23 August 2011

Movie Review: Final Destination 5



Final Destination 5
2011, 92mins, 15
Director: Steve Quale
Writer: Eric Heisserer
Cast includes: Nicholas D'Agosto, Emma Bell, Tony Todd, Courtney B. Vance, David Koechner
UK Release Date: 26th August 2011

2000’s “Final Destination” turned a devilish premise into a tightly wound and full-blooded teen thriller. The sequels that followed were incredibly hit and miss, the series hitting its nadir with 2009’s ghastly “The Final Destination”. As a result expectations weren’t high for “Final Destination 5”, the once crafty franchise apparently having completely expelled the remnants of its creative potential years ago. It’s a surprise then to remark that this fifth entry is actually a lot of fun, shallow of course, but not without a set of wacky and exceedingly gory charms. Director Steve Quale (a visual effects supervisor on “Avatar” amongst other things) understands what fans of this crazy little series want, namely elaborate and tensely depicted death traps for its handsome protagonists to unwittingly stumble into.

As he prepares to embark on a retreat with work colleagues, Sam (Nicholas D’Agosto, “Fired Up!”) predicts the collapse of a suspension bridge, a disaster which would spell doom for all his buddies, including girlfriend Molly (Emma Bell, “Frozen”). Leading his peers to safety just before his vision becomes reality; Sam promptly undergoes intense scrutiny from Agent Jim Block (Courtney B. Vance), a man who believes Sam’s supposed premonition to be a simple front for possible terrorist activity. However Sam and the rest of the survivors have bigger problems, namely that death wants to reclaim their souls, using a selection of predictably complex and gruesome traps to do so. As Sam frantically attempts to discover a way of besting the system, his friends are abandoned in a state of perpetual anxiety, left to ponder which of them will be next.

Steve Quale’s familiarity with 3D technology shines through here; unlike with the last installment the extra dimension adds even more campy amusement to proceedings. Those murky glasses are rarely useful in a cinema auditorium, but at least Quale ensures the hokey 3D looks acceptable, the filmmaker clearly interested in using it to better his schlocky film rather than simply implementing it to increase box-office takings. The quality of the CGI is also impressive, “Final Destination 5” showing extreme reverence to the art of gore-tastic special effects. The opening disaster looks sharp, offering the endeavour a genuine sense of scale, something lacking from its most immediate predecessor. It may not be the franchise highlight -that award still going to the melee at the start of “Final Destination 2” - but it’s fairly decent stuff.

The acting is unremarkable but far from amateurish, something which plagued “The Final Destination” constantly. D’Agosto is maybe a little sedate in the leading role, but he at least exudes likability. Tony Todd returns in person for the first time since 2003 here, once again acting as an ominous cipher for death. Simply reinstating Todd to the series lends “Final Destination 5” some much needed genre credibility, further showcasing that Quale and company took the business of making a goofy horror picture seriously. The death sequences (which have always been the franchise’s biggest pull) are solid, “Final Destination 5” utilizing gymnastics, laser eye surgery and acupuncture for some of its darker thrills. I hate to keep harping on about this picture’s superiority over “The Final Destination”, but it’s honestly just refreshing to see the creators once again apply some focus and energy to the twisted set-pieces.

The human component of “Final Destination 5” is weak, screenwriter Eric Heisserer (who was also responsible for last year’s revamp of “A Nightmare on Elm Street”) fumbling the relationship between Sam and Molly, thusly filling “Final Destination 5” with a rickety and uninvolving emotional core. Nobody comes to these pictures for sublime drama, but it would be nice if more effort had been applied to this facet of the film, because on the basis of how much screen time it receives, audiences are clearly meant to care about it.

“Final Destination 5” is forgettable, but at least it provides adequate entertainment for the majority of its snappy 92 minutes. The franchise’s tongue in cheek sensibility shines through with a mischievous finale, one which strongly indicates this might be the last offering under the “Final Destination” brand. It’s a slight return to form, delivering to viewers what they enjoy most about these movies, which includes overlooking extraneous details such as rich character development or logic. A film of this calibre is usually a rental, but given the high standard of its 3D I’d almost encourage people to check “Final Destination 5” out in theatres.

