Name of Film: 3:10 to Yuma (James Mangold, 2007)
Ah, the joys of remakes. Inevitably they're either so different from the original that people will complain, or so bad that...well, people will...y'know...complain. It's rare for one to come along that is actually truly genuinely a great film standing all on its own; but 3:10 to Yuma just so happens to fit rather neatly into that category.
It starts as it means to go on - dead of night, and young William Evans (a wonderfully understated Logan Lerman) awakes to find his father's barn aflame; set upon by goons of a debt collector that the one-legged war veteran Dan Evans (Christian Bale) can't possibly hope to repay. So when $1000 dollars is offered to the man who gets the infamous, but now captured outlaw Ben Wade (Russell Crowe) onto the 3:10 train from Contention to Yuma, Dan can do nothing but accept the job.
After a summer of ridiculously over-wrought, heavily contrived and non-sensical stories (a trend only recently and brilliantly broken by Bourne's latest outing), this wonderfully crafted piece of story-telling is a welcome change. The story stays simple; there're no huge twists, no gargantuan revelations. It's just a tale of two men who, despite their flaws, are able to change each other for the better. James Mangold - in a far cry from Walk the Line - has supreme clarity of vision; keeping the plot tightly focused and stampeding along at an ever-increasing pace.
So obviously, you'd imagine that the core performances would have to work, and work well. And that they do; Christian Bale is quietly intense, with all the grittiness that one might expect from a man shunned by the country he fought to protect. He's not out for the glory, he just wants to finally own the land he lives on. It's a wonderfully deep performance, with Mangold lingering on Bale's face as the world - and Ben Wade's crew - close in around him.
Crowe is, whilst equally good, almost a polar opposite. His Ben Wade is a man with no boundaries, no family and no real friends. To use the cliché, Crowe has been unleashed upon this character, and it is - quite simply - a joy to behold. From the introduction scene, which finds Wade blasting one of his comrades in the chest for the most minor of errors, to the viciously cold monolgues; this is perhaps one of Crowe's finest performances to date.
Of course, whilst the two leads are the focus, they'd not work without a backlog of fantastic support, and this arrives in droves. From Alan Tudyk's Doc Potter, to Peter Fonda's wounded and world-weary mercenary, it all comes together beautifully. Of particular note is the superb performance of 15-year-old Logan Lerman, whose William Evans is both innocent and angry, and holds his own in scenes with the both Crowe and Bale more than admirably.
Obviously, though, this is a Western. So we're going to need some action, and whilst it isn't exactly scarce, this is hardly Shoot-'Em-Up-esque. However, when they do come they are exciting and well shot; the final battle being of particular note not just for it's choreography, but also for the sheer brutality of its final moments, and the emotional oomph that it subsequently packs. Heart-pounding is an understatement, to say the very least.
All-in-all, this movie is, pure and simple, a superb addition to the Western genre. It's a true Autumn movie, not big enough for the summer months, not cheerful enough for Christmas; it's desires to be nothing more than a superb piece of understated, gritty story-telling. See it. You won't regret it.
Rating Out of 10: 8
Last edited by Jayk; 10-10-2007 at 00:35.
I'm on a roll, so why stop?
Name of Film: The Kingdom (Peter Berg, 2007)
It's not every day that I'm stumped by a film...and the Kingdom managed to do it for all the wrong reasons. The plot was straightforward, the camera work - though shakey - was fine, the acting solid - I just simply didn't know what to make of it.
Okay, let's get plot details out the way: Terrorist detonate two bombs in a compound full of foreign oil workers in Saudi Arabia. The first to bring in the rescue teams, the second actually targeting those rescue teams. Thing is, an FBI agent is killed in that second explosion, and thus the FBI back home go into 'revenge' mode. Afraid that that's exactly what it'll be seen as, the higher-ups nix any FBI incursion into Saudi Arabia, but of course, they go ahead and risk it anyway. This puts them on the trail of Abu Hamza, a notorious bomb-maker, terrorist and generally unpleasant bloke. However, when their convoy is attacked, and another of their number kidnapped and tortured, they have to go and get him back.
The films inherent - and most obvious - problem is that it has absolutely no idea what it wants to be. It flits from being an action/drama, to being a political thriller, to a murder/mystery and then back again. The inherent problem with an ADD-suffering movie such as this is that, inevitably, that condition is transposed onto its audience. Thusly, you'll probably only be paying attention when the speakers are spitting gunshots at your ears, and thus will be confused as to just why your ears are being berated so.
Its a problem that doesn't lie with most of the composite parts. In fact, it almost certainly stems from the fact that there are two screenwriters, who appear to have totally different agendas. Most likely - though this is merely speculation on my part - Matthew Michael Carnahan scribed it as a political thriller. Then along comes Michael Mann to...well, 'action it up', so to speak. And thusly, imbue the film with the aforementioned attention disorder.
The thing is, there are some very good things about the film. First and foremost, the core performances - when you actually notice them going on - are rather good. Of particular note is Jennifer Garner. who - above the always excellent Chris Cooper and Jamie Foxx - shines as the damaged femme fatale, who's not just in it for the patriotism. Jason Bateman - king of the memorable movie bit part - actually manages to extend his acting chops to the full 110 minutes, and he's actually rather pleasant company for the duration.
Next, the action sequences - with Mauro Fiore's camera shaking like crazy, but still somehow retaining focus - are brilliantly concieved, and pulse-poundingly executed. Of particular note is the closing portion of the movie, which ditches the politics (well, I suppose FBI agents shooting muslims is political, but whatever...) completely and gets going on the balls to the walls action. It's an almost non-stop action sequence for the final 20-or-so minutes of the film, and it's edge of your seat stuff, from the initial highway shoot-out to a terrifying and brutal three-way brawl with Garner and a hog-tied Bateman on one side, and a rather large, aggresive Saudi on the other. It almost (repeat, almost) makes up for the unfocused first and second acts.
