30 March 2013

Movie Review: Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters


Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters 
2013, 88mins, 15 
Director: Tommy Wirkola 
Writer: Tommy Wirkola 
Cast includes: Jeremy Renner, Gemma Arterton, Famke Janssen, Peter Stormare, Thomas Mann 
UK Release Date: 27th February 2013 

The only pleasure to be derived from viewing “Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters” is in guessing just how low the film-makers will sink. Horrendously penned, directed with clumsy, amateurish hands by Norwegian Tommy Wirkola and boasting two wooden turns from a pair of usually solid actors, the movie is a colossal misfire. It’s not simply bad. It’s dizzyingly atrocious. The shittiest exploitation feature ever pioneered by a major Hollywood studio.

After famously dispatching of a witch during their youth, siblings Hansel (Jeremy Renner) and Gretel (Gemma Arterton) have turned to hunting the supernatural hags for a living. Called into a small town after the disappearance of multiple children, the duo quickly unearth spooky goings on, much to the chagrin of sceptical Sheriff Berringer (a predictably buzzed Peter Stormare). As the omens worsen and the town comes under attack, the locals begin to despise the fantasy bounty hunters, but both Gretel and Hansel persevere, their latest job bringing them unexpectedly close to their origins.

Wirkola’s directorial work is inept and artistically meritless. “Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters” isn’t just a poorly put together movie, it’s a feature that wrestles with basic cinematic literacy. It has no over-arching tone. Scenes and subplots collapse around each other, denying the picture an editorial rhythm. The action is messily assembled and more often than not incomprehensible. The dweeb from “Project X” disturbingly fondles Arterton’s assets whilst she is unconscious and laughs at an innocent man exploding in a cloud of vsicera. Nothing about this catastrophe makes sense, and what’s worse it never works. There are small shreds of potential floating around the punch line of a premise, but they’ve all been drowned by the lack of vision or even basic technique evidenced by those sheparding the fiasco. 

The action falls victim to the post-Bourne curse of over-kinetic camerawork, often making it impossible to deduce what’s occurring or to process the stakes. When you can make out what’s going on, any excitement is drained thanks to a lack of imagination, shoddy wirework or cheap CGI. Watching witches shoot poorly visualised bursts of flame from their fingers, or witnessing frenzied hand to hand combat has extreme limitations, “Witch Hunters” happy to succumb to each and every one. I finished watching it less than an hour ago, and honestly can’t recall one memorable or even semi-inspired example of genre film-making within the piece. The only sequences that standout are those that transcend mere nothingness, and plummet into the realm of ridiculous misjudgement reserved for legendary turkeys. One such instance involves a troll developing feelings reminiscent of King Kong for Arterton’s Gretel. It’s even lamer than it sounds, chiefly because the movie begs you to take it seriously. That’s just a fraction of how delusional this dog gets.

Character development was clearly done away with in the early stages of pre-production, not that much extra attention was applied to the illogical plot. We don’t get to know Hansel or Gretel much beyond the fact the former has diabetes (an admittedly clever touch) and the latter is suffering through some intense maternal yearning. The film begins with a bang but refuses to halt and fill in any exposition, instead steam-rolling the two dimensional heroes into a series of rusty battles. Arterton and Renner have no chemistry together and the movie fails to present even a slither of conflict between the pair, robbing “Witch Hunters” of even the basic requirement of dramatic interest. Wirkola boils it down to the two barrelling headfirst into melee after melee, allowing some very dumb question marks to arise in the process. Characters act without intelligence, and for apparently seasoned hunters of the occult, the leads foul up with remarkable proficiency.

Famke Janssen pops up as the chief nasty, her embarrassment presumably masked by patchy make-up. She is just one of the many people involved with this debacle that deserves infinitely better. In fact I can’t really think of many performers who deserve less. “Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters” is a travesty, a clear and early contender for 2013’s worst film. I also saw “G.I Joe: Retaliation” this week, so that’s some standard to set.

