30 August 2013

Movie Review: You're Next



You're Next
2013, 94mins, 18
Director: Adam Wingard 
Writer: Simon Barrett 
Cast includes: Sharni Vinson, AJ Bowen, Wendy Glenn, Joe Swanberg, Nicholas Tucci
UK Release date: 28th August 2013

Originally premiered back in 2011 and promptly snapped up by LionsGate, “You’re Next” has been the source of substantial pop cultural buzz for a period approaching two years. Fans, bloggers and critics have more or less unanimously rallied around the product, touting it as a modern touchstone in the home invasion niche, and in some more hyperbolic cases, even a future classic of the horror genre. The film is a solidly crafted endeavour with some nifty surprises, but the fact people are proclaiming it as anything more suggests that audiences have too long been starved of respectable scary fare; or indeed that the journalistic contingent of the industry will overstate opinions amidst a qualitative drought. It debatably happened earlier this year with “The Conjuring”, but “You’re Next” evidences the phenomenon at new highs; a capable feature held up as some sort of entertainment deity. It might sound like I’m being harsh on an otherwise credible picture, that’s not my intention, but perhaps after the rapturous praise it’s been receiving a touch of level-headed assessment might be just the antidote required.

Erin (Sharni Vinson) is about to meet her boyfriend Crispian’s (AJ Bowen) extended for the first time, invited for a weekend at their stately rural abode, where Crispian promises relations might get a little fraught. It doesn’t take long for his prediction to come good, sibling relations seem tense and Crispian’s mother (Barbara Crampton) isn’t in perfect health. During their initial dinner, the family are subjected to a brutal siege from external invaders; cloaked in black, adorned with eerie animal masks and a dangerous arsenal of weaponry. It doesn’t take long for the casualties to start mounting, the attackers indicating continued bloodshed as their chief intent, unexpectedly unleashing a dormant survivalist skill-set within Erin. Creating DIY weapons and defensive strategies, it quickly falls upon Erin to keep her privileged hosts alive.

Australian Sharni Vinson hasn’t done much notable work in the past, but her contribution here fits quite wonderfully into the ballsy “final-girl” model. She’s the only true thespian presence in “You’re Next”, complimenting the picture’s viscera with a strong, physical and steely turn. Director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett do an accomplished job of establishing Erin as the film’s sole active protagonist, the only character who seems likely to see the nightmarish charade to its end. This does at times come at the expense of weaker supporting figures (although Joe Swanberg is amusing as Crispian’s cocky brother Drake), but then “You’re Next” can essentially be boiled down to a formula; Intruders advance, Erin responds, instance of jeopardy, resolution. A plethora of additional humanity isn’t strictly necessary. However if it weren’t for the courageously gory mutilations depicted or Vinson’s convincing bad-assery, then “You’re Next” would quickly devolve into tedium. Well at least the first two thirds would.

I’m the first to suggest the feature has been given an easy pass by critics, but admittedly the movie does pack at least one terrific shift of gear, channelling the carnage in a different and more intriguing direction. It opens a few extra characters up (slightly) and provides for some blackly giddy moments (a woman trying to seduce her lover beside a corpse is a tasteless highlight), and ensures that the familiarity of the opening 50 minutes doesn't over-burden proceedings. There’s probably a little too much exposure eventually handed to the villains, their motives eking away some suspense, but what separates “You’re Next” from say, 2008’s comparable “The Strangers”, is the deliberately shaky footing placed beneath its heroine’s feet.

The bad guys aren't ever as scary as they might have been, chiefly because throughout the movie they do some pretty stupid things. When stalking victims they frequently suffer from delayed reactions and clumsy personal gestures, lazily providing Wingard with the opportunity to close pivotal splurges of violence on predictable boo moments. The musical score has a quirky nostalgic tweak to it, but at times Wingard’s framing and understanding of classical horror situations lets him down, very few of the films attempted shocks raised my pulse. Characters arrive into spacious vistas Wingard unsubtly provides them with and the music, despite its outdated charm, does aid obviously structured beats thanks to its synth infused rhythms. “You’re Next” is much more satisfactory when it flips into a relentless and visibly graphic mode of chaos. When left to try and cultivate quieter, unforeseen frights the film-makers are generally unable to supply anything enlightening or even semi-innovative.

I can respect that the hardcore horror nuts needed “You’re Next”; it is after all in its most basic form a low-rent crowd-pleaser. Wingard shows lashings of potential, but would also need to sharpen his directorial machete for the next gig, a refusal to so slavishly worship slasher tradition would definitely be to his artistic future’s benefit. In Sharni Vinson the movie has a workable lead and the screenplay resuscitates some duff moments thanks to an expertly applied twist, but is that enough to make “You’re Next” any sort of modern landmark? I’d argue no. 

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2013

26 August 2013

Movie Review: Elysium



2013, 109mins, 15
Director: Neill Blomkamp 
Writer: Neill Blomkamp 
Cast includes: Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, Alice Braga, Sharlto Copley, William Fichtner, Wagner Moura
UK Release Date: 21st August 2013

Looking back at summer 2013, the movie-going season has proven itself something of a non-event. It started on a promising note with “Iron Man 3”, but since then the misses have outweighed the hits, dependable purveyors of mainstream entertainment like J.J Abrams, James Mangold and Gore Verbinski all falling short of expectation with their various blockbusting excursions. However even as mediocrity largely reigned supreme, there was always a light at the end of the tunnel; because summer 2013 was the time we would finally get a sophomore film from “District 9” virtuoso Neill Blomkamp. After making a cracking entry into the world of feature-length science fiction in 2009 with his tale of alien slums, Blomkamp has slowly been mounting a return, arising in the form of another fantasy parable; “Elysium”. Expectations for the movie were admittedly high, but even if they’d been more moderate, I doubt this final product would have impressed much. In comparison to the nuanced and socially conscious thrills of “District 9”, “Elysium” comes across as positively foolish in spots. It’s a handsomely mounted vehicle with moments of sensory empowerment, but the imagination, commentary and fluid storytelling of his previous output has been lacerated, substituted in favour of videogame styled temperament and unanswerable stumbles in logic.

