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Sunday, 31 October 2010

Let Me In: Review

In the midst of the resurgence of the vampire, from the soppy Twilight saga to the excellent True Blood, a little Swedish movie opened and shook the whole blood-sucking phenomenon to the core. Let The Right One In was a critical hit and possibly the best film of last year. So when news came out that it was being remade by Hollywood, it send shudders down the spines of those who saw and loved that beautiful yet harrowing film. Well now it is upon us. Is it a crime against the original? Not at all. In fact, this could be the best remake I have ever seen.

The story is faithful to the original film. Owen is a lonely 12-year-old who lives with his alcoholic, religion-loving mother in a gloomy apartment block. By day he is viciously bullied and by night he takes his frustrations out on a tree with a penknife, until he is interrupted by Abby, a newly arrived girl who immediately tells him that they will never be friends. This, of course, is untrue, as their friendship slowly builds and Abby gives Owen the strength to stand up to his bullies. Abby, however, holds a very dark secret.

Let's get the negatives out of the way. It's not as beautiful looking as Let The Right One In. It uses some of the tricks but Thomas Alfredson's film is just stunning and no matter how anyone could try, it would never surpass it. One of the set pieces so memorable from the original is recaptured here but the use of CGI spoils it slightly. Finally, this is a much gorier picture than the first which doesn't distract but you feel almost sorry that director Matt Reeves has had to up the blood for the audience, as it works so well not actually seeing too much and letting the imagination run riot. This is only a slight quibble, because otherwise, this is a cracking film.

Reeves, who created the excellent Cloverfield, has done a wonderful job here. A darker use of lighting captures the mood and while he has taken away some of the fat from Alfredson's film (like the cat man), it's all to the benefit of the tremendous love story between two outsiders.

Remembering that two young actors are carrying this film, Kodi Smit-McPhee, last seen as the boy in The Road, and the excellent Chloe Moretz, who turned heads as the foul-mouthed Hit-Girl in Kiss-Ass, as superb. You really feel for these two characters and you are carried along by their relationship as it slowly grows. There's more tender moments between these two than anything that the Twilight series can produce and these are two young actors who are well worth watching.

The always excellent Richard Jerkins has a small but perfectly formed role as "The Father" and has one of the most heart-stopping scenes in the film, in which he is involved in a car crash, filmed in one shot from the back seat.

A word of warning. The scenes in which Owen is bullied are not easy viewing and are, in fact, more horrific than any of the blood-sucking.

Those who missed Let The Right One In should definitely see this. If you are into vampires, you should definitely see this. In fact, if you are a fan of the Twilight films, you should absolutely see this and see how it should be done. Hopefully once you have seen it, you will search out for the original. If not, then enjoy possibly the closest thing you will get to a perfect remake, and the best horror out there by a long shot. Well done, Matt Reeves.

(By the way, the film is the first to be produced by Hammer films in years and I am glad that they are still the kings of horror).

Friday, 29 October 2010

Burke and Hare: Review

A few weeks ago, one of the 80s great directors made a triumphant return. Joe Dante was back and on top form with The Hole. Now another big name director who made his name in the 80s has made a comeback with the genre that made him famous. John Landis, who was propelled to super director after An American Werewolf In London and more so, Michael Jackson's Thriller video, has teamed up with Ealing Studios to bring us Burke and Hare, a fun comedy horror. Fun it certainly is. Compared to Dante's film, it's not as triumphant.

It's Edinburgh in the 1800s and two warring medical colleges are constantly outbidding each other for recently executed bodies, used for medical experiments, until the richer of the two slaps a court injunction on having exclusive rights to the deceased. Meanwhile, Irish immigrants William Burke and William Hare are struggling to make ends meet. Hare's wife, who is landlady to elderly gentlemen, isn't having much luck either, especially when one has just died. Getting rid of the body isn't easy, until the men discover that the college short of bodies will pay grandly. So the hapless partners begin to find ways of delivering these corpses.

The infamous body snatchers tale is played out for morbid laughs, with Simon Pegg and Andy Serkis perfectly cast in the leads, playing nicely off each other. Pegg gets to add a little light relief with his subplot of being infatuated with pretty actress Isla Fisher, who needs him to finance her all-female version of Macbeth. Jessica Hynes (Pegg's comedy partner in the cult TV show Spaced) gets the more physical comedy as Hare's drunken wife.

One of the joys and a trademark of Landis' previous films, is littering it with cameos from the great and good in British entertainment. Christopher Lee, Paul Whitehouse and Stephen Merchant all pop up while comedy legend Ronnie Corbett gets to ham it up as the chief of police.

