Tuesday 30 April 2013

Deviation (2012)

Saying that Deviation isn't the worst movie that Danny Dyer has ever starred in is a bit like saying that the damage to your social life isn't the worst thing about having the Ebola virus. Either way, you're in a whole world of pain. I've long ago stopped expecting anything other than the same lazy, wide-boy geezer act in every one of his movies and he hasn't done anything to prove me wrong in the last five years or so.

Writer/director J. K. Amalou is the latest person to give Dyer some time onscreen and pocket money to spend on Burberry and substances designed to further destroy his braincells which makes him the person to point the finger at. He picked Dyer for the main role, he wrote the awful script that Dyer gets to work with and he directed the movie in a . . . . . . . . . well, to be fair, the direction of the film isn't TOO bad in places. Dammit, I hate being fair-minded sometimes.

Dyer plays Frank Norton, a murderer and a geezer. Which means that he just turns in yet another lazy, wide-boy geezer act mentioned in the opening paragraph. His character appears only a minute or two into the movie, taking a nurse (Amber, played by Anna Walton) hostage and driving around to different places for no obvious reason, other than padding the idea out to feature film length. His background is relayed to viewers during a clumsy moment when he fiddles with the car radio during various news reports. Which sums up the entire film.

Anna Walton does slightly better than Dyer, but she's hampered by two big problems. The first is that terrible script. The second is the fact that she has to continually share the screen with Dyer. The main role wouldn't be good for any actor, the character of Norton changes his mind and mood every few minutes in a way that is supposed to be interesting and clever but comes across as juvenile and silly. It's serious mental illness as written by a ten-year-old. The erratic performance from Dyer is, subsequently, a complete shambles, a car crash of a performance reminding everyone of the big question: "just how does this man continue to get work?" The rest of the cast includes James Doherty, David Fynn, Alan McKenna and Roy Smiles, but it's Dyer you'll be unable to forget, for all the wrong reasons, after the end credits roll.

As I said earlier, the direction isn't too bad. It's competent, and the only element of the movie I can bring myself to praise (even though it leaves a bad taste in my mouth to do so). The rest, in case you couldn't read my subtle cues, is terrible. Implausible, impossible to care about, horribly misanthropic and down at the bottom of the septic tank with so many other Danny Dyer movies.



Monday 29 April 2013

Restless Natives (1985)

When I was a young boy I was delighted by my first viewing of Restless Natives. It was a good film, there was that, but I was mainly delighted because much of it was set in the city of Edinburgh. My home. It was, I think, the first time that I'd seen the city in a movie. Thankfully, I have grown to learn that other people have realised what a great setting Edinburgh is, and I've seen it in movies as diverse as The Prime Of Miss Jean Brodie, Shallow Grave, New Town Killers, Book Of Blood, The Illusionist (where it was in animated form) and The Angel's Share, to name but a few. So while I have discovered Edinburgh in many other movies over the years, I have always had a soft spot for Restless Natives. A recent rewatch of the movie proves that my soft spot for it is deserved. It's a sweet, funny, wonderful film that holds up just as well now as it did back in the mid-1980s. Okay, part of the charm now may stem from being able to see Edinburgh as it was back then, but it still remains a lesser-known gem of a movie.

Will (Vincent Friell) and Ronnie (Joe Mullaney) are two young Scotsmen who aren't really doing great things in life. Will works for the local council, trying to keep Princes Street Gardens clean and tidy, while Ronnie works in a joke shop and gets grief from adults who have been pranked by their children. The two of them try robbery, but they're no good at that either. Until, instead of robbing cars on Highland roads, they decide to don masks (one is a clown and one is a wolf-man), get on a motorbike and rob coaches. Coaches full of rich tourists. Things start to go well and the pair even become celebrities thanks to their unusual brand of criminal behaviour. Will finds himself attracted to a young woman (Teri Lally) he sees during a robbery, Ronnie is thinking ahead to when they can start spending their money and the two keep evading the police thanks to the versatility of their motorbike. But, like any great partnership, cracks soon start to appear as they bask in the glow of their success. It may be time to call it a day soon, especially with a tenacious American (Bender, played by Ned Beatty) determined to capture and arrest them.

There's so much that I want to say about Restless Natives that I worry just how long this review will become. I'll not dilly dally any further anyway. The script was written by Ninian Dunnett, and it's a pretty perfect mix of great characterisations and quotable lines (the fact that there are no "memorable quotes" on the IMDb page for this movie is shocking). This was Dunnett's first script, and also his last. That's just sad. Considering how great this movie is, to even have the chance to see one more penned by Dunnett would be a treat I'd jump at the chance to experience. Wherever you are, Ninian Dunnett, I will always be indebted to you for this movie.

Director Michael Hoffman, on the other hand, moved on from this to films as diverse as Soapdish, Restoration, A Midsummer Night's Dream and, most recently, Gambit. Sadly, I've only seen Gambit, which I didn't enjoy all that much, but the rest have been given a fair bit of praise. Hoffman is obviously a talented guy, but I look forward to eventually checking out the rest of his filmography and seeing if anything really matches this film for sheer likeability.

The cast is super, with relative newcomers like Friell, Mullaney, Taylor and Ian McColl holding their own alongside names such as Beatty, Bernard Hill, Robert Urquhart and Mel Smith (in a cameo role). There are also a lot of people onscreen I forgot to note down the names of, despite each one making a minor supporting role into a potential scene-stealer. They include the two men playing police officers under the command of Urquhart, the girl who plays the younger sister of Friell's character and a group of Japanese TV presenters who end up getting in the middle of a hot pursuit while trying to film the clown and the wolf-man in action, simply to show off the capabilities of the motorbike that they use.

There are two other stars I have yet to mention. One is Edinburgh, with more of it shown onscreen here than in any other film (to my knowledge). Whether it's The Mound, Princes Street itself, parts of Wester Hailes - these names will mean nothing to people who haven't lived in the city, but they'll raise a smile on the faces of those who recognise the landmarks and buildings from a few decades ago.

The second star is Big Country, the Scottish rockers known for their unique "bagpipe guitar" sound. They provided a number of tunes for the soundtrack and it's an absolute beauty. In fact, it's hard to think of the movie without the lively guitar work. Thankfully, we don't have to.

