The Call: tense and compelling with a lackluster ending

the call“911, what is your emergency?”

It’s a line you hear repeated time and time again within films in the thriller genre, typically for only the briefest of moments as our hero or heroine desperately tries to escape the sinister figure lurking in the shadows.

More often than not, these anonymous voices are unable to do anything more than provide a precious few lines of dialogue — immensely unhelpful ones at that — before danger catches up to our protagonist and he or she is forced to get themselves out of trouble.

Thanks for nothing, 911.

In most films, this valuable service is merely a quick nod to a character’s common sense before being promptly abandoned in favor of fanciful dose of heroism and courage. This tendency is precisely what makes The Call, despite its many flaws, work. Yes, it is predictable. No, it is not even remotely frightening. But its inversion of the leading role, along with a decent dose of tension and a pair of fine leading ladies, turns an otherwise forgettable and generic ride into an entertaining little thriller that is far more enjoyable than it should be.

Jordan Turner (Halle Berry) is a 911 operator who receives a panicked call from a girl whose house is being broken into. Alone and terrified, the teenager initially manages to hide from the intruder thanks to Jordan’s careful instruction, but a careless mistake allows the man (Michael Eklund) to discover and capture the young woman, who is found dead several days later. The incident shakes Jordan, she quits her job soon after. Six months pass, and she is now a trainer for new operators, but is abruptly thrust back into the fray when another teenage girl named Casey (Abigail Breslin) is captured by the same man. With the caller locked in the killer’s trunk and running out of time, Jordan works with the girl over a disposable phone to plot an escape plan, all the while desperate to prevent the past from repeating itself.

Shaky camerawork, straightforward plotting and a generic villain ensure that Brad Anderson’s low-budget efforts feel more like an episode of CSI than a big-screen thriller, but it’s all so inoffensive that such a fact is easily overlooked. It does have one major downfall, however – the ending. I won’t spoil it for you, but the ending is quite possibly one of the worst I’ve seen this year. Having said that, it’s only March, and I’m sure worse are to come.

Jordan’s position as an operator provides an interesting, albeit dramatized, look into a typically ignored workforce that is nonetheless vital to the safety of many. Berry gives a subtle but realistic performance, and is surprisingly easy to connect with despite her lack of characterization. Her chemistry with Breslin — heartbreakingly realistic in her role as the victim — provides the story with its best moments, where the pair acts as both conspirators and accomplices. The relationship is at once touching and exciting, raising the film above its mediocre plot and Eklund’s relatively spooky, but ultimately cliché, villain to make the product as a whole much more emotional than it has any real right to be.

It’s certainly forgettable, but The Call is saved from inherent blandness by its actors, who lend the affair an unexpected humanity. It’s not a call you’ll likely be making more than once, but the initial dial is one you can punch in confidently. As long as you aren’t expecting too much, you’ll hang up satisfied.

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Flight: No nosedive for this blockbuster

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Director Robert Zemeckis is back with Flight, his first live-action film since 2000’s Cast Away (his last few films – The Polar Express, Beowulf and A Christmas Carol, all animations). In Cast Away, the movie began with an intense plane crash sequence. In latest flick Flight, he follows that same pattern, with one of the scariest plane crash sequences in the history of cinema.

Whip Whitaker (Denzel Washington) is a very experienced, very trusted airline captain who just happens to have a bit of a drinking and drugging problem. The night before a trip from Orlando to Atlanta, Whip partakes in excessive amounts of booze and some recreational cocaine with sexy stewardess fuck-buddy, Katerina (Nadine Velazquez), and on the flight itself, dumps a couple of mini vodka bottles into his orange juice.

Disaster strikes mid-flight, however, when the plane begins a deadly nosedive due to a mechanical failure – the plane crashing into a collision course that would surely have killed all 102 passengers if not for Whip’s impeccable flyboy skills. Whip remains cool, calm and collected and pulls off an incredible emergency landing by inverting the plane completely – something only very few pilots could have managed. As a result, only six souls were lost.

Back on the ground, battered but essentially unharmed, Whip finds himself the subject of an investigation by the NTSB – a troubling development, considering the empty vodka bottles and a post-crash toxicology report.

Enter Whittaker’s union rep (Bruce Greenwood) and lawyer (Don Cheadle) – the only individuals standing between Whip and some serious jail time.

Stories about alcoholism can only end one of two ways however: The guy is either going to have an epiphany and come clean, or something bad is going to happen. Zemeckis meanders through the story taking a bit too long to wrap up subplots dealing with Whip’s love interest (Kelly Reilly), an incredibly funny scene with John Goodman as Whip’s cocaine-supplier and a drawn out legal battle resulting in a public hearing where Whip must re-live the events of the crash.

