Shoot ‘Em Up Review
Review # 165
Director – Michael Davis
Cast – Clive Owen,Monica Bellucci, Paul Giamatti, Stephen McHattie
Right from the very first scene, you will know if this movie is for you. Clive Owen (Mr. Smith), an innocent bystander, sees a man threatening to kill a pregnant woman. Mr. Owen then kills this man with a carrot. He is immediately set upon by henchmen/fellow goons of the dead man, and, via a bullet to an oil pan, he creates a makeshift slip and slide to fling himself past them all. In between these two events he finds time to help the lady give birth, and sever the umbilical cord by shooting it.
Need I say more? Do let me continue.
He carries the baby with him through the rest of the movie, because slimy baddie Paul Giamatti wants it dead for some reason. When we are told the reason, we realize it makes no sense and thus we discard it. The plot just doesn’t matter. Luckily the movie knows this, and takes itself exactly as seriously as we take it, that is, not at all. It should also be mentioned that Monica Belucci tags along as a hooker with a heart of gold. She helps hard ass Mr. Smith with such non-manly things as breast-feeding. They also participate in the mandatory sex scene, but one which quickly morphs into a horrific gun fight. You know all you need to know about the tone of the movie when I tell you that they do not stop screwing when the bullets start flying. You get the sense it just spices things up a bit.
Simply put, this movie makes Sin City look like a down-to-earth thriller. Shoot ‘Em Up is preposterous trash, a C-movie with a miraculously high budget. It is lucky to have stars who know the movie is absolute bull shit, and act accordingly. It gets a bit draggy towards the end, but that can be forgiven. The stunts, shootouts, and acrobatics are so absurd we can’t help but giggle, and go along with the fun. And fun it is.
I can not stress this point enough. In Shoot ‘Em Up, Clive Owen kills a man with a carrot. Voila.
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Agree? Disagree? Feel free to leave your comments below!
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter Review
Director – Timur Bekmambetov
Cast – Benjamin Walker, Dominic Cooper, Anthony Mackie, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Rufus Sewell, Marton Csokas, Jimmi Simpson, Alan Tudyk
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. That’s quite a title. It catches the eye, and does half of the advertising for you. You know right away if you’ll enjoy the movie, whose plot is also perfectly summarized in the title. The president hunts vampires, there you go. The vampires, of course, decide to fight on the side of the south because slavery provides them with cheap, available food. Bring on the boom-boom-pow.
I have to admit that I had a great time watching this movie. While it is tempting to describe the movie as “so bad it’s good”, I will resist. That term has always bugged me… It implies that despite a movie being very bad, it was enjoyable. While I understand where the term comes from, surely if the movie was enjoyable, it was good! Now I understand that it means that perhaps the story was ludicrous, or production values very poor, or something along those lines. But still…
This particular movie certainly has a ludicrous story, but the production values aren’t that bad. The characterizations are almost non-existent, but wisely actors were cast who could bring a strong sense of character to underwritten roles. But it is the gung-ho attitude and ballsiness of the movie that make it so enjoyable. During one particular fight scene, a vampire starts throwing horses at the hero. Throwing. Horses.
That right there should tell you if the movie is for you or not.
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is a gutsy movie that doesn’t cease to entertain. I honestly didn’t expect to like the movie at all. Maybe it has to do with who you see it with, but I had a ball. Just “check your brain in at the door”. Whatever the hell that means any more.
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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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A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy Review
Director – Woody Allen
Cast – Woody Allen, Mia Farrow, Jose Ferrer, Julia Hagerty, Tony Roberts, Mary Steenburgen, Adam Redfield
A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy lies somewhere in between those examples. It is not a Great Film to be sure, but not every movie has to be. Here we have a breezy, light, slightly fantastical take on romance, all done in Allen’s unmistakable style.
The story concerns a group of friends, three couples, who rent a house out in “the country” to spend a small vacation together. Of course each person finds themself desiring a member of another couple, and hijinks ensue. People climb out of windows, meet in wooded glades, and deal with the inevitable confusions and mixups that it all entails. It is all very laid back, but has a dry wit and enough imagination to keep it flowing nice and smoothly.