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2013

This Week in Capsule Reviews - 30/03/13

Critical tidbits for the Easter Bank Holiday!

Here Comes the Boom (2012) - C+ 

Generic but appreciatively likable comedy delivers enough cheeky giggles and warmheartedness to render it serviceable. Kevin James gives one of the better performances of his short career here, allowing Frank Coraci to hang the formulaic fare around a pleasant schlub. There are small moments of directorial flair during the MMA fight scenes, but generally "Here Comes the Boom" adheres to the bright and cheerful aesthetic of most Happy Madison productions. Forgettable, but when assessed against its limited ambitions the movie is the right side of average.

Side Effects (2013) - B+ 

Clever genre fare which toys subtly with audience expectations for the first half, before undergoing a rather deliberate and engaging identity crisis of its own. Soderbergh handles the tonal jumps evident in Scott Z. Burns screenplay with aplomb, especially toward the end, where the film-makers concoct something evocative of a 70s procedural noir, as opposed to the mental health thriller advertised. Stylistically its more assured than some of the director's more recent work and boasts a solid leading performance by Jude Law and an outstanding one from the ever excellent Rooney Mara. Not the movie I was expecting, but far richer and more satisfying for so skillfully manipulating audience preconceptions. Gripping stuff that should hold up on repeat inspection

Safety Not Guaranteed (2012) - B- 

Affable Sundance darling which has established importance in the light of its green director being given the reins of the "Jurassic Park" franchise. Colin Trevorrow's film wraps itself up in sci-fi pretensions, but is ultimately a piece about people reconnecting with their pasts and embracing the potential of the future. "Safety Not Guaranteed" has a likable supporting cast and soft touch (namely emanating from a kooky Mark Duplass.) and is rarely betrayed by its tight budget That being said, Aubrey Plaza makes for an uninspired and frustratingly cold lead. She should stick to sarcastic fringe parts - her comic timing can't redeem a lack of screen presence in larger roles. It's a clever conceit handled with balance and humanity by the film-makers, but it's no ground-shaker. Adept but forgettable.

Reviews by Daniel Kelly, 2013

28 March 2013

Movie Review G.I Joe: Retaliation



G.I Joe: Retaliation 
2013, 110mins, 12
Director: Jon Chu 
Writer (s): Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick 
Cast includes: Dwayne Johnson, Channing Tatum, Bruce Willis, Ray Park, Adrienne Palicki, Jonathan Pryce, Luke Bracey, RZA 
UK Release Date: 27th March 2013

In 2009 “G.I Joe: The Rise of Cobra” was a minor summertime surprise. The picture had been plagued by negative buzz; chatter of backroom disputes and ghastly test screenings scarring its already dubious odds of blockbusting relevance. When it was finally unleashed the picture played enjoyably dumb, a cartoonish blast of Hollywood excess, and one that was tolerable if audiences were willing to accept its tongue in cheek tonality. Now in 2013 we have a sequel in the form of “G.I Joe: Retaliation”, picture that has endured a similarly rough passage to multiplexes worldwide.  The curse of the rancid test screening once again reared its head, but more cutting was the bizarre and never fully articulated 9 month delay forced upon the feature. “Retaliation” was originally set for release last summer, before Paramount pulled the plug and reset the affair for a less competitive spring debut. Unfortunately this time the bad omens pay dividends, “Retaliation” amounting to a noisy, mirthless viewing experience. Directed with zero personality and working from a half-baked script, the picture is probably the loudest sedative on the market. It may very well be the worst movie associated with a Hasbro toyline yet. I’ll let you recall 2009’s “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” and allow that last statement to sink in a little.