Midway through the 22nd Century, Earth is now a ruin, the more prosperous portion of the population having taken to an exotic space station named Elysium to continue humanity’s march of progress. Unable to gain access to the paradise amongst the stars, Max (Matt Damon) is busy redeeming his questionable past by immersing himself in factory work, helping to manufacture the droids used to police the Earth. After an accident leaves him with only five days to live, Max becomes obsessed with reaching Elysium, where they possess medical apparatus that can cure any ailment promptly. Striking a deal with Spider (Wagner Moura) – an individual who specializes in gaining illegal access to Elysium – Max agrees to steal the bountiful secrets of businessman John Carlyle (William Fichtner, heartbreakingly underused) in exchange for passage. However the information in Carlyle’s head amounts to more than they could’ve predicted – leading corrupt defence secretary Delacourt (Jodie Foster) and deranged mercenary Kruger (Sharlto Copley) to viciously begin hunting Max down.

If “District 9” ran tight parallels with Apartheid struggles in Blomkamp’s native South Africa, then “Elysium” aims to tackle classism in a less precise, and consequently blunter manner. The societal ideas communicated amount to a simpleton shouting “RICH PEOPLE SUCK” loudly from a roof-top, as the upper-classes of “Elysium” lounge around their pools all day, failing to share their all-healing uber technology with anyone. It feels more like a half-baked concept than an actual narrative undertone, the medical bays themselves providing issues on a more fundamental storytelling level too. These facilities can seemingly cure anything with precious little regard for time, cost or alternative health consequences, robbing the macguffin and subsequently the story of tension or poignancy. There needs to be a constrictive measure on this sort of instrument, otherwise it’s just a clumsy screenwriting get out of jail free card, a problem exacerbated by the fact the technology’s very presence renders the story pointless. Why after his accident can Damon not be permitted to use the super device for the 5 seconds required? Surely his Elysium based employers keep one in their offices? Why are the immigrant smuggling purveyors of transportation focusing on getting people to Elysium? Why not just build a few of the medical bays themselves and fulfil their dodgy financial yearnings that way? There are so many questions, nearly all of which are undercut to some degree by Blomkamp’s life-giving invention. I suppose it’s necessary to motor the thin story forward, but it ultimately proves a writing curse, a nasty disregard for storytelling principal excused in order to give “Elysium” momentum. It’s idiocy I tell ya.

The quality of acting is wildly uneven. Damon is stoic but unremarkable in the leading role, just about sympathetic enough to gain interest but never kinetic enough to excite. The real problems come elsewhere, chiefly in the guise of Jodie Foster’s bizarre and ultimately thankless role as a snide Elysium politician, the normally capable actress concocting a silly accent, glaring like a petulant child and mucking up basic line delivery. It’s genuinely weird to observe, and what’s more the character eventually amounts to nothing. She gets no pay-off, no big moment to learn the error of her ways or fully detail her contempt for the current heads of state. One moment she’s there. The next she’s not. Poof.  Characterisation is another thing “Elysium” struggles with, evidenced by the groaningly contrived dynamic built up between Damon, love-interest Alice Braga and her daughter – which literally has its foundations on an unmotivated scene of intimacy that makes the child come off as a crafty wind-up merchant. You’ll know the moment (it involves a Hippo), and I frankly can’t see any logical reason for the dialogue to progress in such a manner. The child possesses none of the context that appears to fuel her seemingly cute allegory, yet during the finale it inspires Damon into hysterical fits of heroism. A saving grace is Sharlto Copley-who frankly seems to be in a different movie -but at least remembers to have fun with his nefarious quirks.

Blomkamp is an ace world-builder; the bedraggled Earth he depicts here does emit a tangible aura of steamy hopelessness. It almost feels like the director is exploring the deprived corners of “District 9” on a grander scale, cinematographer Trent Opaloch building sun-baked claustrophobia out of Blomkamp’s vision. The action in the final act is a crisp, coherent and enjoyable, climaxing on a note of purpose, suspense and audience investment. The earlier portions are much less successful, Blomkamp favouring jerky shootouts riddled with two dimensional supporting victims and unending streams of videogame possibility over any semblance of reality. Characters extract firearms from dead-bodies during pivotal moments, deploy unexplained force fields in order to prolong set-pieces and in the case of the hero, boast an advantageous exoskeleton that no other human appears to deem appropriate for combat. This provides Damon’s protagonist with an unstoppable edge until the dying moments; just another dumb plot-hole to leave viewers exasperated.

