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Monday, 22 November 2010

The American: Review

Going into The American, I had heard some very mixed reviews and wasn't expecting to like it. How wrong was I. This is a Hollywood film with a European art house heart and it works.

Jack is an assassin who suffers from paranoia and is a loner. He finds that getting close to anyone is a bad move. While in hiding in Sweden with a young woman, he is found by killers wanting him dead. He shoots them and then runs to a small village in Italy, where he has one last job; to bring a particular gun for a fellow killer. While in hiding he meets local prostitute Clara and once again he finds himself no longer alone but still very suspicious of those around him, including the woman he is slowly falling in love with.

Never have I sat through an American movie with so little dialogue. You could probably print the script off in five pages. It is made up on silences. This helps make for a much more interesting experience. It quietly builds the tension and proves that you don't need words to get your story across.

The scenery is beautifully used and shot and is the perfect backdrop for the an espionage film, being very reminiscent of the 70s thrillers. The cast do a terrific job too, with the standout being the strikingly beautiful Violante Placido as Clara,her eyes alone would make any man powerless.

The film, however, belongs to Mr Clooney, one of the few stars out there who could easily be compared to the movie actors of the 30s and 40s. His performance here is impeccable, as a troubled man who can just as easily shoot someone in cold blood while at the same time suffer from the cold sweats. His commands the screen being in almost every shot, and just impresses.

Those who are looking for a high action thriller will be greatly disappointed. There is one well executed action scene in which Clooney is chasing down a killer in the streets of the village but this isn't a film about action, it's about a man on the edge, having to make decisions about his life and his future. If you are after an intelligent, adult, if quiet film with sudden shocks and violence then look no further.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Harry Potter And The Deathly Hollow: Part 1

Hard to believe that we are almost at the end of the road for the world's most famous young wizard and his journey from naive schoolboy to manhood. Split into two films, J.K. Rowling's final book is possibly the most anticipated movies of the year. The second part is released next July, so here is part one. Unfortunately I found it very underwhelming indeed.

The dark forces are one step closer to taking over the world and it's only Harry Potter who is the last chance to stop it from happening. He must find all the Horcruxes that belong to his arch enemy Lord Voldermort in order to have a much better chance of beating him. So Harry, Hermione and Ron must set off to find them and the truth behind the Deathly Hollow.

The film starts off with great promise. Bill Nighy's Minister of Magic announcing that 'These are dark times', signs a darker movie. We then get a terrifically scary scene in which all the dark forces are brought together and Voldermort's snake made even me jump out of my skin. The scene in which Harry is escaping the country reminded me of a scene from a wartime dogfight, as good and evil fly around all over. However, the promise is short-lived, as the film then starts grinds to a casual stroll more than a gallop.

The problem I had with it was the repetition. We have a wand battle in a cafe in Shaftesbury Avenue (since when have you ever seen a greasy spoon cafe in Shaftesbury Avenue?); running through the woods, in fact, the only action is the occasional wand battle. The search for the Horcruxes is more like Harry and friends go camping, and while this is suppose to develop the characters, it only really shows Ron as a jealous guy who is bitter over Harry's relationship with Herimone.

Then there's the final 25 minutes in which the we get a little exciting scene but this seems tacked on, as if director David Yates decided that we've had enough character building, better have some action, and it is rushed to the finale that doesn't really go anywhere because it is to be continued.

The special effects have become less than special. It's as if the series has come to a stop when it comes to production values, and I just hope that the final part will have much more imagination than on display here.
The performances are fine, this time concentrating on the three main characters. Rupert Grint, who has always been the better of the three, gets a little more dramatic scenes than usual but he is still the comic relief and thank goodness he is around otherwise this would have been a dull old affair. Daniel Radcliffe has become Harry to the point it might be very hard ever to shake the character. The most improved has to be Emma Watson as Herimone, who, if you remember from the first film, had drama school brat written all over her performance. She has now proven herself as a reasonably good actress.

As always the film is littered with the cream of British acting, including new comers Nighy, Peter Mullen and Rhys Ifans. It does miss having Maggie Smith and some of the other characters have become nothing but extras (John Hurt doesn't even say a word).

I feel as an audience member who has followed this series a little cheated by this, making me wonder if it really was worth splitting the book into two. Maybe they should have trimmed the fat in this won and just made one big, spectacular ending. Instead we have a heartless, rather dull film that doesn't really build the excitement for the finale.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Skyline: Review

Alien invasion movies are always a popular subject matter for film directors and have been with us since the paranoid 50s. So here comes another one that manages to do something I thought I would never say. It makes Independence Day look like a masterpiece.

