The Guard Review
Review # 152
Director – John Michael McDonagh
Cast – Brendan Gleeson, Don Cheadle, Mark Strong, Liam Cunningham, David Wilmot, Rory Keenan, Laurence Kinlan
The Guard first came to my attention because the director, John Michael McDonagh, is the brother of the director of one of my favourite movies, In Bruges. That movie also starred Brendan Gleeson. My expectations were up, and I hoped for something akin to the dark humour and bleak tone of the former. While it definitely retains a dark sense of humour, the tone doesn’t seem as consistent, or as defined.
Of course, it is a bad habit (of which I am constantly guilty) to judge a movie merely because another one did something better. And while this isn’t as sharp as In Bruges (by a long shot), it is still a good movie. To be good rather than “Great” isn’t a horrible thing.
Plot wise, we follow Brendan Gleeson’s gleefully un-PC Irish cop (or “Garda”). He has been partnered with an American FBI agent (Don Cheadle), who is in Ireland to hunt down a gang of drug traffickers. In accordance with cop movie tradition they are two very different people. Gleeson is “unconventional”, while Cheadle goes by the book. Gleeson doesn’t mind making snide little jokes to Cheadle about his skin colour, and Cheadle has to try to learn to take them as a joke, as they are meant. Their relationship isn’t as “buddy cop” as a Riggs and Murtaugh, but the elements are there.
Brendan Gleeson is the standout in the film, of course, as he usually is. With his dry wit, cheeky jokes, and general orneriness, he creates an enormously fun character. It is a joy to watch Don Cheadle’s FBI agent do his best to keep up. He doesn’t succeed of course, but that’s the point of his character. He just sits by, rolls his eyes, and tries to catch Gleeson when he decides to come back to Earth once in a while.
The trio of drug traffickers are played play Mark Strong, David Wilmot, and Liam Cunningham. Again, poor Mark Strong, doing the villain thing. You can’t deny, he’s good at it. Here we get the impression he doesn’t like the job he finds himself doing. He’s disgusted by bent cops, and wishes for a special relationship. We don’t find him sympathetic, though, he sneers his lines out in a delicious way. He really is one of the best villain actors I can think of.
All in all, the best I can do is reiterate that importance of Gleeson’s character to the movie. As the main character of course he carries a lot of the weight anyway, but the uniqueness of the character he creates can not be under estimated. He is the heart of the movie, and the success of the ambiguous way in which the movie ends can be attributed mainly to him. A strong actor with a strong script is a wonderful thing to see.
The Guard is a dark, witty, and unique movie, whose success is due mainly to Brendan Gleeson’s wonderful turn as Sergeant Gerry Boyle. This is not to underestimate the other actors, Cheadle in particular. For those who enjoy an ambiguous ending, dark humour, and smart writing, this movie is for you.
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The Troll Hunter (Trolljergen) Review
Review # 151
Director – André Øvredal
Cast – Glenn Erland Tosterud, Johanna Mørck, Tomas Alf Larsen, Otto Jespersen, Urmila Berg-Domaas, Hans Morten Hansen, Knut Nærum, Robert Stoltenberg
“Found footage” movies are an interesting little sub-genre, in my opinion, and one that has birthed several notable films lately. Of course there was The Blair Witch Project, but more recently the Paranormal Activity series, [REC], Chronicle, and Cloverfield. This shaky, “documentary” technique give the viewer a great sense of immersion in a world. The world becomes one that we seem to live in, rather than one we are just presented with. You feel it more. It immerses you, and I like that. The Troll Hunter is not as shaky in its camea work as Cloverfield, and I like that too.
Is it just me, or do most “found footage” movies follow a similar basic premise? They all feature a monster or alien being, the effects of which a young person/group of young people have to deal with. [REC] had zombies, Cloverfield had that big alien crab/spider thing. There’s the Blair Witch, of course.
The Troll Hunter has trolls. Big old trolls, the design of which is inspired by old Norwegian and European fairy tale illustrations. The story is not new… An small student film crew are investigating a man suspected of illegally killing bears, but once the talk to him they realize the truth is more sinister. It’s fun too; even the students have a bit of wonder on their faces (mixed in with the fear, to be sure), when they stumble upon a skinny troll as tall as a tree, and looking like a woodcut brought to life. Though the kids are more stumbled upon than stumbling; those trolls are huge. And as they stumble around northern Norway, there are more to be seen. Are there ever… The striking poster image(see above) comes from the final sequence of the movie, and it’s just beautiful.