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2011

21 August 2011

Movie Review: The Inbetweeners Movie



The Inbetweeners Movie
2011, 97mins, 15
Director: Ben Palmer
Writer (s): Iain Morris, Damon Beesley
Cast includes: Simon Bird, James Buckley, Blake Harrison, Joe Thomas, Laura Haddock, Emily Head
UK Release Date: 19th August 2011

Since its first appearance on British television in 2008, “The Inbetweeners” has pretty much become a modern comedic institution. Following a group of socially inept 18 year-old boys, the show amassed a following thanks to its boundary busting vulgarity, clever writing and gut wrenching honesty. With the television portion of these characters’ lives now seemingly complete (the third series climaxed in 2010), the creators have bumped this troubled quartet of cretins up to the big screen for a final hurrah. “The Inbetweeners Movie” captures much of the humour that rendered the show such a deserved success, but it also makes several critical missteps outside of its comic aspirations, especially when it comes to depicting the lads finding romance on a gnarly holiday.

Will (Simon Bird), Jay (James Buckley), Simon (Joe Thomas) and Neil (Blake Harrison) are about to leave their school years behind them, preparing to move into the realms of university and work in the coming months. When Simon’s long-term crush Carli (Emily Head) dumps him, the boys decide that a holiday is in order, heading to Malia in Greece for a fortnight of booze, relaxation and hopefully sex. On arrival their accommodation turns out to be dingy, the locals less than friendly and their own group dynamic threatened by rivalries and disappointments. As the getaway goes from bad to worse, hope arrives in the form of a gaggle of girls, chiefly Alison (Laura Haddock, “Captain America The First Avenger”), a young woman who strikes up a strong bond with nebbish Will.

“The Inbetweeners Movie” feels like it belongs on TV, the feature more of an extended episode than an accomplished motion picture. Visually director Ben Palmer has done very little to distinguish his work here from that on the show itself, save for a few unsubtle camera tricks in the glitzy party central of Malia. The pacing also feels incredibly uneven, the filmmakers sending the characters on their way promptly, but the holiday adventuring never finds the correct momentum. Events seem to occur out of sync with the emotional core of the picture, and at 97 minutes the film is definitely overstretched. This is a story that could’ve unfolded effectively as an hour-long TV special, but instead writers Iain Morris and Damon Beesley stagger the plot unnecessarily. As a result of this bloated presentation some of the punch associated with “The Inbetweeners” feels absent.

The movie offers a respectable belly laugh quota, even if it lunges for the obvious joke a little too readily. As was the case on TV, the tale is narrated by nerdy Will; Simon Bird’s phenomenal delivery and the character’s sly observations amounting to several hysterical line readings. The larger set-pieces are also pretty good, particularly those involving ridiculous dance moves, anthills and bizarre masturbatory practices (snorkels and ham go hand in hand here). The dialogue also retains its freshness and believability, the writers once again perfectly replicating the crude conversation that goes on between boys of a certain age. It’s always pleasant to see writers utilize profanity so creatively, but the creators are very aware that it’s all bravado, a front for these scared and naïve teens to hide behind. It’s that truthfulness and relatable sensibility which made the TV show so popular. Thusly it’s nice to observe that particular quality making its way into the film.

The cast are all fine, particularly the female newcomers played gamely by Haddock, Tamla Kari, Lydia Rose Bewley and Jessica Knappet. What doesn’t gel are some of the writing choices made surrounding these characters, namely that they’d still be interested in frequenting with the boys after being treated so poorly by some of them. The chemistry between Haddock and Bird is adequate, but the other blossoming relationships don’t work, particularly that between Thomas and Kari. There’s a mean chauvinistic streak here, it’s actively uncomfortable to watch Thomas so arrogantly overlook Kari, only for her to come panting after him with every evolving scene. Relations within the central gang are somewhat better, with special mention going to a tender moment between Buckley’s Jay and Thomas’s Simon. It’s a poignant addition to the tale, subtly underplayed by both actors as they come to grips with possibly saying goodbye. It draws comparisons to “Superbad” for all the right reasons.

“The Inbetweeners Movie” is lightly entertaining but it doesn’t quite do its source full justice. It makes for a sharper ending than the last few episodes of the third season (where the concept was visibly running out of steam), but as a singular entity it’s riddled with irritating niggles. One should also mention that some attachment to the characters is vital for the film to land any of its intended impact, without prior exposure to this squad of reprobates your viewing will drag hard and often.

In the pantheon of TV to film adaptations “The Inbetweeners Movie” ranks above average. As a self-contained teen comedy it’s several notches below the respective genre highpoints.

