31 July 2012

Movie Review: The Raven (2012)



The Raven
2012, 110mins, 15
Director: James McTeigue 
Writer (s): Ben Livingston, Hannah Shakespeare
Cast includes: John Cusack, Alice Eve, Brendan Gleeson, Luke Evans, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Kevin McNally
UK Release Date: 9th March 2012

“The Raven” is a textbook case of “great premise, shame about the movie”. Imagining the mysterious final days of Edgar Allan Poe as a detective story, the film pits the legendary poet against a serial killer inspired by his grislier works, the aim clearly for thrills, spills and a little psychological jousting to dominate the fare. Sadly despite its nifty concept the picture is more or less a dud, scuppered by poor screenwriting and a director more interested in singularly cool shots, as opposed to a satisfying whole. Helmer James McTeigue creates a believable and at times stylish Baltimore setting for his costume thriller to unfold within; unfortunately said story is a hackneyed and rather weakly designed whodunit.

Edgar Allan Poe (John Cusack) is an alcoholic literary titan, albeit one who has fallen on rough financial times. Failing to get his current writing published, Poe takes some consolation in his romance with Emily (Alice Eve), the two set to be betrothed much to the disgust of her father Captain Hamilton (Brendan Gleeson). However amidst this Poe is approached by Detective Fields (Luke Evans, impressing again in another mediocre film); the law enforcer informing Poe that a series of murders are rocking Baltimore, killings that borrow shamelessly from Poe’s past works. Banding together, Poe and Fields attempt to identify the psychopath, but not before he makes off with Emily, challenging the great mind to a game in the process. Leaving behind a series of tasteless clues and demanding that Poe chronicle the events, the assailant asks Poe to uncover the mystery, Emily’s life hanging in the balance.

John Cusack appears to be having a blast in “The Raven”, blending his trademark cynicism with a brasher dose of wide-eyed shrieking. The actor is energetic and dependably watchable, although there are times in which the characterization of Poe feels incomplete. Cusack does what he can with a few flighty flashbacks and ominous musings, but the screenplay doesn’t really let Poe’s dark side cut loose to the fullest of extents, robbing “The Raven” of the more tortured tone it would obviously have benefited from. This isn’t a probing examination of a melancholy artist or even a film that favours personal developments beyond the two dimensional; instead McTeigue has stitched together something much more perfunctory and repetitive. “The Raven” is essentially a join the dots mystery that goes on for too long, the film-makers failing to instil the picture with much flair beyond its admittedly promising opening twenty minutes. A hectic introduction to the protagonist and an intriguing double punch of bloody murders get the gothic shenanigans off to a great start, but McTeigue never feels fit to jazz up the formula, repeating himself frustratingly for the best part of two hours.

The film’s secrets feel half-baked and ill thought out, the storytelling execution never matching the ingenuity of the fundamental conceit. The kills are all carried out with a courageous lack of cuts, embracing the nastier side of this business consistently, but by the third or fourth time viewers are treated to a mutilated corpse the chills start to subside. The location and 19th century deigns are skilfully envisioned, the cinematography leaking a deliciously malevolent atmosphere, but these touches only show to highlight McTeigue’s priorities as a director. Content to let the tale hit the most formulaic beats imaginable, the film-maker instead opts to focus on striking imagery, leaving “The Raven” a distinctive looking but substantively hollow experience. Who needs potent character construction or a creative narrative when you can have frames composed of bullet-ridden birds and villains peeking through menacing eye-holes? Not James McTeigue apparently.

“The Raven” lazily stumbles towards its crescendo, mustering some heat in the final confrontation between criminal and anti-hero. Until this juncture it’s a fairly comatose product, with a supporting cast on autopilot. There is buried somewhere within the product a great movie, the sort that a Fincher or Aronofsky might blend into a masterpiece. The reality couldn’t be more distant though, “The Raven” a stew comprised of occasionally tolerable seasoning, but a largely rotten core.

 A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2012

27 July 2012

Movie Review: Shark Night 3D



Shark Night 3D
2011, 90mins, 15
Director: David R. Ellis
Writer (s): Will Hayes, Jesse Studenberg
Cast includes: Sara Paxton, Dustin Milligan, Alyssa Diaz, Joel David Moore, Chris Carmack
UK Release Date: 30th September 2011

Released to virtually no fanfare and uninspiring box-office at the tail-end of last summer, “Shark Night 3D” is the sort of irredeemably useless claptrap that gives exploitation film-making a bad name. Ludicrous plotting can be fun, but when combined with static direction, weak acting and a feeble PG-13 rating, it’s unlikely to work in the guise of a horror show. Sharks are by definition scary onscreen monsters, yet director David R. Ellis (the man behind 2006’s affectionately recalled “Snakes on a Plane”) can’t wring one iota of terror out of them, not even a smidgen. The bland Hollister cast don’t add much to proceedings either, and the screenplay is a stinker of the sort rarely encountered. I saw the film in traditional 2D (it’s now available on Blu-Ray/DVD) so can’t comment on the 3D sheen that accompanied the flick in theatres. By all accounts it wasn’t great, and given how shoddily every other fact of this bunkum is, I see no reason to disbelieve such a consensus.

With exams finished, college buddies Nick (Dustin Milligan), Malik (Sinqua Walls), Maya (Alyssa Diaz) Gordon (Joel David Moore) and Beth (Katherine McPhee) head to Sara’s (Sara Paxton) remote Louisiana holiday home, isolated on an island amidst the swampy lakes. On arrival the beer and water sports commence, chilled out partying the name of the game. Whilst wakeboarding, Malik is relieved of a limb, his attacker a surprisingly sizeable shark. The kids are thrown into a frenzy, plotting to get Malik assistance before it’s too late. To the rescue comes a pair of suspicious locals, Dennis (Chris Carmack) and Red (Joshua Leonard). It doesn’t take long for their cruel motivations to surface, unveiling a strategy that starts with a variety of exotic and deadly sharks and ending with a selection of maimed college victims.

Alex Aja’s “Piranha 3D” stills looms large when it comes to fishy frolicking on the big-screen, that picture a veritable cornucopia of blood, boobs, quirk, satire and trashy fun. These are the elements that “Shark Night 3D” should have incorporated into its flimsy narrative, but sadly the picture’s PG-13 rating and off-form director aren’t up to the task. There’s virtually no gore on display and you’ll get nothing more than gratuitous bikini shots here, the film fluffing its only hope of salvation without a care in the world. Well that’s not entirely accurate. Genuine frights would have been appreciated, but those aren’t forthcoming either, limp jump-cuts and screaming damsels about the most “Shark Night 3D” can cook up. It’s pathetic.

