29 December 2010

Movie Review: Splice

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B

Splice
2010, 104mins, 15
Director: Vincenzo Natali
Writer (s): Vincenzo Natali, Doug Taylor, Antoinette Terry Bryant
Cast includes: Adrien Brody, Sarah Polley, Delphine Chanéac, David Hewlett
UK Release Date: 23rd July 2010

“Splice” is an intriguing motion picture; an unusually thought provoking film designed to encourage questions alongside the shivers. The marketing makes the movie out to be a straightforward creature feature, in actual fact the property is something much cleverer and worthy of notice. Director Vincenzo Natali does eventually wimp out with a conventional monster on the loose climax, but until that juncture “Splice” marks a fascinating dissection of the ethical implications surrounding genetic engineering.

Elsa (Sarah Polley) and Clive (Adrien Brody) are scientists who specialise in the art of genetic splicing, a skill that has landed them the opportunity to help cure several major diseases. Against the orders of their employers, the duo decide to add human DNA into their genetic melting pot, hypothesising that such an act will help increase the speed and validity of their research. The result is Dren (Delphine Chaneac) a creature of immense prowess and intelligence, but also of undeniable innocence. Despite some initial reservations from Clive, the scientists let Dren mature, eventually forming an almost paternal bond with their Frankenstein creation. However others working in the lab begin to suspect that Elsa and Clive have a secret project on the go, which coupled with Dren’s increasingly hostile behaviour leads to major trouble.

The relationship at the heart of “Splice” is unusual, but this only adds further flavour to this unique endeavour. Clive and Elsa are both colleagues and lovers, an onscreen dynamic sold effectively by Polley and Brody’s equally believable turns. The addition of Dren (excellently portrayed by a feral Chaneac) brings some serious instability to the film’s central romance, a nice touch that further highlights the nasty consequences playing god can incur. Natali has done a great job of forging engaging characters and a somewhat offbeat onscreen connection for them to inhabit, flushing extra feeling into the visually subdued final product. “Splice” is quite a restrained film from a stylistic standpoint, Natali clearly placing more stock in his actors and writing than his ability to construct glossy images.

As a horror film “Splice” scores some sweet slow burn tension during the first 80 minutes or so, before forgoing some credibility in a finale overcome with boo moments and dollops of gore. It’s a pity the movie feels the need to mainstream itself come the climactic set-piece, underscoring some of the refreshing ideas bubbling under the preceding material in the process. Of course in the tradition of body-horror features “Splice” also opts to infuse a few shock and awe sequences into the game, not least a glistening sexual undertone that runs rampant in the film’s last chapter. Natali brings this arc to completion through a sequence that unsteadily walks the line between camp and obscenity, but until that point the carnal frustrations hinted at in “Splice” are of upmost interest and entertainment value.

Dren’s design is creative, but some of the CGI used to render her is suspect. “Splice” mixes prosthetics and digitals to depict its monster, the former far outweighing the latter in terms of quality. This aspect doesn’t particularly damage “Splice” as an overall film going experience, but the difference between the make-up and CGI in terms of realism is at times jarring.

The film blends together elements of movies like “Jurassic Park” (the anti-genetic engineering stance) and “The Fly” (icky horror with underlying humanity), and whilst it can’t boast to be as good as either of those offerings, “Splice” remains a valuable motion picture. To see it crumble so notably at the end is a major disappointment, but up until that point it’s a fixating and occasionally beautiful cautionary tale, which winningly has something important to say.

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2010

27 December 2010

DVD Verdict Review: Knight and Day

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B

Review Link: http://www.dvdverdict.com/reviews/knightandday.php

25 December 2010

Movie Review: Little Fockers

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D+

Little Fockers
2010, 98mins, 12
Director: Paul Weitz
Writer (s): John Hamburg, Larry Stuckey
Cast includes: Ben Stiller, Robert De Niro, Teri Polo, Owen Wilson, Jessica Alba, Laura Dern, Dustin Hoffman, Barbra Streisand
UK Release Date: 22nd December 2010

Released in 2000, “Meet the Parents” was a sly and deserving box-office smash, an expertly cast comedy that rolled out the giggles with both encouraging energy and refreshing regularity. Its 2004 sequel “Meet the Fockers” was slightly less inspired, but on the whole still offered a serviceable roster of laughs. Now in 2010 we have “Little Fockers”, thus completing a trilogy nobody asked for. If you’ve witnessed the other films in this unlikely franchise then there’s no reason to bother with this one, the movie generally coasting on a parade of stale jokes and broad crudity. I’m not necessarily suggesting “Little Fockers” is a candidate for worst production of the year, but with the exception of a few cheap guffaws it’s a pretty joyless charade.

Greg (Ben Stiller) and Pam Focker (Teri Polo) are now the proud parents of 5-year old twins. In order to meet with the demand of his now extending family Greg takes a job as the spokesman for a new erectile dysfunction pill, visually seduced by the pharmaceutical saleswoman (Jessica Alba) with whom he’s been teamed. Just as Greg accepts this employment opportunity his father in law Jack (Robert De Niro) endures a minor coronary episode, leading him to pay a visit to the Focker residence. Jack is concerned that Greg doesn’t have the stones to fill the family’s patriarchal shoes if he should pass away, and thus begins to scrutinise the hapless Greg as the two embark on several days of silly shenanigans and wacky misunderstandings. Yep, that’s more or less the plot of this movie.

It only takes a quick examination of the above synopsis to understand that “Little Fockers” barely has a story, the film more interested in stitching together a series of obvious comedic skits than actually creating an even semi-compelling narrative. The picture’s title also suggests an added emphasis on the junior Focker generation, but alas no, the film simply keeping the kiddies on hand as plot mechanisms and devices for easy tomfoolery. “Little Fockers” fails to even address the perils of parenthood, opting to sloppily rehash its predecessors instead. Due to the fact the movie provided a few cheap chuckles I’m reluctant to label it as totally worthless, but one must understand that from a scripting standpoint “Little Fockers” is an unimpressive work.

The central cast are fine, but one would expect as much after three movies. Stiller and De Niro still have a nice onscreen chemistry, even if the jokes on show here let them down. The dynamic remains palatable, what disappoints is the movie’s reliance on repeating gags from the previous outings. I mean how many times can you say the word “Godfocker” and expect it to be funny? The answer is barely once, yet “Little Fockers” ploughs it into the ground and still expects audience members to howl in delight. Teri Polo barely registers as Pam, her bland acting becoming a recurring pattern in this series. Both Barbra Streisand and Dustin Hoffman pop up briefly as Greg’s hippie parents (and actually score some smiles through their comic skills); whilst Owen Wilson is adequate but not much else as Pam’s overly perfect ex-lover. Jessica Alba’s turn reeks of the actress trying too hard, whilst both of the little Fockers (Daisy Tahan and Colin Baiocchi) are brutally bad, even by the low standards of child actors. The only genuine relief is provided by a chirpy Laura Dern, the actress mining out some pleasure as the headmistress of an excessively cerebral kindergarten establishment.

For this third entry there’s been a major personnel switch-up, Paul Weitz replacing Jay Roach in the director’s chair. With “Meet the Parents” in particular Roach was able to forge some gut busting laughs through his relaxed approach, letting the awkward comic silences and amusing script do the heavy lifting for him. Weitz on the other hand struggles to knit the material together in a coherent fashion, his movie relying far more notably on gross sight gags and cheesy crowd pleasing moments to secure any semblance of worth. Ultimately the tone of humour found in “Little Fockers” is overly crass, the picture failing to stimulate the same excitable momentum found in Roach’s work. As a comedy “Little Fockers” also opts for the lazy way out too often, there’s a stunning lack of both creativity and passion emitting from Weitz’s direction. The fact the screenplay is a blank slate doesn’t much help matters, but Weitz’s sitcom filmmaking style deals a further blow to this already dubious motion picture.

Most viewers will probably laugh once or twice at “Little Fockers”, the embarrassment fuelled jokes roll around at such a rapid clip that you’ll eventually find something funny. Still, “Little Fockers” is largely an unadventurous and crappy endeavour, a paycheque feature for all involved. It stands no chance of garnering the same affection as the 2000 original, unless you happen to be the sort of person who loves the idea of Ben Stiller being vomited on, or the concept of Robert De Niro having to receive a medical injection into his erect penis. If you’re that type of filmgoer, then “Little Fockers” might just be your movie of the year. For those outside of that demographic though, it’s just not focking good enough.

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2010

20 December 2010

Movie Review: TRON: Legacy

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B-

TRON: Legacy
2010, 127mins, PG
Director: Joseph Kosinski
Writer (s): Edward Kitsis, Adam Horowitz, Brian Klugman, Lee Sternthal

Cast includes: Garrett Hedlund, Jeff Bridges, Olivia Wilde, Michael Sheen, Bruce Boxleitner
UK Release Date: 17th December 2010

The very fact “TRON: Legacy” exists defies the financially fuelled logic which governs Hollywood. A $200 million budgeted sequel to an original which did middling business in 1982, “TRON: Legacy” is a visually stunning depiction of the primitive cyberspace audiences first encountered in “TRON”. Directed by first timer Joseph Kosinski, the movie is a dazzling slice of eye candy, utilizing some of the sharpest digitalized production design I’ve ever seen. If only the screenplay was of the same revelatory standard. The narrative at the heart of “TRON: Legacy” is very forgettable, propelling its characters through some rather clichéd and familiar genre beats. The performances are all generally of a high calibre, but with such an uninspired script guiding the way, it becomes almost impossible for “TRON: Legacy” to be anything more than a moderately diverting but mostly unremarkable blockbuster.