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2011

17 August 2011

Get more out of your Student Finance with Santander and their giant giveaways!


It’s back! For the third year running, Santander are here to make being a student that bit easier. Santander are offering all prospective students the chance to win £50 in their daily giveaways, or if you’re feeling really lucky one of their massive £1000 pound giveaways. Being a new student is tough, but with a bank like Santander on your side it’s much easier, and hey, why wouldn’t you want the chance to win cash prizes, alongside other assorted gadgets and gizmos!

Santander are one of the most renowned and dependable banks in the UK, so for busy students they’re ideal. This giveaway is to help promote the various student accounts and to show the bank really care about their clientele, after all with your time being eaten up by exams, studying and having fun, it’s good to know you have a secure bank looking after your finances. Santander offers exactly that!

So head over to the Santander Facebook page (just click the link at the top of the page to access it or click here) so you can be in with a chance of winning some fabulous stuff, and to fully explore the world of Student finance. Good Luck!


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Movie Review: Cowboys & Aliens



Cowboys and Aliens
2011, 118mins, 12
Director: Jon Favreau
Writer (s): Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, Damon Lindelof, Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby
Cast includes: Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, Olivia Wilde, Sam Rockwell, Clancy Brown, Noah Ringer
UK Release Date: 17th August 2011

After two decent “Iron Man” adventures, director Jon Favreau has opted to maintain his status as a blockbuster filmmaker with “Cowboys & Aliens”. Loosely adapted from a comic book of the same name, “Cowboys & Aliens” appears on paper to be a geek’s wet dream, combining both western and sci-fi elements with a host of recognizable names peppering the cast list. On paper that is. In practice the film is actually a slog, an ugly amalgamation of poor writing and uninspired action. The performers are largely game, but Favreau displays miniscule imagination, grappling hopelessly with a screenplay that never catches fire.

Proceedings open with Jake Lonergan (Daniel Craig) awakening in the middle of nowhere, his memory wiped and with a futuristic device strapped upon his wrist. Making his way into town, Lonergan quickly runs afoul of the law and Colonel Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford), his past criminal exploits catching up with him when he is identified as a thief, thug and potential murderer. In the midst of this fracas, a fleet of aggressive alien spacecraft ambush the town and make off with some of its inhabitants, leaving Dolarhyde with no choice but to utilize Jake’s reputation and mysterious mechanical attachment to hunt the nasty newcomers. Together the two men lead a posse comprised of weary bartender Doc (Sam Rockwell), anxious youngster Emmett (Noah Ringer), warmhearted preacher Meacham (Clancy Brown) and tightlipped Ella (Olivia Wilde), a woman with a notable interest in Jake. It quickly becomes clear that the rescue mission will be a dangerous one, as the extraterrestrial menace showcase stronger weaponry and a merciless attitude.

Despite such a fertile premise and a five strong team of writers, “Cowboys & Aliens” is totally devoid of new ideas. Instead of using this bizarre clash to reinvent the respective genres, the screenplay is simply content to mash together mediocre clichés, resulting in tepid sequences that we’ve seen multiple times before. The film isn’t overly action heavy to begin with, but the lack of innovation evidenced is starling, Favreau guiding us through a slew of very familiar set-pieces. The alien spacecraft attacks are vapid and unmemorable; amounting to joyless CGI fuelled interludes that fail to ratchet up the tension. When the creatures themselves appear toward the film’s climax, they’re an appropriately vicious brood, but Favreau largely wastes them, using a selection of faceless digital jets as antagonists during the opening two acts. The heated interactions between the humans are a little more involving, but rarely extend further than your usual western shootouts and brawls. Formula rules firmly in “Cowboys & Aliens”.

Characterization clearly wasn’t a priority during the creative process, the personalities in “Cowboys & Aliens” nothing more than stereotypes. Craig is gruff and reasonably badass, which is cool... for about ten minutes. After an opening bout of fisticuffs, the film never really does anything engaging with Jake, instead leaving Craig to scowl and murmur his way through the story. The usually dependable British actor looks like he’s here for the money, a visibly bored expression adorning his face for the majority of the film’s runtime. Attempts at morphing Jake into a three-dimensional antihero are predictable and ineffective. You can shove all the tragedy flavoured flashbacks you want down an audiences throat – but if they don’t care about the character – then it’s all for nothing. Harrison Ford is at least fun to watch, the seasoned genre star underlining his turn with some gruff swagger. Olivia Wilde, who was very good in last year’s “TRON: Legacy”, is left with the most hopeless character of all. For a large portion of “Cowboys & Aliens” she’s simply a thinly developed figure of intrigue, and by the time the writers do something fresh with the beautiful actress it’s too late. The revelation surrounding Ella is both bogus and lazy, whilst her rushed romantic subplot with Craig is detonated thanks to a lack of palpable chemistry between the thespians.