There are some grisly laughs and a couple of innuendos that wouldn't look out of place in a Carry On film, as well as the occasional Landis comic touches. Yes it does have a few good laughs, it suffers from not being funny enough. Without taking away the talented cast's energy and likability, you chuckle more than belly laugh.

It's nice to have Landis back behind the camera, and it is great fun. It just leaves you wanting more.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

The Next Three Days: Review

Paul Haggis had the world at his feet. Award-winning script writer and director, he had two smash hits in a role with Million Dollar Baby and Crash. Then In The Land Of Elah flopped massively and Haggis was gone. Now he is back with his first thriller, and it's a cracker.

Russell Crowe plays a teacher with the perfect life, a young son and a loving wife. Their perfect life is rocked when his wife is arrested for murder. Thrown in jail, and months spent in court, even his lawyer cannot see any chance of her being released, as all the evidence points to her committing the crime. It leaves Crowe with only one option...breaking her out of prison.

This is a complex tale of a man obsessed. As former crook and jail-breaker Liam Neeson tells him, once it starts, there's no turning back. This isn't just about breaking her out, he has to break in too. Using the Internet, he slowly builds a plan but will it work?

Haggis has the good sense of letting building everything slowly, so for the first part hardly anything happens and yet this helps with the second part when it all kicks off. In once particular scene, the audience I saw it with were literally gasping as the thrills begin. If I had one complaint, its that the final section does outstay its welcome but don't let that spoil your enjoyment of a terrific thriller that has heart and emotion.

Elizabeth Banks, usually known for her comic roles, gets to play straight as the wife and she holds herself well but this is Crowe's show and he is on outstanding form. Playing the everyman he actually looks like a man on the edge and he commands the screen. You emote with him, you wonder if his plan will work and you sometimes want him to stop but you can also understand why he does what he does. It is a superb performance.

Haggis has taken the French thriller starring Diane Kruger called Anything For Her and has made it his own, with some great pieces of dialogue while still maintaining the feel of the original film.

If you are looking for a gripping, exciting film then you should definitely look no further.

Friday, 22 October 2010

Red: Review

Red (Retired Extremely Dangerous) has all the ingredients of a good night out: a top cast, action, comedy, just pure escapism. And yet, it also is a little disappointing.

Bruce Willis plays Frank Moses, a retired CIA agent who lives alone and tears up his pension cheques so he can speak everyday to single pension adviser Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker). During one night, his house is raided by masked gunmen out to kill him. Of course they come off worse and he heads to Kansas City, fearing that the conversations he has been having with Sarah were heard and they would attack her. He kidnaps her and so begins a chase across America, where Moses enlists his fellow ex CIA agents Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich and Helen Mirren, to uncover why they want him dead and what connects it with the murder of a New York reporter.

There's plenty on offer here to enjoy yet you get the destinct impression that the cast had loads of fun but most has ended up on the cutting room floor and will be a glorious extra on the DVD.

Director Robert Schwentke must have been smiling with glee at the cast but he doesn't let them loose. This is the problem with the film as a whole. There are moments of silliness and fun but they are just moments, as if Schwentke decides that he doesn't want it to get sillier. The perfect example is the scene in which Willis, Malkovich and Parker are pinned down in a store area. It is so silly you cannot help but laugh and yet its over far too quickly. For an action film, there doesn't seem to be enough action and yet when it does come, it is pulled back, restrained.

Willis is as cool as ever, proving he still has it in the action stakes. Morgan Freeman is, well, Morgan Freeman, while the image of Helen Mirren in a long flowing white evening gown, hob-nail boots and firing a sub machine gun will be an image that will stick around for years. Malkovich gets to overact like crazy as the paranoid member of the team, and his performance raises more than a smile. The star of the film, however, is Mary-Louise Parker. After years on the hit TV show Weeds, she is back and acts all the leads off the screen, delivering some of the best lines and is constantly watchable throughout.

When the film ends, you know you've had a good time but with so much talent on show, you want just that little bit more. Not a terrible film by a long shot, just one that has much more potential. Maybe if there is a sequel, they will up the silliness factor.

Monday, 11 October 2010

The Social Network: Review

Imagine. Billions of people are logging onto their PCs/laptops to go onto Facebook, the phenomenon of the 21st century. Very few people in this world don't use it so when it was announced that a film about the beginning of Facebook was being made, I thought to myself, 'Really? How interesting is that going to be?' How wrong I was. In the hands of director David Fincher and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, The Social Network is an incredible piece of work and the first true Oscar contender.