While we never really delve into the reasons why Whip has given his life over to booze and drugs, Denzel’s stellar performance reminds us that whatever it is, it’s genuine. The movie belongs to him throughout – his performance so strong, so engaging, that it covers many of the story’s weaknesses.

When Whip defiantly insists that no one else could have crash-landed the broken plane, you believe it. Not because the movie’s story proves it, but because of the power of Washington’s performance: No one else could have played this difficult role so well.

Spielberg’s Lincoln: The final victory of a great man

Film Jam

Lincoln, contrary to its title, is not so much a biopic as it is historical analysis of two of the most important events in the history of the United States — the signing of the 13th amendment to the US Constitution which would ban slavery, and the end of the Civil War.

As the film opens, the audience is plunged straight into the horror of the American Civil War. Opening on a bloody battle scene, viewers would be forgiven for thinking this a typical Spielberg film – it’s not.

Lincoln is, in fact, the quietest of Spielberg’s most recent films, with an equally unobtrusive, delicately crafted, totally absorbing performance from Daniel Day-Lewis – the kind that compels you to lean in and pay close attention, neatly defining the charisma of a born leader.

After the battle, the action moves to January 1865 – the fourth year of the war. It is…

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Django Unchained: Big, crazy, and hugely entertaining

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Quentin Tarantino continues to justify his superstar status on the world’s cinema stage with latest film Django Unchained, his brilliant, bloody and thrillingly unpredictable revenge western about a freed slave unleashing hell on his plantation-owning enemies in the pre-Civil War American South of 1858.

Sort of an artistic companion piece to his audacious, history rewriting Second World War epic Inglourious Basterds, the film once again sees him taking a serious subject matter and moulding it into a deranged alternate universe, one in which the barbarity of a heinous system of oppression is exposed and cathartically avenged in ruthless and savage fashion.

Writer/Director Tarantino has paid his unique homage to plenty of genres before now; the gangster (Pulp Fiction), martial arts (Kill Bill: Vols 1 & 2), the grindhouse horror (Death Proof). Now he’s revived the spaghetti western with his usual fanboy enthusiasm.

In Django Unchained, German bounty hunter Dr Schultz (Christoph Waltz) buys and frees a slave called Django (Jamie Foxx). In exchange for Django’s help in identifying three men with big bounties on their heads, Schultz agrees to help him find and free his wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) from whom he’s been forcibly and maliciously separated. Shultz, a loquacious, progressive, cultivated fellow who abhors slavery is pretty much the closest thing the film has to a character with a modern perspective and he frequently threatens to steal the movie.

Unfortunately for Django, his wife is working on the notorious Candyland plantation in the Deep South of Mississippi, owned by one Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio) who enjoys nothing more than sweets and blood sports in equal measure.

As per usual, Tarantino uses his specific brand of comic violence – almost as much as he uses uninterrupted, drawn-out monologues. There are gallons of blood, exploding body parts and unflinching cruelty.

As the garrulous Schultz, Christoph Waltz essentially plays a benevolent version of his wily-tongued Nazi from Inglourious Basterds. Schultz has a respect for procedural correctness as well as violence: when he reaches into his jacket, you never know if he will produce a gun or a warrant.

Jamie Foxx, however, has less to work with as Django, even once he begins searching for his enslaved wife. He gets jazzy comic notes to play, savouring his freedom by wearing a dandyish royal-blue suit as he rides through a cotton plantation, but the film grinds him down – in all honesty, he’s a bit of a bore.

His plantation-working wife isn’t much better – Broomhilda is severely underwritten and her character never really shines through the trauma she endures.

Lucky for us, then, that Di Capri and Jackson are on hand to distract us from this problem- Leo’s portrayal of the bubbling sadism beneath the plantation owner’s charming veneer is spine-chillingly good while Jackson’s turn as Candie’s doddering henchmen, complete with oldage make-up and a frosting of white hair, also adds to the edge of unpredictable menace.

Primarily, however, this is a Tarantino film. Yes, he’s stuck reverentially to genre stalwarts, but you only need to see that the soundtrack features a James Brown/2Pac amalgamation to know this is no traditional spaghetti western. Although it’s too long and arguably self-indulgent, it’s big, crazy, and hugely entertaining.

A fierce but fiercely intelligent testament to Tarantino’s frequently questioned filmmaking proclivities and certainly among the best films he’s ever made.