“Cowboys & Aliens” trundles along for a bloated 118 minutes, packing in a variety of unnecessary subplots. Given that the central batch of characters are so dramatically malnourished, it’s weird to observe the writing staff attempt to gift numerous supporting players limp narrative lifelines, namely the folks portrayed by Rockwell and Ringer. Neither actor does overtly bad work (Ringer is perhaps a little stilted in a few scenes, but it’s forgivable), but the arcs ascribed to them are banal and unfocused. “Cowboys & Aliens” really is a mess, albeit a well photographed one. The cinematography by Matthew Libatique is excellent, capturing the dry harshness of the west in stylish detail. This sheen of visual panache is definitely one of the movie’s stronger attributes, without it things would be considerably more offensive.

The producers on the project include Steven Spielberg amongst their ranks; I can only assume he was too busy working on his future directorial output and shepherding the superior “Super 8” to bestow any substantial attention upon “Cowboys & Aliens”. Maybe if he had the movie wouldn’t be such a mundane disappointment, albeit given that the majority of the production’s problems stem from and lame script, even the contributions of Spielberg mightn’t have been enough. Still, speculation and hypothetical musings are one thing, reality is quite another. The fact of the matter is “Cowboys & Aliens” isn’t worth any of your film-going coin.

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2011

11 August 2011

Movie Review: The Devil's Double



The Devil's Double
2011, 120mins, 18
Director: Lee Tamahori
Writer: Michael Thomas
Cast includes: Dominic Cooper, Ludivine Sagnier, Raad Rawi, Dar Salim, Philip Quast
UK Release Date: 10th August 2011

“The Devil’s Double” is a case of great central performance, pity about the director. Charting the relationship between Uday Hussein and his tortured body double, the film seems chiefly interested in sickening acts of violence and sabotage, leaving it up to a fantastic Dominic Cooper (portraying both Uday and his unfortunate clone) to instill the picture with any semblance of depth or emotional complexity. “The Devil’s Double” is an acceptable diversion during the viewing experience, but Lee Tamahori’s insistence on stylized overkill coupled with the thin screenplay leave it open to substantial criticism afterward.

An Iraqi soldier with a noble reputation, Latif (Dominic Cooper) is shocked to find himself drawn into the core of Saddam Hussein’s regime. Latif is a doppelganger for Saddam’s son Uday (also Cooper), the government keen to acquire Latif’s services to enhance the bratty lout’s security. After some minor physical alterations, Latif enters Uday’s fulltime employment, forced to watch as his new master commits vile deeds across the region of Baghdad. Desperate to escape Uday’s repugnant clutches, Latif comes to realize dissent will be met with harsh punishment, his own health and the well being of his family placed firmly on the line.

“The Devil’s Double” isn’t a subtle film nor is it particularly fixated on historical accuracy; instead Tamahori structures it as a standard tale of sex, drugs, gunplay and moral ambiguity. The vision of Uday Hussein presented here is deplorable, Cooper perfectly depicting the man’s dangerous sense of self-importance. A true screen terror, Uday molests the young, murders the innocent and showcases no understanding of mercy, Cooper channeling these evils through manic twitches and hyperactive tirades. His interpretation of Latif is less kinetic, but it contrasts effectively with the wild Uday, Cooper’s Latif communicating both loathing and disbelief expertly. It’s a really tremendous piece of work.

The narrative is loosely grabbed from reality, Tamahori weaving in war footage and references to various monumental global events to keep the timeline readable. “The Devil’s Double” never opts for devoted action beats, instead offering scenes of unsettling brutality, many of which leave a hefty mark. Some of his visuals are ludicrously hackneyed, but Tamahori is never afraid to show the audience harsh truths in a gritty light, special focus being applied to Uday’s haunting treatment of local schoolgirls. It’s not exactly pleasant to behold, but it certainly affords the picture some much needed weight, helping to buoy Cooper’s contribution through sheer shock value.