Los Angeles, and a couple have come from New York to celebrate the birthday of a friend in a penthouse of an apartment block. They are awoken by bright lights falling from the sky. The next minute and a party goer is sucked from the building. On closer investigation, the sky is filled with giant spaceships and they are far from friendly, sucking up people and sending out smaller probes to hunt for the humans who escaped in order to rip out their brains. The young couple must escape these aliens.

The film starts off with great promise. Visually it looks great and a lot of time has been spend on the special effects. Shame the same couldn't be said about everything else. This is just a film in which we see the bright young things running, hiding and running more from capture. We see a battle between the air force and the flying aliens and then more running and shouting.

The Brothers Strause (yes, they are credited as that) direct this with the enthusiasm of a child for the aliens but forgetting to build any characters so the audience can really back them. Each one is so wafer thin, they only seem to exist to be taken away by the arrivals.

It isn't just a bad film, it's a laughably bad movie! Some of the dialogue will make you chuckle but nothing will make you laugh louder than the sight of the young heroes (if you can call them that) ducking as a crashing plane hits the roof in front of them and bounces over their heads to kill off a monster.

Just when you think its all over, it has another trick up its sleeve and it is, without a doubt, the most ridiculous ending to a movie...ever!

If you are a lover of really bad movies, then you cannot do no wrong than go and see a film that has more giggles than Vampires Suck...but for all the wrong reasons.

Monday, 8 November 2010

Unstoppable: Review

The last time Denzel Washington and director Tony Scott worked together was on the ill-advised disastrous remake of The Taking Of Pelham 123, in which a subway train is hijacked. This time the pair can't seem to let go of the train theme for their new film, Unstoppable. I am pleased to tell you this is a marked improvement on their last film.

Washington plays Frank, a widower who has worked all his life on the railroads. He is joined, on just another day, by rookie Will, who has marital problems, and at first the elder driver isn't impressed with his new partner. Meanwhile, across Pennsyvania, a freak accident sends a train off on an unstoppable journey, it's cargo are tanks of combustible liquids. The runaway train has everyone in a flap, as it heads at full speed towards towns and the train that Frank and Will are driving.

The set-up is simple. Inspired on true events, it is just a train thundering its way across country while the railway bigwigs cannot work out how to stop it without losing millions of dollars in the process. Scott, who has made some terrific action films in the past, is on grounds that he knows well and delivers the pace almost as fast as the locomotive. His usual flashy camerawork is back on show and you cannot help but wish he could direct without having to spin the camera round and round a train till you are almost ready to throw up.

If anyone can play blue collar everyman, it's Washington. The character isn't the most interesting, yet he still manages to bring light and shade to it. Always watchable, never dull. Chris Pine, Captain Kirk in the new Star Trek, is fine as Washington's partner but he isn't given as much interesting character traits as Denzel and so it comes across as workmanlike.

There are moments of truly tense excitement and moments when you think its the dumbest film around, yet it is enormously entertaining and you are strangely hooked from the very first frame. The denument does make you think "Why didn't they try that earlier" but this is a film more about the heroics of ordinary folk than a train that is out of control.

Not the greatest action film ever made but one that you should enjoy if you are looking for a straight foreward piece of escapism. It does the job very well.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

We Are What We Are: Review

Cannibals, in the genre of horror, have never really had a good time. Only Hannibal Lector came across with any dignity, if you can call it that. Before that they were tribes in the jungles eating any stranger that appeared. Now Mexican director/writer Jorge Michel Grau is trying to change how we see cannibals. Trying being the word.

An old man stumbles around a shopping mall and then falls to his knees and dies. He leaves behind him a family in disarray. His widow and three children have very little money coming in, It is also up to his eldest son, Alfredo to lead the family and to supply them with food. The food, however, is human, brought home for a ritual killing. He is also having to cope with his violent younger brother and a mother who refuses to have whores, as her husband would bring them back constantly. He is expected to deliver.

Already being compared as the cannibal equivalent to Let The Right One In, this actually isn't a patch on the vampire classic, but Grau is almost there. The film looks great and the finale part is very gripping indeed. What it suffers from is pacing.

The opening is intriguing as we watch a man dying but having no idea who he is draws us in. It loses its footing in the scenes after his death, where the family, unsure of what to do, generally sit around in silence. While it takes its time to build the suspense, it really does take far too long. Only when Alfredo takes his position seriously does the film pick up and you get drawn back in.

The film isn't that shocking either. Having moments to repulse are one thing but apart from one graphic scene, most of the film doesn't even make the heart race faster. It's more like a Mike Leigh film with added blood, so horror fans will be disappointed.

The performances are fine, especially Paulina Gaitan as young Sabina, the daughter who holds all the cards int eh family, being the only one to control the violent brother.

It's a frustrating film because you know it could have been so much better, if only it wasn't given so much time to ponder on its own self importance, but lacking the horror factor doesn't help its cause, and so we get a domestic drama about a family who happen to like human flesh.