30 April 2011

Oi! Where's the 2011 summer at the cinema advert?

It's nearly freakin May and we haven't even been given one of these gems yet, I mean look how awesome last year's was:

Look at all those wonderful films; remember how good "Robin Hood", "Prince of Persia" and "Marmaduke" were? I especially love the random "Season of the Witch" clip (the film's January 2011 release slightly stretching its credibility as a summer 2010 movie) and all those shrill little children. So go on, give us one for 2011.

I mean this 2008 version has a clip of "The Happening" in it, and I really need a commercial to commemorate this summer's sure to be balls equivalent.

28 April 2011

Movie Review: Cedar Rapids



Cedar Rapids
2011, 87mins, 15
Director: Miguel Arteta
Writer: Phil Johnston
Cast includes: Ed Helms, John C. Reilly, Anne Heche, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Stephen Root
UK Release Date: 29th April 2011

You’ll struggle to find a more insubstantial film than “Cedar Rapids” this year, a well cast but weakly stitched together comedy that encourages yawning over laughter. With talented comedic actors like Ed Helms and John C. Reilly onboard a couple of good gags were inevitable, but for an 87 minute diversion the picture drags at an excruciating rate.

A well intentioned insurance salesman, Tim Lippe (Ed Helms) has never left his small hometown of Brown Valley Wisconsin. After an ignoble death within the insurance company, Tim is instructed to attend a conference in Cedar Rapids, entrusted to win a pivotal industry award whilst there. On arrival he is overwhelmed by the size of the location, and his seemingly worldly peers (including a sweet Anne Heche and a manic John C. Reilly). Initially resistant, Tim is eventually seduced by the drink, drugs, corruption and sex that seem to pollute Cedar Rapids, causing him to lose his composure during a vital career oppurtunity.

“Cedar Rapids” is directed by Miguel Arteta, a filmmaker who has struggled for form since his impressive 2002 gambit “The Good Girl”. Last year Arteta helmed Michael Cera in the mediocre “Youth in Revolt”, and here he guides Ed Helms up a similarly unexciting path. “Cedar Rapids” lacks the focus to provide an involving narrative, and more importantly the energy to work as a successful comedy. Leaving aside the valiant efforts of its leads, “Cedar Rapids” is a flat motion picture, as uninspiring to dissect as it is to watch. The film’s lack of hostility is an agreeable bonus, as are the handful of guffaws it provides, but ultimately the movie never achieves the sense of hysterical self-destruction it’s so obviously aiming for. Arteta’s fiercely lame direction is probably the key concern, but the screenplay never rises to the challenge either, failing to capture the high octane nightmarish hilarity of say, “The Hangover”.

The cinematography and musical accompaniment aren’t great, further slaying the buzz “Cedar Rapids” so desperately needs to generate. Helms is likable enough as the bumbling lead, but its John C. Reilly who does the majority of the heavy lifting, without him the production wouldn’t so much middling, as utterly miserable. A talented group of supporters including the aforementioned Heche, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Rob Corrdry and Stephen Root help bolster the film’s credibility, but even they can’t overcome the inherent blandness of the property at large.

The overarching message of “Cedar Rapids” would appear to be that experiencing life at its fullest is important, but don’t let your moral compass become distorted in the process; hardly a revelatory note on which to culminate the movie. “Cedar Rapids” has its heart in the right place, and there are several giggles to be had, but otherwise it’s sort of a dreary affair.

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2011

26 April 2011

Movie Review: Thor



2011, 114mins, 12
Director: Kenneth Branagh
Writer (s): Ashley Miller, Zack Stentz, Don Payne, Mark Protosevich, J. Michael Straczynski
Cast includes: Chris Hemsworth, Anthony Hopkins, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Stellan Skarsgard, Kat Dennings
UK Release Date: 27th April 2011

“Thor” feels more like an obligation than a work of passion, a blockbuster fashioned to help support Marvel’s forthcoming “Avengers” flick, as opposed to enthralling on its own terms. Overseen by Kenneth Branagh, “Thor” is a watchable romp that boasts some terrific production design and an engaging lead performance, but a rusty screenplay prevents it from hitting the same genre highs as “Iron Man” or Bryan Singer’s “X-Men” pictures. Granted, Thor was always going to be the trickiest Avenger to pull off competently, but even that can’t excuse the film’s messy and derivative script.

After leading a doomed attack on another race, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) finds himself cast out of the majestic realm of Asgard, and forced to take up residence on Earth. In his native land Thor was a reckless and powerful warrior, but stripped of his abilities and mighty hammer, he finds himself lost in this new alien world. Discovered by a struggling physicist called Jane (Natalie Portman), Thor quickly makes an impression on the young woman, but not before the S.H.I.E.L.D organization comes looking for him. Making matters worse is the situation in Asgard, as Thor’s father King Odin (Anthony Hopkins) begins to fade, leaving the throne to his confused and manipulative other son Loki (Tom Hiddleston). Loki views his earthbound sibling as a threat, quickly fingering him as a target for annihilation. Thusly it is up to Thor to protect both himself, and to defend the humans with whom he now resides.