As a shell of a science fiction extravaganza, “Elysium” is pretty to behold and stuffed with potential, but ultimately it cheats hope. The movie falls victim to so many little irks that I’ve almost forgotten to mention how clunky the initial portion’s pacing is. It genuinely bores for the first 45 minutes of its otherwise reasonable runtime. Blomkamp is still aiming high here, and there’s definitely some merit in his attempts to make the film mean something beyond the CGI explosions and genre conventions, but this time it hasn't worked out. I’m sure he’ll bounce back with an intriguing feature again at some point, but “Elysium” signifies he might not be the messiah of thoughtful science-fiction we all so quickly jumped to proclaim him after his auspicious debut. 

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2013

24 August 2013

Movie Review: We're the Millers



We're the Millers
2013, 110mins, 15
Director: Rawson Marshall Thurber 
Writer (s): Rawson Marshall Thurber, John Morris, Sean Anders 
Cast includes: Jason Sudeikis, Jennifer Aniston, Emma Roberts, Will Poulter, Ed Helms, Nick Offerman, Kathryn Hahn 
UK Release Date: 23rd August 2013

“We’re the Millers” has been in production since 2006, the feature having endured several false starts over the years (Steve Buscemi was attached at one point), with a bevy of writers, actors and film-makers failing to get the concept beyond the early stages of pre-production. Now in its completed form, “We’re the Millers” feels its age. That’s not to say it’s unfunny or worthless, but this raunchy road-trip picture would definitely have played more interestingly 8-years ago, at the height of Bush’s Presidential onus on middle-class America and before the recent boom in R-rated comedy. As chilled summer entertainment goes it’s affable enough, but there’s nothing in the film’s script or execution that lingers in the memory for any longer than a few hours after the theatre lights come up.

David (Jason Sudeikis) hasn’t done much growing up since college, he still deals weed for a living and fritters away his days in the style of a disinterested teenager. When his stash and savings are pilfered, David finds himself indebted to his supplier Brad(Ed Helms), who in turn forces the hapless dealer to execute a job for him. Brad needs a “smidge” of pot moved from Mexico to the States – offering David reprieve and an extra $10000 for his efforts. However David is convinced on his own he doesn't stand a chance; resulting in him hiring dorky Kenny (Will Poulter), homeless teen Casey (Emma Roberts) and reluctant stripper Rose (Jennifer Aniston) to pose as a wholesome all-American family named the Millers. Loaded into an RV, the unlikely group traverse the boarder, only to discover that the quantity of marijuana Brad needs moved exceeds his initial projections.

Based on the level of energy supplied by the cast and the amusing blooper reel tucked away just before the credits, it looks liked “We’re the Millers” was a hoot to make. There was probably more laughter during 110 minutes on set than there will be in an average cinema exhibiting the feature, always a slightly aggravating fact for the paying audience to digest. It’s not that I want productions to adapt a grim, gormless atmosphere during the creative process, but it’s nice to know that as a financial patron we’re getting the lion’s share merriment. The movie harbours a consistently up-tempo and jubilant momentum, which keeps “We’re the Millers” likable. However the gags are hit and miss, a combination of outdated tropes and flimsy improvisations quelling the overall sharpness of the product. Based on the outtakes it looks like Aniston and company enjoyed an unending stream of gayety whilst piecing the thing together – only sporadic chunks of this translating to the viewing experience. Maybe it’s slack and unfair criticism to rant on about something so menial, a complaint admittedly distant from an isolated critique of “We’re the Millers” as seasonal confection. Still, the whole notion grinds my gears. I won’t make apologies goddamit.

The pedigree of film-makers on the project is better than average. Director Rawson Marshall Thurber should have his name eternally engraved onto an important tablet or something for his work on 2004’s delightful “Dodgeball”, whilst writers Sean Anders and John Morris have penned a handful of notable R-rated goof-fests. As a result there are definite laughs – it is important to stipulate amidst my gripes that “We’re the Millers” is pretty funny – but there’s nothing overly acerbic or inventive to get excited about. Between them these guys have given us Steve the Pirate, White Goodman, the insanely titled “Hot Tub Time Machine” and the most bizarre incest twist of all time in last summer’s “That’s My Boy”. So why does “We’re the Millers” feel so ordinary? The quality of the material is perfectly acceptable, but I wouldn't go much further than that, the movie more likely to draw smirks and titters than major guffaws. Sudeikis has a nice way with delivery and Aniston continues to indicate her talents are better put to use alongside edgier, smuttier material; so y’know giggles are forthcoming. I’m certain I laughed and did so semi-regularly. I just can’t remember at what.

At 110 minutes the movie is much too long, but some forgiveness is due on the basis that “We’re the Millers” actually generates warmth. Thurber does pay attention to the burgeoning familial dynamic from a human perspective, even if he jettisons some opportunity for deconstruction of the nuclear unit along the way. There are a few moments of sincerity throughout the picture – by the end you halfway care for the protagonists – which in the context of modern adult comedy is an admirable achievement. It’s pleasant to see the film at least take sparing moments to nurture its central characters and various chemistries, rather than ramming it all down the viewer’s throat in an over-stuffed wrap-up.

You get what you pay for here. There’s a prosthetic dick, Jennifer Aniston gives an onscreen lap dance and the screenplay provides an ample degree of mirth. There are sections which feel rusty and past their sell by date (I think even in 2006 the days of laughing at a penis just because it’s there were numbered) – and admittedly – the whole thing might have been more satirically relevant when juxtaposed beside the Bush administration’s stance on family. I can’t imagine many will cherish the feature beyond the 110 minutes it takes to consume, but heck that investment -whilst unfavourably drawn out- isn't a total waste. 