Emotionally scarred by the sudden disappearance of his father Kevin (Jeff Bridges), Sam Flynn (Garrett Hedlund) has focused most of his youth on messing with the ENCOM Corporation, the company once proudly headed by his dad, but now in a greed driven and almost unrecognisable state. Sam’s actions disturb old family friend Alan (Bruce Boxleitner), who in turn has some news for the 27 year-old orphan. Following Alan’s cryptic predictions that his father might indeed have returned, Sam ends up rummaging through Kevin’s old workspace, and before long finds himself accidentally zapped into the world of the Grid. On arrival it becomes clear that the Grid is no paradise, the world being overseen by a tyrant program named CLU (Jeff Bridges). With the help of Quorra (Olivia Wilde) Sam narrowly evades CLU’s clutches, and is reunited with a peaceful Kevin. Kevin has been hiding because of important knowledge he possesses, information that CLU has spent a vast amount of time searching for. Realizing that he needs to get his father back to the real world, Sam makes for the exit portal, but it quickly transpires things aren’t going to be so simple. CLU himself is keen to leave his digital domain and pay Earth a visit, something that would spell disaster for humanity. With the aid of Quorra and Kevin, Sam decides to prevent CLU from ever being able to make the trip, combating the rogue program in as aggressive a fashion as possible.

The CGI on display in “TRON: Legacy” is wonderful, the world is filled with crisp detail and inventive designs. Kosinski and company have done a marvellous job visualizing the landscapes first envisioned 28-years ago, defying even the highest expectations with their inspired work on this project. Certainly as the characters move through the neon bathed world of the Grid it’s easy to see where the massive budget went, it’s all up there onscreen to be absorbed and marvelled at. The momentous FX work evidenced here is clearly the film’s most boast worthy asset.

Garret Hedlund is a bland leading man, but elsewhere the rest of the cast shine. Jeff Bridges is a delight as an elderly Kevin, his portrayal is equal parts Obi-Wan Kenobi and The Dude from “The Big Lebowksi”. Bridges brings some nifty comedic touches to the film, and finds enough heart to make his strained dynamic with Hedlund work. It’s fabulous work from an actor who we’ve come to expect nothing less from. Olivia Wilde also does some interesting stuff as Quorra, playing up the character’s childlike sense of wonderment over the obvious sex appeal her spandex clad figure generates. Again despite Hedlund’s lack of emotion, Wilde turns their relationship into a rather sweet and touching affair, Quorra’s consistently well intentioned actions also helping to forge a positive connection with the audience. Bridges also voices CLU effectively (even if the de-ageing process exhibited on his noggin is generally unconvincing), whilst Michael Sheen camps it up but entertains thoroughly as a berserk nightclub owner

The screenplay (credited to four different scribes) isn’t memorable, bad dialogue and pedestrian storytelling hurting “TRON: Legacy” quite notably. The father/son relationship at the film’s heart is successfully conveyed, but the actual plot rumbles along with little originality or flair. Several individual set-pieces recall “Star Wars” and “The Lord of the Rings”, whilst the actual narrative relies on clichés and some irritating story contrivances. One in particular during the climax is incredibly irksome, the movie depending on a random reversal of character allegiance to resolve the conflict. Stuff like this damages “TRON: Legacy” badly, its lack of fresh sci-fi perspective reducing the product’s overall value. Had “TRON: Legacy” provided a script as brilliant as its visuals I have no doubt it would be on course to become a genre classic, as it stands it’s just a lavish time filler.

Most of the action plays out successfully, although there are a few notable exceptions, namely an airborne battle near the picture’s climax. This scene becomes too bogged down in quick cuts and flashy colours to properly register or excite. However the film’s reinterpretations of the gladiatorial games featured in the 1982 original are excellent, both in terms of adrenaline fuelled thrills and massive scope. Similarly a fast paced combat sequence set in a nightclub also scores high, Kosinski blending in Daft Punk’s phenomenal soundtrack superbly during this interlude.

TRON: Legacy” is worthier than your average blockbuster, although I’d strongly argue we had it better last Christmas with “Avatar”. The production looks awesome, and I do genuinely appreciate the heightened standard of acting found within. However “TRON: Legacy” still suffers heavily from a sub-par script, a fault that renders the potentially great merely decent.

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2010

19 December 2010

Movie Review: Valhalla Rising

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C+

Valhalla Rising
2009, 90mins, 18
Director: Nicolas Winding Refn
Writer (s): Nicolas Winding Refn, Roy Jacobsen
Cast includes: Mads Mikkelsen, Maarten Stevenson, Gordon Brown, Gary Lewis
UK Release Date: 30th April 2010 (limited)

Nicolas Winding Refn’s “Valhalla Rising” is a major league oddity, an abstract Viking epic with little dialogue and a ponderous pace. The film packs all the gore and brutality you’d expect, but in just about every other way it completely disrupts expectations. I appreciate that with “Valhalla Rising” Refn is aiming to deliver something more than a gorgeously photographed bloodbath, but there appears to be a lack of clarity and focus concerning what the extra element is. “Valhalla Rising” clearly wants to say something about the human condition or possibly religion, but sadly the specifics of its message are tricky to decode.

Having been taken hostage by a Nordic tribe, the mute One-Eye (Mads Mikkelsen) is forced to partake in barbaric gladiatorial combat for his captors’ amusement. Eventually breaking free, One-Eye teams up with a young boy Are (Maarten Stevenson), and promptly stumbles upon a group of Christian warriors. The band invites One-Eye to join them as they travel to fight in the Crusades, an arduous and soul destroying boat trip ensuing. When they arrive the landscape defies their expectations, madness and violence following as a consequence.

In a completely silent turn Mikkelsen is effective, strongly conveying a mood of mysterious darkness as One-Eye. Alongside Refn’s visual panache, it’s Mikkelsen who gives “Valhalla Rising” its finest asset, the actor carrying the absurd venture pretty far on the back of his talented chops. “Valhalla Rising” was obviously crafted on a modest budget, and so the filmmakers deserve major kudos for presenting the feature so beautifully. The misty landscapes of Scotland (where the movie was shot) combine nicely with Refn’s style driven approach to create a suitably dreamlike atmosphere. It’s an attractive looking affair, exuding technical proficiency and optical delight with every frame.

The movie is split into five chapters, although this feels like an unnecessary touch, simply on hand to further bolster a sense of superficial self-importance. Refn clearly has a desire for “Valhalla Rising” to be considered as cerebral fare, filling the picture with glacially paced existentialist twaddle. Whatever message “Valhalla Rising” is trying to purport is intensely muddled, it’s almost subtle to the point of nothingness. It’s a tough film to stick with; even at a sleek 90 minutes (85 minus the credits) “Valhalla Rising is a slog. Those looking for the sort of hardcore combat fuelled thrills of efforts like “300” will be disappointed; “Valhalla Rising” is an unstoppably languid experience.

The project is peppered with One-Eye’s surreal dreaming, an almost drug addled touch that adds nothing but further sensory overload. Refn gives the movie an edge via some unspeakably savage brutality, a horrifyingly graphic full frontal disembowelling is a particular highlight in this respect. I can’t accuse “Valhalla Rising” of being forgettable, it’s a definitively unique piece of art after all, but on the whole I can’t see much worth celebrating other than a robust leading performance and some dazzling visuals. I would advise potential viewers to approach this weird offering with a sense of trepidation, because it almost certainly won’t satisfy mainstream audiences.

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2010

17 December 2010

Retro Review: Tron (1982)

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B-

Tron
1982, 93mins, PG
Director: Steven Lisberger
Writer (s): Steven Lisberger, Bonnie MacBird
Cast includes: Jeff Bridges, David Warner, Cindy Morgan, Bruce Boxleitner, Dan Shor
UK Release Date: 21st October 1982

“Tron” is just as flawed as it is interesting. In 1982 the film was a notable box-office disappointment, underperforming both critically and financially for an expectant Disney. That isn’t particularly surprising. Nowadays the value of “Tron” is in its eerily accurate predictions concerning the future of computing technology; one must remember the picture was sculpted in an era before terms like “internet” or “Playstation” had moved into the general zeitgeist. In 1982 the movie was just an oddly designed and sporadically entertaining sci-fi affair, starring Jeff Bridges, an actor who was then just beginning to sow the seeds of his now immensely successful career. It suffers from a pedestrian script, lots of cardboard characterization and both a running time and plot which slightly outwear their welcome. Still none of that was ever really the point, “Tron” today is a must see article because of its pitch perfect prophesising and intriguing special effects.

The set-up is fairly simple, but the intricacies of the story are a little more complex. Flynn (Jeff Bridges) is a skilled hacker and disgruntled ex-employee of ENCOM, a successful and ruthless software company. ENCOM is now overseen by Dillinger (David Warner), a man who found glory by thieving several videogame ideas of Flynn’s design, and selling them as his own. Flynn has been desperately trying to break into the ENCOM mainframe called MCP (Master Control Program) to extract evidence of Dillinger’s misdeeds, but has thus far had no luck. Flynn decides to team up with Alan (Bruce Boxleitner); a computer technician who has devised his own program called TRON, one that would help disfigure the MCP and help extract the information Flynn needs. However after breaking into ENCOM headquarters they find the MCP unwilling to comply with their mission, the powerful program utilizing a piece of experimental scientific equipment to digitalize Flynn and bring him into cyberspace. On arrival Flynn teams up with TRON (also portrayed by Boxleitner) to help dissolve the MCP once and for all.