It's about crime, it's about friendship, it's about characters becoming bigger than they could have ever imagined, it's about tourism and it's about legends. Perhaps Restless Natives will always be best appreciated by those who live in Edinburgh and spend a disproportionate amount of time each year wading through crowds of tourists who visit to take in the International Festival, the Edinburgh Military Tattoo, Edinburgh Castle and so much more, but I think that it's a film that can turn anyone into a fan. It's probably the sweetest movie about armed robberies ever made.



Sunday 28 April 2013

American Pie (1999)

It's obviously not going to be for everyone (which is, I realise, quite a redundant saying as it could be applied to every movie ever) but American Pie is a classic in the teen comedy genre. It may not have the nostalgia factor of an American Graffiti or the sharp, dark, wit of Heathers, but it has memorable set-pieces, some great characters and a sweetness running through all of the bawdy antics.

Four young men (played by Jason Biggs, Eddie Kaye Thomas, Chris Klein and Thomas Ian Nicholas) make a pact to lose their virginity by prom night. Jim (Biggs) is awkward and prone to mishaps that see him extremely humiliated, Paul Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas) tries to maintain an air of intelligence and sophistication about him even while desperate to get a date, 'Oz' (Chris Klein) joins a singing group in a stealthy move to get close to some good-looking girl (Mena Suvari) and Kevin (Thomas Ian Nicholas) is already happy with his girlfriend (Vicky, played by Tara Reid) even though he can't bring himself to say: "I love you". Also involved with this quartet are Jim's dad (Eugene Levy almost stealing the entire movie), the coarse and carefree Stifler (Seann William Scott), a lovely foreign exchange student named Nadia (Shannon Elizabeth) and a young woman (Alyson Hannigan) whose every story seems to take place at band camp.

Written by Adam Herz, and directed by Paul Weitz (with some uncredited help from his brother, and producer, Chris Weitz), this fairly zips along from one-liner to one-liner in between the truly hilarious set-pieces. I always felt that when it was first released it was done a disservice with the talk about it being so focused on one particular pie-related incident. Thankfully, most of the other set-pieces throughout the movie are actually a lot better than the main pie moment and every scene between Jim and his dad is full of comedy gold.

The film made stars out of some of its leading players although many of them could never quite escape the shadow cast by this one huge success (well, okay, this one and the official sequels before the brand name was ruined by the many "American Pie Presents..." movies - more on those at a later date). Jason Biggs highlighted his problem with his memorable cameo role in Jay And Silent Bob Strike Back when he said: "No, it always comes back to that fucking pie! I'm HAUNTED by it!"
Still, he did better than some of his co-stars, with the main breakouts from the film being Shannon Elizabeth, Alyson Hannigan (who'd already been doing such great work on Buffy The Vampire Slayer anyway) and Seann William Scott.

Mind you, what do audiences care about the career paths of those onscreen? The fact that they were all in one place for this movie, and the few main sequels, is all that matters. That allowed people to hear the choice insults from Stifler, it allowed eagle-eyed viewers to spot Blink 182 in a sequence that I rate as the comedy highlight of the whole movie, it allowed everyone to learn the word MILF (if they didn't know it already) and it simply allowed for everything to come together to make a near-perfect, raunchy teen comedy. I've not even mentioned Jennifer Coolidge, Natasha Lyonne, Chris Owen (as "The Sherman-ator") or the fleeting appearances from John Cho and Casey Affleck, but I guess that highlights the best thing about American Pie - there's so much more to it than just the pie.



Saturday 27 April 2013

Dark Blue (2002)

It's April 1992. A turbulent time for Los Angeles, with all eyes watching the trial of the police officers accused in the beating of Rodney King. If those men are acquitted, the whole city might just burn. Kurt Russell stars as Eldon Perry, a policeman who was brought up by gunslingers and sees himself as a man who does a lot of things wrong to get the right results. His superior (Brendan Gleeson) agrees, he knows that whenever he wants ANY mess cleaned up he can ask Perry to get it done. Unfortunately, many other people view Perry as a monster including his wife (Lolita Davidovich), his young partner (Scott Speedman) and an officer (Ving Rhames) intent on uncovering the truth about a recent shooting incident and, in turn, corruption within the LAPD. In fact, as the movie unfolds, Perry starts to think about his own actions and how others view him. He starts to suspect that they may be right.

Written by James Ellroy and David Ayer, this is exactly the sort of thing you'd expect from the writers of L.A. Confidential and Training Day, respectively. Eldon Perry is a larger than life character, a bit of a bully and a braggart even to those he loves, and his moral compass has been thrown so far out of whack that it's unsure whether or not he can find his direction again. Ron Shelton does a great job in the director's chair, allowing for the actors to do their best with the material while he makes sure that all of the threads are winding together to complete the big finale.

Russell excels in the lead role, it's arguably his best performance from his 21st century filmography. He IS a bit of a monster and a horrible person, overall, but he's also a fully fleshed-out character with moments that show that he does have a heart (one scene with him being yelled at by Gleeson really starts to make him slightly sympathetic, while another involving Davidovich reading out a letter to him turns into something unexpectedly affecting). Speedman is okay in his role, he's young and acts naive enough and that's what's needed of him. Gleeson is superb, but Gleeson is always superb. In this movie, however, he's even more superb than usual, his performance sharpened by the gradual development of his true character. Ving Rhames, ahhhh Ving Rhames, he gives a subdued, sweet performance that reminds you of the actor who once seemed so great. Why did he ever start to take roles in every other Straight To Disc (or STD, if you will) piece of nonsense? I'll never know. Thankfully, there will always be performances like this one to look back on. Lolita Davidovich and Jonathan Banks have their supporting roles that allow them one or two moments to shine. And shine they do. Michael Michele may have the most thankless role, but she does okay with it.

Putting these characters together and seeing how things unfold makes for a solid drama. Setting everything on the brink of those 1992 L.A. riots makes for something much more. It's tense, it's incendiary and it's an unflinching reminder of just how easily corruption can insidiously filter through even the most well-meaning of people.