Allen also adds some strangely fantastical elements. A subplot which becomes a bit more relevant towards the end of the movie concerns spirits, and Allen’s inventor character even has a bicycle powered flying machine. Does it all quite fit? No, but we don’t care. Ferrer is funny in a strangely funny and sympathetic “old leche” role, and the cinematography is lush and vibrant. Woody Allen doesn’t normally do movies in natural settings, and purposefully wanted to try something different here, despite his self-professed hatred of anywhere outside of a city.
All in all, the movie is best described by its title. It is as relaxed, warm, and modest in ambition as a lazy, hot summer late-afternoon. It aspires to nothing more, and while it may not achieve too much, it is comforting and pleasant. I wish there were more movies like this.
Don’t expect a huge amount from A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy, but it is a sweet 90 minutes. Woody Allen has made better, to be sure, but he has also made much worse. This may not be a ringing endorsement, but is in no way an insult. Pleasant is the best word for this movie, just pleasant.
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The Escapist Review
Review # 144
Director – Rupert Wyatt
Cast – Brian Cox, Damian Lewis, Joseph Fiennes, Seu Jorge, Liam Cunningham, Dominic Cooper, Steven Mackintosh, Frank O’Sullivan, Jack Walsh
The Escapist stars Brian Cox in a stunning turn as Frank Perry, an inmate in an unnamed English prison. Hearing news of his daughters sudden illness (brought on by an unknown-to-him drug addiction), he decides he must see her before she is lost to him. With help from a brash boxer (Joseph Fiennes), an old friend (Liam Cunningham), and a drug dealer (Seu Jorge), he meticulously plans an escape, while trying to avoid the attentions and cruelty of the powerful inmate known as Rizza.
I love movies that confine themselves to one are. A remote manor house with Agatha Christie, a tall tower for John MacClane (before the airport, the city, and then whatever he did in Die Hard 4). The rules are always so clear, bringing great satisfaction when the hero manages to succeed. In this case e are immersed immediately into the rough and tumble world of the prison. We creep through the halls with the characters, and feel just as scared as they do. With rapists and murderers around every corner, we don’t blame Frank for wanting to escape, we would probably even forgive him without his daughter as motivation.
The Escapist structure is based on a bit of time jumping, from plan of escape to its execution, back and forth and so on. While a tad confusing the first time, I loved this device here. Sometimes it can be pretentious or just disconcerting, but it is not so here. It built tension in a very effective manner.
And tension really is the key to the movie. Stakes are high, and people get hurt. Many even die, and when Frank and Co. do make it out of the prison walls, they realize that the worst is yet to come… they must navigate their way through old tunnels and subways, deep underground. We want Frank to get out and meet his daughter for one last time, and it constantly seems like he may not make it out. And then comes the twist…
They say the best thing to do with a “twist movie” is to not only not reveal the twist, but not reveal that there is a twist at all. But what happens when the twist is the only bad thing about the movie? Such is the case here. It destroys the preceding two hours, rendering them absolutely needless. Not only that, but it is a bit vague as well, begging questions instead of providing answers. It’s plain insulting.
The Escapist is an absolutely thrilling and fascinating movie that is wasted with a ridiculous twist that slaps the audience in the face for following the characters as long as they have. Wonderful actors do great work here, but one script change would probably have made this into my favorite prison escape movie. As is, it is just frustrating.
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Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 REVIEW
Director – David Yates
Cast – Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Ralph Fiennes, Alan Rickman, Bill Nighy, Richard Griffiths, Fiona Shaw, Julie Walters, Bonnie Wright, Helen Bonham Carter
– follows Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince
– followed by Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
Harry Potter continues the fight in the 7th movie of this iconic franchise. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 (as the title says) is an adaptation of the first part of the final Harry Potter book. Here we find Harry attempting to track down and destroy 5 “Horcruxes”, which are ordinary objects into which big baddie Voldemort had placed pieces of his soul.
There are three classes of Harry Potter movie, I feel. The first two movies (Sorcerer’s Stone and Chamber of Secrets) are well-intentioned, a bit draggy, and dangerously child like. The second category is occupied by the next three movies (Prisoner of Azkaban, Goblet of Fire, and Order of the Phoenix). These are lively, energetic, and get suitably dark while still having a touch of magic about them. Which brings us to the final category, that of the brooding, meandering, and character driven Half Blood Prince and Deathly Hallows: Part 1.
