25 August 2010

Movie Review: Scott Pilgrim vs. The World



Scott Pilgrim vs. The World
2010, 110mins, 12
Director: Edgar Wright
Writer (s): Edgar Wright, Michael Bacall
Cast includes: Michael Cera, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Chris Evans, Alison Pill, Jason Schwartzman, Brandon Routh, Kieran Culkin, Ellen Wong
UK Release Date: 25th August 2010

Based on a cherished comic book series by Bryan Lee O’Malley “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World” is a film whose hyperactivity is matched only by its consistent originality. Directed by “Hot Fuzz” comedy maverick Edgar Wright, “Scott Pilgrim” is a terrifically entertaining and visually audacious slice of blockbuster filmmaking. Wright continues his winning streak and deserves plaudits for actually sticking Michael Cera in a good movie again (even if the actor’s traits remain a little stale). The tone of the picture circulates pure geek celebration, firing out videogame and comic book references with glee, all neatly packed in a narrative about a lovable loser trying to attain his dream girl. It’s hard not to become smitten by this finely tuned adventure.

Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) is a jobless schmuck who plays in a band (named Sex Bob-Omb) and dates a high-school student (Ellen Wong) several years his junior. At a party Scott becomes infatuated with new girl in town Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), and despite pessimism from his friends (Kieran Culkin, Aubrey Plaza, Alison Pill) and younger sister Stacey (Anna Kendrick) he tries to forge a relationship with the spunky Ramona. The two hit it off after Ramona begins to fall for Scott’s pesky charms but this opens up a new predicament, the involvement of Ramona’s seven evil exes. In order for Scott and Ramona to officially become partners the slacker must first defeat each member of Ramona’s dating history, culminating in a clash with the mysterious and dangerous Gideon.

Michael Cera is still Michael Cera in “Scott Pilgrim”, but for once that maybe isn’t such an infuriating thing. Cera is able to bring his comic timing and timid charisma to the role and make it work, even if it marks another film in which the actor refuses to stretch himself. Along with a well written screenplay (courtesy of Wright and Michael Bacall) Cera transforms Scott into a likable slacker, certainly rough around the edges but with his heart in the right place. Mary Elizabeth Winstead is extremely appealing as Ramona, capturing a distant charm and comedic aloofness, which combined with her beauty and oddly sexy haircut, makes her performance a winner. The seven evil exes are portrayed by an interesting range of thespians, most finding success (a domineering Chris Evans and slimy Jason Schwartzman are highlights) although there is a decided imbalance of screen time between them. Scott’s motley band of friendly reprobates are ably handled by Alison Pill and Mark Webber, with Kieran Culkin deserving a special badge of comedic honour for his uproarious turn as Scott’s gay roommate.

Visually the film is a masterpiece, a frenzied blur of excitable eye candy and enthralling set design. The film sets out its intentions from the outset (the revamped Universal logo draws a chuckle), the whole enterprise being brought to the fore with a welcome videogame sensibility. In many senses “Scott Pilgrim” is the first great videogame film, it may not be directly sourced from the world of button bashing, but its aesthetic is an utter celebration of gaming culture. The fight sequences (which are superbly choreographed) all emulate the typical combat gaming form, with Wright also adding little touches such as life bars and coin credits to really hammer home the stylistic choice. The cinematography is full of verve and colourful fizz and the production design embodies both imagination and high voltage energy. From a technical standpoint “Scott Pilgrim” is more or less flawless, a triumph from beginning to end.

The screenplay balances absurd comedy with some very touching material, finding both laughs and moments of dramatic poignancy to reward viewers for taking the trip. The dialogue is filled with odd but enjoyable jokes, and the style of humour suits Cera’s one dimensional comedic skills rather well. The film avoids parading through gross out territory, instead finding a wittier and smarter way to draw out giggles and ensure that audiences don’t take the endeavour too seriously. Wright is a director with a beautiful sense of comic timing and this is really evident in “Scott Pilgrim”, sight and reaction gags becoming a big part of the movie’s comic DNA. The relationship between Scott and Ramona also flourishes rather beautifully in “Scott Pilgrim”, a patient and believable interpretation of a young couple’s courtship. The dynamic doesn’t rush and develops at a pleasant and realistic pace, something that many audience members will find particularly engaging. Not every relationship involves one partner fighting the other’s exes, but every couple endures speed bumps along the way, the violence of “Scott Pilgrim” just a cartoonish and endearing embodiment of such troubles.