The screenplay gives no credence to character development, leaving the actors with nothing to work with. They’re badly serviced by this script and give boring turns as a consequence, but not everyone in the cast looks to be without potential. Joel David Moore is as annoying as ever, but Sara Paxton, Milligan and Sinqua Walls at least seem to possess some inherent charisma. As the hicks with a dorsal shaped itch, both Carmack and Leonard are pretty sucky. The former is as dull a bad guy as I’ve encountered for some time and his reasons for acting in such a dastardly fashion are in equal parts convoluted and unbelievable. Leonard just slathers on the hillbilly stereotypes recklessly. He looks to be having a good time, but his enjoyment doesn’t crossover to the audience. Finally capable TV stalwart Donal Logue (think “The Tao of Steve” and “Max Payne” for his movie work) hams it up as a bumbling sheriff. He’s a credible actor, so I hope he got handsomely paid for this embarrassing addition to his CV.

The CGI is dubious at best, the film’s finale an underdressed anti-climax. There is one moment of B-movie glee to derive from this idiotic mush, a scene in which a wounded member of the survivors attempts to fight a hammerhead shark with a spear. It’s silly and hardly tense, but it at least shows a softness of touch and digestible absurdity that the rest of the picture lacks. Basically it aims for a laugh and gets it, a rarity in this otherwise rubbishy confection.

I had modest hopes for “Shark Night 3D”, but it proved incapable of meeting them. David R. Ellis has always been a hit and miss film-maker, this atrocity going squarely in the latter column. Tasteless and amateurishly assembled, “Shark Night 3D” lacks thrills or guts - both of the visceral and courageous kind.  Don’t make the mistake of revisiting it like I did, just let Ellis’s crappy shocker die the death it so obviously deserves in bargain bins everywhere. 

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2012

22 July 2012

This Week in Movies - 22/07/12


With “The Dark Knight Rises” currently rocking multiplexes worldwide (review now available), it’s time to step away from theatrical releases and examine some of the other older/catch-up fare dominating Dan’s thought stream.

Warrior (2011) B

A box-office disaster and non-entity during award’s season, 2011’s “Warrior” already appears to have been largely forgotten. Starring Tom Hardy, Joel Edgerton and Nick Nolte, “Warrior” is the story of a dysfunctional family set against the backdrop of an MMA tournament. Sound vaguely familiar? Well it should, the film maintaining an unfortunate amount of similarities with 2010’s superior “The Fighter”.  “Warrior” doesn’t quite manage to endow its story with the same level of depth or emotional complexity, offering up an underdog tale that aims for much more predictable blows.

That said the characterization and performances are superb, enough so that they elevate the pedestrian screenplay above its generic origins. Director Gavin O’ Conner draws mesmerizing turns from the entirety of his cast, particularly a ferocious Tom Hardy. The MMA and standard training montages are handled with aplomb, and whilst the movie is only interested in drawing superficial fist-pumps from its audience, it manages the modest goal comfortably. It’s genuinely difficult not to get carried away during the film’s hectic third act. “Warrior” is entertaining fare, which deserved a wider audience when it was released last September. The Oscar snubs are a little easier to digest, the picture never quite matching the sophistication of other genre offerings that have troubled the Academy (“Rocky” & “The Fighter” just two examples).

The Thing (2011)C

Joel Edgerton again, starring in another financially underwhelming picture from last autumn. This time it’s a prequel to John Carpenter’s “The Thing”, also creatively titled “The Thing”. When trailers surfaced for this about 18 months ago I was viciously opposed to the picture, it looked shoddy and CGI-reliant, a cheap and tacky affront to Carpenter’s arctic nightmare. In reality it’s not too bad, even managing a few moments of genuinely inspired chaos, but that doesn’t make it necessary. Large portions of the flick feel recycled from better efforts, director Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. relying too forcefully on boo moments to keep the momentum trucking forward.

Edgerton is unremarkable, as are the rest of the cast (including Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Eric Christian Olsen and Ulrich Thomsen) and the dialogue courtesy of Eric Heisserer(who also penned the remix of “A Nightmare on Elm Street”) clunks horribly. Still, some new innovations, a great interrogation sequence, gory effects and tight pacing prevent it from succumbing to utter uselessness. Not recommended, but hardly as bad as had been previously anticipated.

10 Things I Hate about You (1999)B+

1999 was a great year for teen comedies, “Election”, “American Pie” and this adaptation of Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew” nabbing top honours. It’s a film I’ve seen a number of times, yet despite regular exposure its charms fail to wear thin. At Padua High-School, Cameron (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) has fallen for Bianca (Larisa Oleynik), the crux being that she can’t date until her rebellious older sister Kat (Julia Stiles) bites the bullet. As a result Cameron recruits mystery man Patrick (Heath Ledger) to take Kat out, but y’know, he might just end up falling for her anyway.

A deliciously witty script and fine young cast (well not so young anymore) overcome Gil Junger’s at times unambitious direction, allowing romance, laughs and charm to flow freely from the final product. Ledger is the standout, the now deceased talent on full display as he playfully skitters around the picture, his crooning of Can’t Take My Eyes Off You having become a certifiably classic moment in teen cinema. Chilled out but skilfully assembled viewing that boasts an endearingly funky 90s soundtrack.

 Reviews by Daniel Kelly, 2012

21 July 2012

Movie Review: The Dark Knight Rises



The Dark Knight Rises
2012, 164mins, 12
Director: Christopher Nolan
Writer (s): Jonathan Nolan, Christopher Nolan, David S. Goyer
Cast includes: Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, Anne Hathaway, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Gary Oldman, Marion Cotillard, Morgan Freeman 
UK Release Date: 20th July 2012

Remember when films used to be events? Full-blooded ceremonies of pop cultural extravagance? A time in which a flick didn’t get one week of heavy promotion before vanishing into the ether until an eventual plethora of home media releases? Good, neither can I. However I have read about such an era, Hollywood epics of a magnitude and social significance that they became focal parts of the world around them, maybe Steven Spielberg’s beach emptying masterpiece “Jaws, the operatic “Star Wars” sequels or even going further back to sweeping epics like “Gone With the Wind”. There was a time when a trip to the cinema was more than just trivial recreation, albeit films that recall such a fact are now few and far between. However this weekend one such offering hits multiplexes in the form of Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight Rises”. Following on from his magnificent double-header of comic book adaptations 2005’s “Batman Begins” and 2008’s “The Dark Knight”, audiences have been thirsting for this final instalment, the completion of a potentially sublime trilogy. Warner have been pushing the film hard for over a year now, throwing out titbits and chunks of fanboy baiting material to wow the masses, before unleashing a trailer and a ferocious marketing surge sometime around Christmas 2011. Since then it’s been unstoppable, “The Dark Knight Rises” superseding the status of a mere blockbuster, morphing into phenomenon, or as I stated above an EVENT. No matter how you feel about this movie, it recalls the community element of the film-going experience  terrifically, legions of motion picture lovers to lining up to worship at the altar of theatricality, desperately hankering to confirm if Nolan can match or even better his previous spins around Gotham City. This is critic-proof. It will make vast sums of money. It will be discussed and debated irrespective of general consensus. How lovely is it to have a director, a visionary even, and a franchise that stirs such passion amongst the public? This is what Christopher Nolan really brings to the table with “The Dark Knight Rises”. Oh, and the film itself is bloody brilliant by the way.