Director David Yates, who made his name on British TV shows such as The Bill and State of Play, has directed all the Potter movies since Order of the Phoenix, and has demonstrated his capable directorial control throughout them. However I think this movie (and Half Blood Prince to some degree as well) comes dangerously close to dragging badly.
At fault is his remarkable insistence on maintaining the same tone throughout the whole movie. Scenes tend not to stand out from one another, but to flow into one another without a change in momentum. All the scenes are good, but they’re generally all the same. This is dangerous here, and would have crippled the movie if not for the wonderfully moody cinematography and the strong characterization by the actors.
Yates also does not pay near enough attention to the action scenes that are scattered throughout the movie. During his drama scenes we are treated to long, melancholy, slow shots and very deliberate pacing. Unfortunately the action scenes are cut with an almost Bourne-like ferocity. We aren’t ever given a real chance to feel the danger the characters are in.
(As a private rant, WHY THE HELL aren’t we allowed to see what is happening? Sure you get a sensation of speed and danger, but YOU CAN’T SEE WHAT IS HAPPENING! Anyway….)
I realize I am veering close to making this seem like a negative review, and I do not mean it to be so. The cast is all excellent. I would like to echo David Yates statement that the man trio (Radcliffe, Grint, and Watson) were a lucky find. They are mature, reasonably talented, and they bring a clear sense of identity to their roles. An example is the beautiful scene where Hermione and Harry have a lonely dance in their tent while running from Death Eaters. We know that this is not something Potter would be prone to do, but we see in Radcliffe’s body language what Potter is thinking, and it fits. This was probably my favorite scene in the movie, a great dialogue free little character bit. There are many such great little sequences here, but unfortunately they then slide into another one of the countless long-shot- filled, melancholy little melodramatic scenes that the movie is filled to the brim with. Don’t get me wrong, I love scenes such as that, but not when you build your whole movie out of them. Its just that they are used to excess here.
Alan Rickman is enjoyable as ever with his juicy role as Snape, and Ralph Fiennes was perfectly (maybe too-perfectly?) cast as Voldermort. David O’Hara, Steffan Rhodri, and Sophie Thompson have a great sequence where the main trio disguise themselves as them, and Toby Jones makes a triumphant return to the role of Dobby (who now looks much more convincing than his appearance in Chamber of Secrets.) The whole cast do well in their scenes, many of which actually add to their characterization, where many of their scenes in the preceding movies show them token support.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 is a wonderful little film buried in a slightly too drawn out film. Most or even all of the scenes are wonderful, but they tend to have a similar tone all throughout. The character work is great, and the special effects are as good as always. A bit more variety would have helped, but this movie remains a solid entry into a great series. I think that it will flow better when seen from the perspective of the second movie. All in all I recommend this, but don’t expect a film as good as Prisoner of Azkaban or Yates’ ownOrder of the Phoenix.
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Director – Bruce Marshall
Cast – Stephen McHattie, Lisa Houle, Georgina Reilly, Hrant Alianak
Having heard much buzz and critical acclaim about it, I recently watched Pontypool, a Canadian “zombie” horror film. Unfortunately I think it is one of those films that just isn’t as good as you want it to be. First, to the good stuff.
The lead actor (Stephen McHattie) has been singled out for his amazing performance, and rightly so. The writing crackles along with an energy not often seen, and McHattie delivers it perfectly. His character (a washed up, grumpy, and stubbornly erratic radio DJ)is one of those original creations who, despite his strangeness, still manages to ring true. Maybe because of it. We are all unique after all.
The two main female characters we meet (McHattie’s producer and audio technician) are both drawn from real life as well, and ring absolutely true. Their relationships and interactions with McHattie are utterly convincing.