Branagh has done a smashing job in realizing Asgard, bringing it to life with luscious detail and appropriate grandeur. Visually “Thor” is a marvellous film to behold, filled as it with superb CGI and imaginative imagery. Branagh has certainly stuffed the project with a decadent aesthetic, every frame buffered by lavish cinematography and triumphant production design. Asgard alone would put sets from “The Lord of the Rings” to shame, a layered and meticulously crafted fantasy world of unquestionable quality, and one improved through the use of 3D. The addition of the third dimension doesn’t always play to the movie’s benefit (cluttered action sequences), but it definitely provides “Thor” with the sense of scope its various environments demand.

The storytelling on show might appeal to comic book enthusiasts; sadly I don’t count myself amongst that demographic. For a Marvel novice the plotting in “Thor” is both unoriginal and uninspired, shoving the hero through a selection of formulaic arcs, before climaxing on a generic note of redemption. The writers do a credible job of fleshing out the title character and his mischievous sibling (portrayed well by Hiddleston), but other supporting figures are left to wither. Portman has enough bravado and personality to make Jane work despite having little to draw on, although her burgeoning chemistry with Hemsworth always feels forced. Hopkins could do Odin in his sleep (and at times it appears that literally is the case), but other thespians including Kat Dennings (still refusing to display range) and Stellan Skarsgard (thankless role) feel surplus to the screenplay’s limited requirements.

As the titular God of Thunder Hemsworth is fun, handling both the physical elements and softer fish out of water moments well. “Thor” is perhaps at its most enjoyable when exploiting its protagonist’s cluelessness for giggles, watching the Norse legend struggle with Earthly ways is something of a treat. Branagh also stages the set-pieces proficiently, especially an early one in which a band of Asgard’s finest warriors take on swathes of opposition. It’s a manic sequence, Branagh lacing it with threat and most importantly energy, all the while keeping his camera movements coherent. Some of the later action scenes feel a tad familiar (giant robots haven’t been fresh for about 50 years), but generally when it comes to exhilarating carnage “Thor” delivers.

“Thor” officially kicks the summer 2011 season into gear, and looks set to continue Marvel’s unbelievably lucrative box-office streak. Converting Nordic mythology into a cool 21st Century picture was always going to be hard, so the filmmakers should be chuffed they’ve nearly pulled it off. It’s a muddled and overstretched production with several fundamental flaws, but hey, at least it’s rarely boring. When it comes to an event picture that counts for something, right?

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2011

19 April 2011

Movie Review: Arthur



2011, 110mins, 12
Director: Jason Winer
Writer: Peter Baynham
Cast includes: Russell Brand, Helen Mirren, Greta Gerwig, Jennifer Garner, Nick Nolte
UK Release Date: 22nd April 2011

In retrospect 1981’s “Arthur” was hardly a classic, merely a box-office success that oozed moderate amounts of charm. A solid cast of performers (namely Dudley Moore and John Gielgud) sailed the film into agreeable comedic waters, leaving audiences fairly amused and feeling good. This 2011 remake achieves more or less exactly the same thing, delivering a sporadically funny but consistently charismatic story about a millionaire playboy who needs to grow up. Stepping into the title role is roughish funnyman Russell Brand, with able support being afforded by Greta Gerwig, Jennifer Garner and the ever watchable Helen Mirren. Much like its predecessor, this new version of “Arthur” can’t claim to be revelatory cinema, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t entertaining.

Arthur (Russell Brand) is an immature and reckless lout, a disgrace to his loved ones, and a growing problem for the development of his family’s company. His life is devoted to women, fancy trinkets and vast amounts of booze, always leaving his beloved nanny Hobson (Helen Mirren) to clean up his substantial messes. After one particularly stupid act of public vandalism, Arthur’s family declares they’ve had enough, issuing the childish rascal with an ultimatum. Either he agrees to marry strong and savvy businesswoman Susan (Jennifer Garner), or his substantial inheritance becomes forfeit. Complicating matters further is a chance meeting with a delightful tour guide named Naomi (Greta Gerwig), an unassuming working class girl with whom Arthur promptly falls in love. Arthurs is left torn, does he pursue years of miserable luxury with Susan, or join Naomi, thusly abandoning his lavish lifestyle.