The special effects in “Tron” contain minimal CGI, and what’s there isn’t very impressive. Instead the majority of the picture was crafted with more traditional animation techniques like rotoscoping, invention and creativity trumping detail or lavish set design on this occasion. The picture signalled an important bookmark in the development of computer based effects work, even if the results haven’t stood the test of time particularly well. The picture’s action sequences are very basic in visual conception; instead it’s the compelling colour scheme and otherworldly cinematography that impose upon the viewer most favourably. Director Steven Lisberger concocted something important with “Tron”, a film which laid vital groundwork for the future of CGI in filmmaking. It is very possible that without “Tron” today’s blockbusters wouldn’t be infused with the same digital excesses they’ve now become famous for.

Both Bridges and Warner are adequate, but the rest of the cast are fairly poor. Bridges brings a likable roughish attitude to his performance that helps overcome some of the substandard writing, whilst all Warner’s various roles (he plays Dillinger and a few other nefarious characters in the cyber universe) demand are that he be consistently menacing. The screenplay isn’t bothered with meaningful character conception, a handicap in itself, but troubling matters further are a group of mediocre thespians filling out the supporting cast. Cindy Morgan is spectacularly attractive, but terminally bland from a dramatic standpoint. Similarly Boxleitner’s performance lacks flair or innovation, the actor instead resorting to the sort of stoic woodenness that results in yawns rather than cheers. Other figures filter in and out of the picture with no real impact, leaving the actors stuck in these roles with little of note to do.

The various set-pieces weaved into the movie are enjoyable enough, providing a nice electrical buzz to a story teetering on the brink of tedium. Lisberger doesn’t have a problem with capturing momentum when the film demands it; the key areas of distress reside in the moments between the action beats; mounted with inert relationships and heightened degrees of exposition. “Tron” is actually pretty in sync with the event pictures of today, delivering in the realms of bombast and high octane blockbusting, but struggling when it comes to a compelling narrative or emotional sincerity. Obviously when viewing the picture from a critical standpoint this is a major problem, but when judging the product for its historical worth in the pantheon of cinema this facet actually increases the movie’s value as a visual artefact. Some of what makes “Tron” fascinating today is the foreshadowing it provides on the future of multiplex fare.

The production makes some incredibly astute observations on the futures of technology and gaming, indeed in many ways “Tron” subtly predicts the very existence of the internet. This in itself makes “Tron” a film worth pursuing; it’s pretty mindboggling to consider that something so perceptive concerning the development of modern computing was made 28-years ago. The picture also alludes obviously to the themes of creation and religion, the reverence with which the programs inside the cyber world bestow upon their creators is cleverly interspersed within the feature. As “Tron” progresses the character of Flynn also grows to become a sort of god amongst men given his previously human condition, something that Lisberger explores satisfactorily in the last act. Ultimately it’s these assets that really make “Tron” worth tracking down, and also go heavily towards compensating for some of its more fundamental flaws.

The film feels unevenly paced (although it only runs for a relatively average 93 minutes), but at least it never becomes moribund in seriousness, “Tron” displaying a deft comic touch from time to time. Much of the credit must go to Bridges’ playful performance on this front, but the screenplay also provides a few knowing jokes of its own. Ultimately “Tron” is an utterly imperfect slice of film, but in its own peculiar way it marks a rather pertinent entry in the medium’s history. I doubt it will ever be considered a classic of the genre, but for true film enthusiasts I’d say “Tron” is a picture at least worth dabbling in. It might also be worth noting that the movie’s long gestating and mega budgeted sequel “Tron Legacy” arrives in theatres this weekend. I doubt that Lisberger and company ever considered an expensive follow-up as a remote possibility three decades ago, but hey sometimes even Hollywood can surprise you.

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2010

16 December 2010

Retro Review: Behind Enemy Lines (2001)

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B+

Behind Enemy Lines
2001, 106mins, 15
Director: John Moore
Writer (s): Zak Penn, Jim Thomas, John Thomas, David Veloz
Cast includes: Gene Hackman, Owen Wilson, Gabriel Macht, Olek Krupa, Vladimir Maskov
UK Release Date: 4th January 2002

John Moore’s “Behind Enemy Lines” is more or less a completely forgotten cinematic quantity these days, the 2001 actioner having been thrown into genre limbo some years back. That’s a pity. With a sturdy cast and some stylishly executed set pieces at its disposal the film is actually a minor joy, goofy at times for sure, but filled with gusto and even a sense of real emotional sincerity when it comes to depicting the war crimes which occurred in Bosnia during the 90s. It’s certainly worthier than its non-existent legacy suggests.

Fighter pilot Chris Burnett (Owen Wilson) has decided to bring his time in the military to a close, frustrated by the lack of action he’s been receiving. This news isn’t well received by Admiral Leslie Reigart (Gene Hackman), a superior who views Chris’s choice as a supreme waste of talent. In a fit of bitterness Reigart assigns Chris and his co-pilot Stackhouse (Gabriel Macht) to the undesirable Christmas Eve shift, the pair forced to tool up and perform some photographic recon over Bosnia. After their camera snaps some elicit sights when moving over a supposed no fly zone, the duo are shot done by a mob of angered Serbs. Stackhouse is promptly executed, with Burnett forced to go on the run, too deep in enemy territory for a simple retrieval. As a result he is informed that he must reach a safe zone for extraction, a guilt ridden Reigart spearheading the mission. However the Serbs aren’t willing to let Burnett escape so easily, an assassin (Vladimir Maskov) being sent to dispatch the stranded soldier, and ensure that he never makes it back home.

Owen Wilson is surprisingly well cast in “Behind Enemy Lines”, the laid-back comic convincing nicely as an isolated man on the run. Wilson’s inherent likability serves wonders in keeping the audience onboard with Burnett’s struggle, but the performer also delves deep into his own dramatic pockets and produces some startlingly astute goods. Wilson captures the character’s desperation perfectly, and creates an undertone of simmering regret concerning his deceased colleague. There’s an edge to his portrayal that viewers won’t expect, and it ultimately makes me a little upset that Wilson hasn’t attacked more material akin to this over the last decade. Gene Hackman is predictably dependable as Reigart, forging a decent vocal relationship with Wilson over the course of the movie. He’s hardly stretching himself, but Hackman still brings a subtle hint of remorse and enough humanity to make the role work. The villains are all painted in a somewhat faceless fashion, although Vladimir Maskov still oozes threat as the ghost like killer tailing Burnett through the frosty wilderness.

The musical score courtesy of Don Davis is intrusive at times, but during other moments it sustains a level of necessary pomp and vigour. “Behind Enemy Lines” certainly isn’t a subtle picture in its design, but then again John Moore could never be accused of being a subtle filmmaker. The project is positively brimming with fast cuts and aggressive action, the director deploying his speedy editing techniques and deft touch for onscreen chaos very effectively. Moore is undoubtedly a talented hired hand, his eye for slick production design and atmospheric visuals virtually faultless. Moore’s technical skill is complimented by a screenplay with more heart than most, the writers bringing a believable soul to the characters and a sense of stern seriousness concerning the abominable genocides seen onscreen. “Behind Enemy Lines” may be chocked with multiplex thrills and spills, but during its quieter and more tentative moments it acts as an oddly acceptable reflection on the darker side of war.

At 106 minutes “Behind Enemy Lines” is agreeably paced, finding a rather naturalistic route to its overblown climax. The action sequences are all accomplished, one in particular involving multiple tripwires providing as much nail biting tension as it does fire and debris. The aforementioned conclusion is over the top in every conceivable fashion, abandoning logic in favour of some good old fashioned American heroics and booming musical overtones. At this point “Behind Enemy Lines” perhaps becomes a little tough to swallow, especially for those dubious about the real world accuracy of the scene in question.

I have more time for this picture than most, but that’s simply because it’s an underrated and cruelly disregarded flick. The denouement may leave a slightly sour taste in the mouth, but until that juncture “Behind Enemy Lines” is a pretty darn gratifying slice of action cinema. It’s certainly worth tracking down for home entertainment consumption, now nearly 10-years after the fact.

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2010

13 December 2010

Movie Review: Hot Tub Time Machine

0 comments


C+

Hot Tub Time Machine
2010, 90mins, 15
Director: Steve Pink
Writer (s): John Morris, Sean Anders, Josh Heald
Cast includes: John Cusack, Rob Corddry, Clark Duke, Craig Robinson, Chevy Chase, Crispin Glover, Lizzy Caplan, Diora Baird
UK Release Date: 7th May 2010

With a title like “Hot Tub Time Machine” and a cast stacked with notable comedians, audiences won’t have to ponder too hard concerning the content and tone of this motion picture. Sadly the film’s name is its most memorable asset, the actual movie amounting to little more than a by the numbers Hollywood farce. It’s a passable way to kill 90 minutes, but “Hot Tub Time Machine” lacks the comedic spark or invention which might have otherwise elevated it to the same chuckle filled highs as recent fare like “The Hangover”. On the whole it’s just a bit underwhelming.

After Lou (Rob Corddry) attempts to commit suicide, he and his equally depressed buddies Adam (John Cusack) and Nick (Craig Robinson) decide to revisit a cherished ski resort from their past. With Adam’s misfit nephew Jacob (Clark Duke) also along for the ride, the crew are saddened to find the partying central of the eighties now a dead and unappealing destination. In order to spice things up the guys grab some booze and make for the hot tub, unaware that the amenity in question is also a time machine. Waking up the morning after, they find themselves in 1986, an era of casual sex, cheerful misadventure and enthusiastic dreaming. A cryptic mechanic (Chevy Chase) is on hand to suggest methods the boys might use in order to return to the future, but with the exception of a nervous Jacob, none of the group seem particularly keen to get back.