End of Watch: Another visceral and hard-hitting cop drama from Director David Ayer

Film Jam

By Kelly O‘Brien

End of Watch Director David Ayer has long been obsessed with the thin blue line separating cops from criminals and good cops from their corrupt brethren.

He explored this theme when writing the morally ambiguous Training Day, in which a very angry Denzel Washington won an Oscar for playing a crooked cop, and when writing and directing the problematic but compelling Harsh Times, in which an even angrier Christian Bale played a crooked veteran trying in vain to join the boys in blue.

Though sticking with this tried and tested theme for his latest offering, Ayer does manage to inject some new life into End of Watch – a film about two upstanding cops who put their lives on the line every day. The twist in this movie is that the cops, for once, are the good guys.

Thanks to an incredibly tight script, the film…

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Skyfall: The last rat standing

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The 23rd installment of the Bond franchise, Skyfall, is perhaps the smartest, slickest, most sensational Bond outing yet, with the lord of the spies grappling with changing times, the limitations of his own battered body, and a super-villain who spreads cyber-terror through a digitized network of global computer hackery.

After an audaciously thrilling pre-credit sequence (that reportedly took three months to film) in which Bond pursues a bad guy across the sprawling rooftops of Istanbul on motorcycle before finally coming to blows atop a speeding train, the movie settles into its groove. Someone has stolen a computer drive with information that could compromise the entire British Secret Service, and M (Judi Dench), Bond’s boss, becomes the target of a mysterious psychopath (Javier Bardem) with chillingly personal reasons for his mad rampage.

On a tropical hiatus due to his presumed death, Bond returns to Her Majesty’s service after hearing that M is in danger. But circumstances dictate that he has to reapply to get his old job back. That includes re-passing the fitness test – a harder task than expected, leaving Bond huffing and puffing and nursing his recently banged-up shoulder.

“It’s a young man’s game,” Bond’s reminded by Gareth Mallory (Ralph Fiennes), the bureaucrat in charge of hauling the British espionage division into the 21st century.

Seeing if 007 is up for the job will keep you glued to your seat as the plot shifts from London to Shanghai and finally to the moors of Scotland for an emotionally charged stand-off where Bond must not only defend the empire, but also confront his own past.

Director Sam Mendes integrates sweeping action, solid characters and spectacular scenery to the long line of Bond pop-culture mythology while Craig manages to unearth facets of the Bond character that other actors have simply never found before.

Bad-guy Bardem, so memorable as the creepy killer in No Country For No Men, also works well in his role as soft-spoken sadist Silva – a swishy, blonde-haired demon who taunts Bond with the prospect of England’s old cloak-and-dagger crumbling underneath his new world order of servers and software.

Skyfall manages the hard task of striking a respectful balance with the movies that have gone before, while also taking the character and the franchise into new and exciting territory.

If the next Bond movie is going to be as good as this, then lets just hope we don’t have to wait another four years to see it.

http://youtu.be/6kw1UVovByw

DVD Review: Magic Mike

There are guy movies and girl movies, the latter of which the guys label “chick flicks” and often only ever see under protest.

Is Magic Mike a chick flick?

If it is, it may the first of a new breed. It’s a crisp, unsentimental story, with none of those lingering sunset shots you find in Nicholas Sparks’ adaptations, and a heroine who spends most of the movie tutting her disapproval on the sidelines. But while it’s not necessarily a chick flick, you can be sure that the primary audience to this film are indeed women.

Why? Because Magic Mike (Channing Tatum) is a stripper, and so is his mentor, club owner Dallas (Matthew McConaughey), and his 19-year-old protégé, Adam (Alex Pettyfer).

From the opening shots of a buff, naughty McConaughey teasing the audience in tight leather trousers (“What can’t you touch?”), it’s clear that Soderbergh has the measure of what his audience wants. He’s going to give it to them, too, but not too much, too soon because the tease is as important as the strip.

A college dropout who draws the line at taking any job that requires him to wear a tie, Adam is living with his big sister Brooke (Cody Horn) when his new buddy Mike ushers him into the delights of the Xquisite Male Dance Revue. In time-honoured backstage musical tradition, “the kid” gets thrown on stage when one of the stars can’t go on. Next thing he knows, Adam is shopping for a stars and stripes thong for the Fourth of July special.

Scripted by Reid Carolin and inspired by Channing Tatum’s own experiences as a Tampa stripper in the 1990s, Magic Mike is honest about the attractions of the job (money, girls, fun) without pretending it’s a smart choice in the long run (too much fun, too many girls, not enough money).

Brawny and bruised, Tatum doesn’t look like it but he is one hell of a dancer. If the movie was in 3-D you’d probably be stuffing bills into his briefs.