The trolls themselves are the highlight of the movie, I think. They are of ingenius design, purposefully made to look a bit unreal. They would look out of place in Middle-Earth, for example, with bulbous noses and shocking hair. They look a cross between the creatures from Where the Wild Things Are and the dwarves from Snow White. The special effects work is mostly seamless, though there may be a strange bit of physics work at play from time to time. With a small budget though, what else can you expect?
I do not mean to just compare this movie to others, that would do the film a disservice because it is quite unique in many ways. It is scary when it needs to be, but quite fun in general. It plays with our expectations, and goes farther some times than perhaps it should, but it is all in good fun. See the scene where the students talk to a man in charge of power lines in the north of Norway; power lines that in the film’s universe also act as fences to control trolls. “Doesn’t it surprise you that the power lines just go in circle?”, a student deadpans. “No, not really…” The student nods to the camera, and we gues the line must have been improvised, and we grin.
The Troll Hunter is a fun and spooky little movie, that takes itself just the perfect amount of seriously. I plan on rewatching this movie very soon, it’s one of the best movies I have seen in a while. A real diamond in the rough, it will please found footage fans and the average viewer just as much. Highly recommended.
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Review # 150
Director – Kenneth Branagh
Cast – Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Anthony Hopkins, Tom Hiddleston, Stellan Skarsgard
– followed by The Avengers
Thor continues Marvel’s journey to the intensely awaited The Avengers. Directed by Kenneth Branaugh (of all people), the movie follows the titular arrogant supernatural being/god as he finds himself banished on Earth after a brash attack on a similarly supernatural group of beings called Jötunn (or “Frost Giants”). To regain his superhuman abilities and the respect of his father, Odin, Thor must find humility and lose his arrogance. Or something like that.
Anthony Hopkins appears as Odin, Colm Feore plays the Frost Giant King, and Stellan Skarsgard mentors Natalie Portman’s young and ambitious scientist. I get the feeling that a cast like this would not have been possible without Kenneth Branaugh’s involvement as director. And seriously, how the hell did they get Mr. Shakespeare to do a superhero movie? In interviews Hopkins and Branaugh constantly mention the “Shakespearean themes” in the story. Well, there is a squabbling royal family, I guess that counts.
Released just months before Captain America, there was a lot riding on the success of the two films. Imagine if they both tanked and hadn’t found an audience, especially as The Avengers had already been started. Hundreds of millions of dollars would have been lost. But it wasn’t that likely, was it. The question remains though, could they find a way to make the films work?
They did, for the most part. Thor finds himself mingling with already introduced characters such as Agent Coulson, numerous references are made to Iron Man and other future Avengers, and the tone (on Earth anyway) is kept as realistic as we have come to expect. There may not be a huge amount of chemistry between Hemsworth and Portman, and the script gives them even less to work with, but it does get by, and in a fairly pleasant fashion.
Thor is best looked at as a part of a whole, that whole being the Avengers franchise. It serves to introduce both the character of Thor and his villainous brother Loki, and also the concept of supernatural beings as superheroes. Up to this point in the Marvel-verse superheroes are the result of serums (The Incredible Hulk and then Captain America), or super-suits (Iron Man), so to introduce gods into the equation seems a little off. All in all the movie meshes itself in well to the established continuity, and that is really all it wants to do. A more unique story would have been welcome, but what we have here is done well.
Thor is fairly unremarkable, though the special effects and most of the visual design is great. The script holds back the movie, which, while solid and workmanlike, likes to dips its toes in the pool of cliché once or twice too often. It is best seen as a build up to The Avengers, and as such it does what it is expected to.
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Taste the Blood of Dracula Review
Review # 149
Director – Peter Sasdy
Cast – Christopher Lee, Peter Sallis, Geoffrey Keen, Gwen Watford, Linda Hayden, Anthony Corlan, Isla Blair, John Carson, Martin Jarvis, Ralph Bates, Roy Kinnear
– follows Dracula Has Risen From the Grave
– followed by Scars of Dracula
We all know Dracula, the evil vampire and seducer of lore. The most recent movie adaptation of any note was Coppola’s 1992 Bram Stoker’s Dracula starring Gary Oldman. That is a movie that, while being hailed for its old-time charm and practical effects wizardry, I have yet been able to sit through once. But before Oldman and his famous (infamous?) hairstylings, the character was synonymous with Christopher Lee and his portrayal in the Hammer Productions films.
Christopher Lee is perhaps most famous to modern audiences as the villains Sauroman and Count Dooku, from the Lord of the Rings films and Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones respectively. He also makes numerous cameos in Tim Burton movies. But back in the day Hammer films were his training ground, with appearances in The Hound of the Baskervilles and many other non-Dracula roles. His Dracula is suave and commanding, but doesn’t say much, except for counting down the number of victims he has killed. He doesn’t even appear (save one brief scene at the beginning) until 50 or 55 minutes into the movie.