The cast are generally commendable in “Hot Tub Time Machine”, what disappoints is the screenplay. Penned by John Morris, Sean Anders (the duo behind 2008’s “Sex Drive”) and Josh Heald, the script has a habit of going for the easy gag, resulting in a tirade of overly familiar time travel humour. Dealing with a young and horny maternal figure? Wasn’t that “Back to The Future”? Deploying knowledge of future sporting events to get rich? Hey, that’s “Back to the Future: Part 2”! The writers probably excused these obvious narrative plunders as cute references, but in my eyes they’re just proof that Anders, Morris and Heald have their comic sensibility set on autopilot. In fairness the movie isn’t completely without laughs, but one gets the feeling all the successful jokes are the improvisational work of the actors, because beyond its title, the script evidenced here has no real flair at all.

The leading quartet is impressive, even if they all very much stick within their comfort zones. Cusack has an easy charm and keeps Adam likable, even without stretching himself. Robinson and Duke both use their trademark sarcasm nicely, beefing up the film’s otherwise dubious laugh quota. The standout however is Rob Corddry, parading around the movie with energy, wit and even a little pathos. His rampaging performance is at the heart of many of this picture’s finest moments, signifying that the actor is ready to transition from amusing supporting player to a leading man slot ASAP. Chevy Chase and Crispin Glover add a neat slice of nostalgic value as goofy background noise, whilst the ever sexy Diora Baird pops up in a small and uncredited turn. If “Hot Tub Time Machine” does anything right, it’s providing viewers with a little helping of Diora. On the other hand the project monumentally wastes the talented Lizzy Caplan (in a truly nothing role), so maybe that evens things out?

Director Steve Pink handles things competently, although places too much emphasis on easy sight gags from time to time. “Hot Tub Time Machine” is rife with vomit, faeces and boobs, the film determined to keep its comedic vibe pitched at the crudest note possible. The film earns its R-rating with aplomb, Pink clearly trying to compensate for the soggy screenplay with as much edgy and adult content as he can. It almost sort of works, “Hot Tub Time Machine” packing the sort of nostalgic gross out factor that dominated silly cinema twenty years ago, the picture sharing a duel obsession with female anatomy and penis based tomfoolery. Of course some of these moments misfire, but in a way I was kind of glad to see them in a film so fixated with eighties culture.

The film attempts to pour in the themes of friendship, the curses of adulthood and some other emotional guff to try and add a little depth to proceedings, but none of these facets really resonate. “Hot Tub Time Machine” actually strives for poignancy in a few sequences, something that sort of surprises, and ultimately fails. Pink and the writers haven’t the skill to lead the movie down such life affirming paths with any real heart or maturity. “Hot Tub Time Machine” just doesn’t offer much in the way of decoding the human condition, and it might have been better if it hadn’t tried to do so at all.

I don’t want to sound like I’m shitting all over “Hot Tub Time Machine”, and if I do it’s only because it’s a movie which should have been better. It packs a modest portion of entertainment value, but is scuppered by pedestrian writing and a slightly unhealthy desire to provide some sort of nuanced message concerning the tribulations of growing up. If the picture had been a little more reverent to the spectacularly ridiculous title, it’d be a funnier and more rewarding watch. As it stands “Hot Tub Time Machine” occupies the genre middle ground, a fact that automatically damns it to be completely forgotten by this time next year.

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2010

12 December 2010

DVD Verdict Review: Vampires Suck

0 comments


D-

Review link:
http://www.dvdverdict.com/reviews/vampiressuck.php

DVD Verdict Review: The Twilight Saga: Eclipse

0 comments


B-

Review Link:
http://www.dvdverdict.com/reviews/twilighteclipse.php

4 December 2010

Movie Review: Killers

0 comments


D

Killers
2010, 93mins, 12
Director: Robert Luketic
Writer (s): Bob DeRosa, Ted Griffin
Cast includes: Katherine Heigl, Ashton Kutcher, Tom Selleck, Catherine O'Hara, Rob Riggle, Martin Mull
UK Release Date: 16th June 2010

In 2007 Katherine Heigl showcased herself wonderfully in the splendid “Knocked Up”, a film that strongly indicated the actress was headed for great things. Three years on and all we now know is that time can be a cruel mistress. After a series of abominable efforts (2008’s “27 Dresses” and 2009’s “The Ugly Truth” being the most notable) Heigl returns with “Killers”, a forcibly unfunny action comedy. Teamed with the consistently unimpressive Ashton Kutcher, Heigl is left floundering amidst a sea of poor writing and dull storytelling. “Killers” receives a welcome sprinkling of black humour in its last act, but ultimately that’s not enough to excuse the opening 70 minutes of undiluted drabness.

A depressed and lonely singleton, Jen (Katherine Heigl) meets the man of her dreams whilst holidaying in France with her parents. He’s called Spencer (Ashton Kutcher), and he also happens to be charming, handsome and debonair. The two fall in love (ridiculously) quickly, returning home to suburban America to become man and wife. Fast forward three years. The pair are happy but some of the excitement has fizzled out of their relationship, something quickly rectified as Spencer’s secretive past comes back to haunt them. It transpires that he’s an ex-assassin for the CIA, and now somebody wants him dead. As a result the wedded pair is forced to try and solve who is behind the murderous attempts on his life, all the while trying to evade the killers sent out to terminate him.

The first 30 minutes of “Killers” are ludicrously undercooked, after displaying a single tepid date the movie asks the audience to believe the leading characters are now wildly obsessed with each other. Yeah right. Not only does the film do an awful job of constructing a viable central romance, it’s also hindered by the fact Kutcher and Heigl have absolutely no chemistry together. These faults mix to create deadly results, most notably a couple of leading characters who audiences won’t give a damn about. Consequently the picture packs absolutely no tension during the spottily executed action set-pieces, and the banal goofball gags don’t work because neither figure is appealing. Talk about shooting yourself in the foot.

“Killers” is directed by hack du jour Robert Luketic, the man behind last year’s Heigl misfire “The Ugly Truth” (which in fairness was probably worse than “Killers”). The action sequences aren’t helmed with any flair or spirit, instead Luketic opts for the same vanilla beats that plagued other recent genre effort “The Bounty Hunter”. I probably preferred this film slightly to that one, but only because the attempts at comedy are a little more obvious in “Killers”, even if they’re no more successful. The laugh rate is phenomenally low here, as Heigl shrieks her way around the picture in the most egregious fashion possible, and the screenplay consistently plonks for lowest common denominator chuckles. In the final 15 minutes the movie takes an interesting detour into darker and wittier comic realms, but ultimately it’s far too little far too late. The last act might provide some added entertainment value, but it can’t compensate for the dreary bilge which precedes it.

Kutcher and Heigl aren’t given much to work with, but both thespians look unbothered by the laziness of what’s laid out before them. Content to swing it for a quick paycheque both performers tread through the production with no urgency or devotion, a trait shared by several of their co-stars. Tom Selleck and Catherine O’Hara are forgettable as Jen’s overbearing parents, whilst a host of so called comedic actors pop up from time to time trying to extract some joy from this mirthless debacle. “Killers” wasn’t a big hitter at the box-office during summer 2010, and frankly after watching it I’m not surprised. It’s a crass and uninspired example of the Hollywood system, a calculated waste of celluloid more interested in wringing out wallets than belly laughs.

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2010

3 December 2010

Movie Review: Easy A

0 comments


B
Easy A
2010, 92mins, 15
Director: Will Gluck
Writer: Bert V. Royal
Cast includes: Emma Stone, Amanda Bynes, Penn Badgley, Lisa Kudrow, Thomas Haden Church, Stanley Tucci, Patricia Clarkson
UK Release Date: 22nd October 2010
“Easy A” is an unusually smart teen comedy, the film deciphering high school culture in an intriguing and witty fashion. It also boasts a delightful leading performance from Emma Stone, she of “Superbad” and “Ghosts of Girlfriends Past” fame. However crippling proceedings somewhat is an intensely jumbled narrative, one filled with far too many subplots and an unnecessary infusion of supporting characters. “Easy A” is an entertaining way to spend an hour and a half, but a lack of screenwriting discipline renders the final product good rather than great.

After claiming to have lost her virginity to an imaginary college student, Olive (Emma Stone) finds her reputation flipped from good gal to super slut in a matter of days. Olive takes to her fresh persona with surprising gusto, appreciating the newfound attention from her peers. In order to maintain the skanky illusion, Olive decides to help some of her less socially fortunate male classmates, by allowing them to claim they’ve slept with her. However the lies catch up fast, as self professed hardcore Christian Marianne (Amanda Bynes) decides to lead a student uprising against what she perceives as whorish behaviour, an event that leaves Olive isolated, and many others hurt by her questionable actions.

Emma Stone is magnificent in “Easy A”, the actress exhibiting a raw likability and sly comedic touch that only the most gifted performers can harness. Despite some of the character’s more suspect decisions the audience remains warm toward Olive for the movie’s duration, a fact completely indebted to Stone’s outstandingly charismatic turn. “Easy A” doesn’t paint Olive as an ugly duckling at any point, instead depicting her more as another fish in an overstuffed pond. This marks a refreshing change of pace from the genre norm, because nobody as pretty and communicative as Stone would ever end up at the bottom of a high school food chain. Instead the film focuses on her desire to be viewed as more than just background noise amongst the other kids.

