Posts Tagged ‘Film’

h1

HELLBOY 2: THE GOLDEN ARMY (2008)

September 5, 2008

Hellboy II Review

Matt:
Adam:

Length: 120min

Taglines:
Saving the world is a hell of a job.
Good never looked so bad.
Believe it or not – he’s the good guy.
From the visionary director of Pan’s Labyrinth.

Précis: Lighthearted action fantasy about a grumpy hellspawn and his mutant friends, battling to save humanity from a magical evil threat.

Review by Matt:

There’s a big red demon, a looming threat to humanity, and scary gun-toting freaks all around. Is it the 2008 Republican Convention? No, it’s Hellboy 2, the new film written and directed by much-admired Mexican filmmaker, Guillermo Del Toro. He’s dropped the nightmarish atmosphere that characterised his recent films. Hellboy 2 is a fluffy action/fantasy flick about FBI-employed mutants saving the world from a mythological army of death robots.

Ron Perlman is Hellboy, a macho, half-human hellspawn who is a bit like a bigger, redder Han Solo. He’s out to save humanity from the villainous Elf Prince Nuada (played by Luke Goss, who has already endangered humanity once, as part of the awesomely rubbish 80’s band, Bros). Hellboy is helped by key team mates: his pyro-kinetic girlfriend Liz (Selma Blair), and a psychic creature called Abe (Doug Jones), who has an uncanny resemblance to C3PO in a fish suit. Further assistance comes from a German ectoplasmic spirit called Krauss (voiced by Seth McFarlane, emulating Klaus from American Dad) and the beleaguered human minder of the group, Agent Manning (Jeffrey Tambour, who is wasted in this excisable role).

Robots, monsters, Bros. It might sound great to you. But be clear about what you’re getting here, because Hellboy 2 won’t be for everyone. There are things to enjoy. Most noticeably, the film has a hammy likeability, unselfconsciously displayed in Arnie-like one liners and other silly, sometimes funny, dialogue. It also sports an impressive visual style; Del Toro has a talent for composition, and a rich imagination. You get a sometimes crazy mesh of towering monsters and flashy fights, and even a liberal promotion of interspecies marriage (there goes the Republican Convention comparison). You have to admit that in some respects, this is a film that has got it going on.

But the film’s bad side soon engulfs the positives. Hellboy 2 just lacks the qualities to make us invest in its story. The plot is recycled, rushed and disjointed. In some places it is jarringly sloppy. Behind the characters’ striking appearances, they are truly shallow, and most of the acting is accordingly stilted. The romances and conflicts are annoyingly clichéd, and may as well have been left out. The more it goes on, the more it feels over-busy and self-indulgent, as if Del Toro was obsessed only with his scattered ideas and ingenious style.

When even Guillermo Del Toro’s fantastical style starts to appear decidedly undazzling, you know there is something missing. I am an enthusiast of monsters, robots and other curiousities. But Hellboy 2 is a reminder that you’ve got to put them in the right vehicle before you have a winning film.

Review by Adam:

I didn’t even know this movie was coming out until I saw it previewed at The Dark Knight. My company immediately complained about how lame it looked. From that moment I was convinced that this would be awesome, and it kinda is. I was hanging to see this movie and at the end of a busy weekend. I even ended up dodging a dinner invitation with a visiting foreign celebrity so that I could see it with an old flatmate.

So the story doesn’t really pick up from the first movie. There is no reference to the previous happenings, or to the fate of the previous human agent assigned to Hellboy. Maybe he just died of an obscure disease.

The plot happens all very quickly and you’re guaranteed to think that it went from the first instance of slaughter to the final battle with very few events in between. The beauty of the film is in the characters, or better put, the creatures. If you’ve seen Pan’s Labyrinth you’ll know the beautifully creative mind of Guillermo Del Toro. This film gives him plenty of opportunities to showcase that. Kind of like that Tatooine bar scene in Star Wars Episode 4 (you know, the one where that dude tells Luke what all of us are thinking – “I don’t like you” – and then Obi Wan sabres him). It’s also nice to see that not everything these days is computer generated and some nice work has gone into the costumes.

Despite the supernatural realms and the whole threat of total destruction of humanity, this film is pretty light on. It never seems to take itself too seriously, and that’s a strength. The love stories are hammed up in all the right places (including one unforgettable sing-a-long) and only at a few moments are a bit over the top. The theme to the love story is that the destruction of the earth is fine, just as long as you are with the one you love. Easy to say if you have super-awesome mutant powers I guess…

Basically, go and see Hellboy 2 if you want something light. Don’t expect much and you’ll be delighted with a film that is entertaining, funny, sometimes beautiful, and has guns and big red dudes. Apparently there is another one planned – I can’t wait.