Mark Zuckerberg is a Harvard student who manages, in one night, to alienate his ex-girlfriend and create a website that crashes the Harvard system. The young is, on one hand a genius while on the other, a hideous, thoughtless monster. So impressed with his web antics, two top rowers, the Winklevoss twins, and their friend invite Zuckerberg to help get their dating website off the ground. However, Zuckerberg has bigger ideas, and with capital coming in from his best friend, Eduardo Saverin, they create TheFacebook.com, and without them really knowing, it becomes an almost overnight success, with hundreds of University students logging in. As the project gets bigger, so the problems start to creep in; the Winklevoss angry that it was an idea they had, want retribution, while the relationship between the founding members are pushed when former Napster creator Sean Parker comes onto the scene, and what was once a close friendship is tested.

I once accused Jesse Eisenberg of being a lesser version of Michael Cera. I take that back immediately. Jessie Eisenberg, in the role of Zuckerberg, is superb. Managing to be both hateful and sympathetic is a hard balancing act but the young star handles it with great aplomb. You feel for his plight while at the same time wanting to slap his face. A difficult role for any actor but Eisenberg does it well. Andrew Garfield (soon to be the new Spider-Man) plays it pitch perfect as Eduardo, the friend who becomes his worse enemy. Even Justin Timberlake as Sean Parker is very good, firing lines story after story at great speed, it's a winning role for the popster. The rest of the cast do well and even Brenda Song, who is so incredibly annoying on The Suite Life, proves she can actually act, as Eduardo's girlfriend.

Director Fincher does sterling work, never once making the film look fussy or trying to dazzle us with effects and flashiness. He has a tale to tell with a talent cast and so he lines up every frame beautifully while making it look effortless. The one scene he does throw in a trick or two, at the Henley Regatta, somehow fits perfectly in a dream-like world that the twins live in. Fincher doesn't need tricks though when he has one of the best scripts to hit the screen in years.

Aaron Sorkin, the writer of The West Wing, has managed to make every line sing. Crisp dialogue that you feel is like poetry. It's witty, it's engrossing, it's intriguing and if it doesn't walk away with best Adapted screenplay this year then the Academy should sack itself. Trust me, it is that good. Most times you wouldn't even notice the dialogue but there are so many classy lines in this film you cannot help but sit up and take note.

Never would I thought that a film about a website be this good. It's one of Fincher's finest works and should put him up there with some of the great directors, and Sorkin should be applauded for creating words that you could listen to forever.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, Oliver Stone's sequel to his 1987 smash, was originally scheduled for release at the beginning of the year, and we would have looked at it for its satirical attack on the money system that has made almost every country in recession. However, after the announcement that Michael Douglas has throat cancer, and this could be his last film, the focus has most definitely shifted.

Jake is a high-flying whiz-kid banker who has a taste for making money from alternative energy. When the bank he works for goes under and the top man throws himself under a train, Jake wants retribution as well as someone else to take hold of his pet project. He then meets Gordon Gecco, newly released from prison for his insider trading antics, and starts taking his advice. Things get out of hand, especially as the woman Jake is in a relationship with just happens to be Gecco's daughter.

Stone covers fairly familiar ground as he did with the first film, except we live in very different times. In the 80s, greed was good and the yuppie was king. Here, greed has left the banking world in a mess as they fight between themselves to get power and control of operations. There's plenty of techno babble that sometimes leaves you confused but the same can be said about Wall Street. This time, Stone has thrown a battle of family in the middle of this film and that makes for a more interesting premise.

He also has made the bankers seem more like the Mafia, with their suited meetings that wouldn't look out of place in The Godfather. These moments work. The film does suffer from a storyline that breezes over you, and you leave thinking it was OK but not up there with the classic that the original has become. Mainly to blame, or not, is Shia LeBeouf. He is given the duty to carry the film, and he is, quite frankly, adequate. This could be how it was written, or it could be how he decided to play it but often than not he is acted off the screen by his fellow cast members.

Carey Mulligan, as Jake's girlfriend, just goes from strength to strength and in a role that usually isn't a focal point, she manages to make it so, doing it with ease. The comparisons with a young Audrey Hepburn are there too and it wouldn't surprise me that she doesn't get a nod at next year's Oscars. Josh Brolin, obviously trying to forget the disastrous Johan Hex, sinks his teeth into this role with aplomb as the baddie.

The film, though, belongs to Douglas. Winning the Oscar as Gecco for the original film, he commands the screen with every scene he appears in, and you cannot wait for his next appearance. In some shots, the similarities to his dad, Kirk, are amazing. He has brought Gordon Gecco full circle, and if this is to be his swan song, it couldn't be a more fitting way to bow out, playing the role he will always be remembered for.