“Rises” opens 8 years after the events of “The Dark Knight”, Batman is gone and Harvey Dent is venerated as a hero and beacon of hope. Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman, back to restrained mode) has successfully cleaned up the streets, Gotham a changed cityscape. With this knowledge and the fact his alter-ego has been branded a murderer; Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) is now a recluse, his only contact with humanity coming through his loyal Butler and dear friend Alfred (Michael Caine). Enter Bane (Tom Hardy), a mercenary boasting a troubled past and connections with an old adversary of Batman’s, looking to start what his master couldn’t finish. Bane seeks to clear Gotham of the controlling bureaucrats, police interference and wealthy upper crust which in his eyes have been holding society to ransom, implementing terror tactics, cold-hearted strategy and a gang of competent thugs to initiate his bidding. With Gordon hospitalized, Wayne has to consider bringing Batman out of retirement to combat the new threat, enjoying the help of snarky thief Selena Kyle (Anne Hathaway) and a courageous young cop (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) in his search for justice. However after such a lengthy break Wayne may not be ready to tackle Bane, an opponent who outmatches the Dark Knight both physically and mentally.

There’s an obvious social commentary that burdens “The Dark Knight Rises” slightly, Nolan blundering on about the inequalities in society sporadically, never really reaching a concrete resolution or final message of much consequence concerning the subject. It filters into the picture jarringly, providing a large portion of the motivation for Bane’s early manoeuvres. As a result it deserves to be referenced and highlighted as a clunky and obtrusive figment of the screenplay. It doesn’t really work. There I said it. However with that my substantive issues with “The Dark Knight Rises” have been essayed in completion, the patchy execution of the societal imbalance marking my only resolute problem with the movie. Other than that it’s plain and largely flawless sailing, a fitting finale for the tales the preceded it.

As with everything Nolan attempts, “The Dark Knight Rises” is more than just a marker of its genre, it’s a tremendous action film, a compelling investigation of multiple characters and a twisty psychological battle. The film concludes amidst a monumental warzone, so fans will definitely get their fill of scale. It’s aesthetically spectacular on every level, delivering several memorable set-pieces, all laced with the film-maker’s flair for intricate detail and love of money-shot cultivation. Nolan works through the franchise regulars (Oldman, Bale, Caine etc.) and newcomers alike, ensuring the story rounds out in fittingly epic and gratifying fashion. The phrase anti-climax simply cannot be applied here. Despite its grandiose length (just short of three hours) “The Dark Knight Rises” never drags, it wizzes forward as a master-class in pacing and narrative construction, each scene propelling to the next excitedly, raising the stakes and providing economic context to ensure the brew sits fast at a scintillating temperature. In honesty it feels like watching a regular 90 minute adventure – I’m still at odds trying to understand how Nolan achieved such a feat. Well no, that’s a lie. I’m fully aware it’s through a faultless understanding of storytelling law and stringent editorial transitioning that “The Dark Knight Rises” triumphs so aggressively in this department, but it’s worth marvelling at anyway.

This probably represents Bale’s best turn as the Caped Crusader, primarily because he spends less time behind the mask here than in previous endeavours. The second act is effectively a deconstruction of Wayne as a character, subtle in the way it sees him come full circle from his origins in “Batman Begins”. Thoroughly engaging and predictably intense, Bale communicates Wayne’s inner strife vibrantly, using a rapport with several other performers (major props Michael Caine) to help highlight the trauma and yearnings that drive the billionaire. Anne Hathaway and Gordon-Levitt blend nicely into the world, firing up three dimensional and entertaining turns, each bringing an extra squirt of thematic juice to the movie. That’s the thing about Nolan, the economy of storytelling doesn’t just apply to plotting, it’s relevant to all bases, including characters. He stretches his screen entities out for maximum reward, forcing them to earn a seat at his party. If somebody can’t bring enough on paper, they won’t make final cut. Thankfully these most notable new additions are interesting to explore, the sharp casting only pronouncing the success further.

Then there’s Tom Hardy, the million dollar question being – does he fill Heath Ledger’s shoes?  The answer is probably not, but such a comparison is cruel to force upon any actor. Firstly Ledger’s Joker is now regarded as one of the most distinctive screen villains of the modern era, maybe even ever. If we measure Hardy on such a steep gradient, then shouldn’t all mainstream baddies be subject to the same insane scrutiny, No, of course they shouldn’t. Genius is great, but it shouldn’t render brilliance less valuable, and that’s what Hardy is, brilliant. The British actor uses his eyes (he’s behind a breathing apparatus for most of the runtime) and immense bulk to create a viable threat, matching up alongside Batman formidably. There are several little speeches and diatribes Bane recites during the course of the film, all of which Hardy slam-dunks, slathering everything he says with an icy elegance. He may not be Heath Ledger, but I doubt that’s what he or the film-makers were going for. Rather I’d like to think they all wanted something fresh in the guise of Tom Hardy, forcing his name home in a different but effective style.

The Gotham sets are as lavish and expansive as they’ve ever been, acting as a hectic playground for energetically devised action beats. Nolan mixes jets, armed vehicles and a bomb into the cocktail, but the most electrifying sequences are probably a pair of fistfights between the hero and muscle laden Bane. The first is a vicious and unrelenting crucifixion, Nolan getting close and tight into the action, cutting fast between hits to emphasise the gravity of the beating one character takes. The next is as much a battle of wits as anything else, as are many large slabs of the picture in retrospect. Mind games are front and centre here, as seen in the particularly cruel torture one entity doles out to another. The bombastic gunplay and explosive chases still satisfy, but it’s the more intimate and grounded chapters in this saga that thrill hardest.

A love arc with a business partner (Marion Cotillard) works slightly better than the comparative components of past films, but that’s faint praise. Nolan never seems that fixated with this relationship, using it rigorously as a plot mechanic and personality crux for Wayne. It functions well in this regard, rendering one or two flabby instances of romance tolerable as a result.  The film-maker proved he could make this sort of thing credibly with “Inception”, a film where such elements felt more pivotal, in “Rises” they’re just present to dial up the motivation and present an extra lick of flavour.

Is “The Dark Knight Rises” as good as it predecessors? Impossible to say after just one viewing, although my principal reaction would be to suggest it doesn’t quite match “The Dark Knight”, the mac daddy of this series to date. Repeat inspection might allow for a variety of conclusions, so until then, I reserve the right to shift my opinion. One thing is for sure though; “The Dark Knight Rises” is a worthy denouement, an intelligent, expertly crafted and thoroughly exhilarating blast of big screen magic. It’s the sequel you wanted, maintaining a level of quality only a select few franchises have sustained before it. Now stop reading this and go see it. “The Dark Knight Rises” deserves your attention and the huge financial success which it will undoubtedly register. 