The plotting is crisp, keeping the first two thirds fairly intriguing, but the product runs out of steam before the end. A feeble romantic angle is angrily shoehorned into the movie, “The Devil’s Double” suggesting that Latif had a relationship with one of Uday’s most cherished girls (played flatly by Ludivine Sagnier); this facet of the feature undone through a lack of chemistry and excessively shallow character development. Cooper does his best, but Sagnier is lifeless, although the actress is inherently crippled from the start thanks to Tamahori’s crude and ridiculously cheesy sexualizing of her character. It’s obvious and at times laughably overwrought, this aspect of the movie perfectly embodied by a hastily edited MTV style bedroom romp halfway through.

The cinematography is polished but unmemorable, Tamahori basking the picture in an unending sea of gold. Cooper’s performance and a handful of other attributes (namely a fluid start and a few striking moments of anguish) keep “The Devil’s Double” bearable, but it rarely achieves anything more than that. It’s a better than average biopic, but even within its genre “The Devil’s Double” is far from a classic.

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2011

9 August 2011

"The Skin I Live In" in cinemas August 26th.


Master filmmaker Pedro Almodovar returns to cinemas this month with “The Skin I Live In”, starring superstar Antonio Banderas (“The Legend of Zorro”). A haunting and striking film, “The Skin I Live In” follows a grief-stricken plastic surgeon (Banderas), as he attempts to create a synthetic skin that can withstand any damage. The subject of his experimentation is a mysterious woman (Elena Anaya), but will she be enough to help the mad scientist achieve his fleshy goal, and simultaneously recover from the sadness of his past?

Almodovar is amongst the most influential and consistently inspired visionaries on the European art house circuit, reason enough then for viewers to anticipate and revel in this, his latest creation. With a strong cast and a predictably offbeat narrative device at his disposal, Almodovar looks to have concocted something pretty special here. Of course aside from the icky central premise audiences can expect an onslaught of well developed and substantially more mature themes, a filmmaker of Almodovar’s calibre unlikely to have made a picture without a tortured yet compelling soul. Strongly reviewed by critics and applauded by the lucky few audiences that have seen it, “The Skin I Live In” is a suspenseful, heartfelt and very probably unforgettable viewing experience. The film opens at selected outlets in the UK this August 26th. Make sure you catch it.

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Movie Review: Rise of the Planet of the Apes



Rise of the Planet of the Apes
2011, 105mins, 12
Director: Rupert Wyatt
Writer (s): Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver
Cast includes: James Franco, Freida Pinto, Andy Serkis, Tom Felton, Brian Cox, John Lithgow
UK Release Date: 12th August 2011

After Tim Burton’s limp remake ten years ago, I felt pretty sure the "Planet of the Apes” franchise was dead for good. When news trickled through about an impending prequel I wasn’t titillated, the whole thing reeking of a creatively bankrupt studio lunging at a long drained cash cow. The marketing didn’t help much either, poor trailers and uninspired posters popping up at multiplexes earlier this year, further hammering home my fear that the picture would be an irrelevant blockbusting nightmare. So imagine my surprise to find that “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” is actually a very fine piece of work. Crafted with surprising social and emotional awareness, the film honours the thoughtful vibe of its predecessors, whilst also delivering a manic and thoroughly thrilling FX driven adventure.

After his attempts to cure Alzheimer’s disease come to a disappointing end, scientist Will (James Franco) steals away one of his test subjects to nurture as his own. The creature in question in an ape named Caesar, a young chimp who quickly showcases extreme intelligence and a thirst for exploration. After five years in Will’s care, Caesar eventually becomes a safety concern, the law forcing Will to separate from his beloved buddy after a particularly nasty suburban episode. Caesar is thusly placed into the care of John Landon (Brian Cox) and his despicable son Dodge (Tom Felton, proving he can exist in a post-“Harry Potter” landscape) at the local Primate Care facility. Forced to endure imprisonment and daily abuse, Caesar quickly grows to loathe humanity, the ape itching to form a plan that will help his species overthrow their oppressors.