Friday 26 April 2013

Grounded AKA Unaccompanied Minors (2006)

Kids having a bit of a riot while stranded in an airport, that's the premise of Grounded AKA Unaccompanied Minors and I must admit that while it did tick all of the usual boxes and while it did start off quite badly, I ended up quite enjoying myself with this one. It's not one that I'll rush to revisit any time soon, and I can't see it ending up with a place in my movie collection, but it has enjoyable moments here and there and it's certainly one that's easy enough to enjoy while the kids are laughing at it.

Basically, a bunch of kids are supposed to be flying on Christmas Eve, but the weather has put an end to that idea. When five of the kids (Charlie, Spencer, 'Beef', Grace and Donna) escape from the Unaccompanied Minors room they have a bit of fun in the airport before being caught by the unhappy head of customer relations (Lewis Black). They're taken back to the UM room and told that they will be staying there for the rest of Christmas Eve, despite the fact that the other kids have all now been taken to a nice lodge along the road. This is particularly bad news for Spencer (Dyllan Christopher), as he knows that he must find a way to get back to his little sister, who is now in the lodge, and ensure that a present "from Santa" is waiting for her when she wakes up. It's a battle of wills between the kids, the head of customer relations and his many staff (including Rob Riggle and Wilmer Valderrama).

Most parts of this movie, admittedly, have been done numerous times before. Better. The script by Jacob Meszaros and Mya Stark doesn't have much bite to it (although Black, Valderrama, Rob Riggle and Rob Corddry get some fun moments) and director Paul Feig simply hits the notes that everyone is waiting for, including at least two montage moments.

Thankfully, the cast adds a lot of fun to the proceedings. The focus may be on Spencer trying to make Christmas right for his sister (Dominique Saldana) but the others get plenty to do. Gia Mantegna is fine as Grace, a typical "princess" type who Spencer ends up taking quite a shine to. Quinn Shephard is the other girl of the group, Donna, a bit of a tomboy, but not without an admirer either. Brett Kelly is quiet, but makes his presence known, as 'Beef'. And last, but by no means least, Tyler James Williams steals the movie as cheeky, but charming, Charlie Goldfinch. Williams is probably best known to people who enjoyed his comedic skills in Everybody Hates Chris and he creates laughter once again, whether he's trying to survive being moved around an airport in a suitcase or getting his groove on with a funky bit of music (the best montage moment). I've already mentioned the adults enough, maybe even too much already, but they do fine with what they're given.

It might start off unsteady, and there's a finale that almost disappears under sugary sweetness, but this has a fun middle section and proves to be fairly amusing, thanks in no small part to Tyler James Williams. Kids should enjoy it, though they probably won't rush to watch it again either.



Thursday 25 April 2013

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)

Written and directed by Shane Black (the man responsible for the Lethal Weapon movies, The Monster Squad and more), Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is everything that you hope it will be and a little bit more. A couple of things stop it from being perfect, there are some scenes that just feel overly indulgent and the razor-sharp script constantly teeters on the edge of being too smart and smug for its own good, but it's a mix of action, thrills and comedy from a man who has shown mastery of this kind of material.

The plot is as follows - a petty criminal (Harry Lockhart, played by Robert Downey Jr.) ends up accidentally auditioning for a movie role and getting the part. He is then put on assignment with a detective (Gay Perry, played by Val Kilmer) and quickly finds out that being a detective isn't all that it's shown to be in the movies. Things soon move from the mundane to the intriguing, however, when the two men see a woman's body being dumped in a lake. The plot quickly thickens, Harry also tries to impress a girl that he's held a candle for all his life (Harmony, played by the beautiful Michelle Monaghan) and bullets start to fly, fingers are removed from hands and dead bodies start to pile up around the two main characters.

Although it's a small movie that more and more people need introduced to every week, I count Kiss Kiss Bang Bang as one of the big contributing factors in the grand resurrection of Robert Downey Jr's career. There had been other roles, of course, but 2005 was the year that showed he could still mix it up in a number of different genres and he still had bucketloads of charisma to spare. Am I overestimating the appeal of the movie? Watch it and then tell me.

Of course, the film isn't just the Downey Jr. show and everyone else puts in equally good performances. Val Kilmer is at his very best in the role of Gay Perry and Michelle Monaghan is absolutely adorable. Solid support comes from a mix of people: Corbin Bernsen, Larry Miller, Shanny Sossamon, Angela Lindvall and more.

It's not action-packed from start to finish so if you're after a new Die Hard or Lethal Weapon movie to love then this won't be it. If, however, you're after even more brilliance from the man who helped create some of the best, and coolest, action films of the last few decades (including the brilliance of The Last Boy Scout and The Long Kiss Goodnight) then this is the film that you must watch, purchase and then watch again and again. It's up there with the very best of Black's writing and he proves himself to be no slouch in the directing department either, putting it all together perfectly and moving from start to finish with a constant supply of his usual wit, insults and zippy plotting.

If you've somehow missed this movie so far then do yourself a favour and get to it ASAP.



Wednesday 24 April 2013

The Chaser (2008)

Joong-ho (Kim Yoon-seok) is a pimp, but he also happens to be an ex-detective. When yet another of his girls (Seo Yeong-hie) goes missing, despite his best attempts to keep her safe, Joong-ho gets on the trail before it gets too cold. He finds himself crossing paths with Young-min Jee (Ha Jung-woo) and soon realises that he is the man responsible for the loss of his girls. Joong-ho assumes that Young-min Jee has been selling the girls on, but it's a lot worse than that. Young-min Jee is a crazed killer and once he confesses to the police it becomes a race against time as Detective Lee (Jeong In-gi) and his colleagues try to get more evidence and build a case before having to release their man. Joong-ho, on the other hand, doesn't need to build a case. He just needs the police to give him enough time alone with Young-min to beat the truth out of him.

Directed by Na Hong-jin, who also co-wrote the script with Shinho Lee and Hong Won-chan, The Chaser is another film from South Korea that has already bagged itself a loyal fanbase. I saw it after it was highly recommended on a number of occasions, but I must admit that it just didn't work for me. With its mix of humour, grit, drama, ludicrousness, brutality and (fleeting) sweetness, it just didn't settle into one particular genre/style that I could really get into. I'm not saying that blending so many elements automatically makes for a lesser film - many fine movies have been appreciated so much BECAUSE they mix things up - but I don't think that the mix worked in this instance.