Advertisements
h1

THE DARK KNIGHT (2008)

September 2, 2008

The Dark Knight Review


Adam:

Length: 152min

Taglines:
Why So Serious?
I Believe In Harvey Dent.
Welcome to a world without rules.

Review by Adam:

Ever since I saw the previews for this movie I knew I was going to see it on the opening night. When the night came, I managed to drag along my flatmates on the promise that this was ‘arguably’ the best Batman ever. I told everyone that they weren’t excited enough. The level they needed to be at was “oh my god, I HAVE to have the giant Batman cup.” Thankfully common sense prevailed and no one paid a ridiculous price for such plastic crap.

The movie itself is pretty awesome, thanks largely to Australia’s latest deceased movie star, Heath Ledger. Basically his Joker character is an extension of the troubled Aussie kid, Patrick, he played in 10 Things I Hate About You. You know that scene where he is playing with the bunsen burner? Well, the Joker is what would have happened if Patrick had ended up with a broken heart (and had needed major facial surgery from an accident). Heathy plays the Joker so well it makes you squirm in your seat. He manages to adopt all the mannerisms and expressions you would expect from some maniacal, super villain. He captures the chaotic logic that is central to the Joker, and it’s that unpredictability that makes you uneasy. Without doubt, if it wasn’t for Heath, this movie would only be average.

The Dark Knight has quite a complex plot that always leaves you guessing as to exactly what is happening and if it is being deliberately planned. The only down side to this is that the film tries to cram a bit too much in. Two villians in one movie – doesn’t that undermine the principles of a movie franchise?

Christian Bale may be the greatest Batman yet. He carries the worries of the metropolis like only a billionaire playboy could, with lots of brooding looks and a special voice for when he’s in his Batgear. What makes him great (like Michael Keaton) is that he exists in a grim time. From this, the story becomes one about redemption and the attempt to make things right. From heroes that is all we can ask.

The extras in this movie are also fantastic. Gary Oldman, as the police commissioner, is probably my favourite character in the whole movie. There’s just something so wonderfully incorruptible about him. Maybe it’s the moustache.

The movie deals with issues of uncontrolled power, fear, and what it is that drives us as humans (it’s not bat-mobiles). I thought the ending was mostly good, except for the moralising about society needing leaders/good examples. To hell with that! The Dark Knight shows us that the most respectable characters are in fact those society is willing to lock up.

4.5 Batmasks.

h1

MONGOL (2008)

August 31, 2008

Mongol Review


Matt:

Length: 126min

Taglines:
Greatness comes to those who take it.
The untold story of Genghis Khan’s rise to power.
Don’t despise a weak cub, it can appear the son of a tiger.

Précis: Epic story dramatizing the early life of Genghis Khan with a loving – possibly revisionist – touch.

Review by Matt:

A nominee at 2007’s Academy Awards for ‘best foreign picture’, Mongol dramatizes the little-known early life of the infamous Mongol, Genghis Khan.  Despite focusing on one of history’s most famous warlords, Mongol isn’t really a boy’s battle film. It’s more of an epic drama, glued together by a Wuthering-Heights-strength love story. Russian writer/director Sergei Bodrov constructs a noticeably rosy perspective of his subject. His story follows the young Genghis – better known then as Temudjin – through what could be called his “constantly trapped in stocks and tortured” period.  For the most part it’s easy to cheer for this rugged and mistreated hero. It’s only when you remember that the story conveniently halts just before that whole touchy “slaughtering and raping half the world” chapter, that some of the characterisation seems a little awry.

Temudjin is barely nine when he first meets the stocks. His father, the tribal leader, is assassinated, ancient Mongolian style (tribal leaders should really know not to accept a horse-milkshake from their enemy). The tribe’s subordinates refuse to accept that little Temudjin will inherit the throne. So it’s into the stocks for him, and some other scallywag Mongol unjustly becomes the Khan. It’s the first of a series of struggles and indignities faced by baby Genghis. He fights to rescue his kidnapped beloved bride. He fights with, and against, his blood-brother, Prince Jamukha, in a number of blood-spurting battles. He is imprisoned and enslaved by his many enemies. You start to see why Temudjin grew into a vengeful warrior, declaring that “Mongols need laws and I will make them obey even if I have to kill half of them”. And still, in between it all, he finds time to be Mongolia’s number one dad, and go picnicking with his family.