“Scott Pilgrim” only really suffers from one genuine fault, although it’s a biggie. The pacing of the film is rather troubling at times, Wright having had to condense six graphic novels into a single 110 minute feature. The film consistently handles its central arc with authority and skill, but certain subplots exist in a much messier and tacked on sort of fashion. Scott’s relationship with his 17-year old fling is a good example of this, it’s vital to the overall product but its placement in the larger picture is inconsistent and slightly incoherent. Part of the problem might be a somewhat grating performance from Ellen Wong, but Wright’s blending of this element into the tale is jarring, as is a blossoming relationship between Wong and one of Scott’s quiet slacker buddies played by the terminally bland Johnny Simmons. The film might have been improved by either a slightly shorter or more beefed up edit, because in its current form certain parts of the movie feel undercooked and out of place.

The arcade warfare of “Scott Pilgrim” is electrifying and as a visual experience it’s a true gem. However what really sets the film apart is its sweet romantic core and of course an astute and skilled understanding of how to make audiences laugh. The pacing is a little disturbing but ultimately that’s nothing a director’s cut DVD can’t fix. “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World” is an exhilarating thrill ride and another critical success for the talented Edgar Wright. Long may his joyous contribution to cinema continue.

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2010

Movie Review: The Expendables



The Expendables
2010, 103mins, 15
Director: Sylvester Stallone
Writer (s): Sylvester Stallone, David Callaham
Cast includes: Sylvester Stallone, Jet Li, Jason Statham, Eric Roberts, Mickey Rourke, Bruce Willis, Dolph Lundgren, Randy Couture
UK Release Date: 19th August 2010

Stallone, Statham, Lundgren, Li, Willis, Rourke and even a cameo from Arnie himself? I’ll give you a minute to clean up the mess you’ve just made before I continue. “The Expendables” boasts all these veterans of action cinema and many more, a combination of performers liable to make any man cry with unapologetic joy. However Stallone’s film (he once again assumes directorial duty) actually ends up a frenzied disappointment, a movie whose legendary cast actually work to the detriment of the final product. After all without such an orgasmic array of maestros to smear over the promotional material “The Expendables” would be just another forgettable, vaguely passable action flick. With them the movie is just another forgettable, vaguely passable action flick that squanders a sublime group of physical performers. It’s a crying shame.

Fronted by Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone) The Expendables are a group of mercenaries with a lethal reputation, and a heavy sense of brotherhood. When a shady CIA operative (Bruce Willis) makes them a job offer, the team are left with much to consider. The task is to infiltrate a remote South American Island and kill the man at the head of its dictatorship, thus freeing the community from the grasps of his greed fuelled violence. On arrival they discover a dirty CIA member (Eric Roberts) is really pulling the strings, and so taking inspiration from a young and patriotic local (Giselle Itie), The Expendables get ready to complete what might be their deadliest mission yet. However aiding the villains is an old member of The Expendables called Gunner (Dolph Lundgren), a man who feels he was wrongly expelled from the squad and who now seeks revenge.

The screenplay for “The Expendables” is laughably thin and basically devoid of fresh narrative ideas, everything good about the film can be pretty much sourced away from Dave Callaham and Stallone’s inept script. The plotline is extremely basic and the numerous subplots peppered throughout the picture are unrewarding, one involving Statham and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” alumni Charisma Carpenter is actually pointless beyond belief. The story develops in an odd and unsatisfactory way, the film enduring a 20 minute action lull in the middle that is simply punishing to endure, in which Stallone seems to think his undercooked plotting will carry the movie for the time being. It’s an idiotic artistic choice that’s fairly representative of a largely moronic movie. The dialogue is funny in spurts (The Arnie cameo ends with a scorcher) but large swathes of the movie are bogged down in overly philosophical and unjustified soul searching. It’s a frighteningly bad example of poor writing, viewers should be thankful that Stallone manages to handle the rest of the affair with slightly sharper judgement.