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2012

18 July 2012

Retro Review: Very Bad Things (1998)



Very Bad Things
1998, 100mins, 18
Director: Peter Berg
Writer: Peter Berg
Cast includes: Jon Favreau, Christian Slater, Cameron Diaz, Jeremy Piven, Leland Orser, Daniel Stern
UK Release Date: 29th January 1999

Sometimes you watch a film and just can’t quite get it out of your head. Positive examples of this over the last few years include Christopher Nolan’s trippy “Inception” and last year’s invigorating animation “Rango”. For whatever reason these pictures stay lodged in your stream of consciousness for days, demanding to be thought about and viewed again when they hit home video. However there are occasions in which a piece of art can occupy your brain for all the wrong reasons.  Watching something that’s bizarrely misjudged, yet concrete in its ambitions can lead to just as much debate and consideration, there’s nothing quite like a bad film that has all its convictions and hopes set firmly in the corner of “what the hell were they thinking?”. Anybody can make a bland, disposable or insufferably dumb flick, but it takes someone special, or possibly with genuine talent and visionary tendencies to turn in something as rough and rotten as the sort of work I’m highlighting. “Very Bad Things” is one such effort, a ridiculously over the top and vile little comedy, pitched so rigidly in the camp of dark comedy that any sort of artistic sunshine feels forever absent. Directed by Peter Berg (who would later helm the semi-impressive Will Smith superhero adventure “Hancock”), “Very Bad Things” is a fascinating study in misguided storytelling, screenwriting and characterisation. It’s an incredibly troubling product, a genuinely cruel tale that skips the laughs and lunges at the most despicable tendencies of man. Purely for your entertainment of course.

Kyle Fisher (Jon Favreau) is about to wed uptight but affable Laura (Cameron Diaz), looking forward to the classy service, but firstly awaiting his Vegas bound Bachelor party. Alongside buddies Charles (Leland Orser), Michael (Jeremy Piven), Adam (Daniel Stern) and the unsettling Boyd (Christian Slater), Kyle enjoys a night of gambling, booze and drugs. Boyd arranges a visit from a prostitute; Kyle declines her services out of loyalty to Laura, giving Michael first dibs on the frisky escort. However during some rough sex the prostitute is accidentally killed, but when a security guard comes inquiring about noise and catches sight of her corpse, there’s nothing accidental about the way Boyd offs him. Now the guys face a choice. Do they confess and become convicted murderers and accomplices, or do they bury the bodies in the Nevada wild? Opting for the latter seems initially easier, but on their return home guilt arises and suspicions mount, leading the secret to spiral way out of control.

It’s tough to imagine that anybody either making the film or distributing it ever thought it was funny. “Very Bad Things” is a portrait of horrible people doing horrible things for 100 minutes, Berg and his cast smugly assuming that by aiming for the most depraved tone possible, they’re being edgy and intelligent. I don’t consider myself a prude and much less easily offended, but some of the material in “Very Bad Things” is just unspeakably crass, and the joyless cast only further dampen the supposed party. It’s an unusual ensemble and not one without value in principal, but on this occasion the disgusting characterisation and lack of chemistry between them sink the ship. Slater winks and lies his way through the flick in the style of “Heathers”, but here he has no Winona Ryder to play off, just a handful of gormless comics occupying equally distasteful skins. Favreau and Orser are the dullest of the group and Piven is his usual slimy and unfunny self. More interesting is Stern’s Adam, the only one of the bunch bothered by manslaughter and murder, yet so cowardly is the fashion he deals with the situation that it becomes impossible to engage with him. As an onscreen gang they have no spark or zeal, it’s a lifeless troupe of clowns mucking around in the sourest manner possible.

Murder can be amusing. Just look at large chunks of the Coens’ repertoire or even last summer’s “Horrible Bosses” for proof. However watching Jeremy Piven thrusting into a hooker as she cracks her skull doesn’t really tickle me that much, less so the sight of an innocent man begging for his life as he bleeds to death in a locked bathroom. Yet Berg treats these moments and several others of an equally inappropriate ilk as the set-pieces for his dark examination of douchebag culture, scrambling around desperately for giggles amidst the grimy context. A single sequence in the film stands out as well devised, one of the men’s wives interviewing them to try and understand the nature of their trip to Vegas. It’s a tense scene, well shot and with the actors breaking out of their lethargic slump, but even it is sullied by a final feat of callousness come the end.

The picture breaks into a bloody frenzy during the third act presenting carnage in the most predictable way possible. It’s a technically proficient effort; Berg showcasing some of the pizazz that would later get him inducted into the blockbusting inner circle, but one has to seriously deliberate over the tastelessness of the material he’s concocted. Maybe if the movie had generated some genuine laughs or displayed an iota of wit, I might be more forgiving of its vulgar sensibility, but the combination of weak-minded farce and tawdry bravado is too much to stomach in this instance, the picture going down as smoothly as raw poultry or spoiled eggs.

I detested “Very Bad Things”, a disappointing revelation given that the project has amassed some love in the wake of its admittedly patchy reception in 1998. Those interested in film and comedy should watch it, merely as an indicator of how miscalculated things can get. Paired alongside the other recent and genuinely enjoyable bachelor party flick “The Hangover” it could make for a fascinating study, a certifiable showcase in proving that being left of field or politically incorrect isn’t enough, you need good jokes and performances as well. “Very Bad Things” is an ugly 90s comedy, one best forgotten, although erasing something so repugnant from your mind is probably easier said than done.

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2012

17 July 2012

Movie Review: Seeking a Friend for the End of the World



Seeking a Friend for the End of the World 
2012, 110mins, 15
Director: Lorene Scafaria 
Writer: Lorene Scafaria 
Cast includes: Steve Carell, Keira Knightley, T.J Miller, Martin Sheen, Derek Luke, Patton Oswalt, Adam Brody 
UK Release Date: 13th July 2012

Releasing a film under the title “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World” is a ballsy gamble, and one that failed to pay dividends for studios Indian Paintbrush and Mandate Pictures last month.  The film crashed on its opening weekend and is currently standing on a feeble $6 million domestic total, despite warmish reviews and the presence of recognisable Hollywood players Steve Carell and Keira Knightley. Placing a rom-com within an apocalyptic setting is a smart conceit, one that debuting director Lorene Scafaria has intermittent success with, but upsetting the picture’s stature is the feeling of a missed opportunity. It’s a satisfactory flick, packed with decent acting, moderate imagination and a wonderfully sincere ending, but there are sizeable chunks of the bloated second act which feel like inconsequential padding. It’s as if Scafaria had an hour of excellent material, but in order to fill out her feature length ambitions, needlessly cooked up another half-baked 50 minutes. The odd yet endearing dynamic between Carell and Knightley combined with the incisive pitch keeps “Seeking a Friend for the End of the Wold” consistently palatable, but it’s clear the picture could have been so much more.