The casting in “Arthur” is pitch perfect, the filmmakers having seemingly achieved the impossible by effectively replacing the 1981 feature’s various icons. Brand steps confidently into Moore’s shoes, never deviating massively from the previous incarnation, but rather bringing identical appeal to the part. Brand convinces (rather unsurprisingly) as a drunken bachelor, filling up every scene of the picture with his larger than life persona. He undisputedly nails the comic aspects, but also doses the character with a respectable measure of humanity. At times the actor threatens to push his portrayal into caricature, but more often than not reigns in his wilder tendencies, allowing Arthur to appear not just as a cartoon, but rather as a well rounded person. Mirren brings the same snarky pathos to Hobson that Gielgud did, bonding believably with Brand in the process. Garner’s tyrannical Susan is afforded much more screen time in the 2011 version, the actress utilizing the added exposure to prime the tale with a few extra giggles. It’s a knowingly overblown turn, expertly judged by the now seasoned Garner. Gerwig is also fine, although her respective arc feels a little more notably fumbled by the creative team.

The story is very similar, even some of the original’s better gags have been recycled for the enjoyment of novices. Screenwriter Peter Baynham isn’t afraid to bring in some fresh ideas though, restructuring certain subplots to allow the narrative to unfold more organically. It’s a nice touch, allowing the “Arthur” of 2011 to feel like a more naturally cinematic gambit than in 1981. The jokes are generally quite decent, with some of the newer tomfoolery finding more traction than the dusty recalls to the Dudley Moore days. I’m sure the filmmakers would cutely refer to this as “celebrating” the 1981 movie’s legacy, but I just call it laziness. When “Arthur” attempts to distance itself as a remake, and brings its own comedic groove to the table, it generally succeeds; Byanham’s witty dialogue and Brand’s game performance infusing the project with an appropriately cheeky tone.

The two key emotional anchors the film offers are Arthur’s relationship with Hobson, and his romance with Naomi. The former is executed very proficiently, although the latter is barely tolerable. Brand and Mirren have an intriguingly strong connection, allowing this component of “Arthur” to reach a resonant and affecting conclusion. On the other hand the love story never quite floats, an overwhelming portion of sentimental pandering wounding its ability to enthrall. Gerwig’s infectious niceness revives proceedings slightly, but her chemistry with Brand can’t match Mirren’s. It’s ample, but also pretty flat in spots. This picture’s viewpoint on alcoholism is also much more sobering, painting it as a nasty disease, rather than a license to permanently act like a disheveled clown. I’m not sure which is preferable (there were some inspired sequences of inebriation in the original), but the 2011 path is infinitely more noble.

“Arthur” marks the directorial debut of Jason Winer, and it’s not a bad first go by any means. The editing feels a little sloppy in parts, but Winer at least maintains a healthy momentum, pumping chuckles and well timed sight gags into the film skillfully. He appears somewhat more uncertain when “Arthur” moves away from the realm of comedy, but that’s largely to be expected from a filmmaker more versed in television. Thankfully the actors are on hand to spare him too many blushes, whilst Baynham’s screenplay distracts from some of the less technically polished elements.

“Arthur” is definitely funnier than most studio comedies (I’d certainly recommend it over the recently released “Your Highness”), doing credible service to the fondly remembered original. It’s not the sort of movie one tends to remember whilst compiling “best of the year” lists, but it’s still an endearing and affable way to spend 110 minutes.

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2011

15 April 2011

Movie Review: Scream 4



Scream 4
2011, 111mins, 15
Director: Wes Craven
Writer: Kevin Williamson
Cast includes: Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox, David Arquette, Emma Roberts, Hayden Panettiere, Rory Culkin
UK Release Date: 15th April 2011

It’s been over a decade since 2000’s “Scream 3”, the world’s thirst for pictures featuring the iconic Ghostface having dried up right alongside it. However thanks to Hollywood’s consistent inability to produce fresh ideas, we now have “Scream 4”, a random and mostly unwanted continuation of this once proud franchise. I remain unconvinced that “Scream 4” was needed, but it is a surprisingly well executed and entertaining sequel none the less. Taking the same post modernist slant as its predecessors, “Scream 4” brings Ghostface back to the big screen with style. It boasts an intriguing mystery, witty dialogue and some fairly uncompromising kills, a concoction of positives I wasn’t anticipating this movie to possess.

On the anniversary of the Woodsboro murders, Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) decides to visit her sleepy old hometown, the once tormented teen now there to promote her life affirming self-help book. However it doesn’t take long for Ghostface to resurface, Sidney is barely back before a selection of lovely teens are taunted and butchered. Sheriff Dewey (David Arquette) and his investigative spouse Gale (Courtney Cox) are determined to solve the crimes, but not before Ghostface actively threatens Sidney, her cousin Jill (Emma Roberts) and many of the local High School students. This time the rules are different, the horror genre having evolved, meaning that 21st Century insights and new filmic trends will be vital in stopping the masked lunatic.