That's not to say that many of the individual elements don't succeed. The script blends all of the required information through some decent characterisations. The acting from Yoon-seok and Jung-woo is great, as is the acting from Yeong-hie, In-gi, Bon-woong, and young Kim Yoo-Jeong  (playing the daughter of the missing woman). The tension does build in places due to the race against time to gather necessary evidence to make a case against a killer, but none of these things ever feel as if they're all blended together into one whole movie experience.

Definitely not a movie that I'd tell people to avoid, it's just one that I'd encourage you to approach with caution. You may end up being one of the many viewers who think of the film as yet another modern classic from South Korea, but you may not. As long as you don't get your hopes up too high I think you'll find a number of moments worth your time, at the very least.



Tuesday 23 April 2013

Cosmopolis (2012)

Robert Pattinson plays Eric Packer, a man who wants to get a haircut. He's an extremely rich man (a multi-billionaire, in fact) and could just get someone to visit him at his office, but instead he insists on being driven around town in his stretch limo amidst the chaos that is a Presidential visit, an ongoing protest against capitalism and serious threats on his life. During his trip, he tries to convince his new wife (Sarah Gadon) that they should have some sex, he speaks to various members of his staff, engages in some energetic infidelity and views the turbulent events unfolding around him with a mixture of morbid fascination and cool disinterest.

Written and directed by David Cronenberg, based on the novel by Don DeLillo, this is a movie perhaps best described as Videodrome meets Wall Street with a white version of Driving Miss Daisy. Yes, I know that mixture sounds quite ridiculous, but it's appropriate. It's certainly not a film to watch if you need some great set-pieces and a bit of energy in each scene. This is almost completely cerebral, for better or worse, and demands patience from viewers. Patience that isn't really rewarded in the obvious fashion.

Pattinson is pretty good in the main role, there's a hint of Patrick Bateman about his character but also quite a Charles Foster Kane vibe. Details about how he amassed his personal wealth are teased out during conversations, but not enough to put together a complete picture. He seems like a potential philanthropist one minute and a complete sociopath the next, and Pattinson conveys every facet of his personality while also keeping hold of himself in a very stiff and controlled manner, most of the time. The other people that move in and out of the movie are strangely disconnected in a variety of ways, whether it's through their fleeting appearance and disappearance or the actual nature of the character (Gadon seems to move through the film without letting any of the world around her get within touching distance). Jay Baruchel, Juliette Binoche, Kevin Durand, Samantha Morton, Mathieu Amalric and Patricia McKenzie, plus quite a few others, all do well with their roles, even if they do often feel like characters taken directly from the Packer's overactive subconscious. Paul Giamatti gets to play someone more connected to the actual reality of everyday life than any of the other characters, and he puts in another fantastic performance.

Cronenberg seems to do what he can in this film to push people away. He certainly doesn't make it an easy film to enjoy, but it IS enjoyable. It's a lesser Cronenberg film, that's for sure, but it's still worth a watch if you're a fan of his work. The best, and most unexpected, thing about the film is the humour throughout, often subtle and sly but sometimes completely over the top and surreal. That humour hardwired to the intelligence running through the script allows Cosmopolis to become a bit of a paradox - a film that is hard enough to get through once but may well leave observant viewers wanting to rewatch it.

Equal parts amusing and irritating, this may be a film that you end up absolutely hating. It could also be one that you end up enjoying much more than I did.



Monday 22 April 2013

The Abominable Snowman (1957)

I'm not sure quite what it is, but there's just something here that stops me from loving this movie as much as I think I should. I admire it, it's an intelligent and atmospheric piece, but I also think that it somehow should have created a much better framework around the ideas at its heart.

Written by Nigel Kneale, and directed by Val Guest, the movie can be described quite simply as "a quest in search of the Yeti" but that sells the thing short. What the film is really about is the quest for knowledge (best symbolised by the tenacity and good intentions of the character Dr. Rollason, played by the great Peter Cushing) working side by side with the quest for personal gain and profit (shown by Tom Friend, the character played by Forrest Tucker). Obviously, these two viewpoints are opposing ones, but the path through treacherous terrain is made slightly easier by teamwork.

The Abominable Snowman works very well in a number of areas - the cast are all generally excellent (as is par for the course when it comes to Peter Cushing), the atmosphere builds nicely in the last half hour or so, and the material is treated with intelligence and a serious tone. Sadly, there are other areas in which the film doesn't do half as well - a running strand of mysticism just doesn't feel right, and none of the scenes at a lamasery do anything much for the pacing and characterisations, except basic exposition.

Aside from the performances of Cushing and Tucker in the two main roles, Maureen Connell is also excellent as Helen, the plucky but concerned wife of Dr. Rollason, Richard Wattis is enjoyable as Peter Fox and Robert Brown has some fun as the thrill-loving Ed Shelley.

There's certainly enough here for fans of subtle, smart horror to enjoy, but I didn't rate this quite as highly as some other people, despite some fine, atmospheric moments that show the effect the weather and general conditions have on members of the expedition. Give it a viewing and make up your own mind, especially if you're a Peter Cushing fan like myself, because there are plenty of Hammer fans who rate this one quite a bit higher than I do.



Sunday 21 April 2013

Interstate 60: Episodes Of The Road (2002)

Written and directed by Bob Gale, Interstate 60: Episodes Of The Road is a highly entertaining blend of Eerie Indiana, Big Fish and, well, Road Trip. It feels slightly disjointed, but the title gives a clue to that (although it's often just called Interstate 60 on the marketing and packaging nowadays - I just listed the full title as it is on IMDb).

Gary Oldman is a red-haired trickster by the name of O. W. Grant, a man who spends his time smoking his monkey-head pipe and granting wishes, but he grants wishes in very twisted and unexpected ways. He's like a PG version of the djinn from the Wishmaster movies. James Marsden plays a young man named Neal Oliver, wishing for some answers in his life just as O. W. Grant is within earshot. Interested, Grant decides to arrange a little road trip for Neal. He must deliver a package on a journey that will take him along Interstate 60. Of course, there isn't an Interstate 60. At least, that's what Neal thinks until he's shown a different view of things. He continues along the road in his car, meeting various characters and getting into one or two strange situations along the way.