The cast are all adequate but nobody really gets enough time to shine, and certain performers like Jet Li and Mickey Rourke are almost totally wasted. Rourke’s lasting impact on the film actually stems from a rare example of competent writing, as he muses on the difficulties presented by an overexposure to violence and amoral behaviour, but it feels like it belongs in another movie. Li who isn’t usually much of an actor only enjoys one proper scene of martial arts majesty, but even than it isn’t one likely to rank overly high by his athletic standards. Making up the rest of “The Expendables” is a knife wielding Jason Statham (suitably badass), a comically versed Terry Crews and a shamefully wooden Randy Couture. Stallone works hard as the film’s most human protagonist and finds a few connective moments with Giselle Itie, but ultimately his movie is too weak in the writing and characterization department for any of this to register on a level of true emotional conviction. Eric Roberts makes for an ample (if not physically diminutive villain) but the real surprise is Dolph Lundgren, who finds a believable sense of vengeful distress as Gunner. I would never have expected to be writing this about any movie, but hell, in “The Expendables” Dolph Lundgren probably gives the most polished performance.

The action sequences are well shot and exciting but lack the regularity that viewers might anticipate, “The Expendables” undergoing a major period of slow and unwelcome reflection in its middle act. This dull segment not only hampers the movie’s pace but also the adrenaline pumping tone of the opening and climactic displays of carnage. The film begins on an exceedingly positive note with a bloody and coherently constructed instance of bad guy bashing, whilst the climax is as explosive and overblown as any film fan could logically desire. Overall when “The Expendables” focuses on guns and moments of action packed exertion it delivers, it’s in the other areas that the movie completely falls flat.

The musical score by Brian Tyler lacks the iconic bombast of all the best 80s’ action vehicles, though technically Stallone has done a fantastic job of shooting and designing the aesthetic of his picture. The film is seasoned with a nice grimy flavour when it needs to be, and the filmmakers deserve props for allowing viewers to actually register what’s happening in the set-pieces. However on the whole “The Expendables” is a major summer let down, a movie that occasionally flirts with greatness but never truly gets close to delivering it on a grand scale. Action junkies might want to check it out for the purposes of nostalgia, but otherwise plans to see this tepid actioner can be marked down as expendable on your cinematic calendar.

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2010

23 August 2010

Movie Review: Gentlemen Broncos



Gentlemen Broncos
2009, 85mins, 12
Director: Jared Hess
Writer (s): Jared Hess, Jerusha Hess
Cast includes: Michael Angarano, Jemaine Clement, Sam Rockwell, Jennifer Coolidge, John Baker
UK Release Date: 3rd May 2010 (DVD)

“Gentlemen Broncos” is the latest comedy from director Jared Hess, the man behind 2004’s offbeat indie favourite “Napoleon Dynamite” and 2006’s monumentally unfunny “Nacho Libre”. “Broncos” has endured a fairly nightmarish journey to home video, its limited theatrical run cut very short thanks to scathing reviews and a disastrously low box-office tally. Ironically “Broncos” is easily a more palatable dish than the horrific “Nacho Libre” (a film that grossed just shy of $100 million worldwide), but it’s still an ultimately unsatisfying comedic offering. Like all of its creator’s previous films, “Broncos” looks sharp on paper, but unfortunately the execution is muddled and the consistency of the product questionable. There are a few inspired moments to be found, but Hess’s film too often succumbs to dead patches of mediocrity and quirk induced tedium.

Benjamin (Michael Angarano) is a lonely and meek homeschooled teen, who spends his days writing sci-fi novels and aspiring to become a published author in his own right. Benjamin travels to a young writer’s camp and submits his work “Yeast Lords” into a competition, the entries being judged by his own personal hero and sci-fi writer extraordinaire Ronald Chevalier (Jemaine Clement). Chevalier has his own predicament to deal with, his agency is demanding a hit or he’s being released. In a bid to secure his own future, Chevalier plagiarizes “Yeast Lords” under another title of his own creation, and becomes increasingly confident that he has a bestseller on his hands. However Benjamin is distraught upon discovering the dirty tricks deployed by his idol, and his anger is compounded thanks to a group of local filmmakers savaging “Yeast Lords” following a naive sale courtesy of its young author.

“Gentlemen Broncos” is a disappointment primarily because it actually has several things going for it. The premise is solid, the cast effective and some of the jokes are quite amusing, but Hess never successfully engages viewers with the film’s bizarre worldview and fails to uncover any true sense of comedic rhythm. “Broncos” is also horribly paced, the first act dragging out for 40 minutes before the second and third are bungling into a rushed and anticlimactic 45. “Gentlemen Broncos” feels like it should boast a much crisper and conclusive denouement that it actually maintains, a fact liable to leave audiences cold toward the overall property, and ignorant to some of the better material it has to offer. “Broncos” isn’t a despicably awful picture in the same sense as “Nacho Libre”, but it’s still a tough property to recommend all the same.