I’m a big fan of 1996’s “Scream”, and have more time for its sequels than most, but I was thoroughly prepared to despise “Scream 4”. The omens weren’t good from the start; Craven’s directorial output has become incredibly patchy in recent times, which combined with reported artistic disputes during the film’s production made me fear for the worst. Yet somehow “Scream 4” emerges a confident winner, filled with many of the same assets that made the original picture so much fun. It’s perhaps a tad overstuffed with characters (seriously, two or three could have been chopped without damaging the product), but it generally operates well as a slick, sick and sporadically perceptive dissection of modern horror cinema.

The screenplay from Williamson (with unofficial rewrites from Ehren Kruger) is pretty decent, providing a gripping whodunit with welcome lashings of pop culture parody. Like the initial effort, “Scream 4” actually has something intelligent to say, culminating its ideas brilliantly during the movie’s unpredictable final reveal. The film even has the decency to poke fun at its own ironic lampooning of horror tropes, using the fictional “Stab” franchise to lambast the self aware style with which characters in Williamson’s universe interact. It’s all a big Meta-joke, but at least it’s a funny one. “Scream 4” also reserves punches in the gut for the recent boom in horror remakes (intriguing to observe 2010’s “A Nightmare on Elm Street” and 2009’s “Last House on the Left” getting a mention here) and the now waning Torture Porn movement. On both counts I approved.

The narrative could have used with a slight clipping, but Craven keeps things moving at an endearing pace, injecting admirable degrees of suspense into the stalk and slash sequences. “Scream 4” is probably the most reliably gruesome of the saga so far, reveling in intense bloodshed for the majority of its overcooked running. Characters are disemboweled, stabbed and mutilated, Ghostface retaining his core ferociousness. Of course there are several cheeky phone conversations to endure, but the villain still has an intensity to him, which thankfully allows “Scream 4” to be fairly scary in chunks.

Williamson and Craven ensure this new installment takes note of how voyeuristic society has become, referencing social networking and the world’s newfound obsession with video blogging, massaging these themes softly yet effectively into the storyline. Not every wink and nudge to the audience works, but as a general rule “Scream 4” is clever without being irritating. The cast includes a mixture of old (Campbell, Cox, Arquette) and new (Hayden Panettiere, Emma Roberts, Rory Culkin), everyone doing at least a tolerable job with their respective role. It is clear that “Scream 4” has been overly fattened, there are too many underdeveloped characters clawing for oxygen within its 111 minute frame. However that’s probably my biggest concern with the feature, and given the variety of things that could have gone wrong, I’d consider it no more than a moderately frustrating quibble.

The finale goes on forever, but is made acceptable thanks to both its shock logic and attempt to comment sensibly on the mindset of today’s hot young things. There are enough credible red herrings to steer viewers in the wrong direction, allowing the major revelation at the end to both alarm and satisfy. “Scream 4” is a really enjoyable diversion, and one of the sharper popcorn pictures I’ve seen recently. I’m certainly not gunning for “Scream 5”, but “Scream 4” is a worthy mixture of thriller and pastiche all the same.

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2011

13 April 2011

Movie Review: TT3D: Closer to the Edge



TT3D: Closer to the Edge
2011, 104mins, 15
Director: Richard De Aragues
Cast includes: Guy Martin, Ian Hutchinson, Michael Dunlop, John McGuinness
UK Release Date: 22nd April 2011

Few films can provide thrills as organic as those felt in “TT3D: Closer to the Edge”, a consistently entertaining and informative documentary focusing on the Tourist Trophy (or TT for short) motorsports event held in the Isle of Man each year. Spotlighting several of the competitors, “TT3D” takes place at the 2010 championships, chronicling the preparation, passion and ultimately flawless execution needed not just to win, but to survive. Filled with memorable personalities and some of the most enjoyable 3D spectacle yet committed to celluloid, “TT3D: Closer to the Edge” is a must watch for adrenaline junkies too chicken to partake in such dangerous activity themselves.

Director Richard De Aragues places heightened emphasis on some figures over others, the most prominent character in the film being cheeky underdog Guy Martin, a man with a love for motorsports but no major accolades to his name. Martin makes for an engaging, honest and likable lead, his desire and thirst for glory evident with every word he speaks. Other major players in the sport also get screen time, but it’s Martin’s amusing and oddly charismatic journey that feels the most inherently cinematic. De Aragues seems to realize this, almost painting “TT3D” as Martin’s story, with a few other notable supporting entities thrown in for good measure.