The plot is a mystifying mishmash of action clich├ęs. “The Joes” now led by Duke (Channing Tatum) and Roadblock (Dwayne Johnson) are framed for intent to commit international terrorist activity, and attacked by their own government. Ostracized and alone, the survivors decide to unearth the conspiracy and swear vengeance on the perpetrators, which naturally leads them back to a newly freed Cobra Commander (Luke Bracey) and his immediate underling Zartan. Zartan has captured the President of the United States (Jonathan Pryce) and has stolen his likeness using futuristic technology, providing the baddies with substantial political footing. Commander and Zartan plan on combining their new power and a scheme heavily dependent on nuclear weaponry to assume global control, but the heroes are determined to halt them, bringing in old friend General Joe Colton (Bruce Willis) to help stop the rot.

The original film was helmed by Stephen Sommers, hardly a supreme craftsman, but a director keenly aware of how to enable an aura of bamboozling fun. Sommers’ soft touch supplied the initial foray with an endearing ridiculousness, the film-maker wisely refusing to take anything seriously. Newcomer Jon Chu goes a different way with “Retaliation”, desperately trying to make the sequel a more grounded actioner, which is of course given the cheesy concept, a very silly manoeuvre. Stripping the franchise of the deliberately ludicrous set-pieces and intentionally corny humour only leads “Retaliation” to become tedious very fast, a fact accelerated by Chu’s lack of directorial personality. The film-maker has studied the Michael Bay handbook very carefully, and this shows in his competent technical arrangements and agreeable use of 3D, but unfortunately he can’t polish an action sequence or build momentum like his “Transformers” idol. Chu nabs all of Bay’s worst instincts as a director (casual sexism, languorous pacing) without indulging in the inspiring razzle-dazzle that characterizes his stronger works.  This leaves “Retaliation” with several very large, but also extremely boring instances of fire-fighting and explosions, not one of the film’s oversized set-pieces lingering in the memory. It’s a soulless beast, akin to a 9-year old blowing up plastic soldiers on his parents’ camcorder. In fact had the budget been reduced by $135 million, I’m pretty sure that’s what “Retaliation” would be.

Clearly Paramount were keen to pretend “The Rise of Cobra” never really happened, instigating a huge recasting of the principals (except for a returning Tatum and masked Ray Park) to help jazz the formula up. The new characters by screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick don’t amount to much, and the thespians brought into portray them only pollute the cocktail further. I’m generally a fan of Dwayne Johnson, as clearly is Chu, but apparently for different reasons. I enjoy the athlete’s warm screen presence, comedic deftness and legitimate tough-guy demeanour in action scenes. Chu seems to prefer having Johnson spit out horrendous one-liners, bellowing masculine catch-phrases and flexing his considerable frame, leading to a disappointingly vanilla turn from a usually game performer. TV’s Adrienne Palicki is brought in as the token totty, rocking several sexualised outfits commendably (and bravely without expressing any offense), but sans any of the joy or broad sass that Sienna Miller infused the first “GI Joe” outing with. Then there’s Bruce Willis. Sigh. The once celebrated action star is on autopilot here, looking as physically bored and unmoved as any Hollywood star in recent memory. Moving through the awful last act, Willis looks like a ghost of his former self, awkwardly trying to appear invigorated, yet failing on absolutely every conceivable level. To those who nit-picked his work in last month’s “A Good Day to Die Hard” - you ain't seen nothing yet.

The movie boasts a slick visual finish but as with the action, it lacks any semblance of identity. Chu uses 3D without bothering the audience too much, but his cinematography and sets are extraordinarily bland, professionally pitched but devoid of imagination or impish impulses. The pacing of the feature is also a major issue, at 110 minutes the thing feels like it’ll never end. An entire section concerning two ninjas (Snake-Eyes and Storm Shadow) feels reheated and unnecessary (although it provides RZA with a wonderful Razzie gambit for next year as a Kung-Fu master), whilst the middle-act waddles along for much too long, introducing a bevy of faceless heavies and cruddy character building moments. Even the musical score courtesy of Henry Jackman is infuriatingly stillborn, allowing the CGI booms to dominate the feature’s aggressive soundscape completely.