The supporting players are all quite enjoyable, but they’re far too numerous. The key participants are Bynes’ bible bashing Marianne (good for a few laughs but disappointingly underdeveloped), Thomas Haden Church’s offbeat but cool teacher (quietly effective), his shrill and oddly complex guidance counsellor wife (solidly portrayed by Lisa Kudrow) and a one dimensional but amply charming love interest for Olive in Penn Badgley. All of these folks get at least a handful of minutes to leave their mark on the picture, but stacks of others just flutter in and out without so much as a whimper. Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson do their best as Olive’s quirky and affectionate parents, whilst Malcolm McDowell gets at least one uproarious line as the school’s principal. However hoards of fellow youngsters sift in and out of the film with no consistency or depth, leaving a host of familiar faces with little of any worth to do.

The movie tells the story through Olive’s reminiscences of her ordeal, screenwriter Bert V. Royal avoiding the conventional narrative templates that tend to haunt the genre. “Easy A” is definitely more amusing than your average Hollywood comedy, the film peppered with some terrifically insightful and clever verbal jousting. Of course there are some less ambitious gags on hand as well, but even these broader moments have a habit of passing muster on the back of Stone’s cheerful performance. The problem with the script happens to be that it packs far too much in, “Easy A” would have benefitted from a leaner running time. Both Royal and director Will Gluck must shoulder the blame on this one, tighter writing and a more discriminating touch in the editing process would have improved the picture equally. The movie fires off an excessive number of unwarranted story arcs, several of which are simply not given a satisfactory denouement.

“Easy A” dissects some of the more uncomfortable habits that pollute the high school mindset; a great sequence following a well staged bout of fake intercourse examines the different gender perceptions of casual sex rather intelligently. The crowd accepts the male contingent as a stud, but the girl is left to endure judgemental stares and an invisible sign reading floozy scrawled above her head. Mature little touches like this render “Easy A” more valuable than most of its genre counterparts.

Will Gluck may oversee the plotting in a rather clunky fashion, but he has a sharp eye for comic mischief and photographs the film quite attractively. “Easy A” is a well intentioned and fairly rewarding watch, which despite its structural flaws still provides a hearty dose of fun. I doubt it will have the same shelf life as “Mean Girls, “Heathers” or the various John Hughes directed classics it references, but “Easy A” warrants a credible recommendation none the less.

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2010

30 November 2010

DVD Verdict Review: Cyrus

0 comments


B+

Review Link:
http://www.dvdverdict.com/reviews/cyrus.php

Movie Review: Legion

0 comments


B-

Legion
2010, 100mins, 15
Director: Scott Stewart
Writer (s): Peter Schink, Scott Stewart
Cast includes: Paul Bettany, Adrianne Palicki, Lucas Black, Kevin Durand, Dennis Quaid
UK Release Date: 5th March 2010

Scott Stewart’s “Legion” is a shockingly palatable filmic experience, especially given the heated critical hatred the movie inspired earlier this year. The movie was trashed by reviewers across the globe, and its box-office totals weren’t exactly jaw dropping. Still, despite this mire of pessimism, “Legion” still offers enough silly thrills to garner a moderate recommendation. It’s pure Friday night rental fodder, but with a couple of beers and a tolerance for awful dialogue, it amounts to an acceptably executed 100 minute diversion.

God has lost his patience with humanity, the race having exhausted any possibility for redemption in their creator’s eyes. As a result a swarm of death and destruction is unleashed upon the planet, with special attention being directed towards a pregnant waitress named Charlie (Adrianne Palicki). Her unborn child remains the only hope for mankind’s survival, and as a result it has been made the most important target of the forthcoming apocalypse. As a demonic throng attacks the remote diner in which Charlie works, the archangel Michael (Paul Bettany) arrives, having defied his master’s orders, his intentions to save Charlie and the baby. As the other inhabitants of the diner desperately attempt to understand what’s going on, Michael prepares for outright warfare, fortifying the building and arming the residents with high powered weaponry to combat the evil forces trying to enter. Michael suspects the key is holding out until Charlie can give birth, but with each passing hour the bloodshed increases and their resistance looks more likely to snap.

“Legion” marks Stewart’s directorial debut, his previous line of work having been in the world of visual effects. As a result it isn’t surprising that “Legion” is at least a polished looking affair, the film boasting some atmospheric cinematography and ample FX work. The film’s colour scheme is rather variable, but Stewart consistently keeps the mood pitched in the realm of despair, oscillating between vacant sun baked locations and foreboding darkness. The film does a good job of creating an aura of isolation, concocting a believably distant tone for the action to unfold within. Society feels far detached from the hell raising shenanigans we see onscreen, allowing “Legion” to cultivate a rather naturalistic tension. At no point do we feel that help is on the way for the central characters.

The picture attempts to mould together action and horror, the overall product a certifiably mixed bag. There are moments of Zombie siege that hark back nicely to the works of Romero, these sequences benefiting from genuine suspense and some restrained yet taut action beats. The numerous minions of death featured in the film are a rather unsettling bunch, special mention going to Jeanette Miller as an elderly woman with a penchant for bloody steak and walking on the ceiling. Stewart does a good job of displaying visceral ferocity in the earlier sections, but fails to maintain the momentum when the archangel Gabriel (Kevin Durand) enters the mix during the movie’s third act. Conceived as an obvious opposite to Bettany’s honourable Michael, Gabriel just isn’t that intimidating due to Durand’s limp performance. The final act of “Legion” is definitely the least successful; the filmmakers overusing the bland nemesis and resorting to a series of hazily edited hand to hand combat moments. “Legion” works far better when it’s the protagonists holed up in the diner, desperately sniping at all manner of ghouls and spirits.

The religious undercurrents are slapped on a little too obviously at times, although there are cool instances such as a crucifix shaped explosion to enjoy. The story is pretty thin, and the dialogue hysterically bad, but “Legion” does boast a nice line in visual invention, scoring moments of pure B-movie bliss as God attempts to unleash chaos against the main characters. A scene in which a victim is crucified upside down and covered with pulsating skin ulcers is commendably gross, equally is the moment in which a car is infested by thousands of ravenous locusts. Stewart does a grand job of making “Legion” interesting for the eyes, even if at times it’s insufferable for the ears.

Bettany is a veritable badass as Michael, everything from his arrival at the diner to his departure at the film’s climax reeking of smouldering cool. The British actor favours a less is more approach with the hero, and the results are terrific fun. The supporting players aren’t as appealing, most of them drawn as obvious screenwriting stereotypes. Palicki and Dennis Quaid (playing the owner of the diner) are agreeable enough, but Lucas Black (portraying Quaid’s son and a sickeningly simpleminded love interest for Palicki) is dreadful, failing completely to connect with the audience during his numerous scenes.

Ultimately “Legion” is a cheesy and intensely schlocky product, with a final shot as hackneyed as any in Hollywood. However it coasts along at a decent clip and provides oodles of ridiculous entertainment, all wrapped up in a rather upmarket aesthetic. As a result it’s worth a look one of these days, and whenever you do see it, cheerful giggles are sure to follow.

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2010

25 November 2010

Movie Review: Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows: Part 1

1 comments


A-

Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows: Part 1
2010, 146mins, 12
Director: David Yates
Writer: Steve Kloves
Cast includes: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Ralph Fiennes, Rhys Ifans, Bill Nighy, David Thewlis
UK Release Date: 19th November 2010

"Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows : Part 1” is a tremendous opening half to the climactic stages of this mighty saga, offering a hugely satisfactory blockbusting watch. Following on from last year’s equally impressive “The Half Blood Prince”, “Deathly Hallows: Part 1” is a moody and eerily unsettling piece of cinema, wonderfully depicting the quiet before what is sure to be a frightening storm. Taking the Potter saga in a direction of almost unrelenting darkness, filmmaker David Yates has cooked up both a visual and dramatic treat here, all nicely topped off by three career best performances from the young leads.

Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) is at the peak of his powers, having successfully infiltrated the high offices of the wizarding world and dispatching anybody foolish enough to stand in his way. After a daring rescue mission, Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) is reunited with old friends and allies, and future plans are forged in order to halt Voldemort’s wicked influence engulfing their lives. In a bid to find and destroy the remaining Horcruxes, Harry, Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint) decide to go on the run, heading into deep forests and icy glades to avoid the minions of evil discovering them. If obliterated the Horcruxes will drain all of Voldemort’s power, but they’re almost impossible to find and harder yet to destroy. Using a select few tools left to them in the deceased Dumbledore’s will, the band of friends fire headfirst into their mission, but external dangers and personal tensions are never far behind.

“Deathly Hallows: Part 1” removes the action completely from Hogwarts; this is the first film in the Potter cycle to be left without the comfortable narrative template of an academic calendar. Instead the picture opts for a much more chaotic and horrific tone, director David Yates displaying perfectly a world tarnished by nefarious deeds and an ominous future. Without the comforting silhouette of Dumbledore, this marks the first movie in which are heroes are placed decidedly on the back foot, with the consistently threatening Voldemort now having taken charge. Ralph Fiennes once again steps nicely into the role of the nastiest wizard in town, bringing genuine malice and cold heartedness to his performance. In many ways thanks to these unfortunate storytelling circumstances and Fiennes’s cunningly disturbing turn, “Deathly Hallows: Part 1” almost plays like a slow burning horror effort with chase elements. It’s a welcome treat and a delightful change of pace for those who like their fantasy a little more macabre.