Mongol looks amazing and authentic, with its hoards of extras, unique cultural quirks, and its lavish North Asian scenery. The performances are fine – Japanese actor Tadanobu Asano exudes a fiery intensity to fill Temudjin’s war-mongering boots. Non-actor Mongol Khulan Chuluun, is impressive as his stoic wife, Borte. Chinese actor Honglei Sun also infuses Prince Jamukha with a sense of wild-eyed Mongolian zaniness. All the imprisonment makes for occasional lulls, but add in the love story, tribal politics, and regular thunderous horse-filled battles and Mongol just manages to remain entertaining for its two-hour length.

Really what weighs it down is the requirement that we limit our mental engagement, else things seem a bit unconvincing or jarring. Aspects of the plot are underwritten, especially the supernatural intrusions of mysterious Mongolian gods. Most of all though, Bodrov’s portrait of Genghis as a Mel Gibson style, family-loving hero, makes you wonder just how the family bond will hold up during the years of raping and killing that are just around the corner. Bodrov will have to solve that one, as he’s set to continue the tale of hero-Genghis in two upcoming sequels.

h1

21 (2008)

August 22, 2008

21 Review


Matt:

Length: 123min

Taglines:
Inspired by the true story of five students who changed the game forever.

Précis: A disappointingly cliched dramatisation of an infamous casino card-counting caper.

Review by Matt:

21 is another example of ‘Hollywoodization” – the annoying practice of eviscerating a potentially interesting concept and stuffing it with the same old hackneyed pap, because that’s apparently what secures an audience.

The film dramatizes the real-life story of a group of MIT college kids who developed a card counting system and used it to win millions from the Vegas casinos. The affable Jim Sturgess (Across the Universe) plays Ben, an ace maths student tempted into joining the secret card crew. The group is led by patriarchal professor Micky, played by Kevin Spacey in another calmly menacing performance. A mundane student during the week, Ben jaunts to glitzy Vegas on weekends, experiencing the heady influence of greed and glamour. On his journey he clashes predictably with a casino security thug (Laurence Fishburne), romances it up with sultry team-mate Jill (Kate Bosworth), and – as in so many college/high-school movies – momentarily forgets who are his real friends.

What begins with potential, winds up a glossy package of formulas. 21 tries too hard to impress us with glamorous cheats. It is particularly irritating considering the many fascinating angles a filmmaker may have teased from this story. Instead, the concept is superimposed with Hollyowood’s seen-it-all-before plot arc. No surprises for guessing how it concludes, despite the contrived – and morally questionable – ‘twist’ tacked-on near the finale. The dubious decision to ‘whiten’ the characters (the real-life protagonists were Asian Americans) only contributes to the feeling of phoniness.

Of course the performances and production value are quite good, and there is still some residual excitement in seeing this audacious scam dramatized. Who doesn’t want to see the Casinos beat? But 21 is mostly just a front of tricks and distractions, desperately trying to convince you it is more interesting than it is. Behind the veneer it is bloated and meaningless. It’s a bit like a real casino really. You’re likely to walk out at the conclusion feeling like the house swindled you again.

h1

LEATHERHEADS (2008)

June 15, 2008

Leatherheads Review

Matt:
Tracy:

Length: 114 min

Taglines:
In the beginning, the rules were simple. There weren’t any.
If love is a game, who’ll make the first pass?

Précis: Mediocre modern ‘screwball comedy’ about 1920’s American football.

Review by Matt:

George Clooney’s directorial catalogue is taking us backwards in time through the 20th century. His debut, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, took us into a colourful 1960s and 70s. Good Night and Good Luck put us in the stifling black and white of McCarthy’s 1950s. His latest film, Leatherheads, mimics 1940s Hollywood comedies, but is set in 1920s America. These were the days when the American football league was rules-free and carefree. Clooney plays smooth, fast-talking football-wizard, ‘Dodge’ Connelly. Encouraged into entrepreneurship when his ailing team disbands, Dodge manages to kick start the trend of professional, overpaid stars by recruiting football champ and war hero, Carter Rutherford (John Krasinski). Meanwhile, feisty reporter Lexie Littleton (Renée Zellweger) is on Carter’s trail. She’s got the inside word that Carter’s war heroics are greatly exaggerated and she’s determined to uncover the truth and write the story of the year.

Clooney has lovingly made his film in the old fashioned ‘screwball’ style of comedy. Swinging Randy Newman numbers accompany scenes of slapstick football antics and bar room brawls in underground prohibition-defying nightclubs. It’s the kind of film where Dodge and Carter can punch each other’s lights out, bickering over Lexie’s affections, and then hop up, rubbing their jaws, and have a drink together. The film looks great, it has a bouncy comic feel, and it’s pleasant, oh so pleasant. But, while it is devoid of things that will actively rankle you, unfortunately Leatherheads is missing something as well. It’s just not that enjoyable. Like an expensive, exotic meal that is disappointingly tasteless.