The most remarkable thing about “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” is the amazing special effects work, Andy Serkis once again on hand to deliver an astounding motion-capture performance as Caesar. After his similarly pitched work in “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy and Peter Jackson’s “King Kong”, Serkis has become an old pro at this stuff, but his turn here probably ranks as his best. The actor successful conveys the inner turmoil that pollutes Caesar, turning the CGI chimp into one of the year’s most distinctive and memorable anti-heroes. It’s a marvelous thespian contribution, which is supplemented beautifully by a legion of equally well animated apes in support. The human characters are decidedly more mixed. James Franco is adequate as Will, connecting believably with his digital co-stars. Unfortunately his rapport with romantic interest Freida Pinto is disastrously unconvincing, this facet of the picture feeling absolutely inconsequential. The actress delivers an unforgivably wooden performance, making no effort to concoct any chemistry with a flailing Franco. Brian Cox rounds out the preliminary participants, lending the film an extra dose of gravitas during his few brief scenes.

Director Rupert Wyatt places his sympathies firmly in the ape camp. From an opening sequence of the animals being ambushed in the wild, to the horrible treatment Caesar receives at the facility; the filmmaker makes it obvious he’s a monkey lover. For a director with such limited experience, Wyatt handles “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” confidently, balancing the film’s deeper meanings with the right amount of frantic chaos. The uprising is charted carefully, Wyatt building up Caesar’s motivations skillfully and organically, before unleashing a bombastic ape attack on San Francisco during the movie’s exciting climax. The finish is coherently stitched together and more importantly feels earned within the context of the narrative, the fierce assault led by Caesar being a natural progression for these smart but unfairly brutalized primates. It’s also fabulous fun; I mean who doesn’t want to see a gorilla tackle a helicopter? I know I do.

The screenplay is basic, but it definitely hits the required notes. The actual story is exceedingly ordinary, the monkey rage born of miserable captivity, something most audience members will probably anticipate. The character of Will also stems from a pretty formulaic place, namely that he wants to save his sick father (John Lithgow doing proficient work). It’s serviceable plotting at best, the film’s real strength coming from the apes and the phenomenal depiction of Caesar. The humans are more or less devices to get the ball rolling; the real meat of the thing resting in Serkis’s accomplished hands.

Wyatt’s inexperience doesn’t betray him, the filmmaker piecing together the picture stylishly and with a strong editorial sensibility. “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” is an unexpected summer triumph, worthy of your time and money. It’s genuinely flabbergasting, but I guess those damn dirty apes still have a future on the silver screen after all.

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2011

8 August 2011

Capsule Review: A Complete History of My Sexual Failures.



A Complete History of My Sexual Failures
2008, 89mins, 18
Director: Chris Waitt
Cast includes: Chris Waitt, Danielle McLeod, Olivia Trench
UK Release Date: 27th June 2008

“A Complete History of My Sexual Failures” is a great title, but as it turns out not such a great documentary. Directed by independent filmmaker and all around hopeless individual Chris Waitt, the film chronicles its helmer’s lack of success with women as he interviews and interrogates some of his unfeasibly attractive ex-girlfriends. It’s a great idea for a short, but when dragged out to 89 minutes the flick gets dull very fast. There are some genuinely funny moments, mostly stemming from absurdly awkward situations, but ultimately it’s a one note idea that its creator never really seeks to expand upon. Waitt doesn’t really make for a sympathetic lead either, he’s messy, desperate and pretty pathetic, but what’s more is the fact he continually depicts himself as an inconsiderate and socially retarded moron. Never mind why he was dumped, I want to know for what reason these women tolerated his advances in the first place. “A Complete History of My Sexual Failures was released in the UK during June 2008 to a tepid response. It’s not hard to see why.

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2011

6 August 2011

Movie Review: Super 8



Super 8
2011, 112mins, 12
Director: J.J. Abrams
Writer: J.J. Abrams
Cast includes: Joel Courtney, Kyle Chandler, Noah Emmerich, Elle Fanning, Riley Griffiths
UK Release Date: 5th August 2011

Presented as an ode to the Amblin features of old, “Super 8” quickly establishes itself as one of the summer’s best blockbusters. The screenplay isn’t perfect but director J.J. Abrams manages to instill into “Super 8” the same filmmaking qualities that the very best Spielberg flicks are characterized by, namely the balancing of affecting characterization and excitable action sequences. Abrams guides a talented young cast through a mysterious and at times thrilling plotline, only occasionally falling foul to small scripting missteps. “Super 8” is a classy charmer and a heartfelt celebration of what it means to be a filmmaker.