The end of days is nigh, a 70 mile wide Meteorite named Matilda plummeting toward Earth, mankind’s final attempts to prevent it amounting to failure. This is the news Dodge (Steve Carell) receives as his wife Linda (Nancy Carell, in a cheeky cameo) ups and leaves him, running into the night without so much as a word. A heartbroken Dodge decides to hold his daily routine as the planet’s life expectancy diminishes around him, bemusement, suicide and a desire for instant gratification the most common reactions from friends and colleagues. One evening whilst looking through mementos, Dodge meets neighbour Penny (Keira Knightley), a spirited young woman with an unusually upbeat outlook given the circumstances. Penny convinces Dodge he needs to go and find his first love, a High-School sweetheart, and in return Dodge promises to try and reunite Penny with her family. Together they set off across the roaming countryside, encountering a range of characters and situations that help put their current situation in perspective.

Scafaria is clearly more comfortable with a pen than a camera, her dialogue and characters are subtly quite rich, but her editorial skills and general panache for visual storytelling are more blunted. “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World” should be applauded for upholding an honest and well intentioned tone for the majority of its runtime, a rarity for an R-rated comedy (although this is one of the softest R-ratings I can recall in recent years), yet portions of the narrative definitely frustrate. The middle segment is a structural nightmare, Scafaria haphazardly chucking in characters and notions that she has no proper intention of exploring. For instance a past boyfriend of Penny’s arrives on the scene, seemingly introduced as a plot device and potential comedic foil, yet Scafaria lingers around him for too long, threatening to do something interesting, but never quite finding the focus or conviction. It’s missteps like this that render the movie both sporadically forgettable and undeniably overlong, there’s no reason why the film had to pass the 90 minute mark, yet the artist drags it out for nearly two hours. Maybe it’s her relatively green status (Scafaria’s biggest credit prior to this was penning 2008’s divisive teen comedy “Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist”), but for whatever reason there are enough fundamental wobbles to prevent this adequate vehicle from ascending to the greatness its central premise teases.

The setting is established succinctly and vibrantly, Scafaria even letting a little rioting, violence and drug abuse trickle into her otherwise innocent work. The connection between Carell and Knightley also works rather brilliantly; it’s one of the more weirdly inspired casting decisions of the last year. Carell is understated, funny and likeable (it’s a similar turn to the one he gave in last year’s superior “Crazy Stupid Love”) and Knightley is quirky and lively without being irritating. The arcs that Scafaria lays out feel organic and truthfully pieced together, a strength that lends the picture’s inevitable denouement a genuine hint of tender tragedy. It’s no big spoiler to confirm that the world does indeed end come the finale, but that’s never the primary fixation of this movie. Instead it’s about a journey and more importantly a relationship, the latter done with such assurance and attention to emotional detail that the final sequence is genuinely heart-breaking. The fact Carell and Knightley up their otherwise totally respectable game for this moment doesn’t hurt either.

The comedic tone jumps between breezy and amiable to something much darker with ease. There are smirks to be derived from the desperate reactions of certain individuals; it is after all strange to see mainstream fare mine laughter from topics like assisted suicide, yet “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World” does just that, and does it enjoyably. It’s a pleasant movie, which occasionally rises to stations befitting of its concrete resolution, but regularly it just feels like an above average and rather ordinary multiplex offering. There’s indisputably more in the tank, but hey, when it’s half-full with something this digestible, there’s no real sense in complaining.   

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2012

16 July 2012

Movie Review: Magic Mike



Magic Mike
2012, 110mins, 15
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Writer: Reid Carolin
Cast includes: Channing Tatum, Matthew McConaughey, Cody Horn, Alex Pettyfer, Olivia Munn, Reid Carolin
UK Release Date: 11th July 2012

Combining Steven Soderbergh, hunk of the minute Channing Tatum and male stripping might seem like an unlikely cinematic cocktail, but it makes for admirably refreshing viewing in the guise of “Magic Mike”. Loosely based on Tatum’s own experience stripping in his late teens, “Magic Mike” offers impressive choreography, a strong central voice and Soderbergh’s trademark edge. There’s a definite imbalance surrounding the quality of acting in the picture, but Soderbergh’s ambitions as a filmmaker allow “Magic Mike” to flourish as something more than just another silly stripper flick, even if that aspect is enjoyable (albeit thoroughly emasculating) to behold.

Mike (Channing Tatum) is the prize jewel of the Tampa Male Revue owned by Dallas (Matthew McConaughey, stealing scenes like a pro), his physique, stage presence and immense athleticism rendering him a favourite with the local women. Mike harbours ambitions of running his own authentic furniture crafting service, working odd jobs during the day to supplement his stripping, all in pursuit of financing his creative dream. At a construction site he meets Adam (Alex Pettyfer), a college dropout in need of a break. Mike introduces him to Dallas and soon under his rebranded identity of “The Kid” Adam is raking in fans and cash at the Revue, partying hard and revelling in women as a result. However things spiral out of control as Adam becomes addicted to the hedonistic lifestyle, much to the displeasure of his sister Brooke (Cody Horn, keeping Mike trapped in a world he no longer wants any part of.

Tatum gives a solid performance in “Magic Mike”, servicing the picture with an authentic and likable anchor. Following his delightful comic work in “21 Jump Street” it’s great to see Tatum continue his redemptive arc with “Magic Mike”, demonstrating a restrained yet confident set of dramatic shops. The beefcake holds the screen effortlessly here, surprising with an organic and charismatic turn. His background as a dancer is also exploited marvellously, his routines in “Magic Mike” truly a sight to behold. In fact the movie generally does the stripping thing very well, Soderbergh clearly having a ball devising a selection of amusing skits for his macho protagonists to deliver. From a photographical standpoint “Magic Mike” is rather washed out and bleached by soft sunshine, but the stripping set-pieces are anything but ordinary, providing the otherwise moody narrative with a cotton candy momentum.

Letting the side down are Cody Horn and to a lesser extent Pettyfer. The latter merely does the minimum, letting Tatum and the stylistic choices dictate his character. On  the other hand Horn is atrocious, handing in quite possibly the worst female performance in a major motion picture since Rosie Huntington-Whiteley’s diabolical effort in last summer’s “Transformers: Dark of the Moon”. Horn floats through the film with no conviction or focus, letting lines slip into the ether as if she was reciting them from a particularly mundane portion of a phonebook. The romance between her and Tatum is viable because we come to accept she represents a way for Mike to escape his lifestyle, a success on the part of the film-makers and Tatum himself, Horn’s wretched contribution having nothing to do with it. On the other hand McConaughey oscillates exquisitely between being a goofy hoot and suspicious slime ball, sometimes in the same sequence. It’s uplifting to have the actor bringing more than just nice abdominals to the table.