Why is it so? You can tell that Clooney really loves this genre and Leatherheads is finely crafted. But perhaps it suffers from too much love. It becomes indulgent and a bit dull. There are a few too many of scenes of 1920s atmosphere, and not enough comic material. Partly blame the script as well, which doesn’t deliver the interest and impact that the triumphant directing deserves. The best scenes, as with the old screwball comedies, are when Carey-Grant-like Clooney and Katherine-Hepburn-like Zellweger engage in their argumentative banter (which really of course just masks their unexpressed love for each other). But they’re only a rare smattering in a jumpy script that lingers too long in nowheresville and then rushes through when it reaches somewhere more interesting.

There are still plenty of things to endear you to the film, if you’re impressed by individual parts. The acting is roundly excellent. George Clooney is in full ‘loveable rogue’ mode and his frenetic eyebrow-raising and smirking helps energise the pace when it flags. He and Renee Zelwegger have nice comic timing in their verbal jousts. American football fans will probably find some curiosity the tale of the origins of their sport, which in 1920 certainly didn’t look anything like the serious super-business it has become today. Fans of old screwball comedies will also probably appreciate Leatherheads more than I did, recognising a familiar 1940s freshness usually missing from films today; even the romance plot stays ‘moral’, burying references to sex in ingenious clues, as if the old Hollywood censorship code was still around (such as the romantic leads finding themselves sleeping in the top and bottom of a bunk bed).

So Leatherheads is generally charming and pleasantly nostalgic about things we’ve lost from football and films. It’s not a film to deride. However – and maybe I’m from a generation that is more distracted and demanding – I really would have preferred a film with a bit more zing.

h1

DRILLBIT TAYLOR (2008)

June 14, 2008

Drillbit Taylor Review

Matt:

Length: 109 min

Taglines:
You get what you pay for.
Budget Bodyguard.
The best bodyguard pocket money can buy.

Précis: Formulaic and disagreeable comedy about a budget bodyguard’s lazy efforts to protect some kids from a psycho-bully.

Review by Matt:

I was a bit wary, but I still thought Drillbit Taylor – a comedy film from Judd Apatow’s team (Superbad, The 40 Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up) – had a premise with some potential. A couple of bullied kids are sick of spending their days hanging by their underpants, so they hire themselves a bodyguard. Pocket money can’t get you much so they end up with raggedy drifter, Drillbit Taylor (Owen Wilson). It’s a movie that might have been charming and funny. It’s not. It’s messy, lackluster, and has a bit of a sour attitude. The film also has a funny tagline: “You get what you pay for”. You don’t. If only it were true and paying the theatre price could actually guarantee a decent comedy.

Instead, Drillbit Taylor gives us hackneyed nonsense that is dissatisfying on every level. As soon as we see a few simple plot pieces drifting toward each other, we know what is going to happen. Bullied boys Ryan (Troy Gentile) and Wade (Nate Hartley) are without father figures (or in Wade’s case, he has an unbearable ‘gotta-be-a-winner’ step-dad who philosophises that bullies toughen up weedy kids). Cash-strapped Drillbit enters the scene and initially loiters just to organize a jackpot homeless-hit on Wade’s house. But with a bit of “I hope you’re our friend forever” shenanigans, and the beginnings of a romance with the kids’ female teacher (Leslie Mann, in a perplexing nymphomaniac role), Drillbit starts to feel responsible for his little soldiers.

Sounds familiar. School of Rock also recently used little kids to reform an incorrigible slacker in the form of Jack Black, only that movie wasn’t as caustic and Jack Black was more likeable. There’s not much to like about Drillbit the wandering scam-artist, and it’s a cheat if we’re expected to like him just because he’s embodied by charismatic Owen Wilson. The film suffers from systemic unevenness. By the end, we’re not only expected to like Drillbit, but the bullying nastiness has rocketed to an over-the-top degree, and violence is suddenly the problem-solver that saves the day and gets you the girl. There ends up being a gulf between our attitude to the film and its self-perception, because its wavering plot knocks us all askew.