I enjoyed this movie from the very beginning, the first few scenes features a great moment with Gary Oldman and Michael J. Fox that sums up the devious playfulness of O. W. Grant, but as it continued I started to love it. It manages to be funny and quirky in a way that doesn't scream in viewers faces about how funny and quirky it's being. People may disagree with me on that, but I think that the way in which everything was added on, one character at a time, helped move the film from normality to outright whackiness. As a viewer, I felt very much like that metaphorical frog sitting in water that I didn't notice was being constantly increased ever so slightly towards boiling point.

Despite, compared to some, not really having THAT much in his filmography, Gale does a solid job with the direction of the film. That's probably thanks to the fact that he's filming his own script and writing has been his forte for the past five decades. There's nothing too spectacular on display, but nothing too clumsy either.

Marsden is his usual pleasant self in the role, Oldman has more fun than usual, Christopher Lloyd adds another eccentric character to his list of eccentric characters, Chris Cooper is fantastic as a man who cannot stand anyone lying to him, Amy Smart performs better than usual and Kurt Russell has fun in a small role, playing the police captain of a small town that has legalised a highly addictive drug and allows anyone to party as hard as they like in return for various civic duties.

If you don't like quirky, rather lightweight films then avoid this one like the plague. But if you enjoyed any of the titles I mentioned in the first paragraph then you may want to watch this at least once and see if you enjoy it as much as I did. It goes a bit too far into the ludicrous for a few minutes (involving a lawyer and a big bunch of other lawyers), but it still charms and entertains far more than hundreds of other better-known titles that you could pick from the last decade.



Saturday 20 April 2013

The Virginity Hit (2010)

Found footage movies have already outstayed their welcome in the eyes of many and this irredeemable pile of crap will do nothing to convert those who have been turned off by the format. It's a proper pile of excreted waste, seriously, and I have no idea what Huck Botko and Andrew Gurland were thinking when they shared the writing and directing duties on it.

This is taken from the IMDb trivia page for the movie - Most of the cast recorded footage shown on-screen and ad-libbed their lines. That explains why there's not one funny line or moment in this alleged comedy. None of the young cast members have the personality or skill to make magic from their ad-lib opportunities and so the film simply meanders from one moment of mean-spirited unpleasantness to the next.

I don't mind mean-spirited unpleasantness. I just don't expect it to be the overriding aspect of any teen comedy that I choose to watch. I just couldn't tell what Botko and Gurland were aiming for. Was it a comedy that they'd forgotten to add any laughs to? A warning to all teenagers about the consequences of any risible behaviour in the time of the globe-spanning, reputation-harming, YouTube? A look at the dangers of peer pressure? Whatever they tried to do, they failed.

Matt (played by Matt Bennett) is the one lad, the last one of four friends, trying to lose his virginity and he wants it to be a special time with his girlfriend, Nicole (Nicole Weaver). Whenever a cherry is popped, if you'll pardon the expression, the friends all bring out a very special bong and take a hit from it, hence the title. But a startling revelation changes the plan and sets Matt on a determined quest to just lose the virginity that he now feels is clinging to him like a wet shirt.

The main friend trying to "help" Matt in his quest is Zack (played by Zack Pearlman - spotting the pattern with the names yet?). Zack is supposed to be a friend but all he seems to do is heap humiliation upon Matt at every opportunity, often thanks to his knack for recording every embarrassment as it happens. However, it would appear that Zack is the lesser of two evils when details of Matt's past are revealed as the movie progresses and it's in these moments that the movie takes another major mis-step. There's, once again, no comedy to be mined from the situations that unfold but there's also no goodwill or jubilance in the rare moments when Matt's friends actually help him because they're still all just a bunch of assholes.

There's no good way to look at this. Either the teens are being show as typical teens in an unusual situation, in which case this is an insult to the majority of all teenagers, or the company that the viewer is stuck with for the duration of the movie is made up of . . . . . . . well . . . . . . . assholes.

Fans of Sunny Leone, who is a star of numerous adult movies, will be pleased to see her appear onscreen for a short while, but she's one of the few highlights and, let's be completely honest here, if you're a fan of her work then you've already seen her in movies that showcase her talents far better than this one does. Which means that my low rating here is still somewhat generous, in my opinion.



Friday 19 April 2013

Hall Pass (2011)

The Farrelly Brothers have come a long way since their paean to all things dumb, Dumb & Dumber, cleaned up at the box office. From that great starting point we’ve had the good (There’s Something AboutMary), the bad (okay, they only produced Say It Isn’t So, but their names were all over the marketing) and the divisive (Me, Myself & Irene and Stuck On You are two movies I really like but not everyone feels the same way). And now there’s Hall Pass.

Owen Wilson and Jason Sudeikis play two married men who are given what seems like a fantastic gift from their loving wives - a hall pass. A hall pass is, in the context of the film, a week off from marriage. The guys can relive their days of bachelorhood and get everything out of their system before returning to the family home and settling back down for the rest of their lives. With no restrictions, the two men should obviously be able to live out those fantasies that they've been harbouring for years. Well, while the theory is sound it turns out that the two men are a bit rusty when it comes to actually making any real moves towards ladies.

Written and directed by those Farrelly funsters (Bobby and Peter, who were both helped out in the scripting department by Pete Jones and Kevin Barnett), Hall Pass is an amusing comedy very much in the vein of their past works. There's plenty of refreshing honesty mixed in with the laughs, at least one gross moment and many lines of dialogue guaranteed to offend anyone who wants to be easily offended. Sadly, there aren't any memorable set-pieces and the whole thing suffers from the presence of Sudeikis (he was okay in Horrible Bosses, but I have no idea why the man is being given lead roles - he may get to deliver funny lines but he's not a talented comedic performer).

Thankfully, the cast also includes the lovely Jenna Fischer, Christina Applegate, Nicky Whelan, Stephen Merchant and Richard Jenkins. And Owen Wilson, of course. Some people don't like his standard laid back schtick. I do. There are also appearances from Farrelly regulars such as Rob Moran and Danny Murphy, while Vanessa Angel, Lauren Bowles and even Alyssa Milano join in the fun.