As a parable on the danger of excess and the fear of loneliness “Magic Mike” is a cut below “Boogie Nights”, but it still succeeds thanks to a story that develops appropriately and in an attentive fashion. Soderbergh strikes a sturdy link between the flamboyancy of the craft and the nasty repercussions it can have on one’s social and mental wellbeing, using a believable storytelling model and even some trippy visuals to hammer the point home satisfactorily. There are enough weird touches to offset claims that “Magic Mike” is pure formula, even if it never really stretches itself from a screenwriting perspective. The dialogue and characterisations are incredibly sharp, and even if the plot fails to move beyond the usual, it’s recounted by a director with enough skill to ensure it feels comfy rather than fatally dull.

“Magic Mike” has a lot of traditionally fun seasonal elements to it, certainly those seeking effective escapism without explosions should apply optimistically. It’s destined to live in the shadows of several other thematically similar works (the aforementioned “Boogie Nights” rears its head again), but as its own beast there are enough nimble touches to ensure it warrants a solid recommendation. I should also mention that it’s nice to see a movie objectifying men for a change, even if said objectification left me feeling deflated about my evidently under-sculpted self. 

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2012

11 July 2012

Movie Review: The Five-Year Engagement



The Five-Year Engagement
2012, 124mins, 15
Director: Nicholas Stoller 
Writer (s): Nicholas Stoller, Jason Segel 
Cast includes: Jason Segel, Emily Blunt, Chris Pratt, Alison Brie, Rhys Ifans, Mindy Kaling, Jacki Weaver, Chris Parnell 
UK Release Date: 22nd June 2012

“The Five-Year Engagement” is an inventive, affecting and novel motion picture, a triple helping of positives that go a long way to overshadowing its minor deficiencies. Penned by Jason Segel and director Nicholas Stoller (the same duo behind 2008’s “Forgetting Sarah Marshall”), the film starts with the happy ending most rom-coms climax on, the majority of the picture more interested in the strains and honest heartaches that can accompany the promise of lifelong companionship. It’s this perspective that grants the joint its most potent weapon, offering audiences something that they don’t get to glimpse very often, especially when accompanied by such a humorous tone. There are severe pacing issues toward the end (the last act feels a quarter of an hour too long), but the well-defined characters and set-pieces are compensation enough.

Violet (Emily Blunt) and Tom (Jason Segel) are engaged to be married 12 months after meeting at a party. Initially delighted and whipped into an excitable frenzy of wedding preparation, the pair are forced to reconsider their immediate plans when Violet receives a post at the University of Michigan, forcing a relocation from San Francisco. Tom has to leave his respected culinary job behind, struggling to find work in their new home, eventually having to settle for an easy gig below his skill level. Violet on the other hand flourishes, a sharp contrast with the depression and worthlessness overcoming her husband to be. As the years role by, the wedding finds itself delayed even further, leaving the once inseparable couple to ponder if a life apart would be a more appropriate pathway.

The film’s narrative is bloated and a variety of supporting players duck in and out almost at the drop of a hat – possibly too many. Some of the added spice works (both Alison Brie and Chris Pratt are enjoyable as the unlikely wedded couple of Violet’s sister and Tom’s vulgar buddy) but others (namely a buffet of parental types) just don’t leave much of an impression, yet they greedily devour screen time. This scrappy approach prolongs the venture unnecessarily, yet in spots the messiness actually adds an organic touch to the central romance, helping to ground the relationship in reality and to depict the passing of years effectively. “The Five-Year Engagement” almost feels like a saga, a long and random assortment of events that enthral on the back of their believability and the three dimensional character concepts.

The laughs aren’t as regular as they were in “Forgetting Sarah Marshall”, but I think that’s intentional. “The Five-Year Engagement” still throws up an above average giggle quota, but it’s the human romance that seems to intrigue the film-makers most, prioritizing dramatic facets over comedic ones. In that respect it reminded me of 2009’s “Funny People”, marking a directorial maturation for Stoller in the same way the aforementioned movie did for Judd Apatow. There’s still plenty of extreme goofiness and anarchic improvisation to revel in, but ultimately “The Five-Year Engagement” impresses most when taking itself seriously, which is thankfully more often than not.

Both Blunt and Segel are terrific. They’re extremely affable and feel compatible for each other, a sensible touch that further sells the film’s soulful core. The actors have the sort of warm, enthusiastic and naturalistic rapport which a couple in love would likely possess, utilizing the subtle tics of the screenplay to depict the relationship slowly falling into disrepair. The trials and tribulations forced in front of them aren’t extraordinary (dubiously intentioned co-workers and hygiene depleting misery for instance) yet the truthful conviction of the performances and the movie’s brave tone sell it all marvellously. The emotions that “The Five-Year Engagement” presents feel genuine and authentic, much in the same way as “Forgetting Sarah Marshall”.

Unlike several other recent R-rated comedies (just last summer we had the box-office stomping likes of “Bridesmaids”, “Horrible Bosses” and “The Hangover” sequel) “The Five-Year Engagement” doesn’t seem to have caught audience fascination in the same way, posting disappointing returns when it opened theatrically in the USA  a few months back. That’s a shame, because this is a far more grown-up effort than any of those flicks, rewarding viewers with a sweet and tangy drama, not just belly laughs. Hopefully when it rolls out on DVD and Blu-Ray the production will solicit the love it deserves, primarily because it deviates at least somewhat from the traditional norm, a gambit I feel that demands more rewarding with each passing year. 

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2012

9 July 2012

Movie Review: God Bless America



God Bless America
2011, 105mins, 18
Director: Bobcat Goldthwait 
Writer: Bobcat Goldthwait 
Cast includes: Joel Murray, Tara Lynne Barr, Mackenzie Brooke Smith, Rich McDonald, Maddie Hasson
UK Release Date: 4th July 2012

“God Bless America” is a troubling watch. A well intentioned and edgy (although that’s certainly not how the film-makers would like it described based on a few choice dialogue exchanges) satire, the film seeks to uncover the depravity of American pop culture through a cinematic murdering spree. Director Bobcat Goldthwait (2009’s superior “World’s Greatest Dad”) has a nice idea and a good central performance to work with here, but his targets feel broad, easy, unsophisticated and at times downright hypocritical. I mean it’s difficult to launch a scathing attack on screenwriter Diablo Cody when a subsequent sequence involves somebody being told they resemble “fuck pie”. Goldthwait is attempting to have his cake and eat it, leaving audiences with an acute sense of filmic indigestion in the process.