The movie is set in a radio station, temporarily housed in a church basement, and it only moves outside of this setting for the opening shots. This creates a great sense of claustrophobia, and creates some real tension when we learn that people outside in the town are starting to go violently mad. The great thing about the movie’s conceit of being set in a radio station is that we hear reports of devastation and raving mad people, we hear some people being killed, etc., but we never see anything at all until late into the film. Hearing the situation but not seeing it allows us to build it up in our minds, it lets us use our imagination to conjure up what is happening. This is wonderful, and potentially much more scary than actually seeing the acts being committed. This was a brilliant move, and one that carries the movie through the first half (perhaps even longer) as a wonderfully tense ride.
Pontypool falters drastically in its last section however. It starts breaking its own rules and not keeping track of who knows what, how much they know, and how much the audience thinks the characters know. A character is introduced (fairly randomly, I must say), a doctor who is trying to figure out what is happening throughout the film. One of the problems is that we have already figured out that a virus is being spread through the town by means of the spoken word, and the characters have been given all the clues possible. The strange thing is that they seem to understand some things sometimes and not at others. Basically the third act is full of so many strange inconsistencies, back-paddling, and rule breaking that we become a bit lost. What do they know? What are the rules?
Pontypool is an exceptional movie that seems to have switched writers after the half-way mark. The characters, which were previously tautly drawn, and the rules of the movie, which previously seemed well-defined, tumble and fall in the third act, seriously damaging the rest of the movie. However there is no escaping its great first half, so I find myself recommending it, but with reservations.
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BONUS LINK: A Great Review of Pontypool by the great guys at…
Nineteen Eighty-Four REVIEW
Director – Michael Radford
Cast – John Hurt, Richard Burton, Suzanna Hamilton, Gregor Fisher
1984 is an adaptation of George Orwell’s classic dystopian novel. Directed by English director Michael Radford, several scenes were famously shot on the actual day they were written to have occurred in the book.
The lead character, Winston Smith, is played with downtrodden perfection by noted English actor John Hurt. This film is his story, as he goes from a disquieted laborer under the oppressive regime of The Party, to a wannabe revolutionary. The antagonist, O’Brien, is played by Richard Burton (in his last film performance), and Smith’s “love interest” (though to use such a term is dangerous of giving the wrong impression) is played by Suzanne Hamilton. English character actor Gregor Fisher also appears as Smith’s neighbor.
The story of 1984 is famously dark and frankly quite depressing, and as such the tone is kept effectively bleak. The element of satire/warning keeps the movie from becoming totally dry, but it does struggle against this in the third act. The acting can be a bit dry as well, mainly with John Hurt. I think he would have been more at home in the classic British acting style rather than the more modern method-type, but his stillness and considered manner do fit with the character rather well, so we mustn’t nit pick.
The film unfortunately falls into the trap of assuming the audience knows the book. This results in some fairly key elements not being explained. What is Winston’s job? If we have read the book we know that he rewrites old newspaper reports, etc., so that they fit with the current views of the Party. However, here a first time viewer just sees Winston muttering away in some strange language while looking at pictures and then firing off little tubes down what looks like a garbage chute. While it is true that Winston rarely speaks too much in the book, there was so much in the book explaining about Double-Speak (the Party’s prefered way of talking, where the English language is paired down to its bare bones), explaining about the Party and its methods, etc., that is just not supplied here. We are shown events happening with no explanation, potentially leaving the viewer confused.
While the first two acts are fairly well-paced and feature some iconic images, the third act does dip in quality when Winston is captured by the Party and interrogated for his rebellious thoughts and actions. Unfortunately these scenes drag considerably, with much pointless repetition of shots and ideas. This bogs the movie down when it should really be moving to its quick and inevitable conclusion.
Nineteen Eighty-Four follows the book very well, perhaps too well. By leaving a lot of the dialogue intact and neglecting the explanation of the world we are shown, we don’t get the full impact of the story and Orwell’s point. The acting is excellent (especially Richard Burton and John Hurt), and the grimy world is perfect for this story, but a bit more clarity would certainly have helped. Sometimes it seems that things are left out so we’d have to read the book just to understand the film. Radford seems to mistake confusing his audience for narrative complexity, and that is a dangerous road to start travelling down (a path which hurt the recent Inception). I do recommend this, as the acting and tone rise to great heights, but because unclear story-telling drag the movie down quite far, I have to recommend it mainly to those who have read Orwell’s book.
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