I laughed quite a few times while watching Hall Pass, but there were only two gags that made me laugh hard - one involving Wilson and two naked men and the other moment took place at the very end of the film - and I just don't think that's good enough for a film with this cast and those men behind the camera (yeah, yeah, roll your eyes all you want, I have loved a number of their past films).

It would seem that, for a change, most audience members agreed on this one. It had a fairly high budget for a comedy ($36M, apparently) and didn't exactly provide a rip-roaring return on that investment. Meaning that we've probably been spared a Hall Pass 2. At least that is an extra reason to smile.



Thursday 18 April 2013

X: The Unknown (1956)

A Quatermass movie in all but name (due to Nigel Kneale not wanting to put his character in the hands of any other writers), X: The Unknown is a sci-fi/horror movie that fans of those Quatermass movies will most definitely want to seek out.

Dean Jagger stars as Professor. Quaterma, I mean Dr. Adam Royston, a man who is called upon to help in any way he can when a group of soldiers discover a source of radiation while running through some exercises in the Scottish countryside. It's not long until people start suffering from burns, trauma and even incurable cases of death. Dr. Royston eventually comes up with a theory, while helping Inspector McGill (Leo McKern), but it may just be too outlandish for anyone to believe. His boss, John Elliott (Edward Chapman), certainly doesn't believe it. Well . . . . . . not at first.

Written by Jimmy Sangster, and directed by Leslie Norman, X: The Unknown is a low-key film that holds your attention from almost the very beginning while developing into something that rewards viewer patience with some decent set-pieces and an enjoyable finale. Everything about the film is unfussy, the script delivers the information and briefly sketches out a few of the main characters while the choice of camera shots help keep things more mysterious until the second half of the movie, and it serves as a reminder of what can be done without piling on cheap scares and/or practical gags. Over half a century later, this film makes for a great "how to . . ." for anyone wanting to make the most of limited resources.

The cast, overall, do a pretty good job. Jagger is a likable lead, McKern is even better as the main investigating officer willing to go out on a limb while some wild theories are developed. Chapman has to be the uptight voice of reason, but he's not entirely unsympathetic as the events unfold, and William Lucas is fine as Peter Elliott, John's son. Emmerdale fans should keep their eyes peeled to see a very young Frazer (billed here as Fraser) Hines as a local boy caught up in the drama.

All in all, this is a top class sci-fi horror movie, smart and entertaining with an enjoyably British flavour. It's funny how those stereotypes and twee British traits can be so annoying in certain movies and situations while so appealing in others, but this is one of those others. It may have a few elements in the mix that will have you thinking of other films, better-known films, but this one came first and, for me, remains one of the very best.



Wednesday 17 April 2013

The Iron Lady (2011)

There are many times when I watch a movie because I am keen to see it, many times when I just watch a film that I know nothing about and many times when I watch something that has been recommended to me and sit there, hoping that I will like it as much as whoever gave me the heads up. The Iron Lady is a film that I didn't really want to watch, but circumstances have kind of pushed it up my "to view" list and I decided to bite the bullet and give it a go.

It stars Meryl Streep, almost unrecognisable at times, as Margaret Thatcher (played in her younger incarnation by Alexandra Roach), the Conservative MP who became the first female Prime Minister of Great Britain and changed the country, for better or worse (I know how I feel about her changes, but I'm going to do my best to avoid getting into any potential heated debate here). Jim Broadbent plays her husband, Denis (younger version - Harry Lloyd), and Olivia Colman is daughter, Carol.

Anyone expecting a warts 'n' all look at the life of a highly controversial figure will end up highly disappointed. This is a film designed to show its main character bathed in a warm glow, showing her as a tough woman who may have made some mistakes, with emphasis on the word "may". In fact, it skirts around so many big moments that there are many scenes which may leave you wondering just what the point of the film is until you remember that the point is to remind everyone of how great Margaret Thatcher was.

Streep is superb in the main role. She nails the voice - though anyone who has read my review of Lincoln will know that I don't rate any performance that I feel is JUST an impression - but also gets the mannerisms and strength of character just right. In fact, she made me like the character (which I certainly didn't expect). Broadbent is a cheery supporting figure throughout, giving a typically Broadbentian (which is now a word) performance. Olivia Colman does well and the supporting cast contains great names such as Richard E. Grant, John Sessions and Anthony Head.

The script by Abi Morgan is safe and sweet at every turn, and the direction from Phyllida Lloyd goes exactly the same way. This is a film made by people who watched The King's Speech a few too many times and just decided that they could insert Margaret Thatcher into the template and get away with it. Well, that's easier than actually making something that actually has some substance and thought-provoking moments. The end result doesn't impress, certainly not this viewer anyway.

I'm sure that this will play well in America, where people seem to love this portrayal of Britain onscreen (the absurdity of British politics, the conversations that take place with tea and biscuits, etc). It will also play well to fans of Margaret Thatcher. But it won't appeal to those who don't like the woman all that much and it won't appeal to fans of great movies. Because it isn't one. Streep deserves all of the praise heaped upon her performance, it's just a shame that she wasn't given a better film around her.



Tuesday 16 April 2013

Shark In Venice (2008)

I am pretty convinced that nowadays most of the Baldwin clan just meet up once a week to bask in the glow of Alec's career because none of the others have been able to sustain a successful career once they had to offer people more than just the famous surname. Does that sound harsh? Well, I just sat through Shark In Venice (starring Stephen Baldwin) and you probably didn't. If you still want to watch it after reading this review then . . . . . . well . . . . .  I'd do the same so I can't hold it against you.

In case you're wondering if the title is a metaphor for some deep, troubling life issues then fear not. This film is about a shark in Venice. Stephen Baldwin plays someone who goes to Venice (with his partner, Laura, played by Vanessa - not Scarlett - Johansson) because his father was diving there and may be in trouble or even dead. After mere minutes in the city, he sees some dead bodies and starts insisting that there are sharks in the waters of Venice. He doesn't quite come out and say it, but it's the "this was no boating accident" homage. Anyway, there's a tough cop on the scene (Hilda van der Meulen), a shark and a serious criminal type (Giacomo Gonnella). And the shark is the best actor out of the lot.