Magic Mike hits DVD outlets on October 23rd.

Looper: Keeping it simple

Back in 2006, writer/director Rian Johnson made an exceptional début with Brick, a low-budget thriller set in a southern California high school featuring Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a teenage private eye.

Six years later, with the disappointingly mediocre The Brothers Bloom proving but a minor bump in the road, Johnson is back on course with Gordon-Levitt in time-travelling action flick Looper.

The term ‘Looper’ refers to a hitman who kills people sent back in time from the future (so that there is no dead body as evidence). The term is apt because the assassins operate under the knowledge that they will eventually have to ‘close their loop’ by killing their future selves.

The film centres on a particularly efficient Looper called Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), who is saving up enough money for a retirement in Paris. His plans are shattered, however, when he fails to close his loop allowing his future self (Bruce Willis) to get the better of him.

Throughout the film, writer/director Johnson cleverly evades the complications that come with time travel. Willis’s character even states, “I don’t want to talk about time travel shit.” Viewers who want to see a true science fiction film may be disappointed by this (the time machine, resembling an old-fashioned scuba diver mask, is also rather lackluster), but the film proves to be perfectly entertaining and well-made overall.

Cinematographically, the film is a work of art. Motifs like close-ups of cigarette smoke and ticking clocks are intricately placed, the camera work while Gordon-Levitt is on an acid trip is breathtaking, and the details necessary to maintain consistency between the future and current Joe are painstakingly accurate. In a diner scene, for example, we see a newly injured, bandaged ear on Gordon-Levitt… and a newly disfigured ear on Willis.

Another near flawless aspect is the casting. Veterans Bruce Willis and Jeff Daniels bring their usual prowess to the screen, while Paul Dano and Emily Blunt successfully transform into roles unlike any they have played before.

The main acting highlight, however, comes in the form of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who supposedly spent hours in make-up having prosthetics applied so that he would look more like Bruce Willis. Though his contrived voice and strangely perfect eyebrows are distracting at first, he is able to capitalize on the disguise and adopt a convincing tough guy persona.

Overall, Looper is the proof we needed that originality hasn’t died in Hollywood. It also reinforces the fact that Sci-fi movies can be smart (Gattaca), imaginative (2001: A Space Odyssey), or just plain exciting (Dredd).

With Looper, we get the pleasure of a sci-fi film that does all three, and does them masterfully.

The Campaign: Ticking all the wrong boxes

With US election year upon us yet again, the timing could not possibly be better for a comedy satirizing the extreme excesses of politicians who will say or do almost anything to get elected.

Despite this, The Campaign is a hit-and-miss affair that falls far short of the mark. Absurd, abusive and annoyingly familiar, this latest Ferrell film had the potential to be witty, sharp and incisive… but, with director Jay Roach (Fockers franchise) at the helm, it ends up being nothing more than another run-of-the-mill film of the jerk-off genre.

Will Ferrell plays Cam Brady, a North Carolina congressman who has run unopposed for many a term, enjoying the perks of power with very little regard for actual public service. When Cam’s philandering ways land him in the media cross-hairs,  his rock-hard platform of “Family, Jesus, Freedom” shows enough cracks to motivate money hungry business types Glenn and Wade Motch (John Lithgow and Dan Aykroyd) to sponsor a new candidate to oppose Brady.

Enter Marty Huggins (Zach Galifianakis), the eccentric son of a wealthy family, who actually does care for his community. At first Marty seems to be nothing more than a simple-minded small-towner drowning in the treacherous waters of American politics, but under the guidance of a cutthroat campaign manager (Dylan McDermott), the oddball newcomer starts to gain serious ground on the favored incumbent.

Though not as side-splittingly funny as some of Ferrell’s earlier films, The Campaign does serve as a chillingly accurate (if slightly exaggerated) portrayal of US elections. The films genius lies in its premise – that a go-for-broke, no-holes-barred comedy might just be the only way to deal with the harsh reality of modern-day politics…

But even the brilliance of a great idea and an all-star cast can’t reverse the ratings black hole that is Jay Roach. Definitely one to avoid.

The Amazing Spider-man: Webb not strong enough

Hot on the heels of The Dark Knight Rises, the latest superhero flick to hit cinema screens is The Amazing Spider-man starring Andrew Garfield (The Social Network) and Emma Stone (Zombieland).

A mere ten years after the Toby Maguire/Kirsten Dunst/Sam Raimi Spider-man, director Marc Webb, disappointingly, opts to keep the plot simplistic and run-of-the-mill. While both Garfield and Stone are leaps and bounds ahead of the irritatingly dismal acting abilities of Maguire and Dunst, the plot simply isn’t interesting enough to make this movie anything other than mediocre.