“TT3D” examines both the highs and lows that arise from such obviously dangerous competition. De Aragues always seems happy to promote the sheer enthusiasm locals (it’s a great source of pride on the Isle of Man), fans and contestants all share, but similarly makes audiences fully aware of the tragic consequences that occur on an annual basis. Few sports can boast the sort of fatality rate evident at the TT, and it is saddening to watch families and friends have to cope with such heartbreaking loss. However De Aragues ensures a feeling of intimacy is depicted throughout this brotherhood of athletes, sculpting a picture that views their deaths through a frame of bittersweet happiness. After all, everyone’s got to die, so you might as well kick the bucket doing what you adore most. It’s a viewpoint that encourages hope, even in the face of tremendous grief.

The first act of the film sets up the protagonists economically, and whilst the middle segment is perhaps slightly bloated, De Aragues unleashes a spectacular finale as compensation. Creating a frantic sense of kinetic energy, De Aragues gets his camera right in the thick of the action, utilizing a combination of sweeping overhead shots and riders’ eye view perspectives. It’s relentlessly exciting, the tension reaching palpable levels as bikers go missing, accidents upset the balance and victory gets ever closer. The 3D also undeniably benefits the experience, immersing viewers totally within this universe of unstoppable speed. We’re not talking “Avatar” levels of technical wizardry here, but rather De Aragues’ own inventive use of the extra dimension to help the world come alive. “TT3D” opts for creativity over excess, and the results speak for themselves.

I knew next to nothing about the TT before seeing this impressive production, but thanks to the movie’s interesting dissection of the phenomenon and its respectable detailing of the sport’s history, I now feel rather well educated. “TT3D: Closer to the Edge” is a surprisingly astute blend of sympathetic characters, fearless action and extreme bravery. At 104 minutes it’s perhaps too long, but on the whole I’d consider it a documentary worth seeing.

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2011

12 April 2011

Movie Review: Red Riding Hood



Red Riding Hood
2011, 100mins, 12
Director: Catherine Hardwicke
Writer: David Johnson
Cast includes: Amanda Seyfried, Gary Oldman, Virginia Madsen, Billy Burke, Max Irons, Julie Christie
UK Release Date: 15th April 2011

After her impromptu expulsion from the “Twilight” series, director Catherine Hardwicke hasn’t strayed too far thematically with her follow-up “Red Riding Hood”. A peculiar retelling of the famous fairytale, “Red Riding Hood” has a few notable merits, but also some intensely distracting flaws. In terms of visual presentation and atmosphere the movie is a winner, sadly most of the production’s other components let it down.

The village of Daggerhorn has been plagued by a malicious werewolf for years, locals forced into hiding at the very thought of a full moon. Valerie (Amanda Seyfried) also has other reasons to be discontented, namely her arranged marriage to a local Blacksmith named Henry (Max Irons). Valerie’s heart belongs to another, her dashing yet financially strained childhood friend Peter (Shiloh Fernandez). As the wolf attacks grow increasingly nasty, the villagers seek the help of religious warrior Father Solomon (Gary Oldman), he and his band of troops descending on the town to hunt out the beast. However instead of setting the locals at ease, Solomon turns the community against itself, eventually leading to Valerie being accused of witchcraft.

Amanda Seyfried acquits herself adequately in “Red Riding Hood”, yet it marks another film unworthy of the actresses’ abilities. The film opts for a solemn and humorless tone; any laughs that arise are purely unintentional. As a result it depends utterly on Seyfried and a hammy Oldman to inject some spontaneity and life into proceedings, but against such a clunky screenplay they have limited power. I appreciated both thespians trying, and at times they do succeed, but ultimately “Red Riding Hood” marks a regrettable career development for both. The rest of the supporting cast is awful. As Valerie’s parents Billy Burke and Virginia Madsen are granted nothing to do, whilst both Max Irons and Shiloh Fernandez are limp love interests. The film’s attempts to characterize even its central figures are ham-fisted, meaning that “Red Riding Hood” struggles to engage on a fundamental level.

Hardwicke has at least constructed a visually interesting film, shoveling in some compelling imagery and welcome stylistic flourishes. The cinematography from Mandy Walker captures Daggerhorn’s sense of isolation, the film achieving a haunting ambience as a consequence. When “Red Riding Hood” lunges to be taken seriously as a horror picture it fails miserably, the PG-13 aesthetic and Hardwicke’s spastic way with jump scares undercutting the tension. However in its quieter moments it would be unfair not to compliment the picture on its foreboding undercurrent. It’s just a pity the filmmakers couldn’t translate the same sense of unease into the werewolf sequences.

The love triangle (easily the film’s most overt ad irritating attempt to “Twilight” itself up) is pathetically executed, a victim of inconsistent focus and wooden acting. Hardwicke only ever seems interested in this facet of “Red Riding Hood” when the wolf is absent or Oldman stops bellowing, leaving it unrefined and shallow. It does allow for a decent action scene in which Valerie’s two suitors help her escape from Solomon’s tyrannical clutches, but leaving that aside, it only exists to embarrass the film. Casting livelier folks than Fernandez and Irons would certainly have helped, but it’s really Hardwicke’s erratic direction and the flimsy writing that hurts this part of the flick most.