Frank (a sympathetic Joel Murray) is divorced, disgusted by his country’s current fascination with tatty popular culture and most notably terminally ill. Frank eventually snaps, dispatching of vulgar reality TV teen Chloe (Maddie Hasson) and gaining a like-minded accomplice in the form of her 16-year old classmate Roxy (Tara Lynne Barr). Together Frank and Roxy decide to clean America up, killing manipulative political figures, toxic TV personalities and evil zealots as they flee the long arm of the law. The pair bond on the road, forming an unlikely friendship amidst the ferocious bloodshed and violence they inflict upon select fools.

The film opens with a baby being gorily blown to smithereens, and doesn’t let up in the graphic carnage department for the duration. So a round of applause for Joel Murray, who despite the nasty onscreen business being perpetrated, manages to keep Frank an engaging and not totally reprehensible protagonist. Murray captures the essence of a broken man effectively , remembering that amongst all of Goldthwait’s controversy baiting material it is imperative the lead remain halfway likable. It’s his contribution that buoys “God Bless America”, diluting the acidic sourness the picture insists on thrusting down viewers’ throats. The same cannot be said of Lynne Barr, who is as obnoxious and dispiriting a character as I’ve seen in a picture this year. Roxy’s unstable bloodlust, shrill acting and confused character arc pretty much renders her the female equivalent of Costa from “Project X”, an individual who she would no doubt eviscerate with utmost glee. There’s just no reason to empathise or care about Roxy’s own private need for societal retribution, the only redeeming feature of the performance being moderate chemistry with Murray.

The screenplay is crammed with potential, but Goldthwait’s tools feel blunt. Pops at the Kardashians, disruptive film goers and bratty Malibu princesses aren’t incisive or cutting, in fact they feel pretty obvious and cowardly. The soft underbelly of American culture is ripe for gutting, Goldthwait dreaming up a great narrative bag of tricks to do it, but sadly leaving his penchant for offbeat and distinctive social commentary behind. It’s also unclear how “meta” the director is attempting to be in spots, maybe his aforementioned Diablo Cody fumble and the gratuitous violence are meant to act as sly barbs in the direction of the audience (think Haneke’s “Funny Games”), but if so it’s not made particularly clear. I mean there’s nothing dumber than aggressively tasteless action for the sake of it, and for large chunks of the runtime that’s exactly what “God Bless America” is.

The film climaxes on a reality talent show (a very cheap set in an otherwise well produced movie), Murray delivering a powerful and sincere monologue that easily constitutes the film’s highlight. Gunfire is exchanged, morons are executed and martyrs are made, but as the credits roll none of it really seems to matter. “God Bless America” really doesn’t manage to say anything new of much worth, the fact it only achieve patchy success as a black comedy further damaging its reputation. From Goldthwait I’ve come to expect sharper observations and thicker laughs, neither of which this clumsy parody has in any real supply. 

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2012

6 July 2012

Sponsored Video: The Man with the Iron Fists in cinemas 2012!


Disclaimer: This is a sponsored video for Universal. The product belongs to them, but the views expressed below are those of the writer.

From Producer Quentin Tarantino comes “The Man with the Iron Fists”, a throwback to the Kung-Fu movies of old directed by rapper turned film-maker RZA. The above trailer demonstrates that in typical Tarantino style the film is set to be a lavish, gory and quick-witted affair, RZA and Tarantino’s regular accomplice (plus the director of “Hostel” amongst other things) Eli Roth having penned the cheeky and likely manic screenplay. The film follows a black-smith (RZA) who due to extenuating circumstances has to defend his village and its people. That may make “The Man with the Iron Fists” sound Kurosawa lite on paper, but in practise it will likely be a fully-blooded and lovingly assembled Grindhouse affair.

Musicians moving into the realm of movies have a mixed track record. Eminem turned heads with his mature contribution in 2002’s “8 Mile” and Justin Timberlake has found a nice niche in profitable Hollywood comedies after “Bad Teacher” and “Friends with Benefits”. That being said, for every success there are numerous failures, something Mariah Carey, Kylie Minogue, 50 Cent and Madonna can all attest to. RZA has set himself a triple challenge here, writing, directing and acting in the feature, meaning that if he stumbles, it’s going to be very noticeable. However with so much creative input we can at least be assured “The Man with the Iron Fists” will be a slice of visionary cinema, single-mindedly stemming from the warped heads of RZA and Roth.

The film also stars Russell Crowe (“Robin Hood”), Lucy Liu (“Charlie’s Angels”), Jamie Chung (“Grown-Ups”) and genre legend Pam Grier (Jackie Brown”). Based on this trailer we can clearly expect a frantic, distinctive and excitable adventure, one with a hard R-rating to boot. The film will open during the course of 2012 worldwide. 

Sponsored Post, 2012

4 July 2012

Movie Review: The Amazing Spider-Man



The Amazing Spider-Man 
2012, 132mins, 12 
Director: Marc Webb 
Writer (s): James Vanderbilt, Alvin Sargent, Steve Kloves 
Cast includes: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans, Martin Sheen, Sally Field, Denis Leary 
UK Release Date: 3rd July 2012 

 It’s only been ten years since Sam Raimi cast Toby Maguire as legendary web-slinger Peter Parker, generating a mighty hit with 2002’s “Spider-Man”. An excellent 2004 sequel arrived in the form of “Spider-Man 2”, but things ground to a halt with 2007’s tepidly received “Spider-Man 3”. That production was reputedly riddled with studio interference, Raimi left creatively unfulfilled, and whilst the box-office receipts rolled in, fans generally seemed disappointed by the final result. However Sony still felt there was some milk left in the Cash Cow, ordering a reboot and replacing the main players both in front of and behind the camera. “The Amazing Spider-Man” is a fast-paced and fun blockbuster, harking back to what made Raimi’s initial 2002 effort such a crowd-pleaser. It lacks the velocity of “Spider-Man 2”, but it at least reinstalls some of the breezy thrills and streamlined plotting that “Spider-Man 3” so notably lacked. It’s not a particularly sophisticated summer flick, but fans should be contented with what’s being peddled before them. 

As a child Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) was left to live with his Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) and Aunt May (Sally Field), his parents vanishing into the night under mysterious circumstances. Now a teenager, Peter is a quiet but dignified individual, photographing and skateboarding his way through high-school, all the while keeping one eye on his crush Gwen Stacey (Emma Stone). Whilst looking for answers regarding his father, Peter meets scientist Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), a man who has been trying to use reptilian DNA to help humans regrow limbs. On his visit to Connors’ lab, Peter is bitten by a genetically altered spider, one that grants the boy heightened physical strength, sharper reflexes and qualities only an arachnid can possess. When Uncle Ben is shot trying to quell Peter’s adolescent angst, the newly formed Spider-Man vows revenge on the murderer, taking to the New York streets in a bid to track down his relative’s assailant. This brings Spider-Man to the attention of the media, the police, the latter led by Gwen’s father (Denis Leary) and a desperate Connors. The scientist’s experiments haven’t gone quite to plan, leaving Connor’s as a reptilian mutant known only as The Lizard, a creature dedicated to transforming New York into a population of slithering, scaly monstrosities. 