Like most teenagers, Peter Parker (Garfield) is trying to figure out who he is. Peter is also finding his way with his first high school crush, Gwen Stacy (Stone), and together they struggle with love, commitment, and secrets. When Peter discovers a mysterious briefcase that belonged to his father, he begins a quest to understand his parents’ disappearance – leading him directly to Oscorp and the lab of Dr Curt Connors, his father’s former partner. The rest of the movie can be summed up in a few words: Spider bite, sense of duty, girlfriends bedroom, giant lizard.

While there was nothing particularly amazing about The Amazing Spider-man, it was an enjoyable film with good acting and great direction. It was both visually and artistically stunning, and got straight into the romance and action with no hanging about.

While Webb has successfully addressed the new demand for superhero movies to be deeper and more human, he is not a director adept at providing big-budget action to an audience in the same way as Joss Whedon or Christopher Nolan.

Most viewers will no doubt be satisfied by this the newest Spidey flick, but anyone expecting a remake as successful as The Dark Knight will be sorely disappointed.

The Lucky One: full of vapid, useless beings

The Lucky One, starring Zac Efron and Taylor Shilling, is due for release on DVD next month. My advice? Stay as far away from it as possible.

The movie begins well with Efron sporting a fetching army get up and braving guns and bombs in a war-torn Iraq. While the initial sequences are action packed, gritty, and realistic, it’s not long before things take a turn for the worse.

After finding a photo of a pretty blonde woman, Logan (Zac Efron) and his company are attacked. Calling the mystery woman his guardian angel, Logan credits her with his survival and makes it his mission to find her once he is discharged.

Thanks to a conveniently placed landmark, Logan is able to make his way to the place where the photo was taken. Once there, he starts questioning the locals and finds out that his mystery girls name is Beth (Taylor Shilling). Having found her, he accidentally secures a job working for her and her grandmother (Blythe Danner) and finds himself playing an important role in her life.

While The Lucky One does have its share of touching, gut-wrenching and tummy-flipping moments, it ultimately falls short of the benchmark, especially for an adaptation of a Nicholas Sparks novel. The majority of the characters are vapid, useless beings, and while Zac Efron is an admittedly fine specimen of a man, I’m afraid he wouldn’t be able to act his way out of a paper bag if his life depended on it.

If you’re looking for a film where you can drool over Zac Efron, this is definitely the one to watch. If you’re just looking for an interesting chick-flick, however, I’d keep looking.

The Pact: Just another horror film

In cinemas this month, we have The Pact, an eerie ghost film about a woman returning to her family home shortly after her estranged mothers death.

Starring Caity Lotz (Annie) and Casper Van Dien (Creek), the kindest thing I can say is that it wasn’t as bad as I expected it to be. The Pact is yet another jumpy ghost story that will soon be forgotten.

At her sisters request, Annie returns home after many years to attend her mothers funeral. It becomes clear, thanks to some very obvious dialogue, that Annie and her mother didn’t have a good relationship and that as kids, Annie and her sister had to endure various levels of parental abuse. Brash and unlikable, Annie does nothing to make the viewer like her or feel pity for her. She is stubborn, idiotic, and fancies herself a rebel of sorts. It’s nothing we haven’t seen before.

Shortly after, Annie begins experiencing paranormal activity in the house and teams up with local Cop, Creek. While I did find myself warming to him a tad, the well-meaning law officer is simply too vapid a character to have much of an impact. Dimwitted and unprofessional, Creek is yet another stereotypical and clichéd “horror-film” character with lots of testosterone and not enough depth.

Though The Pact was, overall, very tense and had its ‘jump-out-of-your-seat’ moments, it did nothing to stand out from the crowd. If it had been on TV, for example, I probably wouldn’t have watched it through. Not because it’s a terrible film, it’s not too bad, but it simply didn’t really engage me.

The best part of the film was when local clairvoyant Stevie (Hayley Hudson) attempts to connect with the presence in the house. This lasts maybe ten minutes and really does up the ante. Unfortunately though, it’s a case of too little too late and even Hayley Hudson’s eerily beautiful performance can’t save this film.

If you’re the type of person who likes laughing at badly scripted, badly acted, badly lit “horror” films, you might like The Pact. If not, you’re probably better watching something else.

DVD Review: John Carter

John Carter, a tale of otherworldly mysticism, came out on DVD last week. Upon its release, the Disney movie received many an unfavourable review which undoubtedly had an adverse affect on its box office performance. Much like Mirror, Mirror, which I reviewed a few days ago, I believe a lot of these reviews to be misleading. Sure, John Carter isn’t one of the greats, but by God was it enjoyable!