The performances are a high point, especially those given by Clement and an almost unrecognizable Sam Rockwell. Rockwell essentially plays two characters; both are the protagonist of “Yeast Lords”, but within the imaginations of Benjamin and Chevalier that amounts to a pair of very different personalities. Benjamin see’s his hero as a gruff no nonsense warrior who just wants to regain his missing “gonad” and save the day, but Chevalier paints him as a campy queen in the plagiarized interpretation. In both guises Rockwell is splendidly entertaining and very funny, the contrast between Chevalier and Benjamin’s mindsets actually offering the films biggest chuckle. Clement is excellent as the overblown and pompous sci-fi author, capturing an obscure comedic irreverence that suits the tone of Hess’s movie marvellously. Michael Angarano is low key but fairly sympathetic as Benjamin, finding a nice rapport with the various other performers. The young filmmakers who purchase “Yeast Lords” are gratingly portrayed by Halley Feiffer and Hector Jimenez, the latter gurning his way through the picture in the most obnoxious of fashions. The usually dependable Jennifer Coolidge also pops up as Benjamin’s conscientious guardian, but a subplot involving her career is unnecessary and mostly smirk free.

Hess embraces the aesthetic of tacky sci-fi thanks to a minimalist approach, and provides some good solid satire aimed at hokey galactic cheese, but too often the film endures patches where the jokes misfire and the screenplay relies on lame gross out gags (snake poop, really?) and obvious barbs exploiting the antisocial nature of the script’s characters. The central conceit is promising and individual actors make certain scenes work (Clement deserves a medal for powering through stacks of lacklustre material and still making it sound passable) but overall “Broncos” is a film direly in need of a few extra giggles or at least a more reliable comedic momentum. The fantasy sequences with Rockwell find a pitch perfect tone of gentle mocking, but the rest of the movie never matches up and what’s left is a decidedly hot and cold experience.

The pacing is troubling, the filmmakers completely misjudging when to start and finish certain arcs. Benjamin only discovers that Chevalier is stealing his work in the final 20 minutes (viewers become aware much earlier), leaving only a tiny segment of the film to showcase his revenge against the arrogant twit. Surely this element would have made for more entertaining and smarter viewing than the oodles of screen time which Hess devotes to the dopey film adaptation being crafted by Jimenez. Similarly the first act feels stretched beyond belief and yet the final sections are laughably undercooked and basically wasted. It’s another strange fault in a heavily flawed motion picture. Looking at “Broncos” makes me think that Hess should start to simply dream up premises for films (even the concept at the heart of “Nacho Libre” was pretty good”), because this project proves once again that he isn’t much good at putting his ideas into action.

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2010

20 August 2010

Movie Review: Piranha 3D



Piranha 3D
2010, 88mins, 18
Director: Alexandre Aja
Writer (s): Josh Stolberg, Pete Goldfinger
Cast includes: Adam Scott, Elisabeth Shue, Steven R. McQueen, Kelly Brook, Jerry O'Connell, Christopher Lloyd, Ving Rhames
UK Release Date: 20th August 2010

Following on from 2008’s horrendous “Mirrors”, French director Alexandre Aja decided to tackle a remake of Joe Dante’s cheap seventies thriller “Piranha”, a movie remembered more for its overwhelming campiness rather than any substantial filmmaking value. Hopes weren’t especially high given delays in the picture’s release and a desire to hide the finished article away from critics until the bitter end, but against all odds “Piranha 3D” arrives as an agreeable and entertaining dose of contemporary schlock. Aja stacks the film with blood, boobs and flesh eating fish galore, which along with some surprisingly creative death sequences makes for a fun tongue in cheek cinematic experience.

At Lake Victoria Spring Break is about to commence, meaning that hundreds of nubile young students are preparing to drink, skinny-dip and generally pollute the area during an extended weekend of debauchery. However coinciding with the partying is an underwater earthquake, which unleashes a mass of prehistoric and extremely vicious Piranha into the local environment. As the fish begin to feast, local Sheriff Julie Forester (Elisabeth Shue) and her deputy (Ving Rhames) try to shepherd the drunken adolescents out of the local beaches, whilst also plotting a method of eliminating the piranha menace. However to complicate matters the Sheriff’s son Jake (Steven R. McQueen) is stranded on a boat with a crazed porn director (Jerry O’Connell) and his attractive cast (Kelly Brook and real life adult film star Riley Steele), making them perfect targets for Lake Victoria’s toothy newcomers.