Who is the wolf? This mystery is easily solved early on, Hardwicke making it obvious through a selection of distressingly clumsy shots. “Red Riding Hood” attempts to use this central idea to incur a state of paranoia and suspense, but thanks to some unsubtle indicators and the film’s general refusal to unleash any genuine threat, the fear levels remain fairly low. It’s hard to imagine even young girls being spooked by this toothless affair. Hardwicke can’t help but wrap things up on a cloyingly fantastical note, whilst a few other misjudged additions (a silly dream sequence and ridiculous wolf talk) only further sully this occasionally intriguing effort. “Red Riding Hood” isn’t a complete dud, but I have no qualms in suggesting it would take a much better director than Hardwicke to morph this material into anything truly worthwhile.

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2011

9 April 2011

Movie Review: Your Highness



Your Highness
2011, 102mins, 15
Director: David Gordon Green
Writer (s): Danny McBride, Ben Best
Cast includes: Danny McBride, James Franco, Natalie Portman, Zooey Deschanel, Justin Theroux, Charles Dance
UK Release Date: 13th April 2011

If “Your Highness” teaches us anything, it’s the value of a decent screenplay. Reasonably well acted and technically impressive, the picture’s only major failing is in its writing, but that’s enough to completely sink the flimsy enterprise. Under the guidance of David Gordon Green “Your Highness” is aesthetically pleasing, but the film never manages to find a rewarding comedic groove, instead opting for obvious jokes and puerile references to male reproductive organs. I desperately wanted to like this slice of medieval tomfoolery, but instead I was left shocked by its unrelenting witlessness.

The remote Kingdom of Mourne has two Princes, brave and handsome Fabious (James Franco) and his selfish and ignorant brother Thadeous (Danny McBride). On the day of his wedding, Fabious has his bride Belladonna (Zooey Deschanel) stolen away from him, the thief revealing himself to be the wicked wizard Leezar (Justin Theroux). Leezar needs Belladonna in order to fulfill a contemptuous prophecy, requiring the young maiden’s virginity for his own ends. Fabious sets out to save her, dragging a reluctant and oafish Thadeous along for the ride. They swiftly meet up with a hardened warrior named Isabel (Natalie Portman), the unlikely trio enduring betrayal, danger and insurmountable odds in order to try and rescue Belladonna.

“Your Highness” is a good looking film, shot attractively in the hilly and lush countryside of Northern Ireland. Green endows the picture with a necessary sense of scale, concocting a wide and at times immersive world for his foolish heroes to inhabit. At the very least the startling cinematography and natural beauty of the film’s shooting locations will act as a solid travel brochure, some of the scenery in “Your Highness” surprisingly reminiscent of the gorgeous New Zealand landscapes found in Peter Jackson’s celebrated “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy.

Danny McBride assumes leading man status for the first time in a major studio feature with “Your Highness”, turning in a sufficient albeit fairly standard village idiot performance. However McBride also has the distinct dishonor of having contributed to the film’s wretched screenplay, an inanely plotted and humorless example of comedic craft. I have no problem with vulgarity, but “Your Highness” is a very dumb movie, unable to combine its penchant for dick jokes with anything resembling intelligence. McBride and co-writer Ben Best consistently opt for the most offensive material they can, confusing crassness with edginess. There are a selection of amusing moments (most of which popped up in the film’s admittedly excellent trailer), but generally it’s all severed Minotaur cocks and references to “the Fuckening”. It’s unimpressive to say the least.

Some of the creature effects have a nice old school vibe about them, and the film’s action is competently choreographed. Tonally “Your Highness” is a bizarre amalgamation of potty mouthed shenanigans and unadorned adventuring, at times it does appear Green thinks he’s making a genuine entry into the fantasy genre. This uneven mix of parody and sincerity hinders the final product, and also explains some of the disappointing lulls in laughter. Granted little of what’s evidenced here is funny in the first place, yet had the filmmakers stuck tighter to a mood of mockery then “Your Highness” might have offered a more gut-busting viewing experience. Of course the sheer complacency of the central story defeats any chances of “Your Highness” earning credibility amongst the rabid fanboy population, it’s simply too lazy to inspire any degree of enthusiasm.

Leaving aside a sleepy Zooey Deschanel, the supporting cast is fine, with James Franco and Justin Theroux emerging as the most successful contributors. Franco plays it straight and engages comfortably with McBride, whilst Theroux manages to turn the film’s villain into a whiny and socially awkward teenager. A little more invention like this and “Your Highness” might actually have been worthwhile. Portman’s line delivery is rusty in chunks, but the recent Oscar winner at least appears onside with the film’s unstoppably silly content. She’s defenseless against the abysmal script, but at least looks game for fun.