“Retaliation” is senseless empty-calorie trash, a burning example of contemporary Hollywood’s hedonistic production values and too regularly sighted lack of creative ambition. It’s a dreadful debacle, unexciting and pieced together with so little skill or emotion, existing purely to ape videogames and sporadically amuse tweens with short attention spans. It made me wish I was sitting through a “Transformers” sequel, or better yet, having a long nap. Anybody looking to engage an iota of thought on their entertainment should avoid this without hesitation, and even for those like me, who revel in the odd slab of numb-skulled frivolity, “G.I Joe: Retaliation” simply isn't good enough.

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2013

7 March 2013

Two Worth Catching from 2012 - "Queen of Versailles" & "Liberal Arts"

Two movies that received very small releases in the UK during 2012. Both are worth checking out. "The Queen of Versailles" is now available on DVD/Blu-Ray & Digital Download. "Liberal Arts" will be open for home entertainment consumption from July 29th.

The Queen of Versailles (2012) - B+

Lauren Greenfield's documentary functions both as a human portrait of the economic downturn of 2008, and as the story of an opulent family with a materialistic but curiously admirable figurehead. Following Jackie and David Siegel as they come to terms with their billionaire lifestyle going south, the picture is at times damning of gross consumerism run amok (the pair are trying to construct a $100 million mansion), but also praises the female lead for attempting to battle adversity with love and optimism. Very watchable and with some fascinating emotional developments come the final act, "The Queen of Versailles" is a well informed and affecting offering.

Liberal Arts (2012) - A-

After his markedly empty-headed debut "HappyThankYouMorePlease" I had begun to abandon hope for Josh Radnor as a film-maker of skill or substance, but "Liberal Arts" marks a positive pivot in terms of maturation and quality of final product. Surrounding himself with an exceptional cast (Elizabeth Olsen, Richard Jenkins, Zac Efron, Allison Janney but to name a few...) Radnor muses on the importance of ones formative years, imagining his softly spoken picture as not only an ode to arts and literature, but also as a respectful comment on their fundamental limitations. The unconventional dynamic between Radnor and Olsen as soul-mates separated by a frustrating 16 years is engaging (in contrast to the flamboyant nothingness of the relationships in his debut film), Radnor also grappling much more successful with various strands of humour here too (namely via Efron's game hippie turn). Radnor clearly has affection for college life but keenly assesses the damages it can have on more fragile minds, an organic and sympathetically mounted facet of the piece which gets short shrift in the modern cinematic climate. Warm, sustaining and supremely confident film-making from a director who appears to have found his footing. May the affecting earnestness of "Liberal Arts" play a stronger role in his career than the hollow, disjointed pontificating of "HappyThankYouMorePlease".

Reviews by Daniel Kelly, 2013

Radio Danland - 06/03/13 - CLOUD ATLAS & Book Adaptations

The Arts Show on RaW1251am. Hosted by Daniel Kelly & Andy Gaudion

The Arts Show - 06/03/13 by Daniel Kelly on Mixcloud

Radio Danland - Oscars & Jennifer Lawrence

The Arts Show on Raw1251am from the 01/03/13 hosted by Daniel Kelly

The Arts Show - Oscars 2013, HITCHCOCK and Jennifer Lawrence genereally being adorable by Daniel Kelly on Mixcloud

3 March 2013

This Week in Capsule Reviews - 03/03/2013

A new batch of quick and zingy reviews for your pleasure

Premium Rush (2012) - C-

Gordon-Levitt and Michael Shannon are squandered in this over-directed and uninvolving bike messenger actioner. The central plot concerning a corrupt cop trying to ascertain a high priority delivery from snarky athlete Gordon-Levitt has potential, but horrible characterization, an overuse of aggressive visual stimuli and a failure to force the narrative down any unsuspected pathways renders it all a bit mundane. The stunt-work and chase sequences are fun, but what surprises is how poor the screenplay courtesy of David Koepp actually ends up being (his CV including blockbuster gem "Jurassic Park" and underrated 2008 comedy "Ghost Town"). Tonal inconsistencies don't help much (at times "Premium Rush" confusingly favours slapstick) and one dimensional characters render the stakes low. An unexpected failure.