Joe Dante’s original film might be remembered fondly by some as a lively piece of old school trash, but great cinema it wasn’t. Alexandre Aja’s reimagining has no added pretensions but it executes the bloodshed and carnage in a far more polished and satisfactory fashion, the higher budget and greater understanding of B-movie thrills allowing “Piranha 3D” to surpass its predecessor in every possible way. The film is pure exploitation from start to finish, revelling in oodles of gore and gratuitous nudity, all helped thanks to a neat pace and some affable performances. The scripting and characterization are pretty thin, but “Piranha 3D” embraces its deficiencies and celebrates its cheesy tone with style and a wicked sense of humour. Movies released at the end of August aren’t usually renowned for their quality, but “Piranha 3D” is a genuinely fun late summer diversion.

Much like their director, the cast of “Piranha 3D” are fully aware of how silly the film they’re involved with is. Everyone is simply onboard to deliver cartoonish caricatures or get totally naked, with the exception of Elisabeth Shue who actually makes her slight character into a likable and fully sympathetic screen presence. It’s a strong performance and one that’s aided by some wonderfully over the top support. As a specialist brought onboard to investigate the earthquake Adam Scott is delightfully witty, whilst Jerry O’Connell dials it up to 11 as a drugged up pornographer. Both actors are very watchable in “Piranha 3D” and make a favourable impression, each obviously understanding the aims and limitations of the screenplay perfectly. A token teen romance is thrown into the mix (between the bland pairing of McQueen and Jessica Szohr) but colourful cameos from Christopher Lloyd and Eli Roth help ease such mild pains. Ving Rhames is perhaps a tad underused but is always a convincing badass, whilst Kelly Brook and Riley Steele both bring stunning physiques but little else. Fans of “Jaws” will also sight Richard Dreyfuss in a pre-credits scene as a character called Matt, an obvious tribute to Spielberg’s legendary thriller.

The screenplay is pickled with quotable lines and whilst the story is exceptionally basic, the Piranha induced death sequences aren’t. Aja demonstrates some genuine visual creativity with “Piranha 3D”, presenting sequences in which Piranhas burst out from screaming mouths, boat propellers scalp unlucky swimmers and penises are eaten and then cheekily regurgitated. The levels of gore are insane, with some terrific prosthetic effects being used to highlight just how violent this picture can get. The CGI fish aren’t as well rendered but the 3D is surprisingly welcome here, I wouldn’t hesitate to say that “Piranha 3D” is the best I’ve seen the technology utilized since “Avatar”. Aja understands that in his film 3D is strictly a gimmick, thus throwing as many screen popping severed limbs and oversized breasts as he can at the audience. Everything about the film is played for corny giggles or low rent excitement, Aja even having included a nude underwater ballet between Brook and Steele to really get the fanboys talking. Adding an extra dollop of pleasure to proceedings is the fact this visceral offering clocks in at a minor 88 minutes, the perfect length for an effort this inherently undemanding.

The film’s sunny locations are cosily shot, the cinematography simple but perfectly ample for the movie at hand. At times some of the underwater action can become distorted and a little murky, but during the bloody climax everything is crystal clear in all its gory glory. “Piranha 3D” is a proper piece of lightweight summer cinema, albeit an example that those with an aversion to mutilation and nakedness should probably avoid. It isn’t going to be troubling the academy come next year, but “Piranha 3D” is an enjoyably ridiculous creature feature none the less.

A review by Daniel Kelly, 2010

16 August 2010

DVD Verdict Review: Piranha (1978)



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

Movie Review: The Infidel



The Infidel
2010, 105mins, 15
Director: Josh Appignanesi
Writer: David Baddiel
Cast includes: Omid Djalili, Matt Lucas, Richard Schiff, Archie Panjabi, Yigal Naor
UK Release Date: 9th April 2010

Culture clashing and life swapping have long been staples of the comedy genre but surprisingly few projects have ever touched upon the tension between Jews and Muslims. It’s a bright and brave note to pitch a film on; and so for that alone “The Infidel” deserves credit. The film does muster some incredibly funny sequences and provides a good showcase for comedian Omid Djalili, but its attempts at creating an emotional undercurrent are less convincing, and even at a modest 105 minutes the picture feels much too long. Scripted by the supremely talented British funnyman David Baddiel, “The Infidel” supplies enough goodness to keep viewers entertained but not enough to fully honour its inspired premise.