Radcliffe, Watson and Grint all soar to new heights here, finally banishing the doubts that have tormented them since debuting as their respective characters in 2001. Each actor is able to perfectly articulate the angst of adulthood (John Hughes would be proud), and more now than ever the cracks in their relationships are utilized as prime dramatic fodder. As a group of best friends they make for a believably warm trio, but there are outbursts of anger and friction to be enjoyed here also. The uncertain romantic dynamic that has teetered around the Ron/Hermione relationship for several films finally comes full circle, whilst scenes of heated debate between Radcliffe and Grint feel more organic than they have in any past production. However in many ways it’s Watson who deserves the grandest backslap of all, the 20 year old actress bringing a subtle distress and melancholy to her part which smacks of true artistic maturity.

This being a Harry Potter picture an assortment of Britain’s best and brightest are on hand to fill out the supporting roles, all the regulars faring pretty well. New additions include Bill Nighy (small part, sweet performance) and Rhys Ifans (commendably batty), both thespians slotting comfortably into the saga’s already legendary acting hall of fame.

Visually the film is glorious, Yates painting the film in shades of deep grey and morose white, allowing a feeling of despair and fear to dominate the photographical palette. The production design is dependably high end, and the visual effects are virtually flawless throughout. “Deathly Hallows: Part 1” begins with a phenomenal slice of action; a brilliantly constructed broomstick chase over the streets of London. The scene is steadily shot and very exciting, Yates using crackerjack tension and state of the art FX knowhow to create moments of tantalizing popcorn fun. The middle section of the movie is a far more meditative experience, as the screenplay becomes intensely focused on the social isolation and fixation with death that the central figures are left to endure. Of all the movies so far “Deathly Hallows: Part 1” is the most emotionally complex and insightful, the screenplay courtesy of Steve Kloves engaging themes that most big budget fare wouldn’t touch with a bargepole.

For a family flick “Deathly Hallows: Part 1” is rather aggressive, the movie not allergic to showing a little graphic violence. Yates has no trouble fishing up the odd gory shot, and there are moments of bone crunching torture here that will legitimately scare the under 12 crowd. It’s a brave and rewarding move, allowing the audience to comprehend the extent of the jeopardy the good guys are in. This being only one half of the final chapter (the next film arrives summer 2011) the story is left unfinished, but the moment of departure isn’t a cheery one. “Deathly Hallows: Part 1” concludes at a moment of exhilarating promise, but things certainly aren’t looking up for Harry and company.

At 146 minutes in length the project is a hefty event, but the running time glides by with compelling ease. “Deathly Hallows: Part 1” feels like a standard 90 minute affair, and if that isn’t an editorial marvel I don’t know what is. Of course much of this picture’s relevance and long-term entertainment value depends on a high quality payoff come next year, but for now this is a hugely encouraging sign of things to come.

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2010

22 November 2010

Movie Review: The Bounty Hunter

2 comments



F

The Bounty Hunter
2010, 110mins, 12
Director: Andy Tennant
Writer: Sarah Thorp
Cast includes: Jennifer Aniston, Gerard Butler, Jason Sudeikis, Jeff Garlin, Christine Baranski, Peter Greene
UK Release Date: 17th March 2010

“The Bounty Hunter” is a foul motion picture, and yet another in a long line of projects to waste the talents of Jennifer Aniston. Since her heyday as Rachel in “Friends “Aniston has impressed with her effortless charm, sex appeal and surprisingly deft comic touch. “The Bounty Hunter” is another numbskull Rom-Com that refuses to give the actress anything interesting to do, instead abandoning her amidst a mire of dreadful jokes and weak plotting. However her male co-star Gerard Butler is exactly the sort of performer who should occupy this sort of DOA comedy, the Scotsman once again proving why he’s one of the worst leading men currently populating mainstream Hollywood.

Nicole (Jennifer Aniston) is a committed and dedicated journalist, and one with a hot tip concerning a recent and highly suspicious suicide. In order to get more firsthand information for her article, Nicole skips a court appearance regarding a minor misdemeanour, and a warrant is quickly established for her arrest. Taking up the task of capturing her is bounty hunter Milo (Gerard Butler), who also has the distinguishing feature of being Nicole’s ex-husband. It doesn’t take Milo long before he catches up with Nicole, quickly detaining his target with plans to take her directly to jail. However Nicole’s journalistic prodding quickly interrupts matters, revealing her hunches to be correct as goons and gangsters emerge from the woodwork in an attempt to terminate her. As a result Milo is forced to help her investigate the story, which in turn ignites a spark within their flailing relationship.

Warning signs should flash as soon as director Any Tennant’s name appears in the credits of any movie, the man could helm a picture providing the formula for money trees or the cure for cancer, and yet it would almost certainly still be worthless. Tennant has guided recent stinkers like “Hitch” and “Fool’s Gold”, yet somehow “The Bounty Hunter” tops them all in terms of sheer awfulness. The film has no energy or invention, Tennant piecing together the production as unimaginatively as possible. “The Bounty Hunter” fancies itself as an action comedy, but the movie fails notably in both arenas. It’s hardly a surprise that the film isn’t funny, after all Tennant has proved several times that he has absolutely no aptitude for comic timing, but he fudges the action just as badly. Any sequence in which a gun is brandished or a car chase ensues is miserably pedestrian, Tennant having seemingly learnt his trade from a copy of “generic filmmaking for dummies”. His direction is so lifeless and dull that no amount of bullets or fist fights can save the wretched enterprise, especially when they’re filmed with so little panache or flair.

The central relationship is poorly sketched out by a dismal screenplay, and the sad sack chemistry between Aniston and Butler doesn’t help either. Both actors are physically attractive, but never do they manage to emit any heat or sexiness, instead depicting their dynamic as one rife with petty squabbles and nasty bickering. Aniston clearly thinks her natural likability will cover up any cracks surrounding her individual performance (and to be fair it kind of does), but Butler is just as insufferable as ever. The actor storms around the picture in the most idiotic of fashions, obnoxiously spouting lame gags and generally just embracing his distasteful moronic persona too heartily. Butler also fluffs every dramatic moment the movie attempts to spin, granted the script sucks so badly that these scenes probably wouldn’t have worked anyway, but the actor’s boorish and shallow performance is what undercuts these instances from the outset.

The crime solving mystery that’s meant to pull the whole thing together is ridiculously bland, a sin that might have been forgivable if the jokes were any good, but they’re not. The supporting cast comprises of broad and unoriginal work from otherwise talented folks, Jeff Garlin (underused), Christine Baranski (overly familiar) and SNL comedian Jason Sudeikis (tolerable but forgettable) just some of the casualties this atrocity boasts.

“The Bounty Hunter” is a completely unrewarding watch, and a pitch perfect example of how drab and uninspired contemporary Rom-Coms have become. The film fails to stir a single titter, the action is beyond crappy and the central relationship has all the sass and electricity of a month old used condom. Jennifer Aniston is worth better material than this, and Gerard Butler should stop testing the world’s patience and just give up the acting game altogether. After all, careers have died on the back of better things than “The Bounty Hunter”. Much better things.

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2010

17 November 2010

DVD Verdict Review: Winter's Bone

0 comments


B

Review Link:
http://www.dvdverdict.com/reviews/wintersbonebluray.php

DVD Verdict Review: Three and Out

0 comments


D-

Review Link:
http://www.dvdverdict.com/reviews/threeandout.php

10 November 2010

Retro Review: Bruce Almighty (2003)

0 comments


B-

Bruce Almighty
2003, 101mins, PG-13
Director: Tom Shadyac
Writer (s): Steve Koren, Mark O'Keefe, Steve Oedekerk
Cast includes: Jim Carrey, Jennifer Aniston, Steve Carell, Philip Baker Hall, Morgan Freeman

UK Release Date: 27th June 2003

Is “Bruce Almighty” the best Jim Carrey film ever? I’ll answer that with a resounding no. The manic comic has been responsible for some of the funniest films of the last 20 years (“Ace Ventura Pet Detective”, “Liar Liar”), and has handed in some of the sharpest dramatic turns of any recent Hollywood superstar (“The Truman Show”, “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”), so 2003’s uneven “Bruce Almighty” doesn’t exactly rank as one of his most memorable. Taking a high concept premise (not an unusual occurrence in Carrey’s career), “Almighty” imagines a world in which God endows his power on a mere mortal, and when said mortal is Jim Carrey you know it’s going to be a stupendously silly time.

Bruce Nolan (Jim Carrey) is a struggling reporter, constantly handed fluff pieces whilst other TV staff are granted the material which wins you Pulitzer prizes. After a particularly hideous day sees Bruce fired, the put upon journalist blames God for his misfortune, thus accidently conjuring up a meeting with the Almighty (Morgan Freeman). God gives Bruce his divine abilities temporarily, allowing Bruce to see the strains that being the ultimate creator can produce. However the newly empowered man simply goes about bettering his own life, something that eventually puts a strain on his girlfriend Grace (Jennifer Aniston), and leaves Bruce with a major headache as the prayers of the world go unanswered.

“Bruce Almighty” is two thirds of a really enjoyable comedy, the final act being the disappointing section that lets the entire enterprise down. Director Tom Shadyac (who oversaw the first Ace Ventura flick and “Liar Liar”) keeps a solid energy throughout, but bungles the climax in a heap of sentimentality and schmaltz. The filmmaker has been guilty of overindulging his tearjerker tendencies in the past, 1998’s vile “Patch Adams” being the key example, but at least with that movie there was nothing to ruin. “Patch Adams” was awful from start to finish; “Bruce Almighty” on the other hand has solidly crafted opening and middle sections to undermine.