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2013

18 August 2013

Movie Review: 2 Guns



2 Guns
2013, 109mins, 15
Director: Baltasar Kormakur
Writer: Blake Masters 
Cast includes: Denzel Washington, Mark Wahlberg, Paula Patton, Bill Paxton, Edward James Olmos, James Marsden 
UK Release Date: 16th August 2013

 “2 Guns” is a feature mired by problematic writing and a director who somewhat struggles to communicate the haphazard script accessibly, leaving the film’s narrative a fragile and needlessly messy disappointment. Yet, thanks to winning turns from Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg, earthy violence and some cracking action scenes the movie manages to ascertain some worth as a guilty pleasure. “2 Guns” doesn't have much in the way of fresh ideas or aesthetic nuance, but it’s still a polished enough Hollywood fluff-piece, citing that with charismatic stars even the most depressingly cock-eyed of premises can be rendered watchable.  

In a botched attempt to infiltrate a drug cartel, criminals Bobby (Denzel Washington) and Stig (Mark Wahlberg) learn they are each undercover operatives, tasked with bringing the other man down. Bobby is DEA and Stig ex-Navy, but when they come into contact with a mysterious $43 million bounty they find their respective employers turning hostile, revealing corrupt underbellies. Forced to join together on legitimate terms as outlaws, Stig and Bobby attempt to clear their names, with both agencies, an agitated crime baron (Edward James Olmos) and lethal, shadowy CIA enforcer Earl (Bill Paxton) breathing down their necks.

Last year director Baltasar Kormákur made his American directorial debut with “Contraband”, a lean and simplistic thriller that also utilised the star power of Wahlberg and choice action moments to good effect. The screenplay for that feature was thin, making it easy for Kormakur to translate the beats into a flowing mirage of images without much clutter or editorial disturbance. Unfortunately “2 Guns” is a little more sprawling (although no more unique), demanding that Kormakur play around with timeline jumps and a myriad of cartoony characters, none of which the helmer seems that comfortable with. Tonally and visually the movie is fine, with several tightly choreographed fits of gunplay, but you can feel the story getting away from the director with each progressing sequence. By the end “2 Guns” degenerates into a frazzled storytelling slump, Kormakur having surrendered control of the plot’s overly ripe machinations and incredibly standard genre “twists”. There’s just too much going on, a fault also of Blake Masters dumpy, jittery and over-stuffed writing, but it’s clear that the demands of the narrative are a bit beyond Kormakur at this point in his career. It might be advisable for the director to make a few more “Contraband” level products, leaving other more experienced folk to tackle this less-linear sort of popcorn cinema.

The casting is largely faultless. Washington and Wahlberg have a slick rapport, each sticking to type with cheeky confidence. At this point in their respective filmographies, these characters are cake; assembled through a variety of recognisable genre tropes – brought to life by both with knowing schoolboy swagger. Wahlberg in particular is in top gear here, pumping out a lively turn in tune with his ever increasing comic prowess. Washington has to endure a bumpy romantic subplot with a fellow DEA operative portrayed by Paula Patton (sizzling and beautiful in a pretty thankless role), but still taps into the machismo and screen presence which have made him an understated marquee star for the best part of two decades. Most of what works with “2 Guns” can be attributed to the fun-loving fellas at the picture’s heart, and the game support accompanying them. The highlight in that regard is a slimy, seedy and utterly unpredictable Bill Paxton, literally forming a striking, thoroughly R-rated character out of almost nothing.

“2 Guns” has nothing to say concerning the facile and unreliable state of Government, but tellingly it does harbour a pretty kick-ass Mexican stand-off denouement. At the end of the day that’s all Kormakur is really interested in, and he achieves his modest goals. “2 Guns” has the appearance and stylistic design of a capable Hollywood movie, adorning deserved amounts of attention upon its talented cast. It’s a product balanced entirely on razzmatazz and booms, allowing its so-so story to flitter away without a care in the world. It’s a passable work, although without Wahlberg and Washington I daresay the whole enterprise would be irredeemably rubbish. 

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2013

14 August 2013

Movie Review: Kick-Ass 2



Kick-Ass 2
2013, 103mins, 15
Director: Jeff Wadlow 
Writer (s): Jeff Wadlow, Mark Millar (novel)
Cast includes: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Chloe Grace-Moretz, Jim Carrey, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Morris Chestnut, Clark Duke 
UK Release Date: 14th August 2013

It’s obvious that Jeff Wadlow was a massive fan of Matthew Vaughn’s 2010 DIY superhero master class “Kick-Ass” – because his sequel is patterned after the initial foray to a tee. Picking up three years after the previous flick’s bazooka wielding climax, “Kick-Ass 2” often plays more like a loving homage than a concrete extension of author Mark Millar’s madcap universe, but surprisingly ends up delivering a few very worthwhile hours in the multiplex. Early promotional material wasn't especially convincing, but in a summer of blockbusting comedowns (“Man of Steel” & “The Wolverine”) “Kick-Ass 2” is a gutsy surprise. It’s a tad blunter in execution and much less visually ambitious than its predecessor, but incomer Wadlow keeps energy levels crisp and characterization vibrant, with a script that attempts to spin the tale of Dave Lizewski and Mindy Macready in a familiar but confident direction. Those dubious about the controversial 2010 endeavour will find more to poo-poo here, but converts are liable to be impressed with this well-intentioned and somewhat unlikely continuation.