You could forgive the lack of originality and frayed plot if the humour was really sharp. There’s a bit of spark there with a few laughs and some amusing dialogue – mainly from the kids – but it can’t save the sinking wreck. And there are a decent amount of those mis-hit jokes where in the silence afterwards all you can hear is a cricket chirruping outside. The two main kids are good. They have a believable kid-like presence and a decent sense of comedy. They even look a bit like they’re modeled on Laurel and Hardy. I don’t know who the third, irritating, hanger-on kid (Emmit – David Dorfman) is supposed to be modeled on though. Although I loathe bullies, I found myself guiltily thinking he would have made good crab bait.

By the time the end arrives, you’re pleased to see it, and at least there is a bouncy Weezer song over the credits to help restore your mood as you exit (and for all of you wondering, the song is Photograph off Weezer’s excellent Green Album). It leaves you wondering about poor old Owen Wilson, who is a good comedic actor, but found himself again stuck in an ordinary film with mostly unworkable material. He might be a bit like the female teacher in this movie who complains that she has some kind of unconscious attraction to losers. Drillbit Taylor is also a good reminder that current comedy golden boys Seth Rogen (who co-scripted) and Judd Apatow (who produced) maybe aren’t as special as people boast. They need to work harder than this, and Hollywood definitely has a long way to go before it can claim there is a ‘comedy renaissance’ going on.

h1

THE ORPHANAGE (EL ORFANATO) (2008)

June 8, 2008

The Orphanage (El Orfanato) Review

Matt:
Tracy:

Length: 105 min

Tagline:
A tale of love. A story of horror.

Précis: Terrifying and stylish thriller about supernatural happenings at an ex-orphanage.

Review by Matt:

People in horror movies should watch more horror movies. Then perhaps they wouldn’t do things like walk out into the eerie darkness when they know that supernatural happenings have been going down. The folks in The Orphanage, a new highly-regarded Spanish thriller, aren’t immune to this horror film folly. Idiots! I hissed at them from between my hands. Now we’re all going to hit the roof again! The film also sports many other horror standards – like the sudden, shrieking startle trick, or the weird Jungian ‘icons of fear’ (creepy kids, darkness, disfigurement, masks etc). But The Orphanage is still of a much higher quality than your standard horror film. Not only is it tense and chilling, it also skilfully connects with us on a deeper emotional level.

The horror elements of the story fit fairly neatly into your typical ‘haunted house’ scenario. In this case the  culprit is an old orphanage, filled with painful memories. Spanish actress Belén Rueda gives a strong performance as the harried orphan mother Laura, whose seven-year-old adopted son Simón (world’s cutest boy, Roger Príncep) apparently becomes the favourite of the house’s ghostly inhabitants. Or is it all imagined? Either way, the happenings send Laura off on a pretty freaky journey to untangle a history of secrets. The film evokes a genuine mood of sadness and loss, as well as sets up an ambiguous reality and an intense psychological unease. It’s not all just bumps in the night.

But, oh my nerves, the bumps in the night that we do endure are spine-tingling. Literally – the tense atmosphere and nightmarish episodes had my spine vibrating like a guitar string. The Orphanage is a film that knows what scares us, and also how to make something scare us.  It even infuses the landscape with mystery (a bit like Picnic at Hanging Rock) and transforms little kids into menacing enfant terribles (a task that horror film history proves is not so hard). After suffering the brooding darkness, the inexplicable happenings, and the mysterious old shovel-toting women, I was even starting to be unnerved by that stupid orphanage’s squeaky see-saw. The Orphanage could probably ease up on the cheater’s scare – the SUDDEN LOUD STARTLE trick (make sure there’s a good distance between you and the roof). But it balances this by letting a good deal of suspense stew slowly in our imaginations. The scenes where we watch a night vision video-feed-in of a seer creeping through the mansion are the height of tension.

You can hardly miss The Orphanages boast that its producer is Spain’s darling director Guillermo del Toro (of Pan’s Labyrinth fame). He does not direct the film though – that job is handled by underling Juan Antonio Bayona. He’s got the style going on – it’s all slow, still camera work, and you better be able to hold your breath for a long time. Bayona’s music video background pokes its unwanted head in occasionally when the score swells a bit too intrusively, but he still preserves a serious mood throughout, far from the laughable horror-hysteria that infects many films of the genre.

There are decent rewards to be gained from this film, primarily in its thrills and top-notch visual style. The story is also mysterious, moving, and comparatively mature. But a few “how did that work?” moments can only be answered with the dissatisfying answer “must’ve been the supernatural”. Accept this supernatural vagueness, and the story is mostly acceptable. Get into the details and you might long for better explanations. All that aside, it simply may not be your thing to brave a film that is so viscerally and psychologically scary; though The Orphanage is a great pick if you want this experience. If it is already your type of thing, then get ye to the orphanage.