Mahmud Nasir (Omid Djalili) isn’t exactly a diehard Muslim, but he’s more than happy to oblige his kinsman’s general distaste for Jewish culture. However upon clearing out his deceased mother’s house Mahmud discovers he was adopted, quickly learning that his actual parents were Jewish. Ashamed and unwilling to confess his secret to longsuffering wife Saamiya (Archie Panjabi), Mahmud seeks out a cheeky Jewish cabbie (Richard Schiff) to get in touch with Hebrew culture, something that a Rabbi (Matt Lucas) is demanding before Mahmud can be allowed to visit his dying biological father. However to make matters more complicated, his son has become engaged to a beautiful woman whose stepfather happens to be a Muslim extremist, a figure who won’t let the wedding ceremony take place unless he is satisfied that Mahmud and family are Muslims who respect and honour their faith.

Omid Djalili is likable and adept in “The Infidel”, taking his slobbish character and turning him into a forceful sack of conflicted comedy gold. Djalili shows solid comic timing and a goofy streak a mile wide, whilst also finding a subtler and more sarcastic rapport with a pithy Richard Schiff. It’s a diverse array of comedy, all wrapped up with a nice big satirical bow. “The Infidel” will provide a healthy dollop of humour to most audiences, a combination of Djalili’s spirited performance and Baddiel’s smile inducing set-pieces allowing the movie to flourish in certain sections. A tutorial from Schiff on how to act Jewish is filled with giddy sight gags and a sequence taking place at a Bar-Mitzvah capitalizes on the setting marvellously. “The Infidel” certainly nails all the obvious jokes, but perhaps neglects to delve deeper and more inventively into the fundamental concept. Baddiel has undoubtedly concocted a terrific premise and has seasoned it with a commendable number of giggles and chortles, but I can’t help but think a layer of less predictable and more thoughtful jokes were lying untapped within this screenplay. It’s a suspicion instead of a certified fact, but I can’t help but feel that despite being fairly amusing, “The Infidel” had even more comic potential than is realized onscreen.

The movie ties itself together using a basic dysfunctional family narrative, one that fails to resonate on any meaningful level with viewers. The performances are all affable; but the script plays the family dilemma as pure farce for most of the film’s stretched running, before climaxing in a way that suggests the filmmakers expect you to truly care and be fully invested by the finish. “The Infidel” isn’t soulless by any means, but it certainly aspires to a touching conclusion that the main portion of the feature doesn’t come close to justifying, thus rounding out the story in a largely unsatisfactory manner. The end message is a predictable yet pleasant social warning, preaching that tolerance between all groups in society is both healthy and beneficial to the world at large. It doesn’t exactly permeate massive amounts of insight, but it’s an important and agreeable moral none the less.

The film was made for a small amount and technically that’s fairly blatant, but the real annoyance is that “The Infidel” wasn’t granted a shorter cut in the editing suite. The film is hardly a massive time filler at 105 minutes but it seems in execution longer than that, this sort of light social spoofing lending itself better to a running time under an hour and a half. “The Infidel” is a movie riddled with problems, but it is important to realize that as a comedy it succeeds (the laughs are generous and occasionally ingenious) a fact that ultimately means the film will make a worthwhile rental. Just don’t expect anything classic.

A review by Daniel Kelly, 2010

8 August 2010

Movie Review: The A-Team



The A-Team
2010, 117mins, 12
Director: Joe Carnahan
Writer (s): Joe Carnahan, Skip Woods, Brian Bloom
Cast includes: Liam Neeson, Bradley Cooper, Jessica Biel, Sharlto Copley, Quinton "Rampage" Jackson, Patrick Wilson, Brian Bloom
UK Release Date: 28th July 2010

When it comes to TV shows from the eighties, few have enjoyed the same level of pop culture celebration as “The A-Team”. The “A-Team” ran for four years and even in death has managed to create a ferocious merchandising storm, whilst catchphrases from the show have long been engraved into the geek vernacular. The show offered a cheesy combination of action and adventure, striking a chord with the prepubescent boys of that era. Joe Carnahan’s 2010 reimagining of “The A-Team” will be hoping that the same people (now into their thirties) will revel in seeing their childhood heroes back in action, hauling their own sons and daughters along for the ride. This new incarnation is likely to satisfy the same basic addictions as the original TV series, but it’s important to point out that in the wake of more sophisticated actioners like “Kick-Ass” and “Inception”, “The A-Team” feels simplistic and a little primitive. It’s a fun movie, but not one likely to linger long in the memory.