Unwilling to put her past as Hit Girl aside, Mindy (Chloe Grace-Moretz) has continued with her training and haunting of criminal scum, letting her burgeoning High-School identity falter. Forcing Dave (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) to resume similar activities in the guise of Kick-Ass, the pair team-up on the vigilante offensive, causing other costumed do-gooders to arise from the ashes. Chief amongst them is Colonel Stars and Stripes (Jim Carrey), who alongside the newly invigorated Kick-Ass proposes the enthusiastic crime-fighters go official, fronting a unit of masked heroes to help keep the streets safe. However when her guardian Marcus (Morris Chestnut) becomes aware of Mindy’s commitment to her previous life, he forces her to focus more on the teenage experience, leaving a confused Dave in the lurch. Meanwhile an embittered super villain named The Motherfucker (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) begins to wage war against the new-found societal defenders, citing a vendetta against Kick-Ass as his motivation.
The first film courted headlines due to its adult tonality, and Wadlow is happy to keep ultra-violence and profanity as big faculties of the franchise. It’s less shocking this time around, but the director tends to utilise the risqué elements quite effectively, cultivating an appropriately edgy feel and applying a neat crunch to the movie’s action set-pieces. “Kick-Ass 2” gets off the starting line pretty quickly, and doesn't let up much, which is interestingly pivotal to its moderate success. It’s evident that Wadlow would rather celebrate the wheel than reinvent it, assuredly keeping the salty language, funky characters and a competent editorial hand, freeing his sturdy cast do as much of the heavy lifting as possible. The atmosphere on set was clearly buoyant for this one, as collaborators both virginal and seasoned blend to create a singularly fizzy aura of anarchy; all joined by a shared love of the world Matthew Vaughn provided audiences with three years ago.

Moretz stole the first flick and justifiably takes centre stage here, Wadlow peddling the character slowly away from mafia skirmishes, and into the dark realms of high-school popularity contests. The subplot unfortunately sees fit to climax with a rough excrement gag (the writing this time around is somewhat less graceful), but on the whole it’s a nice narrative detour, pitting the character in emotional and social contexts where knives and throwing stars are no real use. It’s a standard coming of age deviation, doing for Hit-Girl what was previously attempted with the title character, exploiting both inner strengths and typical pubescent vulnerability capably. Moretz shines, desperately trying to keep the Hit Girl legacy alive, whilst slowly being seduced by the draws of the middle-class Malibu princess experience, signified in a brilliantly mounted scene during which the two strains come together in gym class. It’s incredibly fun to watch, which seems to have been Wadlow’s default setting on the picture overall. If innovations are scarce, trade on enjoyment, which both the film and Moretz’s engaging turn do consistently.

Complimenting Moretz and a decent Johnson (built more athletically here than I previously recall) is a tremendously committed and knowingly ignoble contribution from Plasse (who actually makes for a genuinely nasty baddie in spots) and a much publicised cameo for Jim Carrey. The original outing had Nicolas Cage in full ham mode, so it’s intriguing to watch the famed comedian go another direction, a quiet moral compass to guide the gang, capable of remarkable bite when called to combat evil. There’s less for Carrey to do than Cage (he has only tenuous emotional connections with the more prevalent screen entities), but during the movie’s first superhero raid  he gets hearts racing and convinces handily as a genuine bad-ass. Wadlow possesses sound action chops, keeping things coherent, adding palatable splashes of comedy for extra liveliness. Portions of the green-screen and CGI work leave something to be desired, but the structuring of the more hectic sequences is effective, and the religious maintenance of Vaughn’s sprightly comic-book inspired palette wise.

The initial film was more musically and aesthetically driven, certainly there’s nothing here to equal the phenomenal night-vision fire-fight or warehouse assault which stood out in 2010; Wadlow forming a more traditionally groomed beast on all major fronts. That said, “Kick-Ass 2” still entertains fluidly and is eons away from the disgrace some were anticipating earlier this year. In a summer of bummers, this one actually gets it right.

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2013

13 August 2013

Capsule Reviews - 13/08/13


Only God Forgives (2013)  (B+)

Smouldering hotbox of a film from “Drive” director Nicolas Winding-Refn, “Only God Forgives” suffers from matters of inaccessibility, but thrives in the company of those who can engage with its testy aesthetic and narrative nothingness. It’s a film of supreme moodiness, lit in dangerous reds and backed by daunting black spaces, with characters defined by action and belief, rather than oneness with any sort of identifiable reality. Absolution of sin and the hunt for justice power the basic storytelling faculties, whilst performers Ryan Gosling, Vithaya Pansringarm and especially Kristen Scott Thomas as a seedy matriarch, hold the fort with subdued strength. You could potentially accuse Refn of occasionally becoming overly absorbed in questions of style and meaning at the expense of coherent rapport with his audience, but it’s a small price to pay for something so striking and deeply memorable. Much like Refn’s previous features, “Only God Forgives” is laced with harsh violence, albeit the bloodshed is communicated with depth and artistry.

Much Ado about Nothing (2012) (B)

Cheerful Shakespearean romp from Joss Whedon, which benefits from his lightness of touch and talent for casting. The film’s rich black and white palette subtly disguises its budgetary restrictions, as does the presence of a lovely setting (modern Hollywood housing as provided by Monsieur Whedon) and a group of competent actors who appear to be having a lot of fun. Honours the source material craftily by retaining the sound of its author’s writing, but is gifted a modern tweak thanks to the director’s mischievous sense of humour. As self-important Benedick, Alexis Denisof is the scene-stealer, although Whedon favourites Fran Kranz, Nathan Fillion and Clark Gregg also get moments to shine.

Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa (2013) (B)

Legendary British TV character makes his way to bigger screens with pleasingly above average results. Steve Coogan applies enough affection to his reappraisal of Norfolk Radio DJ Alan Partridge to gift proceedings a healthy glow of nostalgia, without relying on old jokes. It’s the same figure, just in a different era, and that general gist is enough to see Partridge through his first (and likely only) cinematic foray. Director Declan Lowney never manages to eclipse the character’s TV origins visually, but there are plenty of giggles to be had here, many of which support a refreshingly smart voice. Good, solid fun. 

Reviews by Daniel Kelly, 2013

Movie Review: The Lone Ranger



The Lone Ranger
2013, 149mins, 12
Director: Gore Verbinski 
Writer (s): Terry Rossio, Ted Elliott 
Cast includes: Johnny Depp, Armie Hammer, Helena Bonham Carter, Tom Wilkinson, William Fichtner, Ruth Wilson, Barry Pepper 
UK Release Date: 9th August 2013

Opening last month in the States to dismal critical notices and egregious business receipts, “The Lone Ranger” is the latest live action mega-flop from the House of Mouse. Bringing the masterminds of “The Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise back together (producer Jerry Bruckheimer, director Gore Verbinski and star Johnny Depp) must’ve been impossible to pass upon on paper, but in practise somebody should have known better. Taking a pop cultural icon well past its sell by date (the Lone Ranger first debuted on the airwaves in 1933) and meshing it with ludicrously overzealous budgeting proved a faux pas for Disney just over a year ago with “John Carter”, “The Lone Ranger” maintaining the studio’s newfound dumb touch with retro material. It doesn’t much help matters that for the first 90 minutes the picture has to contest with sloppy screenwriting and a cruddy Johnny Depp performance, smothering Gore Verbinski’s attempts to whip up something resembling stylish summer fun. The director eventually succeeds with a knock-out climax but it’s hardly enough to resuscitate the movie’s prior sins. I don’t doubt there was a solid actioner to be made here (and Armie Hammer is more than capable of heading such a triumph up), but unfortunately this incarnation of “The Lone Ranger” plays like a dud.

Returning from the City as a qualified man of the Courts, John Reid (Armie Hammer) arrives back in his hometown of Colby to find the population and his brother Dan (James Badge Dale) hunting outlaw Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner). Whilst on the murderer’s trail, Dan, John and a variety of other locals are ambushed by Cavendish, all left for dead. With the help of a mysterious Indian named Tonto (Johnny Depp) John is revived and informed he has spiritual powers that enable him to combat evil, making him the ultimate weapon of justice across the old West. Donning a mask and with Tonto at his side, John begins to hunt Cavendish and his men, uncovering a plot that moves beyond Cavendish’s villainy, and winds a disturbing path back to Colby’s burgeoning railway industry.

The screenplay is credited to Terry Rossio and Ted Elliott a pair of scribes known for box-office bullion but erratic artistic fulfillment. On the plus side they've penned winners like the initial “Pirates of the Caribbean” foray, but their more recent output has amounted to weak sequels in said franchise and forgettable 2009 family caper “G-Force”.  “The Lone Ranger” continues the pairs’ downward trajectory; much of what’s wrong with the picture firmly down to their clumsy contribution. The film begins with a shonky book-ending mechanic that takes us to San Francisco in 1933, where a genuinely cringe-inducing Johnny Depp recants the central story to a child at an amusement park. Things don’t get much better moving into the central story, Rossio and Elliott concocting an entirely predictable narrative (seriously, if you haven’t guessed the real baddie by the end of act one, you’re not trying hard enough), without giving the hero much to work with. Hammer is heroically awkward and pretty perfect for the role, but his character arc boils down to a shallow and poorly detailed conflict between honourable justice and bloody revenge, meaning that only in the heat of Verbinski’s action beats does he stand much chance of impressing. As was the case with the “Pirates” follow-ups, “The Lone Ranger” is overly dense in superfluous support and bloated beyond reason, the second act trundling along at an achingly dull clip. There’s very little evolution in either situation or individual during “The Lone Ranger”, meaning the stakes stay low until the admittedly excellent finale, but by then it’s too late. The hodgepodge of misjudged indulgences that characterise the piece are too numerous to fully overcome, leaving the vehicle as a myriad of poor writing choices.

Depp is dreadful as Tonto, slinking around the film spurting off vaguely racist and almost incomprehensible mantras, clearly more interested in the potential of the wardrobe department than anything else. Cloaked in make-up, it’s a chore to watch the actor parade around the picture, failing to formulate chemistry with the superior Hammer or even avoid the caricature tics that have started to dent his knowingly absurd legacy. Better is Fichtner, who at least commits to proceedings as more a team player, snarling convincingly behind layers of grubby make-up and doing a respectable job of communicating the minute nuances which tend to define scenery-chewing baddies of his sort. There’s fun to be had with the man, which is more can be said for the rest of the thespian platter, Tom Wilkinson, Helena Bonham Carter, Barry Pepper and Ruth Wilson abandoned by a script with no more interest in them than storytelling innovation.

