bridesmaid Jane Nichols (you should really spell it with two l's love, all the cool people do) is in a bit of a funk. Instead of looking for love herself she is always trying to make everyones happy day even happier. Along comes cynical writer (we all are), Kevin, (James Marsden) to show her that weddings are just money grabbing cons, as only a cynical writer would. Throw in her sister getting engaged to the man she really loves and you have a pretty standard flick de chick.

It starts of as a Wedding Crashers for girls in the sense that Jane is at these weddings to have a good time and add to the fun. The bawdy nature of that film isn't lost entirely but is certainly diluted for the female audience although support from the wonderful Judy Greer (Arrested Development/Elizabethtown) gives it a little edge. Mining for the true nuggets of comedy gold is Katherine Heigl, a bit too good looking to be as pathetic as her character should be, but spot on at the awkwaaaaard moments.

All the cast do solid work with a solid script. Its certainly the first film that I haven't wanted to kick James Marsdens teeth off his face in. A disappointingly bland 'chase to the true love at the end and give a big speech' cheapens what came before. Sidenote - if you do feel like giving up at this point just watch the background cast. Littered throughout this film are some truly fantastic extras overacting, and these are entertaining enough to fill the few dips this film has.

The Bank Job Review

And here I was thanking the movie Gods that there hasn't been a mockney gangster shit flick to grace our screens in the past 6 months. But smited once again am I. Coming across like Britains answer to Oceans 11 (that would make Jason Statham the UK equivalent of George Clooney - how proud we are!) The Bank Job is appropriately titled. Job as in poo and, well, bank only needs one letter changing.

Terry (Jason Statham) is the chief crook who only rips people off with dodgy motors and is therefore not a real 'bad guy'. Along comes Saffron Burrows to give him a real opportunity in the form of the titular Bank Job. Terry does a Danny Ocean and assembles a crew of likeable goons to get on the task. Double and Triple crossings ensue as political figures and black activists get involved in a tangled web of bribed police officers and rauncy blackmail snaps.

According to all the marketing it was the 'true story' of the century but in the words of Sheriff Bell, "Its certainly true that its a story." And to be fair the story itself is quite interesting. What takes the proverbial wee wee is how undeeply mined the material is for any suspense or drama.
The annoying and overly familiar dire-logue of the robbers is too off putting to ignore. Examples such as, "Oh no, Terry its the Old Bill!" grate on the nerves like talons on a chalkboard.

I always like to say some good things about the films I watch, if I can, and so here it is. The period detail is impressive. References to the old League Division One being the topflight and Midland Bank instead of HSBC means at least someone on set is doing their job. During one of my early 'posts' I labelled this as one of the films I was least looking forward to. I'm indifferent to report that the film left me feeling indfifferent. Poor, but not anger inducing. So the movie Gods should be thanked for that.