Director Marc Webb (last seen helming 2009’s magnificent “(500) Days of Summer”) affords the material a lightness of touch, spending much of the first half deriving comedic bliss from Peter’s newfound predicament. “The Amazing Spider-Man” offers audiences some genuinely funny sequences, the director splicing the humour between sticky web based shenanigans and the much more human aspect of falling in love for the first time. Both are handled well here, Garfield and Stone forming a delicate but warm connection. Webb struggles a little more to make the film’s action beats distinctive (although he finds a few improved ways to shoot Spider-Man going about his masked business), they’re watchable and sporadically thrilling, but they lack the genre defining ingenuity of recent fare such as “X-Men: First Class” or even Raimi’s superior 2004 follow-up. `That being said, for a film-maker almost completely green in the realm of CGI, Webb handles the digital facets of the movie like a pro. “The Amazing Spider-Man” is a very accomplished film to look at. 

The casting changes are well judged. Garfield sometimes emotes a little too heavily, but his Peter Parker is suitably different than that provided by Tobey Maguire. Garfield plugs the shy-guy routine more overtly, dialling back the geek quality considerably. He seems comfortable in moments of light comedy and action heavy bravado, if he had calmed the overcooked emotional distress in a few scenes then it would be more or less a perfect performance. Still, on the whole he’ll do. Emma Stone is adorable, quick-witted and sympathetic as Gwen (a vast improvement over Kirsten Dunst’s dull work in the original trilogy) whilst Ifans gives good conflicted villain as Connors. A special mention should be reserved for Martin Sheen, who sells his relationship with Peter wonderfully over a few short scenes, bringing the best out of Garfield’s moping as a consequence. 

The dialogue is clunky in parts, especially when it comes to exposition and interaction between the film’s shadier characters. When Webb seeks to remake Raimi’s flick things also turn a little sour, the scene featuring Uncle Ben’s execution feels like an after-thought, shot over a couple of hours and shoved into the final cut halfway through post-production. “The Amazing Spider-Man” is at its most entertaining when attempting to be its own entity, revelling in spectacular New York vistas, high-school romance and troubled boffins. 

Sequels are inevitable and fans should be aware there’s an extra sting during the credits (I don’t have a clue what it means though). I wouldn’t object to further adventures under the guidance of Webb, the film-maker doing an admirable job on his first run around the blockbuster track. There are minor problems that need ironing out, but on the whole “The Amazing Spider-Man” is a decent summer diversion. Think of it as the “Quite Good with Potential for More Spider-Man”. 

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2012

2 July 2012

Movie Review: Man on a Ledge



Man on a Ledge
2012, 102mins, 12
Director: Asger Leth
Writer: Pablo F. Fenjves
Cast includes: Sam Worthington, Elizabeth Banks, Edward Burns, Ed Harris, Jamie Bell, Genesis Rodriguez, Anthony Mackie 
UK Release Date: 2nd February 2012 (now available on DVD & Blu-Ray)

When released earlier this year “Man on a Ledge” incurred a fairly savage critical response, the picture reportedly suffering from a weak lead performance, poorly formed characterization and one ludicrous plot contortion too many. In truth the picture is actually an intriguingly atmospheric and engaging thriller – at least for its opening 70 minutes. Truthfully “Man on a Ledge” does descend into manic hokum, but the opening two acts are strangely compelling, and to this writer’s mind Worthington is subtle rather than wooden. Film journalism is a completely subjective pursuit, but from my vantage points the press have been much too harsh on this slickly assembled effort.

Nick Cassidy (Sam Worthington) is an escaped con out to restore his sullied name. Ascending to the top of a large Hotel, Nick draws law enforcers, media types and the general Manhattan public into unrest as he threatens to take a plunge. Police psychologist Lydia Mercer (Elizabeth Banks) is brought onto the scene to talk Nick down, but he isn’t budging, at least for now. In a building across the road Nick’s brother Joey (Jamie Bell) and his spunky squeeze Angie (Genesis Rodriguez) are attempting to clear the felon’s name, by stealing the diamond Nick himself was accused of thieving. The jewel belongs to Real Estate magnate David Englander (Ed Harris), his fortress of alarms, sensors and safes almost impenetrable. Whilst Nick draws the crowds and maintains his suicidal charade as a decoy, Angie and Joey attempt to retrieve their prize before time runs out.

“Man on a Ledge” marks Asger Leth’s American debut behind the camera, the director making a strong case for his continued presence in Hollywood. The film uses its specific setting acutely, Leth deploying the vertigo-inducing perspective of Worthington’s character to rack up suspense. The first three minutes of the film set the tone for the next 60, a quiet and brooding Worthington tucks into his last supper, before mounting the ledge with understated acceptance. The camera angles and shots selected throughout the flick are clever, Lethe editing together the various plot strands with an eye for pace and excitement. The demeanour of dread and confusion that dominates the initial portion of “Man on a Ledge” renders the thriller very watchable, and in a flashback sequence the film-maker showcases his action chops with a coherent and fluid cemetery care chase. Whatever detractors “Man on a Ledge” might have, Leth does not rank amongst them.

The screenplay is more problematic. The first hour is rewarding because it lets the actors (who generally acquit themselves well, particularly a calm Worthington) and Leth’s style do the heavy-lifting; “Man on a Ledge” achieving a gripping and suspenseful aura as a result.  At least when we’re on the building that is. The subplot involving Bell and Rodriguez attempting to rob the building operates less successfully, namely because the script occasionally misjudges the tone in this segment. The two performers are game, but there’s an unwanted plethora of corny comic relief here and their dynamic as a bickering couple never quite takes flight. Some basic tension derives due to Leth’s superior direction and the fact we gradually come to care about Worthington’s Nick, but in general the heist component of “Man on a Ledge” isn’t the movie’s brightest facet.

The finale features some technically confident action and a dizzying amount of kinetic energy, but it’s not as engaging as what precedes it. The narrative takes a selection of absurd turn and Harris seems determined to play every scene as a pantomime villain, notions that undercut the restrained urgency of the first 70 minutes. It’s not a complete dampener because the set-pieces are individually well staged, but it might have been nice if “Man on a Ledge” had sustained the more desolate hue, instead of opting for a bonkers mainstream pay-off.

“Man on a Ledge” won’t win any awards or even last particularly long in the memory. The movie it draws obvious comparison with is 2002’s “Phone Booth”, the contrast doing little for Leth’s project on the long run. However “Man on a Ledge” and Worthington are both deserving of a kinder reception than they received, principally because on the whole solidity is the name of the game here. It’s a standard pot-boiler, but it panders to its genre’s strengths accordingly and offers a perfectly enjoyable way to spend an hour and a half. It’s flawed for sure and serviceable rather than inspired, but there’s still plenty to admire about this tightly packaged affair. 

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2012