Verbinski is an intriguing presence behind the camera, infusing the picture with surreal quirks and a refined visual palette that suggests a genuine aura of atmosphere and heat. The denouement is also utterly spectacular, deploying an “everything but the kitchen sink” approach and pulling it off wonderfully. The homage laden score by Hans Zimmer and Verbinski’s unstoppable energy give the locomotive climax a major kick, Hammer also receiving the hero moments his earlier work so warrants. It’s a rousing and totally enjoyable way to cap off “The Lone Ranger”, and ultimately a far better end point than the movie deserves. Until the train starts chugging the film just sits there prettily, twitching as its overstuffed contents slosh blandly over an indifferent audience. Then it clicks, forcing patrons to grip the side of their seats and gasp at the FX bombast, but alas, it’s too little too late. “The Lone Ranger” concludes like a pro, but conducts itself like an amateur in nearly all other senses.

The saddest thing to note about the film’s failure is that it puts significant strain on Hammer’s future as a leading man, it’ll take a sizable hit and probably some luck to sidestep a turkey of this magnitude early in his burgeoning career. He’s a poster-boy with charm, panache and believable physicality, an actor who warrants another chance to crack the hills of Hollywood and land a gig more befitting of his abilities. Everybody else involved will probably be fine. They’ve had successes in the past too numerous to mention. But it’s Hammer who steals the show and convinces, so if there’s any justice in this world, he too will be granted career life-support. As “The Lone Ranger” he’s quite the joy. It’s just a pity about the uneven fracas around him.  

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2013

3 August 2013

Movie Review: The Canyons



The Canyons
2013, 95mins, NR
Director: Paul Schrader 
Writer: Bret Easton Ellis 
Cast includes: Lindsay Lohan, James Deen, Nolan Funk, Gus Van Sant 
UK Release Date: 2013

 Maybe “The Canyons” is a hyper meta commentary and I’m too much of a meat-head to connect with its societal and cultural neuroses? With legitimate talents like Paul Schrader and Bret Easton Ellis at the wheel you’d like to hope so. Unfortunately I’m not convinced the picture is anything other than a frosty, superficial vanity piece, with a bleary dramatic core upon which to rest its largely unexplored thematic hang-ups.  The movie begins with a parade of dilapidated multiplexes, heralding the death of the traditional movie-going experience, occasionally returning to the point throughout its rambling 95 minute runtime. Yet the feature dispels little true wisdom or insight on this or any other of its undercurrents, instead becoming fully embroiled in cheap, wannabe sultry acts of revenge, murder and sexual frankness.

Sexually dominated by her promiscuous producer beau Christian (James Deen), Tara (Lindsay Lohan) was once a delicate flower, now soiled by years of questionable yuppie living in Los Angeles. In a bid to retain some of her past fragility, Tara conducts an affair with old friend Ryan (Nolan Funk), a jobbing pretty-boy recently given his big break under Christian’s leadership. Ryan becomes desperate to have Tara for himself, citing Christian as a deeply corrupting influence on her previously tender soul, disarming Tara with his intense proclamations of love. Caught Between two men, Tara is left confused and eventually frightened, as Christian begins to get wind of her infidelity.

I suspect the ugly DIY appearance boasted by the picture is entirely deliberate, all white-washed exteriors and dry, expansive Hollywood abodes. It’s not particularly pleasant to digest, but it’s a fitting look for a product that actively works hard to create an endless distance between itself and the audience, essentially rendering the movie an experiment in keyhole voyeurism cranked up on a massive scale. That might work if the actual dramas and characters presented were interesting, but alas “The Canyons” plays it safe, blandly pivoting between crudely directed carnal set-pieces and cheesy instances of cheap violence. Characters sit down and express themselves through Ellis’ less than inspired dialogue, but none of it registers with any intrigue or purpose, “The Canyons” constantly having to aim for the lowest denominator vantage point to incite even the merest suggestions of titillation. Ultimately the movie has the personality of a snow-cone, but more criminally its storytelling prowess and observational relevance are blunter than a toddler’s favourite crayon.

I've never harboured any allusions that Lindsay Lohan is anything less than a gifted performer, a once sparky and likable force destroyed by the seedier temptations of superstar living. Her career has been grounded in an unenviable place for years, stints in jail cells and rehabilitation units breaking up the professional embarrassment with depressing regularity. It’s nice then to see the actress provide decent work in “The Canyons”, even if the movie around her is barely worth the strain. Tara feels like an entity with an almost schizophrenic divide in her life, Lohan balancing her urge to reinstate some form of honesty with her slavish devotion to crass, over-privileged Hollywood boredom nicely. She gamely allows her own past to dictate some of the movie’s ideas; it’s just a shame that Ellis can’t nurture them into anything resembling satisfactory material. She’s the best thing about this misfire, incapable of redeeming it, but dodging personal humiliation through her own committed work. Former porn-star Deen is a bit one dimensional, but undoubtedly boasts a strong screen presence. On the other hand Nolan Funk is abysmal as Ryan; brooding with the authenticity of a child doing a dodgy Batman impersonation. He’s a dead-weight, and every sequence he inhabits can’t begin to do battle with his cumbersome delivery and inert physicality.

“The Canyons” waddles along for over an hour and a half and feels every shoddy moment. I’m not surprised that the self-destructive tendencies of its star and the vapid undertones of Hollywood living appealed to both Schrader and Ellis, but their work here is poorly formed and rushed. Maybe cinema is dying, and a culture of young people obsessed with instant gratification are to blame, but if that’s the message this trashy work is trying to communicate it largely fails. “The Canyons” has many problems; it’s unattractive, unambitious and clumsily composed. However even within the meagre confines of VOD erotic thriller expectations (a low-rent category at best) the movie slips up because it’s boringly repetitive. For me, that’s just unforgivable. 