Ultimately, though, you still walk out feeling more than a tad unsatisfied. Perhaps you wanted intrigue...perhaps you wanted some kind of anti-**** (that's, The War Against Terror, by-the-by) commentary, but whatever you wanted from it, it doesn't really deliver it. Which is unfortunate, considering this film had plenty of potential to be an enjoyable autumn time-waster. See it if you've got nothing better to do, or have already seen the Bourne Ultimatum.
Rating Out of 10: 6
Last edited by Jayk; 13-10-2007 at 03:12.
The Devil's Backbone is one of the most genuinely scary horrors I've seen for a while. The original, Japanese Ring was pretty good too. Hostel isn't really scary so much as gory; same with the Hills Have Eyes remake/sequel. Haven't seen Dead Silence, so couldn't possibly comment
Last edited by Jayk; 20-10-2007 at 02:20.
Name of Film: Ratatouille (2007, Brad Bird)
There's something truly and wonderfully magical about Pixar. No matter how fantastic their previous instalment was, you can bet your liver, kidneys and gall bladder that their next will at the very least equal it, if not surpass it. And with Ratatouille, you know they've proven the rule after the first ten minutes - of the actual feature, not the absolutely superb short, Lifted, that precedes it; which is worth the entry fee all by its onesies.
Story-wise, it delivers a swift and rather deft middle-finger to all the post-modern irony that's being chucked about in animation these days. Remy lives in the country-side, and dreams of becoming a big city chef; and despite astonishing senses of smell and taste, he's presented with a rather minor hitch - he's a rat, and thusly humans won't let him near a kitchen without attempting to exterminate him. That doesn't stop him from wistfully pining after celebrity chef Auguste Gusteau's creations on television. Eventually, he gets a little too bold for his britches, and gets his whole colony chased away to Paris; and in a series of rather unfortunate mishaps, Remy finds himself washed up below Custeau's high-class restaurant. Cue his run-in with Linguini, a garbage-boy at Gusteau's restaurant; like Remy, he longs to be a chef, only he has none of the skill to do so. The two form an unlikely partnership, and start to wow critics across Paris.
It is, pure and simple, rather brilliant; unashamedly surreal, yet at the same time strangely plausible. And to boot, it's hilarious. From the slapstick antics of Remy controlling Linguini through his...eh...hair - 'this is strangely involuntary!' cries Linguini rather fretfully - to the fantastically choreographed set-pieces; if you don't choke out at least one laugh, you probably forgot to bring along your soul. There's a joy to it, a real sense of fun that a lot of the animated dross these days is lacking.
That's not to say there aren't any rather cranial jokes amidst the lunacy; though they aren't quite as thick and fast, they're still there. The poking fun at critics is both playful and poignant, without the mean-spiritedness that, say, Lady in the Water had; and the moments that have a stab at the French are exactly the same - 'We don't mean to be rude, but we're French!' being an inspired piece of scripting. There's also the superbly fleshed out characters, each one with a unique, and frequently hilarious backstory - including a sous chef who's served time, only no-one knows for sure as to why.
On the technical side - if you actually have time to notice such things whilst your sides are splitting - Pixar have once again produced something of a visual masterpiece. The world they've created is so rich, so full of detail and life, that sometimes I found myself honestly wondering if I wasn't looking at an actual photo of a Parisian corner restaurant, or rain-soaked canal banks. The food, too, looks actually edible; a huge amount of detail has been thrown at that particular aspect, and it really does shine. The end result of this is that it sucks you in - detail has a habit of doing that - and makes you really believe in the characters that populate this rather wonderful world. They've also concocted a clever way of putting across the sense of taste through celluloid; using music and rather colourful pieces of rather abstract animation to show the zings and tangs of cheese, wine and all kinds of other flavours. It's a wonderful idea, and superbly - yet sparingly - applied.
This is not to say, however, that it's all brilliant; my beefs with the movie are three-fold. First, and possibly of least overall consequence, is the visualisation of Paris; which is clearly tainted by the Hollywood view of the city. Everything is so clean, so wonderful, so idyllic; even the sewer below the restaurant has a certain quiet charm to it! But obviously, this is Bird trying to juxtapose Remy's lowly start against what he's aiming for, and thusly is forgivable.
The second, however, really isn't; and that is that outside the core trio of human characters and their pseudo-antagonist - Lou Romano's Linguini, Jeneane Garafolo's Collette, Ian Holm's head-chef Skinner and Peter O'Toole's Anton Ego respectively - the voice talent is rather flat; and given the richness of the lungs being lent to their other outings, this came as something of a disappointment.
The third, and probably my biggest problem, is the ending; if Pixar have ever made a film that called for something of a 'downer-but-we'll-still-be-okay' ending, this was it. Problem is, director/screenwriter Brad Bird somehow found need to douse it with a rather soppy water cannon. It's not a bad ending; I'm just saying a little bleakness, artfully applied might have made it a superior film.
Still, these things are hardly more than minor quibbles; I came out of the cinema with a grin on my face, and strange yearning for the ratatouille dish created at the end of the film. It's a film that's frequently funny, occasionally touching, and will plaster a smile across your face for a good long while afterwards.
Rating Out of 10: 9
Last edited by Jayk; 20-10-2007 at 15:26.
Reason: Because apparently I can't spell...