Carrey balances his inspired lunacy nicely with some lower key dramatic stuff, forcing the movie to raise its game simply through his momentous presence. The relationship with Jennifer Aniston is so-so, the two performers connecting effectively, but struggling to overcome an underwritten romantic dynamic. Aniston is her usual likeable self, and for most of the picture Carrey has no trouble sourcing giggles and smirks from the central concept. His trademark enthusiasm is evident from the first frame and some of the facial gymnastics and impressions he deploys hark back delightfully to the brilliance of Ace Ventura. As God Freeman is exceptionally well cast (his reprisal of the role would later be one of only few bright spots in this film’s unnecessary and Carrey-less sequel “Evan Almighty”), bringing a pathos and wisdom to his depiction of the ultimate being that adds a touch of class to proceedings. Finally a pre-stardom Steve Carell also impresses, playing a snarky newsroom competitor. A sequence involving Carell and some choice teleprompter interference from Carrey is amongst the best this feature has to offer, and showcases just how physically astute and creative a performer Carell can be.

“Bruce Almighty” should have no trouble keeping punters entertained for the majority of its duration, the screenplay combining scatological and irreverent sensibilities with the fertile premise to neat effect. Not every gag works, and some are simply too easy, but on the whole this is a picture primed with belly laughs. Well until the final 25 minutes that is. As Shadyac starts to ply his thick coat of saccharine moralizing on the product he begins to choke its comedic pulse, loosing focus on the religious lampooning, instead becoming preoccupied with the mundane relationship between Carrey and Aniston. The film hits its nadir right at the end, overfilling its sappy glass with sickly sweet moments including a teary and praying Grace, or indeed the very last sequence which overcompensates frantically with a tone of nauseatingly artificial cheer. Before these things start to dominate, “Bruce Almighty” is an excellent studio comedy, but after sitting through them it’s hard to see the film as anything more than a serviceable outing for its talented lead.

It doesn’t feel like seven years since this film’s release, “Bruce Almighty” sparked a healthy box-office take back in the summer of 2003. Some might argue that this was the last live action Carrey picture to deliver truly blockbusting numbers, a combination of odder career choices (“The Number 27”, this year’s fabulous “I Love you Phillip Morris”) and weaker comedies (2005’s mediocre “Fun with Dick and Jane” being a good example) having dimmed the thespian’s financial pulling power. The era of the movie star is now in decline, meaning that Carrey might be remembered alongside the likes of George Clooney, Julia Roberts and Will Smith as the last of this dying breed. “Bruce Almighty” probably won’t be heralded as one of his calling cards in the future, but on the whole it’s a flawed yet moderately diverting effort.

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2010


7 November 2010

Movie Review: Due Date

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B-

Due Date
2010, 100mins, 15
Director: Todd Phillips
Writer (s): Alan R. Cohen, Alan Freedland, Todd Phillips, Adam Sztykiel
Cast includes: Robert Downey Jr., Zach Galifianakis, Michelle Monaghan, Jamie Foxx, Danny McBride, Juliette Lewis
UK Release Date: 5th November 2010

Following last year’s hysterical smash hit “The Hangover”, director Todd Phillips has opted to make his follow-up “Due Date” a road trip picture. Phillips has covered such bases before (with 2000’s “Road Trip no less), but with Robert Downey Jr. and breakout star Zach Galifianakis onboard, “Due Date” seemed to be promising a whole lot more than that project ever could. Sadly the picture can’t match the euphoric heights of “The Hangover”, clinging to a much less original plotline and spinning some surprisingly obvious gags. “Due Date” is probably best described as an agreeable crowd-pleaser, it gets what it needs to do done (and with famous faces), but provides little extra to further sate fans of rambunctious comedy.

With the birth of his firstborn fast approaching, Peter (Robert Downey Jr.) has a lot to be nervous about. In a bid to make it home in time for the big event, Peter meets Ethan (Zach Galifianakis) an imbecilic wannabe actor whose stupidity gets the pair arrested at the airport. With both men being refused flight privileges, the duo are forced to team up (alongside Ethan’s dog Sunny), and reach Los Angeles to achieve their various goals. Pete simply wants to be on hand when his wife (Michelle Monaghan) delivers their child, whilst Ethan has Hollywood aspirations and a desire to see his cremated father buried at an American landmark. Each man immediately takes a dislike to the other, and of course as a result, crazy shenanigans ensue.

“Due Date” doesn’t quite match the sum of its parts, it’s a perfectly affable feature, but hardly the laugh riot promotional materials promised. Both Downey Jr. and Galifianakis have been funnier than they are here in the past, and the pair’s dynamic is serviceable rather than electric. The character of Peter is perhaps written too darkly in parts, but the supremely likable Downey renders him a tolerable screen presence for the film’s duration. Galifianakis’s performance is on the other hand virtually indistinguishable from his weirdo groove in “The Hangover”, it’s still modestly amusing, but one fears this is the last time such a similar turn will be tolerated from the comic. Together the pair generates the perfunctory comedy sparks, deploying witty barbs and obscene gestures to give the onscreen chemistry a believably hostile tone. It’s also worth noting that both characters are watchable for the sake of giggles, but neither possesses particularly warm or attractive personalities. As a result whilst “Due Date” does grind out some cheerful laughter, it rarely connects on an emotional note of any depth. After all, in “The Hangover” we genuinely wanted the protagonists to succeed on their mission; here the central journey is far less engaging.

The theme of paternity runs through the picture, as Peter prepares to become a dad and Ethan struggles with the passing of his own father. At times this aspect of the film almost succeeds (a surprisingly affecting moment were Galifianakis uses an acting demonstration to display the raw pain he feels over his dad’s death is a highlight), but then comes a sequence in which Downey punches a child. This sort of imbalance between attempted emotional conviction and mean spirited slapstick doesn’t sit too comfortably within the overall product, again hollowing out any hopes “Due Date” has of becoming a soulful experience.

The movie does supply some pretty decent jokes, and the dialogue is sharply penned throughout. At times Phillips definitely opts for the easy gag (dog masturbation, topless fat guy etc...), but for the most part “Due Date” provides a consistent stream of amicable humour. The production isn’t afraid to shoot a little edgier than most studio comedies (a subplot involving adultery evidences this nicely), and on these grounds audiences will likely be thankful. The central narrative template may not be particularly memorable, but “Due Date” does at least offer a handful of comically motivated scenes that are. Phillips also deserves kudos for doing such technically competent work on the picture, it’s both professionally edited and skilfully photographed. “Due Date” deserves a shout out also for a well staged car crash sequence, a moment that the director captures as energetically and effectively as most contemporary blockbusting filmmakers.

The supporting cast is filled out by vibrant performers, some are entertaining (Danny McBride, Juliette Lewis) others just aren’t given enough to do (Michelle Monaghan, Jamie Foxx). “Due Date” is a pleasant diversion for its reasonable 100 minute runtime; however audience members are unlikely to cherish the picture as visibly as they did its helmer’s last directorial foray. The movie scores enough goofy chuckles to scrape a passing grade, but probably not enough to warrant a trip to your local multiplex.”Due Date” is the sort of stuff that DVD rentals were invented for.

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2010

6 November 2010

Movie Review: Red

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D+

Red
2010, 111mins, 12
Director: Robert Schwentke
Writer (s): Jon Hoeber, Erich Hoeber
Cast includes: Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich, Helen Mirren, Mary Louise-Parker, Karl Urban
UK Release Date: 22nd October 2010

Robert Schwentke’s “Red” is a hugely disappointing film, primarily because in more trustworthy hands it could have been a treat. Adapted from a respected graphic novel of the same name, “Red” also boasts a potentially awesome cast, a fact that only further confuses as to how the property has been morphed into a blatant cinematic bomb. Having a hack like Schwentke calling the shots can’t have helped (he directed 2005’s drab “Flightplan”), but the real criminals appear to be screenwriters Jon Hoeber and Erich Hoeber, who have condensed the source material into a pappy and intensely predictable farce.

Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) doesn’t have the most fulfilling of existences; he lives alone, his only proper connection with the outside world being a budding phone relationship with a woman named Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker) who works for the pension office. When a SWAT team arrives at his residence during the dead of night, Frank suspects foul play; whisking Sarah away to safety after disposing of the gun totting home invaders. It quickly becomes apparent that somebody wants Frank dead, along with his past CIA teammates. As a result Frank looks to get his old black-ops gang back together, a group composed of Victoria (Helen Mirren), Marvin (John Malkovich) and Joe (Morgan Freeman). However finding answers won’t be easy; especially as a proficient government operative named Cooper (Karl Urban) is hot on their trail.

In fairness the action sequences in “Red” are technically competent, they lack flair or invention, but at least Schwentke has the decency to execute them coherently and with the minimal amount of camera spasms. “Red” also rolls out its set pieces with a respectable regularity; the film never sits around too long before unleashing a hail of bullets or destructive carnage. However these things (and a crazy John Malkovich) are all “Red” really has to recommend it, the rest of the movie being an ineptly plotted drag through familiar territory.