Carter himself is played by the ever handsome Taylor Kitsch (Friday Night Lights, X-Men Origins) who is absolutely to die for. The fact that he is the main focal point for the entire 132 minutes is reason alone for any straight female to watch this movie. That he spends most of it topless is another bonus.

The film follows a very basic plot. Carter, a Civil War veteran, accidentally transports himself to Mars when he encounters and kills a strange man holding a strange device. After finding his feet, so to speak, he is captured by tall, eight limbed creatures and brought back to their home in chains. Before long, he encounters a princess in dire need of assistance and, gallant to a fault, he makes his escape to save her city and win her hand.

Based on a classic novel by Edgar Rice Burroughs, John Carter is an excellent visual spectacle full of great special effects and many a tense fight scene. It is pure escapist, adventure cinema at its best. Yes it has flaws, no it’s not perfect, but I really don’t think this film is deserving of its flop status. All too often, perfectly passable films are slated by pretentious, douchebag movie critics who elevate themselves above the average cinema-goer.

You probably won’t love this movie, but it definitely won’t bore you. Perfect for anyone looking to immerse themselves in another world and not think too much about it.

Mirror, Mirror: a bad apple

Despite my better judgement, I watched Mirror, Mirror yesterday. I knew it wasn’t going to be a great film. I suspected it might not even be a good film… and I was right. But something I could never have foreseen was that this movie entertained me greatly. If this sounds like a paradox, I apologise, but that’s as close as I can get to an accurate description of this movie.

Apart from the name of the main character, this film had no similarities with Snow White and the Huntsman, in cinemas at the moment. Though Mirror, Mirror does turn out to be the lesser of the two flicks, it very much stays away from the dark subject matter that Huntsman delves into.

After a beautiful piece of animation in the opening sequence, Mirror, Mirror introduces us to The Queen (Julia Roberts), ruthless step-mother to her late husband’s daughter, Snow White (Lily Collins). The Queen keeps Snow locked in her room, excluded from all of the lavish parties paid for with ever increasing taxes from the kingdom she rules with an iron fist. One day, Snow escapes from the castle only to discover the poverty her kingdom has been reduced to. Enraged with a sense of duty, Snow vows to restore the land to its former glory.

This film is silly, comical, and endearing. It’s perfect for kids, but not so much that anyone older wouldn’t appreciate it. It’s also a very spectacular visual spectacle thanks to its director, Tarsem Singh, who is known for his unique visual flair.

While it’s no surprise that Roberts gleefully owns every scene she appears in, and seems to genuinely enjoy her role as the film’s comically “evil” Queen, the seven actors playing the dwarves are the film’s real treat. Rather than opting for an endless parade of tired jokes about their height (a la Snow White and the Huntsman, which didn’t even use real little people), Mirror, Mirror gives the audience a group of dwarves whose comedic moments come from witty dialogue and timing.

All in all, Mirror, Mirror is a surprisingly enjoyable film that modernises a classic fairytale. While it has its share of flaws – including the acting ability of Collins and the occasionally shaky story device – Mirror, Mirror is a better film than some critics would have you believe.

Prometheus: even Fassbender can’t save it

Prometheus, widely anticipated as the must-see movie of the month, hit cinemas last week. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the film many of us thought it was going to be.

In this prequel, Swedish actress Noomi Rapace plays religious scientist Elizabeth Shaw. Shaw, along with her colleague and lover Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green), discovers a pattern in ancient cave drawings, leading them to believe the human race was engineered by physically and genetically similar beings from another world. Attracting the financial assistance of a dying billionaire, Shaw and Holloway take charge of a spaceship and follow their ‘map’ to a distant moon.

From start to finish, this movie is an excellent visual spectacle. I’m saddened to report, however, that that’s all it is. Not only does this film not live up to the hype surrounding it, but it actually fails to pass for an enjoyable film in its own right.

It’s difficult to outline this films many faults and failings without exposing a wealth of spoilers… but there are some absolutely huge holes in this shabbily put together plot. The motivation behind some characters key decisions are never explained and some scenes/characters/discussions are utterly pointless and add nothing to the story.

Idris Elba gives a very enjoyable performance as the Captain of the spaceship, but a lack of character development means that you won’t really give a damn about him or any decision he makes. Charlize Theron also gives an enjoyable, if stiff, performance… but again, there’s not nearly enough development there. Guy Pearce plays the aforementioned dying billionaire but even he can’t bring this dead husk of a character to life. His ability is completely wasted in this lacklustre storyline.