“Your Highness” will definitely go down as one of the more underwhelming films of 2011, it’s a first rate education in how to approach production design, but also a firm warning on how not to pen a farce. The jokes are stale, leaving me to wonder why so many talented folks bothered attaching themselves to the project. This is one quest to the multiplex you needn’t bother making.

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2011

8 April 2011

DVD Review: Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole



"Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole” is an odd feature, most notably because it comes from the directorial stare of Zack Snyder. Following his excellent albeit financially wobbly adaptation of “Watchmen”, Snyder opted to tackle author Kathryn Lasky’s “Guardians of Ga’Hoole” series, a selection of fantasy novels aimed at prepubescent readers. Imagining a world inhabited by clans of talking owls, “Legend of the Guardians” is very hit and miss from a storytelling perspective, but absolutely dazzling in terms of visual presentation. More seasoned viewers will undoubtedly be disappointed by the stock characters and obvious plot contortions, but there’s no denying “Legend of the Guardians” is a beautiful movie to look at.

Soren (Jim Sturgess) is a young barn owl obsessed with tales of the Guardians of Ga’Hoole, a band of noble owls who fight for peace and harmony in the animal kingdom. One evening he and his brother Kludd (Ryan Kwanten) are abducted by larger beasts and taken to evil Metalbeak’s kingdom (Joel Edgerton), finding themselves enslaved by the cold Queen Nyra (Helen Mirren). Soren comes to find that Metalbeak and Nyra are using trapped young owls to build an ultimate weapon that will allow them to assume complete command of the wilderness. Kludd becomes infatuated with his new overlords, but Soren and another smaller owl named Gylfie (Emily Barclay) narrowly escape, heading to the mythical land of Ga’Hoole for help. On arrival the Guardians are ultimately disbelieving, but Soren soon shows them otherwise, leaving warfare as the only solution.

I can’t speak with any genuine authority concerning Lasky’s literary work, but on the basis of this adaptation I wouldn’t imagine it’s fiercely original. “Legend of the Guardians” is a pretty standard underdog flick, imagining a fantasy world where an underappreciated outsider has to discover his own true potential to prosper. If you’ve even heard of Harry Potter or Frodo Baggins then you’re probably rolling your eyes about now, and to be fair, I wouldn’t blame you. The plotting is staggeringly formulaic, as is the characterization, nobody in this world exists as anything more than a stoic hero, a nefarious villain or a stuttering goofball. Kids will probably respond to these stereotypes with little complaint, but more mature audiences should be advised that “Legend of the Guardians” struggles to provide screen entities of any emotional depth or individuality. Pixar this ain’t.

Snyder reasserts with “Legend of the Guardians” that he is a tremendously visual filmmaker, crafting an energetic digital world filled with serenely detailed beauty. Some of the character designs are a little indistinctive, but others are wonderfully envisioned by an obviously committed Snyder. The cinematography is breathtaking throughout, and Snyder also finds the time to imbue his own personal filmmaking flourishes into this unlikely universe. If you’ve ever wanted to see owls propel themselves through the air in slow-mo, then “Legend of the Guardians” is the movie for you. Snyder also does a fantastic job of pushing the picture toward a frantic and bombastic climax, the film’s opening two acts are infinitely patchy, but the battle sequences at the end are highly entertaining.

The voice cast is agreeable, Snyder selecting skilled thespians rather than superstars. Bringing solid performers like Jim Sturgess, Hugo Weaving, Helen Mirren, Sam Neill and Geoffrey Rush into the mix only empowers the production, gifting the CGI creations personality in a way the script fails to render. “Legend of the Guardians” isn’t the sort of endeavor I would go out of my way to recommend, but I suppose as a family rental it fulfills the required functions competently enough.

The video quality looks good, although with films like this you can’t help but wish you’d been issued a Blu-Ray to review instead. The Hi-Def transfer for “Legend of the Guardians” must be superb. The edition I received was a one disc release, with fairly limited additional content. A Looney Tunes short entitled “Fur of Flying” is a tight and sporadically amusing watch, although it offers no more than you’d expect from an average Road Runner cartoon. A 15 minute featurette focusing on owls as a species is also included, and is informative enough. That’s pretty much it here, so those looking for insightful information concerning the production process had better go elsewhere.

"Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’ Hoole” is available to own and rent on DVD and Blu-Ray from April 11th 2011.