“The A-Team” acts as a prequel to the TV series. The team itself consists of four members, Hannibal, Face, Murdock and B.A. Hannibal (Liam Neeson) is the eldest but also the craftiest, having a tendency to concoct unorthodox but ingenious strategies. Face (Bradley Cooper) is the charmer of the group, whilst the insane Murdock (Sharlto Copley) is a brave and exceedingly accomplished pilot. B.A (Quinton “Rampage” Jackson) is a brawny fighting machine, and one who likes to punish a “fool” whenever the opportunity arises. During their tenure in Iraq, the team are framed for murder and the theft of counterfeit plates, and are thus wrongly detained and stripped of military rank. An elusive CIA operative called Lynch (Patrick Wilson) helps the team escape from imprisonment, under the condition they help retrieve the missing plates and deal with the real criminal Pike (Brian Bloom). However all four men are still wanted felons and thus have to avoid capture by lieutenant Sosa (Jessica Biel), who also happens to have a romantic history with Face.

The screenplay by Carnahan, Bloom and Skip Woods is almost lean to the point of nothingness, sketching out an insanely thin narrative in order to make way for oodles of gunfire and some delightfully overblown performances. The story moves forward in a very predictable fashion, and whilst small individual details might surprise viewers, the overall outcome and general direction of the project is obvious and formulaic. “The A-Team” wasn’t built to tell an epic or intricate story; instead it aims for a more gung-ho filmmaking approach, wrapping its simple storytelling in a mire of hefty action and charming acting. The dialogue is pretty weak and often virtually inaudible, but when Carnahan wants the viewer to hear the one liners or exposition he lingers only long enough to construe the point. “The A-Team” is a visual and physical cinematic experience, shying away from the elaborate or detail heavy mechanisms that can bog down a good action piece.

All four of the key actors give impressive performances. Liam Neeson is slightly more restrained than expected but still appears to be having a blast as Hannibal, bringing both a cheeky grin and a sense of wisdom to his interpretation. There’s still plenty of cigar chomping heroism, but Neeson doesn’t play the character quite as cartoonish as I was expecting. The same can’t be said for Sharlto Copley and Bradley Cooper; both rip into their respective roles with a forceful sense of fun and manic charisma, Copley in particular providing a great deal of rewarding comic relief. Taking on the legendary B.A, Jackson isn’t maybe as sharp as his co-stars, but he fills the immortal Mr. T’s shoes adequately. The group also create a decent dynamic and sense of camaraderie, allowing audiences to engage and sympathise with them on a grander level. Patrick Wilson brings a nice snake like feeling of unease to his performance, whilst Brian Bloom plays the asshole bad guy rather efficiently. Jessica Biel (an erratic actress at best) struggles even with the one dimensional Sosa, although some of her scenes with Bradley Cooper do insert a little heat and sex appeal into proceedings.

Carnahan favours fast edits and rapid cuts, something that works against the action scenes more than it improves them. However the action set-pieces reach a spectacularly ridiculous pitch and demonstrate some real visual invention on the filmmaker’s parts, particularly one involving some aircraft and a tank. The film isn’t short on bombast or spectacle, thrusting audiences headfirst into the carnage and keeping them entertained even as the explosions occur at a phenomenally speedy clip. It’s interesting to note that the big finale is less impressive than some of the earlier and more aggressively crazed stuff, but there’s enough blockbusting skill on show for “The A-Team” to at least pass muster as a worthy action flick.

At 117 minutes the film should have been shorter, with plotting this flimsy a more genre friendly 90-100 minute runtime would have been of modest benefit. A subplot in which B.A loses touch with how to attack and if necessary dispatch his enemies feels tacked on and unwelcome, had Carnahan excised that the film might clock in at a more agreeable duration. The visual effects are robust and the cinematography professionally handled, whilst the musical score makes several adrenaline rushing references to the TV show’s iconic theme tune. “The A-Team” is a decent summer picture and one that fans of the source are likely to love, but for those seeking something intellectually taxing or artistically ambitious it’s probably safe to say this won’t be your fix. It’s a testosterone filled action romp with some neat performances, and that’s really all anybody could have hoped for coming from a brand this goofy.