Michael Fassbender is the one saving grace of this film in his role as the mannerly and scholarly robot David. At times he his creepy, knowledgeable and darkly humorous but, in true psychopathic form, is neither bad nor good. Fassbender’s performance is captivating and unique and he really brings something unique to the table. The same can be said, to an extent, of the female lead, Noomi Rapace. To be sure, nobody is going to confuse her for the next Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), but Rapace does an admirable job in the lead role none the less.

Regardless of performances, the entire film fails to deliver anything but a visually pleasing reboot of a franchise that should have been left alone. The horrific magnificence of both Alien and Aliens is their directness. They are primal thrillers and questions of life and philosophy tend to take a back seat when you’ve a xenomorph attached to your face.

All in all, Prometheus has been the biggest disappointment of 2012 so far. If you’re just looking to pass two hours of your day, by all means, take a look… but don’t expect it to live up to the hype.

Snow White and the Huntsman: All the right fairytale ingredients

Film Jam

by Kelly O’Brien

From the dawn of time, mankind have been telling and retelling fairy tales. Originally, these tales were a lot more gruesome than Walt Disney et al would have you believe. In the last few decades, the bedside stories have become watered-down versions of their former selves: princesses are passive, Kings are honest, and warriors are manly and virtuous.

Snow White and the Huntsman, I’m happy to relate, is nothing like the modern-day fairy tales we’ve become so accustomed to. It has all the right ingredients: a beautiful princess, an evil step-mother, a loving father and a handsome ‘prince’, but it doesn’t follow the recipe of its predecessors.

The tale begins when stunning/cunning Ravenna (Charlize Theron) wheedles her way into a royal marriage only to murder her husband and king on their wedding night, thus taking the kingdom for her own. She has her new step-daughter, Princess Snow…

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MIB III: bends space and time but fails to rock my world

This week saw the third, and presumably the last, instalment in what has become a Men in Black trilogy.

Starring an ever youthful looking Will Smith, a rather deliberately haggard looking Tommy Lee Jones, and an astonishingly handsome Josh Brolin, MIB III has all the hallmarks of its predecessors. Both tongue in cheek and cringe-tastic humour runs rampant through the flick, awkward at some points but chuckle-inducing at many.

The premise of the film is simple – an enemy alien force seeks revenge on Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) for his loss of a limb and subsequent years of imprisonment. Breaking free of his lunar prison after 40 years, the delectably devious Borris the Animal (Jemaine Clement) discovers the secret of time travel and journeys back to the day his evil plan was thwarted and attempts a re-write of history. Agent J (Will Smith) discovers the plan and has no choice but to follow Borris back through time and tries to save his surly and unwitting partner.

Being totally honest, this film is not a ground-breaking one. It is simplistic, sometimes childish and most of the screen time is devoted to Will Smith. Despite its failings, however, I do think it’s well worth a watch for the majority of people out there. At the very least, it’s several times better than MIB II: a disastrous movie indeed.

Most films that incorporate time travel end up being slightly confusing… sometimes intentionally so. This is not the case with MIB III. They’ve kept things as easy to follow as possible and it actually ends up being a better movie because of that. Unlike some of the more intellectual time travel movies, it just wants to entertain you, it doesn’t want to mess with you head.

Another plus comes in the form of Josh Brolin who plays the younger version of Agent K. Brolin is probably the best thing about this film as he completely rejuvenated Jones’ character. His slow, melodic drawl is a dead ringer for Jones’ own speech. Throw in some familiar dialogue for past and present Agent K and suddenly you’re seeing into the past. Apart from speech patterns, the two also share some very similar physical attributes which adds to the believability of it all.

Of course, fans of MIB I and II may get annoyed that there’s not much continuity between the three films… one fan, for example, mentioned to me that Agent O is nowhere to be seen in I or II yet, going on occurrences in III, she has apparently been a big part in Agent K’s life. I’m sure the writers and producers could explain this away by saying she left the country (or something) while the events of I and II unfolded… but it’s still an annoying continuity error.

If you’re going to see this film, don’t expect be blown away, don’t get hung up on the events of the first two films, and don’t over-analyse the characters. Accept the film as a bit of light-hearted entertainment and that’s exactly what you’ll get.

 

DVD Review: The Grey

Hitting the shelves of DVD outlets nationwide as of May 22, The Grey, starring Liam Neeson, is definitely one to pick up.