Directed by Danny Lerner (who also directed Shark Zone and Raging Sharks, among others), and written by Les Weldon (who formed the story WITH Lerner, because you just can't think this stuff up all alone, hell no), Shark In Venice is laughably bad from start to finish.

Stephen Baldwin may not be the greatest actor in the world, but I've seen him do better than this. Perhaps the will to live started to leave his body as soon as he signed on to star in the film, I don't know. Scarle . . . . Vanessa Johansson is okay, she's the best of a bad bunch even though she's stuck with the same horrible script as everyone else. Hilda van der Meulen is terrible, Giacomo Gonnella is just as bad and the many generic henchmen run through the checklist as set out in "So You Want To Be A Generic Henchman?" - THE essential guide for those not wanting to be an evil leader but still wanting to take their place on the career ladder of crime.

Is it really as bad as I'm making it out to be? Well, despite one or two moments that use some fast editing to show the shark chomping on some divers, yes it is. The presence of the big fin is the reason it gets any points at all, unlike some movies that have shark in the title and then just try to show one decent shot in the last five minutes of the film. This is a film that shows a leg being bitten off during a scene in which a shark attacks one man left alone in the water before just carrying on with the rest of the movie while showing that same man as someone still very much classed among the bipedals of the world. I think that sums up the carelessness and laziness that the film seems to have throughout. Hence this review, something I tried to make into a bit of fun to help myself and any others who made it all the way through Shark In Venice. And I didn't even squeeze in my lame gag about The Bridge Of Sighs. Oh well, perhaps I can find some context for it when I finally review Don't Look Now.



And in the news today: me, me, me, ME.

Tragic events unfold.


The BBC News website, and I'm sure many others, have things on a Live Stream. Videos appeared on YouTube within minutes. The explosions that signaled the end of a fun day for Boston residents were caught live on camera and by the time you read this those images will have been shown again and again and again on 101 different news channels all with hours and hours of scheduling to fill.

But even with that direct connection, and that sense of immediacy, it still seems too distant for some people. They have to put themselves right in the middle of it all. This blog post is probably part of the problem, but I assure you that it's making a point and I will not be sharing it around as I do with my movie reviews.

Years ago I worked with a woman who had a tale that she dined out on for years. She had been to visit the Twin Towers the day before they were brought down. That was it. People were in awe as she told her tale, safely back in Edinburgh and vicariously experiencing a small part of that horrible, awful, strange day.

Today I saw the news of the bombs going off in Boston and I sighed as I started to see things pop up on my computer screen. Hashtags used for any message regarding the situation, hatred and bile spread by the scum of the Westboro Baptist Church and even people changing Facebook page names to capitalise on the traffic spike.

But, strangely enough, it seems to be the people thinking that they're doing good who annoy me the most. The people with good intentions who want to show love and compassion so quickly that they don't check anything. Why "share" and/or "like" a photo encouraging people to pray for the victims when actually praying is key to that act of faith. As an atheist, do I get brownie points for sharing such a photo and not giving it a second thought? No, but the person who started the whole thing off can be happy as the whole thing snowballs.

Similarly, people sharing a photo in memory of the child who died in the explosions. Grrrrrrrrr. Apparently a young boy died. Well, the photo is of a young girl, as is the accompanying information. Not only is it incorrect, but it's so lazy and obviously created simply to get likes and shares (one message read, I kid you not, "1 like = R.I.P") that it's disrespectful both to those who died and also to those living. Think of anyone who knows that child in the photo looking online and getting quite a shock.

I don't know what we can do to make it stop, but I do know that we need to try. Our response to these events runs through a whole range of emotions, of course, and communicating with others and sharing a sense of shock and fear and remorse is understandable. In fact, knowing that you're connected to people that you really ARE connected to is one of the few positives to come out of such a negative. But a photo being shared or liked, or both, isn't going to help any of the victims. It's not going to bring whoever was responsible for this heinous act to justice. It's not going to create money for a charitable effort created to help the victims. It's not going to turn into donated blood. It's not even going to mean a lot at the time to a lot of people who really won't be too bothered just now about keeping up with their social networking.

All it does is get attention for someone who can't get it any other way, despite needing it 24/7 and needing more and more and more.

If this post feels hypocritical and just the same way then so be it. It's not intended that way. I just had to get it out of my system, even if I'm the only person who ever reads this.


Monday 15 April 2013

The Horse's Mouth (1958)

Everyone with a love of cinema has seen at least one performance from the great Alec Guinness that has stuck with them through the years. Whether it's his work with Ealing, his fantastic turn in The Bridge On The River Kwai or just being that certain wise gentleman in a small movie called Star Wars, the chances are that Mr. Guinness has made a favourable impression on almost every movie-goer of my age (37, just now) and older. He was, and in the movies that hold his memory forever he still IS, a class act. The Horse's Mouth features yet another great performance from the man, but it's also the only movie that he ever wrote the screenplay for (adapting the novel by Joyce Cary) and, by all accounts, he did a pretty good job of it.

Guinness plays Gulley Jimson, a man that viewers first see coming out of prison. He's a chancer and an unfriendly sort, feeling very hard done by and angry at the world around him. A world that owes him. As it turns out, he has a point. Gulley is also an artist and a very good one, but his desire to keep creating great art often leads him into situations that perversely end with destruction. He just can't stop himself, even when things start to look up. There's no self-control there, no filter, the art is all that matters. Kay Walsh plays a stern woman trying to help him get what he deserves, Renee Houston is an ex who still holds a candle for him, Robert Coote and Veronica Turleigh are two potential patrons and Michael Gough has some fun as a fellow artist afflicted with the same short-sighted way of muddling through life.

It takes a while to warm to The Horse's Mouth (Guinness uses quite an accent for his character and he's not the most pleasant person to spend time with during the first few scenes) but do stick with it and it ends up as quite a rewarding experience. Once the main theme becomes apparent - that of the driven artist constantly striving to create another masterpiece even while destroying other things around him - it's an absolute delight. THAT'S when viewers are able to identify, and connect, with the Gulley and almost see everything onscreen as he sees it.