A review by Daniel Kelly 2010

2 August 2010

Movie Review: The Karate Kid (2010)



The Karate Kid
2010, 140mins, PG
Director: Harald Zwart
Writer: Christopher Murphey
Cast includes: Jaden Smith, Jackie Chan, Taraji P. Henson, Wenwen Han, Zhenwei Wang
UK Release Date: 28th July 2010

Of all the films in the world why remake “The Karate Kid”? The 1984 picture was a perfect blend of teen angst, charming innocence and fist pumping theatrics, a confection that no retread could ever hope to better. This Harald Zwart headed retool is happy to oblige low expectations, providing a version of the story that’s inferior in just about everyway. The film concludes on a minor note of promise, but largely represents an overstretched yet oddly undercooked tale, relocating the action to China but leaving all the greatness of the 1984 movie behind. The change of locale is about the only major difference, Zwart apparently hoping that the fresh landscape and the addition of some mystical hoo-ha will prevent audiences from detecting the facelift form of filmmaking he shamelessly deploys. Well he didn’t fool me.

12 year-old Dre (Jaden Smith) and his mother Sherry (Taraji P. Henson) have moved to China from Detroit, spurred on by a job opportunity and a desire for a new life. Sherry is excited about the change, but Dre isn’t, something only compounded when he becomes a regular punch bag for a group of local bullies. The homesick and bruised Dre becomes of interest to local handyman Mr. Han (Jackie Chan), who after rescuing Dre from a showdown with his assailants, offers to train the boy in the art of Kung-Fu. Dre excitedly accepts, entering into a tournament so he might face his aggressors in an honourable and official capacity. Han begins to tutor the boy using some very unorthodox techniques, but eventually friendship blooms, something that comforts Dre as the vital Kung-Fu competition approaches.

The chemistry and relationship between mentor and pupil was a great strength of the original film. Ralph Macchio and the late Pat Morita made a fabulous double act, and really made their relationship feel organic throughout that picture. The same cannot be said for Smith and Chan. The latter provides a fairly bland performance, one that is only comfortable in the realms of combat and occasional instances of light comic relief. Chan’s interpretation of Han has no pathos or depth, something that was so abundant in Morita’s legendary Mr. Miyagi. Jaden Smith is less obnoxious than expected (I still have nightmares concerning his abysmal acting in “The Day the Earth Stood Still”) but he can’t find the lively and lovable sense of underdog enthusiasm that Ralph Macchio once blissfully tapped into. Much like Chan it’s a case of the performance being dull rather than terrible, but two boring performances do not make for good chemistry. As a pair Chan and Smith are lifeless and their arc feels rushed and underdeveloped thanks to the uninspired screenplay, the filmmakers finding more value in the training montages than any proper onscreen connection. It’s a fatal flaw in a plot that is wholly dependent on these two key players.

The film is atrociously paced, Zwart’s remake clocking in at an unwelcome 140 minutes. The script also brings little new to the story, basically taking the original screenplay and lifting massive chunks straight out of it. Dre gets a romantic interest (nowhere near as engaging or lovable as that portrayed in the original film) and Mr. Han has a dark past (possibly the worst attempt at this film mirroring its source) marking this production out as a case of cinematic déjà vu, and what you saw beforehand was of a far higher quality. Aside from a few minor variations (“Wax on, wax off” is now “Jacket on, Jacket off”) the only genuine difference between this film and its eighties counterpart is an expansion on the relationship between mother and son. Taraji P. Henson easily gives the movie’s most assured performance as Dre’s conflicted parent, an arc that is almost worth the runtime it eats up. Still a minor triumph such as that can’t begin to compensate for the other more damaging flaws, and so the project remains a firm misfire.

The Chinese scenery is nicely photographed, and the Kung-Fu sequences are carried out with an admirable degree of technical and athletic competency. The tournament based conclusion is one of the movie’s best segments, and despite the unsatisfactory nature of what precedes it the final moments still solicit a minor cheer. On the whole however, “The Karate Kid” is a pointless and utterly unwanted motion picture, a mild insult to the brilliant property on which it’s based. Maybe a new and undemanding generation of film goers will take this remake to heart, but if you’ve ever experienced Miyagi, Daniel San or the Crane kick, this replica will never be good enough.

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2010