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2013

2 August 2013

Movie Review: Grown Ups 2



Grown Ups 2
2013, 101mins, 12
Director: Dennis Dugan 
Writer (s): Adam Sandler, Tim Herlihy, Fred Wolf
Cast includes: Adam Sandler, Salma Hayek, Kevin James, Chris Rock, David Spade, Taylor Lautner
UK Release Date: August 9th 2013

2010’s “Grown Ups” was a complete non-event, a lazy, sleepy comedy that featured a handful of funny actors, but choked the laughter with an overpowering aroma of slack film-making. However, it won big at the box-office, providing star Adam Sandler with one of the heftiest hits of his career. I've always been something of a Sandler fan, but “Grown Ups” belonged in the indefensible portion of his filmography, a section that seems to be expanding at a disheartening clip. Last year the comedian’s R-rated gem (and I sincerely mean that, I adored the film) “That’s My Boy” tanked, leaving him keen for a hit to re-establish his regal financial status. Sandler has always been shy about the prospect of sequels (what I wouldn't give to see where “Happy Gilmore” is these days) but desperate times call for desperate measures, and boy howdy, is “Grown Ups 2” desperate. The feature achieves the impossible by appearing even emptier than its predecessor, Sandler and his cohorts going as far to jettison even a thin narrative through-line on this occasion. It’s a ghastly film; crassly commercial, shamelessly sentimental and short of any proper laughs whatsoever. It also happens to be ludicrously sexist and smug. To clarify, I would not recommend seeing it.

This is usually the part of the review where a plot synopsis goes. But I’m not going to apply that standard here for two reasons. Firstly, “Grown Ups 2” barely has a story to recount. Secondly, you can bet that the makers of the film wouldn't bother in my shoes. So I've decided to honour them with my own apparent absence of effort.

Remember the Sandler of old? An immature rapscallion for sure, but one with a talent for brilliant feats of comedic surrealism, likable everyman bantering and energetic performing. That man resurfaced briefly last year with “That’s My Boy” after eons in hiding, and was roundly rejected by a public who weren't particularly up for the comedian staggering around breathlessly, dropping F-bombs, pushing boundaries and working with colleagues actually interested in drawing out of him his manic best. No, instead that public were hungry for flaccid fart gags and witless acts of humiliation. So here we are. “Grown Ups 2”. You asked for it, and Sandler has delivered. What he’s come up with is one of the worst films he’s ever been associated with. The sort of product that looks like it was conceived, written, shot and edited over a long weekend. No tangible backbone or soul is evident; just capitalist thirst and creative bankruptcy. Jokes are recycled from past Sandler works and the emotional beats ring so false your ears will probably start to bleed. There’s not a single belly-laugh to be had and morally it’s probably the most mean-spirited work you could expose your children to this summer.

Sandler’s practically unconscious here, tweaking occasionally to belch out a silly noise or hollow familial interaction. You see “Grown Ups 2” is a movie about the importance of family, community and friends. Except it isn't. It’s about cash-grabbing, indulgent nostalgia and passing wind. The movie hurtles through a series of disconnected skits (most involving poop or vomit) before arriving at an obnoxious finale at a 80s themed party, where Sandler fights Steve Austin for some reason. Something about passing on a fatherly message to his son. Because nothing emits paternal diligence like scrapping with a professional wrestler of the past. That’s a good example of how dumb and clueless the feature can be on the subject of human interaction.

I love breasts. I think they’re great, and so are attractive women. All for them. But y’know I also like and respect other things about the fairer sex too. That isn't a mantra vaguely supported by “Grown Ups 2”, a film whose leading female character might as well be credited as Tits McGee (that’s a riff on a joke in the movie actually) and which spends a large portion of its first act ogling a voluptuous Ballet teacher.  We also get a subplot in which a woman obsesses about a crush she used to have on Sandler. Obviously none of it is funny or clever, but it’s also kind of unacceptable in the guise of family entertainment. Boobie guffaws are hardly a new innovation, and nippers tend to gravitate toward them, but “Grown Ups 2” doesn't even bother to make legitimate jokes about female chest extremities. It just stares at them. Like a horned up sexual predator. It’s pretty gross and deeply uncomfortable. If I want to stare at Salma Hayek’s breasts, I’m perfectly capable of booting up Google and conducting a search. I don’t really want to pay for the privilege. I certainly don’t want to pay for the privilege under the pretense that it’s some form of art. But what’s more is the message “Grown Ups 2” sends in this regard. It’s an incredibly sexist feature, completely devoted to the “hotness” of its lady stars, giving them nothing more than tight-fitting outfits and healthy doses of debasement with which to work. You can crack crappy jokes. You can ignore the fundamental necessities of storytelling. But designing a film to be consumed by a variety of ages that objectifies women so vigorously isn't on. And I say that as someone who really does like boobs.

It’s dire. The supporting cast are useless (including an over-caffeinated Taylor Lautner) and visually it’s as artificial as its supposed, quiet moments of human contemplation. “Grown Ups 2” is a horrendous motion picture, carelessly mounted, mirthless and repugnantly positioned on the subject of gender. I used to be excited about the prospect of an Adam Sandler studio comedy, but it’s been increasingly tricky to maintain enthusiasm over the last 10-years; annually being fed on a steady diet of pap. Sure, “That’s My Boy” restored a degree of pleasure to the relationship, and there’s always the hope that Sandler might turn back to the dramatic pastures that have served him surprisingly well, but “Grown Ups 2” is potentially his greatest affront yet;  which even from a Sandler apologist is saying something. 

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2013