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2011

7 April 2011

DVD Verdict Review: Heartless



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

1 April 2011

Movie Review: Source Code



Source Code
2011, 93mins, 12
Director: Duncan Jones
Writer: Ben Ripley
Cast includes: Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Monaghan, Vera Farmiga, Jeffrey Wright, Cas Anvar
UK Release Date: 1st April 2011

After the surprise success of his meditative sci-fi winner “Moon” two years ago, it was tough to deduce where Duncan Jones would next apply his directorial skills. With his follow-up “Source Code”, Jones has opted to stay true to his original endeavor, concocting a very human story wrapped within a compelling central premise. A sturdy sophomore effort, “Source Code” suffers from a few minor missteps, but generally holds up as an entertaining and soulful blast of imaginative cinema.

Waking up on a train that he has no recollection of boarding, Captain Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) reaches the disturbing conclusion that he’s within the body of a man he doesn’t know. After foraging around for answers and questioning supposed friend Christina (Michelle Monaghan), the train detonates, leaving everyone on it dead. Colter then finds himself in a confined metal pod, with only a face on a video monitor to connect him with the outside world. The person on the other end is a military official named Goodwin (Vera Farmiga), Colter reluctantly getting her to explain what’s going on. It transpires that he is within a computer program called Source Code, a creation used to relive the last 8 minutes of a deceased person’s life. Colter is then forced once again to endure the explosion, Goodwin explaining that he must tackle the same 8 minutes over and over until he can work out who’s responsible for the bombing. Colter then begins to form theories about who the villain could be, all the while pondering why he was chosen to complete this vital mission.

“Source Code” isn’t an all out action extravaganza, but it does provide viewers with several sequences of extreme tension. The screenplay, by Ben Ripley, is driven by character rather than a thirst for spectacle; consequently the film’s protagonists become genuinely sympathetic. “Source Code” is just as concerned with exploring isolation (an obvious link with “Moon”) and questioning reality, as it is in spooning out surface level thrills. The brain teaser at the movie’s core is suitably engaging and exciting, but it’s probably the exploration of other more intimate themes that impresses most. “Source Code” benefits from a cunning plot and intelligently written characters, an unusual feat for any motion picture to achieve, even less so one with such a tentative genre connection.

Gyllenhaal is good value as Colter, combing his usual cocksure charisma with a convincing sense of angst. As a result we are offered a charmingly complex turn, Gyllenhaal fully focused on morphing Colter into more than just an average action hero. Ripley provides the actor with tragic daddy issues and an acute aura of loneliness, allowing Gyllenhaal a little extra emotional beef to chew on. Certainly set beside Jones’ mind-bending tropes it’s a successful performance. I’ve not always been hyper complimentary about Michelle Monaghan in the past, but in “Source Code” the actress actually does a lot with rather little. Bonding sweetly with Gyllenhaal, Monaghan has to move through the same story beats time after time, yet the actress is subtly able to depict a growth in Christina. It’s undoubtedly a performance that is hugely aided by resourceful direction and marvellous editing, but still, the actress deserves commendation for preventing the production’s “Groundhog Day” foundation from forcing her to produce one note work. Similar praise should also be shot Farmiga’s way, although, as the creator of Source Code , the usually dependable Jeffrey Wright tends to overplay his morally duplicitous hand.

Jones keeps the visuals fresh, finding increasingly interesting ways to repeatedly retell the same 8 minutes of history. The film eventually becomes completely obsessed with Colter’s own personal predicament, but during the opening half “Source Code” is primed with taught suspense and well paced set-pieces. Each of these scintillating encounters is shot on a relatively small scale, but Jones has a natural talent for cultivating thrills out of the seemingly mundane. Sure, there’s a moment in which Gyllenhaal attempts to deactivate a monstrous looking explosive, but just as invigorating are his interactions with other passengers as he tries to crack the bomber’s identity. Adding to the project’s value is its adamant refusal to opt for a watery twist, instead culminating the overarching mystery with a logical yet entirely unpredictable conclusion.

Jones appears to lose confidence in his own abilities come the end, overcompensating frantically (and at egregious length) to try and reiterate the film’s sense of humanity. Thankfully, Farmiga and Gyllenhaal are on hand to lessen the damage, but unfortunately “Source Code” blunders to the finish line with an unnecessarily mawkish sensibility, undoing some of the artful sincerity of the picture’s earlier acts. A tighter and less indulgent conclusion would have been entirely possible, but Jones appears frightened that anyone should leave feeling his film lacked a sense of pathos or morality. Had he paid closer attention to the heartfelt and beautifully poised middle section, then he would realize such worries to be unjustified.

“Source Code” deserves to be labelled Hitchcockian for all the right reasons; it’s got solid performances, an agreeable screenplay and a director with an obvious knack for combining drama and panic to startlingly pleasurable effect. There are nits to pick, but ultimately it’s one of the safer reasons to venture out to the multiplex in the current cinematic climate.

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2011