“Super 8” opens in 1979, with Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney) quietly devastated by the untimely passing of his beloved mother. Left only with his sombre Police Deputy father (Kyle Chandler), Joe finds happiness in the company of his peers, namely by helping buddy Charles (Riley Griffiths) complete his low-budget zombie movie. Partaking also allows him a chance to bond with his crush Alice (Elle Fanning), a girl otherwise well beyond his reach. Whilst out on a night shoot, the youngsters witness a massive train accident, escaping just before a mighty military presence arrives on the scene. Initially reluctant to discuss the subject, they eventually come to realize the train’s cargo was anything but ordinary and that it might be connected with the upsurge in missing pets, electronics and people.

Working with younger actors is always a dicey proposition, but Abrams has done a phenomenal job casting the kids in “Super 8”. The most recognizable of the bunch is probably Elle Fanning (sister of Dakota), so the fact she emerges as the best is no surprise. Fanning has a strikingly complex arc in “Super 8”, she’s not simply on hand to occupy the skin of Joe’s first love. The actress delivers several terrifically resonant moments, always letting subtle melancholy bubble beneath her dialogue. I won’t spoil any of the film’s twists, but Fanning deserves plaudits for allowing Alice’s developments to ring so true. Joel Courtney is more or less just as adept, the teen delivering an appreciatively mature debut performance. It’s an amiable and phenomenally naturalistic turn, sincere and devoid of exaggeration. The rest of this screwy crew are used largely to concoct a hectic atmosphere; snappy dialogue and their energetic contributions helping to depict a warm and believable interpretation of friendship. “Super 8” definitely belongs to its less experienced protagonists, but a few of the adult participants do leave a mark. Kyle Chandler is stern but sympathetic as Joel’s distressed father whilst Noah Emmerich oozes menace as a particularly dubious military figure. Abrams always has his primary focus on the children, but “Super 8” does enough with the aforementioned grown-ups to make them memorable.

I suppose it’s not much of a spoiler to admit there’s a monster running amok (early marketing made that pretty clear), Abrams lunging to homage everything from “E.T” to “Jurassic Park” through the beast. The early and much eerier set-pieces involving the creature are acceptably intense but visually shy, Abrams wisely adopting a “less is more” stance for most of the runtime. Things explode in the final act as the military unleash a hail of chaos and the monster goes on its own personal rampage, allowing “Super 8” to fully revel in its blockbuster aesthetics. The opening train crash is spectacular to look at, but the finale offers a host of more involving pleasures, including a grueling attack on a bus and the infiltration of the animal’s dwelling. The film’s dramatic climax is less consistent, largely thanks to the script’s jumbled presentation of the monster. At times the creature is savage, and whilst that’s effectively explained through some later exposition, it doesn’t sit comfortably with the tame final showdown. It’s obvious how “Super 8” wants its ending to be interpreted, but at least where the creature is concerned, the film never completely earns it.

The human relationships are much more rewarding, especially the dynamics between Joe, his father and Alice. Abrams crafts these sections lovingly, allowing us to care for the characters during the berserk conclusion. Amidst the maelstrom of fire and carnage audiences will actively root for the actors, because much like the picture as a whole they have a soul. Also pleasant to observe is the authentic enthusiasm for the filmmaking process, Abrams clearly tapping into his past as the kids try to assemble their own horror flick. The result is played entirely for laughs (it accompanies the credits) but the giggles are never cynical or toxic. Abrams loves what he does, fondly reimagining his own early 8mm forays here.

Technically Abrams is a slightly more aggressive filmmaker than Spielberg, a touch that helps separate “Super 8” somewhat from the productions it elects to homage. The camera work is faster and flashier, but the elegant and substantive cinematography feels similar to numerous Amblin adventures. The CGI and pyrotechnics evidenced here are top drawer but the creature design itself feels a bit unremarkable. Indeed the antagonist in “Super 8” is a ringer for the same part in “Cloverfield”, a film which Abrams also had a large hand in. However unlike that picture “Super 8” is interested in delivering more than just a roller-coaster ride. It’s a nostalgic treat, packed with intelligence and heart. That’s what I call entertainment.