Apparently, when Guinness developed the screenplay he decided to drop some other aspects of the novel and focus on the plight of the artist, something which really gives the film a unique and fascinating centre. Having not read the source novel, I can't say whether or not this improves the material, but it certainly feels like a good decision for the cinematic adaptation.

Director Ronald Neame captures everything unobtrusively enough, but that's not to dismiss his work. He somehow sets everything up in a way that seems to capture the very essence of both creation and destruction, this is a film with all of the elements gelling together almost perfectly.

The acting from all concerned is fantastic. Guinness is never less than the brilliance that's expected from him, Walsh and Houston are both wonderful, Gough is great and Mike Morgan is very sweet as a young lad who looks up to Gulley and wants him to stay out of trouble so that he can just continue to make great art. Coote and Turleigh aren't on screen for very long, but do fine with the time they have, and every minor character gets a fleeting moment to shine.

If it wasn't for that unsteady opening, this would be closer to a perfect film. As it is, it's a very good one. A very good one indeed, do yourself a favour and seek it out. It's hugely entertaining, but it's also art.



Sunday 14 April 2013

Mars Attacks! (1996)

Mars Attacks! is a crazy sci-fi comedy based on a series of popular trading cards. It's quite a slight film, as you'd expect from such source material, but it's also very funny in places and full of great homages to sci-fi films of yesteryear. Jonathan Gems was the man who put a script together for the alien antics while Tim Burton was in place to direct the madness.

The plot is summed up by the title. That's it. Really. What the alien invasion premise does is allow Burton to deliver a number of amusing, and often visually striking, vignettes to the audience, be it a herd of flaming cattle or a number of warped experiments taking place on a spaceship. Many of the moments in the movie are inspired directly by images on the trading cards, but there are still a few characters allowed to develop in between the set-pieces. Jack Nicholson plays the President Of The United States, with Glenn Close playing his wife and Natalie Portman the fed up daughter. Jack Nicholson also plays a man setting up the business deal of his life. Annette Bening is the woman in his life, trying to keep her spirit positive while surrounded by the corrupting, garish influence of Las Vegas. Michael J. Fox and Sarah Jessica Parker are two very different TV personalities, Pierce Brosnan is a scientist optimistic about the aliens and Rod Steiger is a not so optimistic general. Jim Brown wants to get back to his family, Martin Short wants to use his position as Presidential advisor to get with women and Lukas Haas wants, well, very little as he's the generally content sort.

As you might expect from a movie based on a series of trading cards, Mars Attacks! is more a series of amusing vignettes loosely strung together than an entirely flowing, coherent movie. It's anarchic and fun in a way that may put many people off, but I happen to like anarchic and fun. Think of some Ed Wood movie fused with any cartoon that featured Marvin The Martian and you're close enough.

Tim Burton is in his comfort zone, the film certainly feels as if he was left to his own devices and he has fun bringing the vibrant, retro imagery to life. The handling of the material is affectionate, the handling of the cast less so as they're killed off or experimented upon with not even a second thought for A-list status or billing order. As well as those already mentioned, all of them admirably going along with every preposterous moment, there are appearances from Jack Black, Pam Grier, Danny DeVito, Christina Applegate, Lisa Marie and Tom Jones. Yes, THAT Tom Jones. Playing himself, amusingly enough.

If you grew up with imagery of flying saucers that were actually saucer shaped, little green men who flew around the universe looking for people to menace with their ray guns and sci-fi b-movies that were as colourful and inventive as they were, oftentimes, cheap and cheerful then this is the movie for you. It recalls all of those elements with love and then uses them for lots of silly gags. Whether or not you actually enjoy the gags is another thing entirely, but you will enjoy plenty of imagery reminding you of aliens as envisioned in decades gone by.



Saturday 13 April 2013

Maximum Conviction (2012)

When Maximum Conviction arrived through my letterbox my heart sank a little bit. People may remember that I endured almost every Steven Seagal movie ever made over the course of many months (if you need verification then just type his name into the search box on the right and have a browse). It almost broke me. Thankfully, I had no more to endure for a while. All of his releases over the past couple of years seemed to be episodes of his show, True Justice, spliced together and sold to undemanding fans. But I knew the day would come when I would have to watch this man in action again. Maximum Conviction was the film that dragged me back into Seagal's world.

As stupid as it was, I still held on to a shred of hope. After all, Steve Austin was also in the movie, and I like Steve Austin. It only took a few minutes to grind that hope into dust. Seagal and Austin play two former black ops kinda guys (does Seagal ever play any other kind of character? No, no he doesn't) who are helping to decommission a prison that now holds two extra "guests" in the shape of Samantha and Charlotte. Unfortunately, some very powerful people want one of these women for some information that they possess so it's not long until the prison is breached and lots of armed men are causing trouble while being repelled by Seagal and company.

Directed by Keoni Waxman (who also directed The Keeper, which was Seagal's last half-decent action film), and written by Paul Beattie, Maximum Conviction has potential that is wasted thanks, once again, to a lazy turn from an out of shape leading man. Seagal just doesn't cut it any more as an action star. In fact, he hasn't been cutting it for the last decade or so, and that makes it increasingly difficult for his movies to continue appealing to ACTION fans. This movie is improved by the presence and physical work of Steve Austin, but there's only so much that can be done when Seagal insists on having the lead role even as he continues to pass most of his scenes over to his stunt double. Elsewhere, Michael Pare turns in another bad guy performance, Ian Robison is a spineless warden and Aliyah O'Brien and Steph Song are the women who could be in big trouble, playing Charlotte and Samantha, respectively. If you're expecting any great acting then you clearly haven't seen any other Steven Seagal movie.

The most frustrating thing about watching Maximum Conviction is how close it comes to being a good film. The premise isn't that bad, the pacing is fine and some of the action set-pieces have the right level of energy and damage to be good entertainment. Unfortunately, the combination of low-budget (the movie certainly LOOKS cheap), laziness and over-editing just ends up making the movie a bit of a chore.

I would say, hesitantly, that some hardcore Seagal fans may well see this as a bit of a return to form. Everyone else will probably see it as yet another one to avoid.