The movie is told from the point of view of three men, friends who like going out on a Sunday night and living a little wild. (In a nice surprise one of these men is played by Peter Sallis, eventual voice of Wallace from Wallace and Gromit, and long time cast member of the BBC TV series The Last of the Summer Wine.) Once brothels start seeming a little tame, they talk to someone rumoured to have been once caught in the act of worshiping in a Black Mass. He is a rich and arrogant young man, and takes them to a remote castle. There he drinks the re-constituted blood of Dracula (after the three men chicken out), and after they flee we see him morph into a familiar fanged form. Dracula vows to hunt the men down. As you do.
The movie is slow to build up, and uneven pacing is its biggest problem. It is a beautiful looking movie, though, and clearly had a decent budget (for movies it its type.) I was intrigued by its way of keeping Dracula off-screen til the half way point. We saw the story through the eyes of three middle-aged gentlemen who realize they are in over their heads, and it was enough of a new take on the vampire genre to interest me. I must admit that other than that the story is fairly routine. The special effects aren’t great (what little there are), with the occasional visible wire or dodgy compositing, but we have to expect that from these productions.
Taste the Blood of Dracula is a solid entry into the Hammer Dracula series, as those movies go. Christopher Lee is back in fine form, but doesn’t have a lot to do, really. I would recommend this to fans of Hammer films, or Dracula films. There isn’t much in it for anyone else, but it does certainly have a quaint charm to it.
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The Hunger Games Review
Director – Gary Ross
Cast – Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Lenny Kravitz, Stanley Tucci, Donald Sutherland, Wes Bentley, Toby Jones, Alexander Ludwig, Isabelle Fuhrman, Amandla Stenberg
Based on the best-selling young adult novel by Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games is set in a slightly dystopian future, where all twelve “districts” of a future nation (implied to be America) are required to sacrifice two “tributes” each year to fight in a televised fight-to-the-death. The tributes are to be between the ages of 12 and 18. The winner’s district apparently receives extra food, though I was a bit blurry on this point. Tributes are lauded and celebrated as celebrities, the survivor more so. They are built up in the public eye through media events, they seek sponsors, and train for a brief period of time before set loose in a large forest. The forest’s edges are cordoned off, and a laser-like dome/grid covers the whole area, as the Game Master monitors (and occasionally interferes with) the game. The main characters, Katniss (female) and Peta (male), are from a poor district. While Katniss is an excellent shot with a bow and has good survival skills, Peta is without a doubt in over his head. It was good to see that reversal of the usual gender dynamics.
I must admit that the tributes age took me aback a little, once they, you know, started slicing at each other with swords. Even within the group, it was a little bit disturbing to see a large, muscular 18-year-old hacking away at a young nerdy looking kid. Nothing was explicit, to be sure, but perhaps that makes it worse. It was very effective, which was good… I guess. It would have been easier if I could accept the premise that a society would both permit and even flock to such a gruesome spectacle. The vague explanation about “keeping the border districts in line” just didn’t really fly with me… I think as a younger person it would have gone down easier, they would accept the premise quicker. Seeing people your own age get cut down has a different effect. That’s something of a youthful fantasy as well, finding yourself alone against the odds, fighting to the death. Those questions didn’t quite leave the back of my mind, but the movie is not really aimed at me. It is targeted at teens who have read the Hunger Games trilogy. They will get more from it.
All this is not to say that the movie is not solid. It is very well made, and even has some sly little things to say about celebrity, pop culture, and reality TV. The beginning is especially engrossing, but once we reach the capital city to be prepped for the games, the movies start to drag slightly.
The final third of the movie consists of the game itself, and drags a bit as well. When action scenes do happen though, they are brutal and merciless, if a bit too “shaky-cam”. These kids mean to kill, and they are as brutal as the society that forces them to. I just wish that perhaps the movie had been as brutal with the targets of its satire. I love it when reality TV gets a little poke!
The Hunger Games is a solid and respectful film. It is a bit too long, but is impressive when it counts, and is anchored by excellent performances, both from the younger ones (like Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson) and the veterans (Stanley Tucci and Donald Sutherland, etc.). Tucci looks like he is having a ball here, and I have yet to see Woody Harrelson give a bad performance. He’s a joy to watch.
So, while readers of the books may get a bit more out of it, this is a solid movie that is rightfully managing to attract a large audience. Certainly worth your time, but don’t be expecting anything revolutionary. Just sit back and enjoy.
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