In the flick, Neeson plays brooding oil-rig worker John Ottway. We learn that most of the workers in this remote environment are ex-cons, which is apparently where Ottway ‘belongs’. The last day ‘on the job’, so to speak, the oil-rig roughnecks board an airplane that goes through extreme turbulence and crashes somewhere in the Alaskan wilderness.

After the initial shock wears off, Neeson takes charge of the seven survivors in a bid to escape the cold, the hunger and a pack of vicious wolves and return to civilisation. What follows is a heartwrentching struggle for survival against all odds.

The men soon realise that nature has no pity and no forgiveness and much of the drama lies in the interaction between survivors. The film remains tense throughout and some of the wolf scenes are nothing short of chair-gripping. The wolves themselves look extremely realistic if not a little Twilight-y but it is a bit hard to believe that Neesons character knows as much as he does about the everyday habits of a wolf-pack.

Never-the-less, the film is emotional, action-fuelled and darkly poetic. Surprisingly enough, it also makes one hell of a statement about religious beliefs, with Ottway roaring up into the sky at one point demanding a sign that never materializes.

The ending is also one of the finest I’ve seen, with an important piece of information being relayed to us in the final few moments. If you see nothing else this month, pick up a copy of The Grey. But don’t forget the tissues, because this one will have you blubbering like a schoolgirl by the end.

Dark Shadows: where it belongs

Dark Shadows, the latest Depp/Burton/Carter collaboration, hit cinemas nationwide last week. You’d be forgiven for missing this, however, as the release was very much swallowed up by the all-encompassing hit that was The Avengers.

Despite an all-star cast and impeccable credentials, the movie never left the dark shadow cast by The Avengers which continues to break records in its second weekend in theatres. The Tim Burton helmed film was expected to open in the $35 million to $40 million range, but only  earned a disappointing $28.5M.

The film itself is based on a long-running TV show that ran in America in the 60’s and stars Johnny Depp as handsome socialite Barnabas Collins. Barnabas, the lothario that he is, has an affair with his housmaid Angelique (Eva Green) but spurns her for another woman. This being the town of Collinswood, where creepy things happen, Angelique turns out to be a witch, and takes her revenge by killing Barnabas’ other woman and dooming him to an eternity as a vampire. Soon exposed for a creature of the night, the local townspeople set upon Barnabas and bury him deep in the woods. Two centuries later, Barnabas is accidentally disinterred and sets about restoring his family’s fortune.

Despite having all the right ingredients, Dark Shadows turns out to be nothing but a kooky, half-baked film that is entirely devoid of not only plot but of any meaningful character development. The story is as predictable as it is weird and its only redeeming qualities lie in the visual.

Exquisitely shot by French cameraman Bruno Delbonnel (Amelie, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince) and beautifully designed by Burton’s regular collaborator, Rick Heinrichs, Dark Shadows is indeed a visual delight. Sadly, that’s all it is.

DVD Review: Underworld Awakening

underworld awakening

Out on DVD as of May 8th, the fourth movie in the Underworld series saw badass vampiress, Selene, make a blood curling return to the big screen. This installment, however, lacks a lot of the substance that made its predecessors so popular.

The movie opens with Selene, played by the ever-svelte Kate Beckinsale, and Lycan lover Michael (Scott Speedman) on the run from the latest threat to their survival – humans. Captured by armed forces, Selene is placed in a cryogenic state and unwittingly lends her body for medical experimentation. Upon her violent awakening, twelve years later, she finds the world little different to how she left it.

In an era where the existence of Vampires and Lycans is common knowledge, Selene discards all the secrecy she was taught to uphold. Leaving a trail of body parts in her wake at every turn, the film is a gloriously gory transportation back to the time before Twilight made vamps and weres all fuzzy and cuddly.

Having said that, blood and guts is just about all this movie has to offer. Beckinsale, while being an effortlessly cool and vicious vampiress, struggles to take the sole lead. The film as a whole suffers from the lack of another role such as Bill Nighy’s Viktor or Michael Sheen’s Lucian. There is very little storyline throughout with the writers chosing to focus on action and blood spatter rather than some actual character development.

I, for one, missed the backstory that each previous installment furnished us with. The history of the war between Vampires and Lycans is an interesting one and yet Awakening mentions nothing of it in any way shape or form. There are only minimal references to ‘the old ways’ and all the lore seems to be forgotten entirely.

Despite its many faults and a severe lack of story progression, Underworld: awakening isn’t the worst movie I’ve ever seen. It has plenty of action, its fair share of blood and guts, and it’s a welcome return to the gory days of vampires and werewolves. If that’s exactly what you want, then you won’t be disappointed but if you’re after something with a little more depth, you may want to look elsewhere.

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