Bruce Willis and Helen Mirren both look very bored, neither providing much heart or even effort in their attempts to create enjoyable screen entities. Willis in particular is just skating over the same hard edged genre beats he’s built over half his career on, his performance here is just John McClane without the underdog spirit or witty one liners. Freeman’s part is more of an extended cameo, the talented actor infusing every scene he’s in with a little added gravitas, but not much else. Malkovich on the other hand is absurdly entertaining as the group’s barmiest member, and is debatably the only participant who effectively connects with the script’s underlying comic tone. As a group there isn’t much chemistry on display, neither is there any visible in the budding relationship erupting between Mary Louise- Parker and Willis. Parker is shrill but oddly likable, yet she and the leading man never source a believable or tangible connection. Karl Urban is perfectly fine as the wooden CIA spook; although an actor of his calibre should be seeking more obviously challenging roles.

The storyline is fairly complex, but instead of thrilling with its twists, “Red” opts to bore the audience. Schwentke tackles the plot in a pedestrian fashion, becoming muddled in its many components before the climax of the second act. By the halfway point “Red” becomes a thoroughly monotonous endeavour, no longer involving and offering nothing close to a compelling narrative. The espionage fuelled detours the screenplay insists on throwing at the audience are numerous, but equally old hat, resulting in an infuriatingly predictable and overdrawn cinematic experience. At a beefy 111 minutes the picture feels bloated and overextended, a more clinical pace might have excised some of the needless exposition that litters the picture, and allowed this turkey to operate as the diverting popcorn fare it was designed to be.

The comedy beats in “Red” are pretty weak, the filmmakers opting for easy tomfoolery over anything that could be considered fresh or intelligent. The visual image of Helen Mirren pumping on a machine gun is in reality an unimaginative gag, something of which “Red has many. The finale is much like the rest of the action accomplished only on a practical level; otherwise it’s lacking in atmosphere and devoid of tension. The surprise bad guy revel at the climax is also worryingly unconvincing, “Red” wasting any chance to undo its opening and middle chapters with an equally pitiful denouement.

I had modest hopes for “Red”, but unfortunately they were dashed within the opening quarter of an hour. The production quickly adopts an air of tedium, a weakness that only the odd professionally constructed moment of spectacle attempts to redeem. It’s probably not going to be remembered as one of 2010’s worst films, but “Red” is definitely amongst this year’s most forgettable.

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2010

29 October 2010

Retro Review: Swimfan (2002)

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D-

Swimfan
2002, 85mins, 12
Director: John Polson
Writer (s): Charles Bohl, Phillip Schneider
Cast includes: Jesse Bradford, Erika Christensen, Kate Burton, Shiri Appleby
UK Release Date: 20th September 2002

Fatal Attraction” has a lot to answer for, not least the lukewarm 2002 thriller “Swimfan”. Directed by John Polson (who would later be responsible for the poorly regarded 2005 horror “Hide and Seek”), “Swimfan” clearly evidences how lazy screenwriting and unconvincing acting can totally sink a movie. Blatantly ripping off the aforementioned “Fatal Attraction” (as was the case with last year’s “Obsessed”); the film is a bewilderingly bland affair, devoid of fresh ideas or any creative zeal.

Ben (Jesse Bradford) has it all; the pretty girlfriend (Shiri Appleby), awesome buddies and a promising high school swimming career. When new girl in town Madison (Erika Christensen) puts the moves on Ben he initially succumbs, enjoying a heated one night stand with his latest acquaintance. However he immediately regrets it, and subtly attempts to remove Madison from his day to day life. Unfortunately she isn’t as willing to disregard their relationship, quickly beginning to display signs of obsessive behaviour toward Ben. As our male protagonist tries harder and harder to distance himself from the attractive stalker he only finds her actions more extreme, until at last people’s lives are placed on the line.

“Swimfan” is lame because it insists on being so derivative, the film seemingly focused on simply stealing thematic ideas and plot points from other superior films. If filmgoers want to enjoy a rewardingly executed trippy teen flick with sexual overtones, then I’d strongly recommend they check out 1999’s “Cruel Intentions” over this boring malarkey. The story pounds along with no atmosphere or personality, content to go through the motions as predictably as possible. Everything from the innocent beginning to the psycho bitch finale is painfully clichéd, and its depiction of a young man’s spiral into despair isn’t particularly engaging. The characters are drawn as flat stereotypes (most notably Madison), matching the insipid storytelling blow for blow on the grounds of sheer inanity. It would take a monumental idiot not to see where “Swimfan” is headed after the 10 minute mark.
Polson’s direction does boast some visual flair and interestingly styled quick edits, but his guiding of the story is workmanlike at best. “Swimfan” also suffers from being a completely blunted experience, the PG-13 rating hampering any hope of titillating nudity or disturbing screen violence. Generally these aren’t aspects that outright determine whether a picture is good or bad, but in this sort of flaccid thriller they could only have helped. The big climax is underwhelming and no more inventive than the rest of this laborious effort. Much like the rest of the movie it looks reasonably good, but there is a distinct lack of urgency or threat, ultimately meaning the venture ends on the same unconvincing note with which it commenced.

The performances are weak across the board. Jesse Bradford makes for a soulless and dull hero, whilst Christensen resorts to hammy overacting as the villain. It’s hard to believe that the Christensen sighted here is the same performer who provided such a spirited and saddening turn in 2000’s masterful “Traffic”. The fact her big screen career has waned since the release of “Swimfan” isn’t much of a surprise. Together I can only assume the duo were supposed to exhibit a dangerous and heated chemistry, but in reality it’s the sort of frosty connection one might liken to that of a human nose and dog faeces.

“Swimfan” is a lousy production, and one that deserves to have been forgotten in the eight years since its theatrical release. Ultimately it’s a thriller utterly lacking in excitement or even surprising twists, instead “Swimfan” rather aptly drowns in a pool of its own unimaginative ineptitude.

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2010

28 October 2010

Movie Review: Despicable Me

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C

Despicable Me
2010, 95mins, PG
Director (S): Pierre Coffin, Chris Renaud
Writer (s): Sergio Pablos, Ken Daurio, Cinco Paul
Cast includes: Steve Carell, Russell Brand, Miranda Cosgrove, Jason Segel, Will Arnett, Kristen Wiig, Julie Andrews
UK Release Date: 15th October 2010

For a film so primed with obvious comedic talent, “Despicable Me” is a movie oddly short on laughs. The animated caper musters a few notable chuckles on route to its deliberately overblown climax, but given the strength of those involved it’s odd that the guffaws don’t flow a little more freely. Things aren’t helped by an exceptionally conventional screenplay, the film only finding minor redemption through its bouncy visual aesthetic and vibrant voice cast.

Gru (Steve Carell) is a struggling super villain, constantly one upped by his peers and with an imbecilic army of minions to contend with. In a bid to once again shock the world with his cunning malevolence, Gru opts to try and steal the moon, but for that he needs two things. The first is a loan from the Bank of Evil (a setting for one of the film’s cleverer gags); the second is a shrink ray currently in the possession of his irritating rival Vector (Jason Segel). In order to infiltrate Vector’s home and nab the gadget, Gru adopts three little orphans, using their cookie selling capabilities as a way to worm inside Vector’s security laden fortress. However as Gru gets to know the orphans better (the trio are voiced by Miranda Cosgrove, Elsie Fisher and Dana Gaier) he begins to display genuine affection for them, thus distracting him from his devious plans.

“Despicable Me” tries very hard to be funny, but the jokes just don’t come together naturally. The humour often feels forced and overly dependent on predictable slapstick, the laugh rate never matching the film’s infectious energy. There is some smartly written stuff for adults (A Lehman Brothers nod solicits a healthy giggle) but on the whole “Despicable Me” doesn’t provide the smirks and chortles its premise demands. Taking the piss out of superheroes and super villains isn’t anything particularly new, but even with that in mind, this is a film that should be a whole lot more amusing.

The picture adopts a frantic tone, a facet aided by its flavoursome visuals. The animation is solid, but the colour schemes and cartoonish character designs are truly excellent, providing “Despicable Me” with a fun and equally unique look. The picture has no interest in concocting realistic CGI environments, instead aiming for berserk moments of goofy action and cheeky eye candy. The tone of the picture is one that Chuck Jones would happily endorse; indeed the film’s devotion to the absurdly comical is debatably its grandest asset.

Steve Carell pulls his weight as Gru, channelling a more distinctive vocal note than most of his other animated work. It’s a silly performance, but one which feels welcome as the rest of the movie desperately oversells toilet humour. Russell Brand gets several big laughs as Gru’s elderly accomplice Dr. Nefario (his boogie robots gag is amongst the film’s best), whilst assured support is provided by Will Arnett, Kristen Wiig and Julie Andrews. Jason Segel is somewhat annoying as Vector (albeit I’m fairly certain that’s the point), rendering him the only frustrating screen presence on show.

“Despicable Me” is directed by Chris Renaud and Pierre Coffin, the duo infusing the film with a bubbling sense of enthusiasm. The same cannot be said for the screenplay, a drab affair that suffers from dull patches and a general feeling of been there done that. The central character’s arc is about as formulaic as it can be in today’s cinematic climate, the orphan subplot also stinking of generic storytelling. The relationship between Gru and his newly adopted clan never feels organic; as a result the movie lacks a discernable emotional core. Some might argue that this sort of filmmaking doesn’t demand any sort of heartfelt depth, but in a year where we’ve enjoyed “Toy Story 3”, I’d beg to differ.

The finale romps along at a rapid clip, and ups the scale for the moon thieving shenanigans, but overall it’s not enough to resuscitate the film from being a notable disappointment. The final nail in the coffin is the use of a brief dance sequence at the end, a sure indication that the filmmaking on display lacks creativity. “Despicable Me” is an unfortunate blunder, not bad in the traditional sense, but hugely underwhelming none the less.

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2010