Snow White and the Huntsman (2012) - C

It seems the villain of the piece's obsession with appearance transfused directly into the film-makers here. "Snow White and the Huntsman" looks tremendous and harbours state of the art CGI. However the writing is problematic (the dialogue is just embarrassing in spots), Kristen Stewart's title turn is comatose and the action beats feel perfunctory and only fitfully excting. Debuting director Rupert Sanders has a nice eye for gloss and conceives several cute visual motifs, but his storytelling skills and imaginative faculties are far more questionable. The tale clunks along, relying on flashbacks and voice-overs for context, ambling toward a finish that whilst impressive to look at, is unremarkable in execution. Chris Hemsworth is entertaining as the Huntsman tasked with protecting Snow White, although like everybody else he is given only shallow and cliched material to work with. It's not offensively bad and does boast some genuine aesthetic merit, but as a blockbuster it's decidedly mediocre. No sequels please.

The Bone Collector (1999) - D

What happens if you subtract a character driven narrative and visually arresting direction from Se7en? I'd imagine the answer is something like "The Bone Collector", a tired mystery which desperately attempts to emulate David Fincher's majestic procedural at every turn. As the cops in pursuit of a serial killer, Denzel Washington and Angelina Jolie are handed an interesting dynamic, but there's no suspense or macabre imagination evident in the story. Visually it's polished but perfunctory, whilst the narrative plods toward a predictable and tamely staged conclusion. Unsurprising that it has now been forgotten, as nothing disappoints more than a thriller which fails to thrill.

The Vicious Kind (2009) - B

Adam Scott and Brittany Snow give powerhouse performances in this encouraging debut from director Lee Toland Krieger. As a sister trapped between two brothers Snow is tender and subtly heartbreaking, but it's a raw, malicious yet extremely vulnerable Scott who ultimately steals the show. Krieger shows some directorial flair, and whilst the dour, remote atmosphere gets a little overbearing at times, there are some engaging dramatic moments here. Krieger has since gone onto confirm his talent with last year's brilliant rom-com "Celeste and Jesse Forever". For a first stab at feature film-making, "The Vicious Kind" is a respectable effort elevated by fine acting.

Taxi Driver (1976) - A

Slow and frustrating at times, but ultimately a remarkably striking and memorable film, which chooses to do legitimately interesting things with the conceit of unreliable narration. As Travis Bickle, Robert De Niro is sensational, portraying an unstable man abandoned by society. Post-Vietnam blues permeate the seedy essence of the picture, and Scorsese's ambiguity concerning the violent rampage the lead characters undergoes is compelling, leaving the rich work open to multiple interpretations. Is Bickle an inherently positive figure within a sinful New York? Is he an impressionable time-bomb who gets lucky with his final actions? Or is he simply a disillusioned man raging hopelessly against a world that has all but forgotten him? Every answer is open to debate, which in a way sums up the importance and complexity of this movie in a nutshell. Scorsese's craftsmanship is also evidenced through several subversive shot selections and the gnarly climactic shoot-out. A young Jodie Foster also pops up and leaves her mark with a clever turn that subtly suggests childish nativity, whilst underlining how a cruel New York forces all its inhabitants to accept the grim, grounded, corrupted dredge of immoral day to day living. It's tough to concretely attest where the picture stands on the political landscape of the 70s, although its vapid senator caricature and Bickle's abandonment despite serving in war suggest the film-makers weren't fans. Tough to sit through, and not traditionally entertaining, but "Taxi Driver" is a film that rewards viewing.

Review by Daniel Kelly, 2013