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2011

4 August 2011

Capsule Review: Submarine



2010, 97mins, 15
Director: Richard Ayoade
Writer: Richard Ayoade
Cast includes: Craig Roberts, Sally Hawkins, Noah Taylor, Yasmin Paige, Paddy Considine
UK Release Date: 18th March 2011

Lauded as a potential cult classic on release earlier this year, Richard Ayoade’s “Submarine” is an affecting and brilliantly acted flick. The film follows Oliver (Craig Roberts) a peculiar youngster who becomes fixated with both a girl in his class (Yasmin Paige) and attempting to save his parents’ (Sally Hawkins and Noah Taylor) stalling marriage. The film is fronted by a fantastic turn from Roberts, who captures Oliver’s eccentricities and anguish with charisma and a stunningly natural demeanour. The rest of the cats are good value too, whilst Ayoade guides the coming of age tale with a strong directorial hand, paying welcome attention to production design, atmosphere and inventive visual flourishes. The mushy soundtrack frustrates at times, but on the whole “Submarine is a quirky gem.

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2011

2 August 2011

Movie Review: Super



2010, 96mins, 18
Director: James Gunn
Writer: James Gunn
Cast includes: Rainn Wilson, Ellen Page, Liv Tyler, Kevin Bacon, Michael Rooker
UK Release Date: 8th July 2011 (Limited)

Unfortunately for “Super” it comes right in the wake of last year’s “Kick-Ass”, a superior picture that covered very similar ground. Director James Gunn had reportedly been sitting on this script for the guts of a decade, so it must have come as a shock to find himself beaten to the punch in the amateur superhero race. However that’s not to say “Super” isn’t worthy of a watch, the big hook being a superb performance from the usually underwhelming Rainn Wilson. Leaving aside his blistering work in TV’s “The Office”, I’ve found Wilson to be an oddly sedate actor, but such preconceptions are jettisoned firmly with “Super”. The film is tonally discombobulated, but Wilson’s ace contribution and Gunn’s ferocious direction keep it amusing until the end.

After his substance abusing wife Sarah (Liv Tyler) leaves him for sleazy drug-dealer Jock (Kevin Bacon), Frank (Rainn Wilson) is left alone and confused. Spurred on by supposed signs from God, Frank vows to win his spouse back, designing a superhero alter-ego named “The Crimson Bolt” to help him. Whilst planning Sarah’s retrieval, Frank practices his crime fighting skills on the streets, using his trusty wrench to deal out justice. Targeting drug pushers, pedophiles, rapists and errrrr…queue jumpers, Frank begins to suspect his vigilante talents are the reason he was brought into existence. Eventually he teams up with Libby (Ellen Page), an unstable young woman who wants nothing more than to be his sidekick. Together they target Jock, eventually plotting a full-scale assault on the criminal’s expansive residence.

“Super” has been marketed very much as a black comedy, but that’s only half true. The film also has a very melancholy and serious side, Gunn aiming for laughs less regularly than I was expecting. It’s hard to fully understand what fuels Frank’s delusional behaviour, “Super” hinting at extreme mental instability and frequently exploiting the character’s fixation with religion. Of course there are moments where the film lunges purely for giggles (many of these sequences either featuring gore or intensely sexualized shenanigans), but “Super” is definitely much less lighthearted than I was preempting. The movie offers a cocktail of extreme violence, deep emotional sadness and the occasional belly laugh. It’s a unique but not particularly digestible combo, although things are wrapped up meaningfully with a bittersweet finale.

Rainn Wilson is fantastic in “Super”, delivering a turn that suffers from none of the imbalances of the product at large. Embracing both the premise’s underlying goofiness but also the surprising complexities of Frank, Wilson is able to deliver an engaging and thoroughly believable piece of work. He is the motor that carries “Super” beyond mediocrity. Ellen Page broadens her range a bit here, and is clearly having fun playing a blatantly deranged individual, but she builds none of the sympathy audiences will feel for Frank. It’s not one of the actresses’ best performances. An elegant Liv Tyler is shoved to the back of the frame, but in his few scenes Kevin Bacon almost nabs “Super” for himself. The big screen veteran chews up the snappy dialogue nicely, taking Wilson pound for pound in their showdown.

So what does “Super” really have to say? Its commentary on religion feels undercooked, but its investigation of fractured souls in a cruel world is compelling. Gunn directs the film with an uncompromising energy and attention to vicious detail, expertly shadowing the picture’s tiny budget. If you only see one “loser becomes a hero” flick in your lifetime make it “Kick-Ass”. However “Super” marks a decent second choice.

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2011