29 December 2010

Movie Review: 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



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

25 December 2010

Movie Review: Little Fockers



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



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



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)



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)



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



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



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DVD Verdict Review: The Twilight Saga: Eclipse



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4 December